It was taunting her.
She’d know it instinctively from the very first time, but it took her mind a little while to catch up. She had stages to go through, of course. Denial, distress, acceptance. Then, for some reason, she thought it was harmless, maybe even friendly. She wanted so badly to believe this that she rebuked every piece of advice that told her to find a way to get it out. Or leave herself.
Of course, by the time her mind agreed, it was already too late.
Things had started simply enough. Things being pushed around on her fireplace mantle, cat toys falling down the stairs. All of which could easily be explained by the cat itself. Who knew what it was doing when she wasn’t home? She was well aware that the cat would act politely in front of her and be contrary otherwise. So she scolded Miss Puss for the things she found. One or two broken glass objects later, and Miss Puss wasn’t paying much heed to her master anymore.
Bigger occurrences started then, as if it was trying to prove the cat hadn’t committed the original offenses. The kitchen chair was placed on top of the stove. The grandfather clock in the parlor moved to the opposite side of the room. She called her friends out on these things and each swore that they had nothing at all to do with it, but she wasn’t convinced. After all, an antique oak wardrobe didn’t just turn on its heel to face the wall on its own. And blaming the cat seemed somehow even more ridiculous.
She would tell these things to the friends she accused and they would have doubt in their voices. Had she seen these things? Even just heard them? Since it all happened when she was gone or asleep, she couldn’t say yes for sure. But the more stories she shared, the more her friends began to worry. Some thought she was doing it for attention and quickly grew tired of hearing about it. Others urged her to call somebody. Anybody. To help.
Her teapot ended up somehow permanently affixed to the kitchen ceiling and her favorite chair was discovered shredded before she admitted this was not being done by friends. She began to keep a journal of what went on. All the details written down. This she shared with those that had been more supportive of her strange experiences, and everybody agreed: ghosts. But they seemed to be divided between harmless pranks and malicious actions.
She decided to acknowledge the spirit, to welcome it, and told it hello in a made up ritual she’d planned herself. She thought if she did this, it would be happy to have gotten her attention and calm down. In answer, it knocked over one of her candles, melding the rug. She took this as her own mistake because, really, who puts candles on a rug? That’s just common sense. She expected, she supposed, that she and her new friend would live in harmony. The ghost doing what it wanted, while leaving her alone. But the teapot remained stuck to the ceiling, water turned on all by itself constantly, and the wardrobe continued its waltz around the spare room. And now it was all happening while she was awake. The noises echoed through the house and prodded at her senses. The cat found a way out the front door, and while it stayed nearby, it wouldn’t come back inside.
Her friends urged her again, as more things came up broken, to call somebody. Ghost hunters, or better, a priest. They all agreed now that this was no friendly game, no benign show of ability. This was becoming dangerous. But she insisted it wasn’t, for she hadn’t even been touched. Nothing had ever happened while she was in the same room. For some reason, the apparent escalation didn’t register to her. All their pleas fell on deaf ears. She was kind of happy, she told them, to be sharing the house with somebody.
There was a noise on the stairs and she looked up from her knitting to see a cat ball bounce down toward her. She smiled and said hello to the spirit. The cat ball began its journey in reverse, bouncing back up the stairs as if with a life all its own. This did manage to unnerve her. She put down her project and demanded that it stop trying to scare her. In response, the top stair creaked as if something very heavy was on it. The cat ball shot off the landing with such speed that she didn’t know what it was until after it hit her and fell onto the couch next to her arm. She could feel her cheek already beginning to puff and placed her hand over the spot. Tears in her eyes, she declared that hitting her had not been nice and firmly demanded it end this particular game.
The top step creaked again, then, and another heavy sound rose. As if somebody had taken a step down. Second foot to meet the first. She could see nothing, but she couldn’t deny it was there. Another step was taken, and it seemed to her that the ghost must be incredibly big. She felt as if the sound of the footsteps was inside of her chest. There was a pressure there with each, as if her lungs and heart were the things being stepped on, not the well-maintained hardwood staircase.
She kept her eyes there, straining, waiting. Halfway down, the spirit solidified. Became something she could see quite easily. It did not match the sound and feel of the footfalls. Instead of being large, it was slight. Its arms and legs quite long and spindly. Its fingers defied explanation, being a length and shape she’d never seen. Its back was to her, and she thought it was going back upstairs. Instead, without even turning its head, it continued in her direction. Taking the stairs easily downward despite its inability to see where it was going.
Frozen, she sat and watched as it made its way down. At the bottom, it turned its head to look at her. Its face was long, thing, the eyes high and the mouth low. Like looking at a reflection in water, everything about it seemed slightly off. The hair on her arms stood at attention when it smiled at her, the smile large, unkind, and toothy.
It spoke to her then. She watched the lips move and the throat work, but heard no sound issue from its mouth. The smile stayed put through whatever it said, and her mind knew then what she’d been trying to warn herself about since the first incident. It was taunting her. She didn’t need to hear what it said to know its tone was mocking, to realize that she was a toy, and now it had tired of her.