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       Haunt Me, p.1

           Liz Kessler
 
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Haunt Me


  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  Chapter Six

  Chapter Seven

  Chapter Eight

  Chapter Nine

  Chapter Ten

  Chapter Eleven

  Chapter Twelve

  Chapter Thirteen

  Chapter Fourteen

  Chapter Fifteen

  Chapter Sixteen

  Chapter Seventeen

  Chapter Eighteen

  Chapter Nineteen

  Chapter Twenty

  Chapter Twenty-One

  Chapter Twenty-Two

  Chapter Twenty-Three

  Chapter Twenty-Four

  Chapter Twenty-Five

  Chapter Twenty-Six

  Acknowledgments

  “What the hell?”

  A sound like a gunshot pierces my dream, and I’m bolt upright, shaking, wide awake.

  I look down my body. I seem to be intact. No blood.

  A glance around the room. My bedroom door is closed. Did I shut it last night? Maybe I forgot. That’s it, then. The sound, it was just the door slamming shut in the wind. Must have left the window open, too.

  I squint at the window. It’s closed. The curtains aren’t moving. There’s no wind, no draft. In fact, as my eyes adjust, I notice there’s nothing. I mean, nothing at all. Zip.

  I’m lying on the floor.

  Where’s my bed? Where’s my dresser? My desk? My clothes strewn across the carpet, thrown off when I went to bed last night?

  I try to remember getting into bed. Can’t. I must have been out of it.

  My body’s aching all over. Not surprising after a night spent sleeping on the floor.

  I sit up and stretch. I’m going to kill my brother for this. There’s messing around and there’s just ridiculous. I mean, stealing my entire bedroom just for a laugh or to make a point? Well, I’m not laughing — and what point was he trying to make, exactly? That I sleep too much?

  Dad’s always said waking me up is like raising the dead. But even so, it must have been quite a feat, to remove every piece of furniture in my room without my knowing about it.

  I drag myself to my feet. My legs feel like weights. My body is like a rag doll. No energy. I can barely stand. I lean against the wall while I try to figure out what’s going on.

  What’s the matter with me? Am I hungover? I try to recall the previous night. Was there a party? Was I with friends? Did I go out and get wasted?

  My mind is coming up with nothing but blanks. Blank, blank, blank. There’s literally nothing else there.

  A cold feeling starts to move around inside me, like a dark storm, swirling in my belly, gathering pace.

  What the hell is going on?

  I stumble to the door and reach for the handle. I can’t — can’t get hold of it. My hands are shaking. I keep missing the handle, slipping — can’t even feel it. The effort is exhausting me.

  OK, this is seriously creeping me out now. I can’t even get hold of a door handle? I’m in a worse state than I realized. Maybe I’m still drunk.

  I need to get out of here. I stand up against the door and call out. “Olly!”

  There’s no answer.

  A beat, and then I try again.

  “OLLY! Mum! Dad!”

  A soft echo replies. Then nothing. Silence. No one’s there. No one’s here.

  Where are they all? Why aren’t I with them? What day is it? Is it the weekend?

  Every question brings on another blank and a rising sense of panic, scorching through my body like a flash of forked lightning searing through a night sky.

  I force my legs to carry me to the window, where I flop onto the window seat as I recover from the effort of walking those few steps.

  I allow myself a moment to close my eyes. As I sit, I have a vague recollection of sitting here before. A vision flickers across my mind: leaning against the side, knees tucked up, ink-stained fingers scrawling poems or songs in well-worn notebooks.

  And then it’s gone.

  The flash of memory doesn’t help. If anything, it only increases the confusion that’s swirling inside me like a typhoon.

  I look out the window. Sun’s shining. Yard’s full of daffodils in full bloom and pink blossoms on the trees.

  I see them at last, standing beside the tree. Olly, Mum, Dad. Huddled together, talking.

  The sight of them gives me a shot of energy, and I stand up and reach for the window latch. My hands seem almost to be going through it, just like with the door handle. I can’t grab it. My fingers won’t work.

  Why can’t I grip the latch? I need to open the window. I need to call to them.

  I stare at my brother and my parents, standing together in a tight group. They look completely miserable. What’s the matter with them?

  “Cheer up, dudes. It’s a lovely day, and the sun’s shining,” I mutter darkly to myself.

  Where did that come from?

  Another memory: Dad saying it to us — does he say it a lot?

  Dad, what exactly has the weather forecast got to do with my mood? I find myself thinking in reply. That’s it! That’s what Olly always says. And Dad always just shrugs and smiles in reply. My dad smiles at everything.

  He’s not smiling now, though.

  Now I’m whispering it to him through murky glass.

  “Cheer up, dudes. It’s a lovely day and the sun’s shining.”

  I try to bang on the window, try to bash my fists against the glass.

  My fists don’t make a sound. They barely connect with the window. I can’t even feel the glass.

  No one looks up.

  I slump back down onto the seat, helpless to do anything but watch.

  Mum has an arm around Olly. He’s leaning into her like he’s a kid. It’s strange seeing my cool big brother looking so vulnerable. Dad’s talking to Mum. She nods.

  What are they saying?

  Dad leaves the sad little huddle and walks down the driveway to a big van. He opens the back of the van and clambers inside.

  My eyes are drawn to the logo on the side, and that’s when my stomach tips on its side.

  R & J Movers

  Movers?

  My brain is working hard to put the pieces together so that they make sense.

  They won’t, though. It’s as if someone has bought ten different puzzles and mixed all the pieces together. They don’t fit. They don’t add up to the picture on the box. There is no picture on the box.

  Olly is breaking away from Mum and Dad. His head still so low his jaw seems to be attached to his chest, he walks up the driveway and into the house.

  At last, they’re coming to get me! It’s all going to be all right. I’d obviously just forgotten that . . .

  Forgotten that we’re moving?

  OK, yes, that’s quite a big thing to forget. But still — at least they’re coming back for me.

  A moment later, my bedroom door opens, and there he is. I feel like a man minutes away from dying of thirst being given a jug of water.

  “Olly!”

  “Joe,” Olly says.

  “Jeez, mate, you had me worried for a minute there,” I begin, getting up from the window seat and smiling as I cross the room. My legs are working better now. “I thought you were all —”

  “I guess this is good-bye.” Olly cuts across me. His words are like a punch in my gut. They push me backward. I would fall back on my bed if it were still here. Instead, I stand in the middle of my room, my arms limp by my sides, my head swimming with cloudy confusion.

  “Olly, what are you talking about? Why would you be saying — ?”

  “I can’t believe it,” he says. His voice is like metal. “Any of it. Can’t believe what I did. Wh
at you did. Can’t believe I’m never going to see you again.”

  My blood is ice.

  “Olly.” I take a step toward him. “Olly, mate, why are you never going to see — ?”

  “We had a lot of laughs in this room, though, didn’t we? Before . . .” He stops. His face hardens. I’ve never seen him look at me like this. Like I don’t even exist.

  “Yeah. Sure. ’Course we did,” I reply. Truth is, I can’t remember any of them right now. Aside from snapshot moments that leave as quickly as they arrive, I can’t really remember much at all — but I want to agree with him. I want him to meet my eyes. I want to keep him here with me. “Loads of laughs,” I agree. “What do you — ?”

  Olly’s face is a closed door. “I just can’t believe there won’t be any more,” he whispers. “I mean, I know we’re not going far. We’ll still be in the same town. But I’ll never come back to this house again. I just can’t. None of us can.” He’s talking right through me again. It’s as if he’s completely ignoring me. No — it’s stronger than that. It’s as if I’m not there.

  “Olly, can you see me?” I ask. “Can you hear me?”

  “Olly!” It’s Dad, calling from downstairs.

  He turns away and calls back. “I’ll be there in a sec.”

  Then, before I have the chance to ask anything else, to move toward him, to do anything, he nods silently, a sad smile on his lips. Then he whispers, “Bye, Joe,” and turns to leave.

  I cross the room in two seconds. But it’s a second too slow. Olly has gone, and he’s closed the door behind him. I grab for the handle. I can’t reach it. Can’t touch it, can’t get my fingers to make contact with it.

  “No! No!”

  I try to bang against the door but I still make no impact. No sound. All I hear in response is Olly’s footsteps growing fainter on the stairs.

  I slump down to the floor in a heap, my body leaning against the door, my head in my hands.

  The sound of a revving engine outside brings me back to my feet.

  I reach the window in time to see Olly join Mum in the driveway. She puts an arm around him again. He shrugs her off. She’s saying something to him. He’s shaking his head.

  Mum opens the passenger door of the van. I guess Dad is already in the driver’s seat. Olly gets in the van. Mum gets in behind him and shuts the door.

  The van jerks forward before stuttering to a halt.

  Have they remembered that they’ve left me behind?

  Mum’s rolling her window down. Leaning out, looking back.

  “Mum,” I whisper against the glass.

  Mum blows a kiss in my direction before rolling the window back up.

  The engine starts again. The van moves, more smoothly this time, down the road.

  “Please,” I whisper. “Please don’t leave.” My throat is a fire, raging and crackling.

  The van signals, turns, and is gone.

  Mum rolls her car window down as we approach the house.

  “Listen, girls,” she says, turning in her seat and smiling at me and Phoebe, my little sister. “What do you hear?”

  I hear a parent trying her hardest to convince me this was what she wanted all along. What we all wanted.

  “The sea!” Phoebe yells obligingly. She gets an even bigger Mum-smile for that. Then Mum glances at me. Her eyes say so much: Please, Erin, try to look happy. We’re doing this for you.

  I do my best to ditch my guilt and hide my anxiety. I don’t want to dump either of these on my family. Mum’s right. Her unspoken words — which I can hear as loudly as if they’d been shouted through a megaphone — are the truth.

  This is all because of me. The least I can do is act grateful.

  “It’s lovely, Mum,” I manage.

  She nods, half smiles. Our eyes meet. The unspoken words tighten and freeze.

  Then Dad breaks the moment. Pulling into the driveway that Phoebe and I haven’t even seen and he and Mum have visited once, he switches off the engine and checks the clock.

  “Moving van won’t be here for a couple of hours yet,” he says. “Who wants an ice cream and a paddle in that lovely freezing-cold water, then?”

  “Me!” Phoebe yells. She’s already undoing her seat belt and clambering out of the car.

  Mum glances at me again.

  Stop worrying about me, Mum. I’m fine.

  “How about you take Phoebe down to the beach?” she says to Dad as we get out of the car. “Erin and I will just have a quick look around the house on our own. We’ll come and join you.”

  I know what she’s doing. She’s trying to make me feel safe. Give me some control over things by showing me the house first. Thing is, she’s right. I do want to see where we’re going to be living before I have to start jumping around, pretending to be happy on a beach.

  Phoebe’s already pulling on Dad’s sleeve. “Come on! I want an ice cream!”

  “OK, if you’re sure.” Dad gives Mum a peck on the cheek and squeezes my shoulder. “See you soon.”

  Mum takes my hand as we walk up the path. It’s a bit overgrown but looks like it was loved once. Cracked paving stones, crazy weeds on either side, a couple of those solar-powered lamps in the ground, leaning over and broken.

  Mum jiggles a key in front of my face as we approach the door. “Want to do the honors?”

  I take the key and open the door. Mum nudges me forward and we step inside.

  First impressions? It’s OK. A bit cold. A bit dark. But I don’t hate it. It’s a big room, painted white, with an archway in the middle. I imagine it used to be two rooms. At one end, a tiny window seat. I go over to it. The window looks out to the front yard. The glass is half obscured by the overgrown weeds. There’s a dusty cobweb in the top left corner. But it’s cute. Peaceful.

  Mum’s at the other end of the room. She beckons me to join her. “The kitchen’s through here.” I follow her in. It’s a long narrow room, countertops all down one side. Space for our kitchen table at the end.

  “It’s nice,” I say.

  “Look.” Mum’s unlocking a door that leads to a tiny backyard. A flagged area with a wooden shed in the far corner. There’s something about it. About all of it. Kind of — I don’t know. Sad. Lost. Neglected.

  “I’m going to look upstairs,” I say.

  The staircase from the living room leads up to a landing of closed doors. When I open the first one, straight ahead of me, I see a small room. Dad’s junk room, I think instantly. Then I remember. He won’t need a junk room anymore. His junk is all going into a shop.

  That’s how they talked me into this — made me believe that, actually, maybe it was what they wanted to do. Dad’s given up the office job he hated, Mum’s turning her up-cycling hobby into a full-time job, and together they’re planning to try and make a living doing up old furniture and selling it for more than it’s worth. All in the seaside town where they met and fell in love over twenty years ago.

  Sounds nice, doesn’t it? Just add one screwed-up older daughter and a younger one who’s been ripped away from a life she loves, and your perfect new life is good to go.

  I glance at the bathroom as I pass it. Bath. Shower. Toilet. Sink. Nothing special.

  On my right is another staircase. I ignore that for now and turn toward the door ahead of me.

  I reach for the handle. As I do, I get a shiver. I think of that expression someone just walked over my grave. I’ve always hated it when people say that, but it’s the phrase that comes to my mind. There must be a window open somewhere. My arms are covered in goose bumps. I rub them, shrug off the shiver, and turn the handle.

  There’s a moment of resistance as I try to open the door. Is there something on the other side?

  I push against it a bit harder, and a second later it swings open so easily that I nearly fall into the room.

  I stand in the doorway and look around.

  I love it.

  I don’t even know why, really. It just feels like my room. It is my room — it h
as to be.

  I walk around the room, taking it in. Dark wooden floors; simple, clean wallpaper; mostly cream but with tiny thin lines running down it. Every now and then there’s a bald patch where it looks as if someone’s pulled Blu-Tack from the wall. I wonder what used to be on the walls.

  I cross the room. On the far side, there’s a walk-in closet. I look into it. It’s dark and long, goes back the full length of the staircase above it. Feels like the kind of place you’d set up camp and make a den when you were little. You could fit a mattress in there and have secret midnight feasts.

  The front wall across the room has a big bay window in the middle of it. The window has a seat like the one downstairs, only this one’s bigger. I can imagine myself sitting there. Curled up with big cushions, scribbling in my notebook, lost in a poem or a story.

  I push the flimsy curtains to the side. The room overlooks the front yard, like the one downstairs. Beyond that, it looks across the rows of houses in front, and down to a glimpse of the sea.

  I sit on the cold ledge. Yes, it definitely needs some cushions. But even without the comfort of a warm seat, I feel like I’ve come home.

  I look around the room. My bed will go on the wall opposite this one. Chest of drawers in the corner opposite the walk-in closet. Desk in the other corner. Yeah, I can see it now.

  Even with the room empty, I can imagine my life here. It’s just a room, but it has — I don’t know — a kind of energy to it.

  There I go, thinking stupid things as usual. I’m not supposed to be acting that way anymore — I’m supposed to be acting like a normal sixteen-year-old instead of some middle-aged therapist. I guess I’ve been spending too much time with middle-aged therapists.

  For the first time, I can see us starting a new life here. I can imagine it working.

  Just as well, really, since it’s my fault that we’re here.

  I check myself. None of it was my fault. I can almost hear my therapist’s voice saying the words — and I can repeat them so smoothly that most people would be convinced I mean it.

  Not always so easy to believe it yourself, though. When your peers spend every minute of their spare time telling you how worthless you are and how much better off everyone would be without you, the words seem to have stronger glue attached to them than anything anyone else says to counter them.

 
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