Paige was sitting at the table, eating her cereal and watching the salt and pepper shakers floating above the table and circling each other, when Riley came hustling through to the door. Still wearing her pajamas and slippers, she looked out the window for a mere second before flinging open the door. Paige cringed against the shock of cold air that blew in. Elaine didn’t like it either, apparently, as the salt and peppers shakers fell back to the table. The one shaped like a sunny side up egg survived the few inches. The one shaped like toast did not, and a small pile of pepper poured out. Paige sighed. She still wasn’t sure why Cameron insisted on replacing these things over and over.
“Hurry up and shut that,” Paige said. Riley was standing in the open doorway, examining the package that had been left on the porch.
“This is it!” Riley said. She shut the door and brought the little box over to the counter. “Where are the scissors?”
All of the drawers in the kitchen flew open at the same time. One of them hit Riley at the hip, making her yelp. She rubbed at the spot as she walked around the kitchen, closing everything.
“Very funny, Elaine,” she said, followed by, “Here they are.”
“What did you get?” Paige asked.
Riley made an evil smile as she said, “Something to help with our g-h-o-s-t problem.”
“Elaine’s a ghost, not a toddler,” Paige said. She glanced down at the table to find that the pepper had been spread out, and an invisible finger was writing GET OUT into the mess. “She can definitely spell.”
“Oh, yeah? Well, I can spell too!”
With a flourish, Riley pulled something from the box and held it over her head. Paige squinted at it. It looked like a lot of leaves tied together with twine.
“Get it?” Riley asked. “Spell?”
“That looks like a huge joint.”
Riley rolled her eyes. “I don’t need to order…It’s sage.”
“I’m pretty sure Cameron has a bottle of sage in the pantry with the other spices.”
“Are you being obtuse just to mess with me?”
“What’s obtuse mean?”
Ethereal snickering rolled through the kitchen as all the lights turned themselves on. Riley absent-mindedly began turning everything off again as she explained.
“It’s for burning. Not for smoking. You burn it like an incense and, like, waft it all around the house. It’s supposed to cleanse the house’s energy. Or something. It’s supposed to make Elaine leave.”
Paige stood up, finally interested. She took the sage from Riley and turned it over in her hands. When they had rented the house they had all wondered why it was so cheap. Elaine had given them the answer within a week of moving in. It wasn’t so bad living with a ghost, but if she didn’t get woken up in the middle of the night by her clock radio blaring static anymore she wasn’t going to miss it.
“So, what do we do?” Paige asked. “Do we have to…I don’t know…chant something?”
Riley rifled around in the box. “I don’t know. I was hoping it would come with instructions.”
Air started moving in the kitchen, enough that both Paige and Riley thought maybe the door had blown back open. But the door was closed, and the air still moved. Circling the kitchen, blowing papers off the fridge, getting faster and faster. Riley took the sage back and held it in front of her like a ward. The lights began flashing on and off. The cabinet doors flew open and banged closed, over and over. A buzzing feeling began at Paige’s fingertips, as though she was catching the outside of an electric current. She contemplated going to the backyard until whatever this was stopped.
Then it did.
Standing in front of them was an old woman in a pair of horned-rimmed glasses and a housecoat. She wasn’t see-through, exactly. It was just that Paige could see the old woman and everything that was behind her at the same time. It was making her head hurt, if she was honest.
“You must be Elaine,” Paige said. Riley said nothing, still standing with the sage held out at arm’s length.
Elaine sniffed. “Don’t you have the decency to be afraid of me?”
Paige shrugged. Before moving into this house she’d never believed in ghosts. Now she not only believed, she was a little tired of it.
“I’m dead. And I’m manifesting in front of you. And you just…shrug? Do you know how hard this is for me? It takes a lot of effort, and you…just…shrug.”
“I guess I don’t really know what you want from me.”
“What I want is for you to get out of my house. All of you! This is my house, it will always be my house. I’ve chased off fifteen families before you, and I’ll chase you off, too. Look at you. Faithless. Heathens. Always drinking and smoking. You should all have families by now, instead you’re all living together in sin. And I won’t allow it in my house.”
Riley pushed the sage at the ghostly Elaine, at which Elaine rolled her eyes and waved a hand. She didn’t seem comfortable though. Perhaps once they lit it, it would do something. Sage or no sage, Paige had become increasingly sure of one thing.
“We are not leaving,” she said. She took a step forward, hands on her hips. She was nearly a foot taller than the old dead woman, and even though Paige could see the linoleum through her, she was finding Elaine wasn’t very scary. “This was your house. And now you’re dead. Haven’t you ever heard ‘you can’t take it with you?’”
“This is the cheapest house in this part of town. You’ve seen what we do for work, do you think we can afford another place? Do you think we can afford to have families? We can’t even afford to not have roommates and you’re telling us we should have babies? No, we are not leaving, because in this economy we’ll take a house with one stupid ghost. We’d take a house with a gateway to hell in the basement if it meant utilities and internet were included in rent. So you can stay, if you want, but we’re staying, too and you’re just going to have to find a way to deal with that.”
Riley stood up to her full height as she stepped next to Paige.
The air began moving again. The cabinets slammed. The lights flickered. Large, booming slams came from behind the walls and the ceiling. Elaine’s face began to stretch and contort until she looked barely human, and she stretched to be as tall as the ceiling. In the most guttural, disgusting voice Paige had ever heard, she groaned and screamed.
“GET…OUT. THIS IS MY HOUSE AND I WILL NOT TOLERATE SUCH INSOLENCE. THIS IS MY HOUSE, MY HOUSE, MY HOUSE!”
Paige stared up at her, then glanced around at apparently the worst the old dead woman was able to muster. She looked at Riley, who still seemed a little uneasy but otherwise had the same lines at her forehead that Paige imagined she had. They weren’t leaving, and if this dead woman refused to listen to why, that was a ‘her’ problem.