Ghost Connection is a story about learning how your ancestors make up a part of who you are. Clayton Thompson has been haunted all his life. When he finds out who his ghost is he also learns how he fits into his family.
A short story by Manelle Oliphant
I’ve been haunted by two things since I was born, my red hair, and a ghost. This is the story of how my sister Emily’s Halloween obsession helped me become un-haunted.
Let’s start with the ghost. She’d been around from my earliest memories. She was white and glowy. She wore a flowing dress, had long hair, and looked a little old fashioned. She followed me around in a kind of smoke. Her presence brought a feeling of desperation. Like she wanted to be my friend and had to struggle every moment to make it happen.
As a kid, I talked about her all the time. I didn’t realize seeing a ghost wasn’t normal. I told everyone how she looked and things she did. My family called her my “imaginary ghost friend.” The only reason I stopped talking about her was because of my red hair.
I’m the only redhead in my whole family. No one, not even a cousin has a hint of it. When I was eight, my older brother Jake told me I didn’t fit in because I was adopted. Maybe I shouldn’t have believed him, but I did.
I asked my mom about it. She was doing laundry at the time and looked at me with her arms full of dirty sheets, “Of course your not adopted, Clayton. My mom had red hair just like yours.” That relieved me quite a bit, but when I asked more questions, Mom looked sad then shoved the sheets into the washer double-quick. “She died around the time you were born. Please don’t ask me anymore about her.”
I was ok with that. I’d heard what I wanted. Triumphantly I told my brother about our dead grandma with red hair.
He laughed at me. “Have you ever seen a picture of her?”
Jake smirked “Then how do you know it’s true? I think Mom made the whole thing up to make you feel better. You really were adopted. I remember when they brought you home so I would know.”
At this point, tears threatened at the corners of my eyes. “You were only three. How could you even remember?”
He smirked at me. “Oh, I remember. Trust me. You’re adopted.” Then he ruffled my hair like I was a cat. “Don’t worry little brother, I’m sure they won’t give you up. “Course if you keep going on about that imaginary ghost they’ll have to take you to an asylum. Probably the same one where your real mom lived when she had you.”
I kicked Jake’s shin. “It’s not true.”
He just smirked at me, “That’s why she had to give you up you know- because she thought she saw ghosts. Just like you.”
I tried to punch Jake in the arm, but he blocked it. So, I ran to my room and cried. My ghost appeared and tried to comfort me. The gesture didn’t help. Her desperate feelings always overpowered everything else. I felt so angry because of the fact that I could see her made me feel crazy. I decided right then I wouldn’t talk about her ever again. I wouldn’t look at her. I would ignore her until she went away.
After that, Jake didn’t tease me as much, and my parents no longer looked at me with worried expressions. My ghost got more annoying than ever, though. The more I ignored her the angrier she got. Instead of gliding, she dashed about from place to place. Sometimes she disappeared only to reappear right in front of my face. She made lights flicker, rooms colder, and did everything a ghost could do to get my attention. I ignored this constant ghosty tantrum like a pro. That’s how things stood with us for years. Then came my sister’s wedding.
Weddings are supposed to be fun, but they aren’t. Like I said, my sister Emily was obsessed with Halloween. She loved ghosts, wearing black, and found some guy to marry her who loved that stuff too. Since I actually saw a ghost all the time, I didn’t get what the big deal was but Emily was knee deep in it. As a consequence, she wanted her wedding to be on Halloween in a graveyard. Weird.
Emily couldn’t get permission to have the party in the actual cemetery, but she reserved the park next to it. So, while she “got ready” for her big day, me, Jake, Mom and Dad, and anyone else we could get, set up tables, hung old looking photos in the trees, and put up lights. Then we cleaned ourselves up just to sit through a wedding. By the time we got to the reception, which was supposed to be the fun part, I just wanted to fall asleep.
I found a bench away from everyone where I could be by myself. I slumped down, breathed in the crisp air and shut my eyes.
When I opened them again, my ghost floated in front of me. Her dress billowed out in all directions. The air grew colder, and wisps of ghostly light reached toward me. She stared at me with empty black eyes and wailed. Her feelings of anger, hurt and desperation overwhelmed me. I think Halloween, or the graveyard, or both made her more powerful.
The thing of it is, even though I felt her presence stronger than ever, I was exhausted. I’d seen her throw so many ghosty fits this just felt like one more tactic to get attention. It didn’t work. I stood and walked back toward the party. She wailed louder and whirled around me so fast I felt a breeze. I pretended not to notice. I figured once people surrounded me again she would leave. But it didn’t work out that way. When I stepped into the lights of the party, the band stopped, and everyone looked at me. Then they all freaked because they could see her too!
I’m not sure what happened next. I got caught up in the chaos until I hid under a table with my cousin Ryan. He’d stolen some of the cake. People and a ghost screamed all around us, but I just sat there under the table and ate cake, no point of it going to waste.
Once things had quieted down I crawled out from under the table. Most of the guests had fled. My sister looked delighted by their unexpected wedding guest. Mom sat very still on one of the few upright chairs, and Dad directed anyone still there to start cleaning up.
I walked over to Mom. “Are you ok?”
She looked at me. She’d been crying. “Clayton, I saw a ghost.”
“Yeah, my ‘imaginary ghost friend.'”
“Oh, well I know who she is.”
“Yeah, my mom. She died a week before you were born. Cancer. I’d hoped she’d at least meet you before she died. You are her first and only grandchild with hair as red as hers.”
She put her arm around my shoulders. “All these years I’ve tried not to think about how she missed out on meeting you and seeing all you kids grow up.”
I patted her on the back. “Well, she hasn’t actually missed out on all that much. My first memory of her is at my second birthday party.”
Mom smiled. “Really?”
“Yes. I’ve always wondered who she was.”
Mom squeezed my shoulders again. “Let’s get this mess cleaned up, and then I’ll tell you about her.”
When we got home, Mom pulled out some old photo albums. Dad and Jake joined us as Mom told us about Grandma. She showed us the wedding photos first.
I pointed at the first picture. “That’s the same dress.”
My mom smiled. “Yes, we buried her in her wedding dress.”
Seeing my ghost in full color was weird. She had the same dress like I said, the same face, and the reddest of red hair.
I smiled, “See Jake, not adopted.”
Jake just laughed.
Relief washed through me. I’d told myself many times Jake had been kidding about me being adopted, but I think I didn’t really believe it until I saw that photo.
We looked at pictures for a few hours while my mom told stories about growing up. By the time we went to bed, I felt like I really knew my ghost, and Mom looked happier than she had in a long time.
I only saw the ghost once more after that, she appeared in my bedroom a day or so later.
I smiled at her. “I’m sorry for ignoring you.”
She nodded. The feelings of desperation were gone. I felt connected to her now, even though she was old and dead. I saw her mouth form the words “See you later.” Then she faded away. I don’t know if she meant she’d come back sometime, or if I just have to wait until I’m dead to see her again. I’m good either way, as long as I don’t die for a good long time.