Short Story: "Ariadne's Ghost Story"
I never believed in ghosts. I didn’t have time for fairytales and hokum, ghost stories and horror movies. I didn’t believe in ghosts until I met one. Well, until I saw my sister, my sister who had died in a drunk driving accident a year earlier, sitting patiently at the foot of my bed.
She always used to sit there, anxiously waiting for me to wake up so we could go to school, or shopping, or hiking, or to rip open presents on Christmas morning. This time, she sat quietly and calmly, as if she were trying not to scare me. Didn’t work, I almost pissed myself when I saw her and then damn near drove myself insane trying to see her again as golden morning sunlight streamed through my windows.
She always loved ghost stories, always quoting Tim Burton’s famous, “life’s no fun without a good scare.” She loved them because she was never afraid of them; she just enjoyed the storytelling involved, the mystery and the jumps. She’d tell them around campfires and listen to them while traipsing around haunted houses; she’d watch them unfold before her in IMAX and spend Friday nights searching them out on Netflix. I preferred romantic comedies and adventure stories, but this isn’t about me.
I didn’t believe my brand new house was actually haunted until I saw another ghost, this time a little boy no older than 10, watching me from around the kitchen corner. I screamed loudly and accidentally knocked my orange juice over.
By the third one, this time a well-dressed woman in her early 30s, I was prepared. I even tried to speak to her; I wanted to ask her if she knew where my sister was, but she just looked at me like I was a slow child and wandered off.
Things went on in this way for months. I’d do mundane Persephone things like always, and dead people would walk my halls and stare at me blankly. I’d been missing my sister Ariadne for a year, and then actually seeing her again like I’d been praying for broke me. I saw her that cool March morning at the foot of my bed, but I hadn’t seen her since. It made me irrationally angry – how could she just sit there one day, in all her 24-year-old perfection, looking happier to see me than she had any right to, almost like she just wanted me to wake up so we could have a long talk about nothing – and then just vanish like that?
The real ghosts in my life now also made me miss my flesh and blood ghost. This was supposed to be our house, but losing my baby sister changed me, and clearly not for the better since Rick couldn’t be bothered to stick around to see me through my grief. “I love you, I just think you need to be alone. I’m so sorry.”
He wasn’t sorry; he was scared.
I was mad at him for leaving and I held onto that anger harder than I’d ever held onto him. Some days, my anger at Rick was the only thing that kept me from feeling my grief at losing my sister.
Plus, it was easy to be mad at Rick. Therapeutic even, especially since I couldn’t be mad at the 47-year-old father of four who’d just lost his wife to cancer for grieving and drinking, which is all I’d been doing for the past year. I blamed him for one action in his life, but I just couldn’t bring myself to be angry with him. I blamed him for getting behind the wheel of his F-250, blamed him for spinning out of control on busy Hwy 98, blamed him for hitting my brilliant baby sister’s car out of all the cars in Alabama that day. But I couldn’t blame him forever; he was grieving, and as I now knew, grief makes you crazy.
I forgave Peter Thompson quickly. He didn’t mean to kill Ariadne, but he’d have to live with the guilt of doing so for the rest of his life. He didn’t need me adding my blame and anger to the mountain of guilt and regret I’m sure he was already climbing.
On an uncharacteristically warm day in October, months after I first saw Ariadne sitting pretty, I realized I could no longer ignore the strange sounds coming from under my bed. I finally decided to woman up and look. I adjusted my olive green dress, got down on all fours, pulled the covers up, and peered tentatively under the frame of my large, wrought iron bed. I expected to see another ghost, maybe a kid with a proclivity for hide and seek, but what I saw instead changed me.
I grew up Baptist, said my prayers, and always thanked the Good Lord before I took a bite, but nothing really prepared me for the other side of all that faith.
Logically, if there’s an up, there’s a down, black and white, yes and no, left and right; however, good and evil always seemed too big to process, and I always thought that if I was a good enough person, a good enough Christian, I wouldn’t have to worry about the B side – ever.
Yet here I am, sitting on the wraparound porch it took me 4 years to plan and the builders 9 months to complete, staring at the pale blue ceiling that I painted to keep the hornets away, looking past the antique ceiling fan Ariadne picked out years ago as it slowly circles my head, sipping rapidly from my Jack Daniels and sweet tea, trying to figure out how to sell my dream house because a right hand to Jesus, crooked neck, fanged smile, wrinkled skin, drag me to Hell demon is living underneath my bed.
How long has it been there? It’s probably seen me naked. Why does that come to mind?
Better question: why does that bother me? I’m sure it’s seen worse than a 5’6 climber with abandonment issues and a recently formed drinking problem get out of the shower. But I haven’t seen worse, Ariadne. I haven’t been inside my house in 7 hours and counting, but I can feel it pulling me back inside like it wants something.
I’ve been hearing the weird sounds, been feeling the odd sensations, but I figured it was the copious amounts of ghosts that were infecting my house and my mind. I never thought it would be something worse, something so much worse.
. . .
“Whatcha doin’ out here all by y’rself this time’a night?” asked Henry Cotton, shining a much too bright flashlight in my direction.
“Ah, just…ah,” I began, unsure of how truthful to be. “Just having a drink, Sheriff. Care to join me?”
“Nah, thank ya though, Seph,” he nodded kindly in my direction before slowly walking up the drive. He let his flashlight beam land on the bottle of Jack at the foot of my rocking chair. “I got a call from yer neighbors that you been out here all day and now all night drankin’ and talkin’ to y’rself. E’rything okay, sweetheart?”
I think back to the entity that’s taken up residence in my bedroom, and how much I wish Ari were here to figure out what to do with it, and start crying.
“I just had a little scare upstairs, that’s all.”
“What scerred ya?” he asks, his eyes now full of concern as hot tears quickly cascade down my face. I see him look at me more closely, purse his lips upon seeing that my eyes are already red and swollen from hours of crying, and then slowly keep walking towards me.
“Nothing, it’s stupid, Sheriff. Thank you for coming all the way out here though,” I say with as much cheer as I can muster, hoping he’ll get back into his cruiser and leave me to my grief and terror in peace.
“If it has ya out here in the middle of the-” he pauses to look at his watch and spit tobacco out onto my neglected petunias. “Damn near morning, then it can’t be stupid. Now what’s got ya spooked, darlin’?”
He finishes his leisurely walk up my drive to the porch and sits down with an exaggerated sigh in the rocker next to me. I can tell he’s breathing in the stench of day old liquor and probably piss since I’ve been squatting in the bushes all day, too afraid to go inside for the toilet. His warm brown eyes seem genuine and his veined hands seem to say that he’s handled worse.
I look as if I’ve never seen him before and think about the kindness he’s doing me. Faded blue jeans and a plain white shirt that he probably found on the floor of his small bedroom soon after he got the call from one of my meddling neighbors. I try to think of who it could’ve been that saw me drinking myself into a stupor, probably as they were scolding their teenager for trying to sneak in a bit too late. I’m sure Mable, his wife of almost 40 years, wasn’t too happy to watch him drive off this time of night to deal with the local, walking basket case.
Since Ariadne died, the kids say I’ve taken to haunting this town, walking around like a ghost, not working, no more hobbies or bake sales, no more care to give. Yes, I’m sure Mable was properly pissed when she watched this good man slam the door and drive out to the old plantation homes for a wellness check.
“Sweetheart?” he gently asks, placing his hand over mine and looking at me with increasing worry.
I stare at his hand, a hand that’s worked fields and fired guns, and decide to give the truth a try.
“I saw somethin’, Henry, somethin’ not right,” I start to say, letting my legs fall out from underneath me and my bare feet hit the wooden porch floor, tired and full of static from being curled underneath me for so long.
I decide to tell him everything in the hopes that he knows a good exorcist, but my thoughts and words are interrupted when I hear my name on the wind.
“Did you hear that?” I almost scream into the night. Chills are running through my entire body and I stand up quickly in a panic. Too quickly. My legs haven’t quite recovered yet and I hit the floor hard.
“Woopsydaisy!” The Sheriff chuckles with a good-natured laugh. “I think we’d be better off talkin’ inside and puttin’ this bottle to bed.”
“No! It’s not the drink, Sheriff! Something just called my name!” I shriek as I pull the bottle away from him.
I clutch the bottle to my chest as I begin to rock back and forth on my knees. I know what I heard. Don’t what?
“Sweetheart, there ain’t nobody out here this time’a’morning but you an’ me,” he says in a gentle voice, rising to his feet slowly and looking into my eyes. “Why don’t we go on inside and just talk ‘bout whatever it is you’re feeling.”
I can tell what he’s getting at and I snap at him. “This isn’t about Ariadne or Rick! Or maybe it is, but it’s not what it’s about right now! There’s a demon underneath my bed and there are ghosts, including Ari, all around my house! I don’t know what they want, they won’t talk to me, but they’re here!”
The silence hangs between us like a mobile over a child’s crib, slow and tinkering. I’m still on my knees and holding onto my only ally when I begin to cry again.
He looks at me as fat tears fall from my eyes and roll down my cheeks. The bottle begins to feel heavy in my hands, more of a burden than a friend. I break eye contact with him and finish it off, angrily tossing the glass into the flowers with his dip spit.
“Persephone,” he starts to say, moving to touch my arm. I jerk away from him and stare off into the direction of the freshly tilled earth that’s supposed to start my pumpkin patch. I remember when I bought the tiller and spent a weekend getting everything ready. That was before I saw Ari, before the little boy, before the demon. The pumpkin seeds are on my kitchen table right now.
I turn back to him after a few moments and take his hand. “Oh, please believe me, Henry. You just have to believe me! You know I’m not a liar and I would never lie about something like this!”
He looks at me with sympathy and pity. I can’t stand that look in his eyes and so I look towards the house to break the gaze. As I look up at my bedroom window, I see the silhouette of a man staring back down at me.
I gasp. Loudly.
“Look!” I scream at him, pointing up at my window. “It’s right there!”
Henry just stares at me and sighs, “Seph.”
“Damnit, Henry!” I scream at him. I swivel around sharply as I see a light come on in the house across the way. I almost lose my balance and put a hand down onto the porch to steady myself, but my ragged breathing betrays me.
Henry moves closer to put his hands on my shoulders as if to calm me down. “Sheriff, look, please!” I say, this time quietly and through clenched teeth. No point waking all my elderly neighbors, all old southern money, and bringing them into my nightmare.
He finally looks up and sighs. “Darlin’, ain’t nothin’ there but curtains. Can we please go inside? Lemme check the house out for ya? Show ya there’s nothin’ to be afraid of? What’d’ya say?”
I look at him again, begging him to see what I see, but I eventually let him help me up, step aside and let him enter.
. . .
“Whew, I sure do love what’ya’ve done with tha place, darlin’,” he says as he takes off his cowboy hat and looks around the expansive kitchen. “New sink’s nice, and the color sure is pretty.”
He continues to walk around the kitchen, staring up at the high ceiling before moving into the living room. His compliments are lost on me, however, as my full attention is now on Ariadne.
“You’re here,” I say to her in disbelief.
“O’ course I am,” replies Henry from around the corner, now checking out the décor in the dining room more than checking the house for spirits, malevolent or otherwise.
I ignore his comment and wanderings and focus solely on my sister.
“Where have you been?”
“I’m so sorry, Sephie. So, so sorry,” she says as she rushes over to me. She takes my hands in hers and I instinctively pull back. She’s as cold as winter and I can’t stand to feel her that way.
“Sorry for what?” I ask after a minute. “For disappearing? Why did you leave after that afternoon in my room? Why are you here? What’s going on?”
“Oh, Seph, you always did ask questions three at a time,” she says with a giggle. “Don’t worry though, we have, well, forever.”
I look at her with confusion.
“Are you okay?” I settle for after a beat. More tears start to come to me as I realize that she’s actually here.
“I’m fine,” calls the sheriff from somewhere on the second floor, still whistling about how nice the place is.
“I’m fine,” replies Ari with a small laugh.
“Why aren’t you in Heaven? If anyone deserves it, it’s you!”
“I can’t go yet because I need you, Seph. We all do.”
She says the last bit with a limp gesture of her hand. Suddenly, every ghost I’ve encountered in this house, and some I’ve never seen before, appears before me, surrounding me.
I’ve been living in a haunted house for months now, but this puts me over the edge. I can’t help it, I can’t control it, and so I just let it out.
I scream so loudly that several ghosts disappear, Henry comes bounding down the stairs and back to the kitchen, and I see more than a few neighboring lights come on.
I’m still screaming when Henry slaps me hard across the face and starts shaking me. I’m still screaming when Ari scrunches her ethereal face up in shock and tries to shush me from behind him. I’m still screaming when the demon’s face appears near my brand new dishwasher. It’s this that finally shuts my mouth.
“What’s gotten inta ya?” Henry asks loudly, breathing heavily from his impromptu sprint, as soon as I’m quiet.
I look around as all the ghosts see the demon and vanish. Soon, it’s just Henry, Ari, me, and the thing that’s cursed this day for me.
“It’s right there, by the dishwasher,” I say to nobody in particular, and yet hoping that someone will do something to fix it.
“What is?” asks Henry, now looking stressed as the doorbell is ringing and fists are frantically knocking on the front and kitchen doors. I hear calls of, “everything all right in there?” from husbands sent to check on the noise and then Henry replying that everything’s fine. But everything is very far from fine.
I look at Ari and she looks terrified.
“I couldn’t leave you alone with this,” she says to me as she looks at it. “I couldn’t leave you alone.”
I stare at them both and feel my blood run cold when I meet the eyes of the creature. It stares back at me and I move to stand by my sister.
“What do we do?”
“It’s all my fault.”
“What?” we both chorus at each other, having spoken at the same time. After a bit of silence, we hear Henry still calming nosy neighbors down and smile at each other. The creature hasn’t moved, and at this point I’m wondering if it can.
“If I hadn’t insisted on going out to get Chinese food, I wouldn’t have been in the accident, and you wouldn’t have invited it in. You wanted to have the food delivered, but I wanted to go for a drive. Such a stupid choice.”
I’m listening to her blame herself for dying and am just about to give her a big sister lecture on how she can’t blame herself for a drunk driving accident when I actually realize what she said.
“I was mad at you for trying to tell me how to live my life, again, and wanted to take a quick drive to clear my head when-”
I cut her off with a wave of my hand and shake of my head. “No, not that part! What do you mean I invited it in?”
She looks at me in shock. “You don’t know why it’s here? Why I’m here? Why all of these spirits are here? I thought you would’ve figured it out by now?”
“Figured what out?” I ask.
“Alrighty, neighbors are gone,” Henry says as he stomps back in to the kitchen with another deep sigh. “But you scream like that again and they’re bound ta come right on back.”
“Get rid of him,” Ari whispers to me. Her face twists and she looks unkindly towards the good sheriff, almost like she doesn’t trust him.
“Why are you whispering? I don’t think he can hear you,” I reply. I look toward the creature again, shudder, then back to Henry.
“Who’s whisperin’?” asks Henry as he looks around blankly.
“No one, sorry,” I reply quickly, realizing that I now look and sound as crazy as paint on a pizza. “Look, I think I’m just tired and missing my sister, that’s all. I really appreciate you comin’ all the way out here at this time of night, but I’m just gonna go to bed and wake up fresh.”
I say my hastily thought up excuse in one breath and hope it’s enough to get him to leave. I need to talk to my sister and she wants him gone.
“Darlin’, you’re clearly still spooked,” he says, not budging. “Why don’t ya just come on home with me and stay the rest of tha night with me and Mable? We’ll set ya up on the pullout and make ya a good breakfast in the morning and-”
I cut him off as Ari is moving closer to where the creature has gone from being just a face near the dishwasher, to standing stock still near the stove. I guess it can move.
“No, thank you,” I say with just a hint of hysteria in my voice.
“Stop!” I yell to Ari as she’s almost close enough to touch it.
“Persephone, you clearly ain’t well,” Henry says matter-of-factly.
“I’m fine, please go?” I say to him as I look at Ari.
He sighs again, looking like he’d rather handcuff me and scoot me off to Bryce Hospital than leave me alone with what appear to be my delusions.
“I promise, Henry, I’m okay,” I try to reassure him as my panic rises.
“Alright,” he says reluctantly. “But I’ll be back first thing in the morning.
“Sheriff, that’d be in about two hours,” I say with a small laugh as I hustle him towards the front door.
“Well, first thang after breakfast, then,” he amends.
“Sounds good,” I say with just a pinch too much enthusiasm.
He finally leaves and I shut and lock the door behind him. I watch him through the window as he slowly trudges back down the garden path and climbs into his car. He lingers in the drive, clearly wondering if he’s making the right decision by leaving me alone, and then cranks up and cruises away.
. . .
“Get away from it!” I shriek at Ari as I run away from the window and back into the kitchen. I see her mere inches from it, but it doesn’t flinch.
“It’s not me he’s after,” she says calmly as she continues to stare at the thing that’s kept me on the porch for damn near 12 hours.
“What do you mean?” I ask, keeping my distance from it, and as a result, from her.
By now, the other spirits have returned to the kitchen. Some sit around my breakfast nook table, oddly poking at my pumpkin seed packets; some huddle around the large, granite top island in the middle, while others choose to stand or lean against the walls.
“Do ghosts get tired?” I ask Ari suddenly, looking at a young man in his early 20s lean against my pantry door. He’s dressed as if he’s from the early 1800s, suspenders and all, and I can tell through his pale, ghostly visage that he’s a very light-skinned African American.
“What?” asks Ari, moving away from the creature and toward me, evidently amused by my question.
“Well, why lean if you aren’t tired?” I kind of mumble in response. “Never mind, what did you mean that I invited it? What are you, what are all of you doing here?”
“Finally, a reasonable line of questions,” asks an older looking woman from the breakfast nook side of the kitchen. She’s obviously white and looks like most of my present day neighbors, though her attire suggests she’s far from her own time. “Also, I strong disagree with the sheriff – I hate what you’ve done with my home.”
“What the f-” I start to say, but Ari cuts me off.
“It wants you, Seph,” she says abruptly.
The entire kitchen stops fidgeting, complaining, and leaning, and we let her words hang in the autumn morning air between us.
“Why” is all I can croak out.
Ari looks at me, as do all my new kitchen visitors, and begins to open her mouth when the demon leaps at me violently.
I’m sent flying into the table where the old plantation worker and what appears to be her family were sitting. I crash into it hard, sending the vase of peonies on top onto my midsection and the ghosts surrounding it packing.
I feel something grab my left ankle and scream. It starts to drag me through the kitchen when I feel Ariadne seize my arms and scream, “stop!” at it.
I’m in the middle of tug-o-war between my sister and the demon I didn’t want to believe was real when I hear her scream again.
This time, the grip on my ankle is released and I’m pushed back into Ari’s chilly arms.
Just as suddenly as it had launched itself at me, it’s gone. The other spirits, apparently frightened by the sudden commotion, have now returned, some straightening their immovable clothes.
“How did you do that?” I ask, knocking the glass shards and flower petals that now cover me to the floor and standing up. “What’s happening?”
I look around and see that every other resident is nonplussed by my attack; it seems to already be old news to them. I look at their calm faces and burst out into terrified tears again, this time clutching the crucifix necklace I always wear as I begin to fervently pray.
“Persephone, stop that,” Ariadne says sternly to me, looking oddly irritated.
“Why?” I shriek back at her. “If there was ever a time to call on the Lord, it’s now!”
“We need to talk,” she says, this time with a much nicer look on her face. “Come sit down with me.”
I look at her incredulously, and then walk over to my liquor cabinet, pull a new bottle of Jack Daniels out, and start drinking straight from the bottle.
“We did that. We got rid of the demon together,” says Ariadne with a small smile. She comes to stand next to me and gingerly lowers the bottle from my shaking hands and parted lips. “Come sit down.”
We move away from the scene of my attack and go sit on a plush, crème colored couch in the living room. At this point, I can see the sun peaking over the trees and brightening up the sky, but on this morning, it gives me no relief.
“That was Gamygin, a Great Marquis of Hell, the Great Marquis of taking souls who have died still steeped in sin, the Great Marquis that you invoked the day you found out I died.”
I stare at my sister, mouth open and knees drawn up to my chest.
“But I didn’t,” I finally splutter at her. “And you, you didn’t! You couldn’t have…”
I trail off at the end as I let the weight of her words fall on me. Taking souls who died steeped in sin? Ariadne?
“We both did,” she says gently. “We all did.”
The other spirits are now sitting, standing, and again, leaning, all over my pristine living room. They stare at Ari and I as if we’re a particularly interesting Broadway musical and they’re waiting for the next song.
“What?” I snap at them, suddenly angry for their intrusion.
“They’re all here because they died in sin, too, and now they’re hoping we, well you, can help them move on,” Ari says, turning my face toward hers and with one hand placing the other hand on my knee to stop it from hitting the floor. She can see that I’m close to standing up and attempting to deliver a down south ass-whoopin’ to about two dozen ghosts, but her words stop me.
“How am I supposed to help them move on? And you didn’t die in sin! You’re the best little Christian I know!”
“No, actually, you are the best little Christian I know, so good that you were able to summon a powerful demon from Hell, the demon that holds all of our souls,” she says with a cursory glance around the room. “Everyone here died here, except me and you. At some point, they all either owned this plantation or worked on it. They’re all murderers, torturers, rapists, or those that just lived with so much hatred and fear and pain in their hearts that they died begging the Lord to punish and hurt others. And they’re all damned for it.”
I look around the room again, this time clearly seeing the similarities and differences. I lock eyes with the little boy again, and this time wonder what he did or didn’t do to warrant eternal damnation.
“And you, Ariadne?” I ask as I close my eyes and then reopen them on her face. “What on Earth could you have possibly done?”
She looks down for a moment, unable to meet my gaze, and then finally back up at me.
“It’s my pride that landed me here, Seph, my stubbornness and pride,” she says with a shrug, as if a demon coming to collect her everlasting soul is a simple matter, not one of perdition. “I never gave anyone an inch, not even you. I always had to be right, but you, you always wanted to do what was right, which is why you can help us.”
“But how?” I ask, suddenly tired of all the mystery.
“You can take our place,” says a middle-aged man to my right.
He was clearly one of the slave owners of my current home. I remember reading through the county records before I, the first African American to ever own Grace Plantation, bought the place in cash that took me years to save, but I never thought I’d be confronted by the ghosts of racism past.
“Excuse me?” I ask, quite bewildered.
“Gamygin has never in the history of Creation given back what he’s earned, but he’s always willing to make a deal. A trade,” Ariadne chimes in before she trails off and looks away, sheepishly looking ashamed of herself.
I look back at my baby sister and remember her life, our life. I remember watching Sailor Moon on Saturday mornings and dressing up like witches on Halloween. I think back to teaching her how to swim and how to drive and how not to get taken advantage of by high school boys. I taught her how put a tampon in and how to write research papers for Mrs. Holloway’s AP US History class. I look at my baby sister and think of all the time I prayed for her to come back, and if she couldn’t come back, then at least for her to be in Heaven with our parents. Is this creature, this Gamygin, what answered me? Did I really do this?
“Ariadne,” I say before licking my lips and breathing in deeply. “What are you asking me to do?”
“Oh, Sephie! I’m so scared!” she says with a loud sob before falling over onto my lap. I let my hand fall into her ethereal hair out of habit and immediately pull back.
“Why does Gamygin want me? Why am I what it wants to trade?” I ask her now heaving and crying figure.
She hauls herself up with more effort on her face than I would have expected from a spirit. She looks at me and calmly replies, “because your soul is destined for Heaven, and Gamygin would love to steal you away from Him. There are plenty of pure light souls out there, but not many who would be willing to trade away Paradise for the Inferno on behalf of someone else. I know I can’t ask this of you, Sephie, but I promised the others I’d at least try.”
She finishes speaking with a weak gesture around the room before letting her hand plop softly back into her lap.
“Ari,” I breathe, fresh tears now falling from my puffy eyes and onto my already rubbed raw cheeks. “Are you asking me to go to Hell for you?”
“Oh, Sephie!” she cries.
I look at her disbelievingly. Can this really be my baby sister asking me to do this?
“I just,” I start to say, but she cuts me off quickly.
“Please, Persephone! I just can’t go! I’m so sorry I’m so weak! Please, please save me! We don’t have much more time. It’s taken so long to even make real, physical contact with you that we’ve use up most of the time Gamygin gave us to convince you!”
She takes my hands and the fear and panic in her voice hurts me.
“Ari, baby, I can’t make a decision right now! I need to pray, I need to think, I need to-”
The sight of a small horse suddenly appearing near my fireplace cuts me off. I look at it, jet black, shiny, and beautiful, just standing there; its large eyes staring straight into mine.
“Do you see that horse?” I ask no one in particular, now wondering if this is all just a terrible nightmare. Maybe I’d never seen Ariadne on my bed that day after all, maybe I’m just asleep and can’t wake up.
“Seph, you have to do this for me, please!”
I’m still staring at the horse when I suddenly hear the wind whisper to me again, just like I’d heard hours ago on the porch with Henry.
“Persephone! Don’t!” it screams at me.
“Did you just hear that?” I stand up and ask Ari. “Was that you?”
“Oh Seph, please do this for me,” says Ariadne, dismissing my questions. “We don’t have much more time. You have to get on the horse. I’m so scared, Persephone. I’m so, so scared.”
She’s crying and the other ghosts are now right next to me, all of them begging me to save them.
“I don’t know! I don’t know!” I shriek, trying to cover my ears from their pleading. “Please, I just need to think!”
“I love you, Persephone, please don’t let him take me to Hell!”
At this, I look at Ariadne, at my sister. The others back away from me and I close the small gap between Ari and myself. I can’t believe that she’s asking me to do this, but as I look at my perfect, sweet, little sister, I just can’t watch her ride some horse off to Hell. I just can’t.
“I made a promise 12 years ago that I would always take care of you,” I say to her through my tears. I think back to the assurance I gave to my father while he lay on his deathbed in upstate New York. Ari was in the waiting room and I was making vows to protect, guide, and raise her. Looking at her face now, her hair in her trademark high bun, her full lips trembling, her eyes pleading, I know what I have to do. “I love you, caterpillar.”
She looks at me like she can’t believe I’m actually going to do it, but she doesn’t know that I have a pact to complete. I can barely believe that I’m actually doing it either, but I know that I could never take watching my baby sister canter away to Lucifer’s playground, so away I go.
I walk over to the horse and slowly climb on. “I can’t wait to see you again as a butterfly,” I say to Ari as the horse lets out a loud, rough whinny. The noise frightens me and I reach out for Ariadne’s hand, but she doesn’t take it.
I move my hands back to tangle into the horse’s mane, take another look at my house and my sister, and then speak directly to Gamygin, “I choose to take the place of my sister and all these spirits in my house.”
At my words, the horse rears back and begins to gallop around the living room. Just as I realize we’re about to jump into my fireplace, my fireplace that is now glowing brightly and three times the size it was before, I hear the voice again, and this time, I also see a face. “Persephone! Don't!”
I look back in time to see Ariadne reaching out to me, looking as if she’s trying to pull me right off the horse, and the figure of who I thought was Ariadne change into a twisted visage, the face I’d seen underneath my bed.
“Wait!” I scream, reaching back for my real sister, but it’s too late.