So, the next Start Writing Fiction exercise was to turn on the radio and write a 500-word story inspired by the first thing you heard. I don’t have a radio, so I googled “random weird news” instead and grabbed an interesting-sounding headline. Appropriately enough for Halloween season, it was about a haunted house! Here it is:
A Ghost Story
“This Spooky Historic Home will Send You Free ‘Possessed Plants.’” I read aloud from the local paper. “That’s a bit sensationalized, don’t you think?”
I handed the newspaper to my husband across the breakfast table and reached for my cup of coffee. The mug was warm, and I wrapped my hands around it.
“They could have gone with ‘Ghosts, Free To a Good Home’ instead,” he said.
I shrugged and took another sip of coffee. An eery chuckle wavered in the air. It emanated from somewhere near the stove.
“Come off it, Fred,” I said. “You’re the one who complains the most about overcrowding. We’re just trying to be proactive, here.”
The girl I’d spoken to at the newspaper had been chipper and enthusiastic. She had taken down all the details, asked how many plants were available, and told me I had excellent timing putting out this offer right before Halloween. She asked if it were part of my campaign to have the old house recognized by the historical society.
“Any publicity for that petition can’t hurt,” I’d told her. “But honestly, I’m just trying to get rid of some of these ghosts.”
She’d laughed. Everyone always laughs, at first. By now, though, the hydrangea she’d taken for herself must have shown her I was telling the truth. I’d given her Edith’s plant, and I hadn’t missed the constant, pervasive smell of menthol cigarettes that always hung around Edith’s spirit. I hoped the newspaper girl lived in a smoking apartment.
The old rotary phone on the kitchen wall rang out with a blaring BRIIIIIIING before I had a chance to finish my coffee. I had learned soon after moving in that modern devices, like cell phones, tended to act screwy and brick themselves after a few days inside these walls. The old phone acted spooky, too – calls from nowhere, heavy breathing, randomly falling off the hook – but at least it still kind of worked. This morning, the calls kept coming at a steady clip straight up until lunch time. Apparently everyone in town wanted to get their hands on a free “possessed plant” to put on their front porch to scare Trick-or-Treaters. I took down names, addresses, and made a few notes about the callers’ personalities. As much as I complained about the ghosts, they had become familiar to me, and I wanted to make sure their new roommates were a good match.
As I turned on the stove to start heating up tomato soup for lunch, a creepy rustling whisper crawled up the back of my neck. Fred again. He’d been reading my notes, and wanted to know if he could go live with the twenty-two-year-old model and actress who had put in a plant request. I responded with an exasperated sigh.
“I thought you wanted to stay here? You’re, like, 200 years old. Get a grip, Fred.”
The cabinets rattled noisily. The burner on the stove flared up dramatically for a few seconds, threatening to singe my eyebrows.
“Fine!” I snapped. “Go, and good riddance! She’ll probably toss you in the dumpster before you can say ‘Boo,’ you old fart.”
The rattling stopped. I grabbed a spoon and set the pot on a folded towel right on the kitchen table – no sense dirtying a bowl. I pulled out my list from the morning phone calls and got to work. I had ghosts to re-home.