Rebecca and Daisy had moved into their new house in their new town in the middle of February, but it wasn’t until early April, on the night of the girls’ sixteenth birthday, that Rebecca finally learned about the ghost.
They’d celebrated earlier in the evening with their mother, who’d made their favorite chocolate cupcakes from a box, and were upstairs in their room doing homework when Daisy told Rebecca that she’d been seeing the ghost for weeks, ever since they’d moved in. She’d only been scared at first—not because the ghost was scary, really, but because it was so unexpected.
“But now it’s just kind of normal,” Daisy said.
Rebecca experienced an unfamiliar pinch in her chest that seemed to make her sit up a little straighter—it was a small pain, deep. She didn’t know what she was supposed to say. Since when was seeing a ghost normal? Since when was Daisy keeping secrets from her normal?
Daisy went on, as if she hadn’t even noticed Rebecca’s reaction. The ghost was a girl—a teenage girl, probably around their age—with long, stringy hair and eyes that always seemed to be brimming with tears. She would show up in the doorway to their bedroom. After standing there for a few seconds, the ghost would make a move—she’d rise up onto the ball of one foot, poised to take a step. But then something would pull her attention away, as if she were being called from some other part of the house, and she would turn and disappear down the hallway. This scene played out almost every night, Daisy said, sometimes twice, or even three times.
“You’ve really never seen it?” Daisy asked.
Rebecca almost automatically answered yes, she had, because she’d always had this habit of insisting that every experience between them be an experience shared. She caught herself before she spoke, however. Pretending to see a ghost wasn’t a lie she could easily back out of.
Instead, Rebecca shuddered, shook her head, and, for a while, said nothing. She refused to look at the doorway, but could see, out of the corner of her eye, the dark, empty space.
“What is it wearing?” she eventually asked. Rebecca had learned from stories that ghosts were often described by their out-of-date clothes, so she figured it was as good a question as any.
“Different things,” Daisy replied. “Sometimes a long, patterned dress. Sometimes a nightgown. Sometimes pants—like baggy boys’ pants.”
“Has it tried to talk to you?”
“No. Not yet.”
“Does it look at you?” asked Rebecca. “Does it know that you can see it?”
“I think so.” Daisy paused. “Yes. For sure, yes.”
Rebecca, finally, looked straight at the doorway. “Is it there now?”
* * *
In the weeks that followed, Rebecca often caught her sister glancing at their bedroom doorway in that blandly curious way a person might look at a bird landing on a tree limb or to a crane fly hopping up a wall. Because of this—and because Rebecca had long been able to read the way thoughts twitched across Daisy’s face—she didn’t have to ask if the ghost was there anymore.
She made the decision that if the ghost didn’t scare Daisy, then she wouldn’t let it scare her, either. After all, her sister was right; it wasn’t threatening. Its arrival was never heralded by creaking floorboards or sudden drops in temperature. There were never any strange whispers in her ears. Rebecca told herself that, yes, things were normal, and so, for a while, the sisters’ nightly routine went on uninterrupted. They would do their homework on their beds with their headphones on—maybe watch something on their computers—and then turn out the lights. Daisy would curl up on her right side, and Rebecca would curl up on her left.
One night in the middle of April, Rebecca couldn’t go to sleep. She’d thought she’d heard a noise—a thump or a footstep in the hallway, when she knew that their mom was away for work and that she and Daisy were the only ones in the house. She’d been squinting so hard at the dark doorway that she’d given herself a headache. Rebecca was creating a picture there of the ghost, just as Daisy had described it, but that picture—that girl—came out of Rebecca’s imagination, as opposed to rising out of the spirit world. She wondered if the ghost ever looked at her, or if it was only interested in looking at Daisy because Daisy could truly look back. She also wondered if she should just get up and close the door.
“Daisy. What happens if you close the door?”
Daisy woke up and rolled over in her bed. “What?”
“With the ghost. What happens if you close the door?”
“I don’t see her if the door is closed.”
“Is it there now?”
“No,” her sister said after a moment. “I’m tired, Rebecca.”
“What if it comes in while we’re asleep?”
Daisy sighed. “My ghost isn’t like that.”
Rebecca sucked in a breath, stung by two things: Daisy’s obvious annoyance, plus her use of the word my, as if the ghost belonged only to her.
* * *
If Rebecca really thought about it, things hadn’t been normal for a while. Daisy had been acting different ever since the move. She was more distant, snappish. She complained about every little thing: how the humidity in their new town made her cowlicks act all weird, how she hated all the clothes in their closet, how the new house was too small and made her feel, in her words, “like she was drowning,” and how their mother always put way too much cracked black pepper in the chicken salad.
Rebecca didn’t understand it. Before the move, the twins had hardly ever disagreed: they had the same hair and the same cowlicks, they’d always shared the same clothes, which Rebecca thought were fine, and their mom’s chicken salad was great—everyone said so.
Now, along with the complaining, Daisy had waited weeks to tell Rebecca about the ghost. If anything confirmed Daisy was pulling away, that did. In an attempt to bring things back into balance, Rebecca decided to name the ghost Laura, but she didn’t tell Daisy. If Daisy got to claim the actual ghost, the very least Rebecca could have was its name.
* * *
The spring semester was coming to a close, and the sisters were in their room studying for finals when Rebecca noticed Daisy looking at the open doorway. This time, the expression on Daisy’s face was different—it wasn’t like she was watching a bird on a branch or a crane fly on the wall. Instead, her eyes had gone wide. Her face was drained of color, and she seemed to be holding her breath. Since Rebecca knew the way thoughts twitched across her sister’s face, she knew what was happening.
Daisy was anxious, as if someone uninvited was about to step into the room.
“Hey!” Rebecca shouted, not to her sister but in the direction of the doorway.
She launched off her bed and sat on the foot of Daisy’s. Daisy shifted behind Rebecca and placed a warm hand on her back, between her shoulder blades.
“Get out,” Rebecca commanded. She waited, staring hard at the place in the dark empty space where she thought Laura’s eyes might be. “I can see you too, you know.”
Rebecca waited. The waiting was the worst part. She didn’t know what Laura’s voice sounded like or if she even had one, but she listened for it anyway. The temperature of Daisy’s hand had gone from warm to hot, and Rebecca could feel the sweat from her sister’s palm leach through the fabric of her nightshirt. They were both trembling.
There was nothing—no temperature shift and no sound of creaking floorboards. No voice, no message; not a whisper or a dry laugh. After a long moment, Daisy lifted her hand from Rebecca’s back, and that’s when Rebecca knew that Laura had finally vanished.
“Do you think it heard me?” Rebecca asked.
“She came in,” Daisy said. “She came in, and I swear she was about to tell me something. She opened her mouth, but then she was called away again. Like always.”
Rebecca put her hand on her sister’s knee. “You looked really scared.”
Daisy sat back against her pillows and let out a long breath. Then she started gnawing at the edge of one of her cuticles. She’d been biting her nails again, which she hadn’t done since their parents were going through the divorce.
“I don’t think it wants to hurt me,” Daisy said. “I think it wants my help. Or at least to tell me something important.”
“Help with what?” Rebecca asked.
“I don’t know.” Rebecca watched a spot of dark blood well up at the corner of one of Daisy’s nails. “I don’t know. It’s not like I can do anything.”
Rebecca got up to close the bedroom door, and then climbed back onto Daisy’s narrow bed. That night, they slept together there, back to back.
* * *
The next day, Rebecca stayed after school and sought out the oldest teacher at the school, Mr. Roye, and asked if he’d ever heard of any haunted houses in their area. She told him she was asking for a project for finals. All he said in response was, “I have not, young lady.” After that, Rebecca went to the local library and searched the online archives of the town newspaper for ghost stories or sightings, but nothing came up.
Since she couldn’t find any answers, Rebecca started trying to talk to the ghost herself. Whenever she would go to the kitchen to grab a can of soda from the fridge, or while she was washing her hair in the morning, she would ask it questions.
“Hey, Laura. How did you die?”
“What do you want, Laura?”
“Why won’t you leave Daisy alone?”
“Knock once for yes, twice for no.”
There was never any reply.
As the days dragged on toward summer, Rebecca got more and more frustrated, and at a certain point, she stopped referring to the ghost as Laura. She figured that a ghost that rude didn’t deserve a name.
* * *
Rebecca and her sister were in the den, sitting together on the couch late one night, curled up underneath the same crocheted blanket. The television was on, blaring out some cop show, and Daisy was dozing off and on, her head against Rebecca’s shoulder. Rebecca was stroking Daisy’s unwashed hair, which made her feel useful. It was just like when they were little; when their parents would fight, the two of them would sit in front of the TV, and Rebecca would stroke Daisy’s hair.
In some ways, it was all she could do. The ghost kept coming, always getting closer and closer to Daisy. Rebecca kept warning it to go away, but those warnings weren’t working. The ghost was becoming more persistent. It wouldn’t just show up in the open doorway anymore. Now, Daisy said, it appeared in their bedroom—by the side or foot of Daisy’s bed, or over by the window or closet. That’s why she had stopped sleeping in the bedroom and started sleeping out in the den. She claimed that having the lights and the television on helped her. She liked the distraction.
“Has it talked to you yet?” Rebecca asked.
“No,” Daisy murmured.
“Can you feel it? Does it touch you?”
“No. Rebecca, please. I don’t want to talk about it.”
“Is it here now?”
“Yes,” Daisy said, without looking up.
“Is it close to us?”
* * *
The girls’ mother had a sense that something was wrong, but her job as a flight attendant kept her away from the house and mostly out of her daughters’ lives. She needed to pay off the move, so she had taken as many shifts as the airline would give her. When she asked—usually over the phone—what was up, Daisy blamed her bad moods on the new house and the new school and told their mom to just leave her alone. Rebecca said everything was fine.
“It’s almost summer,” the girls’ mother said on one of her calls. “Things will get better. We can travel. When I get back from Brazil, I’ll stay for almost a week. I promise. I’ll bring you girls back something fun, okay?”
Before hanging up, their mom suggested that Daisy take some vitamins and try either making a new friend or reaching out to a friend from their old town. Daisy didn’t do any of that.
* * *
During finals week, Daisy just zoned out at her desk. Rebecca would often catch her staring off into the corner of the room, test paper blank and forgotten.
At one point, during their math final, Rebecca leaned over and poked Daisy in the arm.
“Is it here?” she whispered. “Daisy. Is it here?”
Daisy sighed wearily. “Is what here?”
Rebecca didn’t want to say the words “the ghost” out loud at school, and aside from that, she knew that Daisy knew what she meant by “it.” Frustrated, she just let it drop and, with a huff, went back to her test.
* * *
Daisy failed all her finals. And now, instead of sleeping in the den, she’d started roaming. Rebecca watched her sister shuffle through the house, looking through the closets and inspecting the dim, rotted-out corners of the attic. At one point, when Daisy was tearing up sections of carpet and tapping the floorboards beneath, Rebecca stood over her and told her about how she’d searched online and found nothing about the house being haunted. Daisy didn’t seem grateful for the effort. She just kind of grunted and kept on inspecting the floors.
Rebecca left a message with their mother, who called back from Frankfurt in the middle of the night. Rebecca told her that Daisy was acting really weird, and that she was worried about her. She still didn’t mention anything about the ghost. After a moment, Rebecca’s mother sighed and again insisted that Daisy was probably going through an adjustment period. Then she got mad and accused the two of them of being too old to be acting so helpless. She said she knew that things were really hard right now but that she was doing her best to be a good mother. She asked, her voice rising, what more did they want? She asked, did they ever think of her, how difficult it must be for her to be gone all the time? When Rebecca thought that maybe her mom had started crying, she apologized and hung up.
* * *
Soon, Daisy’s roaming extended beyond the house. She’d wander down sidewalks or into the neighbors’ yards. Rebecca would follow, nervous that she might veer out into the street and into the path of a car. Sometimes, Daisy would just stop and stare. She’d peer off into the middle distance, or into the windows of their neighbors’ houses, or at the bark of a tree less than two feet in front of her. Whenever that happened—the stopping and the weird staring—Rebecca would call out her sister’s name. If Daisy didn’t respond, Rebecca would go over, take her by the hand, and steer her back home. At first, Daisy came without much resistance, but she quickly got more and more stubborn about it. Finally, one day, Daisy just sat down in a neighbor’s side yard and became dead weight.
“Why are you doing this?” Rebecca cried out.
Daisy turned, and stared up at her sister. Rebecca knew that expression: Daisy was disappointed, like she couldn’t understand why Rebecca would even ask her such a thing.
“I’m just trying to help!” Rebecca tugged at her sister, trying to lift her by the shoulders. “Why won’t you let me help you?”
She dropped to her knees and pleaded with her sister to come home, but Daisy ignored her.
“Daisy!” Rebecca shouted. “You’re too old to be acting so helpless!”
* * *
After that, Rebecca stopped trying to get Daisy back inside. She didn’t want to make things worse. If Daisy sat in the grass or in the middle of the warm sidewalk, Rebecca would sit, too—with her sister’s betrayal burning like a little nugget of coal in the back of her throat—until Daisy decided she’d waited long enough for her ghost and that it was time to head home. She’d lead the way, and Rebecca would follow.
* * *
In late June, on an unseasonably chilly night, Daisy went outside wearing an overlong white T-shirt over running shorts. Rebecca grabbed a sweater from their closet, knowing that it would be easier to convince Daisy to cover up than to come inside.
Once she was in the front yard, Rebecca watched Daisy pivot on the sidewalk and look back at the house. Her gaze went directly to the lamplit window of their bedroom, and when Rebecca also looked, she saw something there, like a shadow passing behind the curtain.
Daisy gasped and shouldered past Rebecca.
Rebecca tailed Daisy through their front door and down the hall toward the bedroom that Daisy had stopped sleeping in weeks ago. Daisy halted in the doorway—in the empty doorway to their empty room. Rebecca watched her sister hover, right there on the threshold, wearing white and balancing on the ball of one foot, like she might—at any moment—take a step forward.
“Is she there?” Rebecca asked.
Startled, Daisy spun to face her sister.
“Rebecca,” Daisy said. There were tears in her eyes. “Why won’t you ever just leave us alone?”
[Story edited by Sharyn November.]