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The Family Ghost

Jamie Lackey lives in Pittsburgh with her husband and their cat. She has over 120 short fiction credits, and has appeared in Daily Science Fiction, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and the Stoker Award-winning After Death.... She's a member of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. Her short story collection, One Revolution, and her science fiction novella, Moving Forward, are available on Amazon.com. Her debut novel, Left-Hand Gods is available from Hadley Rille Books. In addition to writing, she spends her time reading, playing tabletop RPGs, baking, and hiking. You can find her online at jamielackey.com.

The family's guardian ghost lived in a large green gem embedded in a thick silver setting. It had protected and cared for us for generations. And of course, just a week after I inherited it, it went completely mad. Instead of offering sage counsel, it laughed, manically and nonstop. It was getting to be enough to drive me mad, too.
In a fit of pique, I threw it into the fountain in the main courtyard. The green gem flashed in the clear water, and the constant cackling finally ceased.
I was tempted to leave it there. Other families did just fine without a guardian ghost, and it's not like things had been going well for us, lately.
It would be lovely not to have every action, every word, judged by an entity with no emotion, and normally no sense of humor.
But emotionless or not, the ghost had always been kind to me, and I'd already lost enough family. I couldn't leave it, insane and silenced by the babbling fountain.
I pulled another wanted inheritance out of my hope chest. The enameled mirror shone bright, even through the ivory doilies that were wrapped around it. I pulled them away and held it high. "Mirror," I commanded, "show me what will help my ghost."
The mirror showed a beach. Yellow sand and turquoise water. I blinked at it. "Are you suggesting that it needs a vacation?"
The image remained for another heartbeat, then faded.
I stuffed the mirror back into its doily wrappers.
My finances wouldn't suffer a sea voyage, but I could take the train to the coast. Having a sane ghost again would certainly be worth that price.
However, arranging such a trip would mean confessing to my brother that a mere week in my company hand driven the ghost to madness.
His laughter, I imagined, would be even more grating than the ghost's.
Still, I faced it. Perhaps, I admitted to myself, I was more fond of the ghost than I cared to admit. Of course, a trip to a sandy beach didn't seem like a great chore.
When I pulled the necklace from the fountain, the ghost was quiet. I slipped the chain over my head. "All right?" I asked, suddenly hopeful that it had sorted things out on its own.
I could feel the ghost's spectral glare. "You threw me in the fountain," it said.
"You'd gone crackers."
"I don't have any idea of what you could mean," it said, then giggled.
I rubbed the bridge of my nose. "Damn it."
The train trip was lovely and relaxing. The sun shone outside on scenes of picturesque pastures and small, friendly towns. I slept in a tiny, swaying bed.
I kept the ghost stuffed into my luggage, where his guffaws were at least muffled.
As we grew close to the shore, the sky darkened. But the trip had lightened something in me, and I took the ghost down to the shore anyway. As the rain fell, we stood together on the shore and laughed, then we cried. I hadn't cried since the accident, since I'd lost my parents and gained so many responsibilities. I'd had no idea of the pure scope of feelings that I'd bottled up inside, until I let them out.
As I walked toward the hotel, wet and exhausted, eyes stinging and throat sore, the ghost said, "There, now don't you feel better?"
The End
This story was first published on Thursday, March 30th, 2017

Author Comments

This story actually came out of an exercise using Story Cubes. My local writing group didn't have anything to critique at our meeting, so we decided to use the time to try to write something instead. It turned out pretty well for me, I think!

- Jamie Lackey
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