The word eidolism means a belief in ghosts.
Until last week, when a ghost visited me for the first time, I didn’t believe in ghosts. I didn’t even think about ghosts much. I thought about plants—and no, that’s not weird. Plants are fascinating. They’re part of our world, but they live in a mysterious world of their own at the same time. They’re so…different. The way they turn sunlight into food. The way they use chemicals to talk to each other. The way they lure birds and bugs into helping them make more plants.
That’s why I’m going to be a plant scientist like Ms. Winger and my Uncle Everett. I’ll work in the Botanical Gardens right here in Clear Creek. My name will be on the sign at the entrance of the Gardens: Chrysantha Howe, Botanist.
I had the future planned out.
The ghost was not in the plan.
After the first visit, I still didn’t really believe in ghosts. But when she came back the second time, I had to change my mind. I hadn’t been dreaming and I wasn’t crazy. The only other alternative was: I had seen a ghost.
I started researching ghost visitations. What made them stick around in this world? How did they choose who to haunt? Why had no one ever caught a legitimate sighting on video or made a recording?
Mostly what I learned was that people argued a lot about whether ghosts existed. People who believed in ghosts liked other people who believed in ghosts. People who didn’t believe in ghosts thought people who did were crazy.
I was not crazy.
Finding out the answers to my questions about ghosts should have been easy. I had my own personal ghost to ask. But every time she visited me, I couldn’t say a word. My thoughts got all tangled and my breath stuck in my throat and I got dizzy. Having my own personal ghost was not helpful. The visits were…creepy. Like are-you-here-because-I’m-going-to-die creepy. Maybe the creep factor was why no one had ever documented a ghost.
I shivered, though I hadn’t seen the ghost in hours and cheerful sunlight warmed the early June morning. The Water Garden, a magical green fairyland of trickling streams and arched bridges, closed in around me. Shadows shifted. Bushes rustled.
I’d never seen a ghost before, not even when my dad died. Why had one decided to haunt me now?
“Just lucky, I guess,” I said. “What do you think, Barkley?”
My long-legged Schnauzer scratched his ear with his hind foot.
“That’s what I think too.”
I tugged Barkley’s ear and picked up one of the quarter-size flat stones scattered beside the path. I tossed the stone into the deep end of the Water Garden pond.
Barkley scrambled to the bank, then yipped and jumped back, almost jerking the leash from my hand. The ruff on his neck rose straight up. He stared at the pond, his lips curled, his teeth bared.
I gripped the red plastic leash more tightly.
The ghost liked water.
In the pond, twin black shafts of water shifted into the wavy outline of feminine eyes. Pale lips, reed-thin and white as unearthed slugs, parted. The lips tried to form a word. A gurgle rose from the depths like a deep sigh.
Bubbles roiled the surface of the water.
Barkley growled again. Then he barked, as if to prove the ghost hadn’t silenced him.
I tried to speak, to ask the ghost what she wanted. My tongue clung to the roof of my mouth. My lips moved in a quivery jiggle as if I were silently whistling. But I could not force out a sound, much less a whole question.
Maybe if I could think a question, the ghost and I could communicate. Maybe she didn’t need actual words to hear me and to answer.
I tipped forward. My glasses slipped down my nose. I wanted to ask her…something…something…important…
What would touching her feel like?
I stretched out my hand.
The buzz of a bee snapped me out of my trance. I scrambled back as the edge of the bank crumbled under my foot. The ghost vanished.
The buzz grew louder and turned into the whump-whump-whump of a helicopter.
Barkley whined and crowded against my leg. I patted him, my fingers stiff and cold.
“We’re all right, boy.” My voice was rough and my throat was so dry swallowing made me cough.
The still, calm pond reflected only my own face. Had I imagined the ghost? Had I wanted so much to find out why she was haunting me that I had made up an image in the water?
Of course not. I didn’t want to see her!
No, I hadn’t made her up. She had really been there. The fresh-breeze-and-crushed-leaf fragrance of the Water Garden thickened the air. I wasn’t imagining the scent. The same fragrance lingered every time she appeared.
I shoved my glasses back into place as the drumming of the helicopter engine became a roar. Its shadow flitted across the ground. Then the silver and blue chopper dropped like the rock I’d tossed into the pond.
I ducked, even though the helicopter was nowhere close to me.
The chopper leveled out, then circled once, twice, three times. The person in the seat beside the pilot waved.
I shaded my eyes with my hand and squinted into the morning sun.
The helicopter tilted, wobbled, dropped lower. The passenger waved again.
I waved both arms in a criss-crossing X.
Uncle Everett smiled. The sunlight glinted off his glasses.
My phone buzzed. I grabbed it and read the incoming text, but Uncle Everett hadn’t sent the message. I ignored that text and sent one to Uncle Everett. He didn’t answer, so I called him. As his voice mail picked up, my phone beeped the low battery warning and disconnected me.
The helicopter lurched and slipped sideways. It skimmed over the tops of the tallest oaks and pines and chopped away to the east. It could barely stay in the air.
My stomach cramped as if I’d eaten a poisonous mushroom. Was Uncle Everett in danger? Was that what the ghost had been trying to tell me?