Nine days is a long time for a young boy to go without his mother. I’d never been away from Momma for any time longer than eight hours, and that was when I was gone to school. And those eight hours often seemed like days when you have to deal with constant torment from your peers. Pain and sadness caused by people who should be your friends is always slow. And sadly, I always had to go back. Every day felt like a lifetime.
But eight hours at school seemed like nothing compared to having to stay all night at the youth center while Momma was missing. At night I lay awake on my cot, frequently disturbed by the random coughs and giggles of other children not sleeping, lying awake on other cots arranged like checkers across the large tiled floor of the dormitories. When sleep had found us and finally silenced the room, I often dreamed I was a ghost.
Not a ghost really, but a being, and not of this world, floating in that periphery between the heaven in the cloudy sky and the tips of the tall trees that surrounded our cabin, the last landmark of the earth where only birds and chipmunks and squirrels dare tread. It was the place where our chimney smoke goes. I was that smoke, drifting and expanding till I became the air up there.
I was a set of invisible eyes looking down and looking through the tree branches, and I could see every bug and every beast, just like I imagined God did if he was up there, some old man with a white fluffy beard wearing a toga and playing the harp all day while looking down at his children. I could see Momma, sitting on the front porch knitting or reading. I could see her feeding the chickens and chopping wood. I could see the young explorer, who was me, searching the forest. And though I couldn’t see the slave cemetery, I knew where it was. Because I knew everything.
And then the playful jab and the squeal of laughter would shake me from that peaceful fringe. I could feel myself being sucked back down to earth like a genie into a bottle as I came out of my sleep. Then, I was back on earth, back in the center, woken by a restless kid who thought it was funny to poke at the others and rob us of the one thing he could not find. I was in a room full of kids, some just like me, and yet I felt utterly alone.
“You’s him, ain’t ‘cha?” some muscle clod teen said to me at lunch. He looked like a drastically overdrawn cartoon sailor with his tank top and bulging biceps, and crew cut hair to keep the lice away. He even had a crude prison tattoo of an anchor which didn’t improve his bad body demeanor, but only solidified it.
“Him. That boy. The one that threw that other boy across the playground at school.”
“Yeah. I guess so.”
“Well…you either did or you didn’t. So which is it?”
“I did,” I said, ashamed because it was sort of a lie, but not really. I was the boy that everyone thought did it although my dad’s ghost was really responsible.
“How’d you do it?” he asked with wide-eyed curiosity.
“Can’t tell ya,” I said in the roughest prison yard voice I could muster.
My father had not always been a ghost. In fact, I had never met him while he was alive, nor as long as I’d been alive either. Given that my mother gave birth to me when she was much older, labeling me a miracle baby because she thought she couldn’t have any more children, my sister had long been married off and moved away by then. That’s when Momma met Daddy. Momma told me Daddy was a traveling man.
She’d taken to renting my sister’s old room to travelers for a few hours or even overnight. I didn’t know why any traveler would want to rent a room in a cabin out in the woods for just a few hours at a time, so I guessed they were hunters. I thought hunters would normally just stay out in the woods the whole time up in a tree or something, but maybe they were a bit more on the civilized side and wanted access to a working toilet and a hot meal.
Momma said Daddy rented the room quite a bit from her one summer; his name was Faulkner. After several months, she never saw him again. She’d fallen in love with him, and I feared maybe that’s why he never came back. But she said it didn’t matter because he’d left a gift to remember him by: her special little boy.
I didn’t meet Daddy till I turned twelve, well, Daddy’s ghost at least. I was hiking through the woods one day searching for that Spook cemetery when I came across a white man that I could see right through. I don’t mean the kind of seeing like when you can tell by looking at a person what they are thinking. I mean I could literally see right through him. He was like the outline of a person and someone had forgotten to fill him in. He said he’d been following me in the woods on and off for several weeks, wanting to make himself known to me. And when he did, and he knew I saw him, his outline filled in.
He’d been shot in the head and his body had never been found. He had no family, so no one was looking for him and no one knew he was even gone. He’d come back with plans to make himself known to Momma because she was the only person that ever cared about him, but he said it was like she couldn’t tell he was there, or maybe she could and she just didn’t want to. When he came across me in the woods instead, he knew exactly who I was. He said I was the spitting image of his youth.
I didn’t believe him at first when he said he was my Daddy, but he convinced me. He knew everything about Momma from when he’d visited her all those times. And I didn’t see any reason for a ghost to lie. I’d been able to see ghosts my whole life, and the bad ones just looked different. They looked evil because they were. Daddy didn’t even have a bullet wound in his head, so he looked alright.
I was afraid that if someone ever found his physical body, his spirit would pass on and leave me. But Daddy assured me it was too late for that. His body was gone, and as long as possible, his spirit would stay with me. He wanted to stay. He didn’t want to pass on because he was too afraid of what might be waiting for him on the other side. I didn’t know anything about such matters, so I left it at that.
The longer Daddy stayed with me, the stronger he got. Soon, he was able to move objects without even having to concentrate or focus on them. That’s how he was able to throw Timmy Taylor across the playground. Daddy was so angry because Timmy picked on me all the time. He’d had enough and Timmy had gone too far. He hated that I had to take the blame for it, but that was okay now because kids were leaving me alone at the teen home thanks to all that.
But back before Daddy’s ghost got strong, back before I even met him, I got picked on a lot. Kids had always called me names, the girls and the boys. The teachers always told Momma I was a good kid. I made straight A’s. I was the smartest in my class. But it’s always the good kids that get called names for some reason. I was the teacher’s pet, but a teacher was never around when I needed one when the bullies cornered me in the hall between classes.
When I was twelve, I knew better than to tell the kids about Ghost Daddy. When I tried to use him as a deterrent to keep from getting beat up on the playground, it didn’t work. They just laughed at me and said I had another imaginary friend. But I’d never even had imaginary friends when I was younger.
The kids in my class had heard me talk about ghosts before. Like I said, I been seeing them all my life. Ghosts didn’t hang around our school much despite a rumor that the basement was haunted. It wasn’t. I’d been down there a time or two to hide out when I skipped recess, and besides the occasional rat there definitely wasn’t any ghosts around. But ghosts did stop by the playground occasionally, mostly dead grandparents wanting to see their grandchildren. I tried not to make eye contact with them, but it was like they could see right through me – not like I was a ghost too but like they knew I could communicate with them.
They’d always want me to talk to their grand kid for them and let them know they loved them and not to worry about them. I tried it a few times but it always got me into trouble. The kid would punch me, and then they’d cry and tell the teacher. They’d say I made them sad by talking about their dead grandmother and saying she was standing next to them. I wasn’t lying! The teacher asked my Mom if I watched too many scary shows on television. We didn’t even own a television. Momma knew the truth but told me not to worry. Some day, folks would listen to me, but for now I should just keep my gift to myself. Some gifts weren’t meant to be shared. Gift. That’s what she called it, but it felt more like a curse.
Then, Daddy pushed Timmy Taylor and everyone started believing me.
I had shut down long before any of that happened because it was the only way I knew to avoid the ghosts hounding me and to try to stay out of the bullies’ way. No matter how much I got picked on, I was still labeled the troubled kid and was always getting sent to the counselor’s office. That did no good. I refused to speak to the counselor. I’d just get labeled counselor’s pet too and she’d never be there either when I needed her. So, I kept to myself and kept quiet.
That’s when a woman was sent all the way down from Mobile to try to talk some sense into me. They called her a social worker, and the whispers between her and the school counselor were about me possibly having trouble at home. So, this social worker was going to come to my house and talk to Momma. She was sure living up to her title by being all sociable with everyone I knew.
I was stubborn at first because she thought I had an imaginary friend too. She’d asked me about him when she saw us playing chase around the yard one day. Well, she saw me being chased by Daddy. I don’t think she saw Daddy though or she probably wouldn’t have asked who I was talking to.
I didn’t believe her when she said she believed me, but then she showed up at the police station when I got hauled in for the incident with Timmy Taylor. Thanks to her and the school counselor Timmy’s parents didn’t press charges and I didn’t have to go to jail or nothing. I only got suspended for a week, but it was the week of my thirteenth birthday so I didn’t mind. Not having to go to school on your birthday was the best gift ever, until the social worker showed up at the cabin to give me some comic books as a birthday gift.
No one had ever done anything like that for me before except Momma. That’s how I knew I could trust her. She even had a cool name that took me forever to remember how to spell.
Her name was Edeline Lundie.