In the darkness, a whisper like a branch scratching a windowpane:
"Who's there? What are you doing in my house?"
"Get out ... leave this place."
"How did you get in — did you wash your hands?"
"I don't — get out! You are not welcome here!"
"I know this isn't a gentrification thing. Wait, is it because I'm Asian?"
"What? No. I'm not — I'm a spirit who has pierced the veil between the living and the dead. My restless soul is tied to the creaking bones of this house and the very earth beneath it. Leave this place at once!"
"Holy hell, my house is haunted. I better ... um. Hmm."
"Flee while you can!"
"Hold on, lemme check something."
"I said flee. What are you doing?"
"Oh, it's this app for checking the air quality, it's pretty cool, actually. Aaaaand it looks like the wildfires are still burning and we're pretty smoky. Yeah, I'm staying in today."
"You're staying. Even though your house is a cursed shell in which the dead walk."
"Yeah. I go out there, I might as well smoke a pack of Winstons with the filters ripped off. Maybe tomorrow it'll clear up. But you know what, no. I'm still gonna have to stay."
"In a haunted house? With me, a malevolent supernatural entity?"
"Honestly, in 2018 — ha, even 2019 — I'd have run out of here without even packing a bag. But there's a pandemic on and this place has a backyard, so I'm staying."
"Like a flu or something?"
"Ugh. Please tell me you're not one of those. No, like a deadly contagious disease that's got people sheltering in place and wearing masks. Most people, anyway. With winter coming and people crowding indoors — uh-uh. I'm not going apartment hunting and moving — yikes, moving — during a third wave."
"I don't understand. Aren't you frightened talking to a disembodied spirit?"
"Um, surprisingly, no. My whole social life is basically on Zoom, so it doesn't feel like that big a deal."
"Not a big deal?"
"Oh, I'm so sorry. Of course. This is terrifying. You're terrifying — so spooky. It's not you. I just have a lot of other pretty scary stuff on my mind."
"Other scary stuff. Scarier than standing in the presence of evil?"
"Well, I've dipped into some comments sections, so, yeah. I'm guessing you don't have a whole lotta surprises for me."
"I have no idea what you're talking about but this house is teeming with tortured souls of the damned. Like these eerie twins!"
"OK, that's too close. I need you to back up girls, 6 feet. Thank you. Here, my friend made these masks — see? little kittens on there! — if you could just slip those on ... great. You know, it's not true what they say about kids not getting COVID. No, I'm talking scary. How long you been haunting? Like, who was president?"
"Uh, Hoover, I think. Wait, no, maybe Roosevelt?"
"Ha. Yeah, it's gotten weirder. And no offense but with Election Day in a few days, who knows how long they'll be counting ballots, and we've still got undecided voters? That's what's gonna keep me up at night, not that weird dragging sound in the hall. That was you, right?"
"Well, that normally does it. A little dragging, creepy whispers, a bloody pentagram and the living hit the road."
"Times have changed. I'm legit more freaked out by actual QAnon followers who believe in celebrity Satanic cults than I am by the possibility of some Rosemary's Baby situation in my building. Not saying ghosts aren't, you know, chilling or whatever, but I'm looking at Proud Boys, Boogaloo Boys — not really sure how we ended up with all these boys but here we are. And all of them armed to the teeth in the streets. Freaking Nazis."
"Nazis? How the hell did they come back?"
"Oh, yeah. A lot's happened. Lettuce can kill you now. And I hesitate to even start explaining the climate crisis because that is really gonna freak you out. Listen, how about I cue up another British Baking Show episode and we just try not to think about it? Then in the morning we'll see about a socially distant exorcism."
"Baking? Yes, that sounds soothing."
"You're gonna love it. Just go into the light."
Reach her at 442-1400, extension 320, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @JFumikoCahill.