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Flash Fiction

The Ghost of Howard McDougal

I knew for certain that my house was haunted when I noticed that somebody had written GO AWAY in blood on the bathroom mirror the day I moved in. 

I suppose I really ought to have known when I saw the listing for the house. It did mention that there were multiple horrific murders here, and when I asked the agent for a tour, they promptly emailed me saying that they’d have to drop me due to a sudden overburden of clients. 

Yet, I persisted. I felt drawn to the house, and it to me. The buyers sold it at nearly half of what they were asking and so within a week of me first spotting the listing, I was a homeowner. 

The night after I cleaned up the bloody writing, I woke up to the sound of ominous creaking. The house is not large and a quick reconnoiter revealed it was coming from the attic. I stood beneath the trapdoor and tried the light, but it refused to come on. There I was, in the dark, beneath the attic, thinking. 

A low moan, somewhere between a cry of anguish and a wail of fear, began above me. It mounted in intensity, vibrating the walls and floors until the whole house was shaking. The moan chattered my teeth and rang my ears. And as suddenly as it started, it stopped. 

The trapdoor snapped open and a gust of ice-cold wind blew out, almost knocking me to the ground.

“GET OUT!” howled a voice on the wind.

I returned to bed, thoroughly terrified. 

The following day, I sat in what was to become a home office. There were unopened boxes from the move piled in one corner, and I sat on the floor, using a box labeled SHOES as my desk. 

I heard something clatter upstairs, and I froze. There came a sound like a chain being dragged across the floor. I looked up and saw a trail of blood cut across the ceiling. The trail widened as more blood seeped through the ceiling and a drop fell on my face. 

I snatched up my laptop and darted out from under the blood as it began to drip faster.  

“Alright!” I shouted. “I get it! You want me gone. Well, tough! I bought this place so as far as I’m concerned you’re a squatter. So you better get out before I evict you!”

“Evict me!” A pale translucent figure of a man appeared before me. He had a terrible gash across his head and blood had spatted all down the suit he wore. His glasses were shattered and askew on his head. He howled, and the boxes began to fly around the room as another gust of wind tore through me, chilling me to my core.

“I am the rightful owner of this house! You cannot evict me — I will drive you out!”

The ghost screamed and floated up toward the ceiling. I heard my mother’s voice in my head berating me for never standing up for myself.

“Come back right now, Howard McDougal!” I shouted. 

The ghost paused mid-air. I blinked. We were both surprised it seemed.

“How do you know my name?” asked the ghost.

“I did my due diligence before I bought this house,” I said, stepping forward. I knew I had to ride this uncharacteristic bit of confidence while I had it. “I know all about how you were murdered by your business partner and he stored your body in the attic.”

“So then you know why I cannot rest until I have exacted my vengeance!” 

“Yes, well, that was over fifty years ago. Your business partner could be dead for all we know.”

The ghost frowned. 

“In any case,” I continued, “you have no right to try to drive me out of this house. I own the deed and that is an undeniable fact.”

“Well, I am bound to this earthly plane until my unfinished business is fulfilled.” The ghost lowered itself down to the ground. The blood stopped dripping.

“It just so happens that I am a CPA for a very important firm in town. Perhaps I can take a look at your books and see if your business partner embezzled all that money so he could sleep with your wife. That might not have your soul be released, but it’s a start.”

The ghost didn’t say anything for a very long time. I was almost afraid it had forgotten I was even there. It wasn’t until I coughed that it responded. 

“Fine. Come up to the attic and I’ll let you take a look at the books.”

The ghost of Howard McDougal is still living in my house. I discovered that his business partner probably didn’t embezzle money at all. It was Howard’s poor management that drove the business into the ground — too much expansion, not enough capital, that classic story — and his business partner was just a lech with a temper.

Howard keeps to himself mostly, sometimes coming down to spook guests or to show off at parties. Sometimes he’ll leave messages on the bathroom mirror like GET EGGS, and I’ll let him rattle chains and drip blood through the floor on weekends.

I suppose we have become friends.

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