I remember the first time I went down the alley. Now that LauraLai felt she had permission of whatever to interact with Jamie, she and I were in an unspoken contest to find the music that created the biggest reaction from Jamie. Even with as much as I knew about the Other Side, I never considered the straight our interactions were building in Jamie. We had decided to torture us all putting five completely different types of music in the stereo and hitting the “shuffle” button.
John Denver followed by Alice Cooper, the Dead Milkmen, Frank Sinatra and the Gaithers gave the afternoon a unique lack of reality when LauraLai suddenly declared, “You need a haircut!”
“Yes. Right now. C’mon! My mom will do it!”
“But I don’t think I want my hair cut.”
“Sure you do. C’mon!” The urgency was as uncomfortable as the idea of a stranger cutting my hair, but I was known to be entirely too curious for my own good anyway. I was nothing if not a self fulfilling prophesy, so I allowed LauraLai to drag me down the ally, without even turning off the stereo, which probably had something to do with what happened while we were gone.
I had never known a family like LauraLai’s. As soon as we walked in the front door her dad look up from his paper. With barely a glimpse at me he stated, “Oh it’s you!”, like he was expecting me, and returned to his paper.
“It is?”, I felt the need to reply as LauraLai herded me past him and into the kitchen where her mom sat with a deck of cards.
“It’s about time!” she said, and threw the cards on the table.
“These are my folks”, LauraLai explained, as if I hadn’t guessed. “You call her Mom. Everyone does.”
“No they don’t!”, her mom declared and then looked me in the eye like she was looking for something she had lost. “But you can,” she decided then, as if punctuating her decision, “You need a hair cut!”
“I..I..I don’t kno…”
“Just the dead ends, Silly Goose!” and before I knew it I was sitting in a chair with her scissors whisking around my head and a tune buzzing in my ear. LauraLai sat on a bar stool watching us with a thoughtful expression.
“I think I want to color my hair.”
“What color?”, Mom managed between choruses.
“I don’t know. Maybe orange. I haven’t’ tried that yet.”
“You mean you’ve tried others? Like purple and green and blue?” It seemed an appropriate question, so I asked it.
“Well, yeah! I do green every St Patty’s Day and it stays until May!”
“Why don’t you do orange for Halloween?”
“It messes with my costume. So what do you think?”
“Just let me know when you make up your mind so I know what to get for it.” I realized from the moment I met her that LauraLai was different, and after her Mom’s reply, I understood why.
A resounding thunk from the pantry elicited “I guess that decides it!”, from LauraLai and they both laughed. I wasn’t sure I wanted in on the joke, having been uneasy from the moment this surreal experience had started.
It was then that I noticed the little girl at the foot of the stairs. She seemed out of place for this laid back family, dressed in her ruffles and laces. “Oh! I didn’t know you had a little sister!”, I observed and it was as if time stopped as I felt the stares.
It wasn’t just LauraLai’s mom, but her dad from the other room, the little girl by the stairs and even a something through the ceiling above me. “Well, well, well! Now THAT explains a great deal!”, LauraLai’s mother finally spoke. She quickly removed the cape, expertly whisking the hair into the trash, and scampered away and up the stairs, passing right through the little girl, humming a slightly odd tune as she went.
Without another word LauraLai rushed me out of her house as quickly as she had my own.
“OK. Wow! Your mom should hang out with Jamie, all that singing she does!”
“Actually, she sort of did. I think that’s where Jamie gets it from.”
“What? OK, seriously, you need to help me understand some things here!”
“Well, Mom grew up in the blue house next door. The one on the side with your room? She used to tell me about how she would turn up the music when no one was home and dance with the ghost next door.”
“And you couldn’t tell me this before? So what about the little girl?” I thought it strange that after all we had experienced, she would feel uncomfortable sharing ghost stories with me, but her shifting agitation made it clear.
“See, the thing is, there are a lot of houses here that have things going on. You know, like the little girl. But they belong to the house and it’s family. Other people usually can’t see or hear them. We hear people talk about them, and we have our own stories to know that they are probably true, but there’s, like, NEVER anyone else who can verify. It’s been that way for years. Mom says it’s because most of the houses are passed on through the family. That’s why my aunt lives next door to you.”
I thought about that for a moment. In an odd way that made sense. Everyone had their own personal ghosts, and, like traditional “skeleton’s in the closet”, there were quietly understood.
I stopped. “What do you mean?”
“No one stays in your house for long. Actually, it’s been been vacant for years. I was surprised you cleaned it up so well!”
“I didn’t clean it before you got there, I had just been unpacking boxes. The Realtor must have hired a service.”
It was LauraLai’s turn to stop. “My aunt has been watching the place so I’d know when to come visit. She told me every time someone came or went. No one was there long enough to get it cleaned up like that!”
As understanding dawned within our minds, our feet caught up with our panic. We ran the remaining distance to my kitchen door and through it open.
The entire porch ceiling had fallen in, leaving little more than the floorboards of the attic above it. The entire house sounded hollow although the stereo still blared in the room beyond; the attic appearing to throb with each down beat.
“LauraLai?”, her Aunt Mary called from the neighboring yard.
“Here! We’re here!”, LauraLai called back, never removing her eyes from the destruction before us.
“Thank goodness! I head that racket and thought you girls were still inside. What happened?”
“The music is to loud for this old house I guess.” I looked at LauraLai. “Even in a place where every house seems haunted, it’s not good to have the roof cave in!”
“Yeah. Better go turn that down!” I only hesitated for a breath before I caught a breath of a scent I recognized. Whatever had occurred was over. Done. This was a safe space once more, so I could walk through to the stereo with courage. It wasn’t until I was trying to fall asleep that I realized that Jamie was missing.