The ghost walked out of the closet like it owned the place. A young boy, almost a teen, smiling garishly at Isabel. Isabel gripped her covers and froze, closing her eyes tight. Her friend Gina had told her that ghosts cannot hurt good people. But Isabel had made a terrible scene at dinner, throwing her food on the floor and refusing to do the dishes. Isabel was bad.
“I know you’re awake,” said the ghost. A warbly, raspy voice, like a pack of bullies laughing at a kid. “You’re trembling, Eeeeesssaaabeeeelll.” The voice came closer and the air grew frosty.
“Leave me alone,” Isabel said. “Go away or I’ll get my daddy.”
The ghost laughed. “What can your daddy do?” He danced around the bed singing a song about slippery guts and brandy.
Isabel’s scalp tightened and shivers ran through her, the cover over her head, her teeth clenched to stop the chattering.
“I know a secret,” said the boy. He danced to the side and leaned down to her. “You want to know?” He laughed and jumped around. “You’re gonna die,” he cackled, then rolled on the floor holding his stomach.
Isabel bolted, jumping off the bed and running to her parents’ room. “Daddy! Daddy! Daddy! Daddy!” She jumped on the bed between them grabbing onto her father’s neck as he woke up.
“What is it, button?”
“There’s a ghost. A really mean one. And he says I’m going to die. He won’t go away and he wants to cut my toes off.” Isabel realized the ghost hadn’t threatened her toes, but somehow she knew that’s what he was going to do.
“There’s no ghost, sweetie. C’mon, I’ll show you.” He grabbed a flashlight and they went into her bedroom. They looked everywhere, but couldn’t find him.
“See, Isa? No ghost.”
“But he was here! He came out of the closet.”
Isabel’s father took the time to show her inside the closet and look into all the hiding places. “You just had a bad dream, button. Go to sleep and nothing will bother you.”
“But there is one, Daddy. I was awake and I saw it with my own eyes.” She started to cry, and her father cradled her and rocked her for a minute.
“I tell you what,” he said. “Wait just a moment.” He left, but returned immediately with his cell phone and handed it to her. “Take this. If a ghost appears, you call your mom’s phone, and I’ll come running. Okay?”
The phone was comforting, and it felt like a good plan. “Okay. Thank you, Daddy.”
She had dozed off when she heard the ghost call her name. She squeaked and felt around for the phone, but she couldn’t find it.
“Your fingers look crunchy, Isabel. Do you think they would taste good with Sriracha?”
She moaned, still groping. Under the pillow?—no. Under her body?—no. She fanned her legs but couldn’t find it with her feet. “Get out of here,” she cried. “Why are you doing this?”
“Because I’m hungry,” said the ghost. “Hungry for plump little girls.”
“I’m ten,” she said.
“Little enough,” he said.
Her blanket was tangled, so she pulled hard to straighten it and get it over her head. The phone tumbled onto her tummy and down her side. She grabbed it and started dialing.
“What are you doing, Isabel?” asked the ghost.
She could barely hear the phone ring from the other room. Her mom’s voice said, “Hello.”
“Mommy, get Daddy. The ghost is back.”
“See you again soon,” said the ghost, and he faded away.
“What is it honey?” said her father.
“He was just here. But he’s gone now.”
“Okay,” he said. “He sat on the bed and pulled the covers up to her chin, then kissed her on the forehead. “I’ll stay with you for a little while.” He sat on the floor and laid his head next to hers, falling to sleep and snoring lightly after a few minutes. Isabel felt very safe, but couldn’t sleep. She gripped the cell phone tightly and then had an idea. She typed into the text app and waited.
She realized her father was gone as soon as the ghost’s voice woke her. “I’m baa-ack,” he said.
Isabel pressed the send button on the phone. “Who are you? Why do you want to hurt me?”
“This is my room,” he said. He sounded angry.
Isabel turned to look him in the eyes, her heart grew cold and her lips trembled.
“My room. And I—”
“What are you doing?” Isabel’s father spoke in his loud commanding tone.
Isabel sat up boldly, waving the phone in front of the ghost, the last sent text reading: ‘DADDY! HE’S HERE! HE’S HERE RIGHT NOW!’
The ghost’s jaw dropped, showing his alarm.
Isabel shook her finger at him. “You’re in trouble now, buster.”