Something Nasty in Your Garden
For as long as she could remember, Cheryl was aware of the spirits in the house. Most were indifferent to her and her family, carrying on their daily rituals without a single thought to Cheryl or her kin, but one took a special interest.
It introduced itself as Jay – Cheryl could not tell if the wispy figure with the soft voice was male or female, such was the dreamlike quality of their encounters – and would only visit Cheryl when she was alone. It warned her not to tell her family, for if they were to know of Jay’s presence they would either not believe Cheryl or they would be fearful of Jay.
When Cheryl asked Jay how they were able to interact, Jay said that it had a special talent to see other dimensions of life. Though Jay could not physically connect with Cheryl’s world, it could watch her as a parent looks through a window to watch their children at play and, with much concentration, it could communicate with her.
For the most part, Jay just wanted to learn about Cheryl’s life. She introduced it to her five China dolls, and explained sulkily how her younger sister, Carolina, had broken a sixth. That last doll had been Cheryl’s favourite and she was still angry with Carolina for her loss.
‘You shouldn’t ever be mad with your sister,’ Jay told her, ‘for she is just a babe, and an innocent one at that.’
‘Go away,’ Cheryl shouted, angry that Jay was taking Carolina’s side. ‘And don’t ever come back again.’
It was weeks before Jay reappeared.
As the family were in the living room, watching the latest Superman movie, Jay beckoned Cheryl from the doorway and led her to her room.
‘I don’t know if you can believe me,’ Jay said hurriedly, when they were alone, ‘but you have to leave.’
Cheryl stared in confusion.
‘There is something waiting for you in the garden,’ Jay went on. ‘Something with a dark heart. And I believe it means you harm.’
Tears formed in Cheryl’s eyes.
‘Why?’ Her fragile voice cracked.
‘The hatred you harbour for your sister. It has followed your feelings and it has found you. You have to run and keep running. And when you think you can run no more, still keep running.’
‘You said Carolina is just a babe,’ Cheryl whined. ‘Well, so am I. I’m the innocent one. It was my doll that was broken. Why should I get punished again?’
Jay shook its head and a great sadness filled its face.
‘Life it not fair, Cheryl. Of all the dimensions I have witnessed, across both life and death, I have yet to see any real justice. Your sister’s thoughtless actions hurt you, but it is you who still carries that hurt. This thing that comes for you, it is drawn by your pain.’
‘But do I have to leave? Can I not just hide from it?’
‘You could try a protective incantation,’ Jay suggested.
‘What’s a cantination?’
Jay smiled at Cheryl’s mispronunciation. ‘It’s like a mantra, a spell. Choose a phrase and repeat it.’
Remembering the film the family were watching downstairs, Cheryl said, ‘If Superman can, I believe I can.’
‘That’s good,’ Jay said. ‘Keep repeating it and let’s see if it works.’ Turning away from her, Jay added, ‘I’ll look for the thing that comes and try to lead it away.’
Cheryl spent the remainder of the day rocking on the bed and repeating her mantra. Each time she looked to the window she turned away in fear. Her blue eyes sparkled with tears.
‘If Superman can, I believe I can.’
Outside, the sky darkened and the noise of the neighbourhood kids lessened as, one by one, they were called in by their parents. As the night approached so Cheryl’s fear grew closer, like a cold tide creeping up the sand.
Darkness pressed against the window and in the gloom Cheryl thought she saw movement. Something large, swaying to and fro as though in search of her.
When Jay returned, it held in its hand a large book. Jay placed the book on the bed and flicked through it, searching for the page it wanted.
‘I believe I may have an answer,’ it said.
‘If Superman can, I believe I can,’ was all Cheryl could say.
‘That’s good,’ Jay said, smiling at her. ‘Keep it up.’
Turning its attention back to the book, Jay said, ‘There’s one ritual I found that may help us. It was used once when it was created in the 1920s but hasn’t been used again.’
Something tapped at the window. The thing was getting closer.
‘If Superman can, I believe I can.’
‘Found it,’ Jay cried. It looked in Cheryl’s eyes. The expression was one she had not seen before; one of bittersweet aching. ‘If this works,’ Jay said, its voice quieter than ever, I may never see you again.’
Outside, the window was filled by the shapeless thing that sought Cheryl. Though eyeless, Cheryl felt it watching her.
As Jay began to chant from the book, Cheryl squeezed her eyes shut and whispered a final, ‘If Superman can, I believe I can.’
Mike passed Jay a mug of hot tea.
‘Are you going to tell me how it went today?’ he asked.
Jay rubbed her temples to ease the headache that always followed her psychic encounters. She took a couple of painkillers and washed them down with the tea.
‘I got her to go,’ she eventually told the homeowner, ‘so you won’t be having trouble with her ghost any more. You know she wasn’t malevolent? She was just a hurt little girl, too afraid to release her own pain.’