The idea of living in a haunted house always appealed to me. The unexplainable noises, the never being able to find my things because they move on their own, shit falling off the walls, maybe a burning scratch in threes here or there. The constant terror of it just sounded fun. Exciting, you know?
And anyway, scaring my little sister was always a plus. I thought it’d be funny.
I was wrong.
We moved out of the house together. We were always close, I guess. People say we are. She’s annoying but I guess that’s better than, like, my friend Leia whose brother literally broke her nose on purpose last year. I wanted to move closer to my job and she was moving out for school.
She needed a better kitchen than my parents. She’s in culinary school and runs a small online bakery on the side, so. You know. She was quickly outgrowing the galley kitchen we grew up in. She put in most of the work looking for apartments because frankly, I didn’t really care that much.
But, damn, she fell in love with the ritziest place she could find. Something about the stainless steel and the gas stovetops.
The view was nice. City lights at night. We weren’t too far from my work or her school, especially if we went the back ways. The landlord’s son showed us around. He kept stealing glances at her while he thought I wasn’t looking.
While my sister ogled the kitchen, he ogled her and pulled me aside.
“Hey,” he began, “does your sister scare easily?”
“Don’t even. She’s high maintenance as hell, trust me.”
“What? No—that’s not—Look… The apartment we have available is a bit… we’ve had trouble keeping tenants. People have had to break their leases, you know? You guys are pretty young. You two got money for that?”
“I’m sorry, what?”
He continued, “It’s just that there has been… strange noises from the apartment. Cabinets opening on their own. The lights turn on and off. There was a fire with the last tenant, and…”
“Legally, I didn’t say that.”
I wanted to say, “Hell yes, we’ll take it.”
Instead, I pretended to be upset and asked for a discount on the rent and a move-in date. I also told him to stay the fuck away from my sister for good measure.
When we finally moved in at the end of the month, my sister spent the first few days unpacking the kitchen. She didn’t even touch her room until the kitchen was just the way she wanted. I unpacked my room, and then the rest of the apartment. Didn’t dare touch the kitchen, though. That’s her space and I wasn’t about to mess with it.
So I was confused when she came banging on my door one morning. “Hey, Fuckface! Where did you put the cinnamon?”
I was still waking up when she pounded on the door and started yelling again.
“Did you use it on your mango again? I swear to God—…” I heard her huff. “I need it for a recipe for school!”
“Use cloves,” I suggested.
She hit my door one more time and I heard her stomp into the kitchen. Our downstairs neighbors could not have been happy at her mood swings. But whatever. I got dressed and went out to the kitchen.
She was on top of the counter, knee deep in spice bottles, elbow deep in cabinets.
“I didn’t touch it. We don’t even have mangoes.”
“I bought you some when I went to the store yesterday,” she said without turning around. “Nothing is in the spot where I put it. You didn’t move it?”
“You think I’m gonna mess with your kitchen shit?”
She turned to me finally and grimaced at me. The urge to knock her off the counter skyrocketed, but I’m a mature adult. And mango sounded really good. I grabbed one and started cutting it as she started rambling about the recipe she needed the cinnamon for. I can never really understand her when she talks about her cooking shit.
But when I opened the trashcan to throw away the mango rind, I saw the cinnamon dumped out entirely into the bag. I reached in carefully and pulled out the bottle. “Uh, Mel?”
“What is it, Sam?”
Oof. Boy, she was upset.
“Here’s your cinnamon.”
She spun around so fast she almost slipped off the counter. She played it off like she was getting off anyway, but I know the truth. I was gonna say something, but she snatched the bottle from me so violently I thought she might break the plastic bottle.
“It expired last year,” I said instead of laughing at her for almost falling and knocking off half her spices in the process. “Sure you didn’t throw it out?”
I don’t even think she heard me. She just kept staring at the bottle.
When she didn’t move, I took that as a cue to retreat before she took whatever this mood was out on me. I sank into the couch and turned on the tv to eat my snack before I had to go to work later today.
“Damn it. I’m going to the store.”
“Be careful!” I shouted, but she was already through the door and I just heard it slam behind her. I laid down with my head on the armrest, listening to the calming voice and noises of Mel’s favorite cooking channels.
I dozed off until she came home with the slam of the door.
I flipped off the tv and sat up. I didn’t hear her. But I swear I’d heard the door.
Dumbass left all the cabinets open.
“Mel—.” I called.
Whatever bottles she’d left in the cabinet didn’t stay there for long.
They flew out. Not at me. Just out. Just anywhere. They hit the wall, the counters, the floor. We kept our keys and shoes by the front door—I grabbed them and bolted, getting to work a couple hours early before the night shift. I spent my time drinking coffee, watching people go in and out of the dimly lit café, listening to the sound of the pinball machines in the other room. It was annoying as hell when I was trying to decide if I should tell my sister a ghost threw away her expired cinnamon and then basically attacked me with spice bottles.
By the time my shift started, my heart was pounding and my hands were shaking. I don’t know if it was all the caffeine or the fact that I was actually living with a ghost now. Working took my mind off of it—it was busy and customers are stupid. I didn’t think about it again until I was on my way home.
It was dark and late and I was tired. My sister called to see if I was on my way home and if she should make dinner for both of us or not.
I guess nothing weird had happened to her in the apartment yet.
“Do you want me to make anything specific?” She asked.
Something huge on the side of the road caught my lights, and I overcorrected.
“What do you want for dinner?” She asked again.
I slowed to a stop. Pulled over. The back way was a long, country road. Nobody used it so I could speed the whole way between work and the new apartment, but it was dark as fuck at night and there were critters. I’d never seen anything that big before though.
Looking back in the rearview, I saw… “A pig?”
“You want pork?” Melissa asked on the other side of the phone.
The vague outline of a wild hog stared at me. Its eyes glowed red in my brake lights.
“You okay there, Sammy?” She asked, voice teetering on teasing and something like real concern.
“Yeah. What? Yeah, sure.”
“I’m fine. On my way home.”
I hit the gas and started home again.
When I got to the apartment, Mel was in a frenzy in the kitchen. It was like she was under a spell. She had her recipe journal out on the counter and was making notes in it as she tasted things out of different pots and pans, adding a pinch of something here or a sprinkle of something there.
“Hey!” She shouted. “Good idea having pork. You never want pork.”
“Uh… sure. Yeah, okay. It came to me in a vision.”
She laughed, and shouted over the sounds of sizzling and popping oil. “I’m making something new. I hope it’s good.”
Well, it smelled amazing. It looked amazing. And when we sat down to eat it, it tasted amazing, too.
Some sort of cheese, she explained, and a bunch of new spices, since she had to throw out all the ones she hadn’t realized were past expiration. Some citrus. And it was breaded. She never got to cook it since I don’t like it that much, but it sounded so good and she had all these ideas about it. She’d tried a new way to cook green beans and flavored dinner rolls.
Somehow, she explained all this to me while stuffing her face with it and writing down in her notebook.
I honestly thought it was a once in a lifetime meal. But the next day, I saw a goose on my way home. When I told her about it, she got a far off look in her eye, muttered to herself, and rushed to the store.
She kept churning out these delicious, inspired, new meals at least once a week after that. She kept outdoing herself. Her baking business was taking off. She was a damn machine, and I was barely holding on in that fucking apartment.
Having spice bottles thrown in my direction was the least of it. A few weeks into Mel’s new surge of inspiration, I woke up to the sound of scratching. A weird, metallic kind of slashing sound that gave me shivers when I heard it.
When I sat up, I saw a sliver of light underneath my door.
It was three in the morning. Mel should have been sleeping—she had class in the morning and the sound was driving me up the wall. But when I stepped around the corner, I didn’t see her. Just a knife, scraping against a whetstone. By itself. The sink was on. All of this under the warm spotlight of the low hanging lamps in the kitchen.
Then the knife and stone fell into the sink, clattering loudly. The water shut off. The lights went out.
I thought I was going to die.
But nothing happened.
I didn’t get stabbed. I didn’t hear anything else. When I went to flip the light back on, everything was put away, and I thought maybe instead I was going crazy. Mel didn’t even come out at the noise. Was I dreaming?
I honestly pinched myself to try to figure it out, but the results were inconclusive. I went to bed and tried to forget about it.
Some nights, I would hear her up and talking. Muttering to herself about recipes as she tested stuff out. She’d ask a question out loud and act like she realized the answer.
Other times, I would catch Mel rearranging the pots and shouting about why it was fine if they were stacked inside each other like that. Or why it was fine that we didn’t have a real knife block. Sometimes she’d bring a hot dish to the table for dinner and shout, “hot! Behind!” like she was working with somebody else in a kitchen. She hadn’t worked in a kitchen proper since she was 17. And I was sitting at the table.
I swear to God one time I caught the gas stove turn on by itself and Mel—meticulous Mel who didn’t even let me use a microwave to heat up leftovers—didn’t even question it.
The thought occurred that, maybe, she was possessed. But honestly I’d seen college kids act worse and they weren’t possessed. She hadn’t tried to kill me recently, so I figured it was mid-term jitters or something.
Halfway through the semester, she went out of town for some sort of competition. I was at the haunted apartment by myself, but I’d kind of convinced myself that I was being stupid and that this is what I got for trying to be mean to my sister. Like, maybe I should tell her when she got back. But she seemed fine. Maybe I was just crazy.
I’d invited a friend from work over. We were gonna watch movies and get drunk and I was gonna attempt one of Mel’s recipes. I had no fucking clue how expensive Mel’s ingredients were until that trip to the grocery store. I had to settle for cheap ass wine with a high alcohol content.
As I was walking through the door to my apartment, I felt something grabbing the bags. The wine bottle got pulled from the paper—out of my hands—and smashed into the wall next to me.
The bottle shattered. Wine everywhere. I ran, spent the night at my friends’ place.
I got a call early the next morning. My phone buzzed next to my ear, waking me up off my friend’s couch. “Hello?”
“Sam? Are you okay? Where are you?”
“Are you okay?” She asked again. “What happened?” She sounded frantic and angry and there was that concern again and I didn’t want to be on the receiving end of this.
“What are you talking about?”
“I just got back from Atlanta,” she explained. “I got to the apartment and there’s broken glass and—what is that, wine?”
“Oh. Shit. Yeah. Okay.”
“Look, I’m fine. I’m at a friend’s place. I’ll be back soon. Be careful, alright? Sorry about the mess.”
When I got back, Mel was cleaning up what I’d left behind the night before. The glass was all swept up, but she was mopping the floor and wiping down the wall.
“What the hell happened?” She asked as soon as I walked in.
“Look, we need to talk…”
This was not a conversation I was looking forward to. She looked at me like I was an idiot playing a joke on her.
“Don’t you notice anything… weird… going on? Around the apartment sometimes?”
“What, like my stuff moving around?”
“Yeah. Yeah, like that.”
She rolled her eyes.
“Mel, it isn’t me. I swear.”
She sighed. “I know.”
She shrugged, and grabbed a new towel to dry the wall. “I stopped moving them around a week or so after he kept fixing them his way,” she said, like that was any kind of explanation. “I didn’t think he was bothering you, but… I guess he’d be mad. You have no taste when it comes to choosing a good bottle of wine.” She waved the sticker from the bottle in the air before tossing it in the bag of broken glass.
“What? That’s not—look—it was the cheapest thing, okay?”
“Your tastebuds would appreciate something a bit better, Sam,” she answered wryly.
“Whatever. What are you even talking about? Who is ‘he’? Who is this guy you’re talking about?”
“Jean Paul,” I repeated, like that meant anything.
She nodded, like it was the easiest explanation in the world. “You knew the place was haunted when we moved in, didn’t you?”
She glared. “Asshole.”
“Look, I’m sorry, alright? I thought it’d be funny. I didn’t think it was true, anyway. The guy was a scuzz bucket.”
“Yeah, whatever. Jean Paul told me all about it. So I didn’t tell you we were friends.”
“Is this payback?”
“I mean, kind of.” She shrugged. “He used to be a chef.”
“Our ghost is a harmless chef that helps you with your homework?”
This wasn’t how it was supposed to be.
The ghost was supposed to haunt her.