An edited and improved version of this story is now available for purchase as part of the ‘Prophecies of the Drowned Oracle’ collection.
Prompt by u/The_OG_upgoat:
Most ghosts are bound to certain locations, but not this wandering spirit.
Jody watched the submarine submerge. Waves rolled over the place the vessel was only a moment ago. She could have gone with them, it was always exciting to see new places, and the deepest parts of the ocean were as new to her as they were to the people on board, but today she had something else to do.
She turned her back to the sea and started up a firm pace towards the cliffs looming over her. Her gaze fell on the old castle just visible at the very top. She shuddered. The thought of being stuck there for the rest of eternity, or at least until the whole thing fell apart, was revolting. She had no idea how Charles handled it, how he was still sane.
Charles was bound to the castle he had lived and died in. Ever since he died, he’d been stuck to wander those same halls day in day out. That must have been 700 years ago now. The castle had been old when he lived there, and was even older now. The aged stone walls looked as if they could fall apart any moment, but she knew it was only an illusion. Modern techniques had reinforced the structure while keeping the worn and aged look.
She averted her gaze, the castle wasn’t her destination today. She climbed the steep road leading up the cliffs and set on the path to the nearest town. She would have gone there the moment she read the blog-post, but she’d not wanted to miss the submarine.
It wasn’t long before she arrived in Holbeck, a town housing not more than 600 people. A few months ago, the unremarkable town had come under media attention when it was discovered a couple had kept their daughter locked up in a small room for years. The poor girl had died in the same room she’d spent her miserable 5 years of life. Neighbours were alerted by the smell and got the police involved.
Now while the story was incredibly sad, it wasn’t that in itself that gave Jody the desire to visit Holbeck. It was the post on the paranormal blog she kept a close eye on. Reports of paranormal happenings had come from the new owners of the house and they seemed credible. What particularly disturbed her was that the paranormal activity was limited exclusively to the room the girl had been locked up in.
Ignoring it didn’t even cross her mind. She immediately started her journey to Holbeck, with only a small detour to see the submarine. She had to check if the reports were real. She didn’t know what she would do if they were, but she had to do something. Spirits bound to prison cells were horrifying enough, she couldn’t bear the thought of such a small child having to suffer the same fate for all eternity.
The house was somehow, bigger than she expected. It wasn’t anything near mansion size, just an average home for a well-off family, but it rattled her that people with so much space would lock a child in one little room. It wouldn’t have made a difference if the house itself was smaller of course, there was no excuse for something like this, but for some reason it made her blood boil like nothing else.
She didn’t linger in the street. She passed through the door and followed the hallway, trying to remember from the descriptions online where exactly the room was. She didn’t remember. She was about to start exploring the ground floor when she heard a wail from upstairs. Nausea sunk in her abdomen. The reports were real.
Once upstairs, the room wasn’t hard to find. It had been locked shut with multiple bolt locks on the outside. Jody wondered if the new owners had installed them out of fear, or if these were the locks used to originally lock the girl in.
With no small amount of trepidation, she passed through the locked door. In the bare room, her eyes immediately focused on the tiny girl crouched in the corner. Wide terrified eyes watched her every move. Jody didn’t dare approach, and instead knelt down on the floor where she stood.
“Hello,” she said, her voice gentle. The girl didn’t respond. Expected. “My name is Jody, I’m a wandering spirit.”
The girl’s trembling lessened a little, but her eyes didn’t leave Jody for a moment. “You’re a ghost?” she asked. Jody was taken aback by her words. She honestly hadn’t expected the girl to be able to talk at all.
Jody nodded. “Just like you.” It might seem cruel of her, to talk about her death so bluntly with the child, but she needed to gouge her reaction to know how to proceed further.
The girl luckily didn’t react negatively. She only nodded and looked at her hands, perhaps wondering why they weren’t transparent like in all the ghost stories. Jody continued to talk when it became clear the girl wasn’t going to say anything.
“I’m here because I feared that you were stuck here, in this room I mean.” The girl looked up from her hands. There were tears in her eyes. Jody’s heart sank, but she pushed on anyway. “Have you tried to leave?”
The girl shook her head. “Mommy locked the door.” The sentence was said so matter-of-factly, it didn’t suit the gravity of the meaning of the words. Jody looked away from the girl for a moment and glance around the room. It was completely empty. The only thing breaking up the monotony of the bare walls was the locked door. There were no windows.
She took a deep breath. No matter how horrible it was, what the girl said allowed for a little bit of hope to take root in her mind. She hadn’t tried to leave. “Did you see me come in?” she asked. The girl nodded. “Since we’re ghosts, we can go through doors. If your spirit isn’t bound to this room, then you can leave, then the locks won’t matter.”
The girl’s fearful expression had faded as their conversation continued, and now was replaced by a a small light of hope. Jody stood up and held out her hand. “Do you want to try?”
Jody didn’t know what she would do if it didn’t work. She didn’t want to consider it. She wanted this to work, needed this to work. No one should be trapped in such a small room, or any size room for that matter. Honestly, if it really didn’t work she might just burn the house down to release the poor soul from her prison.
The girl stood up. If she weren’t a ghost, Jody doubted her bone-thin legs would have held her upright. If this worked, Jody swore she would figure out a way to get her looking healthy. A tiny hand gripped her finger. She gave the girl an encouraging smile and got a determined nod back. They turned around, took a step,
And passed through the door.
Jody looked behind her. The girl was still there, holding her finger. Jody controlled the urge to pull her into a hug. She’d passed through the door without issue The girl wasn’t looking at her, but at the door. Her head slowly turned back to Jody. A grin spread on her gaunt face. “I’m out!”
Jody matched the grin. “Do you want to go outside for real?” she asked. The girl bounced on her feet in excitement. “Let’s go then!” Without further ado, they ran out of the house. Neither of them was out of breath when they passed through the front door, into the bright sunlight.
The girl let go of her hand and ran around the street, taking in all the sights. Jody watched, not quite believing how lucky she was. She finally wasn’t alone anymore. Not the only spirit not bound to a place, but bound to exploration.