after Joe Bucciano's "Fantastical Night"
Copyright ©2017 by Christopher Conlon
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When the new family moved in across the street it took me no time at all to realize that their little girl was a ghost. It happened this way. I saw her sitting outside one night, busily digging a hole in their front yard with a small child's spade. Her hair was long and black, her dress white. She looked to be perhaps seven or eight, several years younger than myself, and it immediately struck me as odd that she would be allowed outside in the darkness without anyone to watch her. Quietly making my way to the door, careful to not let my mother or stepfather hear (they were in bed, but he was a light sleeper who sometimes roamed the house at night and found his way into my room), I turned the knob as gently as I could and stepped out into the dark. I made my way down the walkway-I was in my nightgown, barefoot-and stood in the empty street looking at her. A streetlamp halfway up the block provided a dull, shadowy illumination to the scene. She was very intent on her work, plunging the little spade methodically into the earth again and again and depositing the collected soil in a neat pile beside her.
"Hi," I whispered.
She looked up for a moment, her eyes dark in the dark night, before turning her attention to her labors again.
"I said hi," I repeated, slightly louder this time, moving toward her. "My name's Melissa. What's yours?"
"Juney," she said, not looking at me.
"Juney? That's a cute name. I've never heard it before. What are you doing, Juney?" By now I was standing over her.
"Why? Shouldn't you be inside asleep by now? It's late."
"Gotta bury somethin'."
Again without looking at me, she brought something out from behind her. It was a gun—a pistol, some kind of revolver like I'd seen in old Western movies. Placing it beside her, on the opposite side from her pile of earth, she said: "Gotta bury this."
"Juney, that's not a real gun, is it?"
"'Course it's real. Why would I bury a toy gun? Stupid. It's loaded, too. Got three bullets in it."
"You'd better be careful with that, Juney. Maybe you should give it to me." I wasn't convinced it was a real gun, but it certainly looked real.
"No. An' you better not tell anybody where I buried it, either."
"It's a secret."
"But anybody can see you here, Juney, out in the front yard like this."
"Nobody's here. 'Cept you." She looked up at me then, a thoughtful scowl on her face. Her lips were thin and colorless.
I knelt beside her. She went back to work. Her body was between me and the pistol. "Why are you burying the gun, Juney?"
"Gotta. So they won't find it."
She didn't answer.
I tried to think. "Did someone threaten you with it, Juney?"
She snorted derisively. "Stupid! I shot 'em with it."
"You shot someone?"
"I shot both of 'em. Mom and Dad."
"That's kind of a big gun for you, Juney. Where did learn to shoot it?"
Her face tightened in exasperation at me. "It's not complicated. You just point it and shoot it. Bang bang."
"I didn't hear any shots, Juney."
"Didn't say I shot 'em just now."
"When did you shoot them, then?"
She shrugged again, digging. "Before."
Juney took the gun and placed it in the hole, which was perhaps eighteen inches deep. She started pushing the soil back in. Her dress was stained with dirt.
I stood. "C'mon, Juney," I said, looking down at the gun's grave. "Let's go in your house, okay?"
But when I looked toward her again, she was gone.
The next night she was out there again, digging. Again I snuck quietly out, my body sore. My stepfather had been in my room for a long time.
"Juney?" I whispered.
"I thought you buried it last night."
"It's not deep enough." She brought the gun up from the dirt and looked at it.
"Did you really shoot your parents, Juney?"
"What happened after you shot your parents, Juney?"
"Stupid. I shot myself, what do you think?" And as I looked at her I realized that her long black hair covered on one side some kind of wound, that what appeared to be blood had soaked into her hair and dried in it.
"Oh. I'm sorry, Juney."
She looked at me with her dark eyes. Tears started to well in them. I reached out, took her in my arms gently. She cried for a while.
"Will you come back tomorrow night?" she asked.
"I will if you want me to."
She nodded. "I'm sorry I called you stupid."
"It's okay, Juney."
We stood in the darkness, this little ghost-girl and me.
"I'm here every night," she murmured. "I'm always here. Seems like I've been here a long, long time." Looking at her I realized that her night dress looked old-fashioned, not like anything a little girl would wear today.
"Hey, Juney?" I said.
I looked at the dirt-covered gun on the ground next to us. "Can I borrow it?"
"I'll bring it right back," I said. "I promise."
And I did. That night was the beginning of Juney's and my real friendship, after she showed me how the pistol worked and I went back to the house and used it first on my stepfather, then my mother, then myself. I didn't miss once, which was good, because there were only three bullets.
Juney and I are great friends now. We run around in the darkness, shrieking and giggling and play hide-and-seek. No one ever notices us, much. Once in a while a neighbor might stick his head out their window at night, looking around, seemingly puzzled at what they think they might have heard. But we're very quiet, really.
Juney threw the gun away. There were no more bullets, and, as she said, there wasn't any real purpose for it anymore. It had been used for what it was intended.
We're never hungry or thirsty. It doesn't bother us if it rains or snows. At night sometimes we cuddle up together in someone's attic or basement and I teach her how to read, to write, how to add and subtract. She's a loving soul, a beautiful child.
It's a wonderful world for the two of us. Finally, it's a wonderful world.