A Catfishing Ghost

“Help!”

Travis looked at the mirror again and blinked. How was this possible? It… it’s probably a joke. He wiped the steam on the mirror and finished drying off. Having roommates play practical jokes was something he had to learn to live with if he was going to live in the city.

The new house was a beautiful, historic four-floor Victorian. He had the attic and paid dearly for the luxury of having the largest room and private bath. Though his roommates didn’t quite understand the whole “private” space clause in his contract. Still, they were friends and he loved living in the city.

After working ten hours in the finance district, the quiet neighborhood was just what he wanted. At least it was quiet when they were house hunting. Now that they moved in, the house seemed chaotic and always on edge – at least to him. None of the others seemed to notice.

Travis woke in the middle of the night to the sound of a woman’s scream. He bolted from bed, flung open his door, and found nothing but the cold, stillness of the house. Jeff’s snores was the only thing stirring in the night. Glancing outside his window provided no clues. The only thing out there was a lone stray dog sniffing for his midnight snack.

As Travis laid back on his bed, he saw a woman’s figure in the corner of his eye. She seemed to be sitting on a low cushion and weeping. “Are you–” She disappeared as soon as he turned his head to look at her. Travis took a deep breath and remained wide awake for the remainder of the evening.

The cycle of hearing a woman’s scream followed by seeing the crying woman continued for many nights until he left a pad of paper and a pencil where she sat. He booked a hotel for that night and when he returned in the morning, there was a message for him.

“Help me. Please. Help Me.” Line after line of a heartfelt plea filled the page.

His heart broke for this woman who was reaching out to him for help. After seeing his mother be abused by his father for so many years, he refused to stand idly by and allow someone else to be hurt.

For weeks he tried to contact the woman but to no avail. The local historical society had articles about the house and its former occupants but none spoke of this woman. It wasn’t until a historian investigated the original owner of the property did Travis have a name. Elizabeth.

“Elizabeth,” he said late one night when he was alone in the house. “Elizabeth, I want to help you.”

She appeared to him that night, and every night after that for many months. Soon, he started thinking more and more of her. The way her dress draped around her slim frame, the bow in her braided hair, and how she seemed to smile when he was able to see her.

He became consumed by Elizabeth and eventually stopped going to work. The historical society’s archives became his new daytime home. He never noticed his life crumbling around him and never thought twice as he slipped the rope around his neck. All he needed was Elizabeth.

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Spoilers

Harold despised family gatherings and being around people in general. They were noisy, pushy, and often had adorable children in tow. He grumbled under his breath as he walked around town picking up a bottle of wine, some cheese, and baguettes for his relatives. Why they picked his place this year was beyond him, but he was obligated to participate since they were family.

A book sitting in the window of Madame Hidegarde’s Antique’s caught his eye. It was made of worn, hand-stitched leather and its paper appeared to be strips of parchment rather than traditional paper. He sat his bags on the counter and pointed to the book in the window. “How much you want for that one?”

Madame Hidegarde’s bangles and sequins jangled as she walked over to the window. She cackled as she picked up the book. “I wondered when you would be in, Mr. Franklin.”

Harold was taken aback. He had only passed by her shop; never stepped foot in it until that day. “How do you know my name?”

“I know many things,” she said, slipping the old book next to his bread. “The book is yours.”

“How much do you want for it, first?” Harold reached for the book but Madame Hidegarde grabbed him by the wrist. Her smiling face reminded Harold of the old dried apple faces he used to make as a child.

“It is not mine to sell. Good day.”

Harold stood in stunned silence as Madame Hidegarde snaked her way through the store and disappeared into a back room. “Crazy old bat.”

Later that afternoon, while preparing for the family reunion, Harold picked up the book and opened it. There, on the front page in aged ink, sat his full name and birth date. “What the hell?”

Leaving his preparations in various states of preparation, Harold read of his birth as he walked to the living room and sat on the couch. There was him and Frank flying under the radar of their Kindergarten teacher as they played doctor with Missy. Ah, Missy. He had forgotten about her. She passed away during their junior year in high school. There was the time he stole apples from old man Unger and sold them back to him in pies. Every transgression, every secret, every untold event of his life was there in that book.

Harold trembled as he reached the page of himself sitting on his couch reading the book and trembling. Dare he turn the page? Does he want to know? Should anyone know their future?

“NO!” Harold rose and threw the book into the fireplace and turned on the gas. “I write my future! I do! Harold Garfield Franklin makes his own future!”

From that moment on, Harold changed. He saw his family for who they were and adored them more. His nieces and nephews visited for weeks on end and he learned to laugh again. To enjoy life.

From time to time, he stopped by Madame Hidegarde’s shop and chatted. She never had the heart to tell him the pages were blank.