“And?” asked Corinna sharply.
I sighed. “Thanksgiving break is coming up; I’m going up to the farmhouse. They said they’ll see what they can do to help.”
“Good. Devon’s worried about you, you know. He called me.”
“Stop,” I said. “I don’t want to hear about it.”
“Look, we had a little sibling outing, got attacked by a super creepy ghost. It was lots of fun. And it exhausted my Devon capacity for the rest of the year.”
“You know you’re going to see him for Thanks–”
The receiver crackled as Corinna exhaled into the mouthpiece. “Fine. Text me when you’re done with the kid, please, because now I’m starting to worry.”
“Will do.” I hung up the phone.
I half-thought she was right to worry. I still needed to interview Emily Lawlor, but after my movie theater adventure I found the prospect a bit intimidating. I didn’t fully understand this ghost — not its nature, not its abilities, and not its interest in Emily. I wasn’t sure I wanted to. But since I didn’t think it would leave me alone any time soon, I sucked up my courage and called Caroline Lawlor to make the appointment.
This time, when I knocked on the door it was opened by a young West Indian woman. Caroline had told me that Emily would be with her nanny, Jacinda.
“Hi,” I said. “I’m Lizzie? Mrs. Lawlor probably said I was coming?”
“Yes she did,” the woman said shortly. “Emily is in her bedroom.” She didn’t seem particularly pleased to see me.
“Uh–okay.” I went inside and bent to unlace my boots. The nanny shut the door firmly and watched me, arms crossed, and I wondered at her standoffish posture. Because I was interrupting their routine? What had Caroline told her I was here for, anyway?
When I looked up, Emily was hovering in the foyer’s doorway, wearing a pink spaggetti-strap dress with lots of ruffles. Peeking out at the top was a red leotard, and she was wearing pink tights. It looked like she’d tried to pull her hair up into a ponytail, but the elastic was loose, and a big chunk of hair drooped forward to frame her face.
“I remember you,” she said. “You were there the night Malphas went away.”
“Malphas?” A name from Christian demonology. That wasn’t its real name – it was a ghost, not a demon- but it seemed like the sort of joke a cruel personality would enjoy.
“My imaginary friend. The one who makes me do bad things.” She hunched her shoulders, like she was expecting a blow. “It hurts me,” she whispered.
I pretended not to see the babysitter surreptitiously signing the cross in our direction. Instead, I crouched down so my eyes were level with Emily’s. “It’s okay. I’m going to keep him from coming back.” I just had to figure out how. “I’m Lizzie.”
“Nice to meet you properly,” I said.
She considered me carefully. “Do you know how to make a bun? I have ballet class. Jacinda used to do it for me but she won’t anymore.”
“Um…” I glanced between the girl and the woman, who wouldn’t meet my eyes. “Sure.”
“For real? It has to be a real ballerina bun, or I get in trouble.”
“Yeah, I used to do ballet. Go get your pins.” Emily scampered away, and I settled myself awkwardly on the edge of a chair in the living room. Jacinda, the nanny, retreated to the kitchen.
I didn’t blame her, not really. If she’d seen Emily in her possessed state…it’s easy for those who can see and feel ghosts to understand possessions. It’s harder to ask someone who has no concept of the spirit world – who probably believes ghosts aren’t real – to accept that the reason that little nine-year-old moppet is trying to kill you is because there’s something evil inside her.
But okay, I did blame her, at least a little bit. Emily was scared. And more importantly, Emily was nine. It hurt to think Jacinda was afraid of her, when none of this was that little girl’s fault.
Emily returned with her hairbrush and a handful of pins, and I had her sit on the floor in front of me while I did her hair. I started by taking out the messy ponytail and brushing.
“So, Emily,” I said. “Do you mind if I ask you a couple questions?”
Her head bobbled as she shrugged her shoulders up and down. “Guess not.”
“They’re going to be about — your imaginary friend.” She let out a little whimper. “And if you don’t want to answer you don’t have to,” I hastened to add, “but it might help me figure out how to keep him away.”
“Okay,” she said, voice shaky.
I gathered her hair up into a neat ponytail and wound the hair elastic around it. “When did he first start talking to you?” That was the first step in a possession: before the ghost took over the body, it had to probe its boundaries.
“I don’t know.” I waited to see if she would say more. “I guess it was a long time ago, during the summer.”
“And what sort of things did he say?”
“I don’t want to talk about it,” she said immediately.
“No!” She started to pull away from me.
“Okay, okay,” I said, and she settled back down. “Sorry.” I twisted her hair and wound it around, then reached down for a bobby pin. Emily obligingly pressed one into my hand. “What about…can you tell me any more about what was going on when he showed up? Had you just gone somewhere different, or did someone give you a present?”
New haunting? Nine times out of ten it’s the creepy doll from the flea market, or the antique table you just bought at an estate sale. The other time it’s a dormant ghost that just woke up, and that’s a bit trickier.
“Are you sure?”
I wasn’t getting much of anywhere. Emily’s bun looked good, though. I hadn’t lost all my skills. “Okay, done. Stand up.”
We walked into the foyer, and Emily sat to strap on her sandals. On a little table by the entrance was a phone and a pad of paper — I ripped a strip off the bottom and wrote my name and cell phone number on it. I tucked it into the little pink dance bag that was sitting by the door.
“That’s my name and cell phone number,” I told Emily, who watched me with solemn blue eyes. “If you hear Malphas again — or if you need anything — call me. I’ll come right away.”
“Promise?” she whispered.
“Promise,” I said.