Lulu's Ghost


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Wild, Wild West
On Lulu’s eighth birthday she took all of her gift money and went to the mall, intending to go to Justice for Girls and buy two Webkins. But, before she got there she passed the window of the new pet shop and there she saw a soft black and white fuzz of a hamster, no bigger than a cotton ball. She had just enough money to buy a hamster cage, supplies, and of course Cottonball himself, as she decided to name him.

She settled Cottonball into his new home in her bedroom, being careful to shut the bedroom door when she left so that Tiger, the tabby cat, could not get in to terrorize her new pet. The first night all was well and peaceful, and Cottonball did not even make even a peep or a rustle at all. But, when Lulu woke up and went to his cage to say good morning, Cottonball was not in it!

Lulu searched high and low in her room but could not find her new pet. She found Tiger lounging in the sun on the back of the sofa and carefully checked her paws and teeth for tell-take signs of hamster fur, but Tiger was clean. Finally, from the back of her closet behind the laundry basket, Lulu heard a soft scuffle scuffle. There was Cottonball, digging furiously in the carpet. He’d actually been able to clear away a baseball-sized patch of material from the carpet. Lucky for Lulu it was in a place her mom would not see. Cottonball went back into his cage, this time double checked to make sure the door was not left open.

That night Lulu had a frightening dream. She was running in the dark, at first not knowing where she was, but then she saw headstones and leafless trees and realized she was running through a graveyard. Up ahead something was digging in the mud, a hug pile of dirt piling up outside a damp hole. She could not stop herself from approaching the activity and looking into the hole. Down in the bottom was Cottonball, digging and scratching and covered with mud. In front of him, sticking up out of the dirt was a hand. A small girl’s hand. Lulu woke up with a scream choked off in her throat.

Scuffle scuffle scuffle. It was still dark, but now Lulu recognized the sound. She turned on the bedroom light and looked in her closet behind the laundry basket, and sure enough there was Cottonball. The patch in the rug was now twice as big, and worse yet it was tinged pink…with blood.
Lulu went through that day as if in a dream, visions of the small hand and the pink spot on her rug alternating in her mind like a stuck DVD. Cottonball seemed fine. He slept all day but she could find no place on him, his feet or mouth, that seemed to be bleeding. As night approached she started to dread going to sleep, although she was dead tired from her restless night before. Finally, with one last check of Cottonball’s cage, she turned out her light. As she drifted off she could here Cottonball chewing on the cardboard tube she’d put in his house for that purpose.

Scuffle scuffle scuffle. Lulu awoke in a jolt. It was coming from the closet now, not from the cage. Slowly she turned her head to look in the direction of the closet. Just darkness. Scuffle scuffle scuffle. How did he keep getting out? She was about to get out of bed and turn the light on when there was a new sound in the room. A soft whimper. A little girl’s voice.

“Please,” it said. “Please come find me.”

From the foot of her bed the voice came. Lulu now turned to look in that direction. Standing there in a torn and dirty nightgown was a little girl. Her hair was cut very short and stuck up in a shock. She was dirty from head to waist, the lower part of her not visible below the footboard. “Please. Don’t leave me alone” she said through tears, and was suddenly gone.

Lulu lay frozen for what seemed an eternity. Finally, a scuffle scuffle broke the silence. Lulu turned on the light and went to get Cottonball from his nocturnal calling. She saw that he’d gotten through the carpet and had started to gnaw through the floorboards.

“Mom,” Lulu asked the next morning, “do you believe in ghosts?”

“No, not really,” her mom answered. “Although strange things do happen.”

“Do you think this house could have a ghost in it?” Lulu continued.

Her mom hesitated. “Why do you ask?” she finally said.

“Well, Cottonball has been acting…restless…at night, and I thought I saw something strange in my room when he woke me up.”

“No Honey, there’s no such thing as a ghost.”

“Well, that’s good. For a minute there I was thinking that maybe someone had died in this house and had come back. It’s good to know no one has ever died in this house.”

“Oh.” Said her mom. “Well, that’s not exactly so.”
“What do you mean Mom?”

“Your father and I were not going to tell you because it’s kind of sad. And don’t tell your little brother. But a little girl did die in this house. She was sick and eventually her parents got in a lot of trouble because they did not take care of her. They said they were innocent of course, that they don’t know how their daughter ended up dead the way she did. After the scandal they had to sell the house, which is when we bought it.”

“What happened to the parents? Did they go to jail?”

“No, there was not enough evidence to convict them, but they were ruined by the whole thing and left town.”

Lulu’s head was spinning. Her hamster was getting out of a locked cage. Her closet had a bloody hole in it. She was having visions of dead girls and now it turns out that a girl actually did die in her house. First things first. Cottonball was going back to the pet shop.

She carried his whole house with her back to the mall but when she got there, the pet shop was gone and a new Bling and Accessories store was in its place. It looked like Cottonball would have to be adopted through a newspaper ad.

She bought a small area rug with thick rubber backing and put it over the hole in her closet. Hopefully her mom would not notice that for a while. Good thing she did her own laundry.

She piled her heaviest encyclopedias on top of the cage and in front of the cage door before she went to sleep that night. She covered the whole thing with a towel. “Sorry Cottonball,” she said as she tucked him in, “but I need a good night’s sleep tonight.”

When Cottonball woke up, he waited in the dark for the little girl to come to him as she did every morning. His feet and teeth hurt from his busy night. He sensed in his little rodent mind that his work was about done, that the gleaming white bones he had found himself gnawing on near dawn signaled the end of his task, and a calm settled on him.

By the time the sirens came, seemingly hours after woman had opened the door and let-out a piercing scream that rendered his delicate ears momentarily deaf, he was ready to sleep. And he did.