Aunt Mary’s Place
by Kat Beyer
My aunt left me a house. Well–I was the third cousin in line, anyway. The first two didn’t manage to spend a whole night alone in the place, which is what she asked them to do in her will.
Of course the house is on the edge of town on a high hill, and of course it is surrounded by gnarled trees that need pruning. I walked up slowly, feeling more forty-five than ever, and thought to myself, ‘This place isn’t any more gloomy than it was when I was a kid.’ But I’d come in the afternoon on purpose. Not smart arriving at dusk.
The caretaker had left me a dinner in the fridge, and I ate it out on the front porch. It was that first day in September when you know summer is gone for good, and the wind gets tricksy and just a little bit mean.
I had this odd idea that if I turned on her ancient television set I would see her face, so since no one was around to catch me being a superstitious idiot I read a book instead. I went to bed early, 8:30 by my wristwatch (of course all the house clocks were stopped by other superstitious idiots).
At nine I thought I heard my name: “Rooobert? Rooooobert?” But it turned out it was just the door creaking open in the wind.
At eleven I woke up with a start. Someone was grunting, “Who’s there? Who’s there?” in the corner. Shaking, I turned on the light, and saw a bullfrog that had somehow made its way into the house. I took a pretty glass bowl from the nightstand, scooped the fellow up, and took him outside. “A tad late in the season for you, little guy?” I said as I liberated him.
At the stroke of midnight my aunt flew out of the shadows, hair streaming, eyes starting out of her skull, shrieking these dreadful words:
“I didn’t bake that pie so you could leave half your slice on the plate, boy!”
I was so scared I sat up and started laughing out of sheer terror. “Shi—Jes—holy tomato, Aunt Mary, why the he—heck did you have to come at me like that?!”
She stared at me, and believe me a ghost with eyes half out of her sockets can stare.
“Anyway, I finished all my pie tonight,” I added reproachfully.
I guess this was what she wanted, because her hair calmed down and she sat on the edge of the bed. I waited, still really shook up. Finally, she said, “So, was my sister Lucy happy with the silver, or did she want the house too?”
“Oh, no, though she was mad Matt didn’t stay the whole night.”
“He was fun. Didn’t stay to argue about pie, for sure.”
We spent the rest of the night catching up on gossip since the funeral.
She still shows up sometimes. It annoyed my wife at first, and she’s a good-natured woman as a rule. But the kids think it’s cool.