My grandparents had decided to take me to Denny's for a double celebration: my high school graduation and my birthday. We tend to be uncomfortable in upscale restaurants. Our family can afford to indulge, but a combination of introversion, frugality, and personal preferences lead to eating out at down-to-earth establishments. I think over attentive wait staff make us nervous. The first time I went to a really fancy restaurant and had a gentleman offer his arm to escort me to the bathroom, I thought I was going to fall over (frankly, it struck me as a little creepy). We prefer to get our food, tuck in, and eat in peace until uncomfortably full and then sit and talk.
Two-thirds of the way into my Grand Slam I had hit the wall and was slowing down. I caught my grandmother's impish smile as she turned to my grandfather, patting his arm with her hand. "Bill, do you remember Runwald's house? They had the gas station that was shut down to expand I-90."
Grandpa sat up a little straighter; his eyes had a glint to them. "Oh, yes. The haunted house."
I carefully set my fork on my plate and stared at my grandfather. "Come again?"
"Not far from here actually. Their house was really haunted."
I sat blinking dumbly for several seconds. I had always looked up to my grandfather and was proud of inheriting his perfectionism and a fondness for logic. Ghosts didn't fit into the picture I held of his inner mental workings. They had to be testing my newly graduated adult status with some kind of joke. "You're kidding, right?"
My grandmother shook her head. "There was even an article in the paper. In the 50's and 60's there was a parapsychology department at the university. They brought in a bunch of equipment and ran tests."
"They got the house for a cheap price from an architect. He sold it because something was scaring his German shepherd. After the family moved in, they started noticing odd things. Sometimes they would see an apparition, but they couldn't make out anything beyond arms, legs, a head, and old fashioned clothes. There weren't any details to its appearance." Grandpa settled back in his vinyl seat and steepled his hands. Next he rubbed the big joints of his thumbs together - a cue that he is settling into a story. "Ridge called me up one night and said the ghost was active and would I like to come see it. I went up to his house. At first, there wasn't much to see, but as one of us was lining up a shot on the table, a couple of the balls started rolling on their own. The ghost was curious, like it was trying to figure out how things worked. It would lock doors, turn on faucets, and play with the pool table, rolling or shoving balls from one end to the other"
"What?" Reality was getting turned on its head. Ghosts didn't exist, yet someone I trusted was painting quite a different picture. It made me uncomfortable and squirm in my seat. I had no reason to doubt my grandfather. His stories were about things he had lived through. He wasn't prone to exaggeration or spinning fiction. It just wasn't his style.
"They just rolled on their own."
"Nooooooooooo." I looked at my grandmother. Had Grandpa lost his mind?
"I talked to their neighbor, Mrs. Brewer, and she said she watched some kind of mist settle over part of their fence. All the vines died where it sat and nothing grew back."
Grandma had lost her mind, too. I was determined to find a rational explanation. "Maybe the pool table was at a slant?"
"No way." Grandpa shook his head. "The balls rolled one way and then another. If it was slanted, more than one or two balls would have rolled and they wouldn't have turned around and gone in the other direction." He was an engineer, always tinkering, fixing, building - he would have figured out if something was strange about the construction of the table.
"What else happened?" My voice was nearly a whisper and I was leaning forward in my seat. I noticed that I was resting the edge of my hand in a pool of syrup and I spent several seconds scrubbing with a napkin, spreading the stickiness around. Focusing on something else helped lessen my anxiety.
"It locked their daughter in a bathroom and moved a beer fridge that weighed over a hundred pounds. One time it locked the bathroom and turned on the faucet." Grandpa bounced his fingertips together. "They had to take the door off its hinges to turn the water off."
"I remember it would settle over a table at a party and the food would turn grey." Grandma made a face and I knew she was thinking of the wasted food. She takes packets of condiments from restaurants and stuffs her purse with free napkins. She'd rather risk food poison than throw out food. That habit had haunted us all more than once. "One night it got in the car with their daughter and followed her to the bowling alley. She just looked in the rear view mirror and there it was."
I picked my hands off the table and clutched at my chest. "Holy crap."
Grandpa shifted in his seat. "The university cut open the pool balls to see whether or not there were magnets and recorded activity. Supposedly they tracked it down to a board in the washroom."
Grandma's voice was perky when she said, "I always heard it was on an Indian burial ground."
The rest of my food had cooled and congealed in a mixture of syrup and fat. The back of my hand still had napkin fibers stuck to it. My grandfather was calmly paying the bill as grandma powdered her nose and snapped her compact shut. My grandpa asked, "Do you want to finish your food?"
"Do you want to go see the house?"
"No thank you."
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Follow Camela Thompson on Twitter @CamelaThompson
Freelance writer and Dark urban fantasy author featuring vampires with bite.