“Did he want money again?” I asked.
Of course Jack would have wanted money. That was the only reason my brother ever bothered to drop by the house.
“Let us worry about Jack,” my father said.
“It’s probably better if you let us handle it,” my mother added.
Her words were clipped—not angry, exactly, but peremptory.
They didn’t want to discuss Jack with me. They never did. Nor did my World War II hero father, or my world-hardened mother, seem capable of standing up to their elder son.
I was about to say something else, when my words were choked off in my throat.
From where I was standing in the living room, I had a clear view down the main hall of the house, where the bedrooms were located. (As I’ve mentioned, it was a small house.)
Right outside my bedroom, I saw a grayish, human-sized shape move in the hallway.
It was there, one second; and the next—it was gone. Vanished into thin air.
Or maybe it had been nothing more than a trick of the light. The hallway was filled with sunlight from the windows of the surrounding bedrooms. There were trees outside most of the windows, and they could be easily stirred by the wind. This created shifting patterns of light and shadows. The shadows played on the painted walls and carpeted floor of the hallway, sometimes producing brief optical illusions.
Perhaps that vaguely human shape I had seen had been another one of those shifting patterns.
But it had looked more substantial. For a second, anyway.
My parents both noticed my startled reaction.
“What’s the matter son?” my mother asked. “You look like you’ve just seen a ghost.”
A ghost, I thought…
“You did turn pale, all of a sudden,” my father agreed. “Are you okay?”
The conversation, I realized, had just been turned around. We weren’t talking about Jack anymore. We were talking about me. About what might be wrong with…me.
“I—I think I’ll go to my room now,” I said. “Do some reading.”
Suddenly, I was in no state to make further queries about Jack.
“I see you bought a copy of Car and Driver,” my dad said approvingly.
The two magazines I’d purchased were tucked underneath one arm. The Car and Driver was on top, facing outward.
I wondered: Had that order of placement been deliberate? My parents were regular churchgoers, but they had little interest in—or tolerance for—anything with a New Age or occult vibe. They would probably share Leslie’s opinion about Spooky American Tales: “campfire ghost stories”.
“That’s right,” I said, composing myself.
I still had plenty of questions about what my brother was up to; but now I also had questions about what I might have seen in the hallway.
Right outside my bedroom.
A ghost, my own mother had suggested, her distaste for the occult notwithstanding.