The tip of my right index finger tingles, as if it’s my very own voodoo doll, and pins are being jabbed into it. I raise my arm higher and turn in all directions, playing a weird game of hot and cold. My finger is a beacon to Freezer Dude, the creepy, old ghost that crossed from the other side back into the world of the living a week ago. Truth be told, I feel like ET.
“Phone home,” I say in a creaky voice as a woman walks past me on the sidewalk. She stares at me with a frown and picks up her pace like I’m about to eat her young. Not that she has any kids with her.
There you go again, Gianna. Scaring the locals.
The tingling is sharpest when I turn east, so I jump back into my car, which I haphazardly parked in the grocery store’s lot, and drive in that direction. Very slowly. So I don’t miss him or run into an unsuspecting Return Shopping Carts Here sign. Ghosts are notorious for turning invisible in a blink, and shopping cart holders have a nasty habit of appearing out of nowhere, despite their ginormous-y. Just ask Pop’s old car when I ran into one many years ago. Okay, so maybe I have the minor flaw of not always looking where I’m going. I’m working on it.
The first time I met Freezer Dude, aka the ghost with shocking white hair and electric blue eyes, I was eight. Well, “met” isn’t accurate. It was more like he reached out to me after I died. It was just a small death. Only one minute and thirty-two seconds, according to the paramedics who lifted my unconscious and partly frozen body off the floor of the walk-in freezer of my family’s deli.
It was after this freezer-slash-death incident that I could see and talk to ghosts. Normally it wasn’t a big deal. They’d die and pass over through the freezer. I still haven’t figured out why the freezer is the portal to the other side, but it is. Sometimes the ghosts would linger because they’re not ready to leave, and sometimes it’s because they need help. So far, one ghost has needed my help in solving her murder before she crossed. Considering my sister, Izzie, was being framed for the ghost’s death, it was the least I could do. Then the ghost passed over, and I thought all was good.
Until Freezer Dude, the same white-haired, blue-eyed, grabby ghost from when I was eight, crossed through the freezer into the deli. That disturbing sight left me with nightmares for the past seven days and told me two things. One, what the heck else could possibly come back from the beyond? And two, I wonder if he knows where my pink yo-yo is. I swear I lost it in the freezer fifteen years ago.
I take a left on Jefferson Street and hope my finger doesn’t explode when we’re face-to-face. The tingling’s turned into a throbbing, and it pulsates faster the farther I drive. The first time I felt the tingling was a little over a week ago when I went into the freezer to get a tray of eggplant parm for Ma. After I found the tinfoil-covered pan, I saw a swirling tunnel at the back wall. I reached my finger out, because I’m obviously very curious and have little sense for my safety, and the tip of my finger turned icy cold, almost numb. A bony hand poked through and tried to reach for me, but I pulled back quickly. That was when I saw Freezer Dude’s face. I immediately recognized him from the near-death experience. He didn’t enter the world of the living then. That took a bit more time.
The numbing pain went away later that day and then reappeared yesterday when I was slicing turkey for an order. I work at the deli part-time. I thought I nicked my finger on the slicer, but there was no blood. Thank goodness, ’cause customers get miffed when you bleed on their gobble-gobble.
I didn’t see Freezer Dude in the deli yesterday, but I didn’t search either. I had no clue what the tingling meant. Until today. I drove to the grocery store to get dinner for my brother, Enzo, and me. I have twenty-five bucks in my wallet, and I promised dinner if he’d hang with me. It’s a shame when you have to bribe your full-time employed, cop sibling to spend time with you, but I’ve been bored. Okay, maybe even lonely. And I’m tired of sitting in my apartment alone channel surfing.
My sister, Izzie, is preggo, and she’s in her first trimester, which means there’s a lot of crankiness and vomiting going on. My is-he-or-isn’t-he boyfriend, Julian, is…well, I’m not sure, but we’re taking things slow, so we don’t see each other every night. And my parents are my parents. I love them to death, but Pop listens to the TV at decibels that make my ears wanna bleed, and Ma has been on this kick of telling me I should get married and give her more grandkids soon. ‘Cause my niece, Alice—the one Izzie’s already given her—and the one Izzie will be giving her next spring aren’t enough. So that leaves me in my apartment above the family deli with the remote in one hand and a bacon, tomato, avocado grilled cheese in the other. I make mean sandwiches.
Anyway, I pulled into the parking lot, and my finger started doing its weirdness. I looked up and saw Freezer Dude. He was standing smack-dab in the middle of the automatic doors, and some beefy guy in a Yankees sweatshirt walked through him. Beefy Guy shivered, ’cause walking around a ghost is cold as heck. Walking through one is probably like pouring a bucket of ice water over your head.
Beefy Guy went to his car, and Freezer Dude walked into the store, turned around, came back out, and vanished. He didn’t see me, but I definitely saw him. He’s hard to miss. Then the throbbing eased up, and that’s when I realized it’s a beacon for his whereabouts. Instead of a shoulder or joint that aches when it’s going to rain, my finger starts jonesing for one particular ghost. Lucky me. Aside from the whole “how the heck does someone cross back over,” I have a feeling this dude is going to be a lot of trouble.
I drive to the corner, and the throbbing lessens. I brake at the stop sign and look all ways, just in case he shows himself. On a hunch, I put my silver Kia Rio into reverse and head back. Sure enough, my finger feels like it has a pulse of its own. He’s somewhere on this block. I pull up in front of a small white house with a blue front door and put the car in neutral. I take a quick glance at the gas gauge. I have half a tank. I can wait for a bit, but I don’t want to waste too much. Working at the deli hasn’t allowed me to change my name to Rockefeller yet.
It takes longer than I think, so I end up shutting off the engine and waiting. My finger still feels like it’s about to explode, so I must be in the right spot. Either Freezer Dude is around here, or I need emergency care. Stat!
Just then, I see the old buzzard. A house up, he floats out of another white house, but this one has a red front door. He hangs on the porch for a second. Then the door opens, and a woman steps out. She’s wearing a camel-colored, long, wool coat, brown boots, and a matching pair of gloves. It’s the beginning of November, chilly, and it rains a lot, but it’s not that cold. Of course, I think this while I shove my frigid hands into my fleece jacket.
The woman steps onto her sidewalk, and Freezer Dude follows really close. Does he know her? Does he want to know her? Do ghosts get horny?
She walks down the street, in the opposite direction of me, and he continues acting like a puppy dog. In another minute, she’ll either cross the intersection or turn the corner, and I’ll lose them. But if I start my car and drive really slow behind them, they’ll notice. I’m more concerned about her calling the cops on the weirdo with dark, gorgeous, curly hair in the silver Kia than I am about him. What’s he going to do? Boo me to death?
The only choice is to hoof it. I quietly open my door, step out, and push it shut softly. There’s enough traffic on the surrounding streets so they probably don’t hear me distinctively, but I still feel like my movements are deafening. I run onto the sidewalk and stay three houses behind them.
When they get to the corner, she stops and looks like she’s going to turn around. I pull my cell from my jacket pocket, almost dropping it in my haste, and pretend to be on it. But she doesn’t fully turn. She does, however, round the corner.
I take a deep breath and run to the end of the block. I peek around an annoying bush that almost takes out my eye. Daylight faded several hours ago, so I have to squint against the darkness and streetlamps to make them out.
The woman stops in front of a brick house and puts her hand on the owner’s wrought-iron gate. Freezer Dude is so close to her face, he’s either whispering in her ear or licking her cheek. Both options are incredibly gross, and my stomach churns.
Just then my phone buzzes, and a loud, mechanical voice sings, “It’s your brother calling. Yes, he is annoying, but he is calling, so pick up the phone. It’s your brother call…”
Shoot! I poke the face of my phone until the ringtone shuts up. I keep the volume way up because it’s hard to hear when it’s in my pocket. But now I wonder who else may have heard. I bite my lower lip and glance up.
The woman is already at the front door of the house. She knocks and doesn’t seem to have noticed me. Freezer Dude, on the other hand, is staring straight at me.
Before I get a chance to turn and flee, he flies at me. Actually lifts off the ground and soars, minus the arm flapping. I expect him to stop just before me and say something annoying, but he doesn’t stop at all. And before I realize what’s happening, he’s inside me.
Immediately a sensation of deep, bone-chilling cold overtakes me. Yep, just like a bucket of ice water. It intensifies rapidly, and I wonder if it looks like I’m having a seizure from all the trembling. Then my vision clouds, and my hearing tunnels. Pressure fills my body, presses on my chest. Everything around me slips away, and it feels like I’m floating. A low growling sounds inside my body, like a couple of dogs getting ready to battle. My gut tells me to fight, but I’m not sure how. For some reason, I think of Ma’s favorite song and start singing.
“The sun will come out tomorrow.” Normally I’m a bit shy about public singing, but since it feels like I’m being crushed from the inside, I think I can tolerate the possible embarrassment. Suddenly the pressure lifts, and the air gets warmer. Not warm enough to stop shaking, but it’s definitely on the rise.
And just as fast as Freezer Dude entered me, he leaps back out.
I stagger, and my breath comes out jagged. What just happened? I glance around to see if there are dogs in the area. I don’t see any, and the sound is gone. I look to Freezer Dude.
He’s floating a couple of feet in front of me. His expression is a mixture of surprise and confusion too. Then something changes in his eye. He cocks a brow as if he just had an epiphany, and a slow, creepy smile takes over his face. He looks like he has a whopper of a secret.
“What?” I shout. I’m still freaked out, and I really hate secrets unless I’m the owner of them.
“You’ve been such an inspiration, Gianna.”
He knows my name? Even though he’s been a part of my life in some way for eighteen years, it didn’t dawn on me that he knew me. Maybe he asked one of the many people who crossed over. Maybe he heard Ma and Pop call me over the years. It feels pretty stupid to not realize this now that I think about it.
I open my mouth to give a witty retort, but my brain is still in slo-mo, and I come up blank.
He lets out a maniacal chuckle and then vanishes. The echo of his crazy laugh lingers behind like the stench of a backed-up sewer.
* * *
I show up at Enzo’s house forty-five minutes later. It took me a while to stop trembling. I couldn’t shake the chills, even with my heat on full blast. I kept looking over my shoulder too, waiting for Freezer Dude to show back up and try to possess me again. But luckily he didn’t.
Then I went back to the grocery store. But by time I got there, they were closing up, so I grabbed the first thing I saw that I know Enzo likes.
Now here, I park in front of my brother’s ranch-style home. He bought it several months ago. He’s a twenty-eight-year-old homeowner, who has his life together. Career, house, savings. He’s probably already started a retirement fund and all of that responsible stuff. Our parents are super proud of him. I am too. But considering how Izzie and I don’t have half of what he does, sometimes I just want to kick him for being such a good person. Show some flaws. Make us not look so immature. The only thing he needs is a wife and some kids. Hey, why isn’t Ma on his back for more grandkids? He’s next in line. He’s the middle child. I’m the youngest and only twenty-six.
I sprint up the walkway, painfully aware of how late I am, and knock on his front door.
When he opens it, I put on a Cheshire cat smile and hold up two bags of Crunchy Cheddar Jalapeño Cheetos.
“That’s dinner?” he asks with a yawn. His brown hair is tousled on top, and he looks like he’s been asleep. He probably dozed off on the couch. He has on an olive green T-shirt and navy sweats. White socks cover his feet, and he’s guarding the door like a Doberman.
“It’s all they had. Are you going to let me in?”
He shakes his head and stifles another yawn. “No. I have to be up at the crack of dawn. It’s too late to hang, Gi.”
I roll my eyes because this means another night of channel surfing. Who knew moving back home would be so boring? I spent three years living in Connecticut with my cousin and Julian—not at the same time. I just moved back to South Shore Beach a few weeks ago, and while it was fun at first, now it’s snoozeville. Maybe I need to make some friends who aren’t family.
“Another night,” Enzo says.
“Seriously? You’re actually going to turn your baby sister away?” Yes, I’m aware I woke him, and he has to work in the morning, and my idea of dinner is only impressive to a twelve-year-old boy, but I really don’t want to be alone. Especially not after the event with Freezer Dude.
But even if Enzo lets me in, I won’t talk about my very own unfriendly Casper. The family knows I can see and talk to ghosts, but this guy is not the average, run-of-the-mill deadie. This dude means business. If I can only figure out what kind of business. Why come back to the land of the living if you’re dead? Unless he has unfinished business. Maybe he wants revenge for however he became dead. Or he wants to see someone. Was that woman a part of his family?
These questions lead to so many more, like who did he used to be? How long has he been dead?
“Come by tomorrow,” Enzo says, interrupting my thoughts. “Dinner’s on me.”
That perks me up. I even smile. “It’s a deal.”
I turn, ready to head back to my car when he says, “Wait.”
My heart does a momentary jig, assuming he’s changed his mind. But instead of opening his door wider and allowing me in, he reaches forward and snatches one of the bags of Cheetos out of my grasp. “Thanks.”
Then he shuts the door as I’m left there holding the bag. Okay, so my puns aren’t too great when I’ve been robbed.
“Fine,” I shout. “Be like that. May your intestines hate you in the morning.” Then I head back to my car, feeling even more immature than normal.
* * *
Once I’m in my apartment, I toss my jacket onto the corner of the couch, flop beside it, pull off my boots, and grab the remote. It’s Wednesday. I can either catch the ending of Nashville or that new cop show. Hmm, sassy soap opera set around country music or police hunting down killers. Both sound equally stimulating, but after my experience with Freezer Dude, I pick Nashville.
I turn it on in the middle of a commercial for Jared the Galleria of Jewelry with some handsome guy giving some gorgeous woman an open-heart diamond necklace. I reach into my jacket pocket and pull out my phone. I bring up my contacts and scroll to Julian’s face. He’s squinting because the sun is nearly blinding him. I took that picture over the summer, back when I thought he was perfect for me. Now, I still want to believe that, but I’m just not sure.
My finger hovers over his name. I want to call him, to see how he’s doing. It’s almost 11:00. If he’s not working, he may be asleep. I don’t want to disturb him. I sigh heavily and place the phone on the coffee table.
The show comes back on and Scarlett, the quiet blonde who gave up a singing career because she couldn’t handle the attention and being on tour, is sulking about something. I know the feeling, girl.
Julian’s job is the reason we’re taking things slow. Not only did he recently learn I communicate with the dead, but I learned that he’s a fixer. He works for a lawyer whose clients are bigwigs. Whenever a client is in trouble of some sort, Julian intervenes and makes things right. Sounds noble, but it’s not. That murder Izzie was framed for…if Julian hadn’t moved the dead body and fixed it, Izzie probably wouldn’t have been accused. He made things better, but I was the one who saved my sister in the end.
Hence, this is why we’re taking things slow. I’m not sure I can be with a person who doesn’t firmly stand on the white side of the law.
The show soon ends, and I immediately look for anything to watch that isn’t the news. I can’t stomach all the negativity. I get to AMC, and the guide says The Terminator is coming up. This’ll do.
The commercial break is of Hellmann’s Mayonnaise, and while I’m now hungry for a BLT, I don’t feel like cooking. So I reach for the bag of Crunchy Cheddar Jalapeño Cheetos and pull it open. What can I say? I’m easily influenced.
I may regret this tomorrow, but what the heck. I pop several long, orange-red, crunchy nuggets into my mouth. Being mature is overrated.