Storytime Sunday is a weekly meme in which I share stories that my friends and I have written. Most of these are just writing practice and not polished.
Today’s story was written by my friend Laura. Enjoy!
Will You Tell Me a Story?
“Will you tell me a story?” Ah, the sound is music to my ears. Adelaide hasn’t asked me for a bedtime story since she was six, and I’ve missed them so. She’s fifteen now, and much too old for her mother to tuck her in and tell her a story, but the cast list for the school musical went up today, and she didn’t get the part she wanted. At least for tonight, she needs me to make her feel better, and I’m going to take advantage of it.
“Well, let’s see… Do you want one of your old favorites?” I ask, secretly hoping that she doesn’t.
Addie shakes her head. “No, can you tell me a new one?” I smile. Of course I can. I love to tell stories. Addie pretended to hate the novel I put out last year, Awake, but I saw her reading it when she thought I wasn’t looking. I wrack my brain, trying to come up with a really good one. She’s a little too old for fairy princesses and the breaking of curses. I think for a few more seconds, and it comes to me.
“Once upon a time-“
Addie cuts me off. “Mom, I’m not in kindergarten anymore.” I raise my eyebrows.
“Do you want a story, or not?” She nods mutely and lays her head back down. “Right, then, where was I? Oh, yes, once upon a time. It wasn’t such a very long time ago, you know. In the 90’s, it was, in northern Ohio.”
“Ohio in the 90’s, Mom?” Addie asks. I ignore her.
“The story is about a young boy, and an even younger girl, in the 90’s, yes. It starts, though, much earlier. There’s a little piece that must be told first, and it concerns the girl’s mother. Her name was Lorelei.
Lorelei’s family moved to a big blue house in a little grey city. She had four younger sisters, and they were a big happy family. The house wasn’t quite normal, though. The family decided that it was haunted, or at least, they joked that it was. They called the ghost after the house’s previous owners, Grimm. Johnny Grimm became a common joke.
If there was an ice cream sandwich missing from the freezer, well, Johnny Grimm must’ve eaten it. It was certainly not Lorelei, or any of the other children. Other than little instances like that, where he came in handy, Johnny Grimm was mostly not thought of. Eventually, he faded into the background for the family.
Lorelei grew up. She got married and moved to the coast. She had children, and moved back to the city where she grew up.. This is where the story really begins. Lorelei had three children- all daughters, like her mother. One day, when the two oldest, Emma and Marie, were off at school, she took three-year-old Anne to the big blue house.
Anne loved going to see Grandma. When they got there, Lorelei’s sister was already there visiting. She hadn’t brought any of her children with her, though, so Anne was obliged to go off to the playroom by herself. Anne was fairly independent already, so it didn’t bother her. She could entertain herself just fine while her mother, aunt, and grandmother chatted over coffee.
There was no one else in the house, so you can imagine Anne’s surprise when she reached the playroom and found someone already there. The boy wasn’t anybody she recognized, but she was three, so she didn’t care. She just sat down and started playing with the toys.
The little boy came over to her and tried to play along, but Anne didn’t know him, so she moved on to some other toys and let him have the set she’d started with. It was to no effect, however, because he just followed her and tried to join the next game, too. Anne was angry. She just wanted to play by herself, so she ran to the kitchen, where the adults were.
She said, “Mommy, make that boy leave me alone. I don’t want to play with him.” Lorelei was a little uncomfortable at hearing that. After all, there was no little boy in the house. She wondered what Anne was talking about, so, amused, she let the tiny girl lead her to the playroom. There was no boy to be seen, so Lorelei went back to the kitchen, smiling to herself. Anne had an imaginary friend.
Anne, for her part, understood that nobody else knew the boy was there, with that broad acceptance that little children have. She didn’t question it, and it didn’t bother her. She became friends with the little boy, who told her that his name was Johnny. He had lived in the house before Lorelei’s family moved in, but his parents had been gone for a long time, and they hadn’t taken him with them.
He told Anne that the reason they left without him was that he had died. He died right in front of the big blue house, in the street. Someone had been coming, someone he was excited to see. It was different when he was a little boy- the city wasn’t the place it became later, it wasn’t the place where parents held on to their children with steel grips, and only allowed them to play behind fences.
Johnny ran out into the street that day to meet the car. Cars weren’t as sophisticated as they are now- the brakes weren’t as good. The driver couldn’t stop in time, and… Well, you can imagine. Johnny had been in the blue house ever since. He loved it, it was his home. He hadn’t wanted to leave.
He was a few years older than Anne, but he didn’t mind. He liked that she could see him and talk to him. Most people couldn’t. Anne liked that; it made her feel special. Anyway, age didn’t matter much, because in a few years, the two were the same age. A few years after that, the age gap was reversed entirely.
As Anne grew older, and her family moved to another town, she saw less and less of Johnny. He was gradually replaced by living friends who were her same age, and school. She lost most of her sight. I don’t mean that she went blind; no, she could still see everything she was supposed to see. I mean that she couldn’t see Johnny as clearly as she used to be able to. He became more of a ghost to her, and less of a real person.
Anne never lost him entirely, though. She would still see him occasionally. She could always sense when he was around, and she could still understand him and make herself understood to him. He visited her new house every once in a great while. She introduced him to the ghosts that lived there: the cowboy, the black man in the black hat, the little girl upstairs, the boy on the first floor. Johnny liked them- they were harmless and mostly stayed out of the way.
Right from the start, Anne had accepted that Johnny wasn’t real for most of her family. She had pushed past the fact that they didn’t all believe in ghosts. She knew that the world was skeptical, that the open beliefs that children start out with were always shaped by the more closed-minded adults who raised them.
One afternoon, Lorelei called Anne upstairs. Anne went, expecting to be given a chore, but Lorelei had a box. It had been found in Grandma’s attic, and it had some things in it that she thought Anne might like to see. Anne was curious- she liked old-fashioned things and pieces of history.
In the box was a story. It wasn’t written out or typed- it was cards and newspaper clippings and telegrams and notebooks. First there was a wedding book for the Grimms, the previous owners of the blue house. They got married and honeymooned in Canada before coming to the house. There was a list of all the furniture they had, and a list of all their gifts.
Then came the cards: Congratulations, Happy Birthday, and Merry Christmas. At some point, the Grimms had a baby boy. They named him Johnny.
Anne had to fight the urge to sit down. He was really real. Of course, she’d always known it, but to see the proof splayed out in front of her in black and white was almost too much. Then there was more. The box held a telegram from a relative. It expressed his grief and sympathy, and declared his immediate departure for the city to be with the Grimms.
There were sympathy cards that spoke of the tragedy of the loss of such a young child. Underneath were newspaper articles. Johnny had died as a young boy. He had run out into the road in front of a car. The driver couldn’t stop in time, and Johnny couldn’t be saved. Anne almost couldn’t believe it. Not only was Johnny proven to be a real boy, but everything he’d told her had been exactly true. There was no denying that he had really become a ghost in the blue house.”
“And?” I’m startled out of my reverie by Addie, who I had almost forgotten.
“And what, Addie? That’s the end of the story.”
Addie shakes her head. “You always throw a moral in at the end.” I did always do that, didn’t I?
“Well, honey,” I answer, “The moral of the story is, “Don’t let other people tell you what to believe.”
She smiles. “That sounds like a good idea. Thanks.” I nod, glad that I did a good job, rusty as I am. “Are Anne and Johnny still friends?” she asks.
“Yes, they are. Now, go on to sleep, Addie. I’ll see you before school in the morning.”
“Good night,” she calls as I walk out. I walk down the hall and pick up the phone, which has just started ringing.
“Hello?” I ask.
“Hey, sis! I just wanted to catch you before you went to bed. I did, right?”
“Yes, but only just,” I reply. It’s my little sister, Della. She always calls at ridiculous hours.
“I won two tickets to Wicked in a radio contest! You love that show, right?”
“Yes, I do.”
“Well, they’re for Saturday. Want to go with me?”
“Sure, kiddo. Saturday. Now good night.”
I’m tired after a long day, so I hang up as soon as she says, “ Good night, Anne.”