By Ekta R. Garg
Prompt: “But our favorite thing was the ghost.”
Joe grabbed a plate and a hot dog bun and reached for the tongs to pick a dog off the grill. Just then, someone elbowed him in the side.
“Ow,” he exclaimed, dropping the tongs. They fell with a clatter, and he rubbed the spot where his wife had just knocked him with the pointy end of her arm. “Janice, what gives?”
“It’s them,” she whispered out of the side of her mouth while smiling and waving in the opposite direction. “The Connors.”
Joe craned his neck to look in the direction she faced.
“Don’t stare at them,” she hissed. “We don’t want to be too obvious.”
“Then you shouldn’t have nudged me so hard.”
The new couple from the end of the street made their way around the block party. Everyone had heard the rumors, of course, but no one had seen the new people before today. Even the moving van seemed to come and go in the blink of an eye, and not one single friend from up or down the street had seen either husband or wife taking out trash or getting their mail or doing any of the other innocuous things neighbors seem to do.
Joe was curious, sure, but he was also hungry. After the reprimand from Janice, he went back to his hot dog. Bun, dog, a little bit of chili—not too much; Joe was hungry, not a pig—and then right into his mouth. He chomped the first bite and grabbed a napkin to wipe his mouth.
Just then Janice yanked on his arm, and he found himself powerwalking across the small park while trying to hold onto the hot dog.
“Janice,” he said, “jeez. Will you take it easy?”
“I want to meet our new neighbors,” she said, her speed contradicting her easygoing tone. “What’s the big deal about that?”
“The big deal is that I don’t want to lose my lunch,” Joe said. He pulled his arm away from her but kept following. He couldn’t help it; he was curious too.
They reached the edge of the small group that had formed a ring around the Connors. The wife—What was her name? Tess. Yeah, Tess, like we’re in some movie from the twenties—linked her arm through her husband’s and exchanged a knowing grin with him.
“Brad and I are so lucky to have so many great neighbors,” she said. “And the house is just amazing. We were so lucky to find it.”
Lucky like sitting on an anthill is lucky, Joe thought. He wondered if anyone would notice him taking another bite of the hot dog and decided he didn’t care what they thought. Biting into the dog yet again, he exchanged glances with Pete who looked at him with envy.
“What made you decide to buy that house in particular?” Janice asked, the curiosity in her tone competing with her fake-niceness.
“Well, we fell in love with the crown molding,” Tess said, “and the original clawfoot tub.”
Brad nodded. “But our favorite thing was the ghost.”
Joe coughed, sure he’d misheard.
“The…ghost?” Janice asked. She and another friend of hers, Sandy, both stared at the Connors with horror.
“Oh, you know,” Tess said with an airy laugh, “that silly story about the ghost living there.”
Sandy’s face crumpled, and she burst into tears. Covering her face with her hands, she turned and ran in the direction of her home. Janice threw a sympathetic glance at the Connors then followed.
“What?” Tess asked, confused. “What did I say?”
Joe glanced around the group. No one else seemed to want to meet the Connors’ eyes. He pulled his napkin from under his plate, wiped his mouth, and raised the napkin like a flag to get Tess and Brad’s attention.
“Um, Sandy’s parents lived in that house,” he volunteered. “They both…well, they both died there, and it really upset her to put it up for sale.”
Tess’s hand flew to cover her mouth. Brad put his hands on his hips and shuffled his feet, clearly embarrassed. Tess looked in the direction Sandy ran and back at Joe.
“How did they die?” she asked.
Joe shook his head as he took another bite of his hot dog.
“Trust me, you don’t want to know,” he said.