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This Is Not a Ghost Story
Author: Andrea Portes


Scarlett Mills Gazette, August 13, 1865

The honorable Dr. Barnaby Quince and his wife, Mary Elizabeth, have perished in the house fire of 221 Stanton Hope Lane on the night of August the third. The cause of the fire is unknown, but it is believed to be due to the high summer temperatures and low precipitation of the season, possibly causing the combustion that sparked the deadly blaze. Services for the doctor and his wife will be held at the Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, Sunday, August 15, 1865, in the year of our Lord.



Chapter 1

Get hit by a Mack truck.

My plan for the summer. Not a goal, exactly. Because that would require a level of commitment beyond my current expertise.

It’s more like a vague hope. Like that someone will invent a climate-change reverser. Or Keanu Reeves will fall in love with me. Or that Michelle Obama will one day be president. A tendril of a thought. A side note.

Still, oblivion was my goal.

You would think that in the summer before my freshman year of college I’d have no reason to be anything other than giddy. But for issues that will become clear, that was not the case for your Daffodil Turner.

Daffodil. That’s me. Ironic, isn’t it. Sunny, yellow Daffodil. As full of promise as a spring day. And yet, I am wading in dread.

I forgot to tell you! Don’t assume anything. I know we are talking now, but that doesn’t necessarily mean I don’t get hit by a Mack truck. Or a city bus. Or even one of those scooters everyone keeps leaving around on the sidewalk.

It also doesn’t mean that what I’m about to tell you, all of it, even the supernatural parts, didn’t happen.

I was like you once. Thinking there was order to the universe, structure, rules we could all count on. But this summer taught me to throw all of that out the window. You’ll see. Consider yourself warned.

Maybe you think this is all a little dark? I don’t blame you. But two weeks into summer, two days into summer break, it somehow feels as if I am looking at the world through the bottom of a peephole. Like those homemade cereal-box glasses we made as kids for the solar eclipse. Don’t stare right into it. Look away.

But at this moment, trying to grasp a thought, like the address I am trying to remember, is like trying to claw myself one of those stuffed animals in a glass case at the Chuck E. Cheese. There. Almost there. I have it. AH! Gone! Dropped it.

Okay, the address is 221 Stanton Hope Lane. Scarlett Mills, Pennsylvania. Yes, that is the address of my engagement. There will be no cell phone service, I was warned. I said I could just put the address in my phone. But somehow that was preposterous. I was instructed to write it down.

And here, standing in front of 221 Stanton Hope Lane, the weight of my commitment hits me. Maybe it’s the giant gray stones at the base of the house. Or the green elm towering into the sky. Or the maple trees on the lawn looking a thousand years old.

This is a big, big place.

It hadn’t looked that big, as I remember it.

Yes, I admit, it’s a little crazy how this all came about. You see, I had intended on arriving at my final destination, Bryn Mawr College, before looking for work. Yes, that seemed obvious.

But somehow, when the train stopped at Scarlett Mills, the petunias and daffodils surrounding the little platform had seemed to be some kind of sign. You see, my name is Daffodil. So, in my mind, I suddenly felt like this was the place. Had to be the place. This was my station.

And in a rash kind of decision, the type of decision I am prone and enthusiastic to make, I jumped out of the train and onto the petunia- and daffodil-decorated platform. When I realized the college was farther up the line, I decided to make lemonade, and began my search for some kind of job. A summer job. A job that would, hopefully, pay me a handsome sum before the advent of September and my new life. The one with which I’d happily replace my old one.

Now, I know I do not get an A for planning, here. But, somehow, as these things sometimes miraculously do . . . it worked out.

Yes, going door-to-door, knocking at every address in town seemed like a positively idiotic plan. Especially with the June humidity and the bugs swarming around me and not even a one, not one door opening. (And, let’s be honest, folks. I know some of those people were actually inside, ignoring me.)

But there was a little bit of luck, you see, just a little synchronicity that somehow led me to the farther reaches of town, even to the outskirts, and to a sweet little stone house up a long winding road. There were daffodils here, too. So you see, it was destined. And, even though it appeared little at first, as I grew closer I realized how, exactly, imposing this home was.

I could hear the sound of a conversation inside. Actually, just one side of a conversation; the man obviously being on the phone with someone who must have been extremely talkative, as he couldn’t seem to get a word in edgewise.

And there was a kindness to it.

His voice.

Yes, I know it seems possibly unsafe and maybe even stupid, but I knocked. Look, I was desperate. I really did need a job, otherwise none of the rest would work.

So you see, dear friend, my dreams were fulfilled when the gentle-voiced man, who happened to be a professor, actually did have a summer job for me. A wonderful summer job! A job that utilized my strong suit, which is daydreaming. You see, all I would have to do is watch the house.

Apparently, there was some sort of renovation to be done in the back. A guesthouse was under construction. (Although, let’s be honest, you could fit five entire families in the first house, but whatever.) And the price was not only right but beyond right. Right enough to pay my entire freshman year room and board, which, combined with my scholarship, would make this academic reality an actual dream come true.

I accepted immediately. It was blissful.

A moment of kismet.

Now, as I stared down that same dirt road, the house, which seemed large, yes, but normal, well-to-do-person large, seems like some kind of (pharoah’s tomb) mansion. And the other houses seem farther away . . . as though the road were longer somehow.

Maybe this was a mistake. I could say I’m sick, I thought. Ate some bad tuna. Or maybe a stomach flu. I could have missed my train. Or lost the address . . .

The myriad ways I could get out of this come cascading down through my brain like those 1s and 0s in The Matrix. But before I can drum up the will to actually turn my body and leave, there he is on the stairs.

The professor.

He waves to me. A showy wave in the shape and size of the arc of an umbrella. “Hey, there. You made it!”

Yes, I suppose I did.

Okay, fine. Human interaction engage.

“Yeah. I’m . . . here.”

“Very glad to see it!” He’s a tall man with a kind of outdoorsy charm. Like he should be eating trail mix, pitching a tent, and going on a hike. A nice guy. A wholesome guy. The kind of guy who gets really excited about a new lentil soup recipe.

Oh, to have a dad such as this! Or even a dad at all. What would I have become? How would the kinks in Daffodil Turner have been ironed out? Maybe instead of feeling this particular and insistent sense of doom, I would be making cookies. Or skiing. Or translating lost texts from faraway lands. Perhaps I would be an archaeologist, dusting off antiquities somewhere between the Tigris and the Euphrates, rattling off facts about the Mesopotamian era.

I would say things like, “These fertility statues are pre-Babylonian. Clearly Sumerian or possibly Minoan.”

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