And that’s when I said ‘get me out of here!'” Josh said with a big grin on his face, his hands out splayed over the dinner table. The whole room laughed, and yet it felt so quite, as if somebody had taken a pillow and snuffed out the energy of the room.
“Oh Josh, you were always the one to run like a dog with his tail between his legs at the slightest sense of trouble.” Veronica said. “Like remember back in middle school when you faked a stomach ache when you thought Misses Huron was a witch?”
“She had green skin and wore a pointy hat!” Josh said.
“Because it was Halloween!” Veronica said. The whole room erupted in laughter. But behind it all Josh could sense something more than it, as if a whole room of strangers were listening into their conversation and laughing along. He hadn’t noticed it before, but the distinct lack of its presence unsettled him. Like a lightning strike with no thunder, the air around him felt empty. Josh decided to test the universe again.
“You don’t know. Maybe she put a hex on me and made me sick,” Josh said. Everybody at the table laughed, but the void remained there. As if he had be jetted out of an airlock straight into outer space. The room felt deprived of oxygen. Josh’s smile faded.
“Honey, what’s wrong?” Veronica said placing a hand on him.
He wanted to tell her everything. How he had felt like the air had been sucked out of the room, that something wasn’t right. But now wasn’t the time, not in front of guests. So he said the only thing he could say in that moment.
“It’s nothing,” he said.
After the table had been cleared and the dishes clean. After the kids had been put to bed, and the dogs let out. Veronica and Josh laid in bed, her face as chipper as ever. Just seeing her smile brought a bit of warmth to him, not much, but enough.
“Honey, you look like your mother, grandmother and great grandma all passed away on the same day,” Veronica said. Josh didn’t say anything, but he could hear through the silence. He could hear the distant chuckles from afar.
“It’s that bad huh?” Josh said.
“What’s the matter, hun?” Veronica said she propped herself up by her elbow.
“Shh, listen,” Josh brought a finger to his mouth. Only the whirling of the fan overhead filled the silence.
“I don’t hear anything.”
“Are you telling me that you’re deaf?” Josh said.
Before Veronica could give him even the slightest chuckle Josh placed a finger to her lips. The couple laid there in bed for a long silence before Josh continued.
“There’s nothing,” Josh said. “It was there before, and now it’s gone.”
“Gone? What’s gone?” Veronica said.
“The distant laughter. Don’t you hear it? I mean the lack of it. It’s not there, just gone!” He scanned around the room as if he could find the source hiding in a corner or behind the dresser.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about. Are you telling me that you still believe in ghosts?”
A light chuckling filled the silence between them. Josh could sense it. Behind the humming of the fan, pass the whispering of the distant cars on the highway, it was there. Everywhere and nowhere at once, the chuckling trembled through the universe into the very make up of reality and rattled with a deafening silence. Perhaps Verionica didn’t hear it, but she reacted to it. Josh spied the corners of her lips curl into the faintest smile of satisfaction before they returned to a state of concern. Josh’s heart sped up. He closed his eyes and shook his head.
“It’s nothing,” he said. “There are no ghosts.” He flicked off his light and listened to the silence, only filled by the sound of the fan the thudding of his heart. He went to sleep until a visitor arrived at the side of his bed.
The visitor wore a suit and tie. It stood tall, so tall that Josh couldn’t see past the man’s pocket square. The visitor’s suit glowed a dim blue under the moonlight. Josh laid there in a state of paralysis. He wanted to move but every muscle in his body refused to obey him.
“Such a shame Josh,” the visitor said. It spoke with a slow deep voice, like a whale mimicking human speech. “You really brought in the ratings in our first four seasons. But…”
The visitor brought its hands towards its head. When they returned to view they held a pair of glasses in them with a cloth rubbing against them.
“But,” the visitor continued, “the LSA just isn’t liking you anymore. The live studio audience.” The visitor answered as if it could read Josh’s thoughts. “Your cowardice and fears of superstitious ghost stories are getting dry. They need something more. Now,” it raised the glasses out of view, “if you were any other character I’d be using this visit to give you notes. You’d take them and improve upon them, and our ratings will boost. It’s how we got Veronica to marry you after all. She’s a good listener. But you,” the visitor sighed. It placed its hands together, “you haven’t listened to a single thing we’ve asked of you. You just won’t change.”
Josh’s heart sped up. He tried to break free of the spell placed upon him, but nothing worked. It was as if a skyscraper had been place upon him. The only thing he could control was nothing more than the motion of his eyes. To want to scream and had no control over one’s mouth was a feeling he’d never wish upon his worst enemy.
“So tomorrow,” the visitor continued, “tomorrow your boss is going to send you on a business trip to Japan. You will gladly take it, and you will never be seen again. It’s a classic move we producers make, writing you off. Don’t worry, the LSA won’t care, in fact they’ll embrace it. Unlike our past four meetings you will remember this one. That way I know you’ll listen. Or else we’ll have to cancel the whole series and you and your friends will cease to exist. Do we have a deal?”
Josh skimmed his eyes around. Scanning the visitor for anything telling. Was this a prank? Was this one of Andy’s elaborate “hauntings” to scare Josh again?
The figure reached a hand towards Josh’s and shook it. Its fingers felt of that a damp cloth. Josh’s hand wobbled like a worm as the visitor shook it.
“I’m glad we came to an agreement,” the visitor said. “The LSA will be pleased. Good night Josh, it’s been a pleasure working with you.” And with that the visitor vanished. Leaving a frozen Josh laying in bed. Heart pounding.
Originally written for this writing prompt.