Garrett Ashley lives in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. His stories have appeared in [PANK], Pear Noir!, NANO Fiction, Lore, and Asimov’s SF.
Before she went to sleep, our mother said she could see ghosts. She lies there dormant in the hospital bed in the dining room. She had been half out of her mind. I nodded a lot. Not ghosts, she corrected when I asked, smiling. Spirits, she said, hiding inside away from the relentless heat, some larger than dad’s pickup, others small as a loaf of bread. The big ones were trying to steal her things. She kept asking us to go into her bedroom to make sure all her jewelry was still in the old box, that her wedding dress was still hanging in its plastic bag in the closet. She hinted that when the heat goes away, the spirits will leave. She talked about the spirits that looked like insects, how they’d crawl over the ceiling and hide in the dark space between the refrigerator and sink. A cool, damp place. The kitchen was in sight of the dining room. We looked, and nodded. No, some spirits were better than others, she corrected. She saw her brother, Joel, looking in through the kitchen window from the flowerbed grinning at her. She saw her mother, too, just the nose up, because her mother had been short and the window was high off the ground. Her mother’s eyes looked playful. She said it had been a calming experience. She didn’t want her mother to leave. I’ve heard of people seeing spirits like this before they die. I don’t believe it, my brother William believes it. He sits next to her bed now with a black leather-bound Bible in his hand. He had been reading to her before all the lamps began to flicker. The heat of the outside oozing through the walls. It hasn’t rained, the wind hasn’t blown, no cloud in sight for several weeks. When she fell asleep the clock on the microwave started to blink. Dad is in the bathroom shaving again. He usually calls our mother to come and check the back of his neck. Lately he’s been on the phone talking about her, watching her go. He doesn’t know how to read to her like William. My brother puts the Bible on the table. Our mother has been asleep for three days but William still picks up the Bible and waits like he expects her to wake, as if the roof won’t collapse on them at any moment. He stands and walks over to the kitchen window and looks around in the bushes for spirits. We go out into the heat to get away from the sound of her breathing. We’re not looking for anything, just waiting. Our mother used to love sitting on the porch with a cigarette when it rained. She used to tell us the only way the rain makes it here is by magic, and I’ve tried harder than anyone to believe it.