Chis flinched awake in the middle of the night, cold to his bones with the certainty that something was in the room with them. He waited for a moment, then threw himself upright, shoving out from under the covers so suddenly that he staggered. He turned back, looking through the darkness...
There was soft, brushing sound and a shadow was flowing out through the doorway, close to the floor and almost invisible in the darkness. It narrowed as it went, and then was gone. For a moment, he considered chasing after it, but in the event he couldn't move. He was frozen in place: by shock, by fear, or just by not being as fully awake as he suddenly felt. His mind wanted to move, but his body wasn't ready.
Had the door been open like that? He thought it had. This was their house, after all. They should be safe in it.
He crossed the room, closed the door, and locked it.
Even so, it took him a long time to go back to sleep.
* * *
He was sitting at his desk, looking over investments on his computer when heard the soft creak of the mirror opening at the bottom of the stairs. Someone knocked gently against the wooden wall of the staircase, and then called up: "Excuse me? Are you the new owner?"
Chris was out from behind the antique desk and down the stairs in a heartbeat, pressing forward as a worn-looking man stepped back.
The intruder was dressed in a rumpled, antique suit: dark slacks, neatly-polished shoes, a dark jacket over a white shirt with a collar that reached across his throat to button on one side. His right hand was bare, but his left hand was covered with a sort of shapeless mitten. "Owner?" he asked, deferentially.
"What is it you want?" asked Chris, studying him. He didn't look like a ghost; he looked like solid flesh. "What are you doing here?"
"My wife asked me to apologize--" The man swallowed. "--for last night. She forgot we weren't sleeping in that room anymore, and she was afraid she..."
After a brief pause, Chris asked: "Scared the shit out of me?"
The man nodded dolefully. "Just so."
Chris reached out, more curious than anything, and grasped the man's shoulder. "Who are you people?"
"We come with the house," the man answered, and his arm shivered under Chris's hand, moving all on its own, and hissed.
Chris snatched his hand back as if it had been burned, and started to open his mouth before he realized that the hissing was coming from the hand hidden beneath the shapeless mitten. He closed his mouth, swallowed, and then asked, "You were sleeping in our -- in that room?"
The man nodded. "We get restless, sometimes. We wouldn't leave the grounds, of course, but a little chance to step out..." He shook his head. "Well. Hard to resist."
Chris examined and discarded a half-dozen responses, then asked: "So why didn't you say anything?"
"It's your house," said the man. "The two of you are the owners. We thought you'd stay in the master bedroom, but if you prefer that one--"
"Wait," said Chris. "That's not the master bedroom?"
"Oh," said the man. "Oh my, no. Do you... do you want me to show you the master bedroom?"
Chris' mind lurched, and he had a powerful sense that reality was spinning away from him. "Show me," he said, trying to assert some sense of control.
So the man did.
* * *
"There's another secret door?" asked Rebecca.
"Of course there is," said Chris. "Look at this house. Look at the guy who built it. We could live in this place for years, for decades, and not know all its secrets." He paused. "Do you want to see the real master bedroom?"
"Of course," said Rebecca. She'd signed on for a ridiculously haunted house; she wasn't about to back down now.
* * *
It wasn't a bedroom; it was a suite. It was a closet, in the Shakespearean sense. The false wall on the second floor opened onto a brief antechamber, with a larger room beyond it set with shelves and a writing desk and a gaming table; off to the left was the master bedroom, with a pair of closets large enough to qualify as rooms themselves, while off to the right was the master bathroom, rich and luxurious.
"Did the realtor know about this?" asked Rebecca, looking at the sheer size of the sunken marble bathtub. "If she did, they didn't charge us nearly enough."
"She probably didn't," Chris said. "I doubt most realtors wander through potential sales properties trying to turn porphyry busts in their wall niches."
"Well, no, probably not." Rebecca looked around, grinning helplessly.
"So are you okay with us moving in here? And maybe leaving the other bedroom to... um... the butler? And his wife?"
"The one you said slithered out of our room in the middle of the night last night?"
Chris nodded slowly. "He said they wouldn't come in here -- any of them. Sacrosanct, he said."
"That..." Rebecca swallowed. "That sounds pretty good. Especially if they won't stay out of the rest of the house."
Having spent the better part of three days thinking about how to evict unwanted guests that he couldn't even find, Chris said: "I don't think we could really drive them out. They know this place better than we do. And we did kind of ask for this."
"So we make peace with the ghosts?" asked Rebecca.
"They aren't ghosts, exactly," Chris said. His fingers still remembered the feel of strange flesh beneath a linen jacket. "But they aren't exactly people, either. That's why none of them can own the house, I think."
"All right." Rebecca nodded firmly. "I mean, they've been decent enough, in their way."
"Yeah," said Chris. "The next time one of them turns up, we can let them know."
* * *
"So does this mean we can be friends?" asked the little girl's voice from behind them.
Rebecca reached her left hand out and grabbed the back of Chris' neck to keep him from looking around. With her right hand, she found the remote and paused the movie. "Hello, Rachel," she said.
"Hello," said Rachel.
"I don't know," said Rebecca, and Chris tipped his head in a subliminal nod. "I don't know if I can be friends with somebody I can't look at."
"Well... all right," said the child's voice. "Let me put myself together." There was a brief pause, and a sense of the air pressure changing. Then the voice said, "It should be okay now."
Rebecca turned her head, looking back over he shoulder. Rachel sat there, a little girl who was very well put together, with only a hint of darkness leaking from the cracks. Her skin was porcelain, her eyes were flat black ovals, and she was covered with a grayish hint of a dress; but she was still a little girl. "It's good to meet you, Rachel. Properly, I mean."
"Does that mean I can stay?" the girl asked.
Chris exchanged a glance with Rebecca, and Rebecca nodded. "If you like," Chris said. "Sit and watch with us, but try not to interrupt. And if you feel like you have to come apart, move behind us so we don't see, okay?"
"Okay," said the girl, sounding excited.
Rebecca turned her head forward and started the movie again.