Mara purnhagen – past midnight


I was never normal, but I liked to pretend that I was. It usually took a few months before everyone else caught on. School would start out just fine, then Halloween would roll around, my parents would be all over the local news, and suddenly I would find myself exposed as Charlotte Silver, Princess of the Paranormal. I don’t know why I thought this year would be any different, but I did. And maybe it was different, but not in the way I had hoped. If anything, it was much, much worse.

We had spent the summer in Charleston, South Carolina. My parents were producing another one of their documentaries, this one called Haunted Hospitality. They spent their days researching old hotels and restaurants that claimed to have ghosts, while I relaxed at the beach and took walking tours of the city with my sister Annalise, who was a sophomore at the College of Charleston. She worked part-time at one of the supposedly haunted local restaurants during her summer break.

“The only spooky thing about the place is my boss,” she told me as we spread towels out on the sand. “He can get a little handsy, if you know what I mean.”

I didn’t, but I could guess. Annalise was strikingly beautiful with large hazel eyes and glossy black hair, just like our mom. Growing up, everyone talked about how she would become a model, but she was just over five feet tall, which is definitely a drawback in the modeling industry. Still, my parents had used her a few times for reenactments in their documentaries. Annalise would pull her hair into a bun, slip on a white Victorian dress and walk slowly in front of a green screen. When special effects were added later, she would appear as a transparent figure floating above the floor. She made a great ghost, which was ironic because in real life she was the one everyone seemed to notice while I was the one who slipped by, barely detected.

While Annalise resembled Mom, I took after Dad –

tall and wiry, with dark hair that hung so straight it was infuriating. There wasn’t even the hint of a curl. I kept it just long enough to tuck behind my ears and secretly resented it when Annalise complained that her glossy locks were simply “too bouncy.”

During our third week in Charleston we decided to spend the morning at Waterfront Park. It was a warm Friday in June, the breezy air tinged with the sharp scent of seawater and the shrieks of gliding gulls. We walked along the pier searching for a place to sit and watch the boats. Tourists occupied all of the wide wooden bench swings that lined the dock, so we waited until a couple laden with cameras lumbered to their feet, then claimed the swing as our own. We sat back and rocked slowly, enjoying a clear view of the docked cruise ships and darting birds.

“This is nice,” I said, pushing down on my feet to sway the swing.

“Summers are the best,” Annalise murmured. She sounded drowsy. I felt tired, too, and worried that we might both fall asleep on the swing and wake up hours later, our arms bubbling red with sunburn.

“Maybe we should walk down to the beach.”

“Can’t. We have to meet Mom and Dad in less than an hour, and it’ll take that long to walk to the beach and back.”

I stopped swinging. “They didn’t say anything to me about filming a scene today.”

Annalise smiled. “They called me this morning. They need more chum.”

“Chum” was what we called anyone who was brought in specifically to draw out paranormal energy.

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Mara purnhagen – past midnight