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I remember being lost in the mall as a child… it was never as frightening as this!



by Michael Merriam

     The tall, fashionably-dressed young woman stood on the second level of the mall, looking down into the courtyard below.

The object of her scrutiny, one of the dozens or so kiosks scattered across the floor, was decorated to grab the attention of the busy shoppers in hopes of convincing them to part with a percentage of their net worth.  This particular kiosk sold wooden toys, which meant a high number of children--especially smaller children who could still summon up a sense of wonder at such simple things--swirled around the cart.

            What drew her attention to the kiosk was not its wares, but the person attending it.  An ordinary-looking man, he had started working the cart three weeks ago.  He wore wire rim glasses, and suffered a slight paunch around the middle and a thinning spot on the back of his head the woman could see clearly from her vantage point on the second level.  He laughed a lot, and was exceptional at dealing with children and their harried parents.  In all ways he appeared to be the perfect employee for a toy kiosk in a mall.

            Last Saturday, as she walked by him, something had made her pause.  She had found herself looking straight into his eyes, eyes that were inexplicably wrong.  She took it upon herself to keep a close watch on him.

            Her attention shifted, drawn to the sight of a little girl in a faded pink dress standing separate from the other children clustered around the cart.  She frowned.  This was the third day in a row she had noticed the girl, and the third day in a row the child wore the same dress.  Her frown deepened.  She would need to find out if the girl belonged to one of the people who worked at the mall and if so, take appropriate measures.

            She looked back to the cart to find the man going on his break.  The crowd of children drifted away, much to the relief of their parents, who wanted to shop for things besides toys.  As the toy seller stepped away from his wares the woman saw him turn his head toward the girl.  He had decided on his prey.  She looked around for mall security and, finding none, stepped casually away from the rail.  She flattened herself against the wall behind her and, checking to make sure she was unseen, melded into the building.

            She came out in the courtyard, stepping from a pillar as a man carrying two large bags passed.  She smiled at him when he turned his tired face toward her in surprise, then set off in search of the toy seller and the little girl.  She caught up with them as they started down a corridor toward a first level exit.  There were too many people here, she realized.  She would be unable to meld into the wall without drawing attention to herself.  She power walked past the toy seller and girl and stepped into the entry foyer.  Picking a moment when she thought it would be undetected, she touched the doors.  The locks gave a satisfying click.  They would not open again until security came with a key.  She looked up.

            The girl walked just ahead of the man, who kept looking around nervously at the other customers.  As the toy seller reached over the child's shoulder to open the doors, the little girl walked through the glass.

            The woman gave a startled gasp and stepped back.  The little girl gasped at her, her brown eyes wide and frightened, and vanished.

            The sound of the entrance door being rattled made the woman looked up.  Her eyes locked with the toy seller's.  The man frowned in confusion and glanced past her for his lost prey.  He took a step backward and gave the surrounding area a thorough examination before finally turning and going back the way he had come.

            The woman searched the mall all day, but the little girl was gone.


            "And your name, just for the record?" the mall security officer held his pen over the form on his clipboard.

            "Syd Dale," the woman answered.  Today she was short and busty, wearing a University of Minnesota sweatshirt and jeans.  "That's Syd with a Y.  And no, it's not short for Sydney."

            "Well," the security officer turned to the small boy standing next to the woman, "let's go see if we can find your mommy, okay?  How about a cup of cocoa?"

            The little blond boy nodded his head in agreement.

            Smiling, the security officer took the boy's hand.  He turned back to Syd.  "Thank you for bringing him to us.  We'll find his folks."

            "Oh, no problem.  I'm just glad I could help," Syd said.  She watched as the security officer led the boy away from her toward the promised hot cocoa, until they were both out of sight.

            Syd rode the escalator to the second level, blending in with the crowd around her while she considered what had just happened.  When Syd found the boy huddled in a ball and crying in the back of a woman's clothing store it seemed like a routine incident of a child getting away from a distracted parent.  Then the boy told his story to the security guard.

            The little blond boy said he lost his parents while playing chase with another child.  A girl who, according to the boy, ran off the second level and into thin air.  The security guard nodded his head indulgently at the boy's story, but Syd realized something more was going on.  She had heard whispers through the walls about a little girl who lured children away from their parents to play with her.

            She was so lost in thought she failed to notice the child in the faded pink dress standing at the top of the escalator until the screams started.

            Syd's head snapped up.  A woman in too tight pants and a leopard print blouse was howling to raise the dead.  The man in front of her, cell phone firmly planted on his ear, stepped through the child, then turned to look at her, his mouth open and face pale.  As the howling woman reached the top of the escalator she stumbled forward through the child and promptly fainted.  The young couple behind the woman timed their jump to go on either side of the girl, who stood passively as they passed her.  The three teenage girls next in line shrieked and started to stampede back down the escalator.  Syd shifted sideways, letting them pass, her eyes fixed on the child in front of her.  As Syd reached the top, the girl's brown eyes widened in surprise.  Syd reached out a hand to the child and grasped empty air where the girl had stood only seconds before.

            With a sigh, Syd stepped off the escalator and turned to survey the chaos behind her.


            "I believe," Gopher said, whiskers twitching thoughtfully, "you are infected with some kind of mortal spirit."

            Syd sat on the sidewalk, back touching the wall of the mall, wrapped in early morning darkness, regarding the small animal in front of her.  Of all the parking lot totems, Gopher was the one she spent the most time with.  The mall's designers would have been stunned to discover the creatures they had put on signs to assist patrons in finding their vehicles now claimed an existence of their own.  Of course, they would have been stunned by her existence also.

            "I don't understand how," Syd whispered.  "None of this makes sense."

            "You're sure this child didn't die here?" Gopher asked again.

            Syd gave her friend an annoyed look.  "I'm not like my idiot sister.  I don't let people plunge to their deaths by falling off escalators."

            Gopher raised a paw in supplication.  "Still, there must be a reason," he said mildly.  "What do you intend to do?"

            Syd thought for a moment.  "I really don't know what I'm going to do, but I can't let her continue acting out, it's bad for business.  I won't tolerate her frightening customers away."  Syd frowned, "There's going to be a television crew out here tomorrow doing a story on the 'Haunting of the Mall'.  They're bringing some psychic and a team of ghost hunters with them."

            Gopher chuckled.  "Sounds like a bit of excitement."

            Syd gave Gopher a sour look.  "It's going to be a great big circus, and it's all going to be on the morning news."

            Gopher looked Syd squarely in the eye, all traces of his earlier amusement gone.  "Then you need to make sure they have nothing to report."


            Syd slowly walked around the courtyard.  Today she looked like any other soccer mom as she tried to blend in with the early shoppers, power walkers, and the simply curious.  Syd exerted herself to the fullest, desperate to head off any manifestation of the supernatural before the news crew or ghost hunters took notice.  She could feel herself already starting to tire from the strain of both holding her mortal shape and trying to use her senses to monitor every part of the mall.  

            She had written off the psychic as a fraud early on.  When Syd had brushed against her, intent of determining the woman's sensitivity, the psychic ignored her and continued to drift around the mall in a fake dream state while making generic statements about spirits and cold spots.

            The paranormal investigators worried her the most.  When she passed within five feet of one their electromagnetic meters it went wild, causing excitement.  Fortunately, the reporter the television station sent over seemed more amused by her assignment than serious.  Between the live segments she and the cameraman quietly poked fun at the goings on around them.  As they finished the last segment and started rolling up their cable, Syd began to relax her guard.

            It was the ghost hunters who first realized something was happening.  The various electromagnetic meters and other sensory equipment starting getting wild readings.  The four members of the team clustered together, three of them wielding meters while another took pictures of the area.  The excitement drew the attention of the television cameraman, who flipped on the camera's battery pack and pointed his lens in the direction of the commotion.  As he aimed his lens at the group, there came a loud pop and a shower of sparks jumped from the back of his camera.  Every cell phone in the mall started to ring.  With a sickening twist in her stomach, Syd felt the escalators seize up, sending the few people on them sprawling.

            Syd looked for the cause of the sudden disturbance.  After a moment she spotted the girl in the faded dress standing behind a kiosk full of silver jewelry.  The look on the girl's face struck Syd as frightened.  Syd stopped trying to monitor the entire mall.  After allowing herself a moment to recover, she quietly walked up behind the child.

            "There you are," Syd said loud enough for the people around her to overhear.  "Please don't run away from me like that, okay?" Syd knelt down and, before the girl realized what was happening, swept the child up in a hug.  "Come on sweetie, let's go find you some juice and move out of the way of these nice people."  Syd stood, took the child's hand in hers, and starting walking away from the courtyard.  The cell phones stopped ringing, the escalators started running.

            They walked down one of the long wings of the mall, stopping in front of a food vendor.  Syd kept her grip on the girl's hand as she ordered a large orange juice and took some napkins from the counter, stuffing them into a pocket.  She paid the woman behind the counter in loose change, which the woman accepted with an odd look.  Still holding the child, Syd steered them toward one of the benches along the hallway.

            They sat down and Syd placed the cup of juice between them on the bench.  She started drying her hands with napkins.  Syd noticed the girl watching her closely.  "I always get a little wet when I summon change from the fountain," Syd said with a smile.

            "Am I in trouble?" the child whispered.

            "No, you're not in trouble."

            "You're not mad at me?" the girl asked.

            "Why would I be mad at you?"

            "Because I'm bad."  The girl looked down at her lap and started fidgeting with her dress.

            Syd gave the child-spirit a closer inspection.  There were angry red and black marks on her upper arms.  Her top lip seemed to have been busted and partially healed.  There was the faint remains of bruising around her right eye.

            "I don't think you were being bad, at least not on purpose."  Syd took a sip of the orange juice.  "Do you have a name?"

            "Amanda," the child continued to look at her lap.

            "Hello, Amanda.  I'm Syd."

            Amanda suddenly looked directly at Syd.  "I know who you are.  That's why you can touch me when no one else can, isn't it?"

            "I suppose it must be," Syd replied.  "We're not so different."

            "But you're not--" Amanda dropped her eyes again.

            "I'm not what?" Syd gently asked.

            Amanda reached out for the cup of juice Syd drank from.  Her hand passed through the waxed-coated paper.  The child looked back up at the spirit.  "Like me," she whispered, her brown eyes going moist.

            Syd pulled Amanda close to her.  She sometimes saw mortal mothers do this with their distressed children, and it seemed to help.  "It will be all right," she tried to reassure the child.

            "No, it won't," Amanda sniffled.  "It's my fault.  Mommy told me to stop being bad.  It's all my fault and I'm sorry.  I'm so sorry."  Tears flowed down the child's cheeks.

            "Tell me what happened," Syd stroke Amanda's hair, calming the girl.

            Amanda sat silent for several seconds before she spoke.  "I wanted a hat for Wilbur.  We were having a tea party."


            "My bear."

            Syd nodded. "I see."

            "I was being quiet, just like I was told to be, 'cause Mommy didn't want to be bothered when she was lying down.  Mommy had been sick a lot since little Jimmy died."

            "Was Jimmy your brother?"

            "Yes.  He died in his crib."  Amanda paused to sniff before she continued.  "I got the hat from Mommy's closet, and tiptoed out of her room.  But she woke up and--and started to yell."

            "What happened next?" Syd continued to hold Amanda close.

            "She shook me for awhile, and then pushed me out of her room, and I fell."  Amanda whispered.

            "You fell?" Syd asked, an unpleasant feeling taking hold of her.

            "Uh-huh.  Down the stairs."

            "Then what happened?"

            Amanda sniffled.  "I went back in Mommy's room to tell her I was sorry, but she just screamed and screamed when she saw me.  I went back to my room and lay down."

            "Is that when you realized you were--different?"  Syd asked.

            Amanda nodded.  "That night I saw Daddy carry something in a blanket downstairs.  I thought Pete was sick."


            "Our dog," Amanda explained.  "I followed him to the truck.  When he set the blanket down it come open and--and--" the tears started again.  She looked at the floor for few seconds before she spoke again.  "The next thing I knew I was in daddy's truck.  He brought me here."

            "Do you know why?"

            Syd saw Amanda was trying to decide if she could trust her.  "He worked here, when they were building it.  He left me here and went away," Amanda finally whispered.

            Syd realized her father must have hidden Amanda's body somewhere, probably under the mall.  Syd thought she understood why the girl's spirit was suddenly active: the new management had just broken ground on a remodeling and expansion project.  They must have disturbed her remains. 

            As Syd opened her mouth to reply, two of the paranormal investigators, waving their meters excitedly, started trotting toward them.

            "Down here!" one of the hunters exclaimed.  "Tell Doc to get the camera!"  The two started moving steadily toward Syd and Amanda.

            Syd stood and took Amanda's hand.  She started walking away from the two investigators, but she felt Amanda pull away.  Syd blew out an annoyed breath, then looked down to find Amanda looking at her with large, tear filled eyes. 


            Before Syd could stop her, the girl suddenly rushed through the wall in front of the shocked investigators.  The investigators looked up at Syd.  Their eyes locked for an instant.  Before the two men could react, Syd turned and fled down a side corridor.  As she melded into the wall seconds before the two ghost hunters turned the corner, the last thing Syd heard before she merged with the building was the child's voice crying "I'm sorry" over and over.


            For the next week everything stayed quiet in the mall, a situation that under normal circumstances would have suited Syd just fine.  People shopped, ate at the restaurants, and went about their business as if nothing had happened the week before.

            Several local news channels sent teams to investigate the reported ghost, but so far nothing else had happened.  Syd tried to stay calm, but the unwanted attention was annoying her.  She did not need ghost hunters and camera crews crawling all over the place disrupting the normal flow of commerce.  She did not want the mall to take on that uncomfortable feeling it could get if one of her kind did not hide themselves sufficiently from the customers.  That unexplainable feeling of discomfort had destroyed more than one of her sisters.

            Syd kept waiting for Amanda to reappear, but the little ghost stayed silent.  The tense expectation made Syd more nervous every day.

            "What surprises me," Gopher said while poking an empty soda cup with his nose, "is your inability to sense her within your own space."

            Syd sat leaning against the outside wall.  She pulled her now-black hair over her shoulder and starting combing it out with her fingers.  Today she was a pale teenaged girl, dressed in a black top and mini-skirt with black and white stripped leggings.  "I think it's because she's not natural."

            Gopher looked up and blinked at her, then shook his furry head from side to side.  "Not natural?  That's an odd idea, everything considered."

            "Think about it," Syd said, looking squarely at Gopher.

            "I am," he replied while waddling closer to Syd.  "I don't see how we are so different.  We're all spirits, yes?"

            "Yes, Gopher, we are, all three of us, spirits.  The difference is why.  You exist because the people who shop here see your image on a sign and they trust Gopher will lead them to where they've parked.  They believe in you on some level, so you exist."

            "Okay, I understand that.  And yourself?" Gopher asked, intrigued by her line of reasoning.

            Syd chuckled, "I exist because I'm more to mortals than concrete, glass, and plastic.  I'm a market place, a community gathering hall, and temple all rolled into one.  I provide shelter, food, and entertainment.  I touch their lives constantly, to the point they started to see me as a living entity, and so I am."

            Gopher nodded in agreement.  "And your little ghostly tenant?"

            "She shouldn't be here.  She didn't die here, nor does there appear to be any connection to me except her mortal remains.  She should have gone on to wherever mortal spirits go after death.  So, she's not a part of the natural order of things."

            "Perhaps it would be best if she were found.  You could seek out her bones and turn them over to the authorities," Gopher pointed out.  "I suspect her spirit would pass on after a proper burial."

            Syd had considered doing just that, but still could not bring herself to.  Syd shook her head and looked at her oldest friend.  "No, I don't think that's an option, at least not yet."

            Gopher raised a fuzzy eyebrow at her.  "Why not?"

            Syd licked her lips.  "You didn't see the look on her face. I can't toss her away; she's suffered too much already.  I just--I need her to talk to me.  I need to make her understand how important it is to not frighten everyone away.  We just need to come to some kind of agreement."

            Gopher's face suddenly lost all expression.  "She is not your responsibility."

            Syd sighed and rubbed her temples.  "Yes, she is.  Her bones are underneath me.  She's as much my responsibility as everyone who passes through those doors.  More so in fact, because she has no else one to be responsible for her.  She shouldn't have to be alone."

            Gopher's furry face took on a sly, amused look.  "Well, I would not have believed such a thing possible."


            "Nothing important, Syd," he answered.  "However, I think someone wishes to speak to you."  Gopher nodded his head toward the glass entry doors.

            Syd looked over her shoulder to find Amanda standing near the lockers, her small hands twisting her dress as she looked down at her feet.

            Syd put her best smile on her face and approached Amanda.  She kept in constant contact with the outside of the building until she reached the glass doors.  Passing effortlessly through them, she stood in front of Amanda.

            "Hello," Syd said softly.

            "I'm sorry about all the trouble I caused, I promise not to do it again," Amanda whispered.

            "It's okay. I'm not upset with you."

            "You're not?" Amanda seemed incredulous.

            "Of course not, it's not your fault.  Things like that happen because of what you are."  Syd knelt down in front of Amanda.  "Just promise me one thing.  Promise you'll try not to draw too much attention to yourself.  We don't want people to stop coming here because they're afraid.  So no more disappearing into thin air, okay?"

            The ghost nodded.  "Promise."

            Syd smiled.  "See, that was easy enough, wasn't it?"

            Amanda smiled up at Syd, then suddenly frowned, and looked seriously at the mall spirit.  "What's going to happen to me now?"

            "I don't know.  If you want, I could turn your bones over to the mortals and let them give you a proper burial.  That would probably let you go on to wherever a mortal spirit goes after death."

            "What if I don't want to go away?  Can't I stay with you?"  Amanda asked.

            Syd considered her next words carefully.  "I think we would need to think about what will work best for both of us.  I could let you stay on a trial basis.  Does that sound okay to you?"

            Amanda nodded.  "Okay."

            Syd smiled and stood.  She held out her hand to Amanda.  "Great, let's take a walk and I'll show you where to find everything."

            Amanda took Syd's hand.  As one, they vanished into a wall.


            Syd sat near the fountain watching as the local police department's K-9 unit passed by, doing their monthly sweep through the mall for drugs, explosives, and who knew what else.

            She tried to focus on the customers who paraded past in all their colorful splendor, but found her attention wandering.  Every time remodeling occurred it made her feel odd, and the new construction taking place kept her on edge.  Two weeks ago crews started adding an entire movie theatre, and the work left her unable to comfortably meld into the building.  This forced her to maintain her mortal guise during most of the shopping day, which made it difficult for Syd to keep watch over the customers and shops.  Fortunately, Amanda agreed to help her watch for trouble.  Over the past three weeks since Syd and Amanda came to their agreement, the mall continued to be calm and quiet. 

            Gopher had patiently dug up Amanda's remains from the construction area and brought them to Syd.  The mall spirit placed the child's bones in an old duffle bag she found in a janitorial closet and hid them inside one of the mall's lockers where she could keep watch over them until a more permanent solution could be found.  Syd wanted to bury Amanda's remains deep under the center of the building, but Amanda was afraid she might not manifest again once buried.  Syd had spent hours in the mall's bookstore reading up on ghost and spirit lore, trying to figure out what would happen to the little ghost.

            Syd smiled to herself.  The news crews and paranormal investigators had been disappointed each time they returned.  Amanda made sure she stayed as far away from the investigators as possible, moving around at Syd's direction whenever one started to come too close.  The only moment of tension came when one of the ghost hunters passed his electromagnetic meter near the lockers. 

            Syd suspected the residual energy of Amanda's connection to her bones had set off the equipment.  The ghost hunters grew excited but mall security flatly refused to open the locker, telling them someone's personal items were none of their business.  Syd did notice the security guards making note of the locker number for later reference.  She realized she would need to make a decision about Amanda's remains soon.

            Syd looked up to find Amanda slowly making her way through the crowd toward the fountain.  They often worked on Amanda appearing in different clothing, but so far she could only maintain control for a few minutes before it reverted to the old faded pink dress.  Syd smiled at her approach, but dropped it when she saw the look on Amanda's face.

            "He's back," the ghost said in a flat voice.

            "Who's back?"

            "The man who sells toys.  I saw him while I was playing near the game store."

            "Show me."  Syd said, standing with some effort.

            Amanda started toward him, Syd following in her wake.  Syd spotted the man, sporting scars from his encounter with the glass door, standing outside a toy and novelties store.  He was talking to a boy who looked suspiciously like the blond child Syd had found huddled and lost just a few weeks ago.  As Syd started to sit down on one of the benches in the middle of the aisle, she suddenly felt overcome with a wave of vertigo.

            Amanda apparently sensed something also.  She looked up at Syd, her eyes wide.  "They've found me."

            For a moment Syd froze, trapped in indecision.  She could see the toy seller take the boy by the hand, but if what Amanda said was true--

            She simply couldn't be in both places at the same time; the construction drained her energy and dulled her abilities.

            "Amanda, I want you to stay with them," Syd said, pointing at the man and little boy.  "Don't let them leave the mall.  I'll be right back."

            Amanda nodded solemnly and moved closer to the two people she needed to track.

            Syd backed away and turned down a corner where she couldn't sense any people.  She closed her eyes and became one with building, melding into the plastic, steel and wood.  She sent herself into the wiring and across the building, moving sluggishly through the electrical system.  She slid through the wall and came out in the women's section of one of the department stores.  She took a deep breath to steady herself, and dashed into the corridor with the lockers.

            "Is there something wrong?" she asked, stepping up next to the mall security guards.  "Because that's my locker."

            "This is your locker, ma'am?" one of the police officers quickly approached and pointed to where the unit's dog was whining and pawing at the door.

            "Yes, is there a problem?" she asked.  She didn't have to act worried in front of the officer; she really was concerned.

            "Ma'am, would you please open the locker."  The officer commanded her.

            "Of course."  Syd stepped up to the metal door as the other police officer pulled the agitated dog back to give her room.

            Syd reached into her pocket and, concentrating hard against the growing weariness, summoned a passkey from the maintenance room.  She pulled the key from her pocket and stuck it into the lock.  She turned the key hard and it gave a sharp snap.

            "Oh dear." she said, holding half a broken key in her hand.

            The officer without the dog motioned at the wall opposite the lockers.  "If you would please stand over here ma'am."  He turned toward mall security guard.  "We're going to need a pry bar of some sort."

            The guard nodded.  "I'll get maintenance to bring one up," he said, reaching for the radio microphone on his shoulder.

            Syd tried to fight down her rising panic.  If they actually ripped apart the door she would not be able to stop them from finding Amanda's remains.  Fighting back the construction induced weakness, Syd tried to reach out and trip the sprinkler system.  She felt her being waver and fade as she pushed further.  She could not focus enough to make the necessary connection.

            "Help!  Help me!"  Syd heard a small voice yell.  "The bad man's trying to take my friend!"

            Syd realized with a start the voice belonged to Amanda.

            "Please, he's trying to take my friend.  You have to come right now!" the child wailed, running toward the police officers.

            Syd stood quietly and listened as Amanda pleaded for the police officers and security guard to save her friend.  After warning Syd to stay put, the police officers rushed away, following Amanda's directions and descriptions.  Syd waited patiently until the security guard turned his back on her to keep an eye on Amanda, who was talking to him in a quick, animated fashion.  When she felt it safe, she cautiously stepped to the locker and, with a touch of her hand, tripped the lock.  She opened the door, scooped up the duffle bag, closed the locker, and walked the opposite way from the security guard, heading for a maintenance door.

            The door unlocked under her hand and she stepped into a part of the mall customers never saw.  Quickly she found a place to hide the duffle bag again.  She sat down on the floor and tried to steady herself.

            "They stopped him," Amanda said, startling Syd, who still couldn't sense the ghost's presence.

            Syd reached out and gathered Amanda close, hugging her tightly.  "Amanda!  Oh, sweetie, are you all right?"

            Amanda nodded.  "The man started to leave with Brent--"


            "My friend."

            "I see," said Syd.  "I'm sorry, tell me what happened."

            "The man started to leave with Brent," Amanda began again.  "You told me not to let them leave the mall, so I found a policeman and told him the bad man was trying to take my friend."  Amanda paused, then asked in a quiet voice, "That was okay, wasn't it?"

            "Yes," Syd whispered, still hugging the child close to her.  "That was okay.  You did great honey.  You did just fine, my smart, clever little girl."  Syd continued to hug the child, rocking her ever so slightly.

            "Syd, are you all right?" Amanda asked.

            "I thought they were going to take you away," Syd told the child.  "I thought they were going to rip the door off the locker, and take you away from me."  As the words left her mouth, Syd Dale did something for the first time in all her long years of existence.

            The spirit of the mall burst into tears.

            Amanda leaned back and regarded Syd with solemn brown eyes.  "So you want me to stay with you?"

            Syd nodded and smiled. "Yes, Amanda.  I want you to stay with me, if you still want to."

            "I think I'd like that very much," Amanda replied with all the dignity a six-year-old child could muster.


            Syd waited near the exit of the new movie theatre.

            "Syd!  Syd!" Amanda cried.

            Syd knelt down and let the child run into her arms.  Amanda never tired of physical contact.  "How was the movie?" Syd asked.

            "It was funny, the monkey was the best."  Amanda giggled, and broke into a terrible imitation of the creatures in the movie.

            Syd stood and took Amanda's hand.  They started to walk toward the women's restroom, where they would both disappear until after the mall finished closing for the night.

            "So did your clothing stay the same?" Syd asked, noting the jeans and pink and white pullover Amanda appeared to be wearing.

            "Yup," Amanda beamed proudly.  She had become quite good at changing her appearance over the last year.

            The two entered the restroom, making their way toward an empty stall.

            "See you in a little bit."  Syd hugged the child and kissed her on top of the head.

            "You won't forget to wake me up will you?"  The child asked.  Amanda still needed to return to her bones from time to time.

            "Of course I won't," Syd reassured her.  Ever since Amanda's remains were reburied under the mall, Syd could sense her wherever she went, even when Amanda was sleeping, as they both called it.  "We're supposed to visit with Gopher tonight."

            After Syd reassured the ghost-child that she thought it would be all right, they had decided it would be safer if Amanda's remains were safely buried underground again.  It had been Gopher had buried Amanda's bones under the new construction.  It had been Gopher who burrowed the hole, dragged the duffle bag underground, and refilled the hole.  Syd could only watch from the door, unable to manifest in the incomplete section.  For Syd, the next several weeks of waiting were tense.  When the new construction took on the characteristics of a room Syd could manifest in, she immediately started searching for some sign of Amanda.  The touch of power awoke the little ghost.  To Amanda no time had passed, she had simply gone to sleep, and then woken up.

            "Good," Amanda's voice brought Syd back from her thoughts.  "I like Gopher, he's funny."

            Syd chuckled.  "I'm sure he'd be pleased to know you find him amusing."

            Amanda rolled her eyes.  "Not amusing Syd, funny," she replied, as if the difference were the most obvious thing in the world.

            "Okay, okay, he's funny," Syd agreed.  "Now you go to sleep and I'll wake you when it's time to visit Gopher."



            Amanda's face scrunched up in thought for an instant, then smiled.  "Good-night, Mommy."

            "Good-night, sweetie," Syd said as the ghostly girl faded away.  She looked at the spot where Amanda had been only a moment ago.  "Mommy," she whispered to herself, as if trying the title on for size.  Syd smiled, deciding being mommy would fit her just fine.

            Still smiling, Syd Dale melded into the wall.