Mercy (short fiction – 450 words)

Mercy doesn’t know to be afraid. No one taught her that the people only she can see may be unquiet dead. If someone were to make that claim, Mercy would shrug it away. “Still people… right?”
Who would deny a four year old her friends?

Her favorite is the lady with two smiles (one white, one red) who lives in the nursery. The lady had a bad man, “a dud”, and she ran but not far enough. “Don’t trust them,” Mercy tells us one day.
“Men. They’s all vampires.”
We don’t know where she learned that word, we’re pretty sure it wasn’t from us or preschool. We wonder if we should have a talk with her ghosts. Warn them about swearing, encourage kind and empowering language. One night, I try, but Mercy said they laughed through it. The living bumble so.
Mercy takes care of them, or tries to. Tries to live up to her name. One was about her age, she said, but after a long night of talking the little boy went to his next place. “They just need to talk. It makes it okay.”
A lot of them are more scared than we are. Some, like the sad man, are followed by dark things.
We’re not sure how we feel about a man in her room, but she says he stands outside the door, in the hallway, while she sleeps or gets dressed. He guards her, she says. We tell her we’ll keep her safe, and she shrugs. “You try.”
The things she sees are mostly kind, mostly scared. Like children more than monsters. They keep her strong, she tells us. They won’t let her make their mistakes, build their regrets. The women are proud of her and who she hopes to become. In their day, Mercy’s aspirations were unheard of. The risks thrill and frighten them.
One night we privately joke that the ghosts could babysit. The next day, Mercy says they offered. She couldn’t have heard us. They say it takes a village, and in her case it might be a ghost town.
Our house used to be a mission for women, so that’s most of who she knows. Generations of women going back, wishing her their strength, patience, and perseverance. They get visitors now too – Mercy’s hospitality has earned a reputation.
We were sad when we learned we couldn’t bring her a sibling, we were worried she’d feel alone. Now we know no one is ever alone – we’re always surrounded by history. History that talks to her.
Our parents think it’s a phase, imaginary friends, but we don’t allow that negative talk. We don’t want Mercy to grow out of it. Not while she’s helping her friends. Not while she’s still earning her name.

Every time I change my newborn daughter in the nursery, she goes quiet as her eyes fix to a point right behind me. Every time I follow her eye-line, I see nothing. Sometimes, I feel a presence, or a shiver.
It creeps me out, so I tell myself stories. I wrote this one down last night over like 30 minutes, but I like it enough to share. It’s not true, but it makes me feel better.
I’d love to hear what you think!

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