Haunted mansions are never wheelchair accessible.
Spooked libraries? Just find the ramp. Demon possessions on the thirteenth floor of a hospital? Take the elevator. But mansions? Get down on your ass and crawl up the steps.
Jack was used to it. He tossed his backpack up onto the porch and plopped himself onto the creaky bottom step. With his arms, he scooted backwards up the stairs and pulled his lightweight wheelchair up onto the porch after him.
His backpack was full of everything he might need — overpriced EMF sensor, full spectrum camera, rope, delicious cheesy Combos — the essentials. He doubted he’d need all that fancy equipment here though. The place looked cliché, as if ripped right out of Lovecraft or something, and, from what the locals told him, this ghost wasn’t exactly an introvert. Standard situation: unable to move on to the afterlife, like so many ghosts he’d helped during his time as a ghost hunter.
Back in his chair, he pushed up to the towering wooden double doors, which swung open on their own, creaking hinges and all. Give me a break, he thought. At least tease me a little first, make me work for it. It’s less fun if you show the goods right away.
“Very kind of you,” Jack yelled, “but just because I use a wheelchair doesn’t mean I can’t open a door!” The words reverberated through the expansive chamber, up the twin spiral staircases that framed the looming chandelier. Jack sniffed the musty air, which might end up being the scariest part of all.
Then the mansion’s energy shifted something — he couldn’t say what exactly. He spun his chair around to take in the changed scenery. A staircase, the chandelier, the other staircase, a third staircase, fourth staircase…
“Motherfucker. Real creative.”
He turned his head and found himself surrounded by a dozen spiral staircases, all curving out from a central point, trapping him in a dodecahedron of non-wheelchair-accessible hell.
In an effort to piss off the ghost as much as it had just pissed him off, he sighed as loud as he could. Nothing gnawed at an entity’s eternally-tormented psyche like a victim who is both annoyed and bored with its attempts to terrify.
Jack had done this before: He tied his rope to the back of the chair, climbed an entire flight of stairs, then pulled his chair up after him, the wheels bumping up each successive step.
Thirty minutes and ten flights later, Jack yelled out, “This is great exercise, you know! Now when people make dumb comments about how my arms must be so strong, I can tell them it’s from exploring mansions haunted by incompetent ghosts! I know you can’t perceive the passage of time or whatever, but, as a still-living organism, it’s getting real old. Whenever you’re ready to step it up a bit, let’s go.”
Energy shifted again, and the stairs behind him opened up to a long hallway that smelled of stale smoke and carpet cleaner. As he pushed through the thick, red carpet, his wheelchair pulled constantly to the left. “Hotel hallway carpet,” he muttered. He never understood why they made the carpet so thick and hard to push through. “Now you’re just being an ass.”
One by one, hotel room doors opened as he passed, and people stepped out into the hall.
An old man gave a friendly smile. “Slow down there, young man, you know there’s a speed limit in here!” he said, thinking it was funny and original to compare Jack’s wheelchair to a car.
“What happened to your legs?” a kid asked in wonder and disbelief.
A middle-aged man shook his head, looking like he might cry. “It’s just really good to see you out and about. You’re just such an inspiration!”
A young woman stepped out and put her hand on his shoulder. “You’re so brave. I’m not sure I could go on. I think I’d kill myself if I were in your situation.”
Jack ignored them. There was a time when this would have shook him, hearing all at once the ignorant comments he received from strangers on a near-daily basis. He yelled out to the ghost, “You gotta look past the whole disability thing! Quit being lazy!”
The energy shifted, and a door at the end of the hallway opened. He headed out the door and onto a street, thankful for no more hotel quicksand carpet to push through.
Jack’s heart beat faster as he forced himself to watch the crash play out in front of him.
A car sped down the road, which dead-ended into another street. Jack knew that the driver, confused and blinded by thick fog, thought this was a different intersection. The driver’s son sat in the backseat, half-asleep and unaware of what was happening.
Jack winced as the car sped through the intersection and crunched into the concrete base of the stoplight. After the dust settled, he pushed over to the wreckage and looked into the car. The man repeated that everything would be okay, as much to himself as anyone else. The driver’s wife lies slumped over the seat belt, the elderly woman next to the child dead on impact. The panicked, younger version of Jack stared up at him pleadingly and spoke with a shrill, wavering voice.
“I…I can’t feel my legs! I can’t feel my legs!”
Jack steadied himself, calmed his nerves.
He opened the door and grabbed the little boy by the shirt. Everything faded. The people, the car, the street, all transformed back into the sprawling mansion. Instead of the phantom of a boy, Jack now held the ghost, once a person with their own story and baggage, unable to fully leave this world.
“You can’t scare me with this. I dealt with this shit a long time ago, and I know who I am. I like who I am. I’ve moved on.”
Jack stared into the ghost’s empty eyes.
“It’s your time. Let me help you move on, too.”
Justin Siebert teaches Physics, Anatomy, and AP Chemistry in Memphis, TN. When he’s not playing wheelchair basketball or writing lesson plans and Physics problems, he writes fantasy stories, often with disabled protagonists who are overcoming something besides their disability.