The White Marble

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There may be life there, but could it be technology-based like ours? Life on these worlds would be under water with no easy access to metals, to electricity, or fire for metallurgy.

— Lisa Kaltenegger —

♦️

Thirteen days ago, Lulu and I decided, on Halloween Night, we'd explore the haunted house on Van Ness.

We knew Mom and Jason would be too busy trick-or-treating with their elementary-school-age sons to worry about their teenage daughters; and besides, we aren't Jason's kids, so our stepdad wouldn't worry about us, even without our half-brothers to dote on.

We told Mom we were spending the night at Shelby's, but we're actually unrolling our sleeping bags inside the haunted house.

Shelby dared us to stay there overnight, just to prove we don't believe in ghosts.

♦️

"But even if there are ghosts," Lulu says, "they won't mind if we sleep here tonight."

I dim our fully solar-charged lantern to a modest blue pool of light that I know will last overnight.

"Ghosts must get lonely," Lulu says. "If there are ghosts, we'll just keep 'em company..."

The lantern should also be good for our early-morning trek to Shelby's, where Mom is picking us all up at sunrise to drive us to school.

"What better day to keep 'em company than Halloween?" Lulu asks.

"There are no ghosts," I tell her.

Shelby's parents work overseas. Since she lives alone, we love slumber partying with her. And Mom loves picking us up early to check if we got tangled in trouble.

But Shelby didn't weave us into this web. She just dared us to do it. We're the ones who've always been obsessed with Van Ness' haunted house.

We'd be in big trouble if Mom found out we spent the night in here. So that's the ghost keeping me up tonight—the haunting fear of getting caught.

Or about waking up to an angry hobo telling us to get out of his den.

♦️

The first time we checked inside the haunted house was during Christmas Tree Lane, last year.

The haunted house on Van Ness is the only one that isn't required to glow with one hundred solar lights a month before Christmas.

While the rest of the homes on Van Ness light the night like the dawn, the haunted house remains stoic and dark, a shadow in our childhood landscape.

It was peculiar and enticing, the Christmas Tree Lane night we saw the bedroom window scintillating with vivid rainbow patterns, kaleidoscopic and pure-hued.

We snuck off from our buddies, then tried the haunted house's front door—no huge thing, just to see what the prismatic lights were all about—when the brass knob fell off.

We were a wee high—like most of the teens who wandered Christmas Tree Lane that night, or at least the ones we knew—so it was reasonable for us to feel spooked, paranoid by the dilapidated front door of the dark house in the twinkling night.

When we finally mustered the courage to head inside, things got weird.

In the living room, papers swirled in the center of a hardwood floor, drawn in by the undulating gravitational pull of a tiny, white-cloudy marble, about the size of a gum-ball.

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