Alex came running downstairs to find his mom tapping her foot incessantly. Her face was turned up into a half-scowl and she nodded towards the empty spot in the bottom of the fridge where the several gallon jug of Arrowhead should have been.
"Did you?" she asked again, her eyes narrowing.
"No, mom!" he shot back quickly.
They had been having similar variations of this same conversation for months now. Really, ever sense they had moved into the little condominium near the river. At first, he thought it was just a weird happenstance, like his mother had forgotten she used it or they had forgot to buy some at the store. But now...
"Look, I don't mind you drinking it." she snapped with more irritation than anger. "But you have to tell me so I can get some on the way home from work, honey."
"I didn't drink the water." Alex shot back.
"Then where did it go, huh?"
"I don't know! Maybe it was the ghost!"
Alex's mother let out an exasperated groan.
"There's no ghost, Alex."
"Yes there is! I've been telling you that ever sense we moved into this place. It sounds like someone's walking around on the ceiling."
"It's just the wind, sweetie."
"I know the difference between the wind and someone walking!"
Alex's mom glared down at him for a minute, trying to decide what to say. This argument had been getting worse over the last few months but he refused to give up the story. Finally, with a sigh, she got down on one knee.
"I know it's been hard, honey. Getting up and moving half way across the country wasn't easy on me either but..."
"But mom it's..."
"But..." she emphasized, cutting him off. "But I'm sure if you let yourself relax a little, maybe make a few friends, everything will be just fine. I miss dad too, but that doesn't mean you should stay cooped up all day."
Alex opened his mouth to protest but nothing came out short of a small squeaking noise. He shut his lips tight and felt the tell tale burning behind his eyes.
"Oh honey, I'm sorry..." his mother said, pulling him in tight for a hug. "I know...I know."
A sniffle escaped and he could feel the tears readying at the thought of his father, but he shook it off. Instead, he wiped his nose with his sleeve and gave his mom a smile.
He was acting like a kid, not the twelve year old he was supposed to be.
"It's ok, mom. Promise."
"I didn't mean to upset you, sweetie."
"It's ok." he reassured her again.
"Alright." she said with a little nod.
His mother stood up and went back to pulling the groceries out and setting them on the counter.
"Why don't you go play outside? I'll call you for dinner when it's ready."
Alex gave her a little nod before turning for the stairs that led to his room.
"Make sure you tell me about the water next time." she called after him. "The same goes for cucumbers too!"
"Okay mom!" he called back, but saw no further point in arguing.
He hated cucumbers. If she didn't know that by this point, he doubted he'd have any luck convincing her otherwise. She probably just forgot she needed to buy some.
After dinner, the sun had set and Alex had settled in at his computer. He had taken his mom's advice earlier and gone to the river near his house but it had proven uneventful.
Turtle River was cool and all, but was way too big and a little too fast for him to really have fun in. Given he didn't know how to swim and he didn't have an adult with him, he had to settle for just sitting on the little beach watching the water bubble and tumble over itself. Plus, given it wasn't quite summer yet and he had to leave school early this last year, Alex was stuck alone again.
Thinking about it, Alex couldn't help but sigh.
Now, he was just relaxing. His mom had headed out for her work at the lab and he had just started up a round of "Astro Chicken" when he heard it again.
Thump. Thump. Thump.
Alex's gaze snapped skyward to the ceiling where just a little bit of dust seemed to drift down following the footsteps. He'd heard the sound more than a few times during their months in the condo, but it was almost always when he'd been in bed and half awake. This time it was clear as day.
He stood and examined the ceiling closely.
There were no footprints on his ceiling of any kind. No sign that anything had been there. But he had definitely heard it.
He kept searching.
A few minutes of closely examining his ceiling later, Alex found himself in his closet. He was staring at a soft indentation over his dresser. It was square and about the size of a trashcan lid. When they'd moved in, his mom had said it went to the attic and he remembered thinking thoughts about dingy old boxes full of clothes and more dust than his nose could handle.
Now, he thought about stories of ghosts and monsters.
The sound came from above his room again, but curiosity held firm. Maybe something was in the attic? Maybe it was just an animal or something.
Swallowing hard, Alex retrieved his flashlight from his desk and returned to the closet. Carefully, he crawled atop his dresser and, using the light, pushed gingerly on the square, indented section of ceiling.
He pushed harder and he felt the tile slide away, revealing darkness and drifting dust above him.
He shone his light up but all it showed was a slanted, wood ceiling.
Something was moving again. Faster than he'd heard before.
Again, Alex tried to steel himself. Maybe it was just an animal. Maybe something had just gotten into the attic and, seeing the light, had gotten scared and tried to hide.
"Yea. That's it." he said to himself.
He was going to look and see some little nest of raccoons huddling in the darkness. Or maybe there would be some kind of a squirrel or even an owl tucked back into a shadow.
Monsters weren't real after all.