Bedding a Ghost


She has no idea where she is. Surrounded by blackness, like floating in a void.



Her eyes peel open. She’s standing outside in the damp cold wearing nothing but undergarments. She racks her brain, can’t recall how she arrived here or why. All she knows is that it’s dark. The surrounding area stuck somewhere between sunset and sunrise. A set of automatic sliding doors keep opening and closing (opening and closing, opening and closing) in front of her.




No one enters or exits. But the sensor-activated portal doesn’t seem to care. On the other side of the threshold, she notices the familiar layout of a local department store. Blinding fluorescent tube lights illuminate an arena brimming with material goods. She could get lost in between the tall racks filled with turtleneck sweater dresses, velvet jumpsuits, and cozy wool overcoats. At the jewelry counter beyond, glass prism cases display diamond rings and luxury timepieces. Brightly-colored designer handbags decorate a nearby metal frame.

She shivers. Arms crossed over her chest, fingers rubbing her gooseflesh arms. Her teeth chattering like dice inside a cup, but she knows that even if she spits them out, their fickle faces won’t ever tell her where to go next or how many steps to take when she gets there. The warm store is inviting, but something stops her from stepping inside.



She cranes her neck to look up at the glowing letters that loom overhead. Impossible to tell from her unique angle what words or names they spell out, assuming they spell out anything at all. At her feet down below, she notices for the first time a mysterious card pinned to the ground underneath her bare soles. She bends to pick it up. Debossed text on the creamy textured paper is accented with gold foil:

FREE FLAT SHEET (up to $99.99 value!)

No purchase necessary. Any size. Limit 1. Exclusions apply.

Offer valid in store only. Details on back.


Slowly, she turns the rectangular ticket over, half-expecting to find a detailed explanation for her unusual circumstances written on the other side.

Excludes: 100% Egyptian cotton, thread counts above 500.

Limit 1 free item per customer. Surrender voucher at time of purchase.

No substitutions or rain checks. May not be combined with any other offer.

Not redeemable for cash, nor valid toward previous purchases.

Selections may vary by store.

A barcode is printed at the bottom, its thin vertical lines like slender tree trunks in an overgrown forest. She swivels to take in the deserted parking lot behind her, but she can’t seem to see what’s past it.

Where is she? The last thing she remembers is standing in front of her dorm room mirror applying glittery eyeshadow and waterproof mascara. She was getting ready to go out. But where? And how did she get here from there?



The moving doors part yet again, and she takes her first cautious step inside. No other customers in sight. The place looks lifeless, in fact. She wanders past the more alluring merchandise, doesn’t stop until she reaches the back of the store where the BED AND BATH section is located. The folded towels look so downy and warm. She longs to wrap one around her chilly shoulders, but she moves on instead to the next aisle, where the sheet sets and comforters are all arranged neatly on towering shelves in clear zippered pouches. The sheets are constructed from a variety of materials (cotton! flannel! jersey! microfiber! linen!) and come in a variety of sizes (crib! twin! twin XL! full! queen! king!). She has never seen so many colors, patterns, and prints. The choices are overwhelming.

“Need assistance?” Someone rounds the corner wearing khaki slacks and a polo shirt sporting a chrome-plated name tag (HELPER ,whatever that means). Despite the toasty atmosphere inside, she feels exposed under the new scrutiny, and immediately shields her front torso with the X of her crossed arms. “Here.”

The stranger hands her the exact towel she’d been eyeing in the neighboring aisle. “I think you dropped this.”

She didn’t, of course, but she accepts the offering without a word of protest.

“So as you can probably tell, this is one of our largest locations. Lucky you! So many premium options to choose from.” The Helper gestures at the full stock of pre-packaged sheets. “You have your voucher? Good. Take as much time as you need to decide. We’re open 24/7.”

“But…where are we? What is this place?” She’s too embarrassed to continue, to ask for clarification on what it all means, but the utter confusion on her face must be evident.

“Hold on, no one was waiting outside to greet you before you arrived? No wonder you were wandering around half-naked. What a bonehead! No, no, not you. Poor thing! Um, okay, so… Oh, I’m not trained for this! I should find the manager, shouldn’t I? I’ll go find the manager.” The flustered Helper scurries away, not so helpful after all, it seems.

That no longer matters. As night transforms into morning, the truth is beginning to dawn on her, bit by bit. She’s starting to remember those final hours now. A costume party in an abandoned home. She remembers the white bedsheet she’d worn over her head. The corn syrup and red food coloring mixture she’d splattered across the blank canvas. The oval holes she’d cut out to serve as windows to her made-up eyes.

Inside this inexplicable imitation of a department store, cheerful seasonal music blasts from the loudspeaker. But the familiar tunes only make her melancholy. She stares at pastel flannel sheets decorated with snowflakes, gingerbread cookies, and star-topped evergreen trees. She thinks of her first ghost: A sickly boy in second grade who’d lost his full head of hair. He wore a baseball cap to school every day, which was not allowed. He often skipped class for days at a time, which was also not allowed. Leukemia, the teachers explained. A cancer of the blood cells. They’d let him break the rules because he was terminal. She hadn’t understood what that word meant until everyone else returned from winter break but his desk chair remained empty. It would stay empty for the rest of the semester. He’d passed peacefully before the holiday, his parents told them. Now, she tries to imagine him meandering through a store like this so many years ago, forced to choose which children’s sheet set he’d rather hide under for the rest of eternity when he should have been unwrapping gifts by a fire instead. It feels so unfair that her heart shatters all over again.

Her own life came to an end at a party she hadn’t even wanted to attend. She understands the reality of that now. Once there, she’d found herself boxed in by the collective heat of other rapturous, costumed bodies. The building teeming with countless witches and harlequins and vampires and skeletons and, worst of all, reapers. She’d met a Grim one, up close and personal, at the top of a stairwell. An anonymous figure cloaked in heavy black fabric. Artificial light bounced off the sharp point of his scythe. The glint of the blade made the prop look all too real. Dangerous beyond the bubble of that one night. She’d turned to leave, to make her escape.

Too late.

Wait a minute. His free hand seized a fistful of white sheet, that new extension of her body. Are you one of mine? A half-baked grin growing underneath his shadowy hood.

Has anyone ever told you you have gorgeous eyes?

I bet the rest of you is gorgeous, too. And through the cloth’s loose weave, she could feel his hot breath against her cheek.

Why don’t you shed this sheet and show us more?

No? Well, let me have a peek, at least. His sandpaper voice softened like fallen sawdust, its vestiges coating every inch of the steps:





Always wondered how fucking amazing it must feel to bed a ghost.

Lucky me, that I found you tonight. A hearty chuckle. Must be my sixth sense.

Now, she cradles a folded flat sheet in her arms as she makes her way to the self-service register. The handpicked fabric is an inky black that sparkles at any hint of movement. Even now, she can hear his unruly laughter, remember the way it felt echoing down her ear canal. The sound of it haunts her still.

Soon enough though, he’ll be the one who is truly haunted.

Susan L. Lin is a Taiwanese American storyteller who hails from southeast Texas and holds an MFA in Writing from California College of the Arts. Her novella Goodbye to the Ocean won the 2022 Etchings Press novella prize, and her short prose and poetry have appeared in over sixty different publications. She loves to dance. Find more at