Archive for category ghosts
One of my favorite things to do when I visit a new town is take the ghost tour. Recently, we visited St. Petersburg, where I promptly fell in love with the city and set my new sekrit mystery series there. So, since I’ve been hard at work on the novels instead of friday flash stories, thought I’d share some ghost pics with you in lieu of actual writing.
This is one of lots of photos I snapped inside an old hotel on the St. Pete tour. Just a regular picture, right?:
Upon close inspection, it seems like something or someone was watching us in the window:
How creepy is THAT face??? And, although I’m not a big believer in orbs, this one seems particularly out of place:
As a bonus, here’s a photo snapped in Nemacolin Castle in Brownsville, PA by my mom during a ghost tour a few years back:
And a close up of the mirror in that photo:
Hard to be a skeptic, right? Or do you see something different?
Death is inescapable. Or so Bruin Bailey thought.
Heavy breathing, the scent of wild mushrooms, being dragged over roots.
Being buried alive.
These things he remembers.
Or was he alive?
You’d think it was so easy to tell, right? You’re either breathing or you’re not breathing. But, no.
When you hear things like “Shit, you killed him” while someone is stuffing you in a cold dirt hole and you can’t move or scream, but you can hear and feel, well, then the line is a bit blurred.
So, here’s what happened. We smoked a little weed, we rolled a few houses. It was Halloween. We were high off the prospect of being seniors, graduation and all the freedom that comes from not needing to get up at six in the morning and spend every day in the same smelly rooms with worn out teachers that forgot how to smile.
Freedom. In a few months it would be ours.
Oh, another important point. Anise Foster was a witch.
What? I’m not calling names. She was proud of it.
When we’d get bored at lunch, we’d invite her over and pretend to be interested in all the shit she’d spout off about the cycles of the seasons and oh, yeah, especially around Halloween how she’d get all excited about the “veil” between the physical and spiritual world being thin so you could communicate with the dead. She even told us her mother left a place at the table for her dead dad. Ashley snickered too loud at that and Anise got up and left.
I saw her later at the lockers and felt bad. She looked sad.
“Hey,” I said. “You believe all that stuff that you told us, or is that just your mom’s religion?”
She looked at me then. Really looked at me for the first time and I realized how amazing her eyes were. Perfect gray circles in milky skin. I don’t think anyone has ever really looked at me before her because it was so intense I had to look away.
“This is the time things go beneath the ground. They wait to be resurrected. Winter is about death, about dying. It is not about religion.”
“Okay, all right,” I tried to be cool, even though her words had sent a chill from the tip of my tail bone to my hairline. It didn’t help when she added the words, “I’m sorry, Bruin.”
So, getting back to Halloween. Graveyards are seriously not the place to get high on Halloween and try to contact the dead because “the veil is thin”.
The ground was hard, freezing. I was feeling too good to care as I stared up at a fat, glowing moon with one star to keep it company. Lots of clouds around the sky bowl. Noises that I didn’t even care to try and figure out.
The bunch of morons that I hung out with chanting and calling out things like, “Hey, we want to see a ghost tonight.”
Someone pulled out a knife and drew a pentagram on a tree. This is where things went totally wrong.
Not because a demon showed up or anything. Just because I got pissed. Irrationally, drug induced kind of pissed. What did the tree ever do to Evan Martinez?
“Dude, you can’t just cut up a tree. What’s wrong with you? It’s alive.” Upon reflection, I realize this was Anise Foster’s influence on me.
His girlfriend called me some names and everyone laughed.
“You’re an idiot,” were my last words before a wicked, sharp, hot sensation filled my stomach.
Fast forward to: “Dude, you killed him.”
Lots of panic. The morons dragging my body through the woods to softer ground. The moon really was fat.
Dirt flew at me from all directions. It covered me slowly at first, building up until the organic smell became smothering. Until darkness blocked out the moonlight and I realized I wasn’t breathing. But I was something because I could still think.
I heard her words again, “Winter is about death. This is the time things go below ground and wait to be resurrected.” I silently wished she would put a place at her table for me.
And I knew that come spring, I would push up through the dirt like some giant freak crocus and Evan Martinez was going to pay.
(Pablo Picasso’s “Nude Woman in a Red Armchair”)
Lou is a girl. She paints angular ladies with red bee-stung lips, wild chocolate hair in the shape of Z’s with cherry or lemon highlights. They dry on metal racks in the pantry and then they are carefully wrapped and stored in the coat closet. They haunt her dream world, swaying their hips and laughing wildly. These things are Lou under the spell of starlight and anonymity.
In the sunlight Lou is pressed and varnished, placed at a sharp right angle in a square office.
Gene is a boy. A dreamer. He smokes peyote and gets visits from dead poets and painters. Only they are not dead. Somehow their space-time overlaps his. Sometimes he has to help someone off the refrigerator or out of the bath tub. Mostly Cummings and Picasso. Apparently when two dimensions of space-time merge, there is no accuracy involved.
In the sunlight Gene wears tight shoes and stares out of a sky rise window, pretending to crunch the buildings between his teeth like popcorn.
The space between Lou and Gene consists of a hallway and two doors. This space is breached when Gene collapses with an open, foamy mouth and a thump that pulls Lou from her dream world and then her warm bed.
Lou stares at Gene lying there like a chalk outline, seeing him for the first time. She pulls her oversized bathrobe closed and leans down, two strong fingers searching pale skin for a pulse.
Dead. Dead. Dead.
She wipes his mouth with a corner of her robe, touches his lips with a finger first and then her own lips. She presses softly against his flesh.
At another point in time, one that has obviously passed, this might have been pleasant.
She vaguely tries to remember if she’s supposed to blow or press first. Then she shrugs, stands and pushes on his door instead.
There are two men sitting there looking vaguely familiar and yet utterly alien in the paper-and-book-strewn apartment.
“He’s dead,” she informs them.
“I see,” they nod to each other.
“I’m alive, right?”
“Unbeing dead isn’t being alive.”
“Huh,” she pokes at her cheek with her tongue. “E. E. Cummings, is it?”
“Okay then.” She unleashes the knot on her robe and lets it slide to the floor. “Show me how to live forever.”
“Come, sit,” Picasso pats the red armchair beside him.
Tonight, I am afraid of myself. I am afraid I’m not strong enough to fight what’s coming. What has come for the past six years on All Hallows’ Eve.
Dusk falls. My skin has gone slick and pale; nausea stalks me. At twenty-five I’ve learned no one wants to see me like this, so I am alone. The metamorphosis has become a private ritual. Pain should be private, shouldn’t it?
I push the tip of a Virginia Slim into the candle flame. The smoke slides down my throat. The room spins. I don’t smoke. Except for this night when I begin to be less of myself and more of someone else.
Dip, wipe, stroke. Painting my toe nails with a thick layer of Eggplant Frost has become part of the ritual, the unbecoming of me. Also the dark rum. Any other time of the year, I wouldn’t touch the stuff.
Time strikes. It is nine p.m. My tiny, cold apartment smells like a brothel. I light another candle.
Walking on my heels so I don’t disturb my toes, I carry my digital camera into the bathroom. One last drag on the Virginia Slim and I toss it into the toilet bowl to sizzle out.
I’d like to hear some jazz.
“I don’t like jazz.” I watch my hips sway in the mirror to some big band swing humming in my head.
I know it’s best to just keep going, so I twist the stick of mulberry lipstick from its gold case, lean into the mirror awkwardly and apply. Smooth as velvet, bitter taste. I let my eyes meet their reflection in the mirror. This is always the startling part. I do not recognize the flecks of gold, the swimming sadness. “Gotcha,” I say. These parts recede quickly and I am there once again; grey orbs, ringed in dark blue with a strange mulberry mouth.
I lift the camera as the music becomes more insistent. Thinking becomes movement in mud. I have lost time. There’s the cigarette floating in the toilet bowl. Click. My eggplant toes against cracked floor tile. Click.
Why must you do that?
“It’s what I do.” My voice is raw, husky from the late hour, the rum, the smoke. But I still recognize it as my own. Not the one I am answering, though. This one is foreign to me. A long line of mental health professionals have assured me I’m not schizophrenic. I’m just stressed, anxious. Apparently only on Halloween.
“Oh no.” It’s coming. The part I hate. I feel T.S. Eliot’s hollow rumble of wings. Darkness descending, a crushing weight. It is swelling, seething hopelessness. I fall back against the towel rack and slide down the wall. Lift the camera. Point it down. Click.
I’ve blown out my face with the flash, erased all the freckles, the etchings. I feel invisible and it is soothing.
Set me free.
“I don’t know how!”
Sobbing echoes off the thin plaster walls, reverberates in the shower. My vocal chords. Her pain. I scratch and claw at my neck, my chest. Long, streaks of blood pool at the surface. I have hidden the sharp objects but now I realize I could tear myself apart with my bare hands. Just to escape. “Please,” I whimper, out of breath. “Leave me alone.”
A sudden stillness within my head startles me. And then, she whispers:
Okay. I will show you. Watch.
A movie begins to play. She is dragging out my memories, sliding them into the cue.
I am in graduate school. Photojournalist is what I want to call myself. Dreams, goals, hope. These things fill my thoughts like cotton candy. I am practicing with my new camera, dressed as a Hippie, snapping shots of trick-or-treaters in New York. I have wandered off from my group of friends, toward the park. There is an angel there on the bench, moonlight shining through transparent wings, sparkly silver halo glowing over a bowed head. The breeze is lifting the edges of her blond hair. I snap some shots from behind. The bench, the wings, the full moon. Click. Click. Gorgeous shots. I still remember being pleased with them.
And then I sit up. “Oh,” I pull myself up to the mirror. “Was that you?” My eyes are full on brown and gold now. Her eyes. My head nods in answer. I rush from the bathroom, tripping over things in the darkness. I pull out box after box from the bedroom closet to find the ones from college. Tear the right one open. Black film canisters spill out, falling around me. I find the one labeled 10/31. The familiar smell of film fills my nose as I pull out the amber negatives and hold them uncoiling like a flattened snake. I hold them up to the bare closet light bulb and see her. Six shots. Slightly different angles.
Set me free.
I carry the film back to the bathroom, put it in the sink and throw a lit match on it. The fire eats a hole in the emulsion and the hole spreads slowly. I lift my head back to the mirror. She is watching me. Crying with my eyes.
“How? Please tell me, before you go…how did I do this to you?”
I can feel her slipping from me. The darkness lifting.
“Suicide?” And then I get it.
(photo credit: Nevit Dilmen)
Much of my life has played out in one rehab circle or another, so you can take my story or leave it. All I can do is tell it, tell the truth…and the truth is, I’m not even sure I believe it.
My mother was one of those people who collected souls. Vagrants, husbands kicked out for the night, down and out relatives, everyone and anyone was welcomed to grab a meal or a bed in her old farmhouse. As you can imagine, this opened up our world–me and my two brothers—exposing us to endless possibilities through stories and illegal substances. Instead of our minds being stuffed with skewed parental beliefs, closed off and capped…we soared, we expanded, we soaked up lore and logic, creating an environment where anything could happen. And eventually something did.
It began with a dream.
I could see myself sleeping; blanket tossed on the floor, one arm thrown over my head, chest rising and falling in soothing slow motion. Then I could see the wall alongside my bed breathing; white plaster pushing out, sucking back in. IN. OUT. Eventually, the bulge expanded like a balloon and began to move. It slid toward the adjacent wall and turned the corner, ending up behind my headboard. I watched beads of sweat form on my sleeping self’s forehead. My breathing became jagged, more like panting. Suddenly, large hands pushed through the wall as if the wall was giving birth, stretching out, reaching for my sleeping self. Blood trickled down the arms in thin channels, rolled over the knuckles and dripped from the fingertips onto my white pillow. I tried to scream, ‘Wake up!’ No sound would come. My sleeping self whimpered as the hands wrapped around my throat. I wheezed, my air cut off, my eyes bulging under the pressure.
Brrrrring. Brrrrrring. Brrrrring.
Startled, I jumped up and slammed my hand down on the alarm, knocking it to the floor. Something wet remained on my face. I ran into the bathroom and collapsed in relief. Tears….no blood. I checked my neck. No signs of being strangled by some lunatic behind the wall.
“Just a bad dream.” I reassured myself. “A really bad dream.”
My hands were still shaking as I buttered my toast at breakfast.
“You all right, Joan?”
“Fine, Mother.” I rolled my eyes. Why was she always so observant?
A week later, I wasn’t feeling so fine. I was still having the dream, only it was starting to cross some kind of barrier. What do I mean? I really have no idea. All I know is, it was becoming stronger, breaking through to the physical world. The hands were beginning to leave marks. Finger imprints on my neck that I would wait to fade before heading downstairs for breakfast.
I decided to move my bed to the center of the room.
There was a new guy at the table that morning. He looked like I felt: sleepless and scared out of his mind. I glanced at him as I reached for the butter.
“He’s your cousin, Marti, from New York. Say hi.”
“Hey,” I waved. He looked fried. Mother smiled and began to make small talk with him about his bus ride, some family up north, whatever. I was just glad she had someone else to worry about that morning. I was in no mood for her scrutinizing. I glanced at my older brothers, realizing they were unusually quiet.
“What’s wrong with you two?” They both looked drained of blood.
“Nothing,” Jacob answered without looking up. Bobby ignored me.
No snappy comebacks or cut downs? Something was definitely wrong.
Brrrrring. Brrrrrring. Brrrrring.
I jerked up, gasping for air. It hadn’t worked. The bloody arms had just stretched, gotten longer to reach me. This time they tried to drag me from my bed. I ran from the room and slammed the door behind me.
That morning at breakfast, I had an idea.
“Mom, I think Marti should sleep in my room. I’ll sleep on the couch for awhile. It doesn’t look like he’s getting much rest.”
“How thoughtful of you, Joan.” She beamed at Marti, who really did look like he could use somebody to knock him on the skull and put him out for a few days. Anyway, I knew this would work because mother was always trying to instill unselfishness in us. She looked at my brothers and I noticed her smile wane.
“You two sick or something?”
“Can’t sleep, stupid nightmares,” Bobby grunted. Jacob reached over and popped him in the arm. “Ow!”
“Jacob, don’t hit your brother.”
At this point, I had dropped my toast and my jaw. Nightmares?
With that one word, I had silenced both my brothers and watched terror widen their eyes for the first time in my life. I nodded. It felt good not to be crazy, at least.
A week later there was a new guy at the table. He was tall, pale with minty, round eyes; almost otherworldly.
“This is Samael.”
We all stared at her. Just ‘Samael,’ no long lost cousin, uncle, friend, grocery store bum?
“You all right, Mom?”
“Yes, of course.”
We glanced at each other and then at Samael.
He was calmly reaching for the butter, with mom smiling beside him like she was on something. I felt my face drain, my heart begin to race. His hands were large, each knuckle and vein very familiar to me. I glanced up the stairs.
“Mother? Where’s cousin Marti?”
“I don’t know.” She looked confused suddenly. “I guess he decided to move on.”
Samael’s eyes gleamed. My brothers and I excused ourselves from the table, making our way upstairs one at a time, trying not to draw Samael’s attention.
Then we all stood around my bed, staring at the blood spots dried brown on the pillow. Bobby began to cry.
Bobby doesn’t remember it happening like this. He became a psychiatrist. Jacob remembers it being worse. He became a priest.
And me? Well…I became a writer.
(photo credit: Hendrike)