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Ghost Story

Art by Calef BrownI HAVE JUST MOVED INTO A HAUNTED HOUSE.

I just got here and it's already full. There are breezes and cold spots, noises and apparitions. They come and go as they please. They come and go as all ghosts do -- when they are least expected.

This is my new place. My first place alone. My first time with no roommate, no lover, no nearby family or friends.

It was to be a refuge. I thought it was needed. My life had been so unclear -- for at least two years, maybe more -- and this made sense. It was to be a chance alone. It was to be a time to take stock.

My life had been tumult -- crowded with pain and resentment, sorrow and grief. Waxing and waning love reaps what waxing and waning love sows: anxiety and anger, despair, desperation.

I packed up my things. I told my roommate, "I'm leaving." I looked and found my own place, this room of my own: a one-bedroom just off Sunset.

"It's a symbol," I told myself and anyone who would listen. "It's a renewal, a new beginning. A break from the past. There's no history, no memories here. Just the future."

But then I heard them, with their wails and their moans.

Then I heard them, and at first I didn't believe it. At first I tried to deny it. I still haven't told anyone. I'm still worried about what they mean.

 

I HAVE MOVED INTO A HAUNTED HOUSE. IT RATTLES AND creaks and they drone and they holler.

This haunting was gradual. They took days to come out. One day, my friends helped me move. One day, I unpacked. I arranged and rearranged, hoping to get things just right.

The next day they found me, rising with the loneliness of living alone. Not all at once. And not all of a sudden. It started slowly: a slight chill here, an echoey voice there.

There are bangs I hear at night. There are not-quite-wordlike moans. There are these feelings that I get sometimes -- when I'm tired, or I haven't eaten, when I've spent the whole day alone.

There are actual ghosts -- I've counted five so far -- who hover and wait. They can't touch me physically. They have no true form. Instead they unsettle things. They topple things over. They cause my mind to race, my palms to sweat. I've never lived with ghosts before.

They started slowly. At first they'd come out at night. I had trouble sleeping -- insomnia, I said. But secretly, I thought I heard voices. I thought I heard someone call. Not a name, not words, really. But something more primal, something that pulled me from inside -- like a long-buried memory, like a forgotten feeling. It was something essential.

They quickly grew bolder. Soon, they didn't stick to darkness. Broad daylight didn't scare them. No radio or TV could keep them away. Though they've never showed themselves to anyone else, when I am alone they are everywhere.

I'm eating dinner and I hear a sound. An accusative tone. A blameful vibration.

I take an afternoon nap and awake with a start: faces and voices rushing toward me, some known, others not. I grab the blanket. I shake. I lie there wondering what was dream and what was real. What had happened and what hadn't?

I am never too sure.

THE LOUDEST KNOCKS, I'VE NOTICED, COME IN THE mornings -- loud bangs. I was in the bedroom getting dressed when I first heard them. I quickly threw on my clothes and went to the door.

"I'm coming!" I yelled, pulling on a shirt. "Just a second!"

But when I looked out the front window, there was no one there. I opened the door and looked down the stairs.

The back door? I thought. I tried that too. I opened it and peered out. But there was no one. Not a soul. "Strange," I said.

A few days later I heard knocking again. This time, I stopped and listened. It wasn't exactly like a door knock. More of a popping sound. More like someone hitting something from the inside.

But I couldn't solve it. Nor guess at any whos or whys. Instead, I learned to live with it -- as I have with all these things, all these strange occurrences. All these familiar voices and new feelings, all this noise and confusion.

Then one day it happened. My landlord was here when the banging began. He was fixing the stove -- the oven handle had mysteriously come off in my hands.

"Do you hear that?" I asked him, expecting denial.

"Yeah. I don't know why it happens."

"Why what happens?" I asked.

He was perfectly calm.

"The water heater," he said. "I don't know why it bangs like that. It's been doing it for years. But it's okay. I had it checked out."

"Oh," I said, relieved.

"Okay," I said, a bit disappointed.

"All right," I added, and held the oven door while he examined a screw.

 

I HAVE MOVED INTO A HAUNTED HOUSE, FULL OF SPIRITS that are real and mysterious. That are real and scare me.

As I lie in bed waiting for sleep, they call to me. They make me anxious. They make me miss sleep and instead argue with them, argue with memories and the past.

They ambush me while I do the dishes, when my mind begins to wander. Accusational screeches. All-knowing moans. They see through me and my defenses. They have many questions and many demands.

I try to reason with them. I try to argue, a sponge in one hand, a plate in the other. But my voice trails off. Poof! and they've retreated -- just like that -- fallen back to spook me another day.

They are as scary as they want to be. And as fearful as I let them.

"But you are make-believe!" I shout nervously, as I dry the pots and plates and put them away.

"But aren't ghosts make-believe?" I whisper, as I close my eyes tight and try to force sleep to come.

I tell myself loudly, feigning confidence, "I have not moved into a haunted house. This house is not filled with specters. There is no pain here. There is no sorrow."

I have moved into a new house, my own house. A beautiful house filled with bright colors and sunlight.

"And with ghosts," I concede softly now.

My own ghosts. Ghosts I've never noticed because I've never been alone. Ghosts that have never come for me, because I've always been protected -- by roommates, by lovers, by nearby family and friends. I brought them with me to this new place.

And these ghosts are patient. These ghosts are tenacious. They wait and they seize moments.

"They have only the power I give them," I say to myself. "They can only hurt me if I believe."

So I clap my hands. I click my heels three times. I close my eyes and say, "There's no place like home. There's no place like home. There's no place like home."

I open my eyes. I finish putting the dishes away. I turn off the light and slip into bed.

Softly.

Quietly.

Alone.


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