“So what’s changed? What are you doing differently?”
I considered, not sure if I wanted to admit the to the major change in my life. Well, major for me anyway.
“Come on, are you doing a different exercise, are you meditating… I don’t know, are you using a different deodorant?”
I shrugged. “I stopped drinking wine a few weeks ago.”
Judith’s eyebrows rose. “And did you replace it with something stronger?”
“No!” I said, with a nervous laugh. “I just sort of quit drinking altogether. For now, anyway.”
Judith watched me, waiting for an explanation.
“It just wasn’t working anymore, you know?”
“What do you mean exactly?”
“Well, it messed with my sleep, I always felt puffy and tired and, well I just feel better without it.”
It was no use leaving out details when you were talking to a psychic. “Well, I saw this show, Seatbelt Psychic. Save you seen it?”
“Oh for heaven’s sake, of course not,” the psychic tsked.
“Well the guy seems really legit,” I watched Judith roll her eyes, “It’s entertaining anyway. And this one woman he did a reading for had a ghost haunting her and he told her that ‘spirits like the spirits.’ You know, that alcohol can lower your vibration or whatever and that staying away from it can raise your vibration so the ghosts won’t be so attracted to you.”
I gave my shoulders a little shimmy and winked at her. “Yup, vibration.”
Judith shook her head but smiled despite herself. “So you think this Seatbelt Psychic has the answers to all your problems.”
“Well, I stopped drinking and then I stopped hearing voices,” I pointed out.
She considered for a moment. “True enough, but now you’ve got a hive of ‘em in that weird crawl space beneath your family room, so…” She held her hands out and moved them up and down as if balancing my break from wine with the ghost colony beneath my house.
“Ugh, I don’t want to start drinking again. I really feel so much better without it.”
“That’s not what I’m suggesting. How much were you drinking anyway?”
“I don’t know, a couple glasses of wine a night. Three. Usually three.”
“No wonder you feel better.”
“What do you think I should do?” I asked anxiously. “I think those ghosts are really angry with me.”
“Uh, ya think? You’re blocking them out when they’re coming to you for help.”
“No offence, but I don’t want to do what you do. I don’t want to work for dead people.”
Judith let out a bark of laughter. “I’ve never really thought of what I do in exactly those terms.”
“It was fine hearing voices here and there, but I’m not interested in having the dead and Lord knows what else seek me out. I have three kids, four elderly dogs, a husband, a blog and I like going to spin class, okay. I’m not asking for much.”
“You looked into the darkness darlin’ and it looked right on back and liked what it saw,” Judith said matter-of-factly. “You repressed the ability for most of your life and when it started to seep through the cracks you managed to shut it down again, hard. Well, they’re sick of waitin.’” She shrugged. “Whether you want to or not, the dead want to talk to you. It’s best to listen.”
“But how? I can’t hear them anymore.”
“Why is that little thing here?” Judith asked pointing to my digital recorder.
I eyed the device wearily, “I’ve been recording some of my conversations,” I admitted. “Voices, uh, EVPs have been coming through pretty often.”
“But you say you don’t want to hear the dead anymore.”
“I just don’t want them camping out under my family room,” I said.
“Well, then you’d better find a way to turn your abilities back on. Because you’re right, they’re good and pissed.”
Each season a new magazine of activity offerings arrives in the mail from the Wellesley Recreation Center filled with yoga retreats and writing courses, Zumba classes and puppy training sessions. There, kids can learn to bake, play badminton, decorate gingerbread houses in December, fairy houses in August and conduct science experiments with Legos year round. But before it was a rec center, the Warren building was a school.
The original schoolhouse there was built in seventeen ninety-six. seventeen ninety-six. You guys, George Washington was president. For almost 200 years children attended school on the property. Over time six buildings were built and razed to create bigger, safer, better schools; the last of which, built in the nineteen thirties, is the Warren Building we know today (source: https://wellesleyhistory.wordpress.com/2013/12/30/north-school/).
In nineteen eighty seven the school house closed. It became a creative space for artists for a few years before becoming the Warren Recreation Center. With gyms and art rooms, play spaces and kitchens, it is a haven of learning, fun and creativity, making it an ideal place to dump the kids for a few blessed hours. The playground is top notch too. Oh, and it just so happens to be located on the Crosstown Trail, which you might recognize from our very first ghost story.
A facility like that needs a large staff. Program directors, groundskeepers, lifeguards, custodians, office staff, teachers, coaches, park rangers, camp counselors. This summer, Kyrie (last name omitted) worked as a camp counselor for Camp Littles, a summer program for the four and five year old set. She lead them in songs, taught them how to draw dinosaurs and write their names in sidewalk chalk, and chased them through the sprinkler on especially hot days. And in the Warren Building that sat witness to so many years of life Kyrie managed to catch the attention of a ghost.
Kyrie is nineteen years old. I met her for coffee at Starbucks (“The Newton Lower Falls one. The one on Central doesn’t have nitro and I’m in no mood to deal with the scene on Linden Street”). She wore her long hair in a high, loosely braided ponytail. Her baggy white t-shirt was expertly french tucked into absurdly short jean shorts. Just looking at them made me feel very old and very stuffy. Her skin glowed with youth but her weary eyes carried the deep blue bags of a much older woman.
She spoke mostly in questions. “Hi?” in greeting, “I’m getting a nitro brew with heavy cream?” her Starbucks order, and when I asked where she went to college she replied, “I go to Merrimack?”
We sat in a tight secluded corner table at the Starbucks on the edge of town. I personally liked this Starbucks the least out of the three in close proximity to my home but, whatever. The coffee was hot and we’d just returned from family vacation so I was exhausted.
“So, is the blog like, your job?”
I smiled and suppressed a laugh at the girls’ ill concealed condescension. “I guess so,” I replied, trying to shift to a more comfortable position on the hard wooden bench.
“Cool, I have this friend? She has this like, fashion blog and she makes enough to cover her car payment every month.”
“Neat,” I replied.
“Yeah, so she was the one who told me about your Ghosts in the Burbs situation. I sort of like, confessed what has been happening with me? And she was like, you should totally get in touch with this woman, she’s fully into weird stuff, maybe she could help you. So I looked up your blog and actually read a lot of it. Weird, right?”
I wasn’t sure if she meant my blog was weird, I was weird, or the fact that her friend had suggested she contact me was weird. So I decided to just smile and nod. The poor thing was a nervous reck. As she sipped her coffee I noticed that she’d bitten her nails down to the quick. Her crossed legs bounced ceaselessly beneath the table.
“So what is happening to you?” I asked.
Kyrie glanced around the room which was empty save for a man sitting at the far side of the bench reading a paperback. “I’m being haunted,” she whispered.
“Who is haunting you?” I asked.
She opened her mouth to speak, closed it, repeated the process then leaned forward and asked, “Can you really hear dead people?”
“I could for a while, but I’ve sort of lost the ability,” I admitted.
She slumped back in her chair and I saw tears spring to her eyes.
“I’m sorry,” I said, meaning it, “But if you tell me what’s happening maybe I can put you in touch with someone who can help you even if I can’t.”
Kyrie wiped her eyes with her finger tips, careful not to smudge her waterproof mascara. “I don’t even know where to begin, because it’s like a complete and total nightmare? I have to go back to school in two weeks, okay? She cannot follow me there. She can’t!”
“Who can’t go with you?”
“Her! She is with me all the time now and I don’t know how to get rid of her. But I have to. I’m living in a suite this semester with five other girls. They will notice something’s up.”
“Okay, tell me about her.”
“So like, this is my first summer being a camp counselor, right? For the preschoolers at the Warren Building. My friend Shelby was all, ‘You just play with them all morning and then you can go to the pool or whatever for the rest of the day. It’s the best job.’ My only other option was an unpaid internship at my dad’s office and like, no thank you. He leaves for work at seven o’clock in the morning. Anyway, I can do an internship next summer, I don’t even know what I want to do when I graduate.”
“I didn’t know what I wanted to do either. It took me about fifteen years and twelve different jobs to figure it out.”
Her eyes went wide. Now instead of feeling bad about her own situation, she appeared to feel bad about mine. “Yeah, I mean I’m probably going to pursue something in fashion or finance or whatever. But I like, know for sure that I want to move to New York.”
“Cool,” I said with a smile. “So, the girl who is haunting you…”
“Right, okay, so she totally came from the Warren Building.”
I waited for her to elaborate. “And, she follows you?”
“Ugh, yeah, like all the time.”
“How can you tell?”
Kyrie looked up at the ceiling thoughtfully. “Like,” she said slowly, “Well, like at first I would be home and I could feel someone standing right behind me, right? And I’d turn around and no one would be there. Then sometimes things would happen around me.”
She paused. I just waited, thinking about how young she was and how even if it killed me, I would make damn sure my girls would learn to talk clearly, with strong voices that held no shimmer or hint of any sort of raspy whine. And then I wondered about my own voice and hoped I was leading by example.
“Okay, honestly? I didn’t know I was being haunted or whatever, until she started coming to me in my dreams. She like, introduced herself to me and then she showed me what happened to her.”
“Wow,” I said, “That’s pretty intense.”
“Tell me about it. Weird stuff was happening at the camp. Things fell right in front of me for no reason, or off shelves beside me. It made me look like a total klutz but it wasn’t me! She was trying to make me look stupid. Then this one night I dreamt about her.”
“What does she look like?” I asked.
“Um, well she’s eighteen and she has long hair like me only hers is dark brown, not light brown. She’s about my height and she has brown eyes too. She… well she looks like me kinda but different. Her eyes are small and they’re like, beedy you know? Oh, and she parts her hair in the middle. I part mine on the side,” Kyrie turned her head so I could get a better look, “And she tucks it behind her ears. It’s sort of severe, but she must like it.” She shrugged as if she were talking shit about a girl she didn’t like at school.
“Do you think she’s here now?”
Kyrie stilled and looked as if she were concentrating. “Uh, she might be. I don’t know, it can be hard to tell in a group of people?”
“What did she show you in your dream?”
“The first time I dreamt about her I was in the Warren Building getting ready for the kids to arrive. I was in the drama room, getting out the costumes and then she was like, in the doorway and I knew she wanted me to follow her. So I did and we went down the hall to the gym, until then it was super vivid and real, you know? But then things got, like, sharp. I don’t really know how to explain it, but something changed and the hallway looked different. I started to get scared and I realized I was dreaming. She stopped and turned around to look at me and motioned me forward, but I forced myself to wake up.
“It was like that for a few nights and I would always wake myself up before I got to the end of the hallway and then this one day at camp I was alone in the drama room for real, cleaning up after the kids left and I glanced up and I freaking saw her reflection in the mirrors along the wall. She was standing by the door just like in my dreams. I turned to look at the door and she’d disappeared.”
“Spooky,” I said. I’d recently gone with the girls to see one of their little friend’s plays in that very room. It’s located on the ground level at the end of a long hallway and there is only one way in and one way out of that room. I definitely wouldn’t like the idea of being in there alone. “Did you ever follow her the whole way down that hall in your dreams.”
“Yeah, I finally made myself do it. She lead me down to the gym and across to this closet where we keep all the scooters and dodge balls. She stood there for a long time just staring into that closet looking like, furious. I asked her to tell me why we were there and she looked at me and held out her hand. I took it and she showed me how she died.”
“Wow, have you ever seen ghosts before? Or had dreams like that?”
“No!” She replied a little too loudly.
“Just wondering,” I said, thoughtfully. “I figured you might be some kind of medium but you hadn’t realized yet.”
“Yeah, no. This is the first time in my life anything like this has ever happened to me. And I’m not one of those basic drama girls who walk around talking about vibes,” she insisted, a look of disgust on her face, “You are literally like, maybe the second person I’ve told.”
I took a breath and sent up a prayer that I would make it through my daughter’s adolescence without one of us burning down our home in a blind rage. “So, she showed you how she died.”
“Yeah, okay, so here’s the thing. She and a bunch of her friends broke into the school – it was an elementary school when she was alive – and they were playing hide and seek in the dark with a bunch of boys that they were all into. So, one of her friends was searching for a hiding place with her and the girl was like, you should totally go in that closet, I’ll go in this one. They’ll never find us.” Kyrie paused dramatically and let out a small laugh of disbelief before continuing, “So she goes in and it sounds like her friend went into the other closet and then she hears people talking in the gym, right? She hears them giggling and then she hears something, like a metal bar or something, slide into place between the door handles.
“She like, started to freak out and went to push the closet doors open but they wouldn’t budge. She called out that it wasn’t funny and to let her out or she was going to get them all in trouble but all she could hear was laughing on the other side of the door. Then one of her friends yelled, ‘Maybe you’ll remember this next time you start spreading dirt about one of your friends,’ through the crack in the door, and she started to really freak out. She had a freaking temper tantrum in that closet. It was really hard to watch, actually.” Kyrie made a worried face.
“Everything went silent outside the door and the girl started to hyperventilate. And then I’m pretty sure she had an asthma attack. I, um, I like, watched her die. I, uh, I tried to help her, but it was like I was frozen in place, just sort of hovering beside her and I could only watch.”
“My God,” I said, “That’s horrible. I’m so sorry you had to see that.”
Unable to speak Kyrie wiped her eyes and nodded.
“And after that night she showed you other,” I searched for the word, “Images from her life?”
“Yeah, in my dreams,” Kyrie said shortly.
“Did the ghost continue to make things happen to you?”
She thought about it. “Uh, no.”
I could tell she was holding something back.
In a sort of pout, Kyrie asked, “So, like why do you think she chose me? I don’t understand why she latched onto me.”
“Well, it sounds like you remind her of her when she was alive,” I pointed out.
“I’m nothing like her,” Kyrie said, for once losing the tinge of raspy whine from her voice.
“Yeah, she’s the worst. But I just want her gone and-.” Kyrie continued her complaints about the girl but I had a hard time paying attention. I was distracted by a young woman standing too close to Kyrie’s chair though there was plenty of room for her to stand elsewhere. The rest of the tables had filled up with what must have been the lunchtime rush so I assumed the girl was waiting for our table. The room as a whole was making me feel claustrophobic. This may have been Kyrie’s favorite local Starbucks, but I’d never felt comfortable there. The flow was simply awful.
I realized that I’d missed the bulk of Kyrie’s rant.
She turned her head briefly, glancing at the busy cafe then said, “So what do you think?”
“Um, well, I think it’s sad. Maybe the girl just needs someone to know what really happened to her.”
“Well, yeah…” Kyrie replied, playing with her braid. She lowered her voice and said, “The thing is, she wasn’t a good person.”
“How so?” I asked.
“She’s shown me other things in my dreams, things that she did when she was alive. And for real? Sometimes I get these like, urges to do really awful stuff.”
She shrugged in a very teenager-y way. “Just stuff. You know, I think those girls were right about her. They may have been mean, but I think she started it. I think she sort of like, manipulated them and turned them against each other. But then they realized what she had been doing? And locking her in that closet was their revenge. I honestly don’t think they meant to kill her, you know? But maybe it was better that they did. I don’t know what she would have been capable of if she had lived.”
“Being a mean girl shouldn’t get you killed,” I pointed out.
“Oh, yeah no totally. But she wasn’t just a mean girl. She screwed with people – including her so-called friends – just to amuse herself. She liked to see what she could make people do, and not just with kids her age. I’ve seen this little boy in a few of my dreams and I’m pretty sure she was like, his babysitter? I think she was grooming him…”
“Oh, dear,” I said quietly.
“No, not like sexually,” she whispered. “I mean, like she was teaching him how to hurt people without getting caught.”
“She sounds like a sociopath,” I said. The young woman behind Kyrie was standing so close now that I didn’t know how she wasn’t asking her to back up. It was so distracting I was ready to say something. And besides, a table had opened up to our left, the woman should have taken it. Now I suspected she was listening to our conversation.
Kyrie studied my face for a moment then turned around. She sort of rolled her eyes and said, “Anyway, I think she was a psychopath, actually and I am freaked out that she might turn me into one. I have these ideas – and I know they aren’t my ideas because they are absolutely terrible – but I am afraid that one of these days I won’t be able to stop myself from following through on them.”
“Give me an example,” I pressed.
“Okay well like, the other day I went to get a pedicure, right? And the girl next to me left her tip on the little desk thing where they keep all the pedicure tools, right? And this voice, like my voice but not me, in my head was like, take that cash and stash it in your nail tech’s drawer. I was literally about to do it thinking it would be funny to cause a fight between the people in the salon but you know I obviously didn’t.”
“What a shit-stirrer,” I said, thinking back to the girls – and women – I’d known who, like Kyrie’s ghost, seemed to get a kick out of turning people against each other. Girl’s who’d passed notes in middle school asking you to check boxes of seemingly inane likes and dislikes and hiding one or two snarky lines in there and then showing the object of that snark the checked boxes. Women who asked what you thought of so and so’s interior design at the autumn grade social and then passing along your comments so they’d be sure to get back to so and so.
Most of these girls and women were simple gossips, throwing shade in hopes none might come their way. But I’d met a few of the dangerous ones in my time. Ones who could turn their emotions on and off with frightening ease, making you wonder if you’d ever had a genuine interaction. One’s so adept at gaslighting their chosen victim, it could only be a skill they’d perfected over a lifetime.
Oh, but I digress.
“You need someone to remove the spirit attachment,” I said simply.
“What do I have to like, drink some disgusting tea or something?”
I laughed out loud. Kyrie was endearing. I suspected that for all her vocal fry and Kardashian-esque mannerisms there was a smart, kind, driven young person beneath the facade. I could see her living in New York as she’d hoped, working (I prayed) not in finance or fashion, but in something less soul crushing. “No tea,” I said, “Probably some like, energy work. Maybe a Reiki practitioner could sort it out.” Now she had me going in with the “likes.”
Kyrie made a face. “Whatever. I think my mom and her friends do that sometimes.”
“Oh, then perfect,” I said, smiling.
“Oh, I don’t want to go where they go. Don’t you know someone?”
“I know someone who might,” I said. I was getting antsy and desperately wanted to leave the cafe at that point. Taking a break from drinking h sort of turned up the volume on life, in good ways, like waking up actually feeling rested and losing the puffiness in my face, and in some not really bad, but challenging ways. Crowds were like that. I’d be standing behind someone in line at the grocery store or wherever and I could feel a sort of vibration coming off of them, like I could read the temperature of their mood and if I wasn’t careful I would begin to feel as though their mood was my mood.
This wasn’t entirely new to me, I’ve always been affected by people in that way, but it turned out the wine must have been dulling that sense, or maybe just feeling rather junky most of the time had me focused on how crappy I felt that I was able to ignore extreme emotions in others. Not anymore. And being in tight quarters with a group of people had become overwhelming to say the least. There was a man sitting to our left on his computer and he was really anxious about something. Something that felt like it was spiraling out of control. How did I know that? I don’t know. But I could feel it and I was trying not to let the feeling seep into me.
But the biggest ping I was getting was from that damn woman crowding Kyrie. It was unrest, agitation, and a more than a little anger that rolled off her in waves. I kept thinking there’s a seat by the window, just take it! But she must have been waiting for a certain seat. The girl was so close at that point in our conversation that I I could see the young woman’s hair actually draped over the back of Kyrie’s head. It was so distracting that I was about to say something.
And then the woman turned around and stared straight at me. She was about the same age as Kyrie, pretty, but with dark. Close set eyes that were far too small for her face.
“Um, hello,” I said, awkwardly.
Kyrie turned around then looked back at me. Confused, she asked, “Who are you talking to?”
I looked between the two young women and a horrible realization finally dawned on me. “You can’t see her?” I asked in a small voice.
The young woman put a pale hand on Kyrie’s shoulder and I sucked in a breath.
“Oh, Kyrie. Oh, no,” I said in a low voice. “Can you feel that?”
Kyrie’s face changed. Her lips pursed and she scrunched her forehead then she shook her head.
“You didn’t feel that?” I pressed skeptically, my eyes never leaving the ghost’s face.
“No, but…” Kyrie trailed off and crossed her arms over her chest.
“What?” I demanded, filled with pure terror.
“It’s just that I got one of those ideas, you know? The ones that aren’t mine?”
“I just had this like, overwhelming feeling to start telling people that I met with you and that you told me that your whole blog thing is fake. That you just made it all up and you’ve never even interviewed anyone.”
I let out a nervous laugh. “She’s right behind you,” I whispered to Kyrie. “I can see her.”
She jumped up and pushed her chair back. The ghost moved along with her effortlessly. “Oh my God!” she hissed, then glanced around at the people sitting near us and lowered her voice. “What is she doing?”
I watched as the ghost of a young woman stepped closer to Kyrie and wrapped her arms around her in a tight embrace.
“She’s hugging you,” I said, horrified. “Please. Sit back down”
“What in the actual fuck!” Kyrie yelled, causing several people to look over at us.
“Just sit down,” I demanded.
“You said you couldn’t hear ghosts anymore!” Kyrie hissed, pushing her chair against the wall before sitting in it. The ghost stood vigil over her, her hand again on Kyrie’s shoulder.
“I can’t hear ghosts anymore. But apparently I can see them now.” I glanced between Kyrie and her ghost. “I don’t know what to do,” I said, pushed to the point of tears.
“Are you for real with all of this?” Kyrie asked, sounding every bit the teenager she was.
The ghost opened her mouth and spoke, but of course I couldn’t hear what she was saying.
“She’s saying something but I can’t hear her,” I admitted.
“This is like, the most fucked up thing that has ever happened to me!” Kyrie exclaimed.
“Same,” I agreed.
“Well, what am I supposed to do?”
I picked up my phone with trembling hands. “Let me call my friend. This is way out of my league.”
I pressed Biddy’s name on my phone and watched the specter stare back at me. In the blink of an eye the ghost leaned down with a horrible snear and screamed right in my face. I gasped and pushed myself back against the wall, grateful that I couldn’t hear the rageful wail.