Symptoms of a Haunting: Part VI

The crackling from the fire died down as its fuel was slowly consumed. The stench of burning flesh singed my nostrils and I fought the urge to wretch. I couldn’t believe that Edna was gone.

Suddenly, the incriminating nature of my position struck me. I was in Edna’s house, alone with her burnt corpse laying in the large grate of the fire like a beacon pointing to my guilt. I stood shakily, gripping the couch beside me for balance, but it was too late to leave. Blue and red lights flashed across the windows, but I was still too stunned for panic.

Edna was gone. I stood in the smoke for a moment, unable to remember where I was going.

A heavy pounding at the door pulled my from my dissociative reverie. I stepped carefully toward the foyer and pulled the door open, blinking in the sudden onslaught of daylight. How long had I been here?

“Ma’am,” a police officer began, his hair shining raven-black in the white sun. I raised my gaze slowly, taking in his boots and uniform, his gun belt, his glimmering nameplate reading “M. Emerson,” and, finally, his dark brown eyes peering from his hooded brow.

“Ma’am, are you okay?” M. Emerson asked, extending his hard to me and if he could hold the weight pressing me down.

I bit down on my lip, feeling blood break the surface. “No… No, I don’t think I am.”

Then everything was nothing.

I awoke slowly, taking in the beeps and smell of disinfectant that filled the air around me. I am in a hospital. Muffled voices came closer and clearer, then passed into obscurity again. I heard curtains around me shift and continued to feign sleep. Several pairs of feet filed into the area surrounding my bed. A man’s voice spoke softly, briefing the other individuals on my condition. He had to be the teacher.

After a lot of medical jargon I didn’t fully understand, the man asked, “What makes this woman so unique?” Fabrics rubbed against each other swiftly as each medical student’s hand sprung into the air. A girl spoke, her voice pitched too high to be even remotely soothing. “Her brain activity is significantly higher than we usually see. This could suggest mental illness or a brain injury.”

“Good, Jen. What is the treatment plan?”

Jen spoke again. God, her voice was grating. “She will be kept here for observation and testing.”

“Correct. Jen, move on with the other and see to the next patient. I want to check this woman’s vitals again.”

Curtains shifted again as the pairs of feet made their exits. The man lowered himself into a chair next to me, his knees cracking with the effort.

He sat there for a moment, his steady breathing making it difficult for me to keep my own the same way; it was unnerving. Finally, he spoke, sending chills down my spine. “I know what you are, Jane Doe. Now I get to see what you can do.”

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Symptoms of a Haunting: Part V

The next few seconds dragged into minutes as I fought to comprehend Edna’s words.

“What do you mean you’re seeing him, too?”

Edna’s lip quivered slightly as she took a steadying breath and her wispy white hair fluttered in some unknown breeze. Finally, she raised her orb-like eyes to meet mine.

“At first I thought I was going crazy. Just an old woman struggling with reality, you know. I’d see a shadow here, a flicker there. Then it became something else. Instead of shadows it was a definite figure. A man. A man that didn’t seem entirely friendly. He’s never said anything or even touched me, but I don’t like him, Emma. He… He frightens me.”

A heavy sense of foreboding settled over me while I listened to Edna; I knew exactly what she was talking about. But the thing that was needling at me was the question of how Edna knew I was seeing this man. Unspoken pact between us aside, Edna and I don’t generally chat. We are there for each other in times of need, not during the everyday, and I had never mentioned this man to anyone except my online friend, Katie.

“Edna,” I began carefully. “Why did you say you’re seeing him ‘too?’ How did you know I’d been seeing him?”

Edna’s face remained still. I wondered if she had been spying on me, but thought it very unlikely. Finally, Edna exhaled, saying, “Well, I guess it’s about time you know.”

I leaned toward the woman, a bundle of curiosity and anxiety, determined to have an open mind about this mysterious thing I needed to know.

“Emma, you’ve known since you moved in that I have an ability. I know a lot about a person just by touching them. As I’ve aged, it seems that my abilities have changed and grown. I am also able to discern a few things about a person by touching something of theirs. In your case, I came in contact with your mailbox. At first, it was innocent. Some of your mail ended up in my box. After I realized what was happening, I would make a few discreet trips to your mailbox a week. Creepy, I know,” Edna smiled sheepishly. “It’s not the same as when I touch an actual human; its more like I’m listening to a badly tuned radio. With enough listening and a bit of intuition, I can usually piece together what’s going on.”

Edna paused, eyes flicking over my shoulder. I glanced over my shoulder instinctively but saw nothing. I looked back and Edna, the crackling of the fire the only thing breaking the silence. She still looked over my shoulder, her expression unreadable. I stood from the couch, fully turning toward the darkened space behind me. Despite the roaring fire, I felt a chill cross my skin. Then I saw him.

He had the same dead skin, the same eerie eyes peering from within the skull. The only thing that had changed was his mouth. No longer was his jaw broken, hanging from his face as a foreign object. It was right where it should be and his lips were pulled back in a garish smile. My hair stood on end and I felt a scream building within me.

I turned back to Edna, intending to usher her out of the room, but I found she was no longer seated on the couch. She was standing before the fire, the glow of the flames outlining her fragile silhouette. Her grey eyes were clouded over and frozen on the figure of the old man. His smile had grown impossibly wide, beginning to split the decaying flesh around his mouth. He breathed in heavily with a deep rattle. Just as I realized I had never before heard him breathe, he raised his arm and pointed a long, grey finger at Edna. In a voice that oozed from nightmares and dripped from death, he whispered, “Go.”

Without a backward glance, Edna turned toward the fire and crouched down, her old knees cracking with the effort. When she was eye-to-eye with the fire, she leaned forward, as if in slow motion, pitching toward the flames.

“Edna, wait!” I whipped toward the woman, but it was too late. I reached for her and the flames reached for me, gnawing on my skin. I pulled away in horror as Edna began to scream, losing my footing and falling backward, scrambling away from the hearth with both feet until my back was against the couch. Unable to move, I watched as the fire consumed the kindly woman that had been able to see me for who I am.

Symptoms of a Haunting: Part IV

Armed with my newfound, albeit Googled, knowledge, I marched out of my apartment. I needed to talk to Edna.

Edna was the first person I met upon moving to this Washington town. I chose Washington because of its near-constant cloud cover and reputation for standoffish people. Somehow, I felt more myself when not in direct sunlight and when being ignored by passersby. Edna was the exception. I had just moved into my quaint home at the end of the street and was confused by the complete lack of a mailbox outside my house. How was I supposed to get mail? Did this town completely rid itself of the snail mail system? My next door neighbor saw my confusion and walked over to help. Her kindly smile in her aged face was just the thing to make me smile in return.

“Having trouble, dear?” Her voice was precisely what one would imagine a grandmother would sound like, especially if that grandmother had a particular proclivity for baked goods.

I smiled sheepishly. “That obvious?”

“Everyone is confused at first, no need to be embarrassed. We used to have a community mail box system at the front of the street, but it didn’t catch on. Now, we have a tradition of buying our own mailboxes and setting them up. You’ll have to call the Post Office to arrange to have your mail delivered here, but it’ll work out.”

I cocked my head to the side slightly. What an odd system. “I’m Emma,” I said, holding out my hand.

“Edna,” the old woman smiled, grasping my hand tightly in both of her own. When our skin touched, Edna’s eyes glazed over and her mouth formed around the word, “oh.”

I pulled my hand from hers with perhaps more force than was absolutely necessary, feeling the fear build up in my chest. Had she discovered me so easily?

“I’m so sorry that happened to you, Emma,” she whispered, stepping closer to me. I could count each white eyelash shading her grey eyes.

“What?” I breathed, so softly I was surprised she could hear me.

“No one should have a gift like yours and be persecuted in that manner.” Edna’s face softened and my chest ached. She wasn’t afraid of me; she pitied me. And, it seemed, she harbored a secret of her own.

“Would you like to come in?” I asked, suddenly bold. I was breaking my own rule of not associating with people, not trusting people, but in that moment all I cared about was inviting this sweet soul in for tea.

Edna smiled and took my arm, letting me lead the way past the blooming garden into my home. Since that day, Edna and I held a kind of unspoken pact to stand by the other in times of need. I never fully trusted her, but us freaks needed to stick together. This was definitely one of those times.

I hurried through the November drizzle, feeling a warmth in spite of the weather at the thought of seeing my friend. I came to her door and rapped sharply on the deep green-painted wood. I heard a shuffle behind the door as the woman came to answer my call. The door opened with a creak, displaying a much more tired Edna than I was accustomed to.

Immediately, I stepped forward, touching the woman’s shoulder. “Edna, is everything all right? You don’t seem quite yourself.”

Edna pulled her white cardigan closer about her body and glanced out the door to the street beyond. “Yes, yes. Everything is okay.” I was skeptical, but allowed her to usher me inside without a word.

Once the door was securely latched, Edna turned to me and pulled me into an unexpected tight hug. After a shocked beat, I returned the gesture. “Edna…”

“Emma, I’m so glad you’ve come.” Edna took me by the hand and led me to her cozy living room. We sat before the fire, the leather of the couch beneath me warming my bones. I smelled cookies in the oven, or maybe that’s just how her house always smells.

“Emma,” Edna began, her voice cracking with fatigue. She paused, taking my hand in her warm ones and daring not to meet my gaze. Her eyes glowed with the reflection of the fire, standing out starkly against her pale face. “Emma, I’m seeing him, too.”

Symptoms of a Haunting: Part III

“Katie, I swear I saw someone,” I murmured aloud as I typed, the clicks from my keyboard my only company.

I had met Katie on a paranormal abilities forum where she had been posting about the emergence of her abilities. Katie was clairsentient, which meant that she could perceive future events. This wasn’t “seeing” into the future; she would get feelings about certain people or places, and these feelings always turned out to be accurate of the events that would take place there. That said, Katie had confided in me that she had often had dreams that had come true. This kind of premonition was frowned upon in our little paranormal community; it was considered a form of deja vu, which had already been explained as the brain’s response to certain “puzzle pieces,” as it were.

My computer chimed as Katie’s message came in.

I believe you, Emma. But you know how the community is. You need ~proof~ … *eye roll*

I sighed. She was right. For a group of people who believed in the paranormal, they were surprisingly anal about evidence, especially in a field where the scant evidence is rarely tangible.

I know, I know. Sigh. I know if I went to Jan with this, she’d laugh me right out of the forum.

My computer chimed again.

LOL. You know that’s right.

I smiled, suddenly very grateful for my virtual friend. I’d never really trusted anyone in the real world after my family abandoned me, but my friendship with Katie felt safe. She was a kindred spirit in a way, though her family has accepted her abilities with far more grace than mine had.

Katie, what do I do?

There was a long pause in which I watched the words “Katie is typing…” appear and disappear several times over in the chat window. It seemed that she was just as lost as I was in this situation.

Well, I don’t know, Em. You could always do the typical teen horror movie thing and do a Google search of ghosts or hauntings. 🙂

I rolled my eyes

Ha ha, Katie. Very funny.

Yet, I was curious. I opened Google in another tab in my web browser. I looked over my shoulder, half expecting to see the man staring back at me in the darkness, but I was alone.

My nails clacked against the keys as I slowly and apprehensively typed out “symptoms of a haunting” into the search bar.

Symptoms of a Haunting: Part II

Knock, knock, knock.

I groaned, rolling over in bed and pulling the covers up to my chin. I was too warm to deal with visitors. Who would be coming by this early on a Saturday?

Knock, knock, knock.

Persistent, aren’t they? I lay in bed, eyes still closed, trying to pull myself from the sleepy fog and gain my bearings. I’m a solitary creature, so going out to parties or having friends over are not my ideal Saturday activities. Saturdays are reserved for getting caught up on sleep and laundry. I pity the soul that comes between me and my sleep.

Knock, knock, kno-

My eyes snapped open and the final knock stopped short. Silence hung in the air, pressing the oxygen from the room. I reached out for my cell phone, pressing the home button to wake it and consequently temporarily blinding myself with the light from the home screen. When my eyes adjusted to the onslaught of light, I was finally able to read the time: 3:18.

I blearily rubbed my eyes, puzzled. No one would be knocking at my door in the middle of the night. Mentally saying farewell to the warmth of my blankets, I swung my legs out of the bed and onto the floor with a heavy sigh. The wood below my feet was ice cold — very odd for an early autumn night. I shivered and glanced toward the window across the room. Trees rustled in the wind, dead leaves and branches occasionally scraping the glass.

I raised my hand to my face to rub the sleep from my eyes, then froze. There. Next to the window. There was someone standing there. And they were watching me.

***

Eternities passed. Was it the man I had seen before? I couldn’t tell. Darkness staunchly impeded my vision, daring me to move to turn on a light. My breath came in short puffs before my eyes. I wanted to see who or what was next to the window. I needed to. But I couldn’t. Fear and a survival instinct held me in place, like a rabbit hiding from a predator.

Finally, there was movement in the shadows. The figure was coming toward me. My heart quickened and leapt to my throat. It sauntered across the room, footfalls making no sound. I blinked, and it was as if my movement was a cue. The figure rushed toward me, streaking across the room and no longer touching the floor. In the split second it took for this thing to reach me, I took in its features.

Mottled skin hung from a man’s skull, grey with age and rot. Jaundiced eyes bulged from their sockets, huge in the sunken face and filled with untold rage. His mouth hung open at an odd angle as if his jaw had been broken, and sharpened teeth dotted the aged gums within. As he came toward me, the air was filled with the white noise of a person who has no voice attempting to scream.

I closed my eyes tightly and braced for impact. When it came to fight or flight, my instinct was to forgo those options altogether and freeze. After a few moments, when no impact came, I cracked open my eyelids.

I sat bolt upright in bed, eyes straining against the sunlight streaming in through the window, looking frantically around the room.

The man was nowhere to be found, gone as if in a dream.

Symptoms of a Haunting: Part 1

I saw him again today.

At first it was just a flicker at the edge of my vision. A dark shape, a shadow. Something that I always wrote off as nothing, despite the constant feeling of foreboding. You know that feeling you get when someone is watching you across the room? That itchy feeling sitting in the back of your skull and needling at your nerves? I’ve felt that every day since moving into this house.

I’ve had incidences before. Seeing things that weren’t there. First it was a little girl who was looking for her mother. We loved to play hopscotch together. I was six, so my parents and older brother just thought I had an imaginary friend. When I was eleven and still talking about Madeline and her yellow dress, I was met with anger and annoyance. When I met David, the man with the gunshot wound still gaping in his head, I was met with fear.

I’ve been dragged to countless psychologists and psychiatrists, been hit with every diagnosis in the book, but the feeling and the shadows never disappeared. My family, the people who are supposed to support you through everything, left me at an asylum when I was seventeen and never looked back. The only things that place taught me were to trust no one and pretend everything is normal. The asylum was full of shadows and apparitions; they knew I could see them, even when I pretended to see nothing.

But I don’t see nothing. I see things that could not possibly be there. Horrible things and beautiful things alike. This entity, this man in my house… I don’t know which category he falls into. I don’t feel threatened, but I don’t feel safe either. He hasn’t spoken to me yet, but I’m sure it’s coming. I can only hold my breath and wait.

The Water Diviner

Rain pounded the window of the taxi, sending rivulets down the glass. It seemed as if the water absorbed the lights of the city around me, becoming something else, something new, something ethereal. Traffic was at a standstill, of course. Whenever I needed to get somewhere, traffic seemed to magically appear. I glanced up as lightning seared across the blackened heavens. My bad mood continued, though perhaps making it storm was a bit over the top. I breathed in deeply, willing myself into passable tranquility and watching the sky above follow suit.

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