I am not one of those people that takes ghost tours to see where Edgar Allen Poe wrote, or where our founders float through their old mansion halls scaring the bejesus out of those still breathing. I can’t even say for sure that ghosts exist. But since there’s nothing like a good scare to remind myself that I am fully alive, I don’t let doubt get in the way of a little thrill seeking.
I came to this pursuit rightfully, from my mother, who drove like a maniac and looked for close calls with rabid dogs in the countryside, and it’s from her that I learned to write and tell ghost stories.
After living in a new apartment for a freezing February week, with stifling heat inside, a neighbor informed me that the top floor lines controlled the temperatures below. I taped a note to the upstairs door, stating I was boiling, and if they had any leeway, would they please turn it down. Later, my bell rang and when I answered, a chub guy from the top floor with an embarrassed smirk on his lips said, “Do you know what happened to the person who lived here before you?”
“Please don’t tell me he died a violent death,” I pleaded, and stepped aside to invite him in. Holding his hands out in front of his chest, he declined. A little jolt went through my mind in recognition that he was not the first person who refused to enter. The day the Super of the building showed me the space for rent, he stayed out in the hall and waited until I was finished looking at it.
The neighbor stood close to the elevator, punching the call button over and over, “I have no control over your heat,” he said, “and yes, the man who lived here before you was murdered. That’s all I know.” I attempted a few stuttering questions but when the elevator doors opened, he disappeared. I fell to the sofa with my heart pounding throughout every single one of my cells.
In the middle of that same night, I sat up to avoid a disturbing sensation of a long and prone glow, the size of a man, hovering over my body. Even after I woke, the heat from his light and the smothering weight of his presence were palpable. During the following night, I shot from a dead sleep to standing, viscera sparking with sensation, and a distinct memory of someone trying to lift me like a bride from the bed, one arm under my knees, the other under my neck. Afraid to sleep, I spent the rest of the night reading.
Not everyone in the building would speak with me during my investigation, but I found a neighbor willing to repeat the tragic scoop: the former tenant was depressed, had little money, and was helping a number of people. He had a following of hangers on that he had gotten in too deep with and was trying to avoid. It was assumed he brought someone home with him from the nearby market because when the police went in, there were full bags of groceries sitting in the kitchen. His death was a gruesome one, caused by a beating from his own barbells. My understanding of why my apartment was renovated, including new walls, changed when I heard about the weapon. And the villain, still unknown, months after the murder, looked like a burnt devil in my imagination.
Indeed, I pulsed with life, but that’s no way to live. I set out to discover the methods that rid a home of ghosts, from experts and the opinionated alike. The first step was to open all the windows and invite him to go to the light. This had to be spoken in a firm voice or, I was told, he would not obey. It felt silly, but I followed orders.
I burned sage to purify. To protect the space, I lit a saucepan of a shallow layer of epsom salts with enough alcohol to cover. A blue flame shot right up to the eleven foot ceiling, a moment more frightening than the ghost’s hovering light or his attempt at a bride’s lift. I rang bells in the nooks and crannies and eventually exhausted all rituals known for ghost busting, except going to a psychiatrist, which was suggested by a few. Thereafter, no other episodes or visitations, I let go of the charge and decided it was time to get present with the living; I found the controls to my heat under a hidden panel. But when all the noisy excitement was over, it was my mother who was in my head. She’d died the previous February.