The Bridge

Bridge in moonlightI rubbed the scratchy stubble on my chin as I leaned my elbows on the wooden railing of the old bridge. I couldn’t remember what prompted me to stop here. I vaguely remembered playing in these woods as a child but that felt like a lifetime ago. Below me the expanse of river reflected the engorged moon as the water moved almost soundlessly over the rocks. It wasn’t the first time I contemplated jumping.

Exhausted, I bent my head and massaged my aching temple. I tried to think about all the clues that might have added up to this night, all the ways I’d gone wrong that had led to my broken heart. In my pocket still rested the ring box. I’d been planning to propose to Amber but I didn’t get up the nerve and then before I had the chance, it was all over.

On the soft breeze, I heard a whisper that sounded like my name. I looked up but of course, I was alone. After two in the morning in a rural town like mine, I’d be lucky to see a car pass even if I spent the next several hours standing on the bridge.

Maybe it was the fact that she’d never liked my job. I wasn’t ambitious enough, she’d told me once. I liked my job though. It didn’t make me rich. What I could afford was humble in contrast to what she was accustomed to receiving but I thought we could find a way to make it work. I thought she loved me for the person I was on the inside. Isn’t that the way that love is supposed to work?

Amber had accused me of messing around with some girl I didn’t even know. She told me she had proof of it, that others had admitted to seeing us together but I shook my head sadly to the night, acknowledging the conspiracy that had been set up against me. None of her friends had ever liked me. Was I destined to be alone forever, I wondered?

The breeze wrapped around me and I shivered. The seasons were changing so quickly now. At this rate, winter would settle over us before we knew it. I pulled my leather jacket tighter around me to try to keep the chill from settling into my bones but it was no use.

A scratching sound distracted my ruminations and I quickly looked behind me, not sure what I was expecting to find, but the bridge was still void of any sign of life, except for my own. My heart sank and I looked down at my cell phone at the last text message I’d received from Amber asking me to never contact her again. I contemplated responding, asking her what happened, asking for some sense of closure. She owed me that much at least, didn’t she? It wasn’t fair to leave me like this. No matter how many times I went over the past six months in my memory, I couldn’t put the pieces together to come to a conclusion for why she might have turned so cold. I deserved to know the truth.

My fingers hesitated over the keys as I remembered the look in her eyes. Ordinarily her eyes were a bright blue but the sadness had dimmed them to a murky gray as the tears threatened to spill. She hadn’t wanted to say goodbye. I was convinced of it, but yet she had insisted, and after all the arguments, there was nothing left to say to try to change her mind.

For better or for worse, my relationship with Amber was over.

I reached into my pocket and fished out the ring. It wasn’t anything special but it had taken me several paychecks to finally be able to afford it. I’d picked the beautiful blue Sapphire to match her eyes. I couldn’t imagine anyone else wearing the ring other than Amber so although it may have seemed crazy, I pulled back my arm and pitched the ring as far down the river as I could manage. It fell with a plop that almost seemed to echo through the quiet night.

I dug my hands into my pockets and stepped back from the edge, giving one last look over the river before turning my back and moving toward my beat up old car waiting for me at the side of the road. As I shuffled along, I could have sworn I heard the sound of a woman crying in the distance. I stopped and double backed, listening intently for the sound again. At first it didn’t come. Even the lonely crickets had given up and returned to wherever it is that crickets go when summer has ended and fall begins. Around me was only silence.

That’s it, I told myself, turning back toward the car. But something didn’t want to let me go, some strange nagging tugged at me, urging me to look closer.

Under the bridge, the wind whispered in my ear. I shuddered involuntarily. It would be a dangerous climb down the steep hillside in thick underbrush to reach the overgrown woods under the bridge. It was unlikely I would find anyone there. But then I heard it again, this time more distinct and without reservation I knew, it was the sound of a woman crying.

…. to be continued

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#AtoZChallenge Who Are the Ghosts in My Attic? Isabella

Businessman hand holding a Crystal BallLet’s be clear about one thing. Isabella is not a ghost. Well, at least not yet. As far as I know, she just likes to pretend she is. I’m not going to say she is crazy either, but maybe she is just a little bit.

I followed her from one room to the next beginning on the main level of the house and then eventually working our way up the staircase to the bedrooms. She made a lot of sounds as we moved and sometimes she hummed or chanted softly, but none of that really made sense to me.

Finally, we stopped at the foot of the attic steps. She turned and looked at me. Was I supposed to lead?

“That is where they stay,” I said indicating the door, although being a highly recommended psychic, I had sort of expected her to know that already.

“I want to go up and take a look around,” she announced after an awkward silence. I ignored the warnings in my head screaming this was a bad idea and nodded. Slowly she ascended, one step at a time.

I probably should have followed but I couldn’t. My feet kept me firmly rooted where I stood as a wave of nausea struck me fiercely. Isabella opened the door and disappeared into their domain. Too dizzy to stand, I collapsed onto the bottom step to rest my head in my hands. I counted, forcing myself to breath. Inhale. Exhale.

Time barely passed, or at least it felt that way, before I noticed her standing at the bottom of the steps looking down at me. On shaky legs I attempted to stand.

“Well, what happened? What did you sense? What can I do?” I whispered because I was too afraid that they might hear me. I glanced up and felt relief as I realized that Isabella had at least closed the attic door behind her.

“There is definitely an energy here,” she said making no attempts to lower her own raspy voice. I cringed.

“Yes, but what do you think?” I wasn’t paying a psychic to tell me I had ghosts. I knew that much already.  “How do I get rid of them?”

“Not them. I only sense one entity in this house and I really don’t get the feeling you need to fear. It isn’t malevolent.”

“One? That can’t be right. I’ve spoken to at least eight of them already.”

She raised one eyebrow as if she couldn’t believe me or that I dared to question her professional assessment.

“A spirit can make you believe many things but I assure you, there is only one.”

I sighed heavily. Isabella obviously wouldn’t be of any help to me and I’d just spent one hundred dollars to do nothing but potentially anger the ones that didn’t want me to go poking where I didn’t belong.

“Anyway,” she continued, “I will perform a simple cleansing ritual and burn sage in all the rooms, especially the attic. This will send the energy back where it belongs and you will be free to enjoy your home.”

“Does that cost extra?”

Raised eyebrows again. “Ms. Ingram, do you want me to fix this problem or not?”

“Of course. It’s just that –”

That I think she’s clueless. Likely.

“– that I’m a little short on money at the moment.”

“No worries. I’ll give you a special discount. You are a friend of Sylvia’s, after all.”

“Thanks,” I muttered as I followed her back down the staircase and into the living room. She went to her large bag and started rummaging for things. At least she came prepared, I thought.

“Would you like a cup of tea?” I asked.

“That would be nice, thank you.”

She’d pulled out bundles of what I could only assume must be sage as I went to the kitchen, grateful to get away from her and the heavy perfume she wore. Strong scents gave me a headache and this lady was sending me straight to migraine territory. Then again, maybe it had more to do with the fact that I was no better off then where I’d started with the ghosts.

I leaned against the counter waiting for the kettle to boil. Perhaps I was being too hard on her? For all I knew, whether there was one ghost or twenty in my house, this sage thing just might do the trick and I could avoid putting the house up for sale. Being the only one remaining in my family, I had been feeling kind of guilty ever since making that decision. The house belonged to me.

I belonged to the house.

I shivered for no apparent reason at all.

I could hear Isabella humming as she moved through the house doing her work and another strong scent hit my nose, what I could only assume must be the burning sage.

“Geez, watch the crazy lady burn down the house and my luck, I still won’t be rid of the ghosts,” I muttered under my breath as I poured the boiled water over the tea bags.

I thought of Benjamin and my heart ached. This had to be the right decision.

When I returned to the living room, Isabella was humming her way up the main staircase.

“I’ll be back in a moment,” she called back to me.

Just as well I had nothing better to do. I set the two mugs of tea on the end table and made myself comfortable on the couch while I waited. Outside the blue sky promised a lovely day and I decided I should get out and take a walk. The fresh air would do me some good. I smiled watching the birds, hopeful. The sage had to work.

Isabella screamed.

The sound of it sent shivers through me and without a second thought, I raced up the steps to find her wide eyed and pale in the middle of the hallway trembling … like she’d just seen a ghost?

This should be familiar territory for a highly recommended psychic, surely.

A faint smell of burning filled my nose. This time it didn’t have the pleasant aroma of sage.

“What happened?”

“Your house — the g- g- ghost — I can’t —”

“What happened?” I repeated, annoyed that she couldn’t seem to communicate with me but before I could hear her response, I was distracted by a waft of smoke coming down from the attic. The door was wide open and I could see the flames begin to lick around its edges.

“Oh god,” I moaned.

Luckily, I’d kept a fire extinguisher on each floor just as a general safety precaution. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever figure I’d need it for a situation like this. I grabbed the nearest one and ran up the steps. Thankfully, the fire hadn’t spread far and I was able to put it out. I stood for a moment as I tried to catch my breath and assess the damage.

“I take it you didn’t like our new friend, Isabella,” I said to my ghosts. I couldn’t see them but I knew they were listening.

By the time I was sure the fire was out and I went back downstairs, Isabella was gone. She’d taken her bag, her bundles of sage, and disappeared.

I was pretty sure I wouldn’t be hearing from her again.

**

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#AtoZChallenge Who Are the Ghosts in My Attic? Harriet and Heaven.

Woman Haunting CemeteryThe week was winding down and I’d worked hard making the house as presentable as possible for the real estate agent on Saturday. As a result, my muscles screamed in protest and although I wanted to finish repairing one of the cabinets in the kitchen, I decided a soak in the tub would be a better reward to end my day.

I’d always wanted a claw foot bathtub so when I first moved in to the house, I’d been excited to finally have one. Before today, I’d never stopped long enough to actually make good use of it but now, especially in light of the fact that my next place wouldn’t be nearly so fancy, I decided to enjoy it. I lit several candles around the perimeter of the room and scented the water with lavender oils.

Slipping into the tub, the steam rose into the air around me. It was a shame I couldn’t stay, I thought. A girl could get used to this. I closed my eyes and inhaled deeply. I’d promised myself I wouldn’t think about the ghosts but immediately, my thoughts went to them.

I’d never been a particularly religious person. The times I spent alone with my thoughts like this were probably as close as I’d ever feet to “something bigger” in my life and I’d always been okay with that. But now, it felt a little sad, not just for me, but for all the lost souls roaming the big, old house.

Was there such a place as heaven where we should go after we die? Would my ghosts never pass beyond the physical world to find their own peace in death?

Maybe they didn’t want my help? Maybe I’d have been better off leaving well enough alone? After all, some of them were guilty of horrible crimes. If such a place as heaven existed, then why not hell? Being trapped between living and dying may have been the better alternative. All the same, I felt as if I owed it to those, like Benjamin or George, that didn’t deserve the endless suffering they endured.

When I opened my eyes, I wasn’t surprised to see a shadow of movement from the other side of the room. Even in the privacy of my bath, I couldn’t be alone.

“You want to help us,” she said softly.

There they went again, seeming to know my thoughts and my actions even before I did.

“I feel like I should do something,” I admitted with a sigh. What that was, I had no idea. I tried to get a better sense of her form but this one preferred to stay just out of sight, almost hidden beyond the flickers of the candle flames.

“Do you want my help?” I asked her.

“I — I don’t know.”

“Don’t you want to rest in peace?”

“I’m afraid of no longer existing at all.”

I couldn’t offer reassurances when I didn’t really know what was out there beyond my attic for them. I watched the candles dance around me throwing shadows on the walls and ceiling. The idea felt hopeless. Lost.

Or maybe it was her that I sensed. Harriet.

“You don’t want to stay here trapped for the rest of eternity.”
“Maybe not,” she agreed, “But there will be others that won’t look too kindly on your plans.”

“I don’t doubt that. Not everyone has been quite so friendly.”
“There are others who will try to take your place.”

I closed my eyes again as if I could will away the fear that sank deep into my bones when I thought about the ghosts. It wouldn’t be easy. I was going to need help.

“You’re packing. You were going to move away,” she said.
“Well, it seems I might be here a little longer than I thought. My friend Jennifer and her husband can’t take me in right now. They’re expecting a baby.”

“This makes you sad?”

“No, not sad. Just …”

“Lost.”

“Do you know where you are buried?” I asked her, choosing to steer the conversation away from my ultimate demise.

“Not far from here.”

“Not in my backyard, I hope,” I said, my voice heavy with sarcasm which she clearly missed. She only sat in the corner staring in my direction. I couldn’t see her eyes but I knew she watched me, waiting for something, or simply enjoying the company. I didn’t know.

“I’m going to find a way to help you move on,” I said again, feeling more certain as I considered this possibility.

“You will join us.”

“I’m not going to give up that easily.”

I yanked the plug from the drain and sat as the water started to sink lower. I was so mesmerized by the shimmer of its movement under the candle’s glow that I didn’t move until the tub was empty. I grabbed my towel, wrapped it around me, and stepped carefully out onto the tiled floor.

I didn’t need to look for her to know that Harriet had disappeared. I blew out the candles and headed to bed. Tomorrow would be a busy day.

**

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#AtoZChallenge Who Are the Ghosts in My Attic? George

Copa de vino tino con fuego de chimenea de fondo.The funny thing about hotels – they kind of expect you to pay for your stay. The fact that I’d maxed out my credit cards in order to buy the supplies I needed for my renovation project was not working in my favor right now. I’d tried three different hotels and all had requested a credit card in order to confirm my reservation. Unfortunately, although I inherited a house, I did not get any money to go with it. Finally, I gave up on my plan to stay in a hotel and went with the next best thing.

“I was hoping I could stay with you just until I manage a new place,” I said, trying not to sound so desperate.

“What’s wrong with the house?” Jennifer asked.

I looked up at the half painted wall in front of me and debated how much I should tell my former roommate, especially over the phone.

“Nothing,” I said, deciding that a confession of ghosts was probably more than Jennifer needed to hear right now. “I just don’t like living so far from everything.”

That much was true, to an extent. I’d always preferred the ability to walk anywhere I needed to go from our two-bedroom city apartment but the country had been a refreshing change. I think Jennifer wanted to say yes and help me but a lot had changed in the last six months. I don’t think she’d entirely forgiven me yet.

“I don’t think Jeff will go for it.”

“But you’ll ask him, right?” I pleaded.

Unfortunately, after I bailed on the apartment, Jennifer couldn’t afford to pick up both halves of the rent. Fate stepped in to rescue her. It turned out that Jeff had already bought a ring and was only waiting for the right moment to propose. My leaving her stranded made it the the right moment and Jennifer moved into Jeff’s house shortly thereafter. I know which of us got the better deal. Jeff was gorgeous, had a lot of money, and I was pretty sure his house wasn’t infested with ghosts.

As for me, well, I guess you could say karma came knocking.

I heard Jennifer sigh and after another hesitation she finally agreed to talk to her fiance, Jeff, about the possibility of my moving in with them. She would call me back tomorrow.

That left me with very little hope and at least one more night in the Victorian Mansion. I scheduled a real estate agent to come by on Saturday and get the house listed on the market so maybe I could at least expect a quick sale to give me the money to move somewhere else.

I paced the living room floor and watched the grandfather clock as anxiety coursed through me. My stomach twisted into knots. Maybe I should have told Jennifer the truth? She might have taken pity on me, even if she did them me insane.

“Give me a reason to stay,” I begged the empty room.

That’s how I met George.

It started with the roar of a fire as it sprang to life in the fireplace. I shrieked and sank into the shadows, ready to defend myself against random flying objects. I wasn’t at all prepared to defend myself from a stolen kiss.

When George stepped back, I blinked three times and simply stared. I’m sure my jaw must have hung open, giving me a less-than-attractive appearance. George didn’t seem to mind.

Music filled the room from some phantom stereo and although I didn’t recognize the song, I knew it came from the Big Band era. It was music I once loved as much as I loved dancing. George held out his hand, beckoning me to join him in a dance now and despite my initial fear, I couldn’t resist the invitation.

He may have been a ghost but George held me in a surprisingly strong grip. He led me through one dance and then another. It wasn’t long before I actually found myself smiling and having fun. Dancing brought me to life. George dipped me and brought me back, holding me close to his chest. If only George weren’t a ghost, I thought, because I would have loved to lay my head against his chest and listen to the beat of his heart.

When we’d finished spinning and twirling across the room and the music faded, I struggled to catch my breath. George indicated a bottle of red wine sitting on the small end table next to the couch. Next to the bottle stood two long stem glasses. I know I hadn’t left those there but since they weren’t being thrown at me or poured over my head, I wasn’t going to question it.

I poured us each a full glass of the wine even though I knew I would be the only one to drink it and I settled on the floor in front of the fire.

“Thank you,” I said when George sat down next to me. “I haven’t had this much fun in a very long time.”

“Too long,” he agreed.

I looked at him curiously as I sipped my wine. How did he know it had been too long? How much did any of the ghosts know about me or my past?

He smiled. He would have been very handsome when he was alive, not to mention irresistibly charming – a dangerous combination.

“Do you have a sad story?” I asked him, not that I really wanted to know if he’d come to a tragic end or killed someone.

“Not really,” he said with a shrug but I sensed there was something he didn’t want to tell me.

“You look too young to have died from natural causes. An accident perhaps? Illness?”

He took my hand in his and I remarked at how unusually warm he felt for a ghost. He kissed the back of my hand and the room swayed a little. I was tired but I didn’t want the night to end.

“I suppose you could say that I died of a broken heart.”

“That is very sad. And tragic.”

I closed my eyes and leaned against the couch as the fire and the wine warmed me. At some point I must have fallen asleep. I spent the rest of the night dreaming of dancing with George and when I woke to sunlight streaming through my window, I realized I was somehow in my own bed, the empty bottle of wine on the bedside table next to a single red rose.

I sighed. Not all my ghosts were bad.

**

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#AtoZChallenge Who Are the Ghosts in My Attic? Fred, Frank, and Fran

Spooky windowMy suitcase waited for me by the front door. I’d spent most of the night weighing my options and ultimately decided to pack what I needed to get me through a few nights in a hotel. Since my conversation with Edgar, I couldn’t shake the feeling that this whole idea had been a huge mistake. Besides, what did I know about renovating a Victorian mansion anyway? The fact that it had belonged to my family for so many generations and I was the last one of our kind left to inherit it just felt doubly tragic. Truly, I had no idea what I was trying to hang on to.

And then there were the ghosts.

To be fair, I didn’t completely believe Edgar’s warnings about a sinister evil inhabiting the house itself. As far as I knew, there was no such thing.

But then, I’d felt that way about ghosts once, too.

All the same, I was more likely to believe that he’d used this story to rationalize the brutal murder of an innocent man. I still didn’t understand why he or Agatha had felt justified in ending Roger’s life but I had no intentions of sticking around long enough to hear Roger’s side of the story. Enough was enough. I had my own problems.

I dipped the roller in the paint tray and gently rolled it against the smooth wall I’d been working on for seemingly an eternity now. Another reason this renovation idea had been so insane – I absolutely hated anything to do with actually, well, renovating. Painting topped this list. It was mind-numbingly boring and gave me too much time to think. What I really needed was to do something that would distract my thoughts from the house and its otherworldly inhabitants.

“If only I could coerce them into doing manual labor for me,” I said to myself and laughed softly.

I glanced back at my suitcase for the umpteenth time as if I expected it to magically disappear before I had the opportunity to finish this room. Anything at this point was possible.

I would leave, I’d decided, as soon as I finished what I’d started in the living room. Unfortunately, it was one of the largest rooms on the main floor and I’d barely managed to touch it. That left me more to do than I had hoped. Once this room was complete, I’d put the house on the market and never look back, what I should have done in the first place.

The furniture had been covered in heavy white sheets to protect it but when I could no longer endure the silence surrounding me, I got down from the step stool to uncover the small television that I’d brought with me just so I would have some background noise while I worked.

I skimmed the few channels that I could get but there was very little selection. I settled on old TV show reruns. At least they were lighthearted. Really, it didn’t matter much as long as it served to stop the endless conversations running on repeat inside my head.

“Spending too much time with the dead,” I said as I returned to work, “It’s unhealthy.” An episode of the Three Stooges came on in the background while I hurried over the wall.

Evil. Murder. Bodies in the backyard. Ghosts in the Attic. Betrayal. Desperation.

The antics of Larry, Curly, and Mo couldn’t drown out my internal turmoil.
I glanced over my shoulder in time to watch one of the Stooges hit the other in a chain reaction that was somehow supposed to be funny. I’d never been a fan but I smiled at their antics anyway. Maybe I’d never given them a fair chance?
I rolled the paint over the wall with more enthusiasm. This could work, I thought. But when I went to dip the roller into the paint tray, it was gone.

“What the …” I was sure it was there a minute ago. I stepped down and looked around the room but there was no sign of it anywhere.

Gently, I set the paint roller on one of the sheets covering an old couch and did a quick search in the other rooms of the house, even though I knew it was fruitless because I hadn’t left the living room in at least two hours. I returned to the living room just as Curly smashed a cream pie in Mo’s face. I shook my head at the absurdity of it.

Then Whack!

“Ugh!” I yelped.

The paint tray hit the floor with a clang as I put my hands up to my face in horror to wipe away white paint that was plastered against my face and hair. As I cleared my eyes, I noticed a young girl getting ready to knock me over the head with the roller. I managed to grab it just before it made contact with my scalp.

“What in the hell do you think you’re doing?” I said, almost in tears.
Two others materialized next to the first and instantly they began hitting and pushing each other other almost mimicking the actions from TV.

“Seriously! Stop it right now!”

Ignoring me, they went about their fun, knocking over my step ladder and pulling the sheets from the furniture as they went.

I didn’t know what else to do so I walked over to the TV and slammed the off button. As soon as the Stooges disappeared from the screen, my uninvited guests flickered and disappeared from the room. I heard the echo of laughter and cringed as I expected them to reappear ready to hit me with something but after several minutes, I was left with only the silence and a huge mess to clean up.

Disgusted and now even further from finishing the living room than before, I marched up the stairs to take a shower. Ghosts were just no fun at all and I would never learn to be a fan of The Three Stooges.

**

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