NINETY DAYS LATER, Gwen and I moved into our brand new home.
On the one hand, it was great to finally have a place where I didn’t have to share a wall with strangers. On the other hand, the vibe I felt when we first saw the house was significantly stronger.
Not that Gwen noticed it. She flitted around, paint samples in hand, singing love songs and happily decorating. She loved it. Absolutely loved it. It was nice, seeing her get all nesty.
That’s why I never told her about the girl. I didn’t want my psychosis to ruin it for her.
Turns out we bought a haunted house. Either that, or I was going crazy. I was more prone to think I was going crazy than to think the house was haunted, because haunted houses are crazy.
I’m a grounded kind of person. Never was one to believe in the supernatural, ghosts, spirits, whatever. I’ve always thought when you die, you check out. Hasta la vista, and all that.
Still. Shit was fucked up, if you excuse my French.
The first time I saw her was in the morning, right after we moved. I had just gotten out of the shower. I wiped the condensation off the mirror, expecting to see myself but not expecting to see a girl. She was standing right behind me, dripping wet and shaking, her lips a deathly shade of blue. A necklace of bruises stood out around her neck.
I spun around, razor in hand. “Who the hell… ”
There was no girl. My heart felt like it was going to explode from my chest. I know what I saw. I saw a girl. Didn’t I? Jesus. I tossed the razor back on the counter, threw on some clothes, and ran downstairs to Gwen and breakfast. So I’d be stubbly. I could live with stubbly.
What I couldn’t live with was a dead girl staring at me in the mirror.
After that, it was like a dam somewhere broke. I saw the girl everywhere. I mean, everywhere. I’d be walking down the hall and out of the corner of my eye I’d catch a glimpse of her going into one of the bedrooms. Sometimes I saw her standing next to Gwen in the kitchen. I saw her most often out on the patio.
That’s about the time the dreams started. Night after night, and they were always the same. The girl would be standing by the bed, looking down at me, waiting for me to wake up.
In that weird way that dreams have, I’d wake up and follow her. She’d lead me through the house and to the patio. But there wasn’t a patio; there was only a muddy hole. She’d grab me and start screaming. I’d wake up.
Every freaking night. I couldn’t even hide it from Gwen.
One morning, after it had been going on for a few weeks, she confronted me about it. “Baby, what’s the matter?” she asked, her eyes full of concern.
I brushed it off. “A bad dream. That’s all.”
She looked doubtful. “It’s been going on for a while… and you were crying. You don’t cry, Sam.”
“It was bad.” I took her in my arms. “It’s not now.”
“What was it about?”
“A lost girl.” I kissed her hair. “I think one of my cases must have gotten to me.”
“Oh.” She nuzzled my neck. “You’re a hero, you know?”
“Aw, shucks, ma’am.” I nibbled on her ear. “You don’t have to flatter me. I’m an easy lay.”
A few kisses later and the giggles transitioned to sighs.
The dreams continued. I tried over-the-counter sleep aids, then moved on to some Ambien I had for when I had to travel, but it didn’t work. Nothing worked. I dreamed of the girl whether I took anything or not.
Wake up, Sam. Wake up. It was like something was right in front of me, but I couldn’t see it. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t see it.
Mornings found me groggy and half-asleep. I started wondering if it was PTSD. Every morning as I strapped on my service revolver and badge, I wondered if maybe I should go see somebody, a shrink, maybe.
But then, what would I say? That I’m being haunted? They’d demote me for sure. All my life I wanted to be a federal agent. If my career had to end, it wouldn’t be because I was crazy. It’d be because I got shot, or maybe had a heart attack at my computer imputing statistics. But not because I was crazy.
I asked myself, what would Gwen do? That was easy. She’d focus on the happy. So I did. Happy, happy, happy. Here I was, focusing on the happy. I started doing yoga. Meditation. We even found a nice Unitarian church.
It didn’t work. Nothing worked.
I had no energy. I used to run five miles every morning; now, I’d stay in bed, too tired to move. I started hitting the snooze alarm four or five times each morning. Dark circles were making my 35 year old face look ten years older.
After the second or third month – I lost count somewhere along the line – I was tempted to start using my sick time. It took all my energy to get out of bed. I felt sick, but not seasonally sick. I felt bone sick. Seriously ill sick. I had physicals every year, but maybe they didn’t catch something. Maybe it was brain cancer. Maybe I needed to go to the doctor and find out.
“Another dream?” Gwen asked as she handed me my lunch.
I yawned instead of answering.
“Baby.” She kissed my cheek. “I’d love to tell you it’s supernatural, but I haven’t felt anything off since we’ve moved in.” Gwen believed in ghosts, spirits, and all sorts of wackadoo weirdness. She rubbed my shoulders and neck. “Maybe it’s a work thing. You might be carrying stress.”
I saw the girl go into the back bedroom. “Yeah, it’s probably stress.”
“Well, then, we’ll have to do something about that.” She cupped my face. “When you get home tonight, I’ll take care of that stress.”
“Hubba hubba.” I reached for her butt and got my hand slapped for my troubles. I couldn’t help it. She has a fine butt.
She kept her word, too. She did a lot of stress-relieving. But it did no good.
The girl. The patio. The scream. Night after night.
A few days later, my partner started in on me. Will and I had been partners since the Bureau transferred me here five years ago.
I was sitting at my desk when a venti Starbucks magically appeared in front of me. “Why hello, beautiful,” I said to it. “You new around here? Why don’t we get you all comfortable.” I popped off the lid and took a deep drink. “Mmm. Dude. I needed this.”
“No shit.” Will gave me a sardonic look, but that was normal. Will had a sardonic face. “Don’t take this the wrong way, Sam, but you look rode hard and put away wet.”
I focused on the coffee. “Okay. Thanks for that.”
“I’ve seen dead people with more color to them. Seriously. If you stand against the wall, you blend in.”
I whistled. “Maybe I can transfer to undercover.”
“Nah. You look wasted. Like you’re being sucked dry by a hemophiliac vampire who’s getting sick off your blood and making you sick as a result.”
“Ah, now you’re just flirting.” I fluttered my eyelashes. “You keep talking like that, people are going to think you’re sweet on me.”
Will snorted and took a seat in the desk opposite from me. “I’m just saying. You’re looking bad, Sam. People are noticing.”
“Who?” I looked around. “Who’s noticing?”
“Everyone.” Will leaned forward. “Come clean. It’s the meth, isn’t it?”
“Nah. It’s worse than that. It’s a ghost. My house is haunted.”
Will studied me for a second. “Maybe you need a break. Moving’s tough. Take a week off. Go to the beach.”
“Will, I’m fine. It’s nothing. Getting used to a new house, that’s all.” I turned my attention back to the data set I was entering.
Will made a non-committal sound, but dropped it.
Most people would think working out of a regional F.B.I. office was a demotion. Those people would be right. I was transferred here a few years back because my superiors didn’t like me. That’s okay, because I didn’t like my superiors. I’ve got a thing about superiors. Mainly, it’s because they’re called superior without any evidence to back it up.
They might have meant it to be be bad, but the thing is, getting transferred up here actually worked for me. Gwen and I fit right into the community, I like my partner, and my boss wasn’t an asshole. Life was good, at least as good as it can be working in a regional F.B.I. office.
Until this weirdness started up. Small offices meant lots of gossip. I stifled a yawn, so people wouldn’t see me yawning.
Anyhoo, there I was, drinking my coffee and doing paperwork when my phone rang. It was Gwen. “Yeah, baby? What’s up?”
“Sam… Sam, there’s… Sam, can you do me a favor?”
She sounded breathless, like she’d been running. “What’s that, baby? What do you need me to do?”
“Can you find a boy named Ezekiel Erikson?”
Huh? I figured she’d be asking me to pick up milk or something. “Who?”
“Ezekiel E-erikson,” she panted, trying to catch her breath. “I… I… I found a diary.”
“You found his diary?” That was surprising. The family we bought the home from wasn’t named Erikson. “Do boys even keep diaries?”
“No, not… just listen, Sam! He was her boyfriend!”
“Who was Ezekiel’s boyfriend?”
“No! Stop it! You’re not listening!” I knew that tone. Flustered and upset. She’s so cute when she’s flustered and upset. “I mean, there’s a girl, and it’s her diary. Can you find him? I want to give it back to her, but she didn’t put her name in it.”
I stifled a yawn. “Gwen, baby, start over. What are you talking about?”
“Dammit, Sam!” she howled loud enough to make me pull the phone away from my ear. “Find Ezekiel Erikson! Can you stop being a cop for a minute and start be a human being?”
That was sharp. I sat back in chair, a little stung. “Alright. Ezekiel Erikson. I’ll see what I can do.”
She muttered a half-hearted thanks and hung up.
Jeez. What was that all about? I rubbed my eyes, then ran a quick Google search.
Fortunately, Mr. Erikson wasn’t too hard to find. He was a student at the local University of Michigan commuter campus. I told Will I was going to lunch with Gwen and headed for campus.
We Are All Stardust – Author’s Note