When arriving in a new country for the first time after a long flight, it’s always best to take a taxi to the hotel. You’re drowsy, disoriented, and your reality is riddled with misunderstandings. People misunderstand you and you misunderstand everything from street signs to simple questions. You can’t guide yourself successfully through a novel situation when you’ve spent the past nine hours watching the same two movies over and over because you can’t sleep. But Grace didn’t know this yet. She’d never been out of her country before, and, though she had learned Japanese in school, when she was face-to-face with a native speaker for the first time her brain froze. She couldn’t recall a word beyond ‘Konnichiwa,’ and this wasn’t appropriate since she arrived in the morning, not the afternoon. Even so, she clung to her plan to take the train to the hotel instead of going outside to the waiting taxis because the train was going to be cheaper, way cheaper. Grace struggled with communicating her directions to the incredibly helpful but utterly confused staff at the train station. After some time spent trying to make sure she was heading in the right direction, she took a seat on the train. She rolled her luggage against her leg and leaned her head on it to rest for a few minutes. The train jerked and her luggage rolled away from underneath her, jolting her up in order to catch herself before tumbling to the floor. The man sitting next to her grabbed her arm and helped her up. Grace nodded and briefly smiled, remembering after he exited the train how to say thank you. After two more stops, during which she did not rest, Grace was at Kameido station. She grabbed her luggage and rolled it after her as she got off. She put the handle away and grabbed the case with both hands, carrying it up the forty or so steps, only to realize at the top that there was an elevator. She exited through the gate in a random direction and managed to find an attendant who led her outside and gestured which way to go once she’d managed to piece together her request for directions. Grace was grateful for the gesturing since he spoke a little too fast for her She took a path between two narrow roads that would eventually lead to the hotel, though it wasn’t like any path she was familiar with. To her, a path was a narrow strip of walking ground leading in between dense trees or a row of buildings. Here, the so-called path led between two narrow roads, leaving barely enough room for one car to pass on either side. There were some trees, at least. They lined the way to the hotel, though she couldn’t see the building from where she stood. Street lamps were spaced sparsely along the way, shedding just enough light to see as the first pedestrians made their way to work, school, or wherever else. The few restaurants along the street were still closed at the early hour. Red lanterns and floating flags lined the entrance ways of the rolling doors, still in the breezeless morning. Advertisements with men and women in summer kimonos lined the left wall, appearing and disappearing between the trees. In the gap of trees on the right a particularly Japanese-esque restaurant caught her eye; the frame of the door was wooden, thin, white paper filling the square gaps, off white wall scrolls listing the available food in bold, black kanji. Grace pulled her camera out of her bag, removing the lens to capture a few shots. “Excuse me” said a woman, touching her shoulder. Grace jumped and shoved her camera back in her bag, apologizing as she turned towards her. The woman tilted her head in response, likely because Grace automatically answered in English. Grace noticed the woman was wearing a surgical mask. This is a common thing to do in Japan when one is sick, but Grace still felt a momentary flash of panic. After taking a calming breath she apologized in Japanese. Again, the woman said nothing. She tilted her head to the other side, staring into her eyes. Her long hair hung gently over her shoulders, grazing her cheeks. She returned her head to normal and spoke again in Japanese, though this time Grace didn’t understand what she was saying. She attempted to answer the woman in English again before catching herself and explaining, the best she could in Japanese, that she didn’t understand. The woman tilted her head a third time before repeating herself. It sounded like the same question. Grace tried her best to convey to her that she didn’t understand. Another head tilt but no more questions. After straightening her head the woman turned around and left. Grace felt bad not being able to bridge the language barrier, but she checked her bag for her camera and proceeded to her hotel. # “Grace!” Mikko exclaimed, running up and pulling her into a hug. “Mikko! I can’t believe I’m really here.” “You better believe it,” Mikko said, leaning back so she could look at her. “I haven’t seen you since graduation. You look so different.” “It’s marriage.” said Grace. “You got married?” Mikko’s perfectly manicured eyebrows knitted together. “I’m joking. Of course not.” “Oh,” Mikko said, placing a hand on her chest. “Good. Come, I have a table by the window.” Mikko led Grace into the cafe. “How was the trip? Tiring, right? You must be so tired.” “Yes, it was hard. I couldn’t sleep on the plane.” “I can imagine.” The barista brought over two cups, placing one in front of each of the women. They nodded to him. “I hope you don’t mind that your’s is the same as mine,” Mikko continued. “ I wasn’t sure what you would want and I wanted you to have coffee ready for you when you got here.” “No, it’s fine. Anything with caffeine is good.” Grace took a sip. “Wow, it really is good.” “Good, good.” Mikko said, pushing her cup away. “How’s it been since you got here? Have you gotten any sleep? Have you done anything? It must be hard to get any sleeping done in a strange, new city.” “Not much sleep, no.” Grace lied. She had been exhausted, falling asleep as soon as she hit the bed. “Not much else, either. I took some pictures. Nothing special, I’m sure, since you’re probably used to all the stuff here.” “Not true. Let me see.” Mikko said, holding her hand out. “Okay,” said Grace, reaching for her camera bag. Mikko got up and sat down next to her. Grace held the camera up, showing Mikko the screen. The first picture was of the restaurant she had seen on her way to the hotel yesterday morning. “I know it’s probably stupid to you, but it looked very Japanese to me. I thought it was cool. Kakui.” “Kakui, hai, hai.” Mikko said, taking the camera and looking at the photo. “I like restaurants like this too. I understand.” Mikko pressed the button for the next photo, a video. Mikko pressed play. “I’m not sure what that is,” said Grace, but after hearing her fumbling attempt at Japanese she realized what happened. “Oh, I must have not turned the camera off when this woman was asking me…” “Shhh.” Mikko said, rewinding the video and holding it up to her ear. Her face went pale. After hearing the video for the second time, she turned the camera off and set it on the table. “Did you see what this woman looked like?” Mikko asked. “Ummm… yeah. She looked normal. Long black hair, wearing a t- shirt, I think.” “Was she wearing a mask?” “A surgical mask?” Mikko nodded. “Yes.” Mikko’s chest rose sharply as she took a deep breath. “She was asking you if she was beautiful.” “So?” said Grace. “So. That woman’s name is Kuchisake Onna. Do you know what that means?” Grace shook her head. “It means slit-mouthed woman. She goes around asking unsuspecting travelers if she is beautiful. If they say yes, she slits their mouth so they look like her. If they say no she brutally stabs them in the chest. The only thing that saved you was that you couldn’t understand what she was saying.”
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Day 51 Facing Demons by Lauren Scharf
From the time we first met when I was seven years old, my aunt played a huge role in my life. Although I only saw her for a couple of weeks a year, we communicated regularly by mail and later by phone. She was instrumental in opening my eyes to art, music, social justice, and much more. I thought she'd hung the moon, despite the increasing tension between her and my mother, her older sister. To my mother's credit, she rarely spoke negatively about my aunt, wisely recognizing that this would only serve to push me further toward her and away from my parents. For my part, I also rarely said anything against my aunt, particularly keeping to myself the inevitable point in every visit when she would fly into a rage and lash me with what I later came to understand was extreme verbal and emotional abuse. For many years, I believed I was responsible for those rages - after all, she said as much and always had a seemingly valid reason for her anger, such as my arriving home a few minutes late or choosing to spend extra time with my grandfather with whom she had a very troubled relationship. It wasn't until I was in my 20's that I began to realize she had some serious issues, a realization that was borne out over and over again for the next 30-odd years as she became increasingly dependent on me to organize her life, despite the fact I lived thousands of miles away. My visits to her were always a rollercoaster of love, gratitude, fury, and abuse. Had I not promised my grandfather that I'd never abandon her, I'd have closed that chapter years ago. As she grew older and increasingly infirm, she began to speak of death frequently. She dreamed up potential paths to ending her life, often calling me to run through various scenarios. Knowing how much physical and emotional pain she was in, and on the advice of her therapist, I went along with her often imaginative plans, secure in the knowledge that her full-time caregivers, and later, the nursing home staff, would prevent any definitive action on her part. As her mind began to lose its grasp on reality, my visits to the nursing home became more frequent and also much more pleasant. Gone were the rants and rages, replaced by contrition and a surprisingly gentle, if somewhat dark, sense of humor. Our conversations continued to focus on how she might hasten her departure, but the desperate edge had gone, leaving behind a woman ready to exit knowing she had made peace with her demons. Things might have gone on like this indefinitely had it not been for Covid-19. Just a few months into the pandemic, I received a phone call that my aunt had passed away. I was not remotely prepared for this news as I'd spoken to her less than 10 days prior and she'd been her usual self. Why had no one bothered to call me to let me know my aunt was sick? I later learned that her nursing home, like many others, was under siege from the virus, with staff too sick to work and patients, most of whom were already physically compromised, falling at unprecedented rates. I consoled myself, to some extent, by repeating the mantra, "This is what she's wanted for years." But deep down, I wasn't ready to lose her, despite the stress and frustration our relationship had wrought. I went to bed and woke a few hours later after a restless night, still coming to terms with the loss. At around 6 am, as I lay in bed feeling morose, my phone pinged with a text from my sister-in-law. She'd never met my aunt but had heard many stories over the years, most of them brutally negative. Her text asked if something had happened to my aunt. When I replied with the news of her death, I got an immediate response saying she'd thought as much as she'd just heard a very clear voice in her head that she somehow knew was my aunt's asking her to "Tell my niece that I'm dancing." I could only interpret this as a message meant to reassure me she was where she wanted to be, finally free from what she'd long believed to be a miserable existence. I stopped fretting and let go of both my sadness and 40+ years of anger. At the last, my aunt had chosen to free us both.
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Day 52 Resurrection Mary by Michael Lee Johnson
Resurrection Mary occurred at the Willowbrook Ballroom, formerly Oh Henry Ballroom, Willow Spring, IL. This ghost story has more credibility than all other ghost stories and is well-known in the Chicagoland area. The story goes that Mary had spent the evening dancing with a boyfriend at the Oh Henry Ballroom. At some point, they got into an argument, and Mary stormed out. She didn't go far down Archer Avenue, and she was struck by a hit-and-run driver; she died. Mary was buried in Resurrection Cemetery, Justice, IL., near the old ballroom that has since burned down. She returned to dance often, and another stranger asked if he could take her home, hoping to get lucky. Still, she always had them stop at the cemetery, and she would get out and walk right through the locked gates to her gravesite. Or a strange lady would be seen hitchhiking, picked up and insisted on being dropped off at the cemetery. Evidence of this pattern happening over and over is fairly well documented. The lady is believed to be Mary Bregovy, a factory worker at the time. I learned years ago, true stories versus myths. I learned early in hustle times to distinguish single cash back rewards from whores-dime store dancers from proper dates, believers in white party dresses-- I never worried about the lingo, my sentence structure in my life. Until the resurrection, Resurrection Mary came along. Life is a melody breather, philosopher of ghosts, past, pink pillow talk, and dreams. Resurrection Mary was a factory worker always dressed in white satin on weekends. Single life is a hollow road. A narrow highway passes with a cemetery nearby. I was then a writer, a poet of screams, dementia, limited skills, and open skulls thoughts. I hampered history into craniums, criminal minds, images of release, sexual climax. When she was conscious, she kissed my breath and dreamed of fog, new beginnings. I was a drifter of singles dances; she was a drifter in time, shadow maker. I often breathed on her forehead, kissed fleeting lips, left the body for legends toss carcass into the south wind those south gate storms. Jesus is a perfume seller of night scent when midnight arrives. Jesus is aroused by an iron bar cemetery bender, stretcher of the nights into years. Mary clutches her small purse, talks of injustice, and hitchhikes back and forth in time. She posted her stamp on me, fooled my desires, her stopwatch clicked in time then stopped. Resurrection Mary still holds a French 75 cocktail at the end of the barstool in time. Shake it off. No shame, put those dancing shoes on one more time.
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Day 53 The Wellby Andi Brooks
Located in the present-day Shinagawa Port area to the south of central Tokyo, Tōkaidō Shinagawa-juku was an Edo-period post town on the great Tōkaidō road running from Nihonbashi in Edo to Kyoto, 514 kilometers to the west. The first rest stop out of Edo, Tōkaidō Shinagawa-juku quickly grew into a bustling town with a population of over 7,000. Long swallowed up by the ever-expanding modern city of Tokyo, but spared the firebombing of World War ll, remnants of the old post town can still be found today. One such remnant was the catalyst for a series of tragic events which befell an unfortunate family who lived in the area in 1975.
Blessed with three children in quick succession, a married couple quickly outgrew their small home. Rather than uproot his family, the father decided to build an extension on the back of the house to provide the children with their own room. The construction necessitated the filling in of a well which was said to have stood on the spot for over three hundred years. When the family’s neighbors learned of the plan, they were dismayed and angry. Although the well stood on the family’s property, there had always been a tacit understanding that it was a communal resource for the use of all of the residents of the neighborhood. Ignoring their protests and the old saying that to carelessly mistreated a well would result in misfortune, the father went ahead with the destruction of the well and the building of the extension.
Tragedy struck exactly one year later. The family’s eldest son attended a seaside school during the summer vacation. Despite being a strong swimmer, he mysteriously drowned in the calm waters of the sea. The following summer, on the anniversary of his death, his sister, also a good swimmer, drowned in the school swimming pool without explanation. While the family grieved, the neighbors began to whisper that they had been cursed for filling in the well.
After the double tragedy, the parents forbid their youngest son to swim or go into any water. During the next summer vacation, he attended the same seaside school as his older brother had two years earlier with strict instructions not to go in the sea. While his classmates swam and frolicked in the enticing blue water, he sat dejectedly on the beach with a teacher who had been entrusted with ensuring his safety. Feeling sorry for the boy, the teacher gave him a piece of candy to cheer him up. Just then, a commotion arose along the beach. One of the boy’s classmates had cut his foot on a piece of glass buried in the sand. Despite his instructions to never leave the boy’s side, the teacher rushed to help the injured student.
When the teacher returned, he found the boy lying prone, the sand around him violently disturbed as if a great struggle had taken place. The teacher quickly turned him over to find his livid features horribly contorted. The boy had chocked to death on the piece of candy, three years to the day that his father had filled in the well.
The shock of losing all three of her children caused the mother to quickly sickened and die. As for the father, believing that he was responsible for bringing a curse down upon his family drove him out of his mind. It is said that he can still be seen wandering around the old streets of Tōkaidō Shinagawa-juku searching for the well on the anniversary of the death of his children.
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Day 54 The Phantom Hitchhikerby Dawn DeBraal
Baraboo, WI., is the home of the Barnum and Bailey's Circus World Museum Headquarters and to many eccentric people. The small town has its share of unsolved mysteries, like the phantom hitchhiker of State Highway 12. Many people have claimed to have seen the man in a green fatigue jacket putting out a thumb for a ride, and when someone stops, there is no one there. That didn't happen to me and my brother, Darrell. We had been partying; I asked Darrell not to take the highway home because we'd had too much to drink and should stick to backroads. My brother said he was fine, telling me to quit acting like an overprotective sister and that we'd hit a deer if we took the county road home because it was the season of the rut at the end of October. I sulked in the front seat. Darrell thought he knew it all. We always had to do things his way. I prayed there wasn't a cop on the highway because I thought the car was weaving a bit. "Slow down; there's a hitchhiker ahead." Darrell let up on the gas. We coasted past a man on the side of the road, wearing a khaki green army coat over a hooded sweatshirt. It was 1969. "It's a vet. Let's give him a ride," my brother said slamming on the brakes. "Darrell, it's not safe," I protested. He watched the rearview mirror waiting for the guy to show up in the brake lights of the car. When the hitchhiker came up, reaching for the door, my brother touched the accelerator, moving fifty feet ahead, then stopped. "Don't be a dick!" I shouted. "Just having some fun, that's all." The guy walked up to the car again. Darrell took off, but there was an obvious thump on the rear fender. "You hit him, stop!" "Dammit, let's give him a ride home." Darrell jumped out of the car, trotting back to the guy lying in the road. I thought maybe the hiker hit the fender with his hands to scare my brother, tired of being pranked. But I wasn't sure. Watching out the window, on my knees in the front seat, I opened the back seat door, so the guy would know we weren't going to mess with him anymore. He didn't move. I was afraid we might have to take him to the hospital. Darrell called out to him. "Hey, man, I'm sorry, let me give you a lift. It was a joke. I didn't mean it." Darrell reached down with his hand to pull the guy up, but instead, the guy pulled my brother down. It was dark, I called out the window to Darrell, but he didn't answer me. Frightened, I rolled up my window, locking the front doors, screaming when I realized the hitchhiker was already in the back seat of the car. He had no face, a black hole where his head should have been. I left the car screaming down the road, hearing cars behind me screeching and slamming on their brakes. The Sheriff claimed my brother got hit jaywalking under the influence. Darrell didn't make it. I think about it all the time, how if my brother would have listened to me, he would still be here. No one believed the story of the Phantom Hitchhiker. They never do until they see him for themselves.
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Day 55 The Fireman's Wife by Margaret Pearce
Glenda glimpsed the woman in the passage as she opened the back door. ‘Hi, you,’ she called. The woman ignored her and slipped through the open bedroom door, where Robert should still be sleeping. Glenda dropped her shopping and rushed into the bedroom after her. She had locked the place and left the usual big notice on the front door about a shift worker sleeping. Who was visiting Robert while she was out? Robert was a peaceful hump under the doona cover. Glenda opened first one door and then the other of the walk-in wardrobe. There was no sign of the mysterious woman! She crouched down and looked under the bed. Robert’s boots, three library books and the vacuum cleaner were the only things there. ‘What are you doing?’ Robert’s voice sounded puzzled. ‘A woman just walked into this bedroom.’ ‘So where is she?’ ‘She must be in here somewhere.’ Glenda checked the walk-in wardrobe one more time, poking and prodding at Robert’s long dressing gown and the piled up winter coats. ‘I saw her come in here.’ Robert yawned, swung out of bed and opened up the drapes. The bright morning light flooded into the bedroom. There was definitely no strange woman in the room. ‘So how did she break in and where is she?’ Glenda marched out of the bedroom in silence. She checked the front door. It was locked securely. The windows of the lounge were locked, as were the windows of the big front room they had turned into a study. Glenda went down to the small back workroom. The louvres were untouched. In the kitchen the window was locked a fraction above the sill so that air could circulate. Nothing had been touched or forced. Glenda cooked Robert’s lunch in baffled silence. She had distinctly seen the woman walk into the bedroom, but where was she? The woman must have had a spare key! More to the point, who was she? ‘Maybe she was a neighbour,’ Robert suggested. ‘For all we know the previous tenants might have given her a key. What did she look like?’ ‘Long red hair and wearing a short sleeved green floral dress.’ ‘I was dreaming about a willing wench with long red hair when you woke me,’ Robert said with a sigh. ‘Some dream too, very x-rated.’ ‘Indeed!’ ‘It was only a dream,’ Robert said with a chuckle. ‘Indeed!’ Glenda stared suspiciously at her handsome black-haired husband. He stared blandly back. Was he having an affair? With all the odd shifts he worked and what he vaguely called ‘work emergencies’ he had plenty of reasons for his erratic comings and goings, but surely he wouldn’t dare encourage another woman to come to their home? ‘You must have imagined it,’ Robert continued. ‘No one would be wearing a short sleeved summer dress in the middle of the coldest winter on record?’ ‘Don't be an idiot,’ Glenda snapped back. ‘Do you think she was a ghost or something? Glenda worked four days a week and the red haired woman stayed firmly on her mind. She wasn’t an imaginative person. She had definitely seen that red haired woman slip through the bedroom door. Did Robert know more about the mystery of the red-haired woman than he pretended? He had seemed in an unusually good mood during his lunch, his face relaxed into its smug pleased expression. When Robert was at work, Glenda paced out the bedroom with a tape measure. There were no hidden or unexplained corners. She really loved their new home. It was an old place, but it had a lot of charm and was cosy and convenient. Still, perhaps there were odd corners she had overlooked? She crawled under the house with a torch. She shone it upwards on to the cobwebbed boards of the bedroom floor. There was no hidden trapdoor or exit leading under the house. Glenda came to the reluctant conclusion that she must have imagined the woman, even if she wasn’t an imaginative woman. Friday morning Robert was sleeping late again. She had left quietly to do the weekly shopping. After waiting for ten minutes to pay her phone bill, she realised in fury she had left it home. She drove back to get it. She unlocked the back door, tiptoed into the house and picked up the phone bill. Suddenly Robert chuckled. It was a low intimate sort of chuckle that echoed around the quiet house. Glenda stiffened, her suspicions immediately aroused. She crept into the bedroom. Robert was humped under the doona cover. She sneaked closer. His mouth had a smile on it. He muttered something. Glenda leaned closer to listen. ‘Darling’ he slurred and his arms came up around her. Glenda jerked away. Robert’s eyes opened. They had unfocussed look to them. He blinked and then stared at her. Was there disappointment in his eyes? ‘Glenda!’ ‘Who did you think it was?’ ‘Must’ve been dreaming,’ he muttered. ‘Must’ve,’ Glenda said, relieved. ‘Try to get back to sleep.’ She walked out of the bedroom, closing the door quietly behind her. A hint of movement appeared at the side of her eye. She spun around. She saw the hurrying back view of long red hair and the floral short sleeved dress moving through the open door of the kitchen. Glenda broke into a run. The kitchen was empty when she skidded into it. Only her purse and keys still on the table. The back door was slightly open. Had she left the back door open, or had the woman opened it? Glenda ran down the steps into the back yard. It was deserted! She went back inside, and flung into the bedroom. ‘That woman was here all along,’ she accused. ‘Now steady on,’ Robert said. ‘You’ve been the only person in here.’ ‘I don’t believe you!’ ‘Going soft in the head, waking me this hour of the morning to pick fights.’ After a solid hour of yelled and screamed accusations and counter accusations, they reached an impasse. She didn’t believe Robert and Robert didn’t believe her. Glenda mopped up her tears and went shopping. She always suspected Robert played, but to bring his females into their home and bed was just too much. The coolness between them got worse. Robert wouldn’t apologise and as Glenda wasn’t in the wrong, there was no reason for her to ever back down. At the end of another week of polite estrangement, Glenda was so unhappy she moved out. Her marriage was over. She had married a cold remorseless stranger. It was a nuisance that she had swapped jobs. She had enjoyed her part-time job in the district. She found a small bed-sitter locally. She seemed to have a lot more spare time in her life and volunteered for meals on wheels and spent Friday mornings delivering meals to the elderly. Old Mrs. MacFarland was interested to hear that Glenda had lived in Willikins Lane, even if it was only for a short three months. ‘Down in Number six were you?’ she had asked. ‘That was where my big brother first lived. He was the fireman up here you know. That was a pretty house when it was new.’ ‘It still is a nice house.’ ‘I’ve got some photos somewhere,’ the old lady mused. She shuffled off. Glenda sneaked a look at her watch. Mrs. MacFarland was the last meal on her list, but she still had to do her shopping and she had promised to visit her mother. The photo album was tattered and grimy and heavy with yellowing squares of black and white photos. Mrs. MacFarland found her glasses and started turning the sheets. ‘There’s number six Willikens Lane.’ ‘You’re right. It was a pretty place,’ Glenda agreed. The house almost gleamed its sharp cut newness. Glenda peered more closely at the two people posed in front of the house; a big man with a wide smile under a thick moustache, his arm around a girl with long dark hair and wearing a short sleeved floral dress. ‘Who’s the girl?’ Glenda almost stammered. She recognised the long hair and that short sleeved floral dress even if it was only in a yellowing black and white photograph. ‘That’s my big brother George, and his wife Ruth.’ ‘A pretty dress she is wearing and such lovely hair,’ Glenda said. ‘It was pretty. She wore a lot of green,’ Mrs. MacFarland said grudgingly. ‘Still handsome is as handsome does.’ She shut the album abruptly. ‘I warned him not to trust a red head. They’re all flighty and no better than they ought to be.’ Her voice was suddenly spiteful. ‘Only she was a lot worse that she ought to have been.’ ‘Thank you for showing me the photograph of the house,’ Glenda said, and fled. She was so happy, she felt as if she was blazing her happiness like an incandescent candle. The mysterious woman had been a ghost! Not that she Glenda, had ever believed in ghosts, but the sixty-year-old photograph was solid proof. That was the young woman she had seen in the identical green floral dress, whisking up and down the passageway. Robert hadn’t been playing around after all? She would apologise most humbly for her suspicions as soon as possible. She couldn’t catch up with Robert until the Sunday he had his rostered day off. She apologised and explained about the resident ghost that had looked much too solid, furtive and sexy to be a ghost. Robert’s coldness evaporated in mirth. His arms went around her and he kept on laughing. ‘Such a good looking ghost, no wonder you were jealous,’ he teased. They spent a satisfactory afternoon making up and Glenda moved herself and her clothes back, determined to live happily ever after. She was a modern and sensible young woman. She could cope with ghosts, even if they were no better than they should be, whatever that was supposed to mean. She kept on with the meals on wheels, just until they could get another volunteer, she apologised. One morning she was delivering meals to old Miss Totts. ‘So you live at number six Willikins Lane,’ old Miss Totts asked. ‘That used to be the fireman’s house.’ ‘So Mrs. MacFarland told me,’ Glenda replied. ‘Her brother George and his wife Ruth used to live there.’ ‘She was a one,’ Miss Totts said with a chuckle. ‘After anything in trousers they used to say. She was a real man-eater.’ ‘Shame on you, Miss Totts,’ Glenda teased. ‘What would you know of man-eaters in those days? Do you think she still haunts six Willikens Lane?’ ‘Only the good die young,’ Miss Totts said. ‘Must be in her late eighties, the wicked old Ruth. She’s still tucked away at Green Willows Hostel.’ Glenda was shocked. How could Ruth be a resident ghost if she was still alive? The next week she offered to deliver the clean linen package to Green Willows Hostel. ‘Passed the stage of talking to,’ the nurse said sympathetically when Glenda asked about old Ruth ‘She’s been away with the fairies for about three weeks now.’ Glenda stiffened. It was exactly three weeks ago that the red haired non-ghost had started haunting her husband! ‘Unpleasant old thing, still pelvic gyrating, orgasming, smooching invisible lovers and muttering filth to herself,’ the nurse continued. ‘Dreaming of being a willing nubile man-eater all over again. Suppose there are worse ways to go.’ ‘Quite,’ Glenda said and left. When she reached home she stalked into the bedroom. Under the doona cover Robert stretched and chuckled. It was a low intimate distinctly recognisable chuckle. Glenda’s radiance dimmed. It was one thing to cope with a ghost, but another to cope with an out of body nymphomaniac out to seduce a willing victim, every time he fell asleep. Glenda flung open the curtains, and pushed the windows up with a crash. ‘W-what,’ Robert said as he woke from whatever pleasant dream he was having. ‘Time to get up,’ Glenda snapped. ‘Now what have I done?’ Robert demanded in bewilderment. Glenda’s departing back was his only answer.
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Day 56 On Frames & Framers: Spirits Linger in Pens & Penn Once Upon a _Nation_by Jen Schneider
after Gracie left our (& this) world, we were all spooked. there’s just no way to make sense of how someone can be here one day – that day being today – even if broken, cause we’re all broken – and then gone tomorrow – or even today. gone often relative, yet the price paid felt so permanent. a brutal ache in places we knew not of moments prior. and we live in a place of pain.
one of the girls mentioned a ghost hunt. we can find her, we just need to try hard enough, she said. and, so, we did. we tried. tried to connect with all that we had lost. and all that was lost to us. we missed gracie. we missed our town. its cobblestone streets. our cobbled together lives. mostly our freedom. to choose red ice on cold days and chicken soup on hot. to boil eggs at dusk. to boil water at dawn. to hit sleep twice. then again. to place palm to palm. to be of a place. we come from a city in which freedom was born. a city which now incarcerates at rates that rival the top of the nation (and boots its people to far corners of places unknown). with live stats to prove points that never dull. also never taken. never wanted to win that pennant race.
stars and stripes promise chickens in every pot & pots of gold at the end of every rainbow. why then do we wish to purge. poultry runs paltry at the county jail. the county zoo, too.
and still, we listen, we look, we hanker. for signs of gracie. and grace. signs of life long after lights out. and we believe. gracie graces stone steps and cinderblock walls. gracious. gracious. walls wail of downed weapons of person, place & _permanence_.
for just when you think there’s no one else that believes (or bothers), the stars - _solids__ & _stripes_ - align in perfect patterns. patterns in shapes of _four__ & _five__ sides. constellations of many moons. moons of many moods. turns out spirits come in as many flavors as licorice. and ale. don’t be fooled by pale exteriors. sweetness reigns. rains, too. in corners of all codes. and zip codes of all corners. north. south. west. east. compass dials spin. sultry evenings twirl. spirits simmer. also linger. in/of/at the local zoo. the local tavern. the downtown jail. the city of brotherly love welcomes (and whispers of) all.
_20_ reasons why (& places where) spirits linger (in haunts of many/a/on nation(s))
1. animals of many stripes offer unconditional love. unconditional life, too. 2. stripes, signs, and stars align in spots of many (c)ages & (c)ages at the local zoo. 3. once upon a story benches tell tall tales. 4. fabric sewn of shadowy fingers grace steps of aged stone. 5. lace dances & advances in skies of no wind. 6. visions & voices blend. convictions and noises embolden. 7. not all cells regenerate. not all cells are of life. 8. penitentiary cells echo. hello. 9. civil war heroes walk in stocking feet atop padded hills. 10. grassy moss moves closer. closets move in faint breezes. 11. clock hands tick & aged hands (s)tock closets of canned corn. 12. cans rattle as doors lock. spirits battles as lives flock. 13. chairs of blue reveal/conceal/congeal breath that blew. 14. blue velvet boils & boils fester. 15. blood both stains (refrains) & inks marks of/with meaning. 16. fountain pens frame past framers of penn hall. 17. jests & jousts play tunes both jovial and jaded 18. bells toll. bells crack. liberty comes at a price. 19. latitude & longitude link. spirits simmer. in zip codes of many neighborhoods. 20. lights on. lights off. lights on. lights off. hello. once upon a nation.
This story is based on actual haunted places in and around Philadelphia, PA. This article was the inspiration: https://philly.curbed.com/maps/haunted-buildings-philadelphia