There are some things that only ghosts and civil servants should know. That was a corny-ass line I’d heard years ago, attached to some direct-to-video b-horror movie. I never gave it much thought when I saw it, other than it sounded like someone who had too much to drink would say.
This is part where I tell you I tried to spend the better part of half a decade trying to drown myself in beer and whiskey. While that’s not inaccurate, it’s also a very poetic way to say I was a drunk, and personally, I never want to romanticize that time in my life. It’s that same self-destructive lifestyle…yeah, self-destructive. That’s a therapist’s word right there. Guess how much money it cost me to hear that word over and over again. Anyway, it’s that same self-destructive lifestyle that landed me behind bars. Frankly, from my personal experience in jail, I can’t understand why they call it “behind bars.” It was mostly heavy-ass metal doors and windows the size of a mail box.
The judge over my case was pretty straightforward about the whole thing. There was a thousand dollar bond, which I couldn’t pay and none of my friends wanted to pay because they felt it would be better for me to be in jail. So I go before the judge and he says that, since I don’t have a record outside of a speeding ticket when I was 16 I can do 90 days in jail, or cut that by a third if I “give back to the community” by volunteering to be part of a work program. There were a lot of acronyms for this kind of program, but it amounted to me going out in a county van with leg irons on my ankles and picking up crap on the side of a highway. But three for one and I’d be done with jail. I liked those odds, so I said “Hell yes.” They handed me a striped suit, loaded me into a van and shipped me off to what they called “the annex.” Doesn’t sound ominous, does it?
When I got there, it was still daylight out and the guard, a big guy whose name I didn’t bother catching at the time, showed me to my suite that consisted of one bunk, one sink, and one toilet, and just enough space in the room to house those three things. Oh, and I got a plastic chair. I just kept telling myself “One month, one month, one month.”
My cell was positioned on the upper level of the unit…that’s what they called it…a unit, and from my angle I could see the officer’s picket, the door to the gym, and the bank of cells along the far wall.
It was towards the end of the guard’s shift that I saw him react to something in the gym. He went bounding out of his nest and towards the gym with a clipped purpose. I got up to my door and peered out my window to see if I could see what he was doing. I am, or at least I was, a freelance journalist by trade and nosy by nature. He went into the gym and I saw someone walk right past him. He was clearly looking for someone, judging by his body language, but completely ignored this guy with this ratty beard walking right past him. The guy stopped halfway through the common area and looked up at me. His eyes were…black. Not like his eyes were so brown they were black, but his eyes, from eyelid to eyelid were solid black. He looked up at me and smiled this big-ass toothy grin that just didn’t stop. It was like the smile was splitting his face in two, peeling up past his teeth, past his gums, and I started to see jaw and muscle. Only the gums and muscles weren’t pink. They were red, raw, turning brown like hamburger that had been left out too long. The guard turned around and walked right towards him. I thought he was going to barrel into him but the guard walked right through him, his own huge body dwarfing the creepy figure. When he hit him, the guy was just gone. But I could feel him still looking at me from somewhere. I could feel that ugly smile.
The guard came by with a clipboard a few minutes later and tapped on my window, startling me. I was just lost in my own thoughts and his broad body filled up the window. “Are you alright?” he asked calmly. I nodded solemnly. I wanted to pass off what I just saw to detoxing, but something wasn’t right about what I’d seen. “Yeah…I’m ok.” I looked at the sink, thinking about how I was going to scoop water from the faucet into my hands and try to splash it into my mouth when I heard my door open up. The guard passed me a Styrofoam cup. “You’ll get a new one at the next meal.” He said. He closed the door and was gone, tapping on the next window, asking of that guy was ok.
I went to sleep shortly after that, having fitful nightmares about dark stone walls closing in around me, looking up a shaft so deep that the top was just a pinprick of light. I was startled awake by banging.
Okay, I was scared shitless by pounding from outside my door. It was coming from across the way in the last cell on the tier, the cell right across from me. The guard and two other men in uniform were prying the door open and this rush of blood red light poured out the narrow door. They pulled the kid out and he was trembling. I was afraid he was going to shake himself apart. They slammed the door shut and the thunderous banging silenced. They ended up placing the kid in the cell next door to me. No one ever spoke of it again. Not on work detail, not at breakfast, lunch, or dinner. I mentioned it once in the gym while playing cards with some of the other farmers but they went from chatty as hell to dead silence in a heartbeat and I decided not to press the matter.
A month later I was a free man. At least free from jail, but something from my experience wouldn’t let me go. I changed the focus of my articles, and going forward I was known as the ghost guy. My stuff got printed in tabloids and tucked away as references and resources in various grocery store books you’d find in the discount bins. I wasn’t rolling in dough, but it was a good enough living, and got me letters and emails from all across the state of Texas to investigate various hauntings and otherworldly goings on. I teamed with a few ghost hunter groups over the following years and looked at everything from Lubbock to McAllen, from El Paso to Texarkana. I saw some creepy stuff, but nothing quite matched my experience in jail.
Then, I got a call from my hometown, like I was a ghostbuster or something. But it wasn’t like a haunting. No, this was something active. A man got attacked by a woman. Sounds like a standard home invasion story, right? Why call me? Because a neighbor saw the attacker fleeing out the back door, and was swearing up and down to any god listening that the attacker was the man’s dead wife and that when the cop shot at her the bullets passed right though her and she just kept going, disappearing through a fence.
She drew a picture of what the attacker looked like; apparently she was quite the armature artist. I made my way back down there to take a look because there was something in the picture I couldn’t shake. I won’t say she was the next Picasso but the detail I couldn’t shake in the picture was the pitch black eyes.
So, officially freaked out but still intrigued, I packed my sedan and headed down south. I headed straight to the address of the lady who sent the letter, waiting until mid afternoon before knocking. Her husband answered and I introduced myself, explaining who I was. He rolled his eyes and let out a ragged sigh shaking his head. “Elda!” he yelled into the house. I could hear the clack of an extendable cane on tile floor. A woman, kind of overweight, wearing a baggy sweat shirt and sweat pants made her way down the hallway.
“Don’t come back and help me none Joe, I wouldn’t want to inconvenience you.” She barked sarcastically. She wasn’t leaning on the cane; she was tapping it on the floor and against the walls of the hallway. Her eyes stared helplessly at the air, moving in the direction of any sound, as if desperate to perform the function for which they were no use.
“Goddammit Elda, you sent another letter?” he spat.
“Who is it? Who’s there?”
“Ma’am…” I made my presence known and introduced myself. She got a big smile on her face and asked me to come in, to sit and have some coffee. “Joe, go make some coffee.”
Long suffering Joe let out a sigh. “I’m sorry…” I started to say, but he raised a hand,
“No, no…I’m sorry. I thought she was done writing the letters, I guess she had one more in her. You are actually the first one to respond.
We went to the sitting room which was really clean, no doubt Joe’s ongoing efforts to make his wife’s blindness as easy as possible. There wasn’t anything to trip over. He came in with a cup of coffee. “Cream? Sugar?”
“No, thank you.” I said. He nodded and handed Elda her coffee. He then excused himself to the garage to no doubt work out his frustration. I pulled out my notepad, and I know it’s terribly archaic but I’ve never had the battery die on a pen and paper. Elda sipped her coffee and put it down.
“I suppose you’re wondering how I saw the whole thing if I’m blind.”
I appreciated her candor, I like to let the interviewee set the tone and her bluntness let me know I could dig straight to the facts without having to be gentle about feelings or political correctness.
“Yes, ma’am, the thought crossed my mind.”
“I have been blind for about six years now. Part of a medical condition, you don’t need the details.”
“If you don’t mind, may I know what caused the blindness and how long you’ve been blind?”
She sighed “Diabetic Retinopathy, you ever hear of it?”
I had and she explained diabetes took her eyes about six years ago. The events she reported happened a year ago.
“Since then I’ve been able to “see” things that other people can’t. It’s difficult to explain but I can be talking to someone and there will be someone standing right behind them and I can see the other person, but obviously not the one I’m talking to. I know that other person is there, I have a clear image of them in my mind, but the other person doesn’t know they are there.”
“Is there anyone here now that I don’t know about?” I asked seriously.
Her head scanned the room. “Not here, but there’s a man on the front lawn…” she pointed towards the window. “He’s wearing a tan t-shirt and tan pants. Frizzy hair, ugly beard and an uglier smile, and has black eyes.”
“Black eyes again.” I said. I looked out the window where she indicated but I didn’t see anyone. I didn’t expect to see anyone either, even though I knew exactly who she was talking about.
“You’ve seen the black eyes, haven’t you?” she asked.
I thought about it. “It’s not about what I’ve seen…” I said. “I would like to know what you saw.”
She took me back to that night. She had been napping in the sitting room when she heard someone banging on a neighbor’s door. Her husband said it was the neighbor they shared a fence with. Her husband didn’t see who was at their door but she did. “It was a woman, looked like the girl who lived there, but different, sicklier than usual, crawling around the porch on all fours, slamming her fists into the door.”
After a time, the wild woman stood up and stopped banging. This time she tapped the doorbell and said something through the door. The man opened the door and the woman darted in. Her husband said the police arrived shortly after that, two officers at the door and then the girl who lived there tumbled out of her friend’s car and ran up the walkway yelling at the cops. They turned around and kicked open the door. By this time Elda had gone to the back windows and saw the wild woman run out the back door, bullets passed through her and she ran through a solid fence and was gone.
That was a lot of information in a short amount of time. She explained she didn’t tell the police because who is going to believe a blind woman who sees ghosts as an eye witness. In my years of doing this, I had rarely heard about a ghost going to someone’s house and directly attacking them. I didn’t know what to make of the information I’d gotten so I thanked her and stood up. I caught myself in an adjacent mirror and through it could see out the window directly behind me, and leering at me through the window was the smiling inmate. I yelped and spun, but there was no one there. “They come by all the time…” she said. “I don’t know from where, and I don’t care. I don’t talk to them none.”
“Probably for the best. Do…” I was still shaken from what I’d seen. “Do you know if the father and daughter still live there?”
“The little girl does. She graduated shortly after but stayed and helped her dad until he died. She still lives there, works at the receptionist at the local paper.”
I thanked her again and took my leave. Getting into my car I checked all my mirrors just to be sure I didn’t have some spectral tag along.
It wasn’t five o’clock yet, so I went by the local police department using the open records act as a jumping off point to fish for any police reports related to the house in question. I got the usual runaround, that there was a report but it would take about a week for everything to clear before I could get it. I really didn’t want to stick around town for a week. I returned to my car where I passed a couple of policemen walking into the building. The big one seemed familiar and gave me a second look as I passed him.
I went by the newspaper office but they were closed for the night. Just as well as I was starting to feel the strain of it all. I returned to my hotel and passed out in my bed. Sometime after nightfall, I heard a voice call my name. It was a familiar voice and I rose, following the sound out of my hotel room. I had a third story room and despite the open air I could hear the voice echoing in the night, leading me around the walkway. I didn’t pass anyone on the way, and as I rounded the next corner I saw her. Her name was Mia, she wore the flowing white dress we buried her in. Satin gloves that went up to her elbows were there to cover the stitching along her wrists, but still crimson liquid bled through. Hot tears tumbled down my cheeks as she beckoned me towards her, her black eyes looking into my soul. Her voice was floating on the wind. “I’m sorry…” I blurted out. “I’m so sorry…” I reached for her, I could feel the coolness of her skin on my fingertips, smell her lilac perfume and the iron of her bloodstained wrists.
A force beyond my control yanked me back and she was gone. All that was left was open air and an iron railing. I pulled against the force holding me back, I wanted her. I needed her, but something like a fog lifted from my vision and I realized where I was. I stopped struggling and the force across my chest, which turned out to be the thickly corded muscle of an arm, let me down to the concrete floor. “Are you alright?” a familiar voice asked.
It was the cop from the parking lot, and a lifetime ago the same young jailer that gave me a Styrofoam cup.