Written by Kerry E.B. Black
Glynnis proudly proclaimed her belief in the supernatural realm. With little provocation, she described her experiences with ghosts. “They’re drawn to me, like moths to a flame.” She smiled in mock self-deprecation, secretly proud of the awe on the faces of her listeners. She’d even freaked out one of her teachers so much that he refused to meet her gaze.
To play at something that set her apart pleased Glynnis. She enjoyed the mystique that surrounded her because of her supposed interactions with the “Beyond.” The bullying and teasing she’d experienced in earlier school years subsided, since most of her former tormentors regarded her with a new - if not reverence, then definitely wariness.
Only Glynnis’ former best friend, Cathay, continued her torments, but always veiled in supposed friendliness and good intentions.
At Toni Knecht’s Halloween Party, Glynnis chatted with other party-goers about costumes, waiting her turn to speak with the “spiritualist” hired by the hostess to tell fortunes.
“You make a perfect Captain Marvel,” she told Linda, who blushed at the compliment.
A cloying voice cut through their conversation. “Maybe you should be telling the fortunes, Glynnis?” Cathay, who stood behind her in line, smiled and nudged her bestie, Inge.
Glynnis furrowed her brow. “I don’t tell fortunes.”
Cathay smirked. “Surely your ghost friends can tell you what to say?” She burst into laughter at Glynnis’ apparent confusion.
But Glynnis’ bewilderment had little to do with Cathay’s teasing. A breezy voice whispered into her left ear, and Glynnis shivered, suddenly freezing. “We could, though,” it wheezed.
Dread filled Glynnis. She spun, but nobody stood near enough to have whispered in her ear. Gooseflesh raised along her arms, and her stomach squeezed. She whispered, “Could what?”
She jumped at Linda’s touch.
Linda, in turn, startled at Glynnis’ reaction, but then burst into an explosion of laughter. “You almost made me leap out of my skin!” She clutched the bright star embroidered on her super hero costume. “But then, I’d have the best costume, wouldn’t I? You know, if I was a real, live skeleton, right?” Her laughter died away as she looked into her friend’s face. “Glynnis, are you okay? You’re so pale.”
Cathay raised her voice. “Maybe Glynnis finally saw a real ghost?”
Several party guests turned to stare, but Glynnis ignored them because the voice had returned, causing her to tremble worse than before. “Well,” it whispered, “heard, but not seen. Not just yet, but soon, Glynnis. Soon.”
“Glynnis? Are you okay?” Linda chewed her bottom lip, brows furrowed. “Maybe you should sit for a minute or two.” Linda steered her to the sofa and shooed a kissing couple. “You don’t need to take up the whole couch, you know? Scooch down.”
The couple retreated to a shadowed corner to resume their necking.
Cathay and Inge’s laughter floated above the general clamour of the party as Linda guided Glynnis to sit. “You’re shaking.” She mumbled as she pulled a crocheted afghan from the back of the sofa, “Maybe you should have opted for the adult size instead of the little kids’ version of Bo Peep.” She set the costume’s pink and blue floral shepherd’s crook aside and wrapped Glynnis with a sigh. “I’ll get you something to drink.”
“No,” Glynnis grabbed her wrist. “Please don’t leave.”
“O-kay.” She stretched the word as she rested her bottom on the arm of the sofa. “What’s going on?”
“I’m not sure.” Glynnis shivered, eyes unblinking and wide. She pulled Linda closer. “I heard something.”
Linda’s gaze cast about. “I hear a lot, too.” She raised her voice, “It’s a bit loud, actually.”
One of the kids shouted an “F.U.”
Glynnis’ strained to peer around as she whispered, “No, something whispered in my ear.” A ferocious shiver sent her deeper under the blanket. “Something that wasn’t here.”
Linda straightened and regarded Glynnis from her lofty vantage. “Like a ghost?”
Glynnis licked her lips and drew her knees to her chest. Her gaze darted about the room before she nodded.
Linda leaned on the arm of the couch. “I don’t understand. You’ve had ghost sightings before, right? I mean, everyone knows that. You talk about it all the time.”
Glynnis searched the room instead of answering. Sure, she’d told lots of ghost stories, but none were more than an active imagination and great showmanship. “This was something else.” She gulped and blinked back tears. “It scared me.”
Linda patted the afghan covering Linda’s knees and shook her head, a disapproving expression darkening her features. “I can tell.”
Cathay emerged from the medium’s room a bit pale. When she locked gazes with Glynnis, she glared. “Inge doesn’t want to go, so you’re next.”
Glynnis’ cheeks burned with what she perceived as Cathay’s implied threat, but she forced herself to stand and walk to the medium’s room. “You’re next,” echoed in her imagination. Next for what, exactly?
She reached out and grabbed Cathay’s arm. “What did she say to you?”
Cathay recoiled, a sour expression on her face. “It’s really none of your business.” Cathay’s nostrils flared, and she waved her hand in front of her nose, turning aside slightly. “Gee whiz, Glynnis. Just because you talk to ghosts doesn’t mean you need to smell like a corpse.” She laughed as she removed a body spray bottle from her handbag. A mean smirk cut across her face. “Here. This might help, but I suggest you actually take a bath.”
Before Glynnis could protest, Cathay spritzed her once, twice, again and again. The cloying florals made Glynnis’ eyes burn and water.
“Oh dear.” Cathay pressed a fist onto her hip. “Now you really do smell like a funeral.” A pout played at her lips. “Sorry. I tried to help. I guess some things are beyond help, though.”
The whispered voice sent chills up Glynnis’ spine. “I like it. It’s a nostalgic scent, isn’t it? Or maybe that’s just to me.”
Glynnis’ voice quaked. “Leave me alone.”
Cathay feigned hurt, with fingertips touching her collarbone and wide eyes. “Like I said, I was only trying to help.”
The invisible voice echoed Cathay’s last six words, ruffling the short hairs that had escaped Glynnis’ messy bun. “You’ll see. Soon enough.”
Tears sprung to Glynnis’ eyes. Maybe, she thought, I shouldn’t have drank that Pumpkin ale earlier. Or maybe, I’ve gone crazy. Didn’t I have a great aunt who went wacko? Is insanity inherited?
“Insanity? Of course!” the voice delighted. Each puffed word carried the stench of decay and delivered an unwelcome plunge in Glynnis’ stomach. “There’s a gene that’s passed through the generations. But don’t worry. You’re not insane.” It giggled, high and breezy. “Not yet.”
“Please, just leave me alone.” She sniffed back a tear, but froze when she realized the voice seemed to read her thoughts.
“Damn, girl, didn’t you hear me? I was trying to help. What’re you bawling about?” Cathay postured, uncomfortable. “Inge, come on. I don’t need to stay where my motives are questioned, and neither do you. Let’s go before this unfortunate loon accuses us of something else when we’re only trying to help.”
Inge flipped her flaxen hair over her shoulder and slid an arm around Cathay’s slim waist. As they left, Inge glanced back at Glynnis. “Ingrate,” she said.
Linda imitated Inge’s embrace, slipping an arm around Glynnis. “Never mind them. The medium’s waiting.”
Before she turned toward the waiting fortune, Glynis watched, baffled, as Cathay and Inge simultaneously tripped on their stilettos and pitched toward the Knecht’s glass coffee table. They broke their falls with outstretched palms, but the force upended the table’s top. It vaulted into the air and crashed over the back of the girls’ heads. Their screams found sympathy in the reactions of the others.
“They’re bleeding!” “Get some towels!” “Is there a first aid kit?” Someone dialed emergency. “Be careful! There’s glass everywhere.” “Shit, we better get out of here before the police and ambulance come and find us underage drinking!” “You’re right!” People gathered their coats while Toni gingerly picked up the glass and put it into a small brass waste basket.
The incorporal whisper returned, an arctic breeze whistling down Glynnis’ ear canal. “You’re welcome.”
“What did you do?” She breathed the words, incredulous, terrified.
“Guess they shouldn’t have worn such high heels.” Linda pressed her lips tight. “I’m sorry,” she blinked at Glynnis. “Did you say something?”
Glynnis’ throat constricted, and she struggled to swallow.
Linda squeezed Glynnis’s upper arm. “Looks like they’ve got everything under control with those skanks.” She shrugged. “Let’s take our turn with the medium. I want to see if I’ll pass trig this year.” She smiled, guileless. “Besides, we didn’t drink enough for anyone to care.”
Cathay and Inge held towels to the backs of their heads. Tears had streaked their eyeliner into tracks of hurt and confusion. Cathay turned and glared at Glynnis.
Glynnis’ head swum, and she swayed.
“You go first,” Linda pushed Glynnis toward the medium’s door. “And tell me what happens in there when you’re done.” She raised her eyebrows and smiled, her bulk blocking the coffee table catastrophe from Glynnis’ view.
“Okay.” Glynnis staggered through the door, head still swimming with a sense of unreality.
Fragrant smoke rose from incense burning on ornate bronze trays on either side of the door. Heavy brocade curtains blocked the glow of the street lights, and white sheets draped the furniture ringing the room, lending the look of childish ghost costumes congregating to spy.
Glynnis knew the room’s contents, though, from many study sessions with Toni. Walls of bookshelves crammed with paperbacks. Sci-fi and fantasy mostly, but a few collector’s editions of classics like Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” and the collected works of Edgar Allen Poe. A desk. An overstuffed, wingback leather chair. The medium sat in its twin behind a red cloth-draped library table. Atop the table rested a crystal orb illuminated beneath by a flat, blue-tinted light. Its diffused light threw her angular features into shadow.
On a small stand behind the medium, two black wax candles dripped into a tray shaped in the likeness of skeletal hands. When Glynnis entered, the flames flared, sputtered, and died, leaving the crystal’s diffused light as the room’s only illumination.
“S-sorry,” Glynnis whispered. A nasal chuckle drifted from the darkness near her left temple.
The medium froze for a second before she re-lit the candles with a wooden match. “It’s quite alright, quite alright.” Instead of a warm golden glow, the candles’ wicks mirrored the cold, blue crystal’s light. The medium returned to her seat. “Sit, please. Let me see your palms.”
“Some medium,” The breezy voice quipped. “She looks more like an extra large to me.”
Glynnis gasped, afraid the middle-aged woman across from her had overheard. Although she didn’t appear to have, an embarrassed blush raced over Glynnis as though she’d been the one who commented on the psychic’s appearance. The woman did fill out the large chair, and the many scarves tied round her hips stretched to their capacity. Bracelets of tiny silver bells tinkled at her wrists, and black ringed her eyes like ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics. A scarf disguised her hair color, but if her patchy eyebrows were an indicator, the medium’s hair alternated between ebony and steel. To complete the gypsy feel of the woman’s outfit, large silver hoops pierced her plump earlobes.
Her rich alto rolled “r’s” and vibrated sympathetically. “Ah, young woman, you’ve the sight.” She tilted her head. “Or, have you?” She tapped her long, manicured index finger against her cheek. “I see. Your eyes are just opening. You’ll see clearly by Yule.”
“Um,” Glynnis hunched until her shoulders shielded her ears. “What if I don’t want my eyes to open?”
The medium continued to tap, tap, tap her fingernail, a metronome of psychic impressions. “Well, I’m afraid you don’t have a choice at this point.”
Glynnis’ shiver ripped through her like a convulsion. “I thought we always have a choice.”
The medium leaned into the back of the chair, her dark eyes glittering in the low light. “You may have, at some point. But something has noticed you. Either you called it, or someone called it for you. In either case, it’s too late to say you don’t want The Sight. Once you’ve drawn the attention of those beyond the veil, you become a beacon.”
The breezy voice of the invisible chuckled again, and Glynnis teared up. “No, please. I don’t want this.” She cast wary searches around the room. “I’m afraid of ghosts.”
The invisible voice sighed. “Good thing I’m not really a ghost then.”
“What else is there besides ghosts?” Glynnis meant the question for her invisible tormentor, but the medium answered.
“There are many things that dwell outside of the land of the living. Angels. Spirit guides.” She used her right hand to cross herself, lowered her voice, and leaned closer. “Darker things, too. But we won’t speak of them.” She cleared her throat and spat into a handkerchief she produced from a fold in her purple skirt.
The breeze wove from left to right ear until it wrapped around Glynnis like a noose. “It’s best not to speak of darker things, Glynnis,” it sing-songed.
Glynnis allowed her head to drop to her crossed arms and sobbed.
After a few minutes, the chair groaned as the medium pushed out of it and crossed to pat Glynnis’ shoulders. “There there. Wasn’t this something you’d hoped for, though? Something you’d long talked about? It seems someone heard your wish for ghost stories.” She tilted her head to the side like a curious cocker spaniel. “It’s not so bad. You might enjoy being gifted.”
The chuckle ruffled Glynnis’ drop earrings. Amethyst. Her birthstone. She couldn’t help wondering if what she’d bragged about - a psychic connection with the afterlife - were a gift or a curse.
Glynnis left the medium and the party without saying goodbye to any of the remaining guests. The airy voice accompanied her every step.
Soon, instead of homework, the disembodied voice occupied her time. She dropped out of clubs and drew deeper into herself. Before she knew it, snow freckled the sidewalks, and the cold that habitually wrapped around her had an actual physical reason. As she suffered from the constant attention of the voice, Glynnis’ grades slipped, her relationship with her parents eroded, and her friendships disappeared. It plagued her sleep until she nodded off at inappropriate times, only to jolt awake when her unwelcomed tormentor breathed some profundity.
On the first day of the winter break, the heady scent of ginger, cinnamon, and clove lured Glynnis from her bed. Cooling trays of gingerbread men lined the kitchen table. Her mother’s wary smile wobbled across her face. “Hello, sweetheart.”
“If she saw how dark your thoughts really are, she’d know your heart is anything but sweet, eh, Glynnis?” The words swirled in a headache-inducing garrot. She’d learned silence kept her from too much trouble. Silence could be misinterpreted as rudeness, but rudeness was better than madness. Talking to oneself, or talking out of turn to friends and family, could surely result in an unwarranted mental health diagnosis. “Would it really be unwarranted, though,” she wondered.
“Glynnis, I wish you would talk to me. Tell me what the heck’s going on with you.” Tears reddened her mother’s eyes.
“Go on, Glynnis,” the uncorporal voice cackled. “Tell your mother about the voice that haunts you.”
“Shut up. Shut up. Shut up,” Glynnis thought. She pressed her lips tight to prevent saying the words aloud by accident.
“I ran into your friend Linda at the grocery store.” Her Mom cleared her throat. “She asked after you. Said she’s been worried about you.” Her Mom stole covert glimpses at Glynnis, her lashes shielding her from direct eye contact.
Behind her mother, the shadows thickened, became more substantial. Rotting eggs, a scent perpetually perfuming Glynnis’ environs, overpowered the homey holiday baking. Glynnis felt the blood drain from her face as dread dawned.
The voice intoned from the shadow, “Today’s Yule, girlfriend. We’ll meet face to face at last!”
Rooted to the spot, Glynnis witnessed a hulking mass coalesce from the shadows and assume a man’s shape, though gigantic.
Glynnis’ scream broke her paralysis. She ran from the room, ignoring her mother’s confused scream. “Good God, what’s the matter with you?”
“Yes, Glynnis,” her once again invisible assailant cackled. “What’s the matter with you?”
A chill breeze brushed ahead, and from beneath the hall closet, darkness roiled, bubbled into the man-like shape. Before its face acquired features, Glynnis screeched to a stop and changed direction. Pursued by the reek of rot and an invisible assailant’s glee, she slammed into the front door. It wouldn’t open. She turned the handle with frustrated grunts, but it was as though someone held the other side tight.
She released the handle and turned to speed through the kitchen and its back exit. A thundering knock sounded on the front door. Gooseflesh overtook Glynnis’ skin. Another knock. Glynnis whimpered. A third.
The handle turned of its own accord, slow as cold, dripping molasses. The door opened with a movie-worthy creak.
Glynnis’ knees collapsed, and she fell at the feet of a monster. Gigantic and disproportionate, the gathering of feared, shadowy places and nearly forgotten nightmares stepped inside her foyer. Its face was little more than an impression of deep-set eyes and clacking teeth. Its knuckles dragged alongside it, hanging from vast shoulders. Its nails gouging a trio of scratches in the wooden floor as it closed on Glynnis.
Her scream strangled inside her throat. She scrambled backward, away from its looming approach. When her back bumped into the Christmas tree, she grabbed up and hurled presents at the aggressor. Its laugh swirled around her, through her, inside her, still she threw everything she could grab. Glass ornaments smashed into silvery shards.
The thing batted away each assault with gleeful zeal. It seemed to relish the thumps, crashes, and bangs. It swelled with the destruction.
When Glynnis had nothing left to throw, she slid to the floor, aghast, the tree teetering at her back.
It loomed over her small, quaking form, a snuffer about to put out a candle. It almost purred, “I don’t understand, Glynnis. You told everyone you had a sixth sense. I didn’t want you to be a liar.”
She whimpered, as insignificant a sound as an abandoned kitten’s mew.
It stretched out its overlong arms. “Welcome to spirit vision, Glynnis!”
Tears fled into her pleading mouth.
“Don’t you like what you see?”
Kerry E.B. Black writes from an over-stuffed little house situated along a fog-enshrouded river in the land where Romero's Dead roamed. Her children think she's dull, and their dogs agree, but the family cats, Poe and Hemingway, feel differently. The felines find a kinship with their nocturnal buddy and encourage Kerry to write.