#283: A Paranormal Tale
I made some stupid mistakes that have played over and over in my mind, like a rusted movie reel on a loop. She made mistakes too, but I had forgiven her. Mine were worse.
Still, I had two beautiful, spellbinding daughters. Dad wasn’t going anywhere, even though he couldn’t tuck you in every night or rub your back or tell the story of baby toothbrush or baby starfish. He was still there, in that unexplainable way, like when people point to their chests and say you’re ‘in here.’
At my apartment one night, I ripped off my shoes and poured a glass of mojito mix from the refrigerator. I went outside, through my bedroom, to the patio that overlooked the courtyard trees and its swimming pool. Texas summer was over. There were no tanning neighbors I could watch or attempt to flirt with. It was peaceful, better with less heat. Westerly winds stroked the trees and caressed my beard with invisible fingers.
I sat down, took a sugary sip, crunched ice in my mouth, leaned back, feet up, watching a perfect pre-dusk sky with a strange, conflicted contentment. A weird, unsatisfied mood I tried to mask with feelings of gratitude.
On my daughters’ weekend visits that summer, I watched them from this balcony as they swam. They had known how to swim for three years by that time. Once or twice, I swam with them, but most of the time I sat on my patio, reading and watching, waiting for the occasional ‘Daddy, watch this!,’ to which half the time, because my youngest daughter routinely tested the limits of safety, I would clap my hands and shout, ‘Cut it out!’ When they asked me why I clapped, I told them, “To get your attention.” They swam and played that summer, like the sea lions we saw together at the zoo.
I stood up as the sky became shadowy and dark and wondered if the first autumn leaf would ever fall. A single gust of air cut through me like an icicle, straight through the screen door of my bedroom, rattling everything inside. I quickly slid the door open and went in.
I woke the next morning from a fever-charged dream, feeling absolutely horrible, not just physically, but mentally. I dragged myself into work, expecting to shake it off, drinking lots of water, but it didn’t help. Feverish all day and unusually depressed, when I got home, I went straight to bed and completely forgot—it was my weekend to pick up the girls from their mother’s house.
She called and texted several times that night but I missed everything, fighting the fever for real sleep. I had ruined her plans for the weekend, she texted, with exclamation points. It wasn’t until morning that I read all of her ‘where are you?’s and ‘wtf’s.
“You could have called before going to bed,” she said, in the phone voice she only used with me. She was right. Damn it.
What is wrong with you? I thought.
“You don’t sound good,” she said, changing her tone.
“I’m sick. I can’t sleep. I guess I caught something. Tell the girls I’m sorry.”
I checked my temperature. I was burning up and yet I had no fever.
Feeling worse by the minute, it occurred to me that not seeing the girls that weekend meant we would go nearly a whole month without seeing each other. All because of this bout of whatever the hell it was. The thought of them growing up away from me, remembering me less and less, constricted my insides like a straight jacket.
Whatever this was had to be more than those feelings, surely. I labored, heavy-footed, into the bathroom, splashed water onto my face, and forced my eyes open in front of the mirror. They were dilated and sunken in my sleep deprived head. Inside and out, my body had been crushed like pressed meat. How could I go from feeling so peaceful and happy to so sad and sick the next morning?
That whole weekend I was under covers, shivering, not sleeping, feeling completely sorry for myself, only getting up to the bathroom twice. My eyes ached, looking at the bedroom walls of this old apartment that somehow seemed older. Walls that had become heavy slabs of grey skin, slowly tightening and squeezing in against me. I had brought all of this on myself, I thought.
Monday morning I crawled out of bed and made two phone calls, one to my job and the other to a doctor.
The doctor said as far as she could see, I was fine.
“Fine? Look at me, doctor,” I said.
“No signs of any flu,” she said. “Get rest and drink lots of water. Maybe it’s a bacterial infection,” she said, prescribing antibiotics.
I felt better after the Z pack, right? No. I felt worse.
Thursday morning I called my boss again.
“How about you take the rest of the damn week off?” she said. “You could try to work from home this weekend. That way, we’re not completely behind. Susan and Will Marks each called out a day this week.”
“I’m so sorry,” I said, as she hung up.
You’re going to get yourself fired.
And then you’ll lose your right to see the girls.
I paced from my bedroom to the kitchen and back for at least an hour.
You shouldn’t have had so many mojitos, you stupid son of a bitch!
You trashed your immune system and caught something horrible.
Why do always you do this to yourself?
On a trip back to the kitchen, I noticed a knife on the counter next to the sink.
Exhausted, confused, a terrible fear came over me, beyond my job and the girls.
I don’t remember getting that out.
I looked around for evidence of something I had chopped up.
I haven’t eaten anything.
I inspected my bedroom, noticing a plate on the bedside table.
That was from the day before, wasn’t it?
I took the plate to the kitchen and looked at the knife again. Nothing on it. No mustard. No crumbs. Nothing.
I didn’t get that knife out! But who would have?
My heart beat so fast and hard in my chest, I couldn’t breathe.
No one else would have done that but me. True, but my God!
I had the chills.
Maybe I meant to chop up an apple and lost track of what I was doing.
I put the knife back in its empty slot.
But what if someone had come into my apartment?
I opened every closet in my apartment, looked under my bed, and under the other bed in the spare room. I stopped. Listened. But what was I listening for? I shook my head and told myself to relax. I turned off all the lights, walked to my bedroom, and crawled under the covers. I would just go to sleep, and in the morning these feelings would be gone, I told myself.
Did I lock the apartment door?
I can’t remember.
What if I forgot and fell asleep?
That person could come back in!
You’ve lost it, man.
I got up to prove to myself I had nothing to worry about. From my bedroom, I felt my way down the dark, shadowy hall, into the living room, to the door. I jiggled it twice, to be sure. It was locked. I walked back to my bedroom, sighed as I slipped back into bed. I felt my heart slowing down.
I slept maybe three hours and woke up, still and relaxed. I gazed over, just to the left of my bedroom door, at the picture of the girls on the wall. They smiled and posed effortlessly, so photogenic, like their mother. I sure missed her, but we were finished. I hadn’t been a good husband. I had been so careless with the best thing I ever had.
With my mind back on the girls, at least I felt some consolation. I began breathing deeply, getting drowsy, about to fall asleep again.
Then, in my peripheral vision, something moved past the bedroom.
I strained to move but was frozen, absolutely paralyzed.
I struggled to roll out of bed, to reach the handgun in the bedside table. But I absolutely could not move. Then I saw the person, or thing, whatever the hell it was, move past the door again and look back at me with fierce eyes.
My legs suddenly jerked, and I could move. My bed was completely drenched in sweat. I threw open the top drawer of the table and grabbed my Glock. With my other hand, I grabbed the magazine from under my mattress and slapped it into the pistol.
“I’ve got a gun and I’m ready to use it!” I shouted, creeping to the end of my bed, my body shaking like a seizure.
Through the frame of my bedroom door, I could only see a shadowy hall. I edged out of my room and turned right, since that’s the direction I saw it move.
“You need to leave if you don’t want me to shoot!” I shouted.
After side-stepping down the hall, I jumped into the living room, pointing my gun wildly. My heart pounded like a prisoner inside the cage of my chest. I turned to the kitchen. Nothing. I looked at the pantry, then back at the spare bedroom.
I had to check the pantry, even though I knew there wasn’t room for a person. I threw the door open, and no one was inside.
Back in the hall, I peered into my bedroom, at my bed and open closet. No one. I breathed uneasily as I looked back, past the living room, at the spare room door. Sweat dripped down my back. I wiped more off my forehead with my free hand as I walked slowly toward the spare room, turning on every light as I got closer.
“I’ll shoot!” I screamed, exploding into the room. I slammed on the light and pointed the Glock in every direction. Nothing in the room or the closet, except my daughters’ toys.
I went through the entire apartment. No sign of anyone. I checked the door, and it was locked. I felt like I was losing my mind.
I went to bed and fell asleep instantly. When I woke, the pistol was in the drawer and the magazine under my mattress.
That morning, I received two phone calls. One was my cousin from Austin, the other, the ex. I could take the girls that night if I was up for it. They had been asking for me, which meant that although they probably had been asking for me, she had been asked on a date and didn’t have a sitter. I told her I was still feeling ill and she quickly hung up.
I missed my cousin’s call, so I called her back. Vin’s monthly ritual was to call me, saying things like, “I had a dream about you,” or “Your initials were in my coffee this morning. You okay?”
My routine response was, “All is well.”
Today, I hesitated. “Just fine,” I said.
She jumped on that. “Okay. Now tell me the truth.”
I told her everything, including the cold wind that blew into my bedroom that first night.
“You have an evil spirit, my cousin,” she said.
I wasn’t exactly ready to consider that an evil spirit had pitched camp inside my apartment. However, if it were true, I thought, I probably deserved it.
“I know someone who could get rid of it. How soon can you be here?” she asked.
“No way in hell,” I said, laughing and coughing. I had now developed a cough.
“Yes way. And from hell, my cousin, from hell. And we need to send it back,” she said.
“I’m not doing a séance or whatever you’re thinking. Can’t this person just talk to me over the phone?”
“You’re not serious, are you? Of course you can’t do it over the phone.”
“I’ll call you later,” I told her.
That day, every bone my body constricted, my neck seized up, and a razor sharp pain in my spine made it increasingly harder to move my back. By Friday evening, I called Vin.
“I’ll be in Austin in four hours.”
Two hours later, I was feeling much better, thinking that if there was an evil spirit, I must have left it in the apartment. Just as this thought formulated, my hands jerked the steering wheel to the right, across two lanes of traffic and onto the shoulder. Thank God there was no one in those other lanes! I almost went completely off the highway, down an embankment, but corrected and braked just in time, coming to a violent stop.
Soaked in sweat, I wiped my forehead and noticed something dark on my hand. When I turned on the dome light, I opened the palm of my hand and it was completely covered in blood. Where had it come from? Then I looked closely in the rearview mirror.
Blood was slowly seeping through the pores of my forehead.
“Leave me alone!” I shouted.
My hands shook as I called my cousin. No answer.
I wanted her to come get me. I didn’t think it was a good idea for me to drive.
So, he’s letting me know he’s still with me.
It occurred to me that this thing or entity could read my mind, so I made sure the second I started thinking about getting rid of it that I emptied my mind. I shut down all thinking and got back in the car to drive.
When I arrived at Vin’s, she gasped because of the dried blood on the right side of my head and neck, and my shirt where I had wiped it. She took me straight to the bathroom to clean me up and told me we were going to a club where a spiritist did a show.
“His show doesn’t reflect his talent,” she said.
I shrugged. “I’ll try anything.”
“His presentation is cheesy,” she continued, “but he really is good at–”
She was about to say ‘exorcisms,’ but I stopped her.
The club was smaller than I pictured. A dark old house in the middle of a neighborhood, with a bar where the kitchen once was. Minute by minute, women entered the club, dressed in girl’s night out décor, and an occasional spattering of two or three males straggled in. We ordered a beer at the bar and turned to look at an acoustic band of musicians on a stage where a couch probably went a couple decades before.
Twenty minutes after we got there, the spiritist came down a spiral staircase with three women. He squeezed into the crowd and went straight to the microphone. After introducing himself, he started a series of audience-participation exhibitions of his abilities. A man quacking like a duck. A woman juggling balls that she supposedly had never been able to juggle before. He also hypnotized a college kid into thinking he was a dog, who pissed his pants, which he said was an unintended byproduct.
His final act was most interesting. Something I’d never seen before.
He had several women, as many as wanted to, he said, write their first names on paper and put them in a hat that a man from the audience volunteered. He then had the man pick out three pieces of paper, calling out the names.
When the three volunteers were on stage, he had the first girl do some kind of rap or hip hop. Her friends in the audience looked absolutely stunned. He made the next woman do a short lap dance for the other two volunteers. And the last woman did several accents she had never been able to do, according to her husband, whom he had come up on stage. But the most surprising thing he did was have the women, no longer hypnotized, say their first names out loud. Then one by one, he had them say their middle names.
All three women said, “Nicole.”
The crowd was mixed in their reaction to this ‘trick,’ but the entire crowd gasped when he said not only did he know that all three women would have the same middle name but all three had different spellings. He told each of them how they spelled their middle name, and all three said he was correct.
“Show’s over,” the spiritist said, and everyone roared and clapped as he left the stage.
Trance music filled the club, and it became a dance floor. Vin pulled me through the crowd to the spiritist. When he saw us he shouted, “No!”
We met him at the bottom of the staircase.
“Tony, please,” my cousin pleaded. “He needs your help.”
“I told you, I don’t do that anymore.”
I looked at her and she pulled on his shirt.
“You have to. Look at him.”
He was completely put out by us, but I had started to cry, and his conscience forced him to look at me.
“I probably deserved it,” I told him, tears running down my cheeks. “I’m going to lose my job, and my daughters… I might lose custody if you don’t help me. Please.”
He looked across the room at a couple of women who were waiting for him and shook his head ‘no.’ They gave him a vicious look and left for the exit.
He huffed and shook his head.
“Come on,” he said, motioning us up the stairs.
We followed him to the top of the stairs, and once we were inside, he slammed the door behind us. We were in a long room. It was warm and quiet, pulsing slightly from the thumping music below.
“Sit down,” he said, still giving us the feeling we were a huge inconvenience.
My cousin and I sat down on a couch as he splashed his face in a tiny kitchen sink at the far end of the room. He toweled his face and walked toward us. He talked to Vin like they were catching up, telling her how the club rented his apartment to him for only four hundred dollars a month, joking that he had hypnotized them into such a great price. She said something about the furniture being the same.
Then his tone became serious and irritated again.
“This is going to get worse before it gets better, I hope you know,” he said to me. Muttering “god damn it” under his breath, he kept shaking his head.
“And I don’t think you know… “ he said to Vin with a sigh. “But I’ll do it.”
“Thank you, Tony,” she said softly.
Vin and the spiritist looked at each other for a brief moment.
He pulled up a folding chair and sat down facing us. He closed his eyes and massaged his neck and shoulders.
“This is what’s going to happen. Vin, you should sit over there. I don’t want you to get hurt. Nothing bad’s going to happen. It’s just in case either one of us gets…you know. You’ve seen this before, so you know. I’m going to ask you to close your eyes.”
Vin backed away and sat down on a mattress next to a set of windows.
“Close your eyes. Close your eyes,” he continued. “I’m going to count slowly from ten down to one and when I say ‘one,’ you’re going to feel completely relaxed. Then I’m going to ask some questions. Eventually, and I don’t know how long, but eventually I’m going to talk to whatever it is and see what it wants. Hopefully we can make a deal with it, and it’ll leave you the hell alone and hopefully not give me too much trouble either.
“It’s going to talk through me, because it’s going to be in me instead of you, and you’re going to have to remember what it says because I sure as hell won’t. I did this one time before when the idiot didn’t remember anything, and we had to do it again. It was a mess. They don’t like repeating themselves. So remember, for Christ’s sake.”
He counted backwards from ten to one. When he reached ‘one,’ I felt amazingly calm.
Vin told me later how different I looked when he said ‘one.’
“What’s your name?” the spiritist asked.
“Guy Ryder,” I answered. “Guy Nicole Ryder.”
“Cute,” he said.
“Is he?” Vin asked.
“Yes. He’s hypnotized. But that doesn’t mean he can’t still be a smart-ass.”
He asked me a few more questions, like my daughters’ names and questions like that.
“Who else is sitting with us tonight?” he then asked.
There was silence for sixty seconds.
Vin says she almost said something, but the spiritist stopped her. Then she says she noticed a sudden change in the spiritist. The entity had moved into him, and it was obvious.
A slow, quiet kind of rumbling developed in him until a monstrous guttural voice came growling out of him.
“What do you want with my friend here, Ekerot?” the spiritist asked in his own voice.
There was no sound, except the thumping of trance music from the club.
Until it spoke.
Vin says the spiritist shook his head. “We won’t let you do that, Ekerot. What will you take instead?”
The entity erupted inside him. A thunderous reverberation, a combination of tortured moaning and sadistic laughter, with deep resonance, shaking the whole second floor apartment.
“Only. Flesh,” it rumbled, with seismic force.
“No,” the spiritist commanded in his own voice. “That is not an option. He is not yours!”
“Then I will go into them,” it growled, motioning downstairs with the spiritist’s body.
“No. They are just as undeserving,” the spiritist said.
For a moment it was silent, and Vin said the spiritist’s body shifted, then straightened.
“Now,” the spiritist said sternly, “you will go back to where you came from.”
Another moment of silence.
“Yes,” the voice of the entity said, “but I was not alone there.”
It was at this point Vin said the spiritist’s body completely relaxed. The entity was gone.
He counted again from ten to one and we opened our eyes.
When I opened my eyes, Vin wiped the spiritist’s face, massaged his shoulders and neck, and suggested he lie down.
“Don’t ever ask me to do this again,” he said.
“Thank you, Tony. Just rest,” Vin said.
“It threatened to go into the people downstairs,” I said. “And you made it change its mind. How?”
“Just don’t ever ask me to do this again,” he said again to Vin.
“Oh, Tony. I’m grateful, you know that. But it said it wasn’t there alone,” she said.
“Where were you when this all started?” the spiritist asked me.
The spiritist caught the look on Vin’s face and shook his head emphatically.
“Please, Tony. We can wait for you to feel better,” Vin said.
“I’m not doing it. If there’s still another one, waiting for you at your apartment, either don’t go back or get ready to figure it out on your own. Besides, this is more about you than it is them. If you’ve got anything you need to deal with, then you have to deal with it before you’ll get rid of it. You won’t figure out an escape from your prison until you realize what prison you’re in.”
What was I going to do alone against another one of these?
“I’m sorry,” he said to Vin. She nodded.
Vin and I climbed out to a wooden fire escape outside the spiritist’s window, to avoid the orgiastic throng downstairs. I fell asleep in the car on the way back to Vin’s, and she helped me into bed. I slept until midday.
When I woke, I felt myself again. Complete, but more like an empty slate, like a child in some ways, and euphoric. I thanked Vin profusely for breakfast, for everything, insisting she come up soon so I could repay her. She encouraged me to be ready for whatever would happen when I got back, and I enthusiastically assured her I was fine. I felt stupendous, and any demon waiting for me was going to have a difficult time dampening my spirits.
I felt fantastic driving home.
Everything along the highway was so interesting to me. After a while, I realized I was under the influence of something, and it then worried me that when I came down from the mysterious high, I would crash, unprepared for whatever was waiting.
I calmed down and pulled myself together the rest of the drive home.
A note was attached to my apartment door when I arrived.
“It has come to our attention…”
I had forgotten to write a rent check. So, I went straight to my desk and wrote out the check, including the insane late fee, and dropped it in the overnight box.
It was only when I got back to the apartment that I remembered what was supposedly in my apartment. I broke out in a sweat, looking around as if I was going to see some physical sign.
You can’t see it, you dumb-ass.
I laughed, feeling lighthearted for some reason. The euphoria was back, and I felt happy to be home and to feel normal.
I went about my regular Saturday night routine. I made chicken nachos, then sat down on my bed and ate them while checking email. I finished dinner and browsed the TV before landing on an interesting new reality show.
They should make a show of my life.
At that moment, my throat felt dry and constricted. I thought about the other entity, lurking somewhere in my apartment, hovering over me as far as I knew, maybe about to enter me like the other one had. I started to sweat, feeling nauseated.
I vomited just as I arrived at the toilet.
In about ten minutes, I was back in bed, ready to sleep, hoping I could tackle whatever it was in the morning. I slept through the night, but not without nightmares. Still, I slept. And in the morning, I felt refreshed.
In the kitchen, after pouring water into the coffeemaker, I turned to the sink, and the same knife from the weekend before was sitting out on my kitchen counter, shining up at me.
I nearly fell down when I saw it, but caught myself, dropping the coffeepot. The glass didn’t shatter, but the handle broke between my thumb and pointer finger, leaving a deep cut. I had to apply pressure to it for thirty minutes to get it to stop bleeding.
I stared at the knife and wondered what kind of ghost might be left here. I walked up to the knife and held it, breathing a long, drawn out breath, and slid it back into its slot.
As I did, something tiny caught the corner of my eye, floating downward in the air. Something small and white had been attached to the end of the knife, and had landed gently on the linoleum tile of the kitchen floor. It was a small rectangular piece of paper with the word ‘It’ typed on it. It looked as if it were cut from a larger piece of paper by a utility knife.
I walked from the kitchen to the living room desk. There was the note from the apartment complex, sitting on the middle of my desk, and it had been cut! The very spot where the word had been was a precisely cut, rectangular hole. Underneath, where the paper had been, on the surface of my desk, was an etched square, where the knife had been used to cut out the word, ‘It.’
Who could be playing this elaborate hoax?
It’s not a hoax. It’s real. It’s a spirit trying to tell me something.
I sat in my living room, holding that etched-out piece of paper, looking at it, thinking how this was par for the course. Both my marriages failed, and now this. And who was the common denominator? Me.
What is wrong with me?
This is my punishment.
I deserve this.
It’s the fools who become vulnerable to these things.
And I had been such a fool. I had squandered the love of my youth and then, when I had a second chance to make it right with another willing woman, I neglected her as well, but in an even worse way, neglecting the mother of my two children.
I had told my second wife I wasn’t mad at her.
I was mad at myself.
I was mad at myself!
I pounded the arms of the chair I sat in, and at that moment, I noticed a slight movement in the kitchen.
At the moment I understood what I saw in the kitchen, a burning sensation welled up in my hand. It was the paper and the ‘It’ was glowing red hot. I threw my hand down to let it go and looked up just in time to see the knife flying past me, embedding itself in the wall.
Instead of being terrified, I was angry. At myself, just as much as any entity trying to kill me. I stood up and screamed.
“Cut it out!”
I was scared. Angry too, with frustrated regret and self loathing.
“Let’s get this over with!”
I wanted to die, and if this spirit was determined to do it, then I was willing to let it. The piece of paper was still red and pulsating, making the carpet around it smolder.
“If you want to kill me, then do it!”
I pulled the knife out of the wall and I challenged it to do what it came for, calling it every profane name I had ever heard of, and some new combinations.
“What do you want from me?”
I reached down and picked up the paper with the white hot red ‘It’ on it, expecting my hand to burn, but I didn’t care. I held it up, clenched in my fist, and yelled into the beyond.
“Why did you cut ‘It’ out?”
I said it so many times I became hoarse. Eventually, I collapsed in my chair, still mouthing the words, whispering to myself over and over.
“Why did you cut ‘It’ out?”
It then occurred to me. It cut ‘It’ out.
That’s what I always said to the girls. Cut it out.
Is this what you’re trying to tell me? And the knife, it was meant to get my attention? It was clapping, in a way, like I clapped at my daughters. But what do you want me to cut out?
I pulled myself up from the living room chair and went to stretch out on my bed. I turned on the television and fought to keep my eyes open. I wanted to know what the entity was trying to say, but at the same time I rationalized that I could just as easily come up with an answer while dreaming as I could awake.
I could be dreaming all this anyway.
I fought to stay awake, channel surfing. Sports, sports, cooking, flipping, sex scene, cooking, cartoons, sports, music, cartoon, sports, history. Channel after channel after channel, I was not even listening to what was said. It occurred to me that I wasn’t listening because the volume had been muted. When I took the volume off mute and continued to change the channels, one word repeated.
Every actor, every sports announcer, every chef, every cartoon character, every narrator, all, the same word.
“Forgive? That’s your special message?” I was angrier than ever. “Are you seriously kidding me?”
I thought about all the people in my life who had hurt me, and I resented the fact that this spirit had the gall to say I had not forgiven them. I was the most forgiving person I had ever known. People had told me those very words and I believed them, because it was true. I had forgiven everyone around me. I knew without a doubt I had.
So, what is this thing talking about?
As I lay in my bed, I knew my guest was reading my mind, and instead of saying anything else out loud, I began discussing it in silence. I listed all the people who had hurt me and laid out all the convincing evidence that proved I had truly forgiven these individuals, including my second ex-wife, the mother of my children.
“Besides,” I said, to the visitor inside me, “what she did to me was nothing compared to what I did to her.”
At that, I clearly heard the entity’s voice inside me say, “Stop right there. You have one last person you have failed to ever forgive.” So I stopped arguing my case.
I turned the volume up on the TV and heard another word, over and over, on every channel.