THE CLAMOR OF SPIRITS
My wife and I moved into the house two Januarys ago. It was a dark, yet somehow welcoming Tudor, with narrow windows overlooking a garden that, for the first time in our lives, belonged to us. Busy city streets were within walking distance, and yet, our new home seemed to belong to a world apart, nestled in a tiny sanctuary of green lawns and spacious residences, bound together by private roads behind stone walls. We did not feel as though we were against the city in which our favored enclave lay hidden, but rather, as though the city had bestowed some special privilege upon us as a reward for the swiftness of our minds and the economic fertility of our lives.
I was a legal professional who enjoyed dabbling in creative writing on the side. My wife was a CPA with major clients, and a massive inheritance to boot. We had no children to worry about, and were in no way extravagant in our wants. Given the nature of our lives, the house was only logical.
We had already committed ourselves, signed the contracts, parted with the down payment, moved in all our things, and burned the bridges behind us, before the first ghost appeared to us.
My wife is the one who saw it first, shoving me violently as I lay asleep in the bed beside her, whispering: "Nick! Nick!" She was trying to shout, but had no voice; the fear had taken it from her.
"What is it, Adie?"
"What is it?" I opened my eyes, none too pleased, for I had important work to do in the morning, when I saw her: a sad looking Japanese woman in a long, flowing kimono, holding a fan in her hand, and simply staring at us. "What?!" I gasped, shaking my head fiercely, as when a boxer struggles to clear his head after receiving a tremendous punch. As I did so, the woman vanished. Beside me, Adelaide was weeping.
After turning on all the lights and comparing notes, we realized that we had shared the same vision. "Nick," my wife told me, distraught. "It was a ghost! We have a ghost!" It was frightening, and absolutely real, like seeing a cobra or a black widow spider in your house.
"Thereís no such things as ghosts," I said, knowing, in my heart, that I was lying, because all my body, shaking and dripping with sweat, filled with emotions that were crackling like electricity, knew the truth.
"We have a ghost!" my wife wept, clinging to me as though I were strong.
We comforted each other, and sat up in chairs for the rest of the night, all the lights in our home left on. And the following days, we slept with the blue nightlight on, and with a glass of water constantly beside the bed, for my wife had once heard, from the superstitious maid who helped to raise her, that spirits are appeased by water. "There are no such things as ghosts," I repeated as a mantra, even as we made efforts to satisfy the apparition. We tried to bury the experience with what we knew of science.
But the ghostly visitations were only just beginning.
Sometime in the middle of March, my wife, who was taking photos in the backyard, came running into the house screaming, "I saw her! I saw her again! In the garden!"
"Who?" I demanded, as I sat staring at a blank computer screen, attempting to begin to write a novel, because I felt it would make me a more complete person.
"The ghost! The Japanese woman!"
An awful chill went through my body. "But Adie," I exclaimed, "itís in the middle of the day!"
"I saw her Ė in broad daylight!" Adie wept. That was not a good sign, for our nightmares ought to limit themselves to the darkness. "What can we do, Nick? What can we do?"
Since Adie had seen it, and not me, this time I was inclined to interpret it as a delusion and to see it as her problem. Maybe the last time, when I had seen the ghost, I had only succumbed to the power of suggestion, been swept away by Adieís conviction, fallen prey to her imagination because I loved her.
I told her to be brave, with all the courage of someone who is safe.
But poetic justice pervades the universe like hydrogen, like gravity. Days later, it was my turn to be visited, only this time, it was not by the enormously sad Japanese woman, but by a tall emaciated man with a sword, who I saw walking behind me as I was looking in the mirror, my face covered with shaving cream. Crying out in pain, for I cut myself as soon as I saw him, I whirled around to see nothing but the wall.
"Careful, I donít want to lose my husband," Adie told me, when she saw me with the Band-Aid on my throat. "What were you thinking about?"
I was embarrassed to tell her, but she, sensing that I was being evasive, gave me that serious look with which she never failed to extract my deepest secrets, just as a dentist pulls a rotten tooth from the mouth of his unwilling victim. "Did he look Japanese?" she asked me. "Was he a samurai?"
"No," I told her, even though it shattered the theory which you could see her attempting to construct. "He was wearing a long white garment that seemed to be some form of underclothes, and carrying a large broadsword which appeared medieval. He had the look of a knight who has not yet put on his armor, except for his thin build, his pale skin and the wild brightness in his eyes, which made him seem a madman. He looked like he had not eaten in days, like he was fasting, or merely oblivious to his body, famished by dreams that had no connection to his stomach."
My wife looked at me, and after a moment of extreme puzzlement, seemed to dismiss my vision as I had dismissed the one she had had alone. She did not say as much, since she needed to maintain my goodwill in case she should have another vision of her own and need my sympathy, but you could tell from the way her face relaxed, and from the air-like nature of her reassurances.
Maybe it was only my imagination, I told myself, nearly convinced by her lack of excitement. But two days later, I saw the same gaunt figure once again, this time touching the wall of the den, running his hands along it like a blind man feeling the face of someone he knows but has not seen in a long time, and wants to remember.
"Damn!" I shouted in dismay and terror.
The figure turned to look at me with serious, recriminating eyes, but made no effort to reach for his sword. Instead, he merely vanished, and I staggered out of the den, my face as white as a sheet, telling Adie what I had seen, except that she was not here but was gone to the store to buy something. I determined to keep the experience to myself, but to return to taking the phenomenon seriously.
For a time, none of us spoke about the ghosts. It was as if, by merely mentioning them, we might bring them back to haunt us.
But our new defensive mechanism was as useless as trying to shelter oneself from a torrential downpour with a Kleenex. One April night Ė "April showers bring May flowers" Ė I was awakened by a terrible pinch, Adie who, this time, had no shred of a voice at all. I looked up and saw in our bedroom a furious, desperate looking young man, utterly disheveled, as pale as I had been when I saw the ghost in the den, and probably was now; in his hand there was a bloody axe, I saw him dropping a gold watch into the pocket of a ragged but formidable coat that seemed out of place for where we lived, in April. Seeing that we saw him, he seemed to start, almost to panic. Then his desperation turned to rage. He turned towards us as if to strike us dead with the axe. A small sound escaped from Adieís paralyzed vocal chords, halfway between a whimper and the scream of someone far away. Then, she seemed to faint. "She was a bitch!" the young man cursed. "A cheapskate, hoarding money that others need! The brilliant and the useful wither on the vine of people like her. But the other one Ė poor stupid girl, at the wrong place at the wrong time! But now that youíve seen me, you must die, also, the die is cast! Youíll go straight to the police! If you didnít, I could spare you, but you will, no matter how earnestly you insist that you wonít. Liars: you, too, deserve to die!" I leapt out of bed, screaming, and suddenly, he was not there.
"We need to get out of here," Adie sobbed, after I had revived her.
We spent the next week in a hotel.
After being resuscitated by the predictability of the establishment, which offered no surprises, and was filled with the comfort of businessmen, tourists, and travelers, whose eyes were firmly fixed on the world we live in, on its pleasures, opportunities, and highly cooperative dangers which follow the laws of physics, we finally decided that fleeing from the beautiful new house we had just moved into was not the thing to do: not yet. But we also decided that the phenomenon which was turning our lives upside down could no longer be dismissed. We could not bury our heads in the sand or cover our eyes with our blankets and wait for it to go away. We must do something. Soon.
Since modern psychology is an appendage of the paradigm which spawned it, and limited to the vision of that paradigm, we felt that there was no point in seeking counseling or psychoanalysis. "Theyíll only end up trying to medicate us," Adie warned, "and if any of this gets out, it could damage our reputation. In businesses like ours, you cannot get by without your reputation."
"We live in a haunted house," I said.
She nodded. "We have both seen the ghosts, twice at the same time. People do not have the same delusion, simultaneously," she conjectured.
"There are multiple-witness sightings of UFOs," I said, undermining my previous assertion, because it frightened me. "Thousands of people claimed to see the miracle at Fatimah. I read a book which claimed that a whole ship of sailors saw a sea monster."
"We had no previous expectations," she insisted. "I didnít tell you what I saw before I saw it. How could both you and I see a Japanese woman, and that crazy young man with the axe, if it was only in our minds? Minds donít work that way! If Iíd told you firstÖ but I didnít!"
"Maybe one of us is telepathic," I said, "and either transmitting to the other, or picking up from the other, what is the delusion of only one of us."
She looked at me with anger, because if that were the case, she knew on whom I intended to pin the delusion. "Telepathy is as crazy as ghosts!" she blurted out, at last. Then, to clarify her position, she added: "Nick, we have ghosts!"
She decided, as discreetly as possible, to bring in a psychic who specialized in hauntings to consult with us, and to go through the house.
"If going to a psychologist about this could discredit us, what could inviting in a psychic do?" I demanded of her.
"Nick," Adie said, with gritted teeth: "the ghost had a f**king bloody axe in his hands!"
James was a very likable but strange young man who was so queer that the only thing he needed was a dress. He seemed like the kind of man who loved talking about make-up with little old ladies. "Keep an open mind," Adie growled, as I stood off at a distance, my arms crossed.
"Itís a very nice old house," James said, strolling through the rooms with a sometimes alert, sometimes utterly distracted and conversational demeanor. "Such nice curtains, Mrs. Enloe, did you pick them yourself?"
I thought: "What a bargain: we get a psychic and an interior decorator for the price of one."
"A lot of old energy here, someone was depressed," James was telling Adie. "Youíve brought in a new energy, but itís still not the predominant energy here. Did you cleanse the house with sage before you moved in? Sage is wonderful Ė especially if you mix it with sweet grass; the sage itself can appeal to warrior spirits, who might not go. But before that Ė before the energy became depressed Ė had the person who owned this house recently passed away? - there was a vibrant energy here, very bright and lively, it was as if the narrow windows of this Tudor were twice their size, and a lot more light was coming in. The depression Ė sickness Ė no, something about fathers and sons. Generations. They donít always see eye to eye. Who will pass it on to the future? Something that must be saved."
I rolled my eyes; Adie kept me in line with a dirty look.
"Was anybody ever murdered here?" she asked the psychic.
The psychic closed his eyes as if he had a headache and was trying to remember where he had left the car keys. At last, he said: "Itís an old house, so of course it has a history. Was it built around 1920?"
"A little earlier," Adie said.
"I think an old lady died in it, but that was some time ago. She has moved on," he said, his eyes still closed. "She is at peace. She was welcomed by the light, over half a century ago. Sheís no longer here. Besides that, a child. But the child died in a hospital. A little girl was very sick here, but died in the hospital. You canít help but have things like this around, traces of tragedy, in a house so old. Itís the nature of history, of life."
"Is she still here?" Adie asked him.
"No. The spirit of the little girl was never deeply attached to this house. She is in a wonderful place, now. She chose the sacrifice to humanize her parents, to teach them a lesson. Thanks to her, they learned to respect the suffering of others."
I began to fidget.
"Donít you feel anything?" Adie demanded. "Anything at all? You donít sense the presence of ghosts? Weíre sure of what weíve seen."
James sat down with us at the kitchen table, and finally won my respect by saying: "I donít feel anything right now. Or, thatís not quite right. I feel a sense of disappointment, and of loss. And itís like a door. An open door. I feel a father betrayed by his son. Thatís all. Itís created an instability. But I donít feel murder. You know, the really hardcore ghosts are very easy to pick up, my hair stands up on end right away."
"Well, if a ghost with a bloody axe in his hand isnít hardcore, who is?" I demanded.
Jamesí mouth dropped open.
We described to him, in great detail, the three ghosts weíd seen, and James, who had studied a fair amount of history in order to aid him in his work, said at once: "It sounds like youíre talking about a Japanese lady from the Heian period, a knight from the late middle ages, if that, and someone from the late 1800s, and very likely not of this country. Wasnít this house built in 1920?"
"A little earlier," said Adie.
"These ghosts canít be connected with the house," he told us. "They could never have lived here."
"Are you saying, then, that our house isnít haunted after all?" I asked him.
"No," he admitted. "I am saying that it is not haunted by anyone who ever lived in it. Perhaps the objects!" he cried out with glee, for like any detective, he wanted to solve the mystery.
But after a careful search of our possessions, which made me anxious, for privacy is a very important matter to me, he found no objects associated with feudal Japan or the Middle Ages, nor any military artifacts in our house which might have carried with them psychic shreds of their violent history. Once more, he was puzzled. After a while, he left us with a bundle of incense, after leading us in a round of prayer. "Call me if anything further happens," he told us, from the window of his car.
We hoped that it would not, but we were soon to be disappointed.
It was May, and the cherry tree out in back was in full bloom, when Adie, who loved to garden in her spare time, ran into the Japanese lady sitting beside the tree, fanning herself. The lady turned towards her, her face streaked with tears, and said to Adie, or perhaps only to the universe which Adie happened to inhabit: "Men are so disingenuous. They are so outwardly brave, but inwardly they are afraid to be swept away by the sentiments of the women who they profess to admire. Beautiful, beautiful flowers!" she mourned, turning once more to the cherry tree. "Perfect blossoms, but soon theyíll fall! We have no greater duty on the earth than to admire them while they are in bloom!"
"Who are you?" Adie asked her, and then, she was gone.
"Nick! Nick!" Adie cried, rushing into the house, where I was struggling with my first novel, like the soldiers at Normandy, clinging to a beachhead of five pages.
I looked up, and right away I knew. "The Japanese lady?" I asked.
"How did you know?"
"You came from the garden Ė that look on your face!"
Adie flung herself into my arms.
"Well, she, at least, doesnít come with an axe!" I said.
But one week later, we were visited yet again. Although it was not by the man with the axe, which was a good thing, this visitation was still considerably disturbing, because it involved yet another apparition, and our abode was already psychically overcrowded. One more ghostly resident was the last thing we needed.
This time, Adie and I were out on the couch, watching a DVD on the television, when a distraught and angry young woman in flowing garments that seemed from another time, crossed our path, the light of the TV flickering momentarily across her rustling gown. Her hair was long and loose, her demeanor wild and defiant. "Kill me then, I donít care! Justice matters more than life! I fear nothing, this crime was holy!"
For a moment she passed in front of the screen, eclipsing the trivial program we were watching, although she was without physical substance. Adieís hand was in mine, squeezing my flesh with all the might her frozen body possessed.
As the apparition continued on her way, leaving us to the movie we were no longer watching, we heard her say: "Your edict, King, was strong, but all your strength is weakness itself against the immortal unrecorded laws of God. They are not merely now: they were, and shall be, operative forever, beyond man utterly." And she said, again, "Kill me, I donít care!"
Hand shaking, I stopped the DVD with the remote.
"Where is she going?" Adie asked me.
"Into the den," I said, nearly paralyzed myself.
After a while, turning on all the lights I could, so that no shadow had the slightest chance of surviving inside our home, I finally flung open the door to the den, which we used as a lounge (we had converted an unoccupied bedroom into our TV room), and at the same time shouted out in terror at what I might find. But there was nothing there, only silence, an empty room which we had not figured out a use for yet. I wiped the sweat from my face.
This time, James came with Mary, an intense, small woman with a tan complexion and bandana, as well as two men with boxes of electrical equipment, which housed sensors of some kind and an array of highly reactive meters.
"You havenít seen the man with the axe again?" James asked us.
"No," we told him.
He breathed a sigh of relief. "Thank God! Charles, here, and Dr. Hecht, who works out at Stony Brook with the physics department, but moonlights as a paranormal researcher, are going to take some readings here."
"Abnormal patterns in electric energy fields usually accompany the presence of spirit-activity," Dr. Hecht told us.
"You believe in this stuff?" I asked him.
"I donít teach it in my classes," he smiled. Then, more seriously, he added: "Itís the absolute frontier of human knowledge. How could I avoid it? In places where there are frequent reported sightings of ghosts, we almost always note altered energy patterns. The exact implications of the observations are not yet known: whether the energy relates to actual ghost-like entities, or to some kind of Ďpsychic residueí or footprint left behind by the dead, or to the mental activity of the witnesses interacting with Ďimprinted environments.í We just donít know, but the energetic associations are tangible."
Adie and I liked the way he talked, and therefore put great faith in the results of his investigation.
As he and Charles walked around the house, aiming something that looked like a microphone at the places where we claimed to have encountered spirits, at the same time that they put together a more generalized background reading for our entire residence, James and Mary walked about with strange and distant expressions on their faces.
"Have you researched the history of this house with archives, and interviews?" Mary asked us.
"The ghosts theyíve seen didnít live here," James told her. "Adelaide and Nicholas have either brought them, here, themselves, or else theyíre coming in from somewhere else, through a portal. Do you feel the door? Thereís a wide open door for spirits."
"Iím picking up something here," said Charles, at the entrance to the den. "Woah, look at that! Very strong!"
"Amazing," Dr. Hecht concurred, stepping back from the meter as though he had discovered a gigantic pearl in an oyster he had just opened.
"The spirit door is somewhere around here," James agreed.
"Is there a ghost in here?" whined Adie, clawing at my shirt. She didnít want to take another step.
"There is an opening," James said. "No ghost here, but an opening. What do you feel Mary?"
"James, you talk too much," she said.
We looked at her, as Charles walked inside, and aimed the detecting device at the walls and ceiling of the den.
Mary, saying nothing, went slowly up to one of the walls and gently ran her fingers along it, exactly as the mysterious knight I had seen! My throat felt dry. I began to fear her. After a while, she discovered a hole in the wall, expertly filled and painted over, and saw that it was but one of a series of holes that had previously been drilled into the wall. The holes had been plugged as part of the pre-sale renovation of the house. "There used to be shelves here," she said, at last.
"It would make sense," James replied. "I have shelves like that in my own den. I keep my candles and my crystals on them." Inspired, by Mary, to be more observant, he looked around, then pointed up to the ceiling, and added: "They have also changed the position of the light fixture. See where it used to be? Theyíve taken away some of the solidity of the room, de-materialized it to a certain extent. All that fiddling aroundÖ"
Mary frowned and left the room as though she had just been insulted. James watched her go, perplexed and upset, because his need to be loved was a matter of life and death, and he had a way of taking everything personally. He would overhear somebody who was angry with someone else, and think they were talking about him.
"The aberrations in the energy field are strongest right here," said Charles, standing by one of the walls: the same wall I had seen the frightening knight caressing before he vanished! The same wall which Mary had just explored, and seemed to hug!
"The door!" James exclaimed. "Yes, I can feel it, now, right here! Right here!" Was this an independent verification, or was he only following?
"What do you mean Ďdoorí?" demanded my wife.
"A gap in the dimensions which separate our level of existence from the level of the spirits," James said.
"Does the door have a knob?" I asked him.
"Nick!" Adie chided me.
"Itís not physical," James said, "itís not made of matter. Itís not like all the spirits are behind that wall, or crammed inside of it. Itís sort of like a wormhole, an access point into hyperspace. Imagine a funnel, a narrow opening, at the bottom of the ocean, but the whole ocean is able to pour through it. Except the funnel isnít material, itís the way energy interacts. Help me out here, will you, Dr. Hecht?"
Dr. Hecht said: "Weíre working on the frontier of science. I canít tell you anything, except that there is an energy correlation to reported paranormal activity of this nature, and that right here, we are detecting such a correlation. This is, in fact, a very intense manifestation of the phenomenon."
For a moment, we all just stood there, like those British explorers who first stumbled out of the jungles of Africa, into the clear, to behold the staggering sight of Victoria Falls. Except that we saw nothing, except for the walls of our den, and did not know if we had really discovered something or not.
"So Ė now what?" asked Adie, at last. "You have an energy reading. How does it change our lives? Can you do anything about the ghosts?"
Dr. Hecht regarded her, astounded, for a moment, that anyone could possibly miss the scientific importance of this work, or even stoop to think of their own peace of mind while in the midst of such a revolution. "Research of this kind can change the way we think about the universe Ė about life and death, matter and soul," he exclaimed, at last.
"Is your house haunted?" Adie demanded.
"Letís all come in here and hold hands and pray," James suggested, trying to be practical. And before anyone could evaluate his proposal, he had seized my hand and Adieís, and was saying: "Please, Spirits, go back, go back! Go back to the light! The earth is for those who assume an earthly form, please, go back! Do not come here, you are disturbing Adelaide and Nicholas! They are good people and this is their home, the base from which they wish to do good things in the world." (How do you know? I thought. Weíre just like everyone else, trying to get ahead and live the good life.) "Please respect them, please respect the energetic barriers between your world and theirs!" he continued. "Go to the light, stay in the light! God, bless them please, these lost and disoriented spirits, and guide them to the light! Bring them back home! Amen!"
Outside the den, as Charles and Dr. Hecht packed up their equipment like a movie crew closing down a set, and as James wiped great streams of sweat from his face, Mary came up to Adie and told her, decisively: "Talk to the ones you bought the house from. You need more information."
"Did you get anything, Mary?" James asked, coming up to her. "Did you feel anything?" In spite of the way she treated him, he adored her and respected her, which is why he had brought her along to help him.
Mary looked at him, then at us. "Theyíre coming from the den," she agreed, referring to the apparitions. "They are associated with the previous owner."
"The previous owner is dead," Adie told her. "His son inherited the house, and sold it, because he wanted to liquefy his assets."
"Go to the son," Mary told us.
It isnít easy to go talk to someone who is normal about a haunted house, but then, stress can drive you to do things which you never thought yourself capable of. When we saw, once more, the young, disturbed man roaming through our house with the bloody axe in his hands, we made the call.
Paul and Ivette met us in their own house in the suburbs, for the house that had once belonged to Paulís father, imbedded in the midst of the city as it was, seemed too much to be on the front lines. They imagined thousands of envious and dangerous muggers, only blocks away, waiting to penetrate the fragile sanctuary and to overwhelm it with home invasions. You could tell from the strained smile on Ivetteís face, that she thought we might be considering a lawsuit, for there was a precedent in a case in Maine, in which owners had sold a house which they were driven from by hauntings to unsuspecting buyers, without mentioning the real reason why they were leaving it.
"Please donít be offended," Ivette told us, as we enjoyed delicious snacks prepared by a maid from the Caribbean, "but how reliable are these friends of yours? The ones who reported seeing ghosts while they were house-sitting?"
"Theyíre very credible people," Adie told them. "They hold down demanding professional jobs. They are more than competent at what they do, and seem, to us, to possess good judgment."
"Are they into the New Age?" Ivette asked, enjoying the snacks that had been prepared for us even more than we did.
"No, they are pretty much secular," Adie reported. "I remember them hearing something about alien abductions, and laughing about it."
"They have their heads on straight," I agreed. "They were very upset. You could tell that something that seemed very real to them had taken place."
"Dad never said anything about hauntings," Paul said, cutting to the chase. "He lived there for thirty years with Mom, and for eight years thereafter, and not one time did he ever see a ghost. I lived there for years, also, I grew up there, and visited frequently thereafter. Nothing. Zero. Zero times zero is zero. We had dinners, watched movies, played chess and scrabble, celebrated the holidays, and had arguments. We did everything a family does. We were a family. Ghosts were not a part of our life."
"Did any of you ever see a ghost somewhere besides your house?" Adie asked.
"No, never," said Ivette. "Weíre not those kind of people."
"Look, you signed the contract," Paul said, in the gruff voice that served him so well in his profession. "Weíve moved on. Itís too late to reconsider. The legal system doesnít believe in ghosts."
"Paul!" interjected Ivette, wishing to seem as sympathetic as possible while things were still at this stage. Kindness is the best killer of unborn things. Turning to us, she said: "Iím so sorry for what happened to your friends, but luckily, it hasnít happened to you! After all, you are the ones who are living there. They were only house-sitting, and donít have to come back." (My wife flinched.) "I am sure you can find somebody else to house-sit for you in the future; someone less imaginative!"
"Yes, keep your doors barred against artists," Paul said, "they are used to turning the world into something that will look good on their canvas. They turn ordinary people into Gods or homeless people, completely eradicating the middle ground, which is reality. They turn orchards into hurricanes, and vomit their nightmares into our world. And instead of cleaning up the mess with a mop and bucket, we put it in a frame and hang it up in the museum. Look at what Van Gogh did to the night sky, he turned it into some kind of feverish visitation by UFOs; look at what he did to the stars! His own times knew better than we did."
For a while we sat in silence, not knowing where to go with this, until, at last, I asked him: "What was the den like while your father lived there? Before you sold the house?"
"It wasnít much of a den," Paul answered.
Ivette looked at him, which prodded him to go on. (She sensed that this might satisfy us.)
"Dad kind of took it over, and used it as his study," he told me. "He had a large library. A massive collection of books."
"What kind of books?" I asked.
"All kinds of books. Literature, mainly," he said, after a while. "You know, all the classics. Stuff nobody reads anymore. Some of the books were so old they were falling apart."
"The room smelled like mold," complained Ivette. "You should never buy books from second-hand shops, those books have been around so long, in boxes, in atticsÖ He spent more time reading than he did with his kids," Ivette insisted, obviously parroting something which Paul had told her. He seemed guilty as she said it, but did not correct her.
"Where are the books now?" Adie asked, picking up on my line of questioning.
"Who the hell knows?" said Paul.
"We got rid of them," Ivette explained, in a tone of utter functionality. "They were old, we didnít have a place for them. Some of them you wouldnít even want to touch with your hands Ė who knows where they came from? Second-hand book shops! I like to read books about travel," she added. "Paulís reading is related to his business."
"Practical," he said. "Time is precious, whatís the point in doing things of no use? The kind of books he had were written in such a verbose way. On and on they went, like I have to know what you think about everything!? Like every one of your feelings has to be recorded!? This is what men of leisure did, in the past, while others built the world, made cities, machines, planted, harvested, constructed. Why would I ever tip my hat to them?"
"His father was very difficult," Ivette explained. "He was an intellectual."
"He made things more complicated than they needed to be. Nothing could just be itself, it was always connected to something else, and youíd have to hear about it! If you banged your head on the wall, heíd tie it in to some story by Borges. If a neighborís house burned down, heíd tell you the story of Aeneas escaping from Troy. I still remember this stuff, though Iíve tried for years to forget it! Intellectualism is a sickness," he concluded. "Itís an excuse for sitting on your ass and letting the world take its own course."
"He put a terrible guilt trip on Paul," Ivette added.
"No need to mention that, honey," Paul told her.
But she felt that it must be fully explained in order to demonstrate her loyalty to her husband. "In his Last Will and Testament, he made the preservation of his library Ė maintaining the full collection intact and keeping it in the family Ė a necessary provision for receiving the inheritance."
"Old tyrant!" Paul raged.
"How did you get around it?" Adie asked her, at last.
"The will didnít spell out the time frame," explained Ivette. "So we simply left the collection there for several months, until we had collected the inheritance. Then we got rid of it, since we had, in the strictest legal sense, complied with the terms of the inheritance; and we put the house up for sale. Who was going to be saddled by all those old books? Like wearing a ball and chain!"
"Father loved those books," whispered Paul, with eyes suddenly moist. But he would not let himself be broken by the impractical demands of the dead, especially not while we were there. "Well, but, heís dead and gone, and they can be of no use to him, now!" he exclaimed, fighting against a broken promise, which stalked him like a ghost from within; fighting against expectations which he could not live up to, and which he therefore vastly exceeded by a standard of his own. "He enjoyed his books while he was alive, and now, he has no need for them!"
"Itís terrible the way the dead impose their agendas upon the living, try to ride them from the grave," Ivette said. "Let every generation live its own life. Let the son be free of the father."
As Adie and I pulled away from their driveway, late that afternoon, agitated, below the surface, by the divisions of strangers, Adie asked me: "Well - now what?"
"You donít see?" I asked her.
She looked at me, drained. "See what?"
"Weíve found the answer to our haunting!"
This time the ghost-buster who we invited to our home was a professor of literature from a local community college, who responded to our ad. Adjuncts are so poorly paid, and live such an insecure life, that any extra source of income, no matter how bizarre and by how narrow a thread tied to their profession, is more than welcome. Roger was thin, light-boned, with the kind of trim beard literature professors are known for. His eyes were clear and blue, though they seemed in to be in some kind of illuminated agony, and his gestures were exaggerated, as though never properly learned. He had been kidnapped by books long ago.
After preparing him with two glasses of brandy, and sitting him down in our sofa, we began to work.
"Who, exactly, are we dealing with?" I asked him.
Long before we had him cornered in our house, I had taken Adie back to go over the holes which Mary had spotted in the den, and to envision the shelves that had once been installed there, along the wall, by Paulís father. I had called in a handyman, who had reopened the holes, inserted the appropriate hardware into them, screwed in the supports, and provided us with the strong flat beams to lay across the supports, until we had finally erected a close reproduction of the original bookshelves which Paulís father had lovingly maintained in his cherished den.
Now, as we described to Roger the spirits which had, as of late, afflicted us, his eyes lit up. He knew these spirits well. They were characters from the great works of literature. The Japanese woman was, he thought (though there were at least two other strong possibilities), Lady Murasaki, the fictionalized persona of the author of The Tale of Genji. The crazed knight, whose body seemed to glow with passion that was, to a world reoriented towards profit, only embarrassing, was none other than Cervantesí Don Quixote Ė the idealistic caballero who could not change in spite of the world! The wild, savage man of deep intelligence and tortured soul who had terrified us with his bloody axe was Raskolnikov, the anguished protagonist of Dostoevskyís Crime and Punishment. The brave and reckless young woman who exhorted some unseen king, whose power she despised, to destroy her, was Sophoclesí Antigone.
Bewildered, my wife regarded me, turned to Roger, then looked back at me. "You mean to say we are being haunted by the characters of books?" she gasped.
"They are so powerful," I told her, "that they have acquired the force of spirits."
Roger, who was beginning to understand the bizarre nature of his mission, caught fire like a bundle of hay next to a flame; my more ignorant ranting triggered his knowledge, incited the inferiority complex inherent in his field. "A great character in literature," he assured my wife, "is much more than words on a piece of paper which elicit a mental image, much more than a two-dimensional invention, a mere fiction! It is a receptacle for the heart and soul of a human being who has lived life, and seen others living life; and it is placed into the world from the highest peak of inspiration, where men seek to defeat death by making something that death cannot extinguish. As the creator pours his soul into the character - the receptacle - it becomes alive: alive with him, and with all those who he carries with him! And it becomes a vehicle for bringing into the world the essence of men and women, which no real person can fully embody, but which is, nonetheless, absolutely real: the well from which all living things drink! This essence, one fragment of which the character brandishes like a flag, is divided into a thousand garments that hang in the wardrobe of our indecision, awaiting our choice. We have given life to the character, and he, or she as it may be, gives life to us! The character comes from us and gives birth to us! We make it from what we know of ourselves, and it shows us who we can be!"
My wife regarded him. She would have been skeptical except for his passion. When small and nondescript men rave, one does not know whether to be fearful for oneself, or for their fragile body which seems on the verge of exploding.
"As traces of real people leave ghosts behind them in the world," Roger speculated, "so characters so passionately conceived and ardently offered cannot fade away easily. They must have a life of their own! They must! They are not to be pushed aside like fantasies, they are practically biological in nature; they are bruised, and they resist!"
My wife turned to me with horror, since Roger no longer seemed reliable. "Nick, what does this mean to us?" she demanded. "The hauntings?"
"Adie," I told her, certain of my instinct, now, "it means that we must bring back the books of Paulís father and place them on the shelves which we have just reinstalled in his den. It was his will that the books should remain, and his love and devotion so raised the energy of the characters of his favorite novels, that they have persisted after his passing, and continue to haunt this house seeking the pages from which they came."
"Nick, this is crazy!" she told me.
"Ghosts are crazy," I reminded her.
"Go to the Light!" she cried out, imitating James, for one moment desperate with the madness of it all, panicking like someone in the movies when the monster appears. "Go to the Light! Leave us alone, please, for Godís sakes! Go to the Light!"
"For them," Roger told her, catching on faster than any of us, "we are the light! The human heart is their home, and that is where they seek to go!"
"But the books Ė the old manís books Ė they got rid of them!" lamented Adie.
"Let us pray that they do not need the same books," I agreed. "We will buy handsome copies, the best we can, the most dignified and worthy, hardbound and well-made. And we shall start with four books: The Tale of Genji, Don Quixote, Crime and Punishment, and Antigone!"
Thank God, for all of us, my hunch proved to be right. As we returned, to the restless spirits of the characters who haunted our home, the masterpieces from which they came, and gave to them prized places upon our shelves, they grew quiet, and waited for us to meet them on the pages in which they dwelled. Their power did not diminish, they merely lost the desperation of the abandoned. What they demanded from us, they gave back a hundred times.
As the months went on, new hauntings emerged, but now we knew what to do. We called our friend Roger, who no longer appeared spiteful like a little dog in the presence of businessmen and scientists, but held his head up high, believing, once again, in the words he spoke, shining like a sun. "All that is deep shall be raised up to my heights!" he exclaimed, paraphrasing Nietzsche. During these days we encountered Oliver Twist, who actually had the strength to take the money out of Adieís purse and to scatter it all around the house before he vanished through a wall; we saw Hamlet wishing for death out loud, yet haunting us that he might live; we saw Caesar perforated with knife wounds, his hands covered with blood he could no longer keep inside his body, staggering through our living room, gasping, "E tu, Brute?" We saw Scheherazade sitting on our sofa, coyly telling the wall, "Too bad I have to die before the story is over," and Gulliver, pants down, urinating on the floor. "Thank God," Adie said, "his piss was only spiritual!"
In each case, we knew precisely what to do. Identify the work of literature. Go to the bookstore, buy it, and put it on the shelf. Whether we actually had to read the tales or not, or whether merely having the book in our possession sufficed, I do not know: for after the hauntings, we could not restrain ourselves from reading the books associated with our ghostly visitors. We could not resist the urge to find out more about them, to know their story.
"It is a terrible thing what sons do to fathers," Adie told me, as we sat down on the sofa, reading together.
"Sometimes," I said, "the transgressions of the sons occur because of the terrible things that fathers do to sons."
She thought about that for a moment, then bulled past it to say: "It is a shame that Paul did not honor the last request of his father, to save and cherish his books."
"He is merely well imbedded in our generation," I told her. There was silence, not only because of the things we said between us, but because of the pages in our hands which demanded our attention.
"We cannot afford to lose these characters," Adie said, at last.
"We didnít know that," I said, "until they haunted us!"
Short Fiction Contents
Creative Safehouse Contents