Ghost Stories


“A surfeiting of terror soon makes terror a cliché.”-Richard Matheson, “I Am Legend”***Dora’s ghost and Jill’s ghost left the basement at midnight, dragging chains all the way up the apartment building’s thirteen floors. The chains were Dora’s idea. “If we’re going to haunt people, we should have chains,” she said. Jill thought it was silly, but she didn’t argue. Dora had always gotten her way when they were alive, and some things never changed.While they haunted the apartments, they told scary stories. “…and when the boyfriend came around to open the door, the killer’s bloody hook was dangling from the handle,” Jill said. After a moment, she added, “See, because when he drove off—”“Yeah, I get it,” Dora said. “I heard that one in the second grade. It’s not scary.” She stopped to howl into the air vents, so that the sound would carry into every apartment in the building. “How about this one: There’s a woman driving alone at night, and the car behind her won’t stop flashing its headlights—”“Because there’s a killer hiding in her backseat,” Jill said. “I heard that one in the second grade too.” They banged on every door in the seventh floor hallway and left bloody handprints on every wall.“My brother told me it really happened to a teacher of his,” said Dora.“I heard it happened to a friend of my dad’s. But I don’t think it ever really happened to anyone.”“Yeah. Nothing scary ever happens around here.” They drifted into an apartment on the eighth floor, stopping to push the closet door open with a long creak, upset everything on one shelf, and leave more handprints on the walls and ceiling. Dora said: “How about the one where the girl hears someone breaking in in the middle of the night, but feels her dog licking her hand in the dark, so she thinks it‘s all right, until the next morning when she finds—” “Heard it. Do you know the one about the babysitter getting the scary phone calls, and eventually the police trace it and find out the calls are being made from the phone in the upstairs hallway?”“No, tell that one.”“…I just did.”“I think I heard that one before anyway. Is it true?”“Probably not,” said Jill. Dora sighed. “It’s almost Halloween, can’t we think of anything scary?”“Maybe we’re just not trying hard enough.”They scribbled scary messages backwards on all the mirrors in the apartment. (Dora insisted that you needed to write backwards on a mirror so that people could read it. Jill was pretty sure that wasn’t how it worked, but said nothing.) Finally, they hovered over the bed of the youngest of the apartment’s inhabitants, a teenage university student who had moved out of her parent’s place two months ago. The girl tossed and turned in her sleep while the ghost children peered at her with faces blue from livor mortis (they’d died facedown) and dragged bloody fingers over her sheets.“People tell those stories all the time, but they‘re not real. What a gyp.”“Yeah. Nothing’s really scary anymore.”“On three?”“Okay: one, two…”“Three!”And they both screamed right in the sleeping girl’s ear.***Laurie had just put her suitcase down and was about to call her mother when she stopped and looked at her new roommate, wondering if she was being made fun of and, if so, what the proper way to react was. “What do you mean ‘haunted’?” she said.“Just what I said. By ghosts, you know?” said Helen. She was a senior, tall and pretty. Laurie was a freshman and she felt like a dwarf standing next to the tall, lithe girl. “Everyone on campus knows. That’s why nobody wants to live here. Why do you think the rent is so cheap?”“You live here,” said Laurie. “I’m moving out once I find someone to take over my part of the lease. I thought I could stand it here, but I really can’t. Elaine was my last roommate and she moved out at the beginning of the month. That’s why you’re here now. Anyway, it’s only fair to tell you. I know you’re from out of town, and those assholes at the leasing office wouldn’t have said anything.”It was a Saturday morning, and yellow sunlight streamed into the apartment’s bay windows. Laurie had all of her worldly possessions in a truck downstairs and she had just figured out there was no elevator in the building (was that even legal these days?) and that she would have avcılar escort bayan to bring every box up all 13 flights of stairs. Now she was being told that her new roomie (first-ever roomie!) was in the middle of moving out because of…ghosts?This must be what they tell every new freshman who moves in, Laurie decided. I’ll play along. “What kind of ghosts are they?” She brought her suitcase into the room Helen said was hers. It was nice enough: small, white, big windows, hardwood floor. She put the luggage on the bed and began unpacking and refolding all of her clothes. Helen opened a Coke and gave her one too (“Do you want anything in it? Rum? Jack?”) and sat in the only chair. The light coming in the east window made her hair look like a blond halo around her head. “Two kids,” she said. “They were murdered in the basement, back in the ‘70s I think.”Laurie’s jaw dropped. “Did that really happen?”“Of course. I mean, it’s what everyone says. Now they haunt the entire building. I guess just haunting the basement would get boring.”“Have you ever…seen them?”“No. But I hear them sometimes. And they get into everything.”“How bad could it be if they’re just kids?”“Wait and see.”Laurie wanted to laugh, but Helen didn’t sound like she was joking. She’s really selling this, Laurie thought. Is she studying to be an actress? Because she’s really good.“Anyway, I just hung out to say hi,” Helen continued. “As soon as I finish this I’m heading out. Won’t be back until Monday.”“Oh,” said Laurie. She tried to hide her disappointment. She’d hoped they might be able to spend tonight getting to know each other. She guessed if the older girl was just going to move out anyway it didn’t matter, but still. “Where are you going, if you don’t mind my asking?”“Out of town. Tomorrow’s Halloween and there’s no way I’m staying here. Those little monsters are going to raise hell.” She paused. “I just thought I’d—”“Warn me, yeah, got it.”“I don’t know if you know anyone in the city, or…”“I do. In fact.” A lie, but what else was she going to say? “Great! I mean, that’s really lucky. You don’t want to stay here. After Halloween it’ll get…well, a little better, at least.” She shrugged. “I’m sorry, I just don’t want to lie to you. I wish someone had been this honest with me when I moved in.”Laurie snapped her empty suitcase shut. “I’ll bet,” she said. Then she smiled, hoping it would take the sting out of it. She wondered where all this was leading. Some neighbor boys popping out of her closet with sheets on in the middle of the night, maybe? Whatever it was, she’d stick it through. Because I can handle this, she told herself again. Whatever happens, I can handle it.They chatted for a few more minutes, Helen apologized twice more, and then she left. It was just Laurie, alone in the apartment. There wasn’t even much furniture—apparently the previous roommate had taken most of it. She flopped down on the bed and looked up at the crinkles of the plaster ceiling. I’m really here, she thought. I made it.She’d missed more than half of the first semester, of course, because of the hospital stay, and that was time she’d never get back. But it didn’t matter: She could start in the spring, and for now she was finally away from home and her mother and everything else. It was the city and the school she’d picked, and she’d driven the whole way here herself, because she’d insisted on doing it that way. Mom had fretted but couldn’t stop her. At last, Laurie’s decisions were what counted.She called home: Yes, I made it just fine, no problems on the road at all. No, I didn’t feel dizzy even once. Yes, I have all my pills, and if I feel lightheaded I’ll take one and then call you right away. Yes, I love you too. Eventually she could put the phone down. What to do on her first weekend in her brand new, very first apartment? Unpack, she guessed; she had to return the truck to the local drop-off Monday morning. But it still felt like the occasion called for something special. Helen had ditched her and she didn’t know anyone in this city at all yet. She wanted to go out; she wanted to have fun; she wanted—Laurie almost screamed when she opened the front door. The boy standing there looked frightened too. beylikdüzü escort bayan For a second they just looked at each other, wide-eyed and startled…and then they burst into helpless laughter. “I’m so sorry,” he said. “I was about to knock and you just flung the door right open.”“It’s all right,” she said. “You just startled me is all. I wasn’t paying enough attention.” She leaned against the doorframe, trying to look and sound as casual as possible. “Are you looking for Helen?” In her head, she prayed: Please don’t be Helen’s boyfriend, please don’t be Helen’s boyfriend…for that matter, don’t be anybody’s boyfriend!The stranger scratched his head. “Yeah. Are you the new roommate? She told me she was getting one. I live on the tenth floor. She and I are kind of friends. Just friends. I came to see if she had any plans for tomorrow. You know, Halloween.”“She went out of town. With some guy, I think. It’s just me here.” She added, silently: All alone, all night, in case you want to come over…“Oh, okay. Well, hey, I know we just met, but do you want to come by?”“I’d love to!” Laurie bit her tongue. “Tomorrow, right?”“Yeah. It’s just a little thing for people in the building who don’t really know anyone yet. A lot of people in this building are new. I guess nobody stays very long.”“Well, you know what they say about this place. I’m Laurie.”“John. Tenth floor, apartment one, tomorrow night. Come by anytime.”“Yeah, okay, great. I’ll see you there.”She just barely stopped herself from winking. The wink would have been too much: She’d have died of embarrassment and never been able to see him again. Once the door was shut and she heard his footsteps down the stairs she waited for her heart to stop fluttering. She was humming to herself as she tromped down the stairs to start hauling all her things up to. Don’t get too excited, she told herself: He just invited you to be polite. It doesn’t mean he’s interested. …but you can get him interested. You can do anything you want now that you’re on your own. There’s nothing stopping you. It all starts now. “It all starts now,” she said out loud, into the lobby mirror. She paused when she passed the basement door, remembering Helen’s story. It had sounded silly, but she wondered if the murders really had happened, or if it was just something people believed because everyone else said so? For a second she wondered if she should go down there and…what, look for evidence of a 40-year-old crime? Or a couple of little girl ghosts? Laurie laughed. She had a lot of work to do before tomorrow night. No time to worry about whatever silly thing was going on down there.***Dora sat on one side of the board, Jill on the other, with their fingertips on the pointer. The table was covered in burnt-down candles; the girls on the sixth floor had been trying to use the Ouija board to “contact” spirits in the building, but neither Dora nor Jill had been interested in any of their questions and hadn’t bothered to respond. Now, long after midnight, they sat at the board themselves. “All right,” said Dora, “what about the one where the car breaks down and the boyfriend goes for help, but he‘s gone for a long time, and then the girlfriend hears this scraping noise over and over, and when she gets out she finds someone has hung the boyfriend’s dead body from a tree, and the sound is his feet scraping the roof? Did that one really happen?”The pointer trembled for a second and then slid across the board:NO.“Darn it.”“What about the one about the woman who picks up the old lady with the grocery bag who’s hitchhiking, but for some reason the old woman makes her really nervous, and finally she realizes that it’s actually a man in a wig, and the police arrest him and find a knife in the grocery bag and tell her he’s a killer who escaped from jail?” said Jill. “Did THAT one really happen?”The pointer paused, slid one way and then the next, and then finally came to rest at:NO.“Shoot.”“Oh! What about the escaped mental patient who gave poisoned Halloween candy to all the kids who trick or treated in one neighborhood, and all of them got sick and a lot of them died?” said Dora. “That one totally happened. Right?”The pointer shot across the board:NO.“Darn esenyurt escort it. None of these old stories are any good at all.” Dora threw the board across the darkened apartment and went off in a huff. Jill followed. “I don’t get it,” Dora said. “Everybody hears those stories all the time. How come none of them are true?”“It’s just the way things are. Like how people say you and me were murdered by a maniac down in the basement, but actually it was just a gas leak. Or how they say we pushed that sophomore off the balcony last Halloween but really he just fell talking on his phone. People always want to believe thing are scarier than they really are.”“But nothing’s really scary unless it’s true.”“Well, WE scare people.” “Those people are just scaredy-cats,” said Dora. She went into the apartment on the twelfth floor with the doll collection and twisted all the dolls heads backwards, so it looked like they had broken necks. “None of this stuff is really scary. What’s really scary is maniacs with knifes and escaped mental patients and guys hiding in your house and your car, or that movie Mom wouldn’t let us watch with the guy with the knife and the white mask and the babysitter. Not dumb old stuff like this.” She indicated the dolls. Jill shrugged, and her chains rattled. “Tomorrow’s Halloween. I guess we’ll just have to try to be as scary as we can. Maybe—”Jill paused. Dora had a look on her face. Jill knew that look: It was the same one she’d had back when she said they should play in the basement in the first place even though Mom and Dad said not to.“I’ve got an idea,” Dora said. “I can’t believe I never thought of it before. I know how we can be REALLY scary.”Jill trembled. “Dora, maybe it’s not a good idea. Maybe we shouldn’t try to be scarier than we are already. Maybe—“Dora grabbed her by the arm. “You haven’t even heard the idea yet. It’s going to be great.” She squeezed a little harder. “This is going to be the best Halloween ever. Trust me.”***Like John said, it was a small party, only about ten guests, all but two of them freshman and all of them people who had just moved into the building this semester. Nobody wore a costume and the only decorations were a few pumpkins John’s roommate had carved (even those were looking a bit on the saggy side; he’d carved them nearly two weeks ago and didn’t have money to buy new ones by the time Halloween rolled around). But the building was kind of spooky at night anyway, and two guys from the first floor had gone trick or treating across the street as a goof and actually got a lot of candy, which they spread out on the floor and split between everybody, so the place had a nice Halloween night atmosphere after all. Naturally, the conversation turned inevitably to one topic:“Of course they SAY the building is haunted, but I haven’t seen anything,” said a girl from the fourth floor, around a mouthful of Milk Duds. “I think it’s all made up.”“No way!” said one of the first floor guys who had brought the candy. “It’s totally true. I wake up every morning with all my sheets and blankets pulled off my bed.”“That’s because you kick in your sleep all night long. Last time I stayed the night I woke up with bruises on my shins,” said a girl from the ninth floor. “That’s why you’re sleeping on the couch if you come over tonight.”“Somebody messed with our Ouija board last night. I mean, after we went to bed, we found it on the other side of the room,” said a sixth floor girl. “Jess says it was the wind, but I don‘t think she believes it. She seemed really creeped out.”“Wait a minute,” said John. “Blankets, Ouija boards, that’s all small-time. I’ve heard really crazy stories: bloody handprints, voices screaming, windows breaking. Hasn’t anybody seen something like that? You know, something good?”There was a pause. “Well, I heard all that too,” said John’s tenth-floor neighbor. “But I think the people who really see shit like that move out. Wouldn’t you?”“Hell no,” said John. “I’d love to be that scared. Nothing that scary ever really happens. I wish it did.” He looked at Laurie. “What do you think?”The question startled her. She stalled by taking a swig of pumpkin beer (she was still on her first one, but it went right to her head). She was sitting next to John on the couch—not too close, but not too far away either. After taking a second to think, she swallowed (careful not to wince—this stuff was actually awful) and said: “I just got here last night, and nothing happened in my apartment at all.

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