Sweat beads on my forehead, my fingers a gnarled mass of anxiety. I can feel the tenseness in my jaw, neck and body. I twist my shoulders tersely, a shiver running up my spine as I push the wet covers aside and feel the cool night air rush across my damp body. I roll slightly, looking for a dry spot, but my pillow, the sheets, are saturated with the physical manifestation of fear and anxiety. I keep my eyelids shut tightly, even as my gasping breath begs me to open them and make sure the room is empty.
It is empty. I know I’m alone. And yet, I feel its presence, lingering, haunting me.
“There’s a ghost in the bathroom,” he says.
“Yeah! I think it’s the purple ghost. Or maybe it’s the yellow ghost,” she chimes in.
“We’re finding evidence,” another boy offers, holding out a handful of trash they scrounged from the floor.
The ghost hunt has been happening for three days now, beginning when one of the girls turned the bathroom light off during a group bathroom break, eliciting shrieks of happy fear from the others. Now, the kids are obsessed.
“There’s no such thing as ghosts,” one of the counselors says. I frown a bit. I used to believe that too.
I need hard facts, evidence, mountains of it, before I believe. Friends call me a skeptic because I don’t believe yet, because I question everything and want to know what’s real and what’s not. The funny thing is that I don’t think I’m a skeptic. A skeptic would dismiss the stories; I listen carefully. A skeptic would decry others’ experiences; I envy them and wish I had that belief. A skeptic fights against belief; I simply wait for enough proof.
I’ve never seen a ghost. I’ve never felt the presence of one. Not that I remember, at least. Not that sort of ghost, the Hollywood, monster-movie, Halloween ghost story type.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t ghosts. I see hollow people on the fringes of society. I know folks who have changed so much that they’re only echoes of who they once were. I’ve felt the ghosts of politics, of religion, of war. To me, these ghosts are real, visceral, undeniable, and far scarier and more traumatic than any fairy-tale ghost could be.
In my stillness, I listen to the night. Leaves rustle in the soft breeze. An occasional car purrs by in the distance, tires rolling across pavement. Intermittently an owl hoots, a dog barks, a bird calls.
None of it is calming, placating. I still feel on edge.
Even with my eyes closed, my mind focusing on the tangible, I feel it, ever-present. Even with my body gripping tightly to solidity of my bed, I can’t escape the nagging anxiety. Even with time moving us ever further apart, she haunts me.
There’s this point of insomnolence when the world becomes a blur and I fall into the crevices of my mind. I have conversations with her, with myself, none of them ending well… none of them ending at all. I see her in the corner of my eye, in reflections in the windows, in places and things. I feel my heart skip a beat, the whiplash afflicting me with momentary dizziness as I double take. I can’t tell if it’s the lack of sleep playing tricks on my mind or if I’m truly going mad.
I feel odd calling her a ghost, since she’s not dead; at least, I don’t think she’s dead, and I would be shocked if she were and I hadn’t yet heard. Then again, I don’t hear anything from or about her. I tell myself it’s better that way. I tell her to go away. I practice leaving, continuing silence, ignoring her.
It doesn’t seem to be working.
I try going to sleep early, staying up late, sleeping in. It doesn’t matter. I wake up shivering, twisting up in knots. I run, bike, play hard. I wear myself down, hoping that fatigue will help me sleep. It does, but it doesn’t bring the rest and respite I want.
Instead, my gut-wrenching nightmares become prisons from which I can’t wake. In my dreams I run away, but no matter how far I get, there’s no escape.
It kills me logically, brain death upon brain death. There’s no reason to feel this way. It was a good relationship, a great relationship. There were no negatives other than her giving in to doubt, giving up on us, and quitting. I shouldn’t feel so angry, so bitter, so shattered.
“Look what I found!” she says. A small shard of a green glass bottle covered in dirt and grime lands in my palm. “Is it evidence?”
“It’s glass,” I say.
“Oh,” she says, he face falling slightly. “So not evidence.”
“It could be,” I say, trying to bolster her hopes. I’m not sure she even knows what evidence means.
“No,” she says, “we’re not allowed to play with glass.”
“Good call,” I say with a smile.
“Are ghosts real?” She asks, her head tilting quizzically.
“No,” I offer, then suddenly think better of it. “I mean, they could be. I’ve never seen one, but you never know. I doubt there’s one in the bathroom here.”
“Oh,” she replied, a look of deep pondering crossing her face. Then she turns back and joins the others combing the grass for anything that might safely be evidence of their ghost.
As I watch them, I envy them. I envy their playful belief, their innocuous ghost, their simple supernatural creation. I wish I had that childlike fear, the one that could be overcome by facing down something visceral and real.
In the corner of my eye, even in broad daylight, I swear I see something move and whip my head to look. There’s not a ghost to be found.
Instead, I’m haunted by the inescapable past, as only an adult can be.