I shiver as the hairs stand on the back of my neck. The stairwell is completely dark and of course nothing happens when I flip the light switch. The house is silent save for the sound of my own breathing. Still, I am not alone.
With darkness my only friend, I slip carefully down the wooden stairs. The third step lets out a slow creak as I ease my full weight onto it. The fourth step doesn’t do me any favors either, not that it makes a difference. My arrival appears to be expected.
A solitary figure waits at the base of the stairs. An old woman dressed in a flowing vintage gown beckons me to proceed down the steps. Her skin is the color of a pale brown paper bag with faint shades of olive green, any trace of pink long forgotten. Though her face is completely shrouded in shadows, I’m able to make out the outlines of the ancient furnace hulking behind the old woman. The transparency of her drab, colorless clothing makes it evident she’s only partially here in our world.
Yeah, I see dead people.
Icy fingers grabbed me by the throat the first time I confronted one of these things. It had been a startling revelation that I could be actually be harmed by a death knocker. That’s what I call them anyway. These spirits are knocking on death’s door—they just don’t get the fact they’re already on the wrong side of the door. Some are lost, some are angry, some have messages and some are simply too stupid to know they’re dead. It’s the angry ones that you need to watch out for.
“Why are you here?” I ask, waiting. I get nothing in return. Experience has taught me not to expect much—if anything—in the way of verbal interaction in these situations. Communication being a two-way street, I want this thing to know I’m aware of its presence and I’m not happy about it. Stepping closer, I ask my question again, “Why are you here?”
If this woman wants me down in the basement, she must have a reason. Let’s have it then. I step right up to the woman, just a foot or so away. I feel an intense coldness sucking my body heat away and I can’t help but shiver. As close as I am, I can’t see her eyes. A veil of shadow covers her face and I’m left staring into a pit of darkness. Her hand slowly comes up and reaches for my cheek. It takes everything I have to hold my ground.
A gust of wind kicks up—most unusual considering we are inside a basement—and my hair swirls around my face obscuring my vision. A sensation of vertigo hits me as the woman’s long-dead hand makes contact with my skin. Images of angry faces and a violent struggle race through my head, a chaotic whirl speeding by too fast to comprehend. I need this to stop before I get swept away, unable to process my own thoughts. It takes every ounce of willpower to raise my hand. Drawing strength from my momentum, I focus everything on the spirit’s hand and close my hand around the pale wrist. I’m actually able to make contact with the icy cold skin, ripping the hand from my cheek.
The image freight train careening through my head comes to a screeching halt and I start breathing again. This death knocker wants me to know about its death, but there’s nothing I can do. Clearly she died ages ago.
Without warning, her hand comes at me, shifting focus from my cheek to my throat. Possessing a strength I couldn’t have foreseen, she brings me to my knees as I fight to keep the hand at a safe distance. It’s my own damn fault as I’m the one who enabled this contact. Lesson learned. Twisting violently, I let her hand shoot past me toward the concrete floor and slide my hand from her grip. Contact lost, her power over me diminishes immediately. Though not for a second do I believe the threat is over. I press my perceived advantage.
“Time for you to leave. You’re not wanted here. Now go!” I shout. The breeze has now become a whirlwind and the overhead light blinks on, burning supernaturally bright. With a loud pop, the bulb shatters leaving me covered in shards of glass and plunges me once again into darkness. The old woman gone.
I hate dead people.
Opening the door at the top of the stairs, I step into the light. Squinting to see, I make out a tall figure across the room, facing away from me. My eyes adjusting to the light, I recognize my father standing at our kitchen sink, his hands deep in the soapy water as he cleans up our dinner dishes. “Hey, Abbey,” he calls over his shoulder. “What’s going on in the basement?”
“Nothing,” I answer. “I thought I heard something down there.”
“I hope those squirrels haven’t found their way back into the basement. That’s the trouble with these old houses.”
Fighting back a smile, I reassure him. “No, Dad, there’s no squirrels. Quiet as a graveyard down there.” I don’t like lying to my father, however some things are best kept quiet. My father doesn’t need to know his daughter is a certifiable spook magnet.
My name is Abbey, and like most 14-year-old girls you meet, I’m relatively normal—at least until you get to know me. Sure, I’m left-handed, but it doesn’t take long to see that’s only the beginning of the strangeness. As a little girl having my picture taken on my first birthday, there I am in the picture with chocolate frosting smeared all over my smiling face and my recently deceased great-grandmother looming over me in the background. My mom told me when I was young, I was sitting on the floor playing with my dolls in our home back in St. Paul, and the door behind me closed by itself. My mom put down her book and opened the door. As soon as she was back on the couch, the door closed again. Frustrated, she got back up and placed a large book against the door propping it open. The moment she was back sitting on the couch with her book open, the door slammed shut again. Mom was shocked to find the door locked and the book returned to its place on the bookshelf. This is how my life has always been—things have never been quite normal around me.
I try to shelter my father as best as I can. He doesn’t need to know my childhood ghostly experiences have continued—let alone become so prevalent. Since it’s just the two of us now, he already has a lot on his plate. I’ll always be his little girl and he’ll always be the person I look up to most. Which is exactly why my father’s announcement about changing my summer plans came as such a blow.
“No way, I’m not spending my summer vacation in River Falls. Wisconsin is the last place in the world I want to be. Why can’t I come with you?”
My father gazes at me with his tender eyes. “I know this is sudden, but it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity. You know I’ve always wanted to see what actually goes on at Area 51. But as it’s a military base, I can’t take you with me this time.” My father, Constantine, is an investigative writer who travels the world writing books and magazine stories chronicling the mysteries of our time. Whether it was psychic healers, UFOs, the Loch Ness Monster, Bigfoot, a government cover-up of an invisibility experiment gone horribly wrong, or off to Easter Island to examine the large stone heads, my father has been on some amazing journeys. “Look, it’s just eight short weeks and then I’ll be home and you’ll start high school.”
Arms folded, I hold my ground staring down my father. “That’s the problem. You can’t send me off to church camp the summer before high school. High school is important. I need to prepare.”
A pained expression briefly colors his face. “I hate to disappoint you.”
“Well, yeah. Adults have disappointed me all my life. Remember how much I liked Santa until I found out about all the amazing crap he gave my rich friends for Christmas.”
My father gives me a chuckle. “I also remember that you got over it. And besides, it’s not like it’s really a camp,” he says. “There are no leaky tents or rundown cabins. You’ll be staying at River Falls College, living in the dorms. Camp Agape is the Cadillac of church camps.”
“Camp Agape? What a horrible name. Camps should have cool names like Camp Runamuck. Kathleen went to a camp by a dried up lake named Camp Lakebegone. And Dad, no one drives a Cadillac except retired guys and the occasional old school pimp.”
He narrows his eyes at me. “What would you know about pimps anyway, young lady?”
“Please. We do have cable, you know.”
“That’s exactly why spending a few short weeks away…”
“Two months, you mean,” I interrupt.
“Okay, a few short weeks at church camp will be good for you. The definition of Agape is a selfless kind of love, and since most teenagers aren’t exactly known for their empathetic natures,” he says, giving me a look, “it may teach you a thing or two.” I narrow my eyes at him, but he plows on. “And besides, your mother would have wanted this for you.”
Eyes down, I can’t look at him. He’s not playing fair. “I hate it when you play that card.”
My father smiles a warm smile, not at all gloating—lucky for him. “I know. It’s my secret weapon. But you’ll have a summer vacation to remember for the rest of your life.”
“That’s exactly what I’m worried about,” I call over my shoulder as I retreat to my room.