Having the ability to let lost spirits give you visions and talk to you isn’t all it is cracked up to be. Trust me. You can’t “unsee” the things they show you. Their memories become your memories. Images haunting their minds end up haunting you. A shared haunting, if you will.
GO GET THE KEYS. The vision had come swift and quick, without warning.
“A set of keys,” I said to my wife the moment she walked through the door after work.
She knew what I was talking about immediately. We were getting better at this. At listening. At following the voices speaking to me. “What kind of keys?”
“I’m not sure, but she sees it as a skeleton key, I think.” I tried my best to see them from her eyes. “It’s not, though. It’s a simple key to a big lock on the door to a closet or something. There are stairs that go down from what gets unlocked. There are three keys on the key ring, and they are at the antique store off A Street.”
(Well, okay. It isn’t that fast when trying to figure out a blurry vision coming to me, but that was the gist of it. It generally takes a few hours to put all the pieces together.)
I have to admit, I use to fear the schizophrenia. If you hear voices and see visions in your head, you are crazy, and you need to be locked up. Padded cell. Straight jacket. The whole nine yards. It’s been a fear all my life.
For many years, I ignored those voices because of this. I would write stories because I had a good imagination, I told myself. But for some reason, I never did anything with those stories, poems, and books I wrote, either. I would write them and delete them. I would delete them in hopes of making the voices go away, but they never did. They stayed forever. I can still remember images and scenes from deleted stories I wrote from the time I was a teen. The voices have always been there, and they will always be there.
So what have I done after all these years? I have finally accepted them. I am learning to live with them. I am no longer going to fear them, and I am no longer going ignore them, and I am no longer going to hide them. They all have stories to share, and as long as I am careful and understand they are not a true part of me or my memories, I am going to be fine. Right?
The next day, we went to the antique store and I asked the woman inside if she had keys.
“Keys?” she asked, looking around and shaking her head. “No, I don’t we have any keys of any kind.”
Yes you do, I wanted to say, but instead began looking around myself. A moment later she said, “Oh, wait. I do have some keys.”
I followed her to the front of the store, and she picked up a metal box sitting on the floor and sat it on the counter. “A man came in yesterday and gave these to me.”
Hmm. How interesting.
I walked over to the box as she lifted the lid. Inside was a huge pile of keys. Silver keys. Gold keys. Keys to cars. Keys to vending machines. Keys to doors. And, right in the middle of all these keys, were the only keys on a key ring. Two car keys attached with a small Masterlock key, sitting on top of all the others.
“This is them,” I said, picking them up. “How much?”
The bewildered look she gave me was priceless. “Um…” She shrugged. “Fifty cents?”
“Sold.” I handed her two quarters, put the keys in my pocket and left the store, along with the spirit of the little girl attached to them.
“What has come to you,” my wife asked a couple of days later.
I was sitting at my desk, staring across the room at the television. The keys were right next to my computer. “I’m not sure,” I told her, glancing down at them briefly before looking back to the television.
Most of the time, their stories come to me immediately. The spirit attached to the object simply takes over my fingers and the story unfolds before me. I have no idea what I’m going to write until the words begin to fill the page. One time, the presence was so strong I had to sit there with a glass of scotch, because that is what the owner of the voice used to drink while he was thinking. Not one word had come to me until I poured that glass of scotch and took a drink. Once the first taste hit my tongue, the words poured out in one sitting.
Another time, I would get woozy while writing, because the owner of the voice had taken a large amount of poison before she died. I would get a sick feeling while writing. I would space out at times and simply had to stop until she “regained her senses” and we could continue.
This one was different in every way, though.
“I see her holding out her hand,” I said, now staring at the key. “She can’t speak to me here, for some reason, but she can speak to me once I go inside? I have to follow her inside of a room? She doesn’t quite trust me yet, but she wants to trust me. The only way she will fully trust me is if I take her hand and let her lead me into a room of some sort.”
My wife started contemplating what I was saying. She’s my grounder. She doesn’t hear the voices and she doesn’t feel their emotions, so she can’t be influenced by them the way I can. Her gift is claircognizance. She gets thoughts. She simply knows an answer or a purpose for something with no reason for knowing. Things will come to her out of the blue, and 99 times out of a 100, she’ll be right.
“Where does she want to lead you?”
“Into the room.”
She shook her head. “That doesn’t sound right. How old is she?”
“I’m not sure. Eight? Nine? Ten? Something like that.”
She continued shaking her head, trying to figure it out. “What does she look like?”
“I don’t know. She hasn’t shown herself to me yet. I just know it’s a little girl.”
“No. Something isn’t right. I’m not sure if you want to do this one or not. It’s like she’s hiding something.”
The moment said that, it was almost as if a pleading feeling came over me. She, whoever she was, needed my help. Or something needed my help. I wasn’t sure if it was her or another person, but I could also vision a man sitting in chair listening to late 60’s, early 70’s music. Steppenwolf. The Doors. Crème. The Rolling Stones. There was a bottle of Jack Daniels on the table by his chair and he was smoking Camel shorts, constantly flicking a zippo open and closed.
Two spirits attached to one item?
I guess it was possible. Maybe the item was significant to both of them?
This is where things get hard with ‘guessing’ what you are seeing and hearing. The little girl wasn’t talking, but I sensed she would talk once I had followed her inside. Was she protecting him? Who was the story going to be about? Her, or him? Nothing was making sense.
And we will not trust you until you commit, and come inside. Take my hand.
For several hours, I struggled with this. I was not sure if I wanted to go inside. All kinds of thoughts went through my mind while trying to figure this one out. The story wasn’t coming to me like the others. Was there a possession about to happen? Was I being tricked to come to the other side so one or the other could possess me?
That didn’t feel right, though. Innocent kept coming to mind. Nothing to worry about. It was going to be a difficult journey to the other side this time, unlike the times before, but I had to make the trip. I could not ignore this one like I had with other pulls and feelings from other objects. Someone on the other side was pleading with me to take the trip and to help.
Help with what?
I knew I wasn’t going to get that answer until I took that leap of faith and made the journey, though. They simply were not going to tell me. The secret must remain a secret until it was time to be revealed. They had to trust me, and I had to trust them. It had to remain hidden until I committed and promised I would stick out whatever was going to be shown, and tell the story needing to be told.
Picking up the keys, I knew it is up for me to place it into the lock and open the door. I was going to have to take the trip down those stairs myself and let whoever or whatever is on the other side tell me their story. I was going to have to make the promise if I was to do what this gift was designed to do.
Pressing the keys tightly in my palm, I closed by eyes and let my gift do what ever it is it does, and I let myself be taken with it. Nearly immediately, things inside my mind began swirl. I felt her presence again. I didn’t just feel her through the key, either, but as if she was right against me. Not inside my head, but next to me. Like a second skin or something. She was once again standing in the darkness of that door with her hand outstretched, letting me know this time I had no choice. She was not going to leave until her story was told.
The story was not going to be pleasant, either, but there was nothing I could do now…
“You’re not a monster,” Penelope whispered, listening against the door.
Sitting alone in the dimly lit pantry, leaning back against a sack of potatoes, she was doing more than hearing the anguish her father was going through downstairs. It was too much to ask a girl her age, but there was nothing she or anyone else could do about it. As much as she tried not to feel his pain, she couldn’t keep from it.
It had been that way all of her life. Her grandmother called it a gift from God, but Penelope couldn’t understand why He would give someone a gift like this. To feel what others are going through? To feel anxiety? Feel turmoil? Hatred? Anger? Why would he give someone a gift like that? Especially at such a young age. She was almost ten, but she could remember feeling ‘things’ as far back as kindergarten. She’d known she was weird since she was four.
She squeezed her eyes shut and flinched at the sound of something breaking down inside the basement over the sound of the music coming from the speakers. So much pain. So much hate and anger. Fear. Turmoil over the things he saw over there. Turmoil over the things he did. It was killing him.
Her father hadn’t been the same since returning from the war a couple of years ago. She could still remember his face when he came through the door that day. He appeared so happy, and he hugged her and her mother so tight she couldn’t breathe. They all stood in the living room hugging and crying, thankful he was alive and had come back to them.
But it wasn’t him. It was, then it wasn’t. She could tell. He had changed.
It didn’t matter, though. He was back! Her daddy was home, and he was never going back to the jungle. He said the war was over and he was never going back.
Opening her eyes when a new song started, she looked up at the large lock on the door. The key was pressed tight in the palm of her hand, but she knew it wasn’t time yet. Her daddy had given her mother and her strict orders to never go down the stairs when he got this way. They had to keep the door locked no matter what, and only open it once he came back up the stairs and told her it was okay.
It didn’t usually last this long, though. Today it felt different. He felt more distant than normal. Actually, he’d been getting worse. And now, she wondered if she should have gone with her mom when she went to grandma’s house today, but Penelope knew she needed to stay. Her daddy needed her. He needed someone to unlock the door if he went in. As long as the big lock was in place, she was safe.
She was suspecting other things were going on, too. She would lay in bed at night and listen to them arguing. Yelling. Breaking things. Was he getting worse, as mom was suggesting?
“You’re not a monster,” she whispered again, rehearing the words he spoke to her earlier today. He could always feel it coming on. Little flashbacks, he would call them. He would see a shadow or hear a twig snap. Something would click and he would think it was a gun. He’d hear a whistle and think it was a signal. He couldn’t explain how he knew a flashback was coming, but he didn’t need to explain. She could feel the panic in his chest the same moment he felt it.
“Hurry,” he had said half an hour ago, knocking the bread of the sandwich he was making her onto the floor as he rushed around the counter. “You know the rules!”
She began to cry, following him to the pantry. “Let me go with you,” she begged. “You won’t hurt me. I know it.” Today was different. The feelings were different.
“Oh, Pen.” He turned around and squatted down, pushing the hair from her eyes before taking her by the shoulders. “I wish that were true, but we know it isn’t. I can’t control the monster inside of me. I wish I could make you understand, and maybe you will when you get older, honey. But we’ve had this discussion. I need you to be strong, okay?” He closed his eyes tight and turned head from her, his grip tightening on her arms so hard they began to ache. But she didn’t move. She stayed still and waited for him to turn back to her.
“You know the rules,” he said, lightening his grip when she nodded. He ran his hand down the side of her face and kissed her on the cheek. “I love you, honey. Okay? Don’t break the rules. I’ll come up to you. Never go down to me.”
She nodded again, knowing the rules all too well. He’d made sure she knew them ever since the day he put the lock on the door a couple of months ago. He didn’t trust himself and feared what he might do if she was around him during a flashback, or whatever it was happening to him.
He turned away quickly and shoved the door open leading downstairs. “Lock it!” he yelled, disappearing into the darkness.
Penelope did as he asked, pulling the door shut and sliding the heavy lock into place. She took out the key and stood there, unable to move. This one felt so much different than the others. Scarier. More dangerous or something. His emotions were all over the place when he rushed down the stairs.
She had tried not to dwell on them as she sat down by the door, hugging her knees up against her chest. “You’ll be okay,” she whispered. “You’re not a monster.” She began rocking back and forth, fighting back the tears blurring her vision while listening at the door. “You’re not a monster.”
Penelope sat up, her heart pounding. Darkness surrounding her, she reached out, feeling in the darkness until her hand touched the door next to her. The moment she did, she remember where she was sitting.
Why hadn’t he come up to the door yet?
There was a dim light coming from the crack at the bottom of the door and reached up to feel the lock still attached. She must have fallen asleep sitting there.
It wasn’t in her hand! Where was it?
She scrambled to her feet and relief flooded through her when she heard the key clank to the floor. Reaching up, she searched around in front of her, swaying her hand back and forth until she felt the light cord hanging down from the ceiling. Light flooded the room when she pulled down on it and she turned around, spotting the key close to the potato sack. Snatching it up, she grabbed the lock and lifted the end to insert the key.
Don’t break the rules, she heard her daddy’s voice say in her mind. I’ll come up to you. Never go down to me.
“Daddy,” she called out. She placed her ear to the door but there was only the faint sound of music playing. “Daddy?” She raised her voice. “Daddy?”
Still no answer.
Something had to be wrong. He’d never stayed down this long before. She couldn’t feel his feelings, either. No pain. No anger. Nothing.
Her heart began to race. This wasn’t right. “Daddy!”
Don’t break the rules.
But what if something happened to him? What if he fell and hit his head and was bleeding? What would her mother do? How long ago had she left? She had said she was going to be back before dark, hadn’t she?
There were too many thoughts going through her mind. What was she supposed to do?
“Daddy!” she screamed. “Answer me!”
When he didn’t answer, she looked at the key in her hand again. What if she just peeked inside? Called from the top of the stairs? Maybe he couldn’t hear her because of the music. She was pretty fast. If she heard him coming toward her, she could just run back up and lock it before he got to her, couldn’t she?
A part of her knew he wouldn’t hurt her, and she wanted to believe it. But another part of her remember the day he came home and the feeling she got when he hugged her. He isn’t the same as he was when he left. At times he was the same, but at other times he wasn’t. As much as she hated to admit it, she was afraid to open the lock. What if the other person was the one down there right now?
She couldn’t leave him down there if he was hurt, though.
Closing her eyes, she tried to use the gift. Normally the feelings simply came to her without trying, but this time, nothing. Maybe it wasn’t working right now because she was scared.
She stood there a long time with her hand on the knob, trying to feel for emotions. Anything to let her know he was okay. Just a trace of anger and sadness would work. Worry. Fear. Anything.
When she still didn’t feel anything, a thought suddenly came to her she’d forgotten. There was one time when her mommy went in when he didn’t come back up after a long time, but it was before he put a lock on the door. How could she have forgotten that? He might be asleep. He has stuff he drinks down there. Stuff she’s not supposed to touch. Sometimes he would go down there to drink, and her mom would get mad at him. That must be what happened!
Lifting the key, she ignored the pounding in her chest and put it into the lock. Turning it slow, the lock released with a click. “Daddy,” she said again, lifting up the lock and pulling back the metal latch hooked to the door.
She put the lock back on the hook, took out the key, and grabbed the doorknob, slowly turning it. It opened easily and swung inward.
“Daddy?” she whispered, stepping down onto the first step. Just a quick peek. That is all she wanted. She only wanted to make sure he was okay and then she’d go back up.
Taking another step and then another, she glanced back up at the door, each step feeling less safe than the last. But she had to check on him. There had to be a reason for him not coming back up. There had to be. He was either asleep or hurt.
The music was getting louder as she closed in on the bottom of the stairs. She knew this record. The Animals. He listened to this one more than any of his others. It was his favorite and he would set it on repeat so it would play over and over. He would say they were even better than The Doors, and her mom would call him crazy.
Back when she could call him crazy without him getting mad.
She stopped at the bottom of the stairs and pressed against the wall, placing her ear against it. Her breathing was heavy, and every instinct told her to run back upstairs, but she couldn’t do that until she checked on him. Just a quick peek.
Swallowing to calm down her breathing, she slowly leaned to the side to look around the corner. The first thing she saw was the pool table. It all looked normal, too. The balls were on the table and the stick lying in the middle of it.
Leaning a little farther, she pulled back quickly when she saw him sitting in the recliner. He was slumped down and appeared to be asleep. Another song began to play on the album as she risked another look.
This time she didn’t pull back. Relief came over her when she realized he had done exactly what he did that one time her mom came down here. He’d fallen asleep.
She thought about returning upstairs when she noticed the drink in his hand. He barely had a hold of it, and it was leaning, about to fall out of his hand. He other arm was hanging over the side of the chair and there was a cigarette between his fingers. It was nearly burned to the end of it. The smoke was slowly rising up and the ashes littered the floor around the ashtray sitting next to the chair.
He couldn’t have been asleep for long. Why hadn’t he answered her when she called down to him? Did he light the cigarette in his sleep? Out of habit?
Penelope looked at it again. The red glow was about to reach his fingers.
She glanced back up at the door. It seemed so far away. Standing at the bottom of the stairs, though, she realized she didn’t have that fear she’d had at first. She looked to her daddy again. He seemed peaceful at the moment. Not a monster, just as she’d told him. He’d been angry and making noise hours ago, but he was sleeping now.
Not wanting the cigarette to burn him, she quietly began moving toward him. All she was going to do was take the drink out of his hand and put out the cigarette. Then she would go back upstairs and leave him alone. She’d leave the door unlocked so he could get out when he woke up.
Standing next to him, she reached down and grabbed the rim of the glass. He didn’t have a hard grip on it, so it slid away from his hand easily. Without making any noise, she stepped over to the table holding the record player and quietly sat it on the edge.
Turning back, she stepped to the other side of the chair and switched the key to her other hand before reaching for the cigarette. There was hardly any of it left and it looked like it was about to burn him. She couldn’t leave it there. She remembered hitting one of his cigarettes before, and it hurt bad!
Getting down on her knees by his chair, she tried to reach to the other side of his hand and get ahold of the end of it. Once she did, she was stuck. How was she going to remove it without burning him? Push it? Slide it down?
With as tight of a grip as she could do with two fingers, she began pushing down on the cigarette, trying to slide it away.
His large hand shot up, hitting her in the cheek with the cigarette. Pain shot through her scalp when he grabbed her by the hair and yelled in her face. “No Charlie kills me in my sleep!”
Before she could say anything or even scream, he picked her up by the hair, lifted her in the air and slammed her down on the floor. “Nobody!” Her leg hit the table and record player made an awful screeching noise before continuing to play.
The air left her lungs and the lights swirled as his weight landed on her. Loud music began to play from the speaker next to her ear. She didn’t know what was happening. She wanted to call out his name, but his fingers were around her neck too quick. She couldn’t breathe.
She could feel, though. So much anger. He couldn’t control the rage. He had a fear of dying. Being killed. Hatred flooded her. Terror. His emotions. Her emotions. They all mixed together in one instance of panic.
He shoved his knee down on her chest and began yelling something in a language she didn’t understand. The fingers tightened in a crushing grip. He continued to yell, and she kicked under him, trying to break free.
It was all too fast.
Light became a dark swirl and then enveloped her completely. It seemed to stay dark forever before the light came back. She couldn’t hear him anymore, but knew he was still on top of her and yelling. Pulling her up by the neck and slamming her back down. Over and over. It went back to dark, and back to light. Dark, then light. Dark. Bright light. Dark.
Then dark completely consumed her and everything slowed. At first, the only thing she could hear were the words of a song as if they were playing inside her head.
…house in New Orleans…
The pain stopped. The yelling stopped.
…ruin of many poor boy…
…god knows I’m one…
The pressure on her chest was gone. There was nothing but silence.
The feelings were still there, though. No hers, but his. She could feel his hatred. She could still feel his rage, but she couldn’t see him. She couldn’t feel him on top of her. Feel his hands. Feel herself gasping for breath. It was simply gone.
It wasn’t exactly a voice, but a pull. It didn’t sound like words, but felt like them.
Turning, Penelope looked around until she saw something glimmering. It was like a mirage that was trying to take shape. Or looking at something through water. Rippling and constantly moving. A simple light, and peaceful feeling.
And warmth. An embrace of warmth. It wrapped around her in a way that made her feel the need to go toward it.
What had been happening was forgotten. There was something happening, or something that happened, but she couldn’t remember. The only thing she knew was the warmth felt nice.
Penelope stopped at the sound of her daddy’s voice. In an instant, feelings engulfed her again, rushing back through without control. They were so strong they made her sick at her stomach and she spun around in panic.
Anger, but different. Shock. Grief. The most horrible pain she’d ever felt in her life.
What about Daddy?
No, something was wrong. Her own feelings began to come back. Fear. Worry.
Ignoring the pull, she stood where she was, looking away from the light. She searched the darkness until it also began to shimmer. Stepping toward it, she felt the need to help him. Something was terribly wrong. She was abandoning him if she went the other way. She could feel it deep inside.
She would be abandoning him.
“No!” he screamed somewhere close, but muffled.
In an instance, everything blurred again. She had to help him. Get back to him.
The blur of light swirled, and for a moment she felt lost. Focusing on the feelings of her daddy’s pain, she willed herself to go that direction, the other light now forgotten. She had to get back.
When the swirls of light stopped, she could hear distant crying, but it was getting closer. It continued to get closer until it became sobs. Loud sobs to a point where she would almost feel her daddy’s arms around her, hugging her.
And then she saw him. The lights didn’t stop shimmering around her, but they slowed enough for her to see him down on the floor. Without seeming to move, she was standing behind, the air around her suddenly cold.
Fear gripped her when no sound came from her voice.
She could hear the words in her head, but they didn’t make a noise.
Then another fear came over her when she noticed he was holding something in his arms, rocking back and forth as he cried and yelled even louder.
“Why didn’t you listen? I told you to stay upstairs!” he screamed.
Penelope moved closer and then pulled back, staying behind him. Something warned her not look at who he was holding in his arms. It warned she already knew.
Still no sound came from her voice.
What was happening? What was the fear controlling her? She’d never felt it like this before. It was different. Nothing was making sense.
He continued to sob, rocking back and forth.
And then she saw it.
The lifeless hand of the child in his arms fell away from his grasp. It landed softly on the floor, the fingers slowly opening. In the palm of the hand was the key. Her key. The one she’d been holding when she came down. The one she wasn’t supposed to use.
It was too late, though. She already knew. She knew who he was holding. She tried to scream at him. To let him know he wasn’t holding her in his arms, but instead, she was standing right behind him. She couldn’t, though. No words came to her. There was no voice. There was nothing.
She looked at the key in the lifeless hand again, wishing she had listened. Wishing she hadn’t disappointed her father and caused him the pain he was feeling now. It was her fault. It was all her fault. She hadn’t listened.
And as I finished that part of the story, it was as if she was standing right next to me. Standing beside me and watching me type out the images she had given. I can feel the pleading in her eyes. I can feel what it is she needed to let others know.
I do not know what happened to her father, either because she doesn’t know, or she doesn’t want me to know. But what I do know is she wants others to know it wasn’t her daddy’s fault. She wants others to know he was a kind, caring man who loved her and she loved him just as much. She loved him more than anything in the world, and he loved her just as much.
She never got to tell her father how much she loved him, though. She wanted to tell him, but she couldn’t. She knew how much he loved her because it was her gift to know. But he never got to know how much she loved him and how much she misses him.
For years, she has been living this nightmare over and over. Feeling his pain. Feeling his guilt. Knowing she had made a mistake by not following the rules.
“I want people to know,” she whispered in my ear, “That I forgive my daddy. My daddy is not a monster, and I will love him forever.”
At that very moment, it was almost as if I could feel her kiss me on the cheek to thank me, and then the tears began to flow down my face. And just like that, she was gone.
I never saw a flash of bright light or anything like that, but I do know I felt peace before she left. And happiness. And no pain.
The pain was gone.