Here’s a short story to introduce you to the spooky world of Abbey.
Some of my earliest memories were of playing with our cat, Bojangles. Cute, playful, and entitled, he was always at my side, demanding attention. I was seven years old before discovering we didn’t have a cat.
Yeah, I see ghosts.
The thing is, I didn’t always realize that I saw things other people couldn’t. I mean, when you’re a child, how could you? A lot of kids have invisible friends. My parents just accepted these friends as a normal part of childhood. The only difference between all the other kids and me was that my invisible friends just happened to be people who used to be living.
Being 14 years old now, I can usually tell the difference between the living and the dead. I should; the dead have been coming to me at the most random times of day and night pretty much all my life. For some reason, they’re attracted to me like my dad’s golf balls are to sand and water.
I’m unsure why I walked into Maynard’s Emporium of Mystical Minds (formally Dearly Departed Connectors). Located in Uptown Minneapolis—the San Francisco of Minneapolis—the psychic readings shop hid in an ancient Victorian that looked years past its use-by date. Set well back from the busy Hennepin Avenue, the house blended in with the surroundings. In the ongoing fight between man and nature, the shrubs were winning the war and obscured most of the house. I may not have known the place was still occupied if it wasn’t for the hand-painted sign.
As the door groaned shut, the crowd noise of the Uptown Art Fair disappeared behind me. The house was still; the only sounds were of the creaky wooden floor and a wobbly ceiling fan that had me scampering across the room rather than risk certain decapitation. The air smelled of dust, bacon grease, and, oddly, men’s cologne. Not a combination I would recommend.
Unsure of what to do, I waited.
As they often do in such moments, a song from the eighties bubbled up from the depths of my mind. “How am I Supposed to Live Without You” is a Michael Bolton ballad that my mom used to play. It was the kind of song that had us nearly shouting along with the chorus, which with Michael Bolton’s big voice, probably wasn’t that uncommon.
God, I miss her.
“Hello, young lady,” a deep voice said from the shadows. Stepping into the light, that deep voice belonged to a large black man dressed in a reggae green and yellow robe. He glided into the room with a grace that contradicted his robust build. But even with his eyes that sparkled and danced and hair that would frustrate almost any hat or helmet looking to contain it, it was his smile that got me. You know those smiles that light up a room? Well, his was a smile that also made you feel a mix of happiness and gratitude. I liked him immediately.
“Hello, sir.” I reached out my hand. My father taught me to look someone in the eye as I shook their hand with a firm grip. I had the eye contact part down, but since my hand was utterly swallowed up by his, there was nothing for me to squeeze. There was a tingle in my fingers, possibly from being on the receiving end of his firm grip.
He must have sensed my discomfort because he broke into a belly laugh. “Just call me Maynard. If it’s good enough for my relations, it’s good enough for a nice suburban girl like you.”
“Wait, how did you—I mean—what makes you think I’m from the suburbs?” I felt my cheeks flush. I don’t like being profiled and put in a box.
There was that laugh again. “Please. It’s the Art Fair. Our neighborhood is swarming with suburban teenagers named Brittany, Emma, and—.” He paused, waiting for my answer.
I swallowed. “Abbey.”
“Abbey? I was sure you were going to say Sophia.” This got him laughing again.
“I do know three Sophias.”
“I’m sure you do,” he said with a grin, his gaze holding mine. “So, you’re here for a reading?”
“Why don’t you have a seat?” Maynard gestured to a weathered wooden table that reminded me of one of my grandpa’s furniture projects. Sturdy but slightly off-kilter. The chairs on either side of the table made the whole setup feel like a police interrogation. I hesitantly pulled out a chair.
“Hey, that’s mine,” Maynard barked at me. “The spiritual energy in this place is centered around that specific chair. When I sit there, the energy is drawn in and flows right to me, allowing me to make psychic connections the likes of which are rarely seen. You can’t mess with a man’s flow.”
I sheepishly pushed it back in. “Sorry.”
His laugh gave me the idea I was being messed with. “It doesn’t matter at all. Sit where you like.”
My finely tuned sense of danger wasn’t raising flags of any color, but still.
I didn’t sit in his chair.
Twenty minutes ago, getting a psychic reading was the furthest thing from being on my radar. We took in the art fair’s paintings, photography, sculptures, and decorative furniture when we passed Maynard’s Emporium. As we passed, I got an idea so simple I knew I had to try. So, as soon as my father got rolling on a discussion about depth of field with a nature photographer, I excused myself, saying I wanted to go back and look at something. My father waved for me to go. I wasn’t sure what to expect with a psychic reading as I first stood on the sidewalk looking at the old house.
Now, looking across at the smiling giant, whatever I could’ve imagined a meeting with a psychic would be like was nothing compared to this.
“Grab on,” Maynard said as he reached his hands across the table. Tentatively stretching out my arms, I held onto two of his ginormous fingers. There was another tingle of electricity that lasted just a moment. Maynard closed his eyes and said, “Bitter elephants. Bitter elephants.”
As his voice grew in volume, there was a growing energy. Glancing around, I expected to see a gaggle of ghosts, but we were alone in the room. Not a ghoul, spirit or poltergeist to be found.
“Grumpy cats. Angry dogs. Grumpy cats. Angry dogs.”
Grumpy cats? Whatever, I’m rolling with it.
Maynard moaned like a man having a bad dream, his head rolling from side to side and his eyes squeezed shut. As his voice got louder, his arms trembled and he stomped his feet on the old wood floors. A picture frame fell from the table behind him and crashed to the floor. I really wanted to tell him this is why you can’t have nice stuff, but I kept my mouth shut.
Maynard’s breathing came out in big bursts that had me debating if he was having a stroke or simply practicing his Lamaze breathing techniques. Just when I thought things couldn’t get any stranger, they didn’t.
Maynard went absolutely still, and his eyes popped open. “Dead elephants,” he said breathlessly, staring right into my soul. “Dead. Elephants.”
I let go of his fingers.
Pulling back his arms, Maynard leaned forward and said, “You’re searching for something—or someone.”
I nodded. But wasn’t everyone that came here searching for something? Guidance? Certainly. Answers or advice? Probably. Missing people? Maybe. Grandma’s missing teeth? Hope not.
“The spirit world holds the answers. You may not realize it, but life is impacted by the dead.”
Believe me, I know it.
“The dead often come back to help the living. And someone is here with us right now,” Maynard said. “Someone that you’ve lost. Someone that has the answers to all your questions.” He said this with the passion of a preacher on Easter Sunday.
Really? Could it be? I looked around for familiar auburn hair, but we were alone. It was just us. Confused, I turned back to the man in front of me.
Maynard laughed as he shook his head. “Child, you won’t be able to see them. Only the anointed have the gift to see the dead.”
I must be anointed then because I can see the dead—but I don’t know if I would call it a gift. “Gift” feels like a strong word for something that brings so much fear and heartache into my life. Let alone the sleepless nights enduring flickering lights or the pacing of a ghost with possibly the largest feet ever.
Glancing around the empty room again, I asked, “So, there’s someone with us right now? Here in this room?”
Maynard nodded and gestured to his right, my left. “Right there. Here to help you.”
I looked where he pointed. I looked high. I looked low. I even tried squinting. There wasn’t anyone there.
Pulling out a crumpled twenty, I tossed it on the table. “You’ve been a peach. Thanks for the enlightenment.” The weight of frustration, pain, and loss made it difficult to stand, but anger fueled my movement anyway. I felt stupid, and I just wanted to get out of there. I headed for the door.
“Wait, we haven’t even started.” Confusion colored Maynard’s face.
Anger colored mine. “I’m finished.”
“Okay, then. Bye-bye.” The slightest hint of a smirk was on his face, and the twenty was no longer on the table.
I took several steps towards the door, but then I had to turn back. Narrowing my eyes at the psychic, I cracked my knuckles. As much as I wish I wasn’t one of those people who creates a scene, I was one of those. Some people can take their anger and stuff it down, only to have stomach problems later. But I have enough problems without adding stomach ones to the list. I marched back to the table where Maynard sat back in his chair with a bemused expression.
The pounding in my ears was getting loud. “Look, we both know there wasn’t anyone in the room with us. No ghosts, no spirits, and no dearly departed. Just me and a big fat fraud.”
Maynard frowned and looked hurt. “But I’ve been losing weight.”
“No, I didn’t mean you were fat. I meant that fraud-wise, you are ginormous. Larger than life. Bigger than a building. If you were a lake, you’d be Lake Superior. If you were a liar, you’d be president. If you—”
Maynard held up his hands. “Okay, okay, I get it. You’re upset. My bad.”
I pointed my finger at him, which usually helps get my point across, and said, “I’m not sure you do. You say you help people, yet you make up ghosts.” I studied him for a long moment. He looked at me uncomfortably as he sat there blinking, twitching. There was something in his expression that bothered me.
“Wait. You don’t even believe in ghosts, do you?”
“Um.” He looked like someone who was just asked if they had enough life insurance.
“Just answer the question, you big goof.” I already knew the answer, though.
He shook his head. “I found the idea of them useful.”
“To con people, you mean.” I jabbed my finger at him, enjoying the feeling of power as I challenged him. This must be how trial lawyers feel as they break down the opposing witness.
He shook his head and looked down at his hands. “Not in the way you’re thinking. I have a talent for reading people, and I get impressions, words sometimes, that simply come to me. Often, it’s just what people need to hear. These words have helped many, many people, but I don’t know where they come from. It’s far easier for people to understand when I tell them that the ghost of a relative is there giving me that information.” He looked up at me. “See? No harm, no foul.”
“You’re one smooth criminal.”
His eyes lit up. “Hey, ‘Smooth Criminal.’ I love that song. Michael Jackson, right?”
“The eighties sure made some great music.” He smiled wistfully. “So much better than today’s crapola.”
Today’s crapola. I couldn’t help but grin. Maybe there could be a basis for at least an understanding. Maybe a second chance.
“Okay, Maynard. I’ll give you another chance. But you’re wrong; there are ghosts. Plenty of them.” If anyone knows this, it’s me.
Shaking his head with a smile, he said, “Naw, you’re just messing with me. If there were actual ghosts, I would know.”
“Really?” I sat back down.
With the confidence of someone holding four aces, he nodded. “I would. I’m a psychic, after all.”
Apparently, not a good one.
“Okay, Maynard, let me tell you about something that happened when I was in grade school. I went to a friend’s house, and as I walked up the driveway, I saw a man sitting in a car. He waved at me, then just disappeared. It was like flipping a switch. I described him when I went inside, and my friend’s mom broke down crying. Apparently, I had described her recently passed father, who left her the car.” I remember my friend’s expression as she looked between me and her crying mother. She looked amazed but also a little scared of me.
Maynard stroked his chin. “That didn’t really happen, did it?”
I nodded. “Yes, Sir, it did.”
Leaning forward, I continued. “But, that’s not the only time. When we were staying at my aunt’s, I saw a man in blue overalls the night we got there. He waved and walked into the guest room, but when I followed him, he wasn’t there. The only other door in the room led to a closet. But when I opened it, there wasn’t a man there—just a set of blue overalls on a hanger.”
Eyes wide, Maynard said, “For real?” Again, I nodded.
“There’s more, plenty more. When I was really young, we rented a cabin on the north shore of Lake Superior. I woke up in the middle of the night to see a long-haired woman in a nightgown rocking in a chair that creaked as it moved. I tried talking to her, but she only smiled. I told my parents in the morning, but they didn’t believe me. So, when we were checking out, I insisted on telling the clerk at the front desk about the woman. The clerk said it sounded like the previous owner, who’d died there a decade before. I remember my parents being speechless, which, if you know my parents, is quite unusual.”
Maynard laughed. “The woman sounds like some of my relatives. They never know when to leave. I had an uncle who came to stay with us for a couple of weeks and ended up staying for two years.” There was that belly laugh again. I couldn’t help but smile.
When he settled down, he fixed me with a look that should have been accompanied by a light bulb appearing over his head. “Speaking of relatives, I’m guessing that’s what brought you here.”
I gave him nothing.
“So now you’re quiet?” He studied me for a long moment. “Let me ask, have you ever seen one of your own relatives come to you as a ghost?”
I thought for a moment about how best to answer. “Apparently, when I was a baby, I would wave and talk to myself, like kids do. My mom said I’d babble, pause, then laugh. Eventually, I’d wave goodbye and return to what I’d been doing. But the thing was, every time I had one of those one-sided conversations, my mom noticed that my deceased grandmother’s scent would unmistakably show up.”
Maynard’s eyes widened and then just stayed that way. It looked like he’d forgotten to blink. “Really?” he asked after a long moment.
I nodded. “Do you believe me?”
Clearing his throat, Maynard reached out across the table. “I believe you believe it, but let’s try this again. Maybe I can help. Grab hold.”
Grabbing onto his large fingers, I felt the tingle once again. Maynard closed his eyes. I kept mine open.
“Bitter elephants,” he said with the panache of a first-year drama student. “Bitter. Elephants.”
When I loudly cleared my throat, he opened one eye.
“Do you have to go through the entire animal thing again?” I asked. “It’s a little theatrical for my taste.”
With a wounded look, he said, “It helps me focus, but I can skip the other parts if you like.”
“That would be nice.”
“Okay, here we go.” He gave me a wink. “Bitter elephants. Bitter elephants.”
I couldn’t help but wince when Maynard started to moan, but then he chuckled and said, “Just kidding.”
“This is why you don’t have friends, Maynard,” I said sternly, but I couldn’t help but giggle. “Please continue, but I don’t have the entire evening.” My dad was probably wondering about my whereabouts. He couldn’t talk to the photographer forever, could he?
“Okay, okay,” he said, but a grin was on his face. After a moment, he relaxed his smile and closed his eyes. “Grumpy cats. Angry dogs,” he said, pausing before finishing with, “Grumpy cats.”
Maynard paused dramatically. “Dead elephants,” he said finally, and his eyes fluttered open. “Young lady, you’re here because you’re missing someone. But don’t worry, I’ve got the feeling that everything will be okay.”
He must have seen my face because he quickly added, “Really. Everything is going to be fine. I can see it in your future.” He smiled. It was a smug smile.
I absolutely hate smug smiles, but before I could address my feelings, something behind Maynard caught my eye. Where there was empty space one moment before, a woman now stood. I watched her shimmer into being by the large bay window, beams of light sparkling right through her. The woman was older with a lined face that showed many years of smiles. Her hair was piled on top of her head, and she wore a long, colorful gown. She smiled at me with a dazzling grin, and suspected I might know who she was.
Maynard noticed my gaze and looked over his shoulder. I pointed to where the woman stood. She looked back at me over her glasses with an amused expression. He quickly turned around, evidently not seeing anything. His loss.
Maynard wore his confusion the way most people wore their joy. It was all over his face.
“Maynard, are you telling me you can’t see her?” I pointed toward her again.
“See who?” he asked with growing frustration. “Don’t tell me it’s a ghost because there aren’t ghosts. They’re a product of simple minds. People only see what they want to see.” His exasperation with me wasn’t unusual, but it was understandable.
“Look, Maynard. Maybe I’m abnormal, but I see ghosts all the time. I’m not saying this to brag, rather to open your eyes. Seeing ghosts isn’t nearly as glamorous as it sounds.” I flipped my hair back. “It’s made for a really tough life at times.”
Maynard flicked his eyes up at me. “Really?”
“Really. Let me tell you a story. In third grade, we went to the Minneapolis Institute of Arts for a field trip. I was so excited to see all the paintings and statutes, but I saw something else, too.”
Maynard looked intrigued, so I kept talking.
“We were sitting on the benches listening to the docent lady. She was talking about the Impressionist artists—I still remember that because I love Monet—when I noticed a woman gliding into the room. She had red hair and bright red lips, which I thought was so beautiful. Her clothes were different than anything I was used to seeing. Her colorfully patterned dress went to her knees, and she wore heels with a strap on them like my dance shoes. She had a hat, gloves and a small handbag.”
I leaned forward.
“There was something about the woman that captivated me, so I followed her when she left the room. I almost bumped into her when I came around the corner; she’d paused by a humongous painting of a house. She seemed to be studying it, so I asked her if she liked that house. Without saying a word, she turned and looked at me with a tender expression. Since she looked kind, I told her my house was white with green around the windows. When I asked what color her house was, she paused and put a hand on her cheek like she had to think about it. I started laughing because I thought it was funny that she didn’t know what color her own house was.”
I shook my head at the memory.
“My friend, Jenny, asked why I was laughing. I turned around and saw my whole class staring at me, even my teacher, Mrs. Olson. I pointed to the red-haired lady and said she was being funny. The woman smiled at me. Jenny said there wasn’t anyone there and that I should stop. I told her it was the red-haired lady in the pretty dress and fancy shoes standing next to me. Jenny said I wasn’t being funny.”
I pushed back my hair and sighed. “Sometimes I can’t tell if the person I’m seeing is alive or dead. I’m better at it now, but some ghosts are closer to our plane and it’s nearly impossible to tell the difference. I moved over so Jenny could see the red-haired lady, too, but she couldn’t—I was the only one. That’s when things went from bad to worse.”
Maynard looked at me with wide eyes.
“When I went to grab the lady’s hand to bring her over to Jenny, something happened. The woman’s smile faded. Her skin seemed to melt away, and I could see the tendons and bones underneath. I smelled something that reminded me of when my dad’s grilling went wrong. As I watched, one of her eyes sort of rolled and fell out of its socket. I screamed as loud as I could, and it echoed in the quiet art gallery. I couldn’t stop screaming, and when the woman fell to her knees in from of me with her single eye pleading for help, I completely lost it. I was still sobbing when my parents came to take me home.”
Tears ran down my cheeks. This story has always stuck with me, and not for good reasons.
“I lost my school friends that day. I sat by myself for the rest of the school year. But that wasn’t the only time my friends became scared of me and didn’t want to be near me. Life—and death—aren’t always fair.”
The woman in the room with us had moved closer to Maynard while I told my sad tale. “Still can’t see her? This woman right here?” I asked as I gestured like a frustrated traffic cop to a driver who wasn’t moving when it was their turn.
Maynard wisely didn’t say anything, just shook his head. The woman shook her own head but wore a tender expression as she gazed at Maynard.
Clearing my throat, I looked him in the eyes. “Do me a favor and just this once, believe there’s another world alongside ours. Just because you haven’t been able to see, hear, or feel it doesn’t mean it isn’t there. You can’t see electricity, but it’s there. You need to open your mind to the possibilities around you,” I urged him. This got me thinking and I blurted out, “Let me lead this reading.”
He looked as skeptical as my father when I suggested raising llamas would be an excellent way to keep our lawn trimmed without having to push around our old mower.
Because of my bizarre life, I know how to meditate and take control of my thoughts. When you’re able to see dead people and experience the dark and gritty afterlife, I’ve found that a little calming meditation can be a good thing.
“When I meditate, there are times when I’ve crossed over and left our plane of existence. I’ve gone somewhere else where there are more shadows than light. I still see the room where I started, but’s it fuzzy, like looking at it through a foggy mirror. I know I’m not alone there because I see movement, but it’s difficult to see anyone—or anything—directly. If I look out of the corner of my eyes, I can sometimes see the inhabitants of this shadow place. I’ve seen children, grandmothers, and things that aren’t human.”
“This is a place I visit when I’m curious or need a reminder that living in the present is how I should be living. It’s a place of wonder and terror, but there’s nowhere else like it. The thing about being surrounded by the dead is it makes you feel alive. Let me take you there.”
Maynard didn’t look convinced it was a good idea. “I don’t think you’ve got a career in writing travel brochures, but sure.”
I reached across the table and said, “Grab on, big guy. It’s time you started believing in ghosts and the paranormal. I need you to experience my world.”
With a bemused look, Maynard swallowed my hands inside his and there was that tingle again. It felt like a low-level electrical charge ran through his fingers into my hands and up my arms. The hairs on my forearms stood at attention.
“Okay, picture a place—”
“Do the animal thing,” Maynard urged.
He nodded, and there was a hint of a smile. “For me?”
Various comebacks ran through my mind, but I decided it couldn’t hurt to oblige his request. “Fine, but I get to do my own version.”
“Fine,” he said, but he grinned.
I closed my eyes. “Cooked goose. Cooked. Goose.”
Maynard made a noise that sounded like a snort.
Because I meditate nearly every day, I’ve gotten speedy with phasing out of my normal conscious thoughts and leaving all anxiety, drama, and social media behind. The very process of moving to this other plane has never failed to surround me with inner calm and blanket me with warm feelings of love and acceptance.”
I could so write travel brochures.
“Picture a place with swirling mists; dancing shadows; and warm, humid air. Picture a place where the dead can feel at home, where the living doesn’t belong but are still welcome. Picture a place where there’s a woman who may be familiar to you. She’s older with a face that has known many years of smiles. She has those stylish half-frame glasses and hair that’s piled on top of her head. She’s wearing a long gown with many bright colors.” Maynard made a small noise.
“Hang on, Maynard, we’re almost there. When I say my next animal phrase, open your eyes to this new place.”
Taking a deep breath, I said the phrase, “Hog wild.”
I opened my eye just in time to see Maynard’s pop open.
“Sweet mother of Jesus.” His eyes were wide with surprise and recognition. Maynard stood and took a step toward the woman.
“Mighty,” she replied with obvious affection. “My mighty boy.”
I had to agree as I looked at the giant in front of me. Although, for such a large man, he sure had a tender side. The way he looked at her and the way she looked back at him made my heart melt.
It was the smell at first.
An odor of sulfur wafted in and out of my senses while I watched mother and son. But soon, there was no more out as the air grew thick and foul from the stench.
“I gotta go,” Maynard’s mother said abruptly. “This isn’t right.” And she was gone in a shimmer.
Maynard turned to look at me, but I was too fascinated with the black tentacle that had slithered from the shadows behind Maynard and wrapped itself around his ankle. He didn’t seem to notice.
I frantically pointed at his foot the way a cameraman would point at an oncoming tornado behind a storm-chasing reporter.
But rather than noticing, Maynard only looked at me with his soft eyes. “Why?” he asked. “Why?”
Before I could even think of a reply, a picture fell off the wall behind me, shards of glass skittering across the wooden floors. I flinched but didn’t turn around. This was a new development—and not a good one. In theory, the place we were in shouldn’t be able to affect our world. We were the ones visiting, not the other way around. Unfortunately, no one seemed to have told this to the shadow place.
An antique couch with artsy pastel flowers slid across the floor, bunching up the rug in front of it.
The ornate crystal chandelier took that moment to light up and pop every bulb.
The table where we sat sunk into the floor as if sinking into a swamp.
The nails on the weathered wood floor started to pop up one by one.
A surge of warm, moist air came and went like the entire house was breathing.
I stood up.
Maynard was still rooted in the spot. He looked like a kid experiencing the State Fair Midway for the first time, totally in awe of all that was happening around him. The tentacle was now wrapped around his leg up to his thigh.
From out of the shadows, a strange thing came into view. The solid-looking oak table was levitating three feet off the ground and moving right toward me at the speed of a basset hound on a Sunday stroll. I took a step backward. There’s something decidedly unsettling seeing such a familiar object acting so unnaturally.
Even though the table moved with the speed of a basset hound, it occurred to me that some basset hounds may bite. I took another step back.
The table stopped in front of me and shuddered as it rotated. The legs turned upwards towards me, and I couldn’t help but picture myself getting run through like knights jousting in the movies.
Suddenly, from the same direction the table came from, half a dozen knives streaked through the air and slammed into the tabletop. They must have been moving fast because the blade tips burst through the bottom. If the table hadn’t been there…
As with much of my life, the music of the eighties was my soundtrack. Another Michael Jackson song popped into my mind with its synthesizer opening, followed by the dirty sneer of one of the world’s most recognizable guitar riffs. “Beat It” was there, signaling my next move.
Time to leave.
I was so out of there, but as I turned, I stopped immediately. I couldn’t leave Maynard behind.
The tentacle had moved up and was around his waist now. It glistened with a wet, slimy oil as it reached ever higher. Pulsing with evil intent, the thick cable-like tentacle squeezed his mid-section and a second one was now going after Maynard’s other leg. His eyes were squeezed shut and there was a tremble in Maynard’s cheek, but otherwise, he remained still.
The thought of getting near those tentacles made my stomach churn, but there are times when you have to face your fears. This was one of those times.
Moving in front of Maynard, I grabbed his hands. The tingle returned and flowed up my arms.
“Maynard. Look at me.” I needed his help.
Maynard’s eyes popped open and we held each other’s gaze. A tentacle bumped into my leg, and I fought the urge to run.
“I’m going to get us back home. Shut your eyes and hang on. The ride may be a bit bumpy.”
Closing my eyes, I tried to moderate my breathing. I knew I needed to slow my heart rate and racing mind to get us back. It wasn’t going to be easy, especially when I could feel something wet and slimy wrapping around my calf.
Got to relax. Got. To. Relax.
A strong gust of wind swirled my hair—unusual since we were inside—and the floor began to heave and tilt. Hanging onto my giant for support, I willed myself to slow down my ragged breathing. I took a long breath in through my nose. The sulfur burned. I briefly held the breath before pushing it out slowly through my mouth. Again. And again.
Shoving the fear away, I focused on the image of the large room we stood in. Wooden floors, paisley wallpaper, chair rails, and crown molding. The large, wooden table where we were sitting when this began. Time to return.
“Maynard, keep your eyes closed. Picture the room as it was, with us in our chairs at the table. We’re holding hands across the table, just two friends offering support for the other.”
There was silence from across the table. Even his hands felt slack on mine.
“Maynard,” I said evenly. “Are you still with me?”
A moan came from my large friend.
“We’re going to open our eyes when I say three. Ready?”
“One.” The wind picked up and rose to a roar. My hair swirled around my face. I felt like I was riding a motorcycle.
“Two.” The sensation of my calf being squeezed moved up to my thigh. It felt like one of those blood pressure cuffs on steroids.
“Three.” I opened my eyes, stunned at what was in front of me.
Everything was back to normal, the shadow plane gone but certainly never forgotten. Maynard sat across from me with a dazed expression. We were still holding hands.
“Well, this is awkward,” he said after a moment and let go.
There was no sign of the earlier damage. The table was back, the kitchen table was gone, and there was not a single tentacle in sight.
“Is it always that chaotic, that scary in your world?” he asked with a shake of his head.
I shook mine. “No, I’ve visited that shadow plane a dozen or so times and nothing like that has ever happened. And nothing like that has ever intruded into our world. I have no idea what was different or why it happened this time.”
“Girl, that was a freak parade if I’ve ever seen one. You’re welcome here anytime, but for heaven’s sake, leave the ghostly folk home. Lord have mercy.” And I got his belly laugh once again before I took my leave to reunite with my father.
“There you are. I was wondering what happened to you,” my father said as he sat on a curb with several matted photographs at his feet. The one facing me was of a star-filled night sky over a wooded shoreline. It looked like the Boundary Waters in northern Minnesota, one of our favorite places.
“Clearly, that photographer found a new patron,” I remarked. “Did you spend your entire allowance on him?”
My father laughed, which sort of sounded like an out-of-control goat. I loved him for that. “Maybe. But I have enough left for those mini donuts we saw near the parking lot.” He pointed down the avenue.
“Sweet.” They smelled amazing when we’d passed the donut food truck earlier. “I love mini donuts. They should be their own food group. Seriously.”
My father stood and gave me a once-over. “Everything okay? I’m surprised you didn’t find anything.”
I wrapped an arm around his waist. “I have everything I need right here. That is, except for the mini donuts.”
We walked in silence for a block as we navigated through the crowds. Across the street was the sign for Maynard’s Emporium of Mystical Minds (formally Dearly Departed Connectors). The house sat far back from the busy street and looked completely lifeless.
My father saw my gaze and nodded toward the old house. “Such a sad story.”
“Wait, what?” I turned to my father. “What’s a sad story?”
We paused as he gestured toward Maynard’s home. “This place was a neighborhood icon. The owner was such a character and people used to come from all over to have readings done. He would read people who wanted to reach their departed relatives, wanted to know their future, or were looking for advice or simply encouragement.”
“Wait, Dad. You said the owner was such a character? Did something happen to him?” Was he talking about Maynard?
My father set his photographs at his feet and ran a hand through his hair. “You never read the news, do you?”
I shook my head. The news is mostly politics or murder. In both cases, it’s people doing wrong things because they thought they were right.
“Well,” he said with a nod, “there’s a lot of history in that house. The business and the home were passed down through generations. Most recently, it was passed from mother to son. When the son took over, he quickly became immensely popular and loved to entertain with his flamboyant readings.”
He looked at me, a weariness in his eyes. “But sometimes life isn’t fair. One day he was giving a reading to a woman who flew all the way in from Virginia. Just after he got started, Maynard Devellioux put a hand up to his temple, moaned, and said one word. Then he fell over. Dead from a brain aneurism.”
“Lord have mercy. What was his last word?” My stomach felt queasy.
With a grim nod, my father answered. “His one word was actually the question of many over the ages.”
“Why?” I answered for him. “He asked why and died.” Wow.
“Exactly. Maynard asked that final question and passed away, never to speak again.” My father picked up his Art Fair purchases and gestured for us to continue. I hesitated.
But he spoke to me. Maynard spoke to me.
In our short time together, I’d grown to like Maynard immensely and planned on stopping by whenever I returned to Uptown. But now, after hearing my dad’s story, I’ll be visiting his ghost.
One certain thing about ghosts is that there isn’t any certainty. Each one is different and each one is unpredictable. Some are more like faded shadows, and some are so close to our world that I can’t readily tell they are ghosts. Maynard definitely belonged in that camp, which could explain why things went so haywire when I brought him to the other plane.
As I turned away from Maynard’s house, I shook my head. Honestly, I don’t think he knew he was dead. Breaking the news to Maynard won’t be easy, but it’s something he needs to hear. It feels like the dead are always going to complicate my life. That’s just the way it is when you’re a spook magnet. Even though I’ll never be the normal one, I’ll always be abnormally Abbey. But I’m okay with that. It keeps life interesting.
I hurried to catch up to my father and the promise of mini donuts.