The old man followed his finger and gaze and then looked back to him with squinty eyes. “You pulling my leg?”
Declan sniffed and peered back at the woman. Satisfied, he said to the man, “No sir. But do you really not see the lady?”
“There’s no one there,” the man said gruffly after he sneaked another peek.
“But that’s not true, she’s right there, my nanny and I can see her!” Declan’s voice was raising a few octaves and he bit his lip, getting anxious.
“Your nanny is either a nut or she’s lying.”
“But I see her too.”
The man waved at him dismissively and turned away, looking back to the pigeons. “Then you’re both nuts or maybe having a bit of fun. Now scram, you’re scaring my birds.”
At that, Declan moved his little legs over to me.
“Well?” I asked.
He was wide-eyed as he spoke. “He says you are a nut and I am a nut.”
I crouched down and brought him close into me and looked deep into his eyes. “And that is why we must never tell people about the things we see. They can’t see it and they won’t understand. It’s not safe.”
“But she’s standing right there. Why can’t he see her? Is he blind?”
“In a way, Declan. In a way. You see, she’s dead.”
He jumped at that.
“Dead?” he asked incredulously and looked back over at her, his eyes filled with fear and wonder.
“She’s a ghost,” I said simply, trying my hardest not to scare him.
“But…ghosts are only in books and movies.”
“And in Central Park,” I said and ruffled up his hair. “Would you like to go talk to her?”
“Can we?” he asked.
I smiled at his bravery and took his hand. “Why not? It’s what we are meant to do.”
Together we walked across the lawn toward the woman. I could feel the eyes of the old man watching us as he threw seeds at the pigeons and knew he’d soon see us talking to no one, but I didn’t care.
As we got closer to the woman, I saw that she was in her late twenties and pretty with a short, curled bob. Her dress hung off her in the Flapper-esque way that was so popular back then and she had on dainty white gloves that lay clasped in front of her. Her eyes continued to stare at the ground, lost in sadness, and she didn’t acknowledge our presence until we stood right in front of her. She looked up at us, tired and confused, and then looked away.
“Hey lady,” Declan said.
She was startled.
“Me?” she asked with a shaking voice.
“Don’t be rude, Declan,” I chided him.
The woman looked back and forth between us.
“You can see me?”
“Of course we can,” I told her. “Why do you ask that?”
“Why, most folks ignore me like I’m not here. Even when I ask them for the time.”
Ah, that explained a lot. Normally all ghosts that I saw were very well aware of me. After all, I was attractive to them and gave off the attention and energy they craved. However, this woman did not know she was dead. That was a first for me.
“Do you want to know the time?” I asked.
She nodded. “Please. I’m supposed to meet my boyfriend here and I’m new to the city. I’m a bit worried, I shouldn’t be out here so late. The park is scary at night.”
Something told me it was this late night jaunt into the park that killed her.
“It’s not nighttime,” Declan said, looking at her strangely.
I patted his head and gave the woman a soft smile.
“Well, I hope your boyfriend comes around soon,” I told her. “You shouldn’t be out here by yourself.”
The woman returned a weak smile back and resumed staring at the ground.
I put my arm around Declan and led him away.
He looked over his shoulder at her. “Why did she think it was nighttime?”
“Perhaps that was when she died and it’s forever dark in her mind.”
“Why didn’t you tell her the truth?”
“I will, someday, but not now. We’ve both had a lot to comprehend for one afternoon, don’t you think?”
And I did end up telling the woman. I wanted to come back, without Declan, as I did not know how well she would take it. I thought perhaps telling a ghost they were dead was akin to waking up a sleepwalker.
I was partially right. When I returned to the park and to the woman, it took a lot of denial and yelling on her behalf. Had anyone else been able to see her, she would have created quite the scene. Then, as the truth finally sunk in after all these years, she broke down in tears, weeping for the life she once had, the people she once loved.
I wasn’t sure what I would do with the bawling ghost, but the Otherside answered that question. For the first time in a few years, the air warped and shimmied. My heart leaped, thinking I might see Jakob again, realizing at that moment how fondly I thought of my guide, but what appeared was a somewhat heavy man in a suit. Really, I wondered just where these guides came from.
“Are you Jakob? One of the Jakobs?” I asked.
The man nodded at me and turned his attention to the woman. He held out his hand to her.
“Lorraine, come with me please. I can help you.”
I expected this Lorraine to balk at the idea of going off with a stranger, especially one who came out of thin air. However she took his hand without hesitation and at his touch, a smile and glow came over her face. My Jakob never brought me peace while I was alive, but Lorraine’s Jakob brought her peace in death.
And just like that, she was gone. It was a strangely beautiful and touching moment, one that I would think of often as my life started to disintegrate before my eyes.
Knowing that Declan had the same ability as I did, made me feel much less alone. However, though I would often confide in the young boy about the ghosts I saw, he never did the same with me. I would ask him but he wouldn’t say or he’d avoid the question. He liked to hear about it without acknowledging that it happened to him. Who knows, Declan, perhaps you never saw things the way I did. After all, my ability never really worsened until I went to the Thin Veil and back.
Regardless of Declan’s input, it helped to share with him as he was the only one who would and could listen to me without threatening to drag me away to the loony bin. Things were getting worse for me, with the ghosts and with my own family.
No, I hadn’t forgotten my dear daughter, or Karl, but my relationship with both grew more and more strained. I admit, it was also I who was pulling back, devoting more of my time and energy into Declan and Michael, and in my increasingly fragile and paranoid state, I was afraid to talk to Karl and Ingrid.
Ingrid managed to pull herself out of the wrong crowd because she met Perry’s father, Daniel. I met him a few times for lunch and found him to be far better than Stew or Drew or whatever new man Ingrid was shacking up with. I would never have pegged my daughter to be with someone like Daniel. It was almost a comical sight to see his short stocky demeanor beside her tall and willowy one. But Daniel was smart, driven and passionate and was spending a year at the Holy Trinity Roman Catholic Church as part of his graduate thesis. For whatever reason, Ingrid was drawn to him and he to her. He pulled out grace and goodness from Ingrid that I very rarely saw.
I suppose that’s why I withdrew from them as I did. Before, I would have been adamant about spending time with both of them, but there were some days I was too afraid to leave the house for fear of the reaction I would cause. The dead kept coming for me, multiplying year by year, all wanting a peace of me, whether it was my ear to listen to their sob story, or, at times, my soul.
There was one particular ghoul whom I remembered from my past. The man with the shadowy face who I saw tormenting the girl in my garden, all those years ago in the Swedish countryside. At first I saw him prowling the backyard, then the streets outside the house. He would just stare, watching me. One night as I got up to use the washroom, I had a weird sensation I was being watched. With my nerves on fire, I crept through the house and felt this malevolent intensity rolling out from Declan’s door. He was about twelve now and was a strong kid, back to sleeping in his own room. Some nights the door was locked but tonight it wasn’t and as I quietly opened it, I saw the shadowy black figure standing above his bed. It was just for a second though and when I turned on the light, awaking the poor boy, the man was gone. Declan fell back to sleep unaware of what had been there.
The fact that I could feel the evil from the figure, who was constantly watching me in a most predatory way, made me believe that this was no ghost. No human. This was a demon, a creature. And as the years went on and the creature appeared more frequently, I knew it was true. Jakob had mentioned as much.
There came a point where the day-to-day fear of never knowing what this demon might do to me, or the ones I loved, finally took its toll on my sanity. I began to talk to myself and to the demons, to the ghosts, not caring who saw. Curtis and the boys became increasingly concerned about me. With Michael and Declan I knew the concern came from the worry in their heart but with Curtis I could see his disappointment and annoyance in finding a nanny who acted just as crazy as his wife.
I started to fear I’d be let go. But that didn’t happen. No, it was Curtis who left. One day and without much warning.
Declan was thirteen and Michael was sixteen when Curtis pulled me aside in the kitchen and told me that he recently completed a huge transaction of sorts and that he was putting a large sum of money in a trust for the boys when they both turned eighteen. I never knew how much it was, but I assume it was a lot. Curtis then told me he wanted to thank me for all my hard work (oh, here it comes, I’m being let go, I thought) and that he arranged a trip for me and the boys to Atlantic City for the weekend. They’d both be allowed to bring a friend and that we were free to spend his money as we liked.
Naturally the boys were ecstatic. At this point, Declan was in a band with a few friends and invited his drummer, Joey, to come along. Michael had a beautiful girlfriend, Marguerite, and even though I had been quite strict with the amount of time they spent together alone (no young lady was getting pregnant on my watch), I relented and told him he could bring her, knowing the young ones would all be sharing the same suite.
That was one of the best weekends of my life. Even the ghosts and demons were kept at bay and I was free to enjoy the sweet salty air of the boardwalk, such a nice change from the harshness of the city. It was wonderful to see Declan truly smiling and enjoying himself. At this age he dressed in loose pants and flannel shirts, his hair was shoulder-length, wonderfully wavy and streaked with red. He begged me to let him get his eyebrow pierced with Joey at one of the beachside tattoo parlors but I had to put my foot down somewhere and said no. Ever the rebel, he and Joey pretended to go to a movie later that night and wasn’t I surprised in the slightest when they came back and I saw matching rings on both their faces.
I knew Curtis would kill him for it (indeed, he would publicly lament Declan’s long hair and grunge attire even though the boy was passed the point of caring), and he would most likely reprimand me as well. But I decided not to worry about it until Sunday night. For now, this time and peace and sunshine was all we had and needed.
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