Haunted

I’m pretty sure I just saw a ghost.

Saturday night, 10:30 pm. I’m walking down a dark street in the middle of the city, in search of an evening coffee to fuel some writing work. It’s a busy street, but a stretch of it that’s kind of pedestrian unfriendly, all big hulking buildings with no storefronts or people, and it feels weirdly dark even though there are streetlights. But I’m a city girl and that kind of stuff never bugs me, this is Toronto and I’m a fast runner, so I don’t sweat it.

I’m walking fast, in a good mood, enjoying the warm humidity since the rain stopped a few hours ago. Ahead of me is what I take to be a goth/raver girl- maybe 5’3″, slumped shoulders and wide hips with very wide-leg shoe-eater crimson pants, black hoodie tied around her waist, and a rickety black umbrella.

I’m not paying her any attention, gaining on her fairly fast, and am about a yard behind her when she takes a sharp, screamy, gasping breath and suddenly spins on me in an unbelievably creepy, uncannily smooth and graceful move that makes her clothes kind of flare out around her like a spectre. The move is so weirdly fluid, so intense, and so totally unexpected that I actually yelp. And then she’s standing stock still, close enough to touch, staring me dead in the face with piercing, totally blank, glittering blue eyes. Not breathing. Barring my path. Not moving at all.

She’s in her mid 40s. Her face is kind of shiny and her eyes are very clear and pale. She has a bright red bindi dot drawn between her brows. She’s not moving, but her stare is unbelievably intense, and I’m caught in it like a rabbit hypnotized by a snake. She is definitely close enough to lunge for my neck, which I’m utterly certain she’s about to do. Her mouth is closed but I’m pretty sure it’s full of needle-sharp teeth and maybe a jaw that can unhinge when she pounces.

She’s clutching her black umbrella close on this rainless night, and a bundle of newspapers. She’s blocking the narrow sidewalk and hasn’t blinked yet, standing so still she’s like a statue. My heart is racing. And she’s still not moving. I seriously don’t think I’ve ever been so scared.

I gradually unfreeze and look at the papers- I can’t read the title but judging from the size, it’s either the Epoch Times or the Outreach, both of which are publications I tend to associate with people who are strange but usually harmless. Ok. She’s not a vampire or a werewolf, she’s just a strange lady and maybe my approaching footfalls scared her. Poor thing. I can normalize this situation.

ME: Hi.
HER: Stony, stock-still staring, silence.
ME: You startled me a little!
HER: Stony, stock-still staring, silence.
ME: You ok?
HER: Stony, stock-still staring, silence.
ME: Let’s just keep walking, ok? You first.
HER: Stony, stock-still staring, silence.
ME: We’re ok. Let’s go.
HER: Stony, stock-still staring, silence.
ME: Come on. OK. Time to move.
HER: Stony, stock-still staring, silence.
ME: (slightly authoritaitve) Hey. Let’s go. Come on, let’s walk.

She pauses so long I shake my head and look past her with the intent of passing her on the narrow sidewalk when suddenly she shrieks in another hissing breath and lunges towards me. She moves like a character in a horror movie, all sweeping grace and sharp sudden freezes. I yelp again. She opens a mouth with no teeth and slurs, “Buy a paper?”

I’m really annoyed now, partly at her for her aggressive posture and hugely at myself for actually being scared of a middle-aged woman three inches shorter than me, so I shake it off and walk briskly past her into the donut shop. My hands are actually shaking, and I’m not very easy to scare. She follows me in, of course, and makes a beeline for an empty table in the corner beside four laughing Korean teenagers. She takes another hissing breath and lunges at the table really dramatically, drops her newspaper bundle, and straightens up again to stand stock still. I marvel at the economy and grace of her creepy movements- I’ve never even seen a dancer move so precisely.

She sits and stares at the teenagers, who are about four feet away from her. None of them are facing her, but they should all be able to either see her in their periphery, or her reflection moving in the dark plate-glass window they’re facing. But they don’t seem to see her. She notices me looking at her and holds her umbrella out towards me like a shield for a sec, then points it at the teens. Again they ignore her. She puts down the umbrella and holds out a newspaper to the teens. I still can’t tell if they even see her- the rhythm of their conversation hasn’t seemed to change and they’re all laughing quite naturally.

I notice she’s wearing a Toronto Film Festival baseball cap from 2007. This kind of absurd detail makes me positive I’m not imagining the occurrence.

She reaches into her pocket and pulls out a tiny stuffed cat. The kind made of rabbit fur, the size of a bagel. She holds it out to the teens.

smallkitties

This is hard to describe, but the four teenagers kind of act the way people act in a movie, in the scene when the lead character is discovering he’s really a ghost. Like they don’t see her there but they register something slightly unpleasant in the spot where she’s standing, so they slightly avoid that spot.

She holds her ratty little hair-cat out towards one of the teens, should be in his peripheral vision, but he doesn’t move at all. She pokes him in the shoulder and he leans away from the poke slightly, but still chatting and laughing. I mean, they must be aware of her, but I’ve never seen teenagers play it so cool. Then she stands up and holds the mangy little toy beside his ear. NONE OF THE TEENAGERS REACT. I begin to think she must be invisible.

She puts the friggin cat ON THE KID’S SHOULDER and he doesn’t move, just keeps chatting. Even she’s amazed. I can see her body language change- now she and I are both wondering if she’s imaginary. This poor woman can’t get a normal reaction from anyone, even a teen with a mangy bagel fur cat (model # C97W, it appears) on his shoulder. Of course her grip on reality is loose- I can feel my own grip loosening and I’ve only known her for four minutes.

I look around the restaurant and nobody else seems to have noticed her. The cat is still perfectly balanced on the teenaged boy’s shoulder like a little dead hamster, and he takes a bite of his doughnut. She’s staring at him like, “But didn’t I just put a fur cat on this kid?” I realize that I may be the sole living person in this movie that can see the ghosts wandering around, and maybe I should leave before an army of them start following me, demanding favours and using me as a medium to make out with their wives while spinning pottery.

I order my coffee. I see a movement out of the corner of my eye: the teenager, without turning his head or pausing the conversation, casually takes the little cat off his shoulder, looking as nonchalant as though he’s just straightening his shirt, and places it in front of him on the table. Still none of them have reacted to the woman’s lurking presence directly beside them, and none of them look at the scruffy little scrap of rabbit fur on the table now. They don’t even look unnaturally stiff like they’re ignoring her, they just look like they’re having a nice night.

The woman is now in a predicament. She didn’t get any reaction from her creepy offering, but now she can’t get it back. She looks sort of confused and a little crestfallen, making small hissing noises while moving back and forth behind one of the boys with small, quick, precise steps, looking for a way to get her ragged kitty back but also not wanting to blow her Gothic mystique by speaking to the teens, who are still engaged in calm, happy chatter.

I wish wish wish I’d brought my camera, but since she’s clearly a ghost I’m pretty sure she’s not capturable in pixel format anyway. My heart hasn’t quite stopped pounding yet, but I brush out of the Tim Horton’s, licking the icing off my donut and kind of proud that I’ve just survived my first face-to-face with a poltergeist.

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7 Responses to Haunted

  1. mike says:

    I think I’m a ghost too. the other day i farted and no one noticed. Like no one said a word… Seriously… i farted, and then made eye contact with like a few people, and they ALL avoided my stare.

    ghost.

  2. carlyjay says:

    Wow. Just… wow.

  3. carlyjay says:

    …AND, I’m so not sleeping tonight.

  4. HuggPress says:

    No wonder you haven’t had time to answer my emails! Creepsville.

  5. Shaver says:

    I saw a ghost in a coffee shop once.

    I’m writing tonight too, but heck. Let’s tell ghost stories!

    Picture this: 10am, grade 10, Second Cup at Queen and John. I’m skipping school after an audition, enjoying a chocolate coffee beverage, apparently alone in the back of the shop. I am waiting for a friend, completely absorbed in Macbeth, which I’m reading for English class (yeah, I KNOW – bear with me here). This was back when you could smoke in coffee shops, so I have an ashtray in front of me.

    After some time, I look up from my book and am startled to find a woman with me. She is openly staring, sitting directly across the isle, smoking. She’s absolutely beautiful. Long, dark, wavy hair, translucent skin, beige trench coat, high heels… and arresting eyes. They are hazel.

    Similar to what you describe, we look at each other a long moment, neither of us breaking eye contact. She smiles at me, lighting up. Gorgeous.

    Reflexively, I smile back and chuckle, all “heh, you startled me.” She raises the cigarette to her lips, still smiling, warm and intriguing. Smoke spirals around her head and in the sunlight cutting sideways through the room. She taps her cigarette into the red ashtray in front of her (oval nails, small hands) and I think, “Yes, a smoke, then I might strike up a conversation with this mysterious person who has been watching me read for god knows how long.”

    I put down the book, pick up my pack, open it, look back up… and I am decidedly alone. There is no smoke in the air. The coffee shop is quiet.

    I sit a long while, pondering this. Perhaps she’s in the washroom? Nope, no one’s in there. Perhaps she just, you know, left? No, the door is directly beside me, the time frame too short. Couldn’t have imagined that, too many details, right? Was she… a ghost? Naw, that’s too weird. Then I realize: she ashed in the ashtray! If she’s real, there will be ash. I sidle over to her table, strangely nervous.

    The ashtray is empty. Huh.

    My friend arrives an hour later and I tell him the story. He eyes the Macbeth paperback on the table, cracks a joke and changes the subject.

    This was the first of three ghosts I’ve seen in my life. They were all just as brief, all in daylight.

    My question to you, Stamp: how did it end? Did you just take your coffee and go, leaving her in the Timmies pondering how to get her cat back?

  6. jessperson says:

    This is prolly the best thing I’ve ever read.

  7. Hi! My name is Dorine Ng and I live in Wadesboro,NC. I have read your blog post about Haunted | pageslap and I want to say that I am quite impressed with your professionalism on the subject!

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