Ghouls and Ghosts
“Hello sweetheart, come in and have a seat. Get swept away by my tunes. Forget about your worries and let the music rule your heart.” The woman by the piano smiled at me invitingly as she kept playing. “And one always has troubles with one’s heart…those kind of troubles, your age, so better let the music unleash its magic.” At that, she winked at me and then continued to play.
I, on the other hand, stood as if frozen in the doorway. Who was this woman? She was decked out in some fancy dress straight out of a movie from the early 20th century and her hair was done up with glitz and glamour. The scent of roses sprang from her like an ambush — she must be fond of perfume — but somehow it suited her. The whole floral thing, I mean. Her voice was a bit hoarse, as if she’d had too much whiskey. All in all, she looked, sounded, smelled and acted like a musical diva from way back when.
“Who are you?” I asked, shocked. “I mean, hello, I’m Louise. I just wasn’t expecting anyone in my living room tonight. I mean, no one but my aunts and uncles.”
“Oh, no one is expecting me, dear. I just came because, well, that’s a long story. Why don’t you listen to some music first and then I’ll explain? One song at least? For my sake? Humor me.” She smiled and nodded towards the couch behind the piano. Obediently I went and sat down.
The music was truly intoxicating and while she said no one was expecting her, my aunts, or uncles, must have been. One doesn’t randomly walk into strangers’ houses and start playing the piano, hoping to go unnoticed. Not a logical approach for thieves, or serial killers, at least. And she may be mad, but I doubted there were guns hidden under her glitzy dress, which left little to the imagination. I suddenly wished Johanna could see it — she would surely love it.
As I sat listening to the stranger playing, watching her back, I felt somehow mesmerized by her. She started singing as well and, ever so often, turned around to smile at me, or give me a wink at some poignant part of the lyrics. It kind of felt like having a real-life Dorothy Lamour, or Peggy Lee, in my living room. Her presence was electrifying and I started relaxing; enjoying the music. Then, suddenly, it stopped. The song had come to an end and I snapped out of my trancelike state of mind.
“So,” the woman said, as she swiveled on the piano stool to face me. “I guess I better explain who I am and what I’m doing here.” She smiled at me.
“That would be nice,” I replied. I was still a little bit frightened she’d turn out to be a raving lunatic after all.
“My name is Josephine. I’m a singer. Or was a singer, if you so like.”
“You retired?” I asked, curious.
“You could say that, I suppose. Not voluntarily though. Maybe I should wait and tell you this when your aunts are here…” She looked at me quizzically. “You might get a bit of a fright.”
“This is already a day of shocks, so don’t worry. One more won’t floor me.” Here my voice wavered. “Or so I think…”
Her smile widened.
“Ah, Juliet. Yes, that’s why I’m here. Kind of.”
“Juliet?” I asked, perplexed. How did she know of that? Had my drama teacher sent me a private tutor? If so, one with a flair for dramatic entrances, that was for certain!
“Yes, well, let’s start with the essentials. You are a witch. The kind of witch anyone can become with a bit of practice. It’s just your family has a lot of practice. You were born into the whole sixth sense and holistic living thing. You have other talents, too. You’ve just been a bit insecure about them. Lost. Your parents gone and all that. No real sense of identity. Though you have an identity, you’ve just refused to claim it. Refused taking center stage. Until today.”
My eyes were now popping out of my head. Had my aunts hired a shrink? A singing shrink?
“Who are you?” I demanded.
“Oh yes, we are coming to that bit. That’s why I thought maybe it would be best if your aunts were here, but never mind.” And on that note, she disappeared. Just like that. Into thin air.
Maybe she was in league with Elbert and he and Johanna had decided to prank me with some magic trick? Elbert was quite good at it, after all. Though I’d only ever seen him do close-up magic. This was not close-up magic. This was making-the-elephant-disappear-kind-of-magic.
Then, Josephine reappeared again and this time I saw the air sort of shift when she did so. Going from being a hologram to a real person. But was she? Real, I mean? Or was I losing my mind?
“I’m a ghost,” she declared happily. Then, after seeing my face: “Oh, don’t look so shocked. It’s not as if you don’t come from a family of witches. They must have informed you there is an afterlife?”
All my aunts believe in an afterlife, sure, but they don’t have concrete proof. Some weird things happened when some people died over the years and there are stories…but this wasn’t some missing ring being found by the bedside table one morning, or steps heard in the night. This was a real (did I just say real?) ghost.
“We’re not those kinds of witches,” I finally croaked out. “I think you have us confused with mediums, who are mainly cold reading hoaxes.” I was starting to feel more than a little bit uncomfortable. To be able to read the mind of a human and sense things is one thing. It sort of makes sense. You know like picking up on radio signals (or some other sort of signal) through the air. I clearly don’t know the technical terms. But ghosts?
Josephine just smiled at me.
“Most people can’t see me and most mediums are hoaxes. You’re right. Dear old Harry had a blast exposing some of them.”
“You mean Harry Houdini?” I inquired.
“Yes, lovely man. Womanizer. Excellent magician.”
“And you met him, I take it?”
“Of course. Harry was wonderful. We performed in the same cities at times.” Here she smiled and got lost in some reverie. Clearly, Harry had made an impression on her. By the look in her eye, possibly a very naked kind of impression.
No one alive her age could have met Harry Houdini. But then this woman did not claim to be alive. At this stage, I started fearing either one, or both, of us, were disillusioned.
“You look pale,” she noted. “I believe this could be quite a shock. But just so you don’t think you’re dreaming, let me show you something.” On that note, she disappeared again and the candelabra on the table in front of me started moving on its own accord.
“It’s me. I mean I’m moving it,” Josephine said, still invisible. Then the candelabra stopped moving and Josephine appeared on the piano stool once more.
“That’s impressive,” I said, not sure what else to say as I couldn’t make up my mind as to whether she was a ghost, or a magician. A disillusioned magician who thought she’d met Harry Houdini.
“Moving a candelabra is hardly impressive, dear. Being alive like yourself is much more impressive. Not that I’m dead, not really, my spirit is quite alive. It’s just my physical body that is long gone. This is all an illusion.” She gestured towards her body. “I can manipulate objects, but my natural state is invisible spirit matter. I’ve just put on this illusion for your sake. Makes it easier when you have a face to go with the name type thing. And sometimes I miss the silly nonsense of having an ego. You know, like looking into the mirror and thinking you’ve got it. I used to have it. Back when I was alive, I mean.”
I was gaping at her at this stage. I’d given up on any pretense of playing it cool.
“You’re telling me that you are a real ghost?”
“Yep. In flesh, as you’d say, but I’m rather without it. I can’t eat, smell and so forth. I can feel objects, but rather in a different way from how you feel them. It’s energy against matter. Kind of like how a wind feels a tree.”
“But a wind can’t feel,” I objected.
“You have a point. I’m just trying to find suitable metaphors here. Give me a break. You youngsters are so demanding these days.”
“Well, excuse me,” I said. “You just broke into my living room and you’ve obviously been spying on me as you know I was cast as Juliet, but I’m rude because I point out that winds can’t feel? They’re atmospheric pressure and I doubt that’s what you are.”
“Looking at it from that angle,” Josephine said and crinkled her nose thoughtfully, “I guess you could say I’m the impertinent one. Possibly even rude. I do apologize. I’m not entirely used to introducing myself to humans. I mean I am a human…spirit. Unlike some of my friends on this side, I’m not stalking humans as I want to return to life though. I’m just a spirit guide. Think of me as your fairy godmother, but I don’t do pumpkins, or glass slippers.”
“You know, Harry Houdini exposed all the mediums in his time,” I croaked out. I didn’t really know what else to say to show that I did not believe what was happening to me. Maybe it was a hallucination? I’d never had hallucinations before, but perhaps I’d caught a fever? There was that incident with the dragon in the park, too.
“That’s because most mediums are fakes. And ghosts don’t hang around mediums, they watch over their loved ones and send them intuitive messages if needed. Those little voices inside your head. Some also get attached to a certain place and hang around for that reason. It’s their own inner ghosts they are fighting, so to speak. They can’t leave this life as they are still attached to it. Point being, we aren’t allowed to contact the living most of the time. Can you imagine what would happen if we did?”
Josephine paused dramatically, expectantly waiting for my reply.
“Uhm, no.” I shook my head.
“The living would start killing themselves. Ever seen someone who has recently lost someone? They’re heartbroken. Some so much so that they’d kill themselves just to be with whoever has just departed. Not to mention people would toss themselves over a bridge every time they faced a challenge that made them miserable, thinking they could just start over, instead of facing up to their problems. There would be cosmic chaos.” Josephine shook her head and then continued. “For being intelligent creatures, humans are sometimes very stupid. There are cosmic rules in order for a reason.”
“So why are you talking to me? I mean why are you telling me this?” I inquired.
“Good question!” Josephine lit up. “You’re different. You’re a real medium. Spirits aren’t normally seen Louise — you’d perceive them as intuition. A feeling. A passing thought. We don’t have our bodies anymore. You can see me because I’ve manipulated energy to take on a shape, but that’s rare. Very rare. Mostly people just imagine they can see someone when they sense they are near. It’s their mind playing tricks on them. The point is, most people only sense people that were close to them in real life and have come back to give them a message, while you’d sense me as a spirit even if I’d not taken on human form, because you’re open to it.”
“I would? I’ve never seen any ghosts before. Why do you think I am a medium?”
“Because your so-called sixth sense is open. Humans think that only things they can see, touch, smell, taste, or hear are real. But that’s just their way of perceiving the universe. A dog perceives it differently. Other forms of life yet differently. Only, humans can’t understand that. They think everyone, or everything, should I say, perceive reality through the five senses. I guess that’s why they think aliens are green little men who perceive the world just as they do.” Josephine spoke enthusiastically, quite enjoying the show. I presumed because her audience of one was incredibly engaged in what she was saying.
“And you went through the trouble of materializing and telling me all this, because…?” I asked, confused.
“Because sometimes it’s important for spirits to have a link to this world. So that we can…affect different events more effectively, so to speak. And you need me. So I’m here. I am particularly suited to you because I used to be a performer, a musician that is, and you are an actress.”
“You are. Amongst other things.”
Just then Wilda opened the front door and stepped inside.
“Hello Louise, what a marvelous evening!” she exclaimed and started removing her coat. “The nip in the air is awakening my senses; the scent of moss rising through the damp air in the forest is positively making my heart sing. One can smell fall tonight. I feel so thoroughly awake.” With cheeks glowing from the cold, brown eyes alight and her chestnut hair all messed up from the bike ride, Wilda did indeed look like the picture of health and happiness. Her somewhat British, and utterly posh speech, was the result of having Jenna as her mother. The whole family sounds like posh British aristocrats from time to time (with the odd East London slang thrown into the midst), but only Jenna actually has a (mainly) British accent.
“Hey Wilda,” I said. I wasn’t quite sure how to proceed — should I introduce Josephine?
“Josephine,” I whispered, “can Wilda see you?”
“Yes, of course. Well, if I keep creating this physical illusion, that is.”
“Wilda, come in here,” I called. “I want you to meet someone.”
“In a moment, let me just get my boots off.”
Said and done, Wilda removed her boots and walked into the room.
“Hello,” Josephine said as Wilda entered, bringing with her the unmistakable scent of essential oils and herbs she always brought home from the shop. “I’m Josephine.”
“Hello Josephine, I’m Wilda. Nice outfit. Is this a rehearsal of some kind? Louise’s new play?”
“No,” I shook my head. “Josephine here is a ghost. Josephine, can you please disappear again?”
And then she did. Disappear, I mean. Wilda looked quite shocked. Clearly, she wasn’t well acquainted with ghosts either. She gathered herself rather quickly though.
“Well, well, well! I never thought those stories about our great, great, great grandmother to be true, people were so superstitious back in the day, but I must have been wrong.”
Josephine appeared again, with a big smile on her face — it was clear she was enjoying all the theatrics.
“So I’m not mad?” I asked Wilda. “She really is here and she’s a ghost?”
“I don’t know she is a ghost for sure,” Wilda replied, “but if she isn’t a ghost then I don’t know what she is. Maybe an angel? Dressed in 30s clothes more suitable for a speakeasy than Heaven?”
“I already explained to you Louise,” Josephine said, waging a finger at me, “I’m not a liar. I might have been known to exaggerate a tale or two in my lifetime, but I was never fond of make-belief.”
“So, what do we do now?” I asked. “Are you like staying for dinner?” I was pretty sure ghosts don’t eat, but I was also pretty confused as to how long Josephine intended to stay.
Josephine laughed. “You really think I eat?” she asked.
“No,” I confessed. “I think you mentioned earlier you don’t, actually, I was merely wondering how long you intend to hang around? I mean I’m pretty new to this being visited by ghosts thing. I don’t know the protocol for being haunted.”
“As it happens, I need to get going. I only meant to introduce myself today. Let it sink in that I exist. We can chat more tomorrow. For now, concentrate on Juliet.” She turned to Wilda. “It was nice meeting you too. I’ll stay and chat some other time.” And then she did a dramatic spin on the piano stool and disappeared.
“Oh my,” said Wilda. “I think I better put the kettle on.“