A short story by Jody Noëlle Coughlin
I used to watch television shows about ghost hunting and the paranormal. Many of the hauntings occurred in Pennsylvania so I was leery of crossing the border into that land. I waited. I watched. Trees passed by. So many trees. Big birds soared over head. So far up I could barely see them. Some were resting in the trees and I wondered how many people passed by without realizing these birds were there, camouflaged and watching. It was eerie.
We drove for what seemed like an eternity. My mother, my sister, and my daughter were with me. They were having a good time. I was not. I was watching. I was always watching for something. Something good. Something bad. I didn't know. I was just watching. I couldn't relax.
Finally, we passed into Pennsylvania. My mind began to wander. I didn't bother to look at a map. I just did what I used to do as a kid. I took it all in. I took it all inside through my eyes and it was beautiful in the same way that something monochromatic is pleasing to the eye. Colours just went from brown to grey to brown again. It was eerie. Eerie, Pennsylvania. It was oddly beautiful and sad to cross into its borders. It was like crossing into an otherworldly place. A space where death lived. It was sad like a baby's blue eyes under the sepia wash in an old photograph. I felt an ill wind. A whisper of the dead. This journey seemed much more significant than it should have somehow.
Before we crossed into Pennsylvania we ate a restaurant and I saw a man who was obviously very ill. All I could think was how near to the border he was. That one between life and death. He was ready to cross over into that other land. I stood there in the shadow of death when I stood next to him. Maybe he wanted it. Maybe he didn't. You never know anymore. Life's value doesn't seem to be what it once was. We live in a time of muddied waters in that way. I don't know why, but I was not afraid of being so near to him though it was almost like standing next to a ghost. My sister made a remark about him and said out loud exactly what I had been thinking and I swear I heard something like envy in her voice. I swear I did.
In my dreams everything flashes back and forth with strange intensity. Something is trying to pull through in my dreams. Something pulls through to something else. Pulling and pulling and pulling. My dreams are like the fingers on the strings of a guitar, but I don't know what song they play. The strings strain and threaten to pop. I don't understand why. There seems to be so much to say.
We kept driving and a grey mist formed in the cool of the evening. Now and then these beautiful homes punctuated the woods. These were not manufactured boxes. These were old farmhouses probably over a hundred years old. Built with human hands and human hands alone. There were a thousand places for a ghost to hide in those woods, in that mist, or in those old houses. A specter might have looked right at me. Or even through me. It's peering eyes could have poked right through those woods somewhere. Questions remain: who is more afraid? Us or them? And who are they? Ex-patriots of heaven? Monsters, rejected from hell? The things that go bump in the ripping terror of night?
We try to make sense of death through the manifestations of what we consider living. What kind of life was this? Driving and driving and driving to get somewhere we didn't belong. I railed against it for so long. I felt something ominous in the air. I wanted to blame my habit of watching ghost-hunting shows. It would have been a reasonable thing to conclude. However, something within me caused me to know things I can't explain. My spirit seemed to know, long before my brain could form the thought, that trouble was still very much in the air. Yet, we made it back home. We unpacked our bags. Nothing happened. Until, less than one full year later at 8:30 in the morning, the call came. My sister had crossed that border. That one between life and death.
I knew she was going to go. I knew it all along.