Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Cabin Pressure

“I don’t really believe in ghosts,” a fellow passenger offered as I took my window seat on my American Airlines flight back home to Atlanta.  I would get that push back from time to time especially after an appearance on the Today Show, Montel or Wendy Williams but it had been years.  I was returning from my audition in New York for a new show called Ghost Wanderers for the Supernatural Channel and hoped that it would be my comeback after living in relative obscurity as a medium the last few years.  “I mean – ghosts are just figments of the imagination – some hysterical reckoning that doesn’t exist,” he continued getting a little more agitated. You either had people who believed in what you did or those “debunkers” who didn’t want to consider that there might be a world beyond their own “philosophy.”  The man in the aisle seat was the latter, a person who could not conceive of anything that was not part of the here and now.  The disbeliever was in his late 40’s, trim and wearing a light blue polo shirt, and black jacket with black pants.  He smoothed down his salt and pepper tinged hair and got out his laptop to do some work.  I hoped that he would forget that I was in the same row. 

“That’s nice,” I said off handedly – trying not to draw him into a long conversation as I got out my copy of A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini who was becoming one of my favorite authors.   I put my briefcase under my seat and opened the book.  “Well, it’s just not possible for there to be ghosts – once you’re dead – you’re dead,” he continued not noticing my disinterest.   As I kept my face in my book, I heard a familiar voice in the seat next to me.  “Hey Princess, where are we off to now?” he asked.  It was Bob the Atheist Ghost, an entity that usually popped up at the most inconvenient times.  He had died in his late 50’s less than a year ago and still wore what he usually did in life - a pair of Khakis and an oxford shirt with a pair of glasses because apparently his eyesight didn’t get better post-mortem.  Being an atheist, he could not comprehend that he was dead and his way of handling the situation was to dismiss his whole afterlife as a long drawn out dream that in which the spirits and people he met were Jungian or Freudian archetypes of his psyche. “Hey, A Thousand Splendid Suns – I loved The Kite Runner,” he volunteered and settled into the center seat.
“Bob, this is not a good time,” I whispered hoping that Mr. Polo shirt could not hear me.  I had tried communicating with Bob telepathically, but he just would not have it.  “Oh, I get it – you just want a nice quiet flight – just you and your book.  I get that, I mean I hate it when I get on planes and the person next to me just blathers on and on about this or that or how much they missed their cats.  I swear – one time, I was sitting next to this one woman after a Dragon-Con convention and that’s all she did was talk about her cats and had like 20 pictures on her cell phone.  I mean if she had been cute and wanted to join the Mile High Club it would have been one thing but geez, you can only take so much talk about tabbies,” he continued.  I rolled my eyes and kept reading.
The plane started to taxi down the runway and we were thankfully air borne so
I would be home in just a few hours.   I reflected on the new show and its format– I was going to be partnered with two ghost hunters who would verify my findings but our initial meetings had been rocky.  I have a great distrust of paranormal investigators because many times they stir up energy that they cannot handle.  The feeling was mutual from Jack Bronson who thought all mediums were fakes and his friend Dave served as the intermediary between the two of us.  Even with this slight misgiving, I was being given a chance to get back to making a living at what fate had thrust upon me - the ability to talk to dead people. 
After we were safely in the air, the flight attendant started to come around with refreshments for the passengers.  The man in my row ordered a beer.  “Hey, Ms. Gardeen, do you want something?” he asked in a tone which was much less hostile than when we first sat down.   If this had been a few years ago, I would have ordered three rum and cokes with lime and sucked them down with no problem, but I was on the wagon now and my new found sobriety would allow only a soda.  “I’ll have a Diet Coke please,” I responded.   “Hey do you remember how slutty stewardesses were back in the 1960’s?  That whole coffee, tea or me stuff?  I gotta wonder how many of them made it into the mile high club!”  Bob remarked looking over our young flight attendant Beth.  “Oh my God, did you ever have a girlfriend?” I whispered trying to keep my voice low, however the aisle man heard me.
“Actually, I’m divorced like you – my wife used to be a big fan,” he volunteered and started to switch seats to get closer to me and ended up actually sitting on top of Bob.  “Oh my God, the balls on this guy!” Bob said even though he didn’t believe in a supreme being.  “Hey, I’m sorry I was so abrupt before – it’s just that my ex used to watch you all in the time on the talk shows and it just stirred up some – well, you know.  Sorry again. My name is Marty,” he said putting out his hand. Bob went to slap it and I awkwardly shook his hand while trying to bat Bob’s away.  Bob was now in the aisle seat.  He was looking over Marty’s shoulder and making faces.  “Much nicer to meet you this time around Marty,” I said sweetly. 
I tried not to be too distracted by Bob and focus in on the conversation but out of the corner of my eye I could see the apparition of a platinum blond woman in her mid-40’s in a mini-skirt dress with a teased hairdo.  Her frosted pink lipstick gave off a strange hue.  Only Bob and I could see her and he was instantly transfixed.  “Well hello there –“ he said lecherously.  She knocked the drink out of Beth’s hand and laughed.  “Oh boy,” I said forgetting that Marty was now having a conversation with me.   Beth apologized for spilling my Diet Coke.  “I’m so sorry – I’m not sure what happened,” she said wiping herself and what she thought was an empty seat with a white dish towel.  Bob had a goofy smile on his face as she ran the towel over his ghostly legs.  “It’s a good thing I was not sitting there,” said Marty leaning closer to me.  
Bob brushed the soda off his clothes and was surprised to find that it didn’t even stain.  “Must be because it’s diet,” he mused as he started to walk toward the woman from the 1960’s.  She paused for a moment – surprised to see him and the fact that he could see her.  “Hey there, I’m Bob – what’s a nice girl like you doing on a plane like this?”  The woman regarded him with quiet amusement.  I tried to keep my eye on them and also tried to stay engaged with Marty the non-believer who still was intent on getting to know me better.  “So where too after you land in Atlanta?” Marty asked.  He seemed to have gone from dissing me to wanting to get to know me much better and I found his tactic interesting.  Not that there was a chance in hell we’d get together, but it was a distraction from watching Bob hit on a ghostly woman who was clearly out of his league.  “I will probably just go home and relax – it’s been a grueling few days,” I replied carefully still keeping an eye on Bob like a mother watching her toddler at a crowded playground.  “Well hello yourself, I’m Loraine,” replied the female ghost as she gave Bob the once over.  Beth walked through the two ghosts unaware of what was happening and offered me a Diet Coke with lime which I gratefully took.  The female apparition tried to trip her as she walked back to the refreshment cart but Bob stopped her thinking that he was helping.  
“Hey, wait a minute – do you have something against this young lady?” he asked not realizing the shit storm he was about to open up.  “I don’t like stewardesses, they’re little whores!” Loraine shouted to Bob and her tone made me jump.  Marty noticed how apprehensive I was.  “Hey, don’t worry – if we hit turbulence, these pros know how to handle it,” he said reassuring me which he didn’t need to do.  I have flown hundreds of times in both this country and Europe, but this was the first time I had seen a ghost this aggressive while we were mid-air. 
“For God’s sake Loraine, for the final time, I didn’t have sex with the stewardesses on the last flight – when are you gonna believe me?” This ghostly voice came from a nice looking a male ghost who was dressed in a 1960’s pilot’s uniform and hat with wings on the front of it.  It was clear that he had a relationship with the woman who was now eyeing Bob.
“How could you cheat on me 10,000 feet up with these bitches? I know you used to screw around on me at the layover hotels but while you were flying the plane?!” she continued to shriek at the pilot. 
Well that gives a whole new meaning to the term ‘cockpit’,” Bob said grinning turning to the pilot and trying to hi-five him.  “Making the mile-high club has been something I’ve had on my bucket list for some time,” Bob continued as both ghosts looked at him confused. 
“Who is this?” the pilot asked.   Loraine licked her pink lips and smiled.  
“He’s my revenge, Peter!” she said defiantly.  She leaned up on Bob and gave him a passionate kiss which surprised him.  He paused having a hard time figuring out how to reciprocate.  Eventually he did, awkwardly grabbing her rear end and squeezing. 
“Now, how do you like it?” Loraine asked looking directly at her ex-husband. 
“I like it a lot – this is pretty hot,” replied Bob not realizing he was a pawn in an afterlife tug-of-war. 
“Get your filthy hands OFF my wife!” Peter bellowed which was actually so loud the rest of first class heard the word “OFF” and startled a little bit.  Beth looked around trying to figure out where that sound came from.  Bob let go of Loraine’s ass and sat down quietly back in our row. 
Marty’s attention had turned from me to the sound- “What the hell? -“ he started.  “It’s probably an audio thing.” I said and motioned to the three ghosts to follow me to the galley.  “I need to ask Beth about getting another Diet Coke,” I said as an excuse to get up from my seat and sucking down what I had left in the glass.
Bob got up obediently and followed me – the other two ghosts looked at me quizzically because apparently they had never encountered a medium.  “Okay, all three of you – I get that there are some very strong feelings right now but you need to keep them under control and not scare innocent people –“
“Those little whores are not innocent – they ruin marriages,” Loraine said looking at Peter who was getting more agitated. 
“You ruined our marriage with your jealousy – I never gave you’re a reason to doubt that I was faithful but you just couldn’t let it go until one day – sure if I was going to do the time I might has well do the crime –“ he shot back.  Obviously their marital issues did not stop when in fact death did do them part.
“So you did the stewardesses!  Oh wow, I get it now.  This is all part of my deep seated issues with relationships.  This man is my ideal –a strong handsome guy and the woman is the person I’ve always coveted.  So if a guy like that can’t keep a woman like this – what chance do I have? This must be where my fear of commitment comes from!” said Bob smiling at his revelation which was not helping the situation in the least.
“Perhaps, my husband deserves a taste of his own medicine,” she said eyeing Bob like a hungry lioness.   “How would you like to make it into the Mile High Club?” she said leaning into Bob so he could see her cleavage straining out of the tight dress. 
“Okay, I think we can work this out like adults,” I said trying to play a psychic marriage counselor. 
“It’s too LATE!” Loraine screamed in which the cabin heard a woman’s voice say, “LATE!”   Beth came up and asked me to return to my seat since they were having some audio problems and were trying to locate the problem.   As I turned to go back into first class, I could hear banging in the bathroom.  Bob and were Loraine moaning but it was not sexual – it actually sounded the way you would think that ghosts would moan in the hereafter.   I turned quickly and sat back down not wanting to be anywhere near Bob’s “initiation.”  Beth knocked on the door and asked the people in the bathroom to return to their seats.  When she didn’t hear an answer, she knocked again and then got a key to open the door.  She gasped when she saw the water splashing out of the sink by itself.  Being the trained professional she was, Beth pretended that nothing had happened and reassured the passengers near the bathroom that the hand soap had fallen off the sink and that was the noise they were hearing. 
“Hey – did you hear that other sound burst?” asked Marty looking at me like I was somehow responsible for the random events. 
“I did, they’re working on the audio system to see what’s happening,” I replied.  Just then the captain came on the radio.  “Good afternoon ladies and gentleman, this is your captain.  We have reached our cruising altitude of 36,000 feet and have a 10 mile visibility and the winds about 40 miles per hour.  We seem to be having some audio problems but don’t worry they are part of the sound system and don’t affect the operation of the plane.  Thank you for your patience and thank you again for flying American Airlines.  We should be arriving at Hartsfield in Atlanta in about two hours,” he clicked off the microphone. 
Bob and Loraine appeared from the bathroom – with Bob’s face covered in an eerie pink lipstick hue, zipping up his khakis and Loraine adjusting her wigette and rearranging her dress.  However, neither one of them had the calm in their face that you would expect after a mid-air tryst.   Bob sat down next to Marty.  “Well that didn’t go as planned – who would have thought those bathrooms were not conductive to a quickie – I’m really disappointed,” Bob explained.  “Maybe that captain actually nailed them in the cockpit,” Bob started to giggle when he realized he just said the words – “cock” and “pit.” 
Before I could respond, Loraine came down the aisle with blood in her eyes, literally, there was blood seeping from her eyes and not in a Megyn Kelly kind of way.  “You pathetic example of a man!” she seethed – her eyes nothing but sockets hemorrhaging red fluid.  “Oh God!” Bob exclaimed asking for help from a deity he did not believe in.   Magazines started to fly and overhead compartments started to open threatening to spill their contents onto helpless passengers.  People started to gasp and hold onto their seats but the turbulence was coming from the inside of the plane.   Just then Peter stepped forward and grabbed Loraine from behind, the magazines landed in the aisles and the compartments clicked back shut. 
There was an uncomfortable silence in the cabin and Marty’s eyes bored into mine.  “What the hell is happening?” he asked quietly.  “You wouldn’t believe me even if I told you,” I whispered back hoping that Peter could keep Loraine contained until we landed.  “Hey, I’d really like to wake up now, this dream is getting just a little trippy,” Bob said looking at Peter who was trying to restrain his wife.  Suddenly she disappeared.  Peter looked around trying to get her before she struck again.  “I think her husband has a handle on this,” said Bob, picking up a copy of Sky Mall.  “Hey look, you can get a mini-desk vacuum and Smurf talking electric toothbrushes for under $20!” he said trying to ignore the flaming pot of rage that he had ignited.
The passengers were shaken up and a few started to cry.  The captain came back over the intercom again trying to steady the situation.  “Ladies and gentleman, I have to apologize for the turbulence, I’m not sure why the compartments opened but we are doing everything we can to figure this out and we apologize for any inconvenience, please stay seated as the fasten seat belt signs are on,” he assured and his demeanor did help to calm things down.   Marty looked at me, “You can see what’s happening right?  I mean you know don’t you?” he asked with a touch of fear in his eyes.  “Yes and I might need some help if things escalate.  Would you be willing to help me if I asked you?” I said hoping I’d have an ally if I needed one.  “Okay, sure,” he said with uncertainty. 
Beth was still looking composed and the rest of the flight attendants took her lead and started to make sure the overhead compartments were locked.   Some of the passengers were picking up magazines and drinks that had spilled around them in their seats. There was an eerie quiet in the cabin.  It was unnerving because I was pretty sure that Loraine would be back to strike again. 
Bob looked around – “Hey princess, when do we land?  I’ll feel better when we’re on the ground,” he said tensely.  I wanted to respond directly to him but did not want to raise any more suspicions with flight attendants or fellow travelers.  “Marty, I need to talk to someone but I need to make it seem like I’m talking to you so no one freaks out – would you be willing to just look and respond like we’re having a conversation?”  I asked calmly.  “Yes,” he replied carefully.  
I turned to my atheist apparition, “Okay, Bob – you have made a big mistake by angering that woman and her husband.  I need to find out what the trigger was that brought both of them on this flight in the first place, so if Loraine looks like she’s going to try to hurt anyone, you need to work with Peter to stop her, okay?”  Bob looked at me like a six year old who had been caught doing something bad and now had to face the consequences. 
“Okay Sophia, I’m sorry.  I mean the sex wasn’t even that great. I just thought maybe I might finally meet someone and have that one night or day stand that I could brag about with the guys.  Despite what you might have heard, scientists can be real assholes to one another – always bragging about this discovery or that and always lying about sex – I just wanted to be able to join in with some real life experience.  I’ve never been good with women and I didn’t realize what a psycho she is,” he replied looking genuinely remorseful.  
Marty nodded while I was talking.  “Who are you calling a psycho?” a woman’s voice growled.  Loraine had now transformed from a 1960’s housewife in go-go boots into a she-demon with a red face, blood coming from her face and eyes and long claws who was intent on killing the female flight attendants as revenge for her husband’s infidelity.  I tried not to react but her appearance rattled me and it showed.  “What’s the matter – what do you see?” asked Marty.  I tried to smile and make it look like nothing was wrong - but holy shit - everything was wrong.  
Bob looked up and saw Loraine and gasped.  “Is this what happens to women after sex on an airplane?”  He started to tremble and the seat started to shake which everyone could see.  Beth walked over to our row to see if something mechanical was causing the seat to vibrate.  “Bob, please stop, everything is going to be fine, but you need to hold it together,” I said and Marty nodded still playing along.   The seat stopped shaking, and Beth looked at me quizzically and took a few moments before she started to speak.  Again, her demeanor was very professional but I could see that her composure was starting to waver.  “Miss Gardeen, this might seem strange but I was wondering if you could take a moment to join me in the galley with our pilot.”  I nodded, grabbed a vile from my purse, put it in my pocket discretely and walked with Beth past the rows of passengers who looked pale and shaken up – the flight was nearly silent which just made things more eerie. 
We stopped in the galley where I had the ghostly conference just a few minutes before.   The pilot joined us.  He was an older man in his late fifties with pure white hair and a kind face that was looking a little frayed.  His name plate said Caption Simmons.  “Miss Gardeen, I usually don’t do this – meet with passenger’s mid-flight but these audio bursts, the magazines flying and the compartment doors opening – there does not seem to be a rational explanation.  I know who you are and I just needed to see – to ask…” his voice trailed off. 
“Okay since you asked – is there something on this plane that might have come from a crash site that could be triggering these episodes?” I asked looking around and for the moment the cabin seemed to be quiet.
Both Beth and Captain Simmons looked at each other and then the captain started to speak.  “I’ve been a pilot for over 20 years and I’ve always been interested in plane crashes and how they happened.  I happened to be out in the Everglades with my kids near Pine Island.  We were walking near the trails when I saw a dull silver object in the saw grass.  I walked over carefully knowing how sharp saw grass is and how easily you could get sliced up.  I looked closer and it was a man’s watch and wallet.   At first I figured it someone had lost it on an airboat ride but as I looked in the wallet, I could see some ID even with all the mud and all these years I could still make it out.  The wallet belonged to a Peter Ossman.  It had a wedding ring in the billfold and a wedding photo that was pretty well preserved.  The watch was crusted over but when I took it to a jeweler to have it cleaned up – it had an inscription ‘To Peter - forever my love Loraine– 6/29/63.’  When I researched it further, I found out that Captain Peter Ossman was the pilot of the ill-fated Flight 802 that crashed in the Everglades in 1968.  I wanted to get the watch back to the family.  I found out that he still has a brother who’s living in Atlanta and had arranged to return it to the family.  You know from one pilot to another but then strange things have started to happen on this flight..” he finished looking at me tensely. 
I took a moment before I spoke.  “The watch, wallet and especially the ring and the wedding picture can be trigger objects for ghosts.  I’ve seen Captain Ossman and his wife Loraine on-board.  She’s very jealous and thinks that he cheated on her with flight attendants which is why she’s been so mean to you Beth.”  Beth gasped and her composure started to wane for a few moments and then regained it as I continued. “The audio bursts were caused by the ghosts as well the other strange things that have been happening.  The pilot’s wife is very unstable, but Captain Ossman is trying to help and he’s very protective of the plane and the passengers.   I will encourage him to keep her under wraps, but we need to keep her away from the cockpit.  I have a vile of holy water on me - maybe if I can get some salt to put by the door that can repel her –“ I continued.
Suddenly Loraine jumped up from behind put her bloody hands around Beth’s neck.   Beth’s eyes got wide and she leaned backward and had trouble breathing as Loraine’s bloody claws seemed to grasp tighter.  Captain Simmons tried to help but could not see what he was supposed to be fighting.  Bob jumped up without thinking and tried to yank Loraine off the young woman who was gasping for air.   Peter then appeared and pulled his wife’s arms back as Beth fell forward into the galley.   “Captain, please get back into the cockpit – I’ll try to keep her away from the flight deck,” I whispered trying not to alarm the other passengers.
Loraine ran down the aisle with Peter and Bob close behind.  Marty came up and helped Beth to her feet.  I looked in the galley and tried find salt to put in front of the entrance of the cockpit to keep Loraine out.  The cabin got darker as the sun set and there was a ghostly hue coming from the electronic devices that the passengers were using while feverously texting– the clicking sounds of people trying to send frantic messages to the outside world.   The pong of the “Fasten seatbelt sign” continued as I started to put the salt along the cockpit door.
Suddenly, the plane started to lurch forward.  This time it was not from within the confines of the cabin but looking out the window, I could see the plane was actually starting to go into a downward plunge.  “Bob, Peter, you have to stop her – she’s in the cockpit,” I yelled over the sounds of the screaming passengers as both Beth and I lost our balance.  
Bob and Peter hurried down the aisle and walked through the security door.  Beth looked at me – “Who are Bob and Peter?” she asked as we tried to stand back up.  I closed my eyes and tried to focus in on what was probably chaos at the front of the plane. 

I saw the pilot, co-pilot and the navigator trying to maintain altitude – they were communicating in an even tone which belied the fact that the plane seemed to be out of control.   I saw Peter trying to get control of the altimeter as Loraine’s ghostly face was looking in from outside the plane.   I crawled to the door of the cockpit and shouted, “The watch and the wedding picture – hold them up – remind them of who they were – please!!” I begged.  
Captain Simmons grabbed the items which had spilled on the floor – he felt his hand being wrenched open by someone he could not see.  The plane was now in a full descent and the screaming was deafening.   Peter held up the watch and the wedding picture – “Look Loraine- this was us and it can be again, it’s not too late – but if you kill these innocent people you will be forever damned, there will be no redemption and your hell will be eternal – stop now and you have a chance at happiness with me,” he shouted.  The plane was now in a 45 degree incline.  Marty tried to shield both Beth and I with his body as the snack cart started to slide towards us.   I felt the vile of Holy water slide out of my pocket and tried to catch it as it rolled away.  “Dammit,” I muttered realizing that might be my last chance to try to get rid of Loraine if she did not comply with Peter.   Marty managed to stop the cart with his legs just as it was about to hit us.  The angle of the plane started to make me dizzy and lightheaded.
In the cockpit, I heard loud voices, screeching and a ghostly scream of pain and then silence.   The plane started to right itself and after a minute of uncertainty it seemed to be leveling off.   The sounds of sobbing passengers were replaced by cheering.   Marty stood up and pushed the cart back into place as he helped me and Beth to our feet.  
“Wow, that was close,” said Bob as he walked out of the cockpit, visibly shaken and putting his glasses back on.  “What was in that vile thing?” he asked.
“It was Holy water, did you use-“ I started not quite sure how I was going to finish my sentence.
“Okay, I thought it was like ghost mace – Loraine started to come after Peter and me with the face of a serpent saying she didn’t care and was going to crash the plane.  I saw the vile outside the door so I grabbed it to see if she would in fact stop if I threw some in her eyes.   She screamed – turned white for a second and then these creatures that looked like gargoyles came from the sky and took her away.”
I saw Peter emerge from the cockpit, still holding the picture, watch and wedding ring.   He looked sad – like a superhero who could not save the one person he intended to even though 150 people owed him their lives. 
“Excuse me ladies and gentleman – this is your Captain.  We are going to land in Asheville North Carolina to make sure that we don’t have any more technical problems– we should be landing there in about 10 minutes.  You can get a connecting flight to Atlanta tomorrow morning and will get a travel voucher for a stay at a local hotel for the evening.  We apologize for the inconvenience and as always and thank you for flying American Airlines.”
Marty looked at me and smiled.  “So I guess it’s going to be a little while before we get to Atlanta.  I happen to do business quite a lot in Asheville and know the art district pretty well.  I was wondering if you wanted to have dinner in funky bistro and I can get us rooms at the Biltmore if you would like – I’m actually really good friends with the manager.” 
I regarded this man who seemed so hostile earlier who ended up keeping me from being crushed by a run-away snack cart full of pretzels and Sprite.  “That’s sound heavenly, I would love that,” I said smiling back.  Marty nodded and walked back to his seat looking up numbers to make the arrangements for the rest of the evening.
Just then, there was a white light that appeared next to Peter.  It was a younger more innocent version of Loraine – the way she looked in their wedding picture.  She beamed at Peter and nodded.   “But I thought those gargoyle things got her,” said Bob who was suddenly right next to me.  “I gave her that mace stuff.” 
“That was holy water Bob, you sprinkled her with holy water and it released her demons.  She’s at peace now and wants Peter to go with her,” I replied. 
“First off, I don’t believe in that stuff – that's crazy talk. Let’s just say it was fluid for her contacts and she can see clearly now,” he tried to reason.
“Oh, yes Bob, she can see very clearly now,” I replied as I watched Peter and Loraine float up past the cabin ceiling and into the orange, purple and gold clouds illuminated by the setting sun.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

The Sweetwater Creek Camping Trip - 1980

“Hey, Sugar Bear – wake up – I have a question to ask you,” my father said sweetly as he tried to rouse me on a summer morning where I had nothing more on my teenage agenda than to sleep until noon.  I opened my eyes and saw Daddy sitting next to my bed holding a cup of coffee.  My first instinct was to be alarmed because he had divorced my mother when I was six – so he was never the first person I saw in the morning after that.  He had his new family with two little girls who kept him pretty busy.  “Daddy, what are you doing here?” I asked still trying to get my bearings.  “Sorry, it’s already 8:30 and I thought you’d be up.  I was wondering if you wanted to come camping this weekend?” he asked sweetly handing me the warm ceramic mug so that my decision would be fueled with caffeine.

Most parents would not hand their 17 year old coffee but I had developed the habit at 14 much to my mother’s dismay – she felt that tea was more lady-like.  I took a few sips and looked at my dad who was sitting at the edge of my bed in a blue business suit.  It hit me how much I missed mundane moments like this – having my father there first thing in the morning to wake me up and talk to me.   “I’m sorry – you want to go camping this weekend?” I asked still taking everything in – however the java was adding some clarity.  “Yes, I got a cabin at Sweetwater Creek and was wondering if you wanted to go,” he said. 

Normally, I would have asked more questions but things had been strange between him and I lately – he was not coming around as often as usual.  I mean I still saw him once a week but he often stopped by the house after work before he went home to the “new” family especially if he knew that my mother was at her charity meetings and it was just me and Etta, but it had been months since he did that.  “You don’t have any plans for the weekend do you?” he asked hopefully.  “Well I was going to hang out with the Wilson sisters –“I replied.   “Great –you think they’d like to come too? I rented a pretty big cabin.”  The randomness of his request took me aback but it was time to spend with my dad so I said, “Okay, I’ll check with Joy and Grace and see if they can make it as well – is mom coming?”  I asked.  My father started to chuckle and then stopped himself.  “No camping – even in a cabin with electricity and running water is not her cup of tea, but Etta is willing to go,” he said smiling knowing that would seal the deal.  

Etta has been my best friend, mentor and the smartest person I’ve ever met next to my dad.  She practically raised me since I was a toddler.  She has also been my emotional support ever since I could see and hear ghosts from the time I was six – something my mother could not grasp and was always wary of.   My mother is a proper Southern woman who is landed in tradition and expects those around her to adhere to those dictates.   Being divorced was not part of the plan and I’ve always thought that she blamed me and my “ability” for causing my dad to leave.   Mix that with my tendency to be rebellious and tell the family secrets I learned from the ghosts of our family when I was little and you have a relationship that was often fraught with power plays and avoidance. 

“I guess you’re on your way to work,” I said noting the suit and red tie – my dad’s power color.  “Just a short workday today- I wanted to get out early to avoid traffic,” he said smiling and then kissed me on top of my head.  It was a small gesture but it made me feel like we were the only two people in the world.   “Give the girls a call and let me know.  Maybe if it’s easier, you, Etta, Joy and Grace can drive up separately.  I’ll give her the address and directions on how to get there,” he said as he walked out of my room and closed the door.   I smiled and went back to sleep for a couple of hours, but already having that conversation with my dad was better than any dream I could have had.

“You’re going camping with your father this weekend with Joy and Grace? That’s rather sudden,” my mother remarked as she looked over her schedule for the weekend.  Her blond hair was pulled back in a loose ponytail and she was in a pair of white capris and a smart lavender sweater combo with pearls – casual yet very Southern.  “I know but he really seemed like he wanted me to go and it just up at Sweetwater Creek so it’s not a long drive-“ I stated.  “Is he picking you up?  How are you getting there?”  She asked like most normal mothers would but her tone always felt like she doubted me.  I tried to not let it get under my skin but she seemed to do that whether it was for simple requests or to tell her that the ghost of Grandpappy had a revelation about her family that she needed to know about.  She just could not accept anything on its face value. 

“Miss Laura, I’m going to drive Sophia out there with Joy and Grace – so they’ll be well supervised,” explained Etta who usually ran interference between my mother and me.   “Oh, so you’re going to stay the weekend as well –“replied my mother trying to hide her surprise.  “Alright, it’s fine, I actually have a gala to attend this weekend so go and get in touch with nature and eat things on sticks or whatever camping people do,” she said dismissively but somehow I think she felt a little left out. 

I went back up to my room and started to pack.  “Etta, do you know where my light blue jeans are?” I asked as I started to load up my duffle bag.  “Baby girl, most of your laundry is over there if you would ever bother to put it away,” she chuckled.   Etta’s statuesque figure stood against the window of my room and the light caught her brown eyes and dark hair perfectly. I always thought that she was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen and I wanted my hair and skin to look like hers, especially when I was little.  My mother would be aghast if she had any idea – being blond and blued eyed was supposed to be an ideal but I always felt that people with dark skin and eyes had a truly exotic beauty I could never attain.

“Good lord, I have not been out to Sweetwater in years – it’s an interesting place – have you ever been?”  She asked as she refolded the clothes I had shoved in my bag and put them neatly into a small suitcase.  “Not that I recall – but isn’t that where they have some Civil War ruins?” I asked.   "It’s actually an old mill that Sherman burned down when he went through Atlanta.  Before that, the land was owned by the Cherokees but they were forced out in the 1830’s thanks to the State of Georgia and good old Andrew Jackson,” Etta replied. Just hearing about the history of the area made me wonder if there would be a ton of ghosts and other “activity.”   “Sounds like it could be pretty haunted,” I said now wanting to rethink the weekend.  “I’ve never really gotten any bad energy from there Sophia – just more of a sense of history,” she reassured and with that I was packed – well actually, Etta did all the work while we talked.

By 3:00 pm that day, we were ready to go.  Joy and Grace arrived excited that we were going to do something more on the weekend than watch movies and eat pizza.  Their mom was excited to have the weekend to herself so it was a win/win for everyone.  The girls have been my best friends since kindergarten and we shared the common bond of feeling like outsiders.  They were the first black students to be admitted to an all-white elementary school back in the late 60’s.   Their father had also died in Vietnam – I met his ghost on my first day as a kindergartner.  He was kind, gentle and wanted me to look out for his daughters.  That was also the day I met the ghost of Ed Whitehead – a man whose farm was now the site of the school and someone who had proudly served in the Klan so needless to say he was not happy that the sisters were being allowed to get an education on his land.  Couple that with a few bigoted mean girls and that was my first day of school  - a lot to take in for a little girl who had just wanted to learn to color within the lines but as I’ve learned – I’m not an inside the lines kind of person. 

“So have you ladies ever been to Sweetwater Creek?” Etta asked as we pulled out of the drive way.  “No ma’am – but I hear you can hike and see the old ruins,” replied Grace.   “Sophia, do you think you’ll see some ghosts?” asked Joy.  Luckily, the girls were comfortable with my “ability” so unlike most of the people I knew, I didn’t have to hide who I was.   “Probably, I mean Granddaddy does a good job of keeping them away while I’m at home but it’s been awhile since I was on a trip and this place has some serious history around it,” I replied.  “So I guess you could tell us some real ghost stories around the campfire,” chuckled Joy.  “Been there and done too much of that – I just want a nice quiet weekend hanging out with my dad and you guys,” I replied.   “Here Etta – put this in – I made a camping mix tape –“ said Grace who was a musician.   She also brought her guitar so we could sing around the campfire.  The first song – Blondie’s “Call Me” blared out of the radio – and Etta exclaimed – “Good lord that woman can sing!” as she started to sing along with us.  We giggled like school girls.  Being around the three women I loved the most made me feel normal – something I didn’t get to feel very often. 

After about a two hour drive, we arrived at the log cabin which looked pretty
big.  It was set on the bank of Sweetwater creek which was surrounded by trees and the sound of rushing water was soothing.  The sun made the water glisten and the pure blue sky and 80 degree temperature made it all picture perfect.  The girls and I got out of Etta’s station wagon, “This is awesome!” stated Joy.  “Yes,” I said excitedly, “This is definitely awesome!”

My dad came out to greet us – he looked relaxed in his khaki’s and his pink polo shirt.  I got a big hug and so did Grace and Joy.  He even hugged Etta which was the first time I had seen that – but since my mother wasn’t around he didn’t have to be proper.   “Okay, I have another wonderful surprise for you –“ my dad started and just then my two half-sisters – Abby who was nine and Patricia who was seven ran out to greet us.  They both had blond hair like me – Abby had brown eyes like her mother Cynthia and Patricia had blue eyes. People would marvel at how much she resembled me.  I tried to hide my surprise and disappointment – I wanted this weekend to be about me and my friends not the two people who were constantly pulling my father away from me.  “Wow, Patricia and Abby are here – what a surprise...” I said with an edge in my voice which sounded eerily like my mother’s.  “Yes, I thought this would be a good way for you all to spend some time together – out here in the woods without the usual distractions,” my father said hopefully but secretly fearing that he might have just lit the fuse on an emotional nuclear bomb.   Abby ran over and gave me a big hug.  “I’m so glad you’re all here – Daddy says it’s going to be the best big girl’s weekend ever!”  I tried to hug her back and not shudder when she said the word “Daddy.”  Not to seem childish, but he was my father first and having these little interlopers around just seemed to add insult to injury.  Patricia just looked down and held her father’s hand.

I now realized why he was more than happy to have Joy and Grace around – they would work as a buffer for my reaction.   I got that my father’s intentions were good – he wanted his girls to be together.  We barely saw each other – maybe a few times a year for holidays or birthdays and I was happy with that arrangement but having this shoved on me unannounced was infuriating.   I could have thrown a fit and would have had every right to but that would have made me look like a total bitch.  So I caught my breath, hugged Abby back and walked over to Patricia to say hi.   The group let out a collective exhale.   “When is dinner?”  I asked trying to change the subject.   “In about an hour – I’m making hot dogs and hamburgers and s’mores for dessert.  Why don’t you girls unpack and I’ll put out some chips and sodas,” my dad said tentatively like a man in a hazmat suit trying to contain a biochemical explosion that could happen at any moment. 

“Here Sophia, I’ll take you to your room, c’mon Patty - let’s show them where they will be staying!” said Abby who could not contain her glee.   We walked into the cabin which looked more like a camping lodge – with Native American tapestries on the wall, a fire place, an open living room with over stuffed blue couches and a coffee table with five or six board games stacked on it.   We walked past a pretty decent sized kitchen to the stairs that led up to the bedrooms on the second level.   Abby bounded up the stairs in a way that only a nine year old could while Patricia glumly tagged behind.   She looked like she was going to enjoy this weekend about as much as I was.

“Look – see this is your room – it’s right next door to ours!  Maybe we can have a dance party later or something!  I just love being part of the big girls!”  Abby squealed and hugged me, Joy and Grace again.  There was a queen size bed on one side of the room and a twin size bed on the other – so we all had a pretty comfortable place to sleep.   Abby started to bounce on the queen when Etta walked into the room and gently cautioned her to get off the bed before she got hurt.  “Now, missy, why don’t you let these girls unpack,” she said sweetly.  Abby gave Etta a huge hug and said, “Yes ma’am!” excitedly.  “C’mon Patty, let’s get ready for dinner and s’mores!”  She said as she grabbed her sister’s arm and trotted down the hall.

Etta, Grace and Joy looked at me and remained in awkward silence.   I could feel my face get flushed and the warm sting of tears started to flood my eyes.  I did not want to start to cry in front of my friends or Etta for that matter, although Etta had certainly dried my tears hundreds of times since I was three.  My father walked in; “Hey ladies, the deck looks really nice off the creek and…” he stopped when he saw my eyes and the look on everyone else’s faces.   “Grace and Joy, why don’t we take a look at the deck –“ said Etta wisely as she ushered them out of the room.  

My father walked over to me.  “Hey sugar bear – I’m sorry I didn’t…”  I stopped him.  “Sorry you forgot to tell me that they were going to be here?  Daddy you made me feel like it was only going to be us and my friends – “I said as the tears broke over the dam of my lower eyelids.  “I barely get to see you and they get you all the time – if I had known –“  “If you had known, you wouldn’t have come and I’m tired of always having to choose between my daughters,” he said in quiet exasperation.   I just stood there wanting to feel sorry for him but I was just too angry.  I had been tricked into coming out here.  He walked over to me and put my head on his chest.  “I’m sorry baby girl – I know I haven’t been around as much as I used to be and it’s not you – trust me.  I want to be around more.  I was just hoping this weekend maybe you all could spend some time in one place and then maybe it wouldn’t feel so strange for us all to be together,”  he kissed the top of my head and held me closer. 

“I feel like such a child saying this – but you were my daddy first and then you left and mom has always thought it was my fault and maybe being weird and seeing ghosts is my fault…”  I trailed off and started to sob.  “Hey, hey stop that.  My divorcing your mother was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do and it was never because of whether you could see ghosts or not.  I wanted us to stay a family but sometimes that’s just not the way things work out.  But now you have little two sisters who would love a big sister to look-up too…”  “Two HALF-sisters,” I corrected quickly.  My father sighed – “Yes, but in many ways they are so much like you – “They are NOTHING like me!” I said defiantly and just then noticed that Patricia was standing at the door.  Her eyes got wide and she ran down the hall also choking back sobs. 

My father stood there inert – unable to move and feeling torn in two.  “It’s okay daddy, go talk to her,” I said dejectedly.   He kissed my head and walked out of the room and for the first time I could see the weight all this had put on his shoulders.   I walked over to the window and saw Abby on the deck throwing stones in the water.  Etta was showing her how to skip rocks along with Joy and Grace.  The four of them were laughing and having the sort of time that I’m sure that my dad had envisioned for all of us.  I unpacked my bags and heard Patricia and my dad came out of the girl’s room.  Her face was stained with tears and my dad was holding her over his shoulder.   I felt another pang of jealousy as my father and my best friends seemed to be taken in by the interlopers.  I also realized that I was practically an adult and one who had looked evil apparitions in the face and still managed to stay sane – so a pair of little girls who at the end of the day just wanted to be my friends was not so bad.  For the sake of my father, I would make an effort and try to be nice.  I walked down the stairs and onto the deck. 

The view was beautiful and the sound of rushing water was calming.   I caught my breath and tried to steady myself to join the others.   I closed my eyes and took a deep breath.   In a flash I saw the bloodstained face of a Native American woman.  I opened my eyes quickly and she was gone.   I looked around and didn’t see or feel her presence.  I closed my eyes again to try to visualize her – and this time a young girl from the Civil War appeared.  She was sad, haggard and had blood on her face as well. The sound of Abby’s laughter made her go away.  I started to shake but remembered what Etta had always taught me - that I was in control of my thoughts and that as long as I knew that God was on my side, they could never get me. 

The breeze off the creek hit my face which relaxed me.  I decided to keep those visions to myself and would try to enjoy the weekend with the others.  Daddy was starting the hot dogs and hamburgers – he saw me come out and smiled tensely hoping I was not going to cause a scene.  I smiled back, got a soda and sat down next to Joy while Grace played with Abby.  Patricia was sitting off to the side of the deck looking at the water by herself.   “Hey girl- you okay?” asked Joy as she handed me the bowl of Doritos.  “Yeah, I’m fine – just trying to keep myself together for the weekend –“I said when Abby ran over to ask me how what I wanted for dinner.  “Do you want two hot dogs and two hamburgers – do big girls eat that much?” she asked excitedly.   The whole “big girls” stuff was starting to get wear a little thin but it was also sort of cute at the same time.  I’ve never really had someone that age look up to me before.  “No, one of each is fine Abby – thank you for asking,” I replied trying to set a good example.  “You are welcome!!”  She exclaimed and then ran back to Daddy with my order.  “Abby really is a sweetheart and she adores you.  The whole time you were upstairs, she kept asking when you were coming down,” explained Joy. 

It bothered me that Patricia was off on her own.  I decided to go over and try to talk to her.  “Hey Patricia or do you prefer Patty?” I asked trying to connect.  “What difference does it make? You didn’t want to be here with us anyway,” she said trying not to sound hurt.  “Look, I’m sorry that you overheard what I said, that’s not what I meant.  It’s just hard for you to understand since you’ve always had him around, but I miss him,” I said surprised at my own honesty with someone that I realized I was related to but barely knew.  “What was it like when it was just the two of you?” she asked still looking at the water.   “We used to go camping but not like this – in a tent.  We’d go to the park and we’d have BBQs in the backyard and pancakes on the weekends,” I replied and realizing I was just a little younger than her when he left.   “Just like now, he does that with us now.”  She hesitated and then asked me, “Can you really see ghosts?”   I paused – this was information only a few people  and I didn’t want to freak her out.  I also doubted that her mother was aware that I had that ability.   I never really knew what Daddy shared with Cynthia but she probably suspected there was something different about me – maybe that’s why she didn’t push to have us all spend time together – too many questions.  “Sometimes I can,” I replied.  “Have you seen any here?” she asked fearfully. 

I knew information like that would scare her so I told a little white lie.  “No I haven’t – I think we’re fine.” I said and smiled.   Patricia smiled too – “Good, I would pee my pants if I saw one.”  Her frankness took me aback and I started to laugh.   She realized what she said and started to laugh too.  Daddy looked over at us and I could see the tension in his shoulders start to relax – maybe it was a good plan after all.

Etta had us all help to set the table on the deck –she got the paper plates out for dinner and a few serving platters for the hot dogs, burgers, corn on the cob and buns.  She tried to talk Abby and Patricia into having milk with dinner but since the big girls were having soda they wanted it too. Before we started to eat, Etta insisted that we say grace.  Patricia and Abby looked at each other- it was obvious that was something they didn’t do at their house.   “Lord, thank you for this food and for allowing us to come together this weekend.  Please watch over us and send us your love, protection and guidance.  We ask this of you through your son Jesus Christ our lord, Amen.”  There was a slight rustling in the bushes along the bank which no one but me noticed.  It could have been a deer or other small animal but the timing after the prayer seemed strange. The young girls kept their heads bowed – not sure when to raise them – even after we had started to dig in.  I nudged Abby who nudged Patricia to let her know she could eat. The burgers and hot dogs were delicious – BBQ and pancakes were my dad’s specialties.   

The dinner conversation was light and my father was telling stories about being a kid and camping in the woods on the creek.  Etta laughed when he told about the time when he was 11 and his dog Skippy thought a small log was a stick that he tried to move it from one side of the creek to the other.  I’m not sure why that tickled her so but I’ve never seen Etta this relaxed and cracking up over one of my dad’s stories.  She’d been smiling a lot since we arrived.  Maybe it was just getting out of Atlanta and into the great outdoors- also not being around my mother who could suck the fun out of any occasion. 

When we started to clear the table, Etta tripped over a chair on the deck and she started to fall – but my dad caught her just in time.  She fell towards him and he put his arms around her waist to steady her.  They looked at each other and then Etta apologized for being so clumsy.   He said that being the only man here – it was his job to protect the women folk. He smiled at Etta who smiled back.  Joy, Grace and I looked at each other.  Abby who was oblivious said, “Wow, that was close – we don’t need anyone breaking their behinds this weekend!” 

There was a designated campfire spot next to the cabin and my father started a fire so that we could roast marshmallows and make s’mores.   Grace got out her guitar and started to play some Jim Croce which was a big hit.  As we sang “You Don’t Mess Around with Jim,” I saw the bushes rattle near us again.  This time Etta noticed and looked at me.  I felt a cold shiver even though it was a warm summer night and my breath grew heavy.  My dad noticed the way the two of us were looking at each other and motioned us over near the creek to talk to him.  

“What’s going on?” he asked quietly.  “I’m not sure dad, but there is something in the bushes and I’m pretty sure it’s not a deer or other animal,” I said trying not to alarm anyone.  Etta added, “I’ve felt it as well – perhaps we should get everyone to quietly go inside.”  Just then Abby ran up – “Hey we did some double decker s’mores – want one?”  Just as she held up the gooey confection – something slapped it out of her hand and it fell onto the ground.  “Wait something hit me!” she said trembling.   

I saw the Native American woman and the Civil War girl near us and they both looked angry.  I was pissed that they picked on the most innocent among us – but sometimes that’s what they do especially if their intent is not good.  Etta tried to make her feel better – “Maybe a double decker was too big for your sweet little hand.  It looks like it might rain, why don’t we do s’mores in the fire place inside the cabin – you can make me a special one,” Etta said mastering the art of diversion and getting Abby out of harm’s way.  “YYYESSS, s’mores inside –this is the best night ever!”  She exclaimed as she ran back and told the group the new plan.  Grace and Joy picked up on why we were moving the group and helped shepherd the young girls inside. 

My dad also looked pissed that something would try to go after one of his girls.  “Sophia, did something really hit her?” he said ready to take on the threat full on.  “Maybe, I’m not sure what’s going on – I see a Cherokee woman and a girl from the Civil War – they don’t seem to get along and they are really angry that we’re here.  They seemed quiet at first but then maybe when Etta said grace at dinner it churned things up,” I replied still surveying to see if they were still around.  “Maybe if we go to the ruins of the old mill tomorrow I can get a better idea of what’s going on.”  “Do you think they will stay out of the cabin?”  he asked again ready to fight if they tried anything else.  “Probably – but Etta and I can put some salt by the windows and doors as a pre-caution,” I replied as we hurried back.  

Joy and Grace were putting the wood in the fireplace and Daddy made sure the flue was open so we could have a safe fire.   Joy got the girls distracted by asking them about their favorite TV shows while Etta and I salted any entrance to the cabin.  “My favorite cartoon is Scooby Doo” said Abby excitedly.  Velma is smart, Fred is the leader, Daphne is pretty, and Shaggy and Scooby are just silly scaredy cats,” she said confidently.  “Yeah, but Daphne is always getting taken by the bad guys, so she’s kinda stupid,” Patricia countered.  “She is not – she just doesn’t always notice if she’s in danger, but she’s pretty and Fred likes her,” replied Abby hoping to shut down any further arguments from her little sister.  “But Velma is smart and she never gets Fred to like her like he likes Daphne,” Patricia said as she picked up a marshmallow and ate it.  “Velma can have Shaggy!” replied Abby definitively – they had obviously had this discussion many times before.  “Shaggy probably smells like wet dog,” Patricia countered again, knowing she was beginning to really irritate her older sister. 
Etta and I had been salting around the cabin but we were within earshot of this discussion which was starting to get heated.  “You don’t know anything – Daphnes get the Freds and Velmas get the Shaggys,”  Abby replied hoping to have the last word on the subject.  “You know what I think,” stated Grace, “I think that if a Fred is only going to like a Daphne because she’s pretty and he doesn’t like a Velma because she’s smart but not as pretty as a Daphne then maybe Fred isn’t worth having as a boyfriend.”  This little nugget of wisdom made both of the young girls pause and think.  “Yes, if Daphne wants someone to love who she is – she needs to not be afraid to be smart,” added Joy who because she was one of the “big girls” had more street cred then if their parents had said the same thing which I’m pretty sure they had. My dad was standing in the back by the kitchen just smiling at the whole exchange.   

“Hey, why is there salt by the windows and doors?” asked Abby as she sucked down another s’more with extra graham crackers.  “It’s, uh Angel and Fairy dust – it helps give you good dreams,” I said quickly to pivot the conversation.   “Sophia knows about these things – she can see ghosts,” said Patricia.   “But ghosts are usually something someone makes up to hide something,” replied Abby who had seen just about every Scooby Doo episode which of course made her an expert in the paranormal.  “You don’t know everything  Abby, you are not the boss of me and you’re not the boss of the world!” retorted Patricia knowing being called bossy was a serious offense to her sister.   “Okay ladies, let’s start to settle down for bed, why don’t you have some milk to wash down those s’mores?” said Etta who was the ultimate boss.   This time the girls relented to Etta’s authority and the milk seemed to calm them down.  

As the girls were getting their bathes, Joy, Grace and I finally had a chance to talk. “So there were two ghosts – a Cherokee woman and a little girl from the Civil War and they slapped Abby’s hand?” asked Joy.  “Yes, hard enough to knock a double decker s’more from her hand,” I replied.  “I don’t know which pisses me off more, the hand slap or the loss of the s’more,” said Grace trying to lighten the mood.  “Why are they here at our campsite?”  inquired Joy as she started to change into her night shirt.  “I’m not sure if Etta’s prayer triggered them or what – but we salted the windows and doors to keep them out.  When the fire dies down, we’ll do the fireplace as well so nothing can get in.  I’m used to it but I don’t want them scaring the girls,” I replied. 

“Whose trying to scare us?” asked Abby as she ran in wearing a Scooby Doo blue night gown.  “Oh, it’s nothing – just a mystery we’re trying to solve,” I replied trying to change the subject to something she would understand easier than hostile ghosts.   “A mystery – oh my gosh – could this weekend get any better?!!  Patty – we have a mystery on our hands!”  Abby yelled as she ran full speed out of our room and down the hall to where her sister was getting out of the bath.  “Why did you tell her that?” asked Grace who was surprised and a little irritated.  “Because, if weird stuff starts to happen we can explain it away easier than scaring them with honest to God supernatural stuff – it’s a buffer,” I said actually feeling like I had come up with a pretty solid plan for the weekend.  

Abby ran back in with Etta, my dad and Patricia who were still a little wet but wearing her pink Barbie night gown.   “So what is this mystery?” asked Etta with her eyebrows raised and her arms folded.  “You know Etta, we talked about it –the one around the mill ruins you were telling me about,” I said hoping she’d play along.   “Oh yes, the mill ruins and the mystery of the people who used to work there,” said my dad who was a Civil War buff.  “The land was owned by the Cherokee nation and they were forced off by the state of Georgia.  Then about 30 years later, the mill was burned down by Sherman’s army and the women and children were sent north, but it’s unknown what happened to most of them,” he said hoping to entice his younger daughters to learn more about history if it was wrapped around a mystery.  “Can we go see it tomorrow, Daddy?” they said in unison and this time their use of the word Daddy did not get under my skin.   “Of course ladies, but let’s get some sleep, we have a big day tomorrow,” he said as he picked up Abby and Etta picked up Patricia.  “Let’s say our prayers before bedtime,” said Etta.  “Etta sure does like to pray a lot,” I heard Abby whisper to her sister as they left the room.

As I was getting ready for bed, I heard my dad and Etta laughing downstairs.   It made me smile because in my heart of hearts I always wanted them to be together – she was practically like a mother to me.   If times had been different when I was little and we weren’t in the south, I had to wonder if my dad would have married her instead of Cynthia.  I let that thought carry me off as went to sleep.

The next morning- Abby bounded into our room.  “Hey wake up everybody – it’s mystery solving time!  I have my Polaroid and a notepad and a bag to put the clues in – c’mon girls – time’s a-wasting!” and with that she flew back out of our room.  “Good God, where does she find the energy?” asked Joy who needed coffee just as badly as I did.  Grace just mumbled and put the pillow over her head hoping to get another couple of hours in but it was not to be.  The smell of Etta’s waffles, bacon and coffee permeated the cabin and in the battle between bed and food – food ultimately won.  We threw on our t-shirts and jeans and joined everyone down stairs. 

“Good morning sleepy heads – boy do big girls like to sleep or what?  I mean it’s almost 8:30 and my rear end has been up since 7:15!” reported Abby.  “Let’s give the big girls a chance to wake up Abby,” chuckled Etta.  Even with the threat of hostile apparitions around us, it had been a long time since I had seen her smile this much.   My father’s mood had also vastly improved since yesterday.   “When are they going to talk?” asked Patricia noticing that Grace, Joy and I just nodded until the first cup of coffee took effect.   “Okay ladies, let’s figure on moving out in the next 30 minutes – there is something I want us to see before we go to the old mill ruins,” said my dad who was clearly enjoying the weekend. 

We arrived at the Sweetwater Creek State park which was a few miles from
where we had been staying.  My dad took me and the girls to the places he used to hike with his family and Skippy his dog.  Along the way, he told us how the State of Georgia had tricked the Cherokee out of their land even after they had helped fight with the white man in the Red Stick War.  Their reward was to be removed from the land that was rightfully theirs.  So started the Trail of Tears in which thousands of Cherokee lost their homes and were made to walk over a 1,000 miles to Oklahoma to resettle.  “It’s said that the women on the trail cried when they lost a family member and that the Cherokee rose would grow and bloom where a tear fell which would assure them that their loved one had moved onto a better place,” he explained.  “That’s so sad,” said Patricia with tears in her eyes.  “It’s not fair,” declared Abby, “Maybe if we can solve the mystery things will be fair again,” she said with all the confidence that a sweet soul who had never really faced that much adversity and wanted everyone to have the same shot in life she did.  I was really beginning to admire her spirit. 

My dad then showed us a green bush with no flowers.  “The Cherokee roses usually only bloom in the early spring and sometimes in the fall,” he observed as I heard a rustling in the bushes and felt the air get heavy.  “Okay, is the flower a clue?” asked Abby who had been pretty good about the history lesson.   “Sure,” I said, “But just take a picture – it’s probably best these plants are undisturbed.   Daddy why don’t we move onto the ruins?” I said trying to get the group out of an area that now felt hostile.  Out of the corner of my eye, I could see the older Cherokee woman mouthing something and pointing at Abby.  I instinctively grabbed her hand as we walked the trail to the mill ruins.  “Hey, Sophia, that’s the first time you’ve held my hand,” she said happily.  Patricia was trailing behind and looking left out.  I grabbed her hand as well and she smiled.  Abby started skipping and swinging her hands and her younger sister followed suit.  I looked back and saw the Cherokee woman disappear – maybe their natural exuberance was helping to keep the entities at bay.

As we walked along the trail – you could hear the sounds of the creek rushing over rocks. There were families having picnics with squealing toddlers and dogs splashing in the running water. It has a frenetic energy all its own. As we got closer and I could see the charred tops of the ruins over the trees.   The shell of what must have been a very impressive factory back then – five stories from what my dad told me. 

The building was constructed by slaves in the 1840’s and traded cotton with Europe as well as the north – at its height it could churn out 600 pounds of cotton a day.  When the Civil War broke out in 1860 – the men of the factory were drafted into the confederacy even though many of the families were northern sympathizers.  That left just the women and children to keep the factory going which made cloth for the confederacy.  

“How did the factory produce goods if they didn’t  have electricity?” asked Joy.  “They used the water power of the creek to run the mill,” replied Etta who as a bit of a history buff herself.  “When Sherman’s army came through, they were told this mill was making cloth to sell to France but it was a rouse.  When Sherman found out – he ordered the factory burned and arrested the women and children as traitors and sent them north to Indiana and Ohio figuring they could find work.  Over 400 women and children from this factory and the one in Roswell were taken to the train station in Marietta and sent North to places that were no better than prison camps.  Many never came back or ever saw their families again,” my father said as he pointed out the different parts of the factory.  Our group stood there in stunned silence and between the Trail of Tears and the story of the old mill – I understood why the ghosts were so mad – they were both victimized by the white man. 

I looked at the bottom of the burned out mill and I saw the little girl ghost in the ruins crying for her mother.  Then I saw flashes of fire, panic, homes being ransacked,  women and girls being made to walk miles to the train station in the Georgia summer heat.  The sobbing as they were leaving their homes. The
overwhelming feeling of helplessness and rage started to hit me.  I was having a hard time catching my breath.  I was feeling light headed and started to fall forward when my dad caught me.  “Sugar bear – are you okay?” he asked with a look of concern on his face.   “What’s wrong with Sophia?” asked Abby who sounded scared.  “She looks pale like she’s sick,” said Patricia with fear in her voice.  I knew I had to keep everyone from worrying.   “I’m fine, I guess the heat got to me a little,” I replied trying to make it seem like I had over exerted myself.  “Joy and Grace why don’t you take the girls down to the creek to get their feet wet while we get Sophia some water,” said Etta knowing my friends would comply with no questions asked.  “Wading in the creek and maybe we can look for some clues on our way down,” said Abby as she took a Polaroid of the ruins as she trotted to the babbling water.  “Okay, baby girl – what did you see?” she asked knowing I’d had a pretty powerful vision if it knocked me off my feet.   

“A lot of bad things happened around here – Union soldiers burning down the mill, stealing from the homes, making the women walk miles to the train station.  The Cherokee woman and the little girl are just in so much anguish and I get that – they feel trapped here.  I really want to help them move on,” I said catching my breath. Etta handed me a cup of ice water from the thermos she brought for our picnic lunch.  “I have an idea of how we might do that tonight – there’s a full moon - ” Etta started.  “Okay, you two are pros at this but what about my girls and the Wilson sisters?” interrupted my father looking worried.  “We’ll wait until the little girls go to bed – Joy and Grace have seen more than they let on trust me, they will be fine,” I replied. 

Once I had finished my water and my head started to clear, we got the picnic supplies and headed for the edge of the creek.  Patricia and Abby had put their shoes and camera on a picnic bench which is where we started to put out the sandwiches and chips for lunch.  They were splashing around with the other families and the scene seemed very normal compared to what I had just seen in my mind’s eye.  I tried to relax but the terror on that little girl’s face got to me.  No one should have their childhood innocence taken from them like that. 

“Hey Sophia, look what I can do!” yelled Patricia as she tried jump from one boulder on the creek to the other.  Just then I saw a ghostly hand try to grab her as she started her jump.  I tried to yell – “No, don’t –“ when a pair of hands picked her up and put her safely on the other rock.  Grace seeing that she was about to fall grabbed her just in time and the ghostly orb retreated back into the rushing waters.  I caught my breath – glad that my friend was there to prevent disaster.  “Hey, why don’t we call them in for lunch and then get ready to leave,” I said feeling like we had pushed our luck enough for one day. 

We sat under the trees and a faint breeze cooled us as we ate.  The two girls were going on about their clues – the mill that was burned down and the bush with no flowers.  Abby wanted to find more clues.   Daddy offered to take us up a more scenic route on the way to the car.  

“Oh my gosh, look at this!”
Abby exclaimed loudly – “It’s a whole bunch of clues!”   There were three items, a half buried metal object with “US” on it, a crumpled confederate five dollar bill and an arrow head.  They were lying close to each other – which seemed a little too convenient.  “Wow,” said Daddy, “All this time and
we’re just finding them now?” he said quizzically. 
If this had been a normal day, I would have thought nothing of the girls having them as souvenirs, but I also knew that ghosts can attach themselves to items and bringing them back with us would be a big mistake.  “Wow, we must be the best clue finders ever!” said Abby who started to bend down to pick them up.  “NO!” I yelled in a tone which startled the group including me.   “I mean, um –I ” I said stumbling over my words, “these are historical artifacts –“  “Why don’t you take a photo of them Abby and we can tell the park rangers that you found them and if they go on display, you and Patricia can get credit for finding them,” reasoned Etta.  “But finders, keepers!” replied Patricia who invoked the hard and fast rule of finding stuff.  “Girls, it’s part of the park – we can let them know we found them and the rangers can take care of it,” my father said and that was pretty much the last word.  Abby took three pictures of the items and we started back on the path with the two little ones trailing behind obviously disappointed that we had left their souvenirs. 

The little girls fell asleep in the car as we drove back to the cabin.  Etta and my dad took them upstairs for a nap as Joy, Grace and I came back to our room.  “What happened out there, Sophia?” asked Joy looking concerned.  “I saw the ghosts and they were clearly threatening the girls.  In fact one of them was about to get Patricia in the stream before you grabbed her off the rock,” I replied.  “Is that why you wanted to leave the artifacts behind?” Grace responded.   “Yup, they can attach themselves to actual objects and then it’s really hard to eradicate them,” I replied.  “As it is, we’re going to have to try to send them off to the next level – to a good or bad place– it’s up to the spirits.”

As Abby and Patricia napped, Etta and I started to prepare for any issues that might come up on our last night at the cabin.  It was interesting to have her actually help me – in the past I’d had her guidance but she was not physically there to help.  We gathered bottles, stoppers, black salt and plants with thorns.  Etta took the fireworks that my dad brought and pulled out the gun powder.  We salted around the campsite to keep them either at bay or slow their advance.  I didn’t want to think that they could do something bad to the children but Etta explained that angry or evil spirits almost always go after the youngest or weakest.  “But the one ghost is a little girl -“ I said, “How did she get to be evil?”  “They can turn – she’s had time to mature as a ghost and get an idea of what she’s capable of.  It’s the Cherokee woman that surprises me – generally their spirits ascend pretty easily.” 

It was dinner time when the girls woke up – full of energy and ready to take on the mystery at hand.  Etta had made tacos and we sat out on the deck enjoying the sunset.  “Now, what about our clues?” said Abby as she ate her second taco.  Daddy looked at the pictures and explained that the trinket was probably a belt buckle from a Union soldier’s uniform.  The bill was Confederate money and the other item as an arrow head from the native Americans that used to live in the area.  “It’s interesting that all three were so close together,” remarked Joy suspiciously.   “Yes, and someone really, really wants us to solve this,” replied Abby confidently. 

The young girls went inside to get the fixings for s’mores.  Etta and my dad were clearing the table and kept running into each other and laughing.  “What’s up with them?” asked Grace.  I smiled seeing them so at ease and happy to be around each other.  “I think I know.   It’s always been there but hidden and there were so many times that I prayed that Etta could be my mother for real – maybe that time is getting closer,” I said not realizing that Patricia had run back to show me she had taken the artifacts after all.  She looked crestfallen and then got angry.  “No, he’s married to my mommy!  I don’t want her to be my mother!! You’re trying to take my daddy – I won’t let you.  I HATE you!!” she shrieked as she threw the belt buckle and arrowhead at me and then ran by the side of the cabin. 

A cold wind started to form and a mist started to come off the creek.  The spirits were coming – seeing their opportunity when they heard the word "Hate."  Etta, Daddy and I started to run towards Patricia.   We thought she would be safe as long as she stayed inside our salt circle which was sprinkled on the perimeter of the campsite.  But the wind got stronger and a dull purple light started to surround us.  We tried to keep sight of Patricia but she seemed to disappear in the mist.  “What’s happening?” I asked trying to shield my eyes from the wind.   “They are trying to get her – we need to find her and get her back into our protective circle.” Just then we saw Joy and Grace run out of the cabin trying to chase after Abby who was looking for her little sister.  The purple mist seemed lunge at Abby and pulled her away from the Wilson sisters.  The wind was shrieking around us  and it seems like all traces of light disappeared except for the eerie purple mist.  

“I’m not going to let them get my girls,” my father said as he managed to move toward the mist.  Etta grabbed the lantern and the bag that was on the deck.  She took my hand as we went into a dark clearing.  The temperature continued to fall.  I could barely see my father ahead but we pushed through the mist and saw a sight that I will never get out of my head.

Both girls were suspended lengthwise in mid-air.  Their eyes were closed and the mist was hovering over their mouths.  They looked pale and I could see the Cherokee woman and the Civil War girl hovering over them looking like they wanted to take over their bodies.  My father was on his knees unable to move. I could see the images of corpses who had died from attacks on the Cherokees as well as from the Civil War.  Their ghostly bodies were rotting but still able to move and moan.  I started to feel sick.  “What can we do?” I asked feeling like I would vomit at any minute.  The ground started to shake.   “Just stick with the plan – whatever you see Sophia – just stick with the plan,” said Etta who wanted to give me the illusion of being in control.

These spirits wanted to exact revenge for all that had happened to them.  Abby and Patricia would be the conduit for that.   Their bodies continued to float and I could see that they were still breathing – but my father was clutching his chest.  “White man, you brought this on – you took our land and you killed my brothers and sisters – today you pay,” said the Cherokee woman.  “You said you would protect us from the Union but you left us to be captured by the Yankees- my mother, grandmother, brothers and sisters all died - you lied to us!” said the little girl spirit.  I realized then that they were exacting revenge on my father by having him witness the destruction of his young daughters.  “My God, Etta – NO!” I said as I started to run forward.  Etta grabbed my hand – “No child – that’s what they want us to do,” she said – her voice was strong but I knew her nerves were shaken.  “We need to do something!” I whispered.  “Stick with the plan,” she said confidently.  She got two things out of the bag.

Just then she walked slowly towards the ghosts and past my father who looked at her helplessly.  She lit a stick of sage and held up a cross. She looked at the spirits and said, “I won’t allow this – you must go - In the name of the Father/Mother Creator, I ask Archangel Michael to stand to my Right.  I ask Archangel Gabriel to stand to my Left.  I ask Archangel Uriel to stand before me.  I ask Archangel Raphael to stand behind me.  I call upon the Shekinah to surround me, mind, body, and Spirit. I call upon Yeshua to be within my heart. I call upon Archangel Metatron, Archangel Azrael, Archangel Zadkiel, the Masters, my Guides, and my unseen Heavenly friends.” 

Just then the ground stopped shaking.  The mist got a little less thick but I could see the faces of Abby and Patricia and they looked like they were old women. The life was being sucked out of them.  I started to feel a paralyzing fear which Etta warned would be used against me.  I caught my breath and moved forward.  I stumbled trying to remember my part of the incantation.  The mist started to get thick again and I could see the souls of the girls literally hanging on by a thread.  I knew I had to act and somehow my voice managed to say, “The Light of Christ surrounds us, the Love of Christ enfolds us, the power of Christ protects us, the presence of Christ watches over us, where we are, Christ is present.” 

The two ghosts looked at Etta and me.  Their eyes filled with blood and they left the girls and started to move towards us.  Etta and I kept steady even as their faces started to contort into snakes with fangs dripping with blood.  Their cold breath started to pull mine out of my body and I felt lightheaded. We started to move back and I tripped over a small log.  As they hovered over me – I got out my lighter and lit dust that we had spread behind the log.  The flame lit the gun powder on the sidewalk which pulled the spirits away from us.  Etta yelled – “Sophia – get your Dad and the girls and meet me near the deck,”  She ran forward just barely keeping up with the light that was now igniting and ahead of the spirits who were following it. 

I got to my dad just as he was standing up.  The girls started to fall from their levitation and we managed to catch them before they got to the ground.  They were breathing but felt cold.   “Where’s Etta?” he asked as he held onto Abby and tried to warm her.  “On the deck – “ I said.  Just then Joy and Grace ran up.  “Here take the girls inside and lock the doors until we tell you it’s safe,” I said as I gave each of my friends the little girls who needed to be by the fireplace to warm up.  My dad and I sprinted to the deck to see the ghosts surround Etta.  “You can’t stop us – you are nothing – the white man hates you too –“ said the Cherokee woman.   “You are the reason the war started,” said the other spirit said both closing in on her.  

The spirits knocked Etta's feet out from under her and she was on the ground.  The gun powder trail was headed towards her – I ran towards the deck and grabbed the bottles and pulled out the holy water in my pocket – “No one f*cks with my family. Stay away from my sisters you stupid bitches!” I yelled as I threw the water at them.  They laughed and then closed in on me.  “I understand that you are angry but we are not the people you should be taking your vengeance on.  Find forgiveness in your heart if you ever expect to leave this place. I ask Arch Angel Michael to send you where you both need to go!” exclaimed Etta as she threw her holy water at them. 

Just then the last of the gun powder ignited – sending a shower of light around us which seemed to light up the stream.  “The crown of Christ can raise you up or take you down – the choice is yours!” I said regaining my composure as I
presented the bottles of thorns.  The vines slithered out of the bottles.  They started to surround the ghosts and pulled them into the glass vessels.  A huge bang was heard as what looked like small comet flew over our heads and the bottles flew out of my hands. 

When the smoke from the gun power settled – there was a strange quiet around the creek and the air seemed to be calm.  My father, Etta and I looked at each other.  Then Etta started to laugh – “Baby girl, you can’t use the F-word, bitches and then use holy water and expect it to work,” she chuckled. “That’s the first time I’ve ever heard you call Abby and Patricia your sisters,” said Daddy who looked exhausted but pleased.

We ran up to the cabin and saw the young girls warming themselves by the fire place.  They looked a little shaken but still rosy cheeked and back to their normal selves.  I ran over to both of them and gave them a big hug as did my dad and Etta.  They seemed a little surprised and confused by all the affection.  “What happened?” asked Abby as she sat on Daddy’s lap. Did we see ghosts, I mean real ghosts?  They wanted to do bad things to us and now I’m afraid to go to sleep,” she said and started to cry.  “No, it’s alright, they’re gone,” said Daddy trying to comfort his little girl.  I looked at Patricia to see how she was doing and if she still hated me.  “Hey, I’m sorry about what I said before, I know that my dad really loves your mom it’s just hard because I wish he still lived with me, I’m just so sorry.  Are you doing okay?”  

Before she could answer, we heard a commotion outside.  Abby started to get scared but heard Grace talking to someone.  “Okay, Old Man Jenkins, the jig is up. We know you were trying to haunt the cabin so you could sell the land to buy, a buy a uh – uh –“ she started to stumble when an old man voice came from the other side of the hedge.  “I wanted to buy it so I could build a casino here and I would have gotten away with it too if it had not been for you meddling kids!”  Abby’s face started to brighten – “So it was fake ghosts like on Scooby Doo!” she said happily.  “C’mon old man, we’re putting you away where you’ll never bother these nice people again,” said a voice that sounded like a police officer.  The voices trailed off as they argued and I tried not to laugh at my friends' antics.  The young girls needed to believe it was all a hoax. “Wow, that was close but it seemed so real.  You know - I think it's better to be a Velma than a Daphne - if Old Man Jenkins comes back - we'll kick his behind!"  said Abby as she crunched down on her s’more.

Daddy and Etta had a handle on the girls and I went outside to thank my friends.  “Hey, you two are awesome – thanks so much for that,” I said as I hugged them both.  “Sure, no problem – we just wanted them to stay little girls a while longer,” said Joy who was very adept at doing voices in the drama club at school.   I smiled and wished my friends and I had the same option when we were their age.  “How about Patty, did she say anything about what she heard?” asked Grace.  “I guess she’s okay,” I said looking around to make sure she was not eavesdropping again.  “I feel bad about that, but it’s hard to ignore,” I said knowing that the little girl in me still was hoping that one day my dad and Etta would finally get a chance to be together without the stigma of it being an inter-racial relationship. 

The next morning, we got up, packed our bags and headed back to Atlanta.  As I helped Etta get ready to go, I couldn’t help but ask – “Do you think those two ghosts are really gone?”  She reflected for a moment and said – “They are not here anymore but I’m just not sure where they ended up – I hope it was in a better place but that was their decision to make not ours,” she said as she once again repacked all the clothes that I shoved into my suitcase.  As we all sat on deck one last time before we departed, I heard Abby yell – “Hey everyone – look at this!”  We walked over to where she was pointing and there was a plant with two white flowers on it.  “Hey those are Cherokee roses, but they are not usually in bloom in the summer,” my father said.  I looked at Etta who smiled, “I guess they went to a good place after all.”