I see dead people. Yeah, I know, everybody sees dead people these days. You can’t turn on the television without seeing some ass-hats chasing a “ghost” or some “medium” sitting across from washed-up celebrities, talking with them about their dead relative. Most of it’s what we in the field call Scooby-Doo bullshit. Someone seeing something that’s not there, a hoax, or some “psychic” conning folks out of their money.
I see stupid people, too. They’re everywhere and—interesting factoid—they outnumber dead people nearly two to one.
Turns out, though, I am the real deal: an honest-to-God, 100 percent, USDA-approved, grade-A, authentic dead-person seer.
You will not call me a medium.
You will not call me a psychic.
If you want to call me anything, you may call me Zuri Agnes Hewitt.
If you call me Agnes, I will punch you.
I am a twenty-three-year-old with a platinum-white head of hair and a mission to stop whatever the dead thing is that’s called Grinning Jim.
It started when I was four.
Ley Station 47 was a transition point where dead people gathered before heading off into the great unknown and was located at the foot of my bed in the old house I used to live in while growing up. I’d find out later that it was Ley Station 47, Manhattan branch, to be exact, but that was after many years of therapy, interviews with legitimate psychics, and long talks with Paul, the old mystic-dude who ran the local garden shop.
My first memories are of an old lady hanging out there (at the foot of my bed, not the garden shop). She looked sweet and gentle, and always smiled at me when I woke up and found her there. Sometimes she’d wave. I’d wave in return and go back to sleep. Then one year, when I was five, she stopped coming. For nearly a year after that, I asked my mom why they had let the nanny go, and Mom would give me a weird look and tell me to stop fooling around.
Turns out it was my maternal grandmother. I found an old picture of her in a family album and asked Mom about her. Gammy and Mom never got along very well, and I didn’t see her very much when she was alive. I guess she wanted to have a better relationship with me than with her daughter but didn’t have the chance, so she visited me in those early years to smile and wave. I think she was watching over me, but all the dead have to move on eventually, and one night she just stopped showing up. After I found the photo, I sort of knew Mom wouldn’t want to hear about old Gammy hanging out in my room at night, so I stopped asking.
That was just the beginning of the parade, though.
After Gammy passed on, more and more people decided to drop by and have a look-see at me as I slept. Soldiers, sailors, old people, young people, people from the present, and a lot more from sometime in the past. I even saw a pirate.
Whoever they were, they’d be dressed like they had been when they died: hospital gown, uniform, old-fashioned dress, business suit, or whatever they had happened to have on when they kicked the bucket. Unfortunately for my young and innocent mind, their bodies also looked like they had at the time of their passing. Burn victims, people in car accidents, people killed in wars, people murdered, you name it; in whatever manner they died, they looked like it as they made their way to the ley station.
When I was still really young, this didn’t bother me. I wasn’t afraid of death and didn’t quite know what I was seeing. But when I became a teenager and figured out what these appearances meant, it started to freak me out. Hence the years of therapy.
It seemed that some people found the ley station faster than others, and some just didn’t want to let go and did their best to stay away from it. Eventually, though, even those who tried to avoid the ley line to wherever we go after this life eventually got tired of watching the living and ended up at the foot of my bed or at another of the ley stations scattered across the world.
It never really scared me, these random folks popping up in my bedroom. I thought it was a normal thing. I’d wake up, they’d be there, and I’d say, “Hi.” Sometimes they’d smile, some would be crying, or they’d just stand there and look at me. Occasionally they’d wave like my gammy, but they almost never talked.
But some of them did, and they were always scared and looking for someone to help them. The first time this happened, I woke up and there was a young woman at the foot of my bed. She must have died recently since her clothes were modern. It looked like she had been jogging or working out, and she had dark bruises on her neck. She kept looking to her left and right, as if she was hiding from someone, then finally seemed to see me.
I was ten and still totally OK with dead people in my room, so I did what I normally did and waved to her. Then she spoke to me, asking, “Can you help me?”
I was so shocked, I couldn’t speak. The woman’s head jerked to the left and she said, “He’s here!” and screamed. That scared the living bejesus out of me, and I decided to scream along with her as something black covered her mouth, cutting off her screaming.
My dad burst into the room, scaring whatever hell was left in me completely out, and flipped on the lights. “What’s wrong? What’s wrong!” he asked, frantically searching the room for an intruder or something else that had frightened me. The young woman was gone, and all I could do was cry. My mom came in moments later and wrapped her arms around me, shushing me down and asking what had happened. I tried to tell her about the woman and the darkness, but couldn’t get the words out. Finally, she had me lie back and said it was just a nightmare, then crawled into bed with me until I fell asleep.
The next day I found my first gray hair. Well, not so much a gray hair as a white hair. Now I sport a completely white head of hair that I keep in a stylishly spiky ponytail. My friends all think I dye it because I’m a freaky rebel. I stopped trying long ago to tell them it is natural.
It worsened as I hit puberty. People started showing up two or three times a night. If I didn’t wake up, they’d kick my bed, turn on the light, flush the toilet, or do other annoying things. But when they began screaming, that’s when I got a bit jumpy and the therapy really got rolling.
The shrink gave me Prozac!
That kept the dead at bay for a whole thirty days, until a little girl came and paid me a visit. I was in a deep, Prozac-induced, dreamless sleep when I heard the crying. I tried to ignore it, knowing what was coming next.
The little girl screamed.
“Je-sus!” I yelled, coming fully awake and sitting bolt upright in bed. “What the crapola was that?”
The girl stopped crying for a moment, looking at me in surprise. “You used a dirty word.”
Crap-o-matic, flipping, birdbath, mother-of-pearl, flying buttocks, pressure cooker! I thought. If I had known using swear words would shut these people up, I’d have done it a long time ago.
“Well, I’m a dirty girl,” I replied.
The little girl looked around and started crying again. She was maybe twelve, a few years younger than me. She was dressed in short-shorts that my mother would never let me wear, a button-up shirt that was tied between her small breasts, showing off way more belly than I’d ever be allowed to—again, something my mother would never let me wear—hiking boots, and a ball cap perched backward on her head. I could see a little ponytail sticking out from under the bill. She had on a backpack and was carrying, of all things, a ragged old stuffed bunny.
“Why are you crying?” I asked, hoping to get her to move on and let me go back to the gentle sleep of Prince Prozac.
“Why are you here?”
“I don’t know what to do.”
I felt sad for the girl. She was clearly dead, and her parents hadn’t had time to prepare her with one religion or another before her death, so she was lost. I’d see this many times. The devoted seemed to know what to do: go into the light, follow their loved ones, see Jesus, get on the train, step into the void, whatever. But the younger ones, children, didn’t have any idea what they were supposed to do.
“Maybe you should go into the light?” I said, glancing at the clock and wanting to wrap this up.
“There is no light.”
That sent chills down my back. “Well, do you see anyone you know? Your grandparents? Uncles or aunts, maybe?”
She shook her head.
“Don’t you see anyone at all?” I asked, feeling a sudden sympathy for this poor girl lost on the other side of life.
“I saw something,” she said, looking to her left and right like the young woman did years ago. “I saw…a man.”
Deep in the pit of my stomach, I felt a tide of fear rising. “Did you know him?”
The girl shook her head again and said, “No.”
“What did he look like?” I asked, feeling my mouth go dry.
“Tall, thin, wearing an old black and rotted suit. He was dead. I could see inside him, see his bones where his skin had fallen off. And he wore a funny hat.”
“Funny ha-ha or funny strange?”
The girl gave me a dirty look.
“He told me to come with him, but I knew I shouldn’t, so I ran until I found you. He chased me for a while, but then disappeared. I’m tired. Can I sleep with you?”
Remembering how my mom had gotten into bed with me when I was so terrified, I nodded, pulling the covers back so she could crawl in. What else was I supposed to do?
She smiled shyly, dropped her backpack, and took off her boots. As she slid between the covers, bunny in tow, I felt the deep cool of her spirit sidle up next to me. It was like spooning with a very large and chilly pillow. She drew my arm around her after I pulled the covers over us, and she quickly fell asleep.
I lay there listening to her ghostly breath and glanced at the foot of my bed. He was there, of course, the man, the one who had been chasing the girl, and he was just as dead as she had described. His eyes burned a dull, hateful red as he watched us. I waited for him to speak, but he just stood there silently. He raised one boney, fleshless finger and wagged it at me as though I had been naughty, gave me a ghastly smile, then disappeared.
I didn’t fall asleep for a long time, but much later, after I finally did, I felt a small kiss on my forehead and heard the girl whisper, “Sarah says I can go now. Thank you.”
In the morning, I threw away my Prozac. I didn’t know who Sarah was, I didn’t know who the man was, but I’d spend the next ten years looking for them. And as for the terrified dead, I’d help them when I could, and when the man wagged his finger at me from the foot of my bed, I’d give him a finger of my own.