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I never understood why ghosts are always depicted as creepy little girls in Victorian dresses. Real ghosts are never like that…. Or at least, my ghost isn’t.
My ghost killed herself in my sorority house in the eighties, so it would be weird if she was wearing a Victorian dress. I only ever saw her once, sitting on the edge of my bed in the reflection of my mirror. Her hair was black and curly, it looked as though it had been teased to hell before deflating into limp, knotty locks of badly permed hair. She was wearing an over sized collared shirt tucked into mom jeans, and from the mascara streaming down her face I could tell she had been crying.
She didn’t look like a ghost; at least not what ghosts are supposed to look like. I turned away from the mirror, thinking a drunk friend of one of my sisters had snuck in after a theme party, but when I laid my eyes on the corner she had been sitting on, she was gone.
I’m getting ahead of myself. I had never actually seen her until my Junior year. In fact, she didn’t even seem to exist the whole first semester of my freshman year, although that could have been because my sisters didn’t want to scare me away from my newly joined sorority, Tri Delta. The first time she was mentioned to me I was hanging out with some other sorority sisters in my friend Summer’s room at the house. She was older, a senior, and her roommate was hardly ever home because she always stayed over with her boyfriend.
“There was a ghost in my room last night.” Summer told us in a hushed tone.
“Bullshit.” My friend Amy laughed, throwing a pillow at her.
“No, really! Ok, well, not a ghost, but maybe one of those orb things, you know? Like the kind they see in those ghost hunter shows?”
“I think you’ve been watching those shows too much.” I scoffed. I didn’t believe in ghosts then, let alone those dumbass orbs. Besides, Summer was one of those air brained hippy types, this hallucination was easy to write off as some sort of side effect from her last acid trip.
“I woke up in the dead of the middle of the night for literally no reason,” she told us, completely ignoring our skepticism. “I was completely paralyzed, like I couldn’t move at all. And it was pitch dark too, right? And I just see this orb of light moving back and forth, like a pendulum.” She traced the orb’s supposed motion in the air with an outstretched finger, eyes focused above our heads.
“Sounds like sleep paralysis.” Amy shrugged, hopping off of Summer’s bed, “Paralysis, hallucinations… yep, definitely not a ghost.”
Summer’s nose crinkled up, and her expression twisted, “Wait, do you smell that?” Amy and I both inhaled through our noses, and sure enough a distinct, fiery smell had inexplicably filled her room.
“Ok, why the fuck does it smell like fire?” Amy asked, her face turning white.
We all had a mini freak out until we exited the room in a panic only to be informed by a sister that the fraternity next door’s dumpster had caught on fire and everyone was going to the balcony to watch the firemen.
I was happy to put the embarrassing incident out of my mind until a few months later, when Summer brought the ghost up again, “This time I could see her, like, all of her, and I could feel her too. Not just the weight on my bed but the sadness. She was really sad. I think she was crying. And she looked way different from a normal ghost, like, I’ve never seen a modern ghost before, you know?”
This time, Amy was gone and I decided to play along for shits and giggles. “Well is there any record of a death in here? Maybe we can go to the library and look at old newspapers with one of those machine thingies.”
“How the hell would I know how to use one of those? We should just ask the house mom.”
“Ooh! Let’s find her in the composite pictures!” I jumped up excitedly, Summer following me to the back hallway. Each year, every year that Tri Delta had been on campus, everyone in the sorority would go out front and get their photos taken by the old oak tree to be put in a giant frame that showed all of the members. The composite would be displayed in our living room that year until it was replaced with the new one and shuffled off to the back hallway. A long, narrow hallway lined up with giant frames filled with hundreds of tiny sorority girl faces smiling manically at you got pretty creepy at night, but it was always fun to look at decades past and make fun of the various phases of hair do’s.
Summer and I found the section of composites from the eighties and began scanning the different faces for our ghost. Having never seen the ghost, my only two descriptors were black permed hair and sad, which didn’t leave me much to go off of so I would just jokingly point at every girl with black curly hair to the annoyance of Summer. I bored pretty quickly of this game, though Summer was staring at each and every face with a sort of intensity I had never seen in her.
I was about to give up when I pointed at the last picture, half a smirk on my face as I looked towards Summer, then towards the picture. The moment I saw her eyes I froze. I knew in my head that if I wanted to, I could move, but somehow, I wasn’t willing to. She was smiling, just like everyone else in the frame, but her eyes… they made me sad.
“Do you smell that?” Summer asked, breaking me out of my trance and sending me jumping two feet in the air. I knew what the smell was before I could even inhale—fire.
“That’s not another dumpster fire.” I whispered.
Completely freaked out, we decided to pay our house mom a visit to do some investigating. Our house mom, a fat, balding woman named Pam, was on the verge of quitting her job with summer quickly approaching, and it showed in her I-don’t-give-a-shit attitude.
“Hey Pam?” We called into her empty living quarters, poking our heads through the open door.
Pam came trundling out, flopping down into an office chair and looking at us with raised eyebrows, “Yeah?” She nodded slightly, motioning for us to come in.
“So, like, this house isn’t uuuuuuuh. Haunted. Is it?” I asked, my face probably still pale as the smell of fire lingered in my nostrils.
“Oh yeah,” she grunted nonchalantly, leaning back in her chair and crossing her arms, “Whenever you girls go home over the break there’s always noises upstairs.”
“You mean like the walls settling, right? Because that happens like every thirty seconds.” Summer asked, a look of pure excitement on her face.
“No, no. I know the creaks of this old house like the back of my hand, I’ve lived here for ten years. These sounds are unmistakable. Footsteps. Drawers opening and closing. A couple times I heard someone crying, I even went upstairs to see if someone had somehow snuck in while the house was closed, but no she’s real. I think the old house mom said something about a girl offing herself in the late eighties but that was ten years ago and I was barely paying attention anyway.”
The old woman shrugged, leaning further back in her chair before catching a glimpse of our terrified faces and bursting out laughing, “You girls don’t have any reason to be scared, it’s not like a ghost can do much else than knock your coffee cup over, although that will not be an acceptable excuse when you get fined for staining the carpet.”
Pam seemed right, at least for the following few weeks that led to summer break without much incident. Summer moved out, got her diploma, and moved to Seattle for graduate school, and it was finally my turn to move into the house, into a big, four-person room with a window right above the front door that we would shout at our friends through as they walked to class. My roommates Amy, Carry, and Marley all got along well, even if Amy was a slob and Marley never turned off her closet light.
There were a few times when I would get spooked by the sound of the air vents creaking, or some paper falling off of my desk, but for the most part I was perfectly happy to repress any notion that I was living with a ghost.
That is, until Marley started talking to it.
A few months into our Sophomore year Marley was diagnosed with epilepsy after a scary seizure episode, and she was put on a medication called Carbamazepine, an anticonvulsant. The medicine stopped the seizures well enough, but it also caused Marley terrible insomnia which often left her sitting in our room all night staring blankly ahead, unable to think or eat because of how tired she was. Marley later told me it was during this time that she first caught a glimpse of the ghost in the mirrors.
Barely able to function and failing out of her program in Special Education, Marley’s doctors finally put her on sleeping pills. This should have solved the problem, but the pills had a really strange effect on her. It started out with her occasionally taking the pill too early and being suddenly hit with exhaustion while downstairs or in the bathroom, so that we practically had to carry her to bed. Once she finally figured out the timing with the pills, she would wake up having put herself under the bed sometime during the night, or we would find her walking out of the room dead asleep.
The problem was, while the pills were able to put Marley’s mind to sleep, her body remained awake. It was easy enough to handle, if we locked the door and guided a sleepwalking Marley back to her bed on occasion everything would be fine, and we all loved Marley so much that we didn’t mind a few minutes of lost sleep.
Usually these episodes were pretty noisy and active, with Marley shuffling things around our room or noisily trying to unlock our bedroom door, but one night I woke up to find Marley standing completely still, staring at something in the mirror.
“You ok, Mar?” I asked drowsily, hanging my hand over the top bunk railing to wave at her and see if she was asleep.
“She wants to talk to me.” Marley said, her voice completely devoid of any emotion and eerily lacking her typical strong southern accent.
“What?” I asked, pulling my hand back and sitting myself up, my stomach flopping.
“She wants to talk to me, but she doesn’t know how.” Marley repeated.
At this point, Marley’s voice had woken up Carry, who was already getting out of bed, “What the fuck, dude, just put her to bed.” She muttered, pulling Marley away from the mirror and tucking her in.
This didn’t happen again for another few weeks, until I woke up to find Marley standing in front of the mirror again using her hands to speak sign language. I knew Marley was learning sign language as a part of her program, but what shocked me was how flawlessly she seemed to be signing into the mirror, especially after having spent hours a day in front of the mirror practicing and worrying about passing tests. I assumed that what she was signing wasn’t actually real, just some version she had made up in her sleep state, so I began shimmying down my bunkbed ladder to guide her back to bed, “Marley, it’s too late for practicing right now, ok?”
Marley stopped signing abruptly, “But I found a way to talk to her.” She said in the same emotionless voice, sending a shiver up my spine.
“You’re having some weird dreams, aren’t you bud?” I shook my head, trying to shake the gut wrenching fear.
“She wants to talk to you too, but you can’t see her. She’s very sad.”
The smell of fire filled the room.
Alarms were going off in my head, my heart beating and head spinning, and I yanked Marley away from the mirror, terrified of my own reflection and shoved her into bed forcefully before scrambling up to my bed and hiding frozen beneath the covers.
The next day I called a roommate meeting while Marley was off at class to tell Carry and Amy what had happened, “I don’t know, I’m probably getting freaked out for no reason, but you guys were dead asleep and after the whole ghost thing with Summer I just get freaked out really easily–”
“No, dude, that happened to me too.” Carry interrupted me, her eyes wide. “Just the other night. Scared the shit out of me but I didn’t know about all that other stuff with Summer.”
“What the fuck.” Amy said into her hands as she rubbed her forehead. I thought she would have a similar reaction as she had had with Summer, but instead she just cupped her face in her hands and mumbled, “It happened to me too.”
“Shit.” I sighed, “So this is fucking real… What do we do?”
The three of us devised a plan, making sure that in no way Marley would find out what was happening. She was pretty religious, and a scaredy cat at that, and with all of her different health issues we weren’t wanting to add bad mental health to the pile. As badly as I wanted to cover the mirrors, or smash them or whatever, that would be a bit too obvious, so we decided that any time one of us was woken up we’d wake up the other two and get Marley away from the mirror as quickly as possible. Carry snuck into the student church next door and stole some holy water with her hydro flask to sprinkle around the room and throw at the mirror. Amy bought a bucket of crystals and dream catchers. Marley already had plenty of jewelry with crosses on them, so we figured we were good on that front.
Things only got worse, and the three of us lost a lot of sleep. I became so terrified that if I was sleep deprived enough I would begin seeing the ghost like Marley, which ironically worsened my sleep at night. It got to the point that she was up signing nearly every night, at which point we figured it couldn’t get any worse until I walked into the bathroom to find her signing into the mirror in a trancelike state in the middle of the day. The house being a sorority, there were mirrors in every corner, plenty of opportunity to pull Marley in.
It seemed to begin taking a toll on Marley, too. She began complaining of headaches and skipping class, losing interest in the program she was once so passionate about. Her temper worsened too, throwing her into a rage at little things such as a full trashcan, or water accidentally spilled on the floor. When she began sleeping around with guys like it was nothing, which was completely out of character, we finally made the decision to tell her what had been going on with her.
At first, she was unable to believe us, laughing and thinking it was a joke. Then, with her new temper, she was angry at us for making up a cruel story to try and scare her. Carry began crying, which none of us had ever seen before, and Marley became very quiet. Acceptance. She knew something was wrong with her, that she had become a person she couldn’t recognize, but because of a ghost?
She never outwardly admitted to accepting that this crazy, terrifying thing was happening to her, but a week later she had dropped out of school, and another week after that she was on a flight home to South Carolina without so much of a goodbye.
As heartbroken as we were, we were also relieved. With Marley gone, the ghost was gone too, and the entire next semester of my Sophomore year went by without incident. Part of me worried that somehow, since the ghost had disappeared, Marley had taken it with her. A selfish, horrible part of me wished this was the case. But slowly, Marley got better, and she often sent us letters in the mail or facetimed us from her new dorm. With the trauma seemingly behind us, we began to get braver and braver in telling the stories of those horrifying nights, suddenly relishing in the fearful reactions of our sisters. Any time something went wrong, it was now common to blame it on the “trid ghost,” and we even went so far as to nickname her Gertrude.
As junior year came around I moved back into the house, into a two-person room this time, and Amy and Carry moved far away into their own apartment, calling me crazy for voluntarily continuing to live in a haunted house. I liked living there with all my friends, it was on campus and hey, the rent was cheap. Some girls would occasionally claim that they had caught a glimpse of the trid ghost in a mirror late at night, but things were so quiet that I hardly cared to believe them.
Unfortunately, this was also the semester that we found out our chapter would be suspending operations at the end of the year. Without getting into the depressing details, our sorority wasn’t the most popular on campus and we no longer had enough members to pay for the cost of the house or its staff, let alone the social events that are a core part of sorority life. If you look up Tri Delta Phi Beta the second result is a link leading to the official announcement.
As you can imagine, this got us all to feeling pretty sad and sorry for ourselves, and the mood was pretty heavy in the house for a few weeks. Maybe it was the negative atmosphere that caused the ghost to come back. I think she came back because she was angry. See, we’ll probably be renting our house out to a fraternity while our sorority suspends operations, and I imagine any heartbroken ghost would be pretty mad about that.
Other than the mirror sightings of the ghost, which I refused to believe, the first sign that the ghost was back, and more malicious than before, happened one night as I was coming home from the bars, feeling drunk and ready to throw off my heels. I was half way up the back stairway when a bloodcurdling scream stopped me dead in my tracks and sent me running to the room Summer lived in when I was a freshman. My good friend Baily now lived in the room, and I recognized the scream as hers as I came bursting into a pitch-black room, turning the light on to reveal—nothing. Just a terrified Baily, her face white as chalk and her hands shaking profusely. Apparently, her roommate was up pulling an all nighter in the library, leaving Baily alone to sleep.
Once Baily was calmed down enough, she told me in a shaking voice, “I could see her as clear as day, even though it was pitch black in here. She was sitting on the edge of the bed and… and…”
“Crying.” I finished the sentence for her, remembering Summer’s story.
“No.” Baily said, surprising me as she shook her head, “She was smiling.”
Even our house chef, a tirelessly cheery guy named Antonio, would tell us about the strange things that happened in his kitchen. He’d tell us about how one morning as he was preparing lunch, a microwave would start up out of nowhere, or how a cup of water sitting on a completely flat table would tip over abruptly. Of course, each tale was delivered to us in a half joking way, as if he himself couldn’t believe these strange things.
One evening as I came home from class I found the house with all of its doors and windows propped open, the whole house smelling as if the girls had been smoking packs of cigarettes. “Why are all of the doors opened? I asked as I flopped down on a living room couch, “And who was smoking?”
“Antonio did a whole sage cleanse before heading home,” one girl told me casually, “Apparently he saw something that really spooked him.”
“Please,” another girl scoffed, “Ghosts aren’t real, and that shit seriously smells.”
The next morning, I went straight to the kitchens to grill Antonio what had happened, only to come upon his assistant chef, cooking some eggs for another girl. Alma was super sweet and loved to chat, even though her English wasn’t amazing. I exchanged my usual pleasantries with her while buttering up a bagel, hoping to catch Antonio in the back, when I noticed a huge bandage on her hand.
“Woah, what happened to you? Get a little clumsy with the frying pan?”
Alma’s smile disappeared from her face immediately, and she went to move her hand into one of her apron pockets, “Nothing. An accident.”
I had to laugh at her, looking all ashamed like a puppy in trouble, “Oh come on, that’s nothing! I used to cut myself all the time when I had to cook for myself. Or was it something more embarrassing? Like one time my friend was making a sugar scrub and she completely melted off her hand with boiling sugar.”
The more I spoke, the more Alma seemed to be receding from me, so I stopped talking with an awkward laugh and a shrug and finished buttering my bagel. Just as I was about to leave, Alma caught my eye and whispered, “Fue un espíritu.”
I knew enough Spanish from high school to know what she was saying—A spirit. So, what, the ghost was getting violent now? The thought sent a shiver down my spine. At that moment Antonio walked in from the back door, and Alma and I both turned away from each other, as if we had never had the conversation.
And so, the pattern continued—small, harmless yet unexplainable things would occur around the house building up until BAM. Another accident, leaving the girl it had happened to terrified. The severity of the attacks seemed to escalate as well, starting with the cut, leading to someone’s shirt being pulling from behind them so hard it nearly choked them before ripping, then a girl waking up with some unexplained nasty bruises, then a week later another girl falling down the stairs and breaking her collar bone.
Annie was the one who “fell” down the stairs, and for a week she refused to talk about it at all. If questioned about it she’d simply reply that she was sleep deprived and tripped and that she was tired of explaining what happened over and over again. To be honest, I was really hoping that this was the truth. I had taken notice of the pattern of violence and I was terrified. The end of the year was approaching, and so was the closure of our sorority. How desperate and angry could the ghost get?
Unfortunately, Annie would soon reveal to me that this was in fact not the truth. During a night out at the bars together she drunkenly pulled me to the side, looked me in the eyes, and told me, “I didn’t fall, you know. I was pushed.”
“What?” I answered, hoping I had heard her wrong over the music.
“I saw her. Like really saw her. And once you see her you’re marked.” She slurred, leaning on me for support. As drunk as I was, I had to believe her.
That night, my roommate fell out of her bed. She woke up on the floor, a little groggy and out of it, and not realizing she had broken her head open and was bleeding everywhere with a concussion, she crawled back into bed and fell asleep. When I got home I was horrified to find the floor covered in blood, my roommate still as a statue in the top bunk. I really feared the worst. I really thought she was dead.
She survived, just barely. If I hadn’t found her in bed it’s very likely the concussion would have stopped her from waking up, ever. After three days in the hospital she moved out of the sorority back home half an hour away, leaving me to sleep in my room alone. When I asked her if she had seen the ghost, she couldn’t remember.
As I write this, I am taking yet another break from studying for finals, which are a week away. One more week until we could all be free from this nightmare. It had been a few weeks since my roommate’s accident, and I was really beginning to have hope that her’s would be the last incident.
But you’ve already read the beginning of the story, so you already know. While I was taking a study break, I looked into the mirror and I saw her. As I write this, I can smell it, just as clearly as the first time. Fire.
CREDIT : adventurousemma