Crystal Spirit

Image by Jr Korpa on Unsplash

Crystal Magee

I can’t recall if I’ve ever been down such a long, narrow road—if you can call it a road—before or since. The word rural just doesn’t seem to accurately describe the area. Think the middle of nowhere but then go behind the shed of middle of nowhere, down by a creek, into the woods, and get lost, and that’s where I ended up. My GPS gave up on me miles ago and stopped naming streets, as though it was just wishing me the best of luck. As the road turned to gravel, I saw it. The small, red brick house stood with two slim columns guarding the front door which no one used, and a carport sat to the left and housed a deep freezer, potted plants, and other miscellaneous items, all tinged with a spot or two of rust and dust. A sedan sat cold under the carport with half hanging out so as to make room for the other, more important things. Several large oaks stood stately in the neat and clean yard; pecan trees and a couple of magnolia trees dotted the perimeter. The yard’s grass was cut and held a brick pathway to a shaded swing.

My car pinged the rocks in the gravel driveway and announced my morning arrival. Unsure of the accuracy of my destination, I sat in the car and looked around until the screen door under the carport creaked open, and the head of a small woman appeared. She kept her body behind the door and waved her hand for me to come inside.

She offered me iced tea and pound cake as we sat down at the kitchen table. I set up my equipment—camera, microphone, notepad. She shuffled her feet in tiny steps and plopped her tiny self into a straight-back chair with a stained and faded cushion. I recalled understanding her to be in her twenties, but she gave me cause for doubt. Her hair, thin and wiry, sprawled atop her head in whisps about three inches long. About the color, I am still unsure; it was a type of brown mixed with an almost metallic copper and a tinge of light. Her face, though, caused the most reason for confusion. It was small and dry, leathery and cadaverous. Her frail frame withstood an unfortunate dressing of baggy clothing that looked as though she rummaged through a grandmother’s closet from the middle of last century. The house was quite possibly decorated in the same decade that her clothes were created. She failed to smile but was cordial.

I began, “Thanks again for agreeing to meet with me. I have talked with some other people with your, um gift, and—”

“Gift?” Her face snarled.

“Oh, yes, I believe it to be a gift. Well, it’s something special about you anyway. Okay, let’s begin then. Can you tell me about yourself? Let’s start with your name and where you’re from, that kind of stuff.”

“Well,” she drawled, “my name is Crystal Springs Magee, and I was born and raised right here in this house. I ain’t never lived anywhere else but Sumrall, Mississippi. Well, it ain’t really Sumrall, but that’s the official address here anyway. I’m the only child of my momma; she said I was enough.”

A sharp, almost moan from down the hallway echoed to the kitchen table. I could not detect any specific word, but Crystal yelled back with a voice I underestimated: “Ain’t nobody talking to you!” She carried on as though nothing had happened. “What you call a gift, I call a curse, and it’s a hard thing to live with. I tried to make the most of it, but I’d rather not have it, to be honest.”

She began slowly as though cautious. “Well, I don’t remember directly when it all started. I don’t recall a time when I didn’t have this ‘gift’ you’re talking about. I guess my first memories of it was when I was about eight. I was with my momma and we’d gone to the Walmart. I was mad ‘cause I wanted some candy or something, and she wasn’t having none of it. ‘It’ll rot your teeth out,’ she told me.” Crystal squished her face, mimicked a nagging mother’s voice and smiled to reveal an incomplete set of teeth, with the ones remaining holding on with sheer determination. “Ha, that’d be the least of my worries. I was real mad, but then something just came over me. My nose started bleeding, and I remember looking down and seeing these spots of blood on my little purple dress. Then, it felt like somebody pushed me to the ground, but I was still standing. Then I felt a tug on my hand, but nobody was there. I looked up at Momma; I tried calling out her name, but nothing came out. So there we was, standing stark in the middle of the Walmart, and I tugged on her dress, and when she looked down, she was horrified. I don’t think she knew what to do, so she whacked me upside the head. After that, I felt fine.”

Squeaky thuds creaked from the hallway. Ka-dunk. Ka-dunk. Ka-dunk. “That ain’t true. Ain’t nobody hit you.”

“Jesus.” Crystal’s eyes audibly rolled, if eyes could roll audibly. She raised her voice, “Whack, Momma, I said whack.”

“Lightly tapped,” Crystal’s mother carefully articulated. She flowed behind her walker in contrast to the mechanical and aided steps. Her head, the apex and smallest part of her figure, crowned the top of a flowing gown. Her hair, brown and unclassifiable as Crystal’s, flattened atop her head and hung down in long strings like a sad Christmas tree-shaped ornament made from popsicle sticks, thus adding to the triangular shape of her person. The deep purple gown draped on her sagging and untethered body. Her claw-like, pallid hands with white, bulging knuckles clutched the walker, and her eyes—morbid, miniature twins of the cavernous gaping mouth—scowled directly at Crystal.

“Nobody’s talking to you,” Crystal growled through her clinched teeth. Her mother mouthed something and shuffled past us to the kitchen. I perhaps stared too long. Crystal held her gaze and did not speak while her mother piddled in the kitchen.

“Ha!” her mother said a few minutes later as she exited the kitchen, returning from whence she came. “Nose bleed my ass. That’s what ya get for picking your nose in public.”

“Momma!” Crystal’s face was now red and rigid. “Go back to your cave!” Her heaving chest slowed as her mother passed us again, scooting slowly towards the dark hallway. I didn’t know if Crystal would continue, and I questioned my intentions to stay. Yet, as her mother disappeared, Crystal resumed as though she had only swatted a mosquito.

“I couldn’t tell what happened to me, and as such a young child, I didn’t know what to think or what to do really. I probably thought it was normal. Well, that was the first time it happened. The next time it happened, I think, I was with my cousins at a little rinky-dink fair. I was probably ten by this time. The same kinda thing happened—I felt pushed, but I was still standing. Then my nose started bleeding. My cousin Maddy was standing nearby, waiting in line for a ride. I felt something tug at my foot, like it was trying to pull me down, but like the other time, nothing was there. This time was different, though, because I heard a voice. It was weird because it wasn’t mine or Maddy’s, and even with all those people around, I knew it wasn’t none of them either. It sounded like the wind, if that makes any sense. Whatever had my foot tugged it harder, and I hollered, and Maddy turned round and hollered too when she saw my nose. She jerked my arm and hauled me to the bathroom, and I felt fine after that.”

“The voice,” I asked, “what did it say?”

“Good lord, that was so long ago. I don’t recall it saying anything in particular. I remember it being a voice trying to say something, and I was gonna ask it—whatever it was—to repeat itself, but then my arm got jerked, and I didn’t hear it no more.” Crystal turned her eyes to her saucer and broke off a piece of her pound cake, popped it in her mouth, and looked at the clock.

“Okay. So when did you start realizing that what you felt was something—special? When did you make the connection between your nosebleeds and your gift?”

Crystal sighed and shifted in her seat. She took an extended sip of tea. “Well, looking back, I can tell that it didn’t happen a lot when I was real little because I was at home more, but when I started going out more as a teenager, it happened more and more. I finally told Momma” (she whispered the name) “and she carried me to the doctor. Of course, he listened to her” (she pointed down the hallway) “and thought I might be faking, but who fakes a nosebleed? That’s just stupid. When I told the doctor about the other things like being pulled and tugged and pushed down, he got a worried look on his face but then said I might have a personality disorder and that maybe we could get benefit checks for that. Well, that just lit Momma’s face up…” Crystal halted, her eyes wide, listening for a response in the darkness when she realized she said the name at normal volume. When nothing came, she continued, “…and that’s when I dropped outta school because we got disability checks—can’t have a crazy girl going to school! That was fine with me because kids picked on me anyway. I was small and weird, they said, among other things. The doctor gave me pills, probably just for show, because he told her” (she motioned “her” in air quotes) “not to give them to me unless I really needed them.”

“Did anyone else know about this at the time?” I found myself whispering.

“Oh yeah. When I dropped outta school, it was obvious. I’d drive her” (air quotes) “to places, and people’d wonder why I wasn’t in school. Her sister had a fit—a pure, living fit. Not because of school but because she thought I was possessed. She’s deeply religious. One Sunday, she came by and picked me up for church which was unusual in itself, and we stayed after to talk to the preacher. Like I wanted that. No sir. He was nice and all, but at the end, he said, nope, it’s not a demon, and he didn’t deal with that kinda stuff anyway. Then there was my older cousin who took me to a fortune teller on the highway. I was expecting to go in with a gypsy-looking woman, crystal ball, dark curtains, but it wasn’t like that at all. She looked like somebody you’d pass in the dollar store and not blink twice at. When she held my hand, she got these big ole bug eyes and looked scared. She said I was a channel for spirits, but the only channel I knew was the ones on TV. She said she could tell me more, but she had to charge extra because this was a special case, and she couldn’t help in just one day. Well, my cousin paid for the visit but said that spirits can’t pay, and kids can’t pay either, so we left it like that.”

“Is that when you realized that you were being visited by spirits?”

Crystal stared ahead at the old wooden clock on the wall. “Whatever you wanna call it.”

An awkward silence ensued, as Crystal sat deep in thought. I wondered if I would get any more from her. She then breathed in audibly through her nose, filling her lungs and puffing her chest, for an unusual amount of time. The sigh that followed, I’m sure her mother heard. I asked, “What do they want?

She turned eerily slowly towards me, her head and body moving as one piece. I wondered if she were now possessed. “They wanna go home. They don’t know they’re dead.”

“How do you handle them now? Can you hear them? How have things changed since you were a kid?”

“Dang at the questions! When the fortune teller told me I was a channel, it got me to thinking. So I did what anyone would have done and headed to the cemetery. That’s where lots of ghosts’ll be, right? Wrong. You might be surprised, but there ain’t a lot of ghosts in a cemetery. What I figured out over the years is that a ghost don’t know its dead, so what would it be doing in a cemetery? That don’t make no sense. So that was a bust. Then I started reading the papers, looking for an accident nearby where somebody died. I went to this one road where a lady was killed, ran smack into a tree. And yep, there she was. I didn’t see her, but my nose started bleeding, and I felt that push. I knew what was going on at the time then, so I steadied myself. I started limping. I read that her foot got cut off in the wreck, so now it’s making sense, see? Then it felt like I was crying, but I wasn’t. Not the outside kind like tears and stuff—inside crying like your body heaving, trying to catch a breath, a burden-on-your-soul kind of crying. Well, I didn’t know what to do after that. It was kinda like two people inside me. I was trying to think straight, but then there’s something pushing me over inside. I kinda wished I had thought things through a little more because there I was, on the side of the road, with a ghost or whatever inside that wasn’t coming out. I didn’t have nobody to jerk me back like the other times. If I didn’t live in the middle of nowhere where everything’s so dang far apart, I might’ve carried her to the cemetery or to her house, wherever that was, but nope; we just sat on the side of the road down a ditch, next to a tree where her car crashed. I had no idea what to do. Well, next thing I know, I’m walking behind the tree where there’s still some debris from the wreck. It’s all bits and pieces, but I felt pushed down, and this time, I’m near the ground looking at a bracelet. It was covered in mud. When I picked it up, my body shook, and I was myself again. Thank goodness because I didn’t know how I could drive with two of us inside my body. I took the bracelet home and cleaned it up. I kept it for a week or so, not really knowing what to do with it. I decided to try to find out where she lived and mail it to her house. I absolutely did.not.want to go up there and knock on some strange person’s door and say, ‘Oh hey, by the way, your wife or whatever possessed me and led me to this; here ya go.’ Good lord, I’d be sent straight to Whitfield.”

Crystal finished her tea and looked at me as if to ask if that were enough. I needed more. “Did you get anyone else to help you—with other encounters?”

She sighed as though getting tired of answering my questions. “Yeah. I asked my cousin Winna—Winona—I call her Winna—the one that took me to the fortune teller. She believes in all this crap, so I thought she’d be the best bet. I needed someone to shake me out of it if need be. Last thing I need is to be stuck on side of the road and can’t get home.”

“Can you tell me about a special case, one that really stands out?”

Her sharp breath heaved her chest again in a calculated breath that I could interpret in a number of ways. I needed one more story. “Well, there was this one time, me and Winna had this plan. We went to this neighborhood where a man killed his wife. It’d been a week or so, so nobody was around anymore. We parked in a cul-de-sac and walked in front of the house, like we was just dillydallying through the neighborhood without a care in the world. Yep, just like we expected, there goes the thump and there goes the nose. Our plan was to go to a cemetery and let her out there, but she wouldn’t get out once we got there. I could feel her pulling me back, and I had a pain in my chest, which I found out was where he stabbed her. It got worse and worse, and Winna said I let out a big ‘NO!’ but I don’t remember that, and it surely wasn’t me. She called the fortune teller—Miss Rose—I guess she had her on speed dial—and she told us to come to her shop, but Winna said she don’t have money, but the woman said come anyway. I think she wanted to see this for real. So there I am in the car, pained and can’t think straight on the way to a fortune teller! What a ride! Miss Rose had the room all nice and dark, peaceful like. She sat me down right away and started talking to me, well, not me but the dead woman. ‘We’re here to help you,’ she said. ‘You are dead. What do you want us to do?’ Long story short, no, the woman didn’t know she was dead. When she found out, she was pissed; I could tell ‘cause I could feel it, deep inside. Apparently, I started shaking like I was having a seizure, and I don’t remember it, but they got it out of her that she saw the husband throw the knife in the little pond behind their house which was a big deal because we heard they couldn’t find the murder weapon. I don’t know how they got all that out of her. Miss Rose, they said, talked to the woman again: ‘You are dead. You didn’t survive. Your husband is in jail. You are free to go now.’ I guess this worked because next thing I know, I’m on the sofa with Winna fanning me with a sheet of paper talking to Miss Rose about how to get this information to the police.”

Crystal rose to piddle in the kitchen. She clanked her saucer and glass in the sink and moved other things around on the counter. I sensed that she tired quickly of people. I wondered if she preferred the dead.

“Crystal, I’m going to talk to your mother now. She agreed to be interviewed also.” I watched her for signs of any emotion.

“Good luck with that. And don’t believe anything she says!”

Florence Magee

The hallway smelled like it had been dark for as long as the house stood, at least sixty years but possibly more. The bathroom door was open, but the bedroom doors were closed. I tapped on the last door on the right and heard a grunt and, what I believed to be, a “come in” though it could also have been someone raking a hairbrush on the hollow wooden door. I smiled and nodded a bow, though I’m quite sure she didn’t notice. She darted her head around me, as I interrupted her view of the TV. I looked around the room but failed to locate a chair, so I contemplated standing and asking questions (awkward) or sitting on the floor and asking questions (more awkward); sitting on the side of the bed never crossed my mind, nor would I have dared or had room. I lightly moved some items to the side of the night stand to set up the camera, and I found my face involuntarily contorting as I brushed used tissue, a stained glass of water, a remote, and other random papers to a corner of the table (awkward). She did not notice, as her eyes glued themselves to the golf channel.

“Excuse me,” I hesitated, “can we begin? I won’t take much of your time.”

She sighed a tremendous sigh and scratched, “Fine, but I gotta get back to my show. There’s a Ko-rean on the leaderboard, and he’s cute as a button.” Her hand fell to her bedside table to be met with my camera, and a scowl darkened her face. I grabbed the remote for her, and she muted the TV.

“Okay. Can you state your name and where you’re from?”

“My name is Florence Magee, and I’m from Sumrall, Mississippi. You can call me Flora. nobody calls me Florence unless I’m in trouble or at the doctor.” This piece of humor shook her and erupted a coughing fit, culminating into a phlegm-based climax. “Where’s my tissue?”

I stifled my gag, as I had moved her tissue and wondered what I had touched. I swallowed my discomfort and continued. “Springs is an unusual middle name. Is that your maiden name? Just curious.”

“That’s where she was conceived—Crystal Springs. Me and her daddy went there for our honeymoon. Good thing we didn’t go to Yazoo City!” Another laughing-coughing-phlegm-based episode ensued. This fit lingered longer than the last, and I wondered if she would recover before nightfall. The phlegm emerged and was expectorated. I continued.

“As you know, I’m making a documentary about people who have a special connection to the paranormal, spirits if you will.” She scratched a guffaw. “And your daughter Crystal has had some, well, very interesting experiences. I wanted to get your side of it. When did these episodes begin, and how did you react?”

“I think it’s a big ole pile of shit, pardon my French. She’s been a little attention-seeker since she was born. She’d always cry as a baby, and as soon as you pick her up, she’d stop. She’d always go off telling big ole stories that ain’t true, just to get a reaction outta folks. Even tried jumping out a window or two. She just wanted attention.”

“So, you don’t believe her? Didn’t you take her to the doctor?”

“Not in the least, no sir. I took her to the doctor since she was so worried, and she told him she was worried her brain would leak out in the nosebleeds. He laughed at her right to her face. He said she was a sensitive child, and that we should write down when her nosebleeds happen so we can see if there’s a pattern. I gave her that job, and she didn’t do it, so I guess she wasn’t that concerned.”

“How old was she then?”

“Gosh,” Flora searched the room for an answer. “Good grief, I don’t remember, under ten prolly.”

“Crystal said the doctor gave her medicine, that he diagnosed her with a…” I searched my notes, “personality disorder.” I could see where Crystal inherited her massive ability to sigh.

“Yep. She wouldn’t let up about her nosebleeds—pretty much ruined all her clothes. I stopped buying her clothes and just got some hand-me-downs from other people because I knew she’d bloody them all up. One day she said something like, ‘Momma, there’s really something wrong with me. I ain’t right in the head.’ So I carted her back to the doctor—she was a teenager by then, I reckon—and she told him that she felt like she was being pulled this way and that and that she heard voices. Well, when she said the voices thing, off he goes writing a prescription for some kooky head medicine. She was so excited when he said she might not have to go to school and that we could look into disability checks. She hated school. She said all the kids hated her and picked on her, but I’m sure she’s just being dramatic.”

An indistinguishable thud came from the hallway, and I wondered if Crystal was listening to her mother’s perspective. I can’t imagine she would agree. “So, you don’t believe her?”

Flora straightened herself in bed with much shifting effort and leaned over to me. “I think she believes it, and I think that she needs to believe it so she ain’t gotta work or go to school.” She fell back to her original position, leaning on pillows against the headboard. “I just let her be ‘cause with her check and mine, we do pretty good.”

I debated proceeding, but I didn’t know how to ask her about experiences Crystal had if she didn’t believe. While I pondered this in the few seconds from her last comment, she unmuted the TV, which I took as a hint that she had said all she would say. I thanked her for her time.

Winona Magee

I ordered a “lil one” combo with their famous root beer and ate, waiting for Winona to arrive. The smell of chili cheese burgers saturated the air of Ward’s, though I found this to be a positive thing. We agreed to meet at noon, and I prepared to buy her lunch, but she did not arrive until 12:36 p.m. and had already eaten. I had never met her before but felt that the person dropped off in a twenty-year-old Honda CRX could be none other; I had a car like that when I went to university. The woman who exited the vehicle wore tight jeans and a Grateful Dead T-shirt. Her hair looked gray in the sunlight and was pulled tightly in a bun atop her head. Her heavy makeup held her eyeballs in a sea of black as she looked around, holding her hand as a visor to shield out the sun. She entered the restaurant and found my hand raised; she smiled and hopped over. As I shook her hand, I wondered if she would smell the chili and onion combination still latent on my hand.

“Am I really gonna be in a documentary? Like on TV or YouTube?” Her demeanor mismatched the age of her face, and I had a hard time distinguishing her age. I knew her to be older than Crystal, but the wrinkles around her mouth drew up lines of red lipstick like a syringe into tiny creases.

“Oh, well, I hope so! I talked to Crystal already, and—”

“Yeah, I know. She told me.”

“Okay. Good. I’m wanting to talk to people who know her, to get their side of the story.”

“Yeah, that’s what I figured. What do you wanna know?” She leaned closely in on the bright yellow table.

“Well, I like to start with people telling me their names and where they’re from—just a little bit about yourself.”

“My name is Winona Magee, but people call me Winna. I’m from Sumrall, born and bred!” She smiled happily, and if she could have bounced in her seat, I’m sure she would have. “I live with my sister and Daddy, and we have two cats and one dog, but the dog stays outside. He’s too big to come inside. I never married, and I’d like to keep it that way, so don’t get any ideas, mister.” At this, she winked at me and laughed. “I work as an assistant at the vet clinic, and I like to make beaded bracelets in my spare time. Let me know if you want one.” She dangled one on her wrist in front of me to display her talents.

“Thanks, that’s very informative. You’re her cousin, right? What was Crystal like as a child?”

“As a child…well, her momma always called her a sensitive child, so we always thought of her like that. She was sensitive. She’d cry if you didn’t do what she wanted and tell us she’d go jump off a bridge. She was so young! Where’d she get these ideas? I mean, her momma, did you meet her? If you did, then you’d understand why Crystal is like she is, but she’s my aunt, and I love her. Anyway, Crystal cried a lot and didn’t do a lot of work. We’d be out shelling peas under the swing at Mawmaw’s house, and she’d be out there for a while but then had to go in because she’d get overwhelmed with the heat or the flies or the work or whatever. She’d cry and run in the house. We liked Crystal—she wasn’t bad, but I think something happened to her in the womb. She didn’t come out quite right.”

“Crystal mentioned that you took her to a fortune teller. Can you tell me about that?”

“Oh sure. Yes, Miss Rose, she’s just down the highway. She’s a very special lady. I respect her in the utmost. I had gone to her a few times before I took Crystal and thought she could help her. Crystal said she felt things that she couldn’t explain and worried something was wrong with her. Her momma thinks she’s a nut, and so does the doctor, so I thought I’d help her get a second opinion. She didn’t like that nobody believed her.” She took a sip from her water bottle and refused an offer of a late lunch. “So Miss Rose took her hand and said, ‘Yes, child, there’s something open about your energy.’” Winna spoke in a high-pitched voice to replicate Miss Rose, though I doubted she really sounded like that. “’You are special and there’s nothing wrong with you. Let it happen and be open.’ Then she wanted more money, so we left. I love Miss Rose and all, but I wasn’t about to fund Crystal’s treatment—no telling how much that would cost!”

“Right. Crystal told me about a time where she channeled a spirit and you were there. Can you tell me what happened?”

“Which time? I been with her several times. That stuff’s interesting.”

I fumbled through my notes. “Ahh, the one with the woman who was stabbed by her husband and—”

“Oh yeah! That was a great one. Oh my gosh—that was so creepy. It was the first time I witnessed it firsthand. Sooo weird. Yeah, we went to the house where he killed her,” (she dragged her finger across her neck) “and yep, it sure did happen! Crystal got a nosebleed right then and there. She started mumbling and all, and got down on the ground, wiggling like a little wiggly worm.” She wiggled her finger that had just cut her throat. “I wasn’t expecting all that, but I kept my composure. One of the neighbors was outside and came over, but when I tried to tell her what happened, she got all mad and told us to get the heck outta there. Well, we had already made a plan that if she was possessed, we’d haul that ghost to the cemetery where it belonged, but lo and behold, once we got there, Crystal let out a moan and ran towards the gate. She got to the car and started her little wiggle dance again. Well, plan A was a fail! Then we met up with Miss Rose, and it was like a séance, like you’d see on TV. She said, ‘Come outta there!’ and Crystal fainted.”

“Crystal mentioned something about the ghost knowing about the knife?”

“Huh?”

“Did the ghost tell Miss Rose that the knife was in the pond?”

“Hmm, I don’t recall that part. I don’t know about no knife in no pond.”

“How about another time you were with her? Can you tell me about another time—?”

Winna glanced at her phone and signaled for me to wait as she typed a message. “Okay, I can’t stay much longer, but I’ll give you a doozie. One of us thought it’d be a great idea to go to the hospital—I don’t remember who. People die there all the time, right? Note: Do not go to a hospital if you channel ghosts! Oh my gosh, it was a gong show—an absolute gong show. First of all, we pretended like we were going to a room, and boy oh boy, apparently, we hit the lottery—of dead people! Crystal’s nose bled as soon as the elevator doors opened, and she fell down in a fit. Well, we hightailed it to the bathroom because I didn’t want the nurses to see. Geez Louise, they’d have her admitted faster than you can say ghost. We got in a stall, and she could talk to me a little, but she was hard to understand. I stood her up on the toilet seat, and she swayed around and all, but she got out that she felt cramped, like there was a lot of spirits pushing in together. She said she couldn’t breathe, but I’m in the medical field, and I could tell she was having normal breaths, but it was still scary. Well, we had learned the pattern by then, so I said, ‘You are dead. You can’t stay here. You need to go to the light.’ That’s something Miss Rose had said before. Then I shook her, and poof, she wakes up. When we walked out, a nurse was in the bathroom and looked at us weird and asked if we were okay.”

“Wow. So what do you think Crystal gets out of this? Does she want to help spirits, or—”

“Hmm, that’s a good question. You better ask her that. Look, my ride’s here; I gotta go! Bye!”

Winna flew out of the restaurant but stopped before she got in the car; she turned back to me and waved, then disappeared.

Miss Rose

The descriptions of Miss Rose’s office had been accurate. She had a darkened room where she conducted serious business, but we stayed in the lighted room for the interview. I had booked two hours with her. She smiled comfortingly without showing her teeth. Her dark hair, sedated with a large fabric headband, hung over one shoulder to her elbows. She wore a white shirt with bright sunflowers. She was a larger woman than I expected; she was tall and stout and carried herself with confidence. I found her delightful.

Miss Rose spoke softly and calmly. Her deep Southern drawl was dainty and heartfelt. “My name is Hazel Jackson, but my business name is Miss Rose. You can call me Hazel or Rose. I answer to whatever.” She smiled again without teeth but sincerely.

“Can you begin with how you know Crystal Magee? When you met her? How you knew she had a gift?”

“Oh sure. Crystal has a tremendous gift, but I’m afraid she doesn’t know what she has. I can see she’s trying to use it and control it, but she needs guidance. Unfortunately, she and her cousin think I’m just after money. I keep telling them to come by, but they don’t—much.” She smiled and sipped her coffee.

“There are people who think she’s faking it. How do you know she’s for real?”

Her demeanor changed, and she leaned in. “Oh, she’s for real—I can sense it. She has this channel, this ability that I feel.” She leaned back with her hand on her chest and smiled.

“Miss Rose—Hazel, have you guided Crystal at all? Have you helped her with how to handle the spirits?”

“They are life forms that are in a transition. They don’t know they’re dead. I told her that.”

I waited for her to continue, but she did not. From my car door to this point, I had spent thirteen minutes of my one hundred and twenty minutes, which I purchased, prepaid, and she had not directly answered any of my questions. I found the sighs of the Magee household to be most understandable. I tried another direction. “Do you speak with the deceased?”

“Oh goodness no. I work for the living. The deceased are not really my forte.”

“But, you talked to the spirits in Crystal? You said you wanted to help her, just a minute ago.”

“Well, I guess, yes, but I was really helping the living—Crystal.” The smiles that ended her statements that didn’t answer my questions began to irritate me.

“Okay, so.” I stopped. Why ask questions she wouldn’t answer? Perhaps I should try another method, one without questions. “Winona calls you a fortune teller.”

“Fortune teller—how archaic!” She smiled. Silence.

“Are you a psychic?”

“Oh goodness no.” She smiled. Silence.

“Do you use tarot cards? Astrology?”

“Yes, that kind of thing. Are you interested in a reading?” She smiled.

“I’m interested in Crystal Magee. I want to know if she’s for real, where her gift came from, what the spirits want from her, how you helped her, what you think of her, what should she do.” My face reddened, and I felt that my voice had escalated, perhaps inappropriately.

“Well, I guess you’ll just have to talk to Crystal.” She smiled.

In the car, I sarcastically mimicked her smile—all the way to the hotel.

Mrs. Wiggins

For my next meeting, I thought I’d get an alternative perspective, someone from the outside. Mrs. Wiggins was Crystal’s 10th grade English teacher and the only educator who agreed to meet with me. Crystal had been out of school for several years, so I was glad someone could provide me information. We met at Ward’s which sat across the street from the school. I found the chili cheese burger a greasy but addictive item, and the restaurant sat near the center of town, just down from the stop sign. Mrs. Wiggins looked exactly like a teacher. If I had to describe a teacher, Mrs. Wiggins would fit that description perfectly. I think one could pass her on the street and know she was a teacher. She was middle-aged, white, with dirty blond, brownish hair in a short cut. She wore a school T-shirt, khaki pants, and comfortable shoes. She oozed an aura of authority, and she intimidated me to the point where I thought carefully about my grammar before I spoke. We met on a Friday, football game Friday, so she had a small window of time between the end of school and the game. Many others had the same idea to patronize the restaurant before the game, and the atmosphere was a bit louder than I anticipated.

“My name’s Brenda Wiggins. I’ve been an English teacher at the high school for twenty-one years now. Crystal was one of my students, before she quit.”

“What can you tell me about Crystal as a student?”

“Oh, she was a sweet girl, quiet, but she did her work to the best of her ability. She wasn’t an overachiever, but she never failed. She kept to herself, mostly. I mean, she wasn’t in any clubs or into sports or anything like that.”

“Friends?”

“Hmm, she hung around a couple of girls, I think. Some of the kids would pick on her, but I’d take care of them if I saw it or if I knew about it.” I bet she did. “I guess she was an easy target because she was quite small and had some medical problems.”

“Medical problems? Like the nosebleeds?”

“Nosebleeds, yes. She had them in my class several times, but she acted like they were no big deal. She just went to the bathroom and came back like nothing happened. I tried sending her to the nurse, but she wouldn’t go. I talked to the nurse myself about it, and she said that Crystal had had nosebleeds since she was a little kid. She said the elementary school nurse—they’re cousins—suggested her mother take her to the doctor for them. She probably told me more than she should have, legally, but it was nice to hear that she’d seen a doctor about it.”

“Crystal and others have told me that she gets nosebleeds when she is inhabited by a spirit. What light can you shed on that?”

She gave a short, soft laugh. “The only spirit in my room is school spirit. I don’t think there are any ghosts in my room, but who knows.”

“You said she’d go to the bathroom with a nosebleed like nothing was wrong. She didn’t act strange—strangely—at all?”

“No, not at all. She’d come to me with a tissue up to her nose and her head leaned back. She’d say she had a nosebleed again and wanted to go to the bathroom. I could see the blood, and of course I’d let her go. She didn’t act strange. She had all her faculties. When she came back, she’d just sit down and finish her work, like nothing happened. She seemed used to it.”

“Did she have other medical issues? You used the plural when you said ‘medical problems.’” I was trying to impress her with my knowledge of elementary grammar rules. I hoped she noticed.

“Well, I’m sure you know the reason she quit school.” She smiled and paused.

“Yes, she said the doctor diagnosed her as having a personality disorder, hearing voices, that kind of thing.”

“Right. He said she had schizophrenic symptoms, though I don’t think he had the authority to make that call—that’s not really his specialty—but everyone went along with it, and here we are. She tried coming to school afterwards, but the kids all knew and treated her like she had the plague. It was sad, and while I don’t agree with her quitting school, I do understand.”

“Do you think she has schizophrenia?”

“I’m not licensed to make that decision.”

“Did she ever talk to you about voices or spirits?”

“No. I’m not sure if she would trust me enough with that kind of information, but she did tell me a lot of things though, especially about her mom. I brought up several things with the counselor, but I don’t think anything ever happened.”

“Things with her mom? Like what?”

She pursed her lips. “That’s confidential. If you’ve ever met her mom, though, you could probably extrapolate. She’s perhaps not the best influence on Crystal.”

Byram Moss

“Sorry, I don’t know what you want from me,” Byram began. “I went to school with Crystal ages ago.” The interview with Byram Moss was held by phone, and thank goodness.

“Oh, she listed you as someone she knew. Can you tell me about her demeanor? Did you notice anything strange?”

“Strange? Yeah, Crystal herself was strange. She cried a lot in school, but nobody could figure out why. She’d just be sitting in math class, and poof, she’d scream her head off and start those crocodile tears. We all got used to it, so we’d just tune it out.”

“When was this? What grade?”

“Oh, well, we went to school together since kindergarten, and she was screaming then. I was in her class more often than not. Then, when we got to high school, we took some classes together. It looked like she had leveled off the crying by then. I guess she matured.”

“Could you ever see a trigger for the crying? Like did something happen to make her cry?”

“Hmm. I can’t remember anything.”

“Did you ever go to her house?”

“God no.”

“What about nosebleeds?”

“Oh yeah,” Byram continued, “she was famous for those. Kids called her Bloody Mary.”

“Did they coincide with the screaming and crying?”

“I have no idea.”

Holly Bates

Another friend of Crystal in school was Holly Bates. Holly had moved to Hattiesburg, the bigger city just down the highway. I met Holly and her husband at a coffee shop after work, and she agreed to be interviewed if her face were blurred and her name changed to “anonymous.” She didn’t want “bad press.”

“What was Crystal like when you’d hang out?”

“We didn’t, like, hang out-hang out. I never went to her house or anything. We were friends in school. She was nice. She’d let me cheat off her tests sometimes.” Holly leaned back with a laugh and lightly hit her husband’s arm.

“Did you think she was strange?”

“Oh yeah, I guess. Everybody thought so. She was though, very strange.”

“How so?”

“It’s hard to describe. You know when you, like, got these kids in school, and they’ve like, always been strange? Maybe you can’t put your finger on it, but yeah, strange.”

“Did Crystal ever talk to you about spirits or ghosts?”

“Hmm. Yeah, I guess she did, now that you mention it. She asked if I believed in ghosts one time, and I said no. She said that I should. Like, that was creepy, the way she said it. I remember that, clear as a bell. It was near Halloween, so that made it worse.”

“Holly, when you were around her, did she ever talk about voices, anything that would make you believe she had a mental disorder?”

“Hmm. No, I don’t recall that. Like I said, she was just kinda strange. I mean, we knew she was kinda weird, but we didn’t think she was, like, batshit crazy weird. We were kinda surprised that she got that prognosis.”

On the way back to the hotel, I seriously contemplated changing the documentary from someone who is visited by spirits to the exploration of schizophrenia and how it should not be synonymous with crazy. In my room, I scoured my notes for something that would connect all these interviews together, something definitive. Crystal could be labeled as weird, strange, gifted, schizophrenic, sensitive, dramatic, or at worst, Bloody Mary. I needed to see it for myself.

Crystal Magee

When I arrived at the Magee house after lunch, I felt more confident. Crystal swayed on the long swing under the oaks, waiting, her mother not in sight. “Hi, Crystal. Are you ready?”

“Nope. We’re waiting for Winna.” Her stoic face revealed no hint of any emotion as she stared ahead. She dabbed a tissue to her nose.

“Oh, I didn’t know she was going. That’s fine though.” I stood in the shade. Even if Crystal were not sitting in the middle of the swing, I don’t know if I would have sat down anyway. “I talked to a few people for the documentary, just to get a well-rounded view of things.” I waited for a reply or look or something. She continued swinging. An uncomfortable silence ensued, well, uncomfortable for me; I’m not sure if Crystal noticed. Half an hour later, Winna arrived.

“Oh my gosh,” Winna bounced, “we haven’t done this in so long! This’ll be fun! Where are we gonna go?”

I had mapped a couple of agendas in case one was shot down. I preferred to go to a hospital to get some ready results, but I didn’t know if that would be an accepted idea. I listed it as number three on the list. Yet, Crystal had an idea already. She directed us to a car accident that had happened two days ago just outside a small city nearby. A teenage boy had ploughed into a tree in the middle of the night and passed away—tragic.

Crystal rode in the front seat, but Winna might as well have. She leaned against the front seats and popped her head through between the seats. “So where are you from? I can tell you’re not from here. How long are you here? Why are you so interested in ghosts anyway? Are you from New York or Los Angeles? I’ve never been to either of them, but I’m dying to go,” Winna said without breath.

“Wow, you sound like me with all the questions!” My reply prompted a stifled guffaw from Crystal, though she looked straight ahead.

“I’m actually from Louisville, Ken—”

“Oh.” Winna sounded disappointed.

“Kentucky. Actually, when my mother passed, a woman came to me and said that she had a message from my mother. I didn’t believe her, but she told me things that other people didn’t know. It was so strange that I started looking into other people, just to see if it’s possible. I still don’t know what I believe. I want to, sometimes.”

“How did you find Crystal?”

“There was a write-up about her in an online forum. You tried to help people who lost loved ones, right, Crystal?”

She humphed. “Tried.”

Winna assisted the conversation. “She tried till she almost got shot in the face! There was this one guy who lost his momma in a nursing home. Well, not lost—he knew where she was. I mean lost like she died. He said she was healthy, as much as you can be healthy at ninety-something, so when she up and died, he was mad. Crystal went there, and sure enough, she found the woman. The old woman’s spirit said she ate something bad and she loved her son and she was at peace. He threatened to shoot Crystal saying she was a nutcase. So crazy.”

“So you went to see him?” I asked.

Crystal quietly added, “That’s right. If people don’t believe, then they don’t wanna hear it. By that time, I had taken on the burden of trying to put people to rest. I talked to a few people that it helped, so I started doing it more and more. But, that ding-dong threatened me, and I realized that it’s a dangerous profession that I’m not sure I want to handle.”

We arrived at the scene of the accident, and the tree scrapes bore the tale of tragedy. Crystal hesitated but emerged from the car as Winna had already bounced over and examined the tree.

“Don’t touch it!” Crystal said in her surprisingly loud voice. I turned around and noticed the tell-tale bright red sign emerging from her nose; she dabbed a tissue. “He’s here,” she quieted her voice as if respecting the tragedy. “He’s—” She stopped moving in mid-motion as though someone paused a video.

“There she goes,” said Winna.

I watched Crystal as she began to regain movement. She looked around slowly and seemed heavy with movement. She plodded towards the tree and almost fell towards it but regained her steadiness just in time to avoid a collision. Winna moved closer to catch any words. Crystal rubbed the back of her neck.

“She says her neck hurts!” said Winna. Crystal stumbled around the tree. “A deer,” Winna continued. “He swerved to miss a deer!” We watched Crystal hobble around the tree with her hand around the back of her neck. Winna moved closer and took Crystal’s hands in hers: “You are dead. You died when you hit that tree there. It’s okay. Go to the light.” She jerked both of Crystal’s hands at the same time, and Crystal startled awake. “Well,” Winna said, “I guess we’ll write a note to his parents, then? I think they’ll be comforted knowing this. People said he was drunk or high.”

There was, of course, no way to prove that the boy tried to avoid a deer. The skid marks on the road looked as if he slammed on brakes, but for what? They happened also to be before a hairpin (almost hairpin, perhaps an unbent paperclip) curve in the road. The drive back to Crystal’s house was quiet, even for Winna. We set up plans to meet again the following day. Crystal said there were some other sites where she would go and see what happens. At the hotel, I pieced the video and my notes together. I reviewed the news write-up, but it was matter-of-fact and had no speculations as to what caused the boy to swerve off the road. Still, something sat uneasy with me.

***

I arrived to the Magee house the next day and witnessed a site surprising in so many ways. Crystal, first, was smiling, as she ran about in circles from the carport to the yard next to it. She was almost whooping in a series of noises that coincided with the hops she took as she ran. Her right arm flailed as she moved, and her eyes beamed wide with excitement. Her mother stood with the screen door wide open and yelled, “Crystal Springs Magee! You get your ass back here right now! Give me my walker or I’ll beat the tar outta you!” This erupted laughter from Crystal who proceeded to stick her tongue out at her mother as she continued to run around. The mother’s walker, was, in fact, in front of the car in the carport, a safe distance from the door, and the object which Crystal seemed to circle. Winna’s unusual on-time arrival distracted me. She exited her car and shook her head as she stood next to me.

“They’re something,” she said.

I had not known Winna to be so abbreviated, and I wondered if she just had no words to say to this sight, as I struggled myself to choose a reaction. Winna broke the childish play and returned the walker to Flora. I couldn’t hear what the mother said, but I did catch Winna saying things like, “I will. I know. Okay. Love you.”

Crystal had calmed down and rested herself in my front seat. Winna resumed her position between the two headrests. “Where are we going today?” Winna asked.

“To a construction site on 49. I’ll show you where,” Crystal said as I opened my mouth.

After a short nasal sigh, I asked, “Do you always go to accident sites? What about haunted houses, things like that? I read about a haunted house in West Point that I really wanted to go to. There’s some in Vicksburg, too, but that’s too far. I heard about a haunting at Burnt Bridge, and there’s supposed to be one near Petal.”

Winna said, “Ooooo a haunted house! Creepy! Crystal, we never tried that before, did we?” Crystal grunted a reply. “I been to the one in West Point before. I heard there’s a little girl’s ghost there. What if Crystal told her she’s dead and then the little girl goes on, and then the house won’t have visitors anymore because it’s not haunted anymore!” This threw Winna into fits of squeals and laughter.

We progressed to the construction site where Crystal’s nose bled on cue, and she swerved about in a fit. She drunkenly darted towards the impending structure, then towards a dormant backhoe. She clutched her heart and espoused that the spirit roaming around the construction site had died of a heart attack and that he was sorry to leave his wife. She spoke only to Winna who relayed information to me. Winna proceeded to speak the guiding words to the spirit that he was dead and free to move on to the next life. He proceeded henceforth at the tug of Crystal’s arm. His wife would be happy to know his feelings.

Before we left Crystal’s house, I had in mind a place of demise to go, but Crystal already had plans. After the construction site, I said, “Well, I did some research, and a guy died on a golf course outside of Hattiesburg a couple of weeks ago. We can go there.”

“No,” Crystal said, “I don’t know anything about that. Besides, one a day is all I can do. I’m drained.”

As Crystal would not be possessed without Winna, I had to wait a few days until Winna’s schedule could accommodate the spirits. In the meantime, I organized my notes and sought information to include and exclude. I had difficulty in piecing the documentary together. I still had questions and went to visit Crystal again.

“Crystal,” I said, “how do you find the places to visit? How do you know there will be a spirit there?” The ceiling fan hummed overhead and a distant sound of muffled golf commentators echoed down the hall. Aged dust sparkling in the light from the windows added an additional layer of heaviness to the room. Crystal sat erect at the table, facing the clock.

“Well, I check the news, papers, articles. I stopped for a while because I didn’t wanna get shot at, but going on with you kinda lit a spark again. I kinda miss it. It makes me mean, though.”

“Oh? How so? I haven’t noticed your being mean.”

She sighed. “I get ornery, especially at the ole bat in there.” She pointed to the hallway with her chin. “We never have got along, but it’s worse after I’ve been inhabited. It’s like I been drained, and I have nothing left inside, and just the sound of her voice makes me so angry, worse than normal, I mean.”

“Can I ask you a personal question?”

“Sure.” She still stared ahead, unmoved.

“How about your father? Where is he? What does he think of all this?”

“How would I know? Momma don’t even know who my daddy is. Ain’t that awful? I heard people say I got daddy issues, but how can I? I don’t even have a daddy to have issues with.”

“So your mom wasn’t married to your dad?”

“Well, I guess I can’t say for sure since I wasn’t there, but to my knowledge, she’s never been married. My name is Magee, her name is Magee, and her daddy’s name was Magee. If she was married, that’s news to me.”

I sat in awe of the stoic way she spoke of her parents, or lack thereof. She offered no emotion, no facial contortion, no gesture, nothing. It was just matter-of-fact. “What about other relatives—grandparents, aunts, uncles?”

“Dead, none, down the road.” It took me a bit longer than I felt comfortable saying to figure out what she meant. I asked what the uncles thought of her gift.

“We don’t talk about it.”

“Do you think they believe you?”

“Don’t know, don’t care. It’s not my gift to make people believe—I can tell you that. Do or do not—I don’t care. I don’t bring it up, and neither do they, so we’re all happy—well, you know what I mean.”

Nothing and Something

We began our journey with a stop at an out-of-the-way convenience store—a particular store in downtown Columbia, a larger city nearby. To convince Crystal to enter the store was a dedicated task which I had prepared for; I knew she would want to wait in the car. I had actually gone inside with Winna but came back out to ask Crystal for assistance. Crystal begrudgingly unstrapped her seatbelt in the most sigh-laden way possible and assisted me. We walked through the aisles to find my something. I paid for her drink and insisted she get a snack. I also insisted we wait for Winna who had disappeared, probably in the restroom. Even outside the heavy glass doors, I lingered, finding it difficult to unwrap my snack and to find a garbage can. Nothing happened—no nosebleed, no thump.

“This is the wrong way,” Crystal said as I drove down a familiar road where the lines disappeared.

“I just wanted to stop by somewhere first,” I said. I parked the car under a massive magnolia tree that seemed as if it guarded the ghost of an ancient homestead. The road stood quiet. “Here’s a write-up about an accident that happened here a while back, several months.” Crystal took the short article and read it with Winna looking over her shoulder. Winna grimaced at the accompanying photo. “My friend told me about it,” I said. “Three people died.”

Crystal sighed a tremendous sigh and said she couldn’t promise anything. We walked towards the ditch where the car had rolled; apparently, it had been traveling at a dangerous rate of speed. Winna and I walked ahead and into the ditch. I turned around to find Crystal above us on the road bank, blood running down her face. She ruined another shirt.

“Oh my god! Where’s your tissue?” Winna stumbled up as Crystal fumbled for tissue in her pockets.

“It’s terrible,” Crystal whispered and then went silent, dazed and staring ahead. Winna held her by the shoulders and led her down the embankment.

“It’s all three!” Winna said to me after Crystal had plodded through the ditch where the accident occurred. “They’re looking for something.” Winna searched sincerely for something that spirits could possibly be looking for. Crystal fell down and landed on her back, her arms and legs spread like a stickman snow angel. “Y’all are dead,” Winna began. “Y’all didn’t survive. Y’all need to go on to the light. Go to the other side.” She spoke slowly and clearly to aid the spirits’ understanding as though being dead lessened their ability to understand language. She jerked on Crystal’s hands, as per routine, and Crystal awoke, drained. Something happened but shouldn’t have.

Me

I sat in the bar of the hotel drinking. I didn’t notice my shoulders slumped and head lowered; I must have looked heavy and dismayed because the bartender kept making sure I was all right. He thought I must be in town for a very important person’s funeral looking and sighing like that. I was, in fact, mourning—my story had died. To report it now would paint Crystal Magee as a fraud and further enhance her stigma as a weird, strange person. Was it really news if it wasn’t real?

The following day, my pity party lingered, though not as severely as last night—that was a terrific party. I wanted to just leave town and go back home, but I also wanted to confront Crystal, though I had no idea what I would say. I debated with each item I placed in my bag. T-shirt—just leave. Pants—go talk to her. Toothbrush—get in the car and leave. Phone charger—what’s wrong with you, just tell her the truth. I still hadn’t decided when I sat behind the wheel.

Several cars sat in the yard, hardly careful of where they had parked. I had never seen visitors at the Magee house, and with a sheriff’s car and ambulance, I feared the worst, whatever that could possibly be. Before getting out, I surveyed the scene. A police officer and a rotund man dressed in jeans and T-shirt held their heads close together in a huddle under the carport. The man laughed once, and the officer shook his head in agreement. I opened the car door to hear distant cries from the depths of the house—weeping, burdened wails. The officer startled and opened the screen door for a stretcher being pushed out into the daylight. Crystal bore the arms of her cousin Winna for comfort and restraint as she cried, “Momma! No! Don’t leave me!” Miss Rose followed behind, which caught me by surprise. No one seemed to notice me.

The responders hoisted the draped stretcher in the back and closed the doors which sent Crystal to the ground screaming and surrounded by people trying to comfort her. While part of me distained the awkwardness of the situation which ushered me to leave, another part, a more curious part, needed me to stay and find out what happened.

Miss Rose-n-Hazel (a name I cleverly invented) stood just outside the screen door with her arms folded, looking down at the distraught daughter but not helping. For someone who vowed to help the living, she was not helping much. Perhaps she was helping mentally or would help later. I shamed myself for judging. Finally, I fully emerged from the car and squinted in the bright summer-like day of the spring morning. I skirted the perimeter of the Crystal mass unnoticed and joined Miss Rose by the door.

As the scene seemed obvious, I didn’t want to look stupid but still wanted answers. “So, Flora passed? What happened?”

“Crystal is having a meltdown, and rightfully so. I sensed something like this would happen,” she said. I opened my mouth and took a breath to reply but closed it again, slowly releasing the breath from my nose. “I didn’t expect to see you here.”

“I wasn’t here. I was with Winna when she got the call.”

The rotund man, Clint Magee, picked Crystal from the ground as if picking up a leaf, and took her inside after the ambulance left. I liked his straightforward spirit and wondered if I could get some honest answers from him. He deposited Crystal on the brown, flowery sofa while Winna and Miss Rose attended to her. I shook his hand and introduced myself.

“Oh yeah, Win’s told me all about you,” he said. “She’s had a ball going out with y’all.”

“Oh? That’s nice. She’s given me great information for my documentary. Hey, do you mind if we talk outside?” Clint took a sip of tea, surveyed the room and figured that he could release himself from the tears and groans of the scene on the sofa. He also escorted the police officer to the door and waved a hearty goodbye. We walked towards the swing but stopped when we reached shade. Clint stood in an A-line fashion with legs spread for balance and arms crossed for lack of better things to do with his arms. “What happened here today?”

“Well, Crystal called me hollering and screaming, and I couldn’t get nothing out of her, so I came over. When I got here, Flora—that’s my sister—was spread out all over the floor, dead as a doornail. Bless her.”

“Oh my. How did she die?”

“The doctors’ll figure out the exact cause, but it looks like she just keeled over and died. Kaput. She was not in the best health, you know, but it’s kinda strange for a fifty year old. Could be her heart—she’s always had a sensitive heart—or could be diabetes or her lungs or her kidneys. Nothing seemed to work right on her, bless her.”

“Crystal’s quite upset. From my understanding, they didn’t get along very well.”

“They acted like they didn’t get along, but when it’s your momma that’s died, you feel it, you know?”

We paused, but I had to ask. “Has Winna told you much about the documentary? I’m interviewing people about Crystal’s ability to host spirits, if you will. Do you know about that? Do you have any comment about that? This is off the record, by the way.”

He humphed. “I don’t believe in that kind of stuff. It ain’t right. It’s of the devil, and I want no part of it.”

A shrill scream bolted our attention and sent us racing inside the house. Clint stopped in the doorway, and I struggled to get by. The scene halted my movements also, as we stared at Crystal, bloody-faced, with a sneer. She stood up and leaned on the walker which stood near the arm of the sofa. Winna and Miss Rose froze at the sight, mouths agape and eyes bulging.

“Where is she?” Crystal said in a rough voice and coughed. “Where is she! She’s done it now!”

Confusion abounded, but Miss Rose took charge. “Crystal, honey, your momma’s gone.”

“Crystal? Yeah, Crystal. Where is she? I’m gonna knock her into next week! The little shit.”

Clint’s eyes nearly fell out of his head, and if his mouth had widened anymore, he would have had a difficult time refitting it to his jaw. He still had not moved, nor had he spoken. Miss Rose’s and Winna’s understanding seemed to defrost their movements. I had made my mind up in favor of disbelief before I arrived, but this, this turned everything upside down.

Miss Rose continued, “Flora? Is that you?”

Crystal’s small frame contorted with a cough, and the blood flowed over her mouth and down her shirt. “Of course it’s me. Who else is it gonna be?” She sniggered. “What’s wrong with y’all?”

Miss Rose and Winna glanced at each other, and with Miss Rose being the most qualified person in the room, she led the conversation. “Okay, Flora, you passed. You died, and—”

“Died my ass. Crystal’s gonna die when I get my hands on her. She put something in my food—prolly rat poison, knowing her. It tasted awful, but she made me eat it. I blacked out and woke up to y’all gawking at me. Clint, take me to the doctor.”

Poor Clint. Bless him. He fell straight down in a faint. His distraction woke me from being spellbound, and I checked his breath. He would have a nasty headache, but he’d survive. Winna rushed over to check him as well with panicked screams of “Daddy!”

Blood ran down the front of Crystal’s shirt and was more than I had seen on her before. Even the stains on the shirts she wore previously bore no record of such a bleed. Miss Rose stayed focus on Crystal, and said, “Flora, you died. Go to the light.”

Crystal wobbled. “Ain’t no light in here. Crystal!”

Crystal fell forward, face down, dead.

The End

My documentary was well-received and was even nominated for a regional award. I lost to another documentary on the woes of too much plastic surgery, and while my content was more riveting (I thought so), the winner’s production was clearly superior. I still think of Crystal Magee often and try to sift through facts and, and what? Opinion? Speculation? Honesty? Deceit? I even contemplated calling some of the contacts to see how they were doing, but I didn’t. I wouldn’t mind another visit, but the answers I have now seem like enough.

About the Author

Karen Toralba

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Karen Toralba is an American working as a school administrator in Bangkok, Thailand. She has a master’s degree in English from William Carey University and has worked in education for 20 years. Her fiction has been accepted in The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature, Fiction on the Web, The Fictional Café and Buddy lit zine. Find her at facebook.com/southernerabroad. She also published a memoir of her time in China called A Year There available on Amazon.