Posts Tagged ‘Yellowchester College’

Day One Hundred: Ghost Stories

August 29, 2011 Leave a comment

The train ran smoothly through the wide-open spaces, sliding by trees and a river, then farmland, then trees again. Raindrops ran back against the window and let through a gray half-light which made the economy car quiet and subdued. Ronnie wanted to doze off and watch the world go by, to think about the new year at school and wonder what he and Erich would do when they finally got together. And he would have, too, if the blonde woman next to him hadn’t said something he couldn’t ignore.

“You know, Barassa dorm is very haunted,” she’d said. “When I went to Yellowchester, I always got the feeling that I was being watched.”

Yellowchester, of course, was Yellowchester College, the small liberal arts college that Ronnie was returning to, which just so happened to be the one that this woman had graduated from. As soon as she saw him in his branded hoodie, she introduced herself as “Alena Barassa, class of 98!” She asked the man sitting next to Ronnie if he wouldn’t mind changing seats with her, which he didn’t, and she spend the next hour or so telling Ronnie all about the wonderful times she had at “Old Yellow” without managing to ask a single question about himself.

All this time, Ronnie smiled and nodded and gave polite but curt answers in the hopes that she would pick up on the hint and let him take a short nap before the train stopped again. She was all too eager to share, however, and so he let her nattering wash over him while his mind wandered.

And then she mentioned ghosts.

“Sorry?” he asked. “Did you say haunted?”

Alena blinked, slightly surprised that Ronnie had asked a question, but she fell back into her rhythm fairly quickly. “Oh yes,” she said. “I’m absolutely certain of it.”

He twisted slightly in his heat so he could face her better. “How are you so certain?” he asked.

She smiled under the attention. “Well,” she said, trying to speak just loudly enough so that people in other seats would be able to hear her. “I’ve always been… sensitive to such things.”


She nodded. “Oh yes. Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve had experiences that have convinced me that the spirit world is all around us.” She waved her hands in what she probably thought was a mystical gesture. She was dressed conservatively- some pastels, nothing eye-catching or flashy – but Ronnie could easily imagine her in a fake Gypsy outfit, complete with a turban, a shimmering shawl, and lots of ugly rings.

Ronnie rubbed his eyes for a moment and then blinked them clear. “How are you so sure?” he asked. “That you are… sensitive?”

A smile spread across her face. “Well,” she said. “When I was ten, my grandmother was very ill. She was in her nineties, you see, and we all knew it would be any day. Then, one night, I saw her standing at the foot of my bed, clear as I see you right here. And I couldn’t move, not a muscle.” Her face became more expressive as she talked, and she was waving her hands around again. “But my grandmother told me not to be afraid, that she loved me very much and she would see me again someday.” Alena’s voice dropped to a near-whisper. “Then she was gone.” She sat back. “The next morning, I came down for breakfast, and do you know what I found out?”

“Your grandmother was dead?” he asked.

“My grandmother was dead,” Alena said. “She had died during the night, and she visited me one last time before departing this world completely” She sat back, a look of satisfaction on her face. She was waiting for the “Gosh-wow” reaction, Ronnie was sure. The awe of the listener to beg her to reveal more of her stories, her encounters.

“Yeah, but…” Ronnie started. The smile on Alena’s face shrank, just a hair.

Ronnie cleared his throat and made sure to look her in the eyes. “How do you know that was a ghost? Maybe it was a dream? A coincidence?”

She laughed, and it was loud enough to startle the other passengers. “A dream?” she said. “I think I know the difference between being awake and dreaming.” She shook her head, disappointed by Ronnie’s obvious lack of understanding. “I was awake, no question about it.”

He nodded. “Okay, maybe you were. Maybe you were.” He paused, as if he had just thought of something. “Have you ever heard of sleep paralysis?”

Her smile battled with confusion, and neither of them truly claimed victory over her expression.

“Sleep paralysis,” he went on, “is when the usual sleep systems of the body get out of sync. Usually, the conscious mind goes to sleep, and then the brain shuts down the body’s ability to move. Otherwise we’d all act out every single dream we had, and I think that would get a little messy.” He forced out a laugh, but got none in return. He cleared his throat. “So, there have been studies about this, where the body’s ability to move gets shut down before the conscious mind is asleep. It’s not that uncommon, and -” He held up a finger. “It is often accompanied by hallucinations. Waking dreams, kind of.” He sat back. “So that was probably it. You were thinking of your grandmother, so your brain gave you a pleasant image of her. You weren’t able to move because of a momentary glitch in the system.” He held up a hand this time, as if to forestall an objection. “And, you said she was very ill, so the fact that this happened the night she died isn’t all that surprising. In fact, it might have happened on other nights too, but you didn’t remember them because she hadn’t died.” Ronnie sat back against the window.

Alena’s eyes were dead flat, though her right eyebrow had been slowly rising as he talked. Her lips tightened until they practically disappeared. When he finished, she said, “Well. Don’t you just have all the answers?” she said. She turned sharply away from him, took a battered paperback from her purse, and started reading. She turned the pages with some force, and the scowl on her face deepened as she read.

Ronnie started to feel terrible. He felt like the bottom of his stomach dropped out as he watched this woman fume and seethe next to him. He had only wanted to help, really. She had clearly had a very important experience, but she’d interpreted it wrongly. “Oh,” he said. She glanced over at him, but said nothing.

“Look,” Ronnie said. “I’m sorry if I made you angry. It’s just that… well, I thought you might want to know what really happened to you.”

“I know what happened,” she said, still not looking at him. “My grandmom came to see me. End of story.”

He wanted to come closer to her, but her posture screamed that it might be a bad idea. “See, that’s the thing. I know that’s what it seemed like, but science has shown -”

She slammed the book down in her lap and barked out a laugh. “Science!” she said. “It’s always science with you people.” She turned to him and poked him in the arm. “Maybe science doesn’t know everything, huh? You ever think of that?”

He resisted the urge to rub the spot where she had poked. “Of course science doesn’t know everything,” he said. “But it’s pretty sure there are no such things as ghosts.”

Alena laughed again. “Science doesn’t know that. They can’t prove that ghosts exist.”

“No, you’re right,” he said. She looked instantly smug. “I mean, you can’t prove a negative. But since you’re the one who claim ghosts exist, it’s your job to prove them. With evidence, with logic.”

She shook her head. “Logic,” she said. “There are some things that are beyond logic, you ever think of that?” She poked him again. “That’s the problem with your science,” she said. “It’s too logical.”

Ronnie wanted to laugh, but held back. “But… being logical is the whole point of science.” He thought for a moment. “It’s like complaining that a racecar is too fast. Being fast is the whole reason it exists.”

No matter how proud he was of that line, the argument was already long over. He would be more likely to marry her before the next station than to convince her she hadn’t seen her grandmother’s ghost that night. Or that she’d never seen any ghosts at all. Alena turned back to her book, angling her body away from him. There would be no more talking for this trip, and part of him was relieved.

Ronnie leaned against the window again and thought about ghosts and logic and his grandmother. Alena changed seats the next time the train stopped, and by the time he was back at school, he had very nearly forgotten her.