[click of tape recorder turning on]

Helen: Hello?


Helen: This is Helen, from M.A.A.G — Mothers Against Aliens and Ghosts. This is day 27 of our investigation into paranormal activity at Harding Park, off Wrangler Road. The time is 9:25 a.m. The tapes are fully loaded and awaiting an EVP response. Is anyone present?

[beat] [in the background, there is a thud that Helen doesn’t seem to hear]

Helen: I came to change the batteries and collect the tapes from last night, even though we all know today’s Denise’s day. But Denise’s son has his all-important ballet class, so—

[flare of noise that Helen cannot hear blocks out her next few words].

Helen: But you know what, it’s fine! It’s fine! It’s a beautiful day, the sun is shining, the birds are — well, not singing, but they’re around. It’s the perfect day to make yourself known, Ghost. If you were waiting for a sign.

[beat] [quiet fuzz from recorder]

Helen: Okay! That’s okay. I’m going to leave this here, just in case you were feeling shy. My daughter Sophie’s shy, you know. Has a hard time at all the sleepovers. She’s at camp right—


Helen: But I’m sure she’ll be brave, just like you! I’ll be back tomorrow to collect the tapes.

[sound of Helen setting down the tape recorder and starting to walk away.]

Helen: Bye! Have a nice day!

[the tape recorder continues to record]

[ambient noise / fizz rises]

[the same thud from before]

[the fizz is louder]

[shift, and we break into the Narrator mid-rant]

Aya: —iously? No, no, I’m right here! Come back, I’m— ugh! I’m talking to you!

[intro music]

Okay, uh. Attempt number 2, I guess. Just in case any of you actually check these things.

I guess I should start by explaining. I didn’t choose to become a ghost. I never wandered into a bright light or heard the voice of Morgan Freeman. I can’t even remember the moment I died, or moved on, or whatever you want to call it. I was just in my body, and then I wasn’t.

Honestly, it was pretty disorienting. There was nothing to hold onto, no sights to see and no eyes to see them with. It was like— like when you’re in the backseat of a cab, wasted, trying not to ralph. And it’s raining outside so all the streetlights swirl into these weird shapes, and then the driver drives through a roundabout, and it all just goes downhill.

I don’t know how long I was like that. I don’t know if time even applies at that point, when your soul or energy or whatever is just swishing around in the collective aura of the universe. But then, out of nowhere, things started to clear up. One second I was light, and the next I was watching it shine across this rando field.

I didn’t know where I was. I didn’t even know if I was. I felt like I had arms and legs and all the normal human body stuff, but I couldn’t exactly see them. A thick fog covered everything. Later, I learned that the fog is always here. I guess it’s the veil, or the mist, or whatever they say dead people go beyond. Moving through it feels like swimming in room-temperature water— smooth, simple.

It tugged me along in its current, away from the clearing I’d come from, towards a row of shitty little cabins along a gravel road. It looked like a run-down summer camp, complete with a counselor prowling between the buildings, searching for misbehaving preteens. As I moved towards one of the cabins, dread weighed me down. I was sure I’d hit my head on the little “4” above the door, but of course I didn’t. I moved through the wall as easily as cannon-balling into a lake.

Inside, there were a group of girls, and I mean girls, like 12 or 13 at the oldest. Their Scouts sashes were discarded on their beds or hung over door knobs. Each girl was pajama-clad and crammed into a circle on the floor, their legs crossed underneath them. I could see the social hierarchy right away. Preteens are like that — still so obvious, like they’re getting their social cues from a Lindsay Lohan movie.

The leader of their little clique sat with her back against a bunk bed. There wasn’t anything special about her, looks-wise. Just another middle schooler in an Abercrombie t-shirt and Converse, her stubby nails painted neon pink. But there was a confidence in her, a certain straightness to her spine that the other girls didn’t have. And there was something else about her too. The air seemed to ripple around her, like the desert on a super hot day. I looked at her and I felt — I don’t know. Compelled. Not in a creepy way or anything, just — like I was supposed to be there. Like the path that had led me to this cabin ended here, where the mist gathered in a glowing halo around her hairline.

And then she said my name.

It was loud enough to drown out reason. A voice like a girlish thud, pounding in my ears. I carved my way through the fog, gliding above the girls until I reached her point in the circle. Then I just — well, poofed isn’t quite the right word. I obviously don’t have a body, but I do have at least the vague sense of one. Except in that moment, there was nothing physical in me. I was just the act of straining forward, closer to that girl.

Possessing her felt like pushing two magnets together at opposite poles. I met that invisible resistance and felt myself go slimmer, slipping around the mass that must’ve been her soul or her self or whatever. I felt her body, heavy and real. I felt her hair against her — my — our shoulders. There was hardwood against our legs and bed slats pressing into our back.

I looked out at — well, at the world, but at her mind too. It was like looking down a long hallway. In front of me, there were her impressions, her feelings, the occasional fleeting thought. Her name: Madison. Her exhaustion, her crush on the girl across from us with the crooked eyeliner, her hatred of just about half her troop. Beyond that, I could see the cabin, still full of fog.

It was then that I noticed the Ouija Board.

The thing looked like it belonged in some vaguely haunted Barbie Dream House. It was hot pink, covered in cutesy doodles and purple bubble letters. I could just picture the factory where it was made: a dull grey assembly line churning out Little Miss Medium toys and packing them next to Polly Pockets and tiny plastic shoes.

Some of the girls were giggling, but Madison shushed them. Her fingers were curled around the smooth plastic of the planchette, which was bright red and shaped like a cartoon heart. I tried to roll our eyes, but other people’s eyeballs are way heavier than you’d expect them to be.

The girl across from us called my name again, and I perked up. She asked if I was present.

I thought about moving the planchette, and my will rippled clumsily out through Madison’s limbs. The planchette shifted very slightly towards yes.

The girls all screeched, even though I’d missed my mark by at least a few inches. Madison’s jaw opened and closed like a phantom limb, but I wasn’t listening to what she said. I could already see her next question trailing before me.

She didn’t realize what was happening. She assumed the other girl had moved the planchette, that they were playing some schoolgirl prank. Madison’s hands tried to move without me, pushing towards the 4, her head filling with fake stories about a middle-aged ghost with my name. The stretch of her muscles felt like a sled rolling under me, and I concentrated hard on stopping my fall. I thought about her hands and expanded into them, laying myself thick under her bubblegum fingernails. The other girl holding the planchette shot Madison a confused look as we tugged the thing, but I’d already succeeded in sliding it onto the 1. The walls of Madison’s mind quaked, trying to shake me off, but I held firm. I yanked her hands over to the 9.

19, one of the girls said, breathless. She was 19 when she—

The other girls shhh’ed her. The distance turned the sound into a creepy chorus, echoing down the hallway of Madison’s mind. Madison tried to speak too, but I stopped her, clamping down hard on her jaw. I opened it. Closed it. Opened it again to speak and said—


I know. Embarrassing, even for me. Half the girls looked horrified, the other half confused. I was busy trying to lift Madison’s tongue. It was like spirit-touching some huge, heavy slug, and I kept accidentally pushing it into her braces.

The troop leaned in, waiting for Madison to explain. But I couldn’t speak, and I wouldn’t let her either. The girl across from us — Sophie, according to Madison’s frantic thoughts — dropped the planchette and leaned across the Ouija Board to touch Madison’s arm. I could feel Madison’s spirit craning towards the touch, but Sophie’s palm burned me through Madison’s skin. I shrugged Sophie’s hand off, and she let it linger in the air, scared shitless.

She said I think this is for real. Madison vibrated in agreement. I slid the planchette to ‘yes,’ and the girls all screamed.

They shouted questions over each other. Sophie’s dark skin greyed. As the chaos outside mounted, Madison’s thoughts turned wild. I could hardly see into the cabin, her mind was so full. It was like looking through a kaleidoscope, each picture fractured, each sentence a fragment. I could only recognize my own name, repeated over and over again. And a face — a face I knew, except its smile was so forced that it took me a minute to realize. It was my old school picture, blown up and pasted onto a big sheet of cardboard. I stared at it until it filled the room, shining over the opening in the hallway like a movie screen. And then a scene formed.

It was my old high school auditorium. Dozens of students were there, crammed into the bleachers, hoards of people I’d never seen before. I looked down and saw Madison’s small hands. I looked to my right and saw a squad of cheerleaders standing by the bleachers, looking annoyed. I recognized the scene, even though it must’ve been after I graduated. The Pre-Homecoming pep rally had looked the same for decades.

Old Principal Williams stood at the podium, next to my picture. He cleared his throat loudly into the microphone, and the students’ chatter quieted. Madison was still wondering what she would have for lunch.

Behind Williams, I noticed something weird. My mom was standing there, clutching her purse like it actually had something worth stealing in it. Her eyes were super red. Madison hadn’t paid much attention to her, I guess, because the memory was blurry and out-of-focus. Then Williams started to speak.

Before our rally today, he said. We gather to remember Aya Velasquez, a former Eastside student who took her—

I couldn’t hear anymore. If this was a movie, it was like the disc had skipped — the sound stopped, the characters slowed. The gym fuzzed and then cut to black, fading out until I was back in Madison’s mind, my sadness condensing and filling the hallway. I grew too big for the space, pressing heavy against the walls of her head until I was leaking out her ears and her open mouth. Madison took in a rasping breath, and I was tugged down through her throat, pushed out with her exhale. I joined her breath back in the fog, drifting anticlimactically towards the roof of the cabin.

Below me, Madison looked around, her mouth open. I passed through the ceiling into the thick blue air, floating above the cabins until I finally saw the sign—

Harding Park Day Camp.

Harding. Home of a million urban legends and even more run-of-the-mill muggings. Where weird shaped stones become shrines and homeless dudes become the Harding Hermit. Where college kids come to smoke or scare themselves. Where, apparently, a bunch of bored housewives come to record ghosts.

I haven’t been to Harding in years. Not since I was a kid, when it gave me bug bites and a super creepy feeling. I wouldn’t have—

I didn’t—

They’re wrong. Whatever they think I did, they’re wrong. I didn’t try to kill myself. I wouldn’t.

So I’m going to find out what really happened. How I really died. I’m gonna find out, and I’m going to tell you, and you’re gonna tell everyone else. You’re gonna make sure everyone knows.

Assuming, of course, that you can hear any of this in the first place.