[click of tape recorder turning on]

Denise: This is Denise, from M.A.A.G. — Mothers Against Aliens and Ghosts. Checking in, changing batteries. Day 28, 9:25 a.m. Someone’ll be back tomorrow to collect and examine the tape, in case there’s anything you’d like to say while we’re gone. Is anyone present?

[Quick pause. White noise]

Denise: That’s what I thought. So glad I came, Helen. Fucking junk...

[Denise walks away. Time passes.]

[Aya begins to speak, sounding out of breath & excited]

Aya: I’m not alone! I’m not alone! I mean, my only friend is kind of pissed at me, and the other ghosts aren’t what I’d call party people, but still! I’m not alone!


I was wandering the camp when I ran into the ghost girl. Well, into isn’t quite the right word. Neither is ran, come to think of it. We’re not solid, so we just kind of… I don’t know, collided. Ghosts can touch each other, but it doesn’t really feel like touching on Earth. It’s like... when you get hit by a really strong burst of wind.

If it weren’t for the way her edges blurred into the mist, I wouldn’t have known she was a ghost. She was totally solid. I learned later that most ghosts aren’t like that — they flicker, or they’re transparent or they take on some weird Eldritch form designed to communicate the depths of their tortured souls. But Vicky — that’s her name, Vicky — her image was so clear that it almost hurt to look at her, like staring straight into the sun and getting spots in your vision. I couldn’t look away.

Of course, just because she looked human didn’t mean she looked normal. She was dressed like a pre-prison Manson girl, if Manson girls showered more and listened to men less. Her pants were red and her shirt was essentially a brightly colored bag, giving her an oddly Casper-esque silhouette.

She was annoyed with me at first, which I guess is a natural reaction to someone nearly floating through you. But then she got interested, looking at me more closely, tilting her head. I got all embarrassed and — I don’t know, flared brighter, or whatever the ghost version of a blush is. She spoke.

I’ve never seen you before, she said.

I blinked, my mouth dry, and watched her nose wrinkle.

X x x

I don’t wanna make it seem like all the ghosts here are friendly. There was this one woman who Vicky tried to introduce me to — her name was Eleanor, and she was nasty. She was buried under this huge old oak tree, and I guess she never really got over it. Now she treats her post-death depression by being like, super weird and possessive. When I tried to ask her if she’d heard about my death, she just wailed and told me I needed to stay at least five feet away from her tree at all times. Some people are so self-centered.

X x x

After my initial silence, Vicky asked my name, and I told her. I told her who I was, and how I died, and what I thought about how I died. I told her about my theories and my plans to investigate my theories. I didn’t mention Madison. By the time I’d finished, we were nowhere near the cabins.

X x x

There was this one pioneer couple, out in the woods. Vicky said they have some kids running around too, but not to mention them. The parents were — uh, dead-eyed might be the word? They didn’t look like humans anymore, but then again, they barely looked like anything. They were almost totally transparent. I tried to ask them about my death, but I kept getting distracted. Behind them, Vicky was miming eating her own arm. I winced.

Do you think ghosts get hungry?

X x x

Vicky was surprised she hadn’t heard of me already. Apparently she knows everything about everybody here. I assumed she’d died sometime in the 70’s, because of the whole Gogo-Dancer-on-Casual-Friday look she has going on, but she’s been dead for basically forever, since even before all the people who were worked to death in the Industrial Revolution. I guess she was some sort of Victorian lady or something. Sometimes, when you look at her from just the right angle, you can see her oversized tunic flaring out and forming the outline of her petticoats.

She wasn’t clear on the details of her old life — not many people here are. But it seems like she was riding a horse when she got in an accident or something. I didn’t ask much about it— seemed like it’d be in bad taste.

I went with asking about her clothes instead, and she laughed. She had a nice laugh.

According to her, it all changed sometime in ‘69, when a bunch of women came to Hardy for a Womyn-with-a-Y Wilderness Liberation Retreat and Anti-Capitalist S’mores Contest. I guess they talked about the usual 60’s stuff — the man, probably, or maybe disco. Vicky got super into it. She became like a full-fledged convert, reading bell hooks over their shoulders and scaring the shit out of wannabe rapists lurking in the park. She even claims to have burned her corset, which I don’t know if I believe. It’s not that I don’t want to. It’s just — what does an afterlife fire even look like, you know?

X x x

While we were wandering, we met this old-timey lumberjack. I always imagined lumberjacks with these full, luscious beards, but his was more of a patchy mustache-goatee combo. He looked like a mid-pubescent teen boy or a pornstar pretending to deliver a pizza. It was seriously creepy— like, the scariest thing I’ve seen in the afterlife so far. We caught him on his way to meeting these old drug dealers. I tried to ask them about me, but they weren’t that helpful. One of the dealers is an inspirational speaker now, and he just kept telling me to move on. He offered me advice on how to maximize my haunting potential, but I just couldn’t bring myself to pay the 5.99.

X x x

Apparently Vicky was on her way to see the Girl Scouts when I ran into her. Vicky LOVES the Girl Scouts. Whenever they come to camp, it makes her whole fucking afterlife. She went on about the healing power of sisterhood and collective liberation for like, 10 minutes. I just kept thinking about Madison, her fear and the bitchy way she thought about most of her troop members. I wanted to tell Vicky about it, but I didn’t want her to get jealous because I got to spend time with the girls and possess them and stuff. Vicky’s like. The nicest person I’ve met in a while, and I just — oh, shut up.

X x x

We also met this guy who died hiking. He was on one of the park’s more dangerous trails, and he fell. His name’s Sucki, and he used to be a kindergarten teacher on the Shinnecock reservation. He and Vicky are pretty good friends, and I could see why. He has one of those smiles that made you feel proud just to know your ABCs, and he seemed genuinely sorry that he couldn’t remember anything about my death.

When he heard we had seen the Girl Scouts, he rolled his eyes. He said preteens are always spreading that old Harding-is-built-on-an-Indian-burial-ground theory. Whatever’s going on here, he said, We’ve got nothing to do with it.

X x x

A good chunk of the ghosts here come from one event, way back in the 50’s. Vicky says she saw the whole thing. There was this one dude — a super charismatic cult leader, like Tom Cruise without the couch jumping. Vicky says she never thought he was that hot, but the Woman in White used to wail over him. He started out as a regular pastor at a regular church. But I guess that wasn’t special enough for him, because as time went on, he got super obsessed with the demon-y parts of the Bible and started telling everyone that there was a great power living here. He believed they had to activate that power to bring the Antichrist or the rapture or whatever. Vicky says all the ghosts came to watch the sacrifice. We can sense that stuff, apparently — upcoming deaths or tragedies or whatever. The whole population is drawn to it, like moths to light, or, well, dead people to death.

Like 20 people died that night, but no demon rose. Instead, the park gained a bunch of pissed-off zealots in some seriously unfashionable robes. The cult leader isn’t one of them — he ran off, of course, leaving his followers to stew for all eternity.

I’m guessing that’s who you’re looking for, or at least who you thought you’d hear from. It was a good idea, putting this tape recorder in their old shed-slash-church, except that none of them really hang out here anymore. The afterlife gives you plenty of time to get your brain back, and some of the members actually turned out pretty cool. One of them even said she liked my hair.

X x x

As Vicky was quick to point out, there are also plenty of people here who died by suicide. She suggested I go with her to Dead Man’s Slope, where some of them still (sort of) live, but I refused. It’s not that I didn’t want to meet them, it’s just — what’s the point, y’know? I know there’s nothing there for me.

There’s nothing there for me, okay?

X x x

Of course, Vicky didn’t just want to know about my death. Instead, she kept getting hung up on the details of my afterlife. Most ghosts come to consciousness right after their deaths, sometimes even during. But I didn’t, or at least it doesn’t seem like I did. There’s really no way to know for sure. Vicky swears there’s been no deaths in the park recently, but it’s a big place. She could’ve missed something. I mentioned that, and she shrugged.

Either way, she said. You just… popped out of nowhere. That’s funky.

I tried to make a joke of it. “I like to say I ‘poofed!’” I said. “It just sounds more magical than popped, don’t you think?” And then she said poof is actually an offensive term for gay men, and I was like, oh my god, I’m so sorry, I had no idea, and she was like yeah…. I know you have no idea… that’s why I’m telling you. Then she said some 60s thing like it’s chill, man or shine it on, and I laughed so much I forgot what we were talking about. When I calmed down, she was still looking at me. Her voice was softer when she spoke again.

Seriously... What happened?

So I told her about Madison. About the Ouija Board, and the possession, and the way my spirit settled in Madison’s hands and throat. In my memory, the experience was less scary and infinitely more exhilarating. I could remember the weight of Madison’s skin and bones and sinews, could feel the warm thump of blood filling our neck. I wanted to try moving again, to flex our fingers, to stretch our legs. As I talked, my voice may have gotten a little… well, wistful.

Vicky picked up on the tone, of course, and she cocked her head. At first I thought she was impressed, her face blushing, but then her whole body started to blush. Her skin turned red as a picked scab. Her mouth sunk into a scowl, and I thought I could see jagged teeth behind her lips. She opened her mouth wider. Those teeth glinted in the moonlight, and she said—

Have you ever heard of a thing called bodily autonomy? A woman’s right to self-determination?

And she went on. Honestly, for someone who acts chill, Vicky can really give a lecture. I’m not saying she was wrong, because she wasn’t. Or at least, it didn’t seem like she was. To be honest, a lot of it went way over my head. Every sentence had at least 15 syllables, and she only said the word groovy like, once.

After a while, she paused. Her arms uncrossed.

Do you understand? She said.

I did get her broader point, kind of. Don’t invade other people’s bodies. I nodded.

Okay, she said. It’s fine, then. She didn’t look fine, but she kept talking. Just— don’t do it again, okay?

Her eyes crinkled as she smiled at me. She reached out to touch my shoulder, and her hand rested there, so soft it felt like sliding a feather across my skin. With a pang, I remembered another time, days or months or even years before, when touches could be more than a whisper, more than a shadow. I smiled back at her. I said I appreciated her honesty, and then she left. She said she was going to check on Madison, but who knows. She could’ve been looking for a way away from me.

I decided to just head back to this shed. It’s become my home base, sort of, my place to tell you about all the nothing I’ve found.

On my walk back, I heard a noise. I looked and saw the pioneer kids, trying and failing to climb a tree. One of them was missing an arm.

I shuddered and floated on.