Something You Can’t See
by Kristin Kozlowski
I graduated college in 2001, on the university's centennial anniversary. One hundred years. The university was known to be haunted. A place filled with the ghosts of students who passed, who killed themselves, who didn't make it to the other side. There are books written about the hauntings on the campus: the upper-half of a lady with a buttoned lace blouse who floats through walls; the constant rhythm of feet running the old elevated track at night, a track that hasn’t been used in seventy-five years, a track marked for storage and stacked with junk.
My teenage daughter likes stories of the paranormal, of oddities and weird fixings. She asks me for my craziest stories. My weirdest ones. She wants to know about the middle school classmate who faked her own death. She wants to know about the ghost in my college dorm room, the one that used to turn on the light after I flicked it off. She wants to know about my grandmother visiting me in my dreams a year after she died. What did she say again? my daughter asks.
The city that houses my alma mater is famously haunted, too; you can read books about it. It’s a place where Abraham Lincoln once rode in a horse-drawn carriage down the cobblestone streets. A city where major corporations flourished and then died. Nowadays, it’s a city like an emptied jar. A place where the twitch of addiction fills the sidewalks.
Maybe the city fell on hard times because of the weight of the ghosts. Maybe the ghosts pulled it down. How long can you fight against something you can't see?
I read once that while checking on the Union Army during the Civil War, President Lincoln retired to his tent to rest. Lying on his couch, he had a vision of his wife, Mary, who had not traveled with him, standing at his feet. She only lingered a moment, and then disappeared. Two weeks later, the President received a letter from is wife informing him of her recent miscarriage, which happened on the evening her image appeared and then disappeared before him.
Something steals small objects from my nightstand while I sleep. One earring. A yellow feather. A shard of sea glass.
Sometimes at night while I’m trying to sleep, I hear something bang into the nightstand, knocking things off of it. When I hang off the bed to retrieve them, they're not there. Some mornings I search for them, but I never find anything.
They’re like so many things: they’re there one second, but the next second they're gone.
In my dream, I know my gram is dead. We’re at an Irish pub, which is a likely setting for my gram. The thick mahogany bar wraps around half the room. Most of my family fills the space between the bar and the tables. My gram sits at a four-top with my two brothers and one cousin. In my dream, I’m excited to talk to her – it’s been almost a year since she died. She says she’s swell, that the party’s great.
In my dream, I don’t know that I’m the only one who can see my gram. I realize this when my cousin, curious as to whom I’m conversing with, leans towards my gram’s chair – which must look empty to my cousin – and pokes at the seat, finger-stabbing my gram’s non-physical form in the ribs. My brothers offer no reaction. My cousin and brothers share a look that says maybe I’ve had too much to drink. To them, my gram isn’t there at all.
There’s the story about the living-boy who told me the story about the dead-boy. The dead-boy killed himself in his room — the college fraternity room we sat in while the living-boy told the story. The living-boy and the dead-boy shared the same bedroom fifty-years apart. The living-boy telling the story says he sometimes wakes in the middle of the night to a rush of cold air, like a refrigerator door being yanked open. He says he sometimes hears his name being called.
It’s the story of the living-boy who told me the story dying in that same room later that year. Suffocated in his sleep while a fire raged in the house; that’s what the newspapers printed. But some people who were outside the house in the earliest hours of the morning while the fire blazed say they saw a hand pressed against the glass of the bedroom window. Some people who pass the house now in the earliest hours of the morning say they sometimes see a hand pressed against the glass still. A pressure that never releases.
I’m walking the stairs to my daughter’s room when I feel a hand on my back, but no one is behind me. The pressure is between my shoulder blades, the size of my heart.
A text buzzes, says that my cousin died the night before. It flashes across my phone screen like a whisper. Like a ghost. Like the hand of someone who was never there.
What is it? my daughter asks when I reach her room, but I don’t answer. I’ve forgotten the reason I’ve gone to her room in the first place; it fled when I felt the hand on my back, but how can I say that? How does that story begin? How does it end?
How can I tell her about something I can’t even see?
Kristin Kozlowski lives and works in the Midwest, US. Some of her work is available online at Flash Frog, matchbook, Vast Chasm, Pidgeonholes, Lost Balloon, and others. Her piece from Cease, Cows, “Salty Owl”, is included in The Best Small Fictions Anthology 2021, and “What’s the Opposite of Thief?” from The Birdseed was nominated for Best MicroFiction 2022. For her upcoming book publications, please visit her website at kristinkozlowskiwrites.wordpress.com. If you tweet: @kriskozlowski.