Bad Advice

Bad Advice

This is the conclusion of the story I started in The Light in the Bathroom Doesn’t Always Blink and continued in Ghostly Jams and Going Too Far. I really enjoyed writing this story and I hope you enjoyed reading it! I’m hoping to do more such serials in the near future.
. . .

I limited my initial forays with Lydia to coffee shops and book stores. No one looks twice at a woman sitting with her laptop, a coffee and a plush toy in a trendy local cafe. And if I curl up in a chair at the local indie book shop  with my purse hanging open and a doll poking out as I read, no one seems bothered to ask me about it. The few times I have been approached, I explain that the doll is a gift from my niece and I like to photograph myself out with it so that she knows her gift is getting good mileage. In the age of Instagram photo series, everyone’s in love with a cute potential meme story.

We’ve developed several methods of communication for use outside the laundry room, since I can’t cart the radio with me everywhere I go. Lydia does seem able to manipulate digital music players too, but I didn’t think having my phone suddenly start talking to me in a patchwork voice in public was a good idea. I haven’t told Lydia about digital assistants yet. It would be way too weird if she started co-opting Siri to speak with me.

Instead, she types me unset texts or notes in my phone. When I have my laptop open, I leave a little note pad window for her to use, though she usually has to interrupt what I’m doing to start typing, and I have to cover it up by making my fingers move even if the keys don’t match up. We’re still working on the details.

But aside from the obvious weirdness, it’s not much different than talking to a friend over text or messenger. I have to be extra careful none of these random comments get posted on Facebook, and I don’t save the conversations out of fear that someone will find them and think I’ve gone totally off my rocker. But it’s a totally normal friendship aside.

My husband gives me odd looks whenever I tell him about my adventures with Lydia. I’ve been skirting the edge of his weirdness tolerance for awhile and I can tell he’s starting to swallow lectures. I need someone to talk to about all these crazy adventures, even if he doesn’t entirely believe me, and I’m not in the habit of keeping secrets from my husband. Except for the part where I shaved some drywall off one of the walls in the bathroom. I’m taking that one to the grave.

Lydia has offered to talk to my other half, now that we’ve perfected our methods, but I’m not sure it’s a good idea. For one, I know my husband. He’s way too rational to just accept something like this, no matter how undeniable it seems. He’ll spend a week or a month figuring out how I do it, and he won’t budge no matter how I demonstrate otherwise.

Besides, I’m half afraid he’ll tell me these shenanigans need to stop the moment I try dragging him deeper down the rabbit hole. So for now, I just innocently endure his side-eyes.

The only real problem is that I’m starting to worry we can never leave this house. I couldn’t possibly abandon Lydia. It’s not as if it would be easy for her to make a new friend. And as far as we can tell, she’s still stuck in that bathroom, unless I actively carry her elsewhere. We don’t know how long our little phylactery allows her roam freely before more powerful forces snap her back to her original haunt and neither of us have been much interested in testing. I limit my external excursions to three hours tops just to make sure.

And I can already see the look on my husband’s face when I try to argue that we can’t abandon my imaginary friend. The moment this absurdity starts to interfere with my actual life is the moment he’s going to put his foot down.

Not that I can blame him. If he accepts that a mere fraction of the stories I’ve told him are true, we’re going to have one hell of a time selling this house.

*   *   *

The Fall Festival takes place every year during the second weekend in September. Local vendors line the city’s main street on either side with homemade booths to sell their wares. The local businesses love it because they can afford stands two or three times the size of everyone else’s, with fancy canopies, posters and food. But it’s the small stands that really make the festival shine, the ones with the hand-crafted soaps or jewelry. The ones with printed t-shirts you can’t find anywhere else, or handwoven baskets. There’s a leatherworker who takes commissions and even works on his latest project between sales.

It’s the perfect place for people watching. And since Lydia has such a fascination with listening in on conversations – since the participants have no idea she’s hovering nearby – I thought it would be the perfect place to test if our travel system works in a crowd.

Though, if I’m honest, I really just want to have someone to keep me company while I peruse the stalls. My husband hates the large crowds and the hot sun, even when there’s a chill breeze to keep things cool. And most of my other friends have stalls somewhere in the festival, which doesn’t afford them a lot of time to walk around.

I live for this festival. I’m always there for the opening ceremonies and I set aside a block of time for wandering up and down the street, just to make sure I’ve seen everything at least once. Based on last year’s circuit, I’ve already decided which stands I plan to purchase food from; the key is to eat just a little from each one so that you can keep snacking throughout the day. That lets you sample more of the food, and there is a lot of good food at this festival.

Actually, in retrospect, I think my husband doesn’t like to come because he knows we’ll spend twice as much money if he’s around for me to wheedle. Not that I’m the least bit sorry.

My suspicions that Lydia must not have lived here are confirmed within minutes of our arrival to the central square. She’s never seen anything like this. Granted, she’s been dead for three or four decades by our estimation, but this tradition goes back pretty far. She would at least have heard of the crafter’s festival, or something, had she been born and raised locally.

I’m careful not to act like one of those people who goes out and spends the whole time on their phone, so I wait until I’ve found a place to watch the opening speeches and musical performances before I check my phone. Lydia has already typed me four or five messages by the time I look at my notes, and she’s hard at work on a fresh one. I can’t help but smile; her enthusiasm is contagious. For a minute, she reminds me of my favorite character in a kids movie, a skeleton who discovers Christmas after a lifetime of living in Halloween.

I linger a little longer than usual at each stall, not just perusing the wares and enjoying the smells of street food as sweet and savory mingle in the air, but allowing Lydia to get a real sense of the festive atmosphere as we move through the crowd. I’ve already decided to let her choose something for the laundry room, something I can hang up or keep on a shelf, a reminder of her big outing.

Of course, there’s always a small list of things I’m looking for when I visit this place. Gifts, first and foremost. The best gifts are always handmade, even if they aren’t personally handmade. My friends know I do most of my Christmas shopping at this festival, so they’ve been spending the last several weeks dropping not so subtle hints about their desires and preferences for this year. I never decide what to actually get for myself until I’ve seen what’s available, but I’ve already added several objects to the maybe pile. There’s a cute sundress at one of the clothing stands that would see a lot of use next summer, and I’ve been in the market for a new knit scarf – my old one is starting to fall apart from massive use.

I’m standing in the middle of a rug maker’s stand when my phone starts to go wild. Lydia and I have a strict no sending messages to other people rule, but she can text my email account to make my phone vibrate in a pinch. Don’t ask how much time I spent setting that up. Those are hours I’ll never get back.

Normally, I’d wait until I got out of the stall to check my phone, but Lydia has sent me at least three ’emergency’ emails, and there are enough people in this cramped space that I’m temporarily stuck. When I open the messages, they all say the same thing.

Center rack, fourth from the end.

I spot the area she wants me to visit right away, but it takes three minutes of maneuvering and gentle but firm apologies to get into the proper position. Finally, I reach out and pull back the rugs so that I’m looking directly at the one she mentioned. I have no idea how she saw it full on while I was walking past, but then she’s a ghost so I try not to question too hard how her senses work.

The rug is less than beautiful. Compared to most of the other rugs in this stand, the colors are drab, mostly shades of brown mixed with a few ruddy reds. But I think what really caught Lydia’s attention are the symbols that have been woven through the rug in grey and white. Arcane symbols if ever I’ve seen them – and believe me, I have.

I check my phone again and Lydia has already left me a new message.

I’ve seen symbols like this once before! The previous owner of your house, he used something like this, a similar spread of arcane symbols, to trap me in the bathroom!

I quickly return the phone to my pocket, not wanting someone to read the message over my shoulder. How had he done something like that? Paint? Or had he carved the symbols directly into the cement floor before covering it with tile? Or had he simply removed the blanket or carpet or whatever when he was finished with his spell?

More importantly, if Lydia could show me the proper symbols, would I be able to reverse it? My husband sure would love to set the ghost free of our house before the time came to sell it. And I can’t help thinking it would be nice if I could take Lydia with me when we leave – though I’m not about to utter a word of that to my husband.

I’m still blinking, shaking my head, trying to work through this sudden tumble of thoughts when someone shoulders me out of the way and I mutter a soft, “Excuse me,” before working my way to the edge of the booth and then onto one of the sidewalks where it’s less busy. Here I can take out my phone and talk with Lydia properly, though I find I don’t have to ask her anything.

I think he had some kind of table cloth or canvas with those symbols on it. He put it in the center of the house – the living room, I think – and did some weird ritual. I think he was trying to lock me out of the house entirely, but it didn’t quite work. Though I don’t know if it’s because I was hiding or because that’s the room he wanted me to be locked in. He didn’t use it much.

I still have so many questions about Lydia’s relationship with this stranger. I still want to know how you can possibly make a ghost hide. Not that I think it would be an interesting skill to possess, I just think it says a lot about the person who can do that. I’m starting to regret having bought the house from this guy. He sounds like an asshole. But I love the house and, if we hadn’t purchased it, who knows what would have become of poor Lydia.

Do you think you could guide me toward a replication of that ritual? I’d need to know specifics if I was going to reverse it.

After I finish typing the message I put the phone back into my pocket so that it won’t look weird that text is scrolling across the screen on its own. After about two minutes of holding my breath and shifting my weight from foot to foot, I check it again.

It would take a lot of time and web searches, but I think I could. Trouble is, you’re going to need that rug.

I groan as I tuck the phone back into my pocket. I’ve come to consider Lydia my friend and I’m dedicated to helping her the same way I would help any of my other friends. Anyone could argue that I’ve gone above and beyond for this remnant of soul and they wouldn’t be wrong. But I’m keenly aware of the life cycle of houses. My husband and I have already owned three. And neither of us considered the house we own now to be our forever house when we bought it. It was just meant to be another step along the way.

So what happens to poor Lydia when I leave? It’s not as if she can go elsewhere. It’s not as if she’s likely to find someone who will talk to her or entertain her or even be willing to help her. And I can’t exactly screen candidates when it comes to selling the house. It’d be the fastest way to make our buyers flee.

If I’m going to solve Lydia’s problem, it has to be before we leave. At the very least, I need to find a way to move her, so that I can keep working on the problem. And if I need a rug for that, it seems like small price to pay.

Except that red is probably my least favorite color. I like earthen tones well enough, but the red I could live without. Most of our house is done in blues and browns, cool, soothing tones. But red is a power color, the kind of color that will give you a headache if you’re in a room trying to relax and there’s red everywhere glaring at you to go get more work done.

Oh, and the fact that the rug comes with a $250 price tag. My husband is going to be less than thrilled about that.

*   *   *

“So that’s why I bought that horrible rug, and why it’s been in the living room for the last six months with no sign of budging any time soon.” At least Lydia seems to have free reign of the house since our first attempt at reversing the last owner’s ritual. We have a strict do not enter the master bedroom under any circumstances rule, though I do sometimes allow Lydia to keep me company in there when I’m sick.

My husband hasn’t told me to solve this ghost problem before it’s time to sell this house, but he hasn’t really had to. His eyes have said it for him. He gets this wild look every now and then when something weird happens that he can’t explain away, and then he glares at me as if it’s all my fault.

In a roundabout way, I guess it is.

“Jesus Jillian,” my friend Margaret hisses, setting her tea cup against the counter a little harder than she probably intended. She knows how sensitive I am about my mug collection and taking care of it. She knows I’d flip my lid if she chipped one and it wasn’t clearly accidental. “You could have just said you like the damn thing. You didn’t have to invent this wild story to rationalize it.”

It’s my turn to sigh. Margaret isn’t the craziest of my friends, I’ll admit. But of the ones who live local, I thought she’d be most likely to believe me. I didn’t think it was a big leap to go from healing crystals and purification potions to ghosts, but apparently I was wrong.

“Fine,” I reply, lifting both hands. We’ve been sitting on the bar stools next to the island in my kitchen, so I don’t take two steps backward, but I’m tempted. “You don’t believe me. Forget I said anything.”

Margaret eyes me suspiciously. I can tell she’s about to ask me to prove everything I’ve just told her. And I know that Lydia is just waiting to bang a pot or knock something not breakable off a shelf.

“Don’t do it,” I warn, a hard edge to my tone. “I’m not going to be responsible for the consequences if you do.” If Margaret runs out of my house screaming, it’s going to be her problem. Not mine.

“I’ve always known you had an active imagination. This just seems a little over the top, even for you.”

“You asked for the story and I told you. If you don’t want to buy it, that’s fine, but I think it might be better if you drop it.” I only decided to tell Margaret about Lydia because I thought she might have the missing bit of knowledge I need to finish the release ritual. But at this rate, I’ll never get it.

“Come on, Jillian. You know me better than this.”

“Yeah, I know you can never leave well enough alone.”

I grin. She grins.

And then she does exactly what I told her not to do.

“If you’ve been listening, dear sweet Lydia, can you give us some sign? Three knocks should do.”

I can tell by the grin on Margaret’s face she expects nothing to happen. She expects to be making fun of me for the rest of the afternoon. The next time we meet our circle for coffee, she expects to tell the story of the failed prank I tried to pull.

But Lydia has been waiting. Three gentle dings sound as two of the pots hanging over my stove make gentle contact with each other. Exactly three.

In an instant, all the color drains from Margaret’s face. Her lips move but no sound comes out. I can’t tell if she wants Lydia to repeat the gesture or if she just wants to scream. After a few moments she manages a hoarse, “Holy shit!”

I put my elbows on the counter and fold my hands in front of me. They make a nice rest for my chin. I’m still grinning. Maybe Lydia and I should start a side show if this the kind of reaction I can expect. There’s something thrilling about it, though maybe it’s just a tiny hint of vindication pushing its way to my surface.

“I know, right?”

It takes ten minutes for Margaret to recover enough to speak, and I won’t be surprised if she refuses to visit after this. Then again, she might find herself as drawn to the mystic mystery as I have been. It would be nice to have another partner in crime.

Maybe when all this is over I’ll find a way to write it down. Make it into a novel or something. Or a movie. Hollywood likes this kind of stuff, don’t they?

Until then it’s just me, Margaret, Lydia and the ugly rug trying to make the best of a weird situation.

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