It’s a collection just like any other. Except this one involves dead people.
I walked around the shop with my receipt and paper bag in one hand. I went past the furniture, the clocks, and the beautiful porcelain dolls. The smell of old books and paper was what I loved the most in the world.
They had left me. I shouldn’t blame them for leaving, but they should’ve at least told me that they wanted to go and I could have only gone through one shelf of photographs.
I called Hannah from outside the antique shop but she didn’t answer, so I called again. She answered the second time but I only heard screams. What was she saying? Just when I was about to go into panic mode, I saw a figure across the street come toward me, waving her arms. It was Hannah.
She told me that they were just about to order pizza from one of those places that has the slices by the window. Those places that reheat them when you order them. Not the best slices in town, but I was hungry. Pizza was the quickest thing.
“What’d you get?”, Hannah asked.
“Some portraits.” I shot back.
I didn’t like showing her antique shop stuff after she and my dad made fun of me when they helped me move into my new apartment. They laughed at my antique board games asking me who I was going to play with and they laughed at my dresses, calling me Wednesday from The Addam’s Family. Really immature stuff.
I’ve been collecting old albums signage from antique shops ever since I was in high school. Don’t worry, I’m not one of those antique snobs that can identify items from certain eras or anything, I’ve just always been drawn to really old items. Things that people from many generations ago got to look at, create, and play with. My favorite things to flip through used to be old albums. I learned my lesson with those, though.
I was hesitant to give her my paper bag for her to look through, but I did so anyway. She opened it carefully and took out the small green hardcover book. It was a photo album, the photos pasted to stiff cardboard on each page, though some were already coming off.
Of course, Hannah showed me the photo of the little girl with a black dress awkwardly holding a toy clown. She made her weird face at me. I grabbed the book from her hands and put it back in the bag.
She probably remembered how pissed I got at her and my dad for laughing at me so she tried to change the subject. I shrugged it off.
We went into the restaurant to meet with everybody, they were all sitting by the window in a booth. I ordered my pepperoni pizza slice from Jim, the owner and sat down with the other two friends that came along. Being with other people sometimes really tired me out, but it we had a good time as we walked around downtown for the rest of the evening.
After I got dropped off at my apartment, I sat on my couch with the photo album on my lap. It was so cool. Even though I went through it a few times at the shop, I still wanted to give it another look. But something felt off.
In that instant, I got a weird sense in my stomach, like I wanted to vomit. I tried to pay no attention to it, but when you have to go, you have to go. But as I got up to get a glass of water, the feeling went away.
I got ready for bed early that night, hoping that I wasn’t about to catch a cold.
I fell asleep with Netflix on, but I remembered that state right before I go to sleep where I hear the episode of New Girl in the background right when the Netflix app asked me if I was still watching and the silence that followed. That’s when I heard something coming from my living room.
I haven’t put up the rest of my curtains since I moved in, so the light from the outside still shines blue light through the living room and into the kitchen at night. I always shut the door to my bedroom, but this time I guess I left it cracked open and could see the line of blue light. If I laid still for another minute, I’d be gone into dreamland, I remember thinking.
That’s when I saw a figure block part of the light that I could see from the living room. I opened my eyes wide, my heart beating faster and faster.
The figure moved away.
I turned toward the ceiling, not wanting to look to the door again, but at the same time I kept thinking about what I had just seen and if I had only imagined it. With my blanket over my head, I made a peephole. I looked at the door for probably an hour. I woke up the next day, tired and panicking about waking up too late to go to work, but it was a Saturday. I had almost forgotten about the thing I had seen the night before, but it still creeped the heck out of me. The rest of the day was normal, I got to go out to do some grocery shopping and buy some other things for my apartment. But when I came back that night, something felt off again.
My apartment has a tiny closet on the hall that leads to the bathroom, and it was left wide open. I didn’t remember opening that day. Had someone broken in?
I instead went to the kitchen and to my front door and everything looked in place. Everything was locked and with no signs of a break in. My windows were shut.
Later on that night, when I was in the shower, I heard a loud thump coming from outside the bathroom. It sounded close. Someone was out there.
I grabbed my towel and went straight for the door and opened it slowly. That’s when I saw it.
A small pale hand holding the closet door open. I stood there creeped out looking toward the hall as a little girl in black walked backwards with her stiff legs. She glanced at me through her dark hair and turned away, holding something in her arms as she dragged her feet away from the hall and toward the kitchen. I remember just standing there, frozen.
I called Hannah to see if she wanted to come over, there was no way she would believe what I had just seen and would probably call me crazy but I told her over the phone anyway. She came over a little after that just as I was finished getting dressed. I told her the story again.
“It’s those dumb things you buy!” she yelled.
She told me about the portraits of dead people I had been buying. I’m not sure if this is true, but she said that families back then used to photograph old family members and make them look alive in the black and white photos. She told me about games used to call spirits. She even mentioned reburial dresses, whatever that meant. She grabbed the green photo album from my coffee table and flipped through it and pointed to a portrait of a girl holding a candle and asked me if that was her. I quickly said no and she kept flipping the album until she got to the girl with the black dress.
That was her.
The little clown toy she was holding looked exactly like one that I have and bought at that same shop. It was in some box that I hadn’t unpacked yet.
Hannah saw my expression and looked closer at the picture. She grabbed the edge of the portrait and it peeled right off and then held it closer to her face.
“Dead eyes,” she said.
Just then, I noticed the blue ink on the back of the portrait. It had a caption.
“Little Sandra and her favorite toy since birth. Now to her grave. May you rest in peace. – September 9, 1902.”
I screamed, startling Hannah. She turned the photo around and read it too.
“And Hannah, I have a clown just like that”, I told her.
I ran to the closet to look through the four boxes I had in there. Hannah and my dad had both seen the little toy clown with the porcelain head and they had taken turns making fun of me for it. Hannah remembered the clown.
I took out every box, every jacket, every shoe. There was no sign of the clown.
I begged Hannah not to leave yet, but it was late and she had to go but offered me to go over to her house. Of course I grabbed my backpack and went with her for the night, but as the days went by I found out that there was nothing to be afraid of. I haven’t seen the little girl again.
I haven’t found the toy clown either.
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My friend got divorced recently, and man, it was brutal. He lost his job, his house, his car, and pretty much everything he owned except for his clothes and a box of kitchen pans. If you have personal experience with this, you know its already tough, but I was amazed by how he handled it. Well, at first.
He was crashing at my house and I got him a job cleaning a couple of public schools in our district. He was handling it alright, considering he was being paid much more as a tech in a factory. We had similar schedules and sometimes got assigned to the same school, but most of the time it was one janitor per campus.
I first noticed something was wrong when he came back to my apartment one morning with wide eyes and couldn’t seem to focus on anything we were talking about. I left him alone but things only worsened. He would scream in the middle of the night and sometimes rush to the door for no reason.
His story was the scariest thing I had ever heard, and still haunts me to this day.
Like I said before, Jack used to be assigned to clean an entire campus, which normally had three or four halls, a large auditorium, lunch room, gym, and outdoor area including the trash bin cage and parking lot. The classrooms were cleaned once per week all in one go.
According to Jack, he was by the supply closet when he heard what he described as a storm inside of one of the bathrooms. He said it sounded like a strong wind and roaring thunder. Jack was a very logical person and went to investigate, but as he opened the door and flicked on the lights, he saw nothing. The men’s bathroom was silent again.
He shrugged it off as something he must have imagined, but as he was walking away, he heard a scream. Jack ran to the front door of the school and straight to his car. Schools had been closed for break, so no one noticed he had left his supply cart in the middle of the hall when he went back the next day. That was his first encounter.
Now, I had heard about that school before. It was on the edge of Kenin County and it was one of the smaller facilities. It was the worst one to get to because of the residents of the area. They didn’t have their own police department and they were known to cause trouble for the teachers and staff at the school. Rumors of voodoo and witchcraft always circulated the campus but I had cleaned that school by myself, and though it was worn down and old, it was kept clean and I never noticed anything strange.
Jack used to tell me many stories about the place before his accident. His encounter with the old woman from the lunchroom, the figure hanging from the tree. The children that would line up behind him to follow him into the classrooms he was supposed to clean.
But when the police called me one night to ask if I knew who Jack Hammond was, I expected the worst. He had been hospitalized, apparently with damage caused by an issue with his body’s nervous system. When he regained sense in his left arm again, he typed out the story with one hand for me to read and to communicate to the doctors.
His message said that he decided to take a short break and go to the bathroom on the second hall of the school. As he got inside, the lights flickered off and only the windows showed him the way to the stall. He tried to flick on the light, but it wouldn’t work, but he really had to go so he opened up the bathroom stall, unzipped and sat on the toilet. But as he sat, he felt the cold legs of someone who had already been sitting there. He let out a scream and said he remembers stumbling toward the fire alarm switch and pulling it. The police and firefighters found him paralyzed with fear on the bathroom floor in the dark.
Though he has been getting better, the event left him with his jaw stretched downward from his right side and his legs stretched out completely. I hope he recovers soon.