julia lederer

“She’s the type of ghost to haunt Trinity Bellwoods Park over summer nights …”

I strive to believe in ghosts of all sorts.
Somewhat half-heartedly.
The thing is, I love other-worldly beings and magical events that can’t be rationally explained.
In fiction.
In theory.
But in Living Non-Fiction (also known to me as my life) I can be rather clingy when it comes to a nice, well-reasoned and proven fact.
I like a clear explanation like a farmer likes a good egg.
Smooth, solid, and easy to digest.

Hauntings are unpredictable. It’s all otherworldly wisps as delicate as doilies, or dead aunts baking pies only you can smell but not see, or evil spirits wreaking havoc when they’re having a slow night with other sinister outlets.
Ghosts are like snowstorms—rattling your windows and giving you chills.
Or.
Or they’re a warm mist or a soft tornado that you feel hovering around you.
Like a cloud and an infinity scarf in one.

Or they live in plants or stones or cats.
Or ???

I don’t know.
And herein lies my problem.

In addition to the fact that my apartment is haunted.

I live in the top of a big, old house that’s split into apartments.
It’s on a corner across the street from a daycare, a bus stop, and an unusually placed lawn bowling club.
(Though I guess I don’t really know where a usual place for a lawn bowling club would be).
So, if my ghost were floating bowling pins around my apartment, I’d be able to redirect her a few steps east.

But there are no mysterious objects of any kind dangling in the air as if being moved by phantom limbs. No rattling windows or cracked mirrors.
The ghost who haunts my apartment isn’t a dark cloud, a white sheet, or a translucent headless figure, as you might expect.
My ghost is actually really cool.
Like, if I saw her on the street or met her at a party and I didn’t know she was a ghost, I’d want her to like me.
She’s the type of ghost to haunt Trinity Bellwoods Park over summer nights, floating cans of reasonably priced but artfully decorated craft beers.
She’s the type who performs at poetry slams, and is actually really good.
She’s the type who can pick up a guitar and just play it. But not in a show-offy way.
She’s written a thesis in feminist bio-mechanics, she moved out when she was 18, and she has a well-placed and meaningful tattoo that has nothing to do with a relationship. She’s an independent woman. She lives life on her terms.
Or she would, if she were alive.

These are assumptions I am making based purely on my ghost’s appearance, so they might be unfair. But as the person who shares a bachelor apartment with her, I think I know her better than most. And I’m not complaining—she’s incredibly respectful and almost never home.

She lives life on her terms. Or she would, if she were alive.

She’s stylish.
She wears black. Skinny jeans, a long-sleeved sweater, and a black knit toque over thick blonde dreadlocks. The type that just looks confident, not like she’s trying too hard. She doesn’t have to try at all. She floats through the afterlife.

When she arrived in my apartment she was very stealthy.
In my split-second of electric-shock-terror upon seeing her, I assessed that she had to be a burglar who had scaled the outside of the house and come in through my porch door. Like a raccoon with human hands. And dreadlocks.
I assumed she was there to steal my computer—the only real thing possibly worth stealing in my apartment. She stood right at my desk, which is also at the foot of my bed and also right by the porch door. My apartment is small.

And I thought, “Well, this is it. It’s finally happened.”

Because when I was a kid my room had tall windows and I’d spend nights staring at shadows, waiting for a tree-climbing crook to slip quietly through.
And I didn’t even own a computer then. Just some purple notebooks.

When I was younger, I was much more open to being scared.
I convinced myself that I loved only the most complicated, terrifying rollercoasters.
That I wanted to walk through all the haunted houses at Screemers, Canada’s Premier Scream Park, before I was old enough to.

I spent my allowance on R.L. Stine books. I read through his entire canon of zombie cheerleaders, living dummies, and ghosts next door. And R.L. Stine is even more prolific than Margaret Atwood (though what he writes is less scary).
I was committed. A Fear Street completist.

At family events I would make all my younger cousins (which are all of my cousins) sit on the floor of my parents’ walk-in closet while I read aloud from Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. I especially loved the stories that ended with the reader yelling something arbitrary (like “BOO!” or “He was UNDER THE STAIRS!”)—a device that, when used properly, would always elicit screams from my audience.

When I was younger, I was much more open to being scared.

A connoisseur of the cinema, Scream and Scream 2 were my favourite films in high school—my friends and I dressed up to look old enough to see Scream 2 in theatres. We put on eyeliner, and at least three people wore heels. I spoke in a lower, much cooler tone, when I bought my ticket. We went to a 4 p.m. show on a Friday, right from school. It worked. Or no one cared.

The day I Know What You Did Last Summer came out on VHS I walked (through a cemetery) to the nearest Blockbuster Video so I could re-watch it immediately.

Maybe these things made me feel tough. Cool, like my ghost. Which I am not.
I write things about feelings, watch television shows starring Ted Danson, and have a Ravenclaw tapestry in my adult apartment.

But now I won’t watch anything violent—I can’t even watch Breaking Bad even though everyone says I should, and I’m a people pleaser—it just gets under my skin. Game of Thrones is out of the question, which is too bad, because I do enjoy a good dragon.
I still love magic, but I don’t like to feel scared. It feels like a rash in my chest, an uncomfortable burn—I can’t help but imagine what these violent things would feel like, and I hate that. Even in comedies, slapstick falls or falling piano squashing makes me cringe and need to think about something else.
And I would rather be tough, but it’s hard to chose to engage with a world full of horror and pain. Fictional or not.

As a rational Ravenclaw, I don’t believe in things that aren’t confirmed to exist—that live in the in-between: soothsayers, lucky rocks, love spells. Hauntings.
The idea of going to a psychic terrifies me. Because, in the same way I can’t leave a gym without joining it, I would buy into what she said.
And if it was good I’d get complacent, and if it was bad, I’d be upset.
So.

So I don’t believe in ghosts. It’s better for everyone. Mostly just for myself.

Except for this one ghost.
Who I assumed was a person, who had scaled a five-story house, and broken through a locked sliding door seamlessly, all to steal my four-year old MacBook.
So it actually makes more sense—to believe she was a ghost.
Even if she looked like something more familiar.

A figure in the dark at the foot of my bed, I made sure that her outline wasn’t an odd trick of shapes and objects and shadows.

She showed up in the middle of the night.
Something woke me up … and there she was.

A figure in the dark at the foot of my bed, I made sure that her outline wasn’t an odd trick of shapes and objects and shadows. I stared harder than I would at a map, lost in a blizzard, with a dead phone.
As my eyes adjusted, she only became more clear. Specific. A figure. Not that different from me. I mean, a lot cooler, but we’ve established that already.
She stood completely still. And looked right back at me.

And seconds dragged as slowly as a ball and chain being lugged by a withered ankle.
It was a drunken butterflies in your lungs kind of moment.
And then something rational clicked in my head, and I jumped out of my bed and flipped on the light, certain—so certain—

—But when I turned on the light there was nothing there. No one. Just me.

Not the most convincing or eventful otherworldly encounter.
But I slept with the lights on for the next three nights, and had text conversations with friends in different time zones.

And it wasn’t the only odd event that had happened that week.

There was also the spontaneous combustion that happened in my kitchen.
A burst of flame into the air—a dishcloth exploding with sparks.
Yes, the oven was on. But only at 350 degrees. And the dishcloth was fastened securely outside.

My fire alarm went off and I was annoyed it was so loud.
Then I turned my head and saw the flames. Tall. Hot. Out of nowhere.

I think the fire was my ghost trying to get my attention. Or to roast marshmallows.

They got higher and hotter, and I found myself throwing cups of water uselessly, and wondering why I had no actual, practical life skills. How had I gotten this far?
I thought, “I’m going to burn down this whole house because I’ve never really been paying attention when anyone has said anything about fire safety. In my whole life.”

Eventually I switched to a large pot as a water vessel, and was able to get the fire out, the casualties only being a couple of crispy dishcloths and a black mark I can’t get off my oven no matter what I scrub it with.

Like the shadow of something that I can’t explain.
Or maybe just my own carelessness, or my ability to get distracted by things in my head. I have an active enough imagination that I could probably haunt my own apartment and not even know it was me. I don’t know the details of how that would work, but if anyone can figure out such a complicated, strange, and anxiety-provoking thing—I can.

No.
I think the fire was my ghost trying to get my attention. Or to roast marshmallows.
Or she was having a huge fight with her ghost BFF that accumulated into hot, angry, real flames.
I hope they’ve made up. I think they have, since I haven’t seen my ghost since.
Either that, or she’s taken up lawn bowling.

Julia Lederer is a playwright most of the time, and her work has been produced in cities across North America, including: Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, Toronto, and Valdez, Alaska. Currently, her play With Love and a Major Organ is running at Pasadena’s Theatre @ Boston Court. She is working on several writing projects on topics including (but not limited to): witches, robots, and murder mystery parties.

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