PREVIOUS: A Devil in the Classroom?
I still believe in happiness, but my hopes are fading.
Last week, Tina and I made it up to the San Francisco Bay Area in one piece. Turning my phone off had been a good idea. Disconnecting, unplugging – whatever you want to call it – really can be therapeutic. The weather wasn’t too bad and Tina and I spent two days together, pretending the past few weeks had never happened. Pretending that the past year had never happened, and that we’d never broken up. Thanksgiving with my parents was fine, but only after they stopped battering me with questions about Dr. Tina, my health, and of course, my next door neighbors. Gerry’s bizarre murder. The disappearance of his wife JoAnn, and his seven year old daughter, Middy. And the arrival of Gerry’s psycho brother, Terry. I didn’t tell my parents that the police had arrested Terry in my house, after finding him hiding in my bedroom with a knife. Thankfully the news didn’t report that part of the Terry story – it would’ve traumatized my mother. I had upset her enough when I told her that Middy was not the innocent and charming little kid that everyone thought she was, and that her prayers for Middy’s safe return were likely made in vain. It was more likely that Middy was already dead.
On Friday, when it was time to meet back up with Tina for the drive home, I had to turn my phone back on to contact her. I had one text message waiting for me from an unknown number. It read: I’LL BE HERE WHEN U GET BACK. I wanted the text messages to be a prank. A horrible trick played by a screwed up former friend or neighbor, a sick bastard who got some sort of perverse fun out of tormenting me. But the frozen fear shutting off my rationality drove me to only one insane conclusion: the text messages were from Middy. And like I said, I already thought Middy was dead.
During the car ride back home, I decided to completely open up to Tina. If our relationship really was rekindling then I needed to tell her everything. At least, so I thought. I began by telling her about the voices I had heard before she had taken me to the hospital. I told her about the “IS THIS HEAVEN?” message. I told her about the text messages from an unknown number, showing her the last one I had received since it was the only one I hadn’t deleted. I finished by telling her I thought the messages were from Middy.
Tina remained silent in the car for a few minutes. I had said too much, dropped one too many crazy bombs on her. But what she said next surprised me.
“I think Middy’s dead. She’s haunting the both of us.”
I said the first thing that came to mind. “That’s not what I want to hear.”
“How do you think it makes me feel saying it? You have to be a little bit crazy to be a doctor, but not to this extent.”
“I’m sorry. It’s my fault you’re involved in any of this.”
“Oh, stop it. I’m the one who’s been obsessed with the whole “Murder, Middy and Mystery” story. It means a lot that you feel comfortable enough to open up to me – you never used to be like that. So let me do the same. The story I told the police wasn’t exactly what happened to me in your neighbor’s garage.”
“I didn’t just see Middy at the front door of the house. I saw her inside the garage. She was dancing around all the photos in that shrine Terry had made. I tried to talk to her, but she just giggled and kept on twirling around. So I tried to go up to her and.…”
Tina shook her head and tightened her fingers around the steering wheel. I was about to ask her if she wanted me to drive, but she continued. “I tried to reach out to her and my hand passed right through her.”
“You really saw a ghost?”
Tina ignored my question. “I backed away from her and she stopped moving. I heard you call out to me, but the door to the garage closed and locked by itself. My mind was reeling and I started shivering. I grabbed the camera stand thing off the ground and held it front of me as if it could protect me. Middy looked at me and began laughing. Blood began to roll down her forehead and onto the rest of her face and clothes. My legs collapsed from under me and I fell hard to the floor. My heart was racing; I couldn’t breathe. I heard you shouting for me, pounding on the door, but I couldn’t speak! I wanted to scream! Middy stepped closer to me, the blood now covered most of her face. She put her mouth right next to my ear and whispered: He’s here. Let’s surprise him. The lights turned off and the door unlocked. Only when I saw you, did I find the will and strength to get off the floor and run to you.”
“Holy shit, Tina. You did look so fucking scared when I saw you.”
“I wanted to tell you what happened! But my brain immediately tried to discount it. I guess I’m a pretty good doctor – I managed to convince myself that it was all a stress-induced delusion. An anxiety-triggered hallucination. It happens all the time at the hospital, everyone has a freaky story to tell because we’re all stressed the hell out and it’s easy to start seeing shit that isn’t there. I wanted to forget all about it, but I’ve been having nightmares.”
Tina nodded. “I dream that I’m back inside the garage. I’m lying on the floor and Middy is on top of me. Her face is drenched in blood and droplets are falling all over me – my nose, my cheeks, my mouth. Middy is about to say something and that’s when I wake up. Full of sweat and in a panic. I’ve been having nightmares every night since going into the garage. It was really bad last night because when I woke up, I couldn’t reach out and hold you.”
I told Tina to pull over so I could drive. I also wanted a moment to hold onto her and tell her everything would be all right, even though I wasn’t at all certain it would be. Either Middy’s ghost was truly haunting us or we were both losing our minds. The two scenarios were equally troubling.
When we got home that evening, Tina asked if I could spend the night at her place. I agreed and she dropped me off at my house while she went to visit her patients at the hospital. Neither of us mentioned or even looked at the house next door. I also turned my phone back off. Tina gave me her house key because she wasn’t sure what time she’d get back to her condo – she was going to do some extra work to help settle her mind.
While at my place, I took a quick shower and packed a few things to take to Tina’s, including my laptop. I wanted to try to get back to my writing, agreeing with Tina that work would be a good thing. I also packed extra clothes. I didn’t want to stay at my house any longer than I needed to and was hoping Tina wouldn’t have a problem if I stayed with her for a while.
At Tina’s condo, I made myself at home. Found some food to eat in her fridge. Lied down on her couch. I fired up my laptop, but couldn’t write more than a few sentences. I kept thinking about Middy. Or more accurately, Middy’s ghost. The giggling I had heard in my backyard. The bloody face described by Tina. The text messages. Against my better judgment, I turned on my phone. There were nine text messages from the unknown number. Eight of them said the same thing: UR HOME. The last one read: DON’T LEAVE.
I deleted the messages and turned my phone back off. Once again, I doubled-up my medication and went to bed. I slept soundly and didn’t wake up until the next morning. I had apparently not only missed Tina coming back home from the hospital and getting into bed, but also her waking up and going back to work. There was a note on the nightstand.
Looks like you’re sleeping well. Me too! No nightmares! I’ll be back from the hospital around 6. Putting in some OT. Work is really helping me.
I forgot that Tina was a workaholic. Once she was back on her six or even seven day work schedule, she only needed about four hours of sleep each night. I thought back to earlier in the week when we had stayed in bed for hours after waking up – I was foolish to think that would continue.
During the day I tried to write, but still couldn’t type anything intelligible. I turned on the TV and caught the middle of a breaking news report. Terry had confessed to killing his brother Gerry. There was a celebratory mood among the news reporters and the police, even though they still didn’t know the whereabouts of JoAnn or Middy. There was speculation that Terry may have killed them too. Or that Terry was in cahoots with JoAnn to kill Gerry. Or that Terry had killed Gerry and JoAnn, and was holding Middy hostage somewhere. Everyone had a theory because Terry refused to say anything else. Photos of Middy flashed on the screen, while a police spokesperson pled for the public’s help. I turned the TV off. Was it possible that the text messages weren’t from Middy? Maybe they were from an accomplice of Terry’s? Was that too far-fetched? It was probably a better answer than believing in a text-typing ghost. I was an idiot – I shouldn’t have deleted the messages. I should’ve showed them to the police. They might’ve been important pieces of evidence.
I turned my phone on. There was only one text message. From my mother, asking me if I had heard the news. I didn’t respond. If the messages from the unknown number had stopped, they really might be related to Terry and his accomplice was fleeing the area. Feeling better, I went back to my laptop to try writing again. Instead, I found myself online, reading news reports about Terry, including a few from the alternative news site that was posting all the leaks. That’s when I found an item about Middy. A police interview with Middy’s second grade teacher. I posted the transcript here.
Something didn’t feel right. Why was there a leak about Middy? One that made her seem even more cruel and bizarre than ever before? Maybe the police were wrong. Maybe Terry’s confession was bullshit. Maybe Terry falsely admitted to the murder of his brother or the police beat the confession out of him to make themselves look good.
Maybe Middy’s ghost really did exist.
When Tina came home at six o’clock, I tried to share my thoughts with her. She didn’t want to hear them. She said she was done talking or thinking about the case. She didn’t want to reignite her nightmares and wanted to put everything behind her. I’ll admit I was a little mad and a little hurt. Didn’t she want to try and make sense of things? Weren’t we trying to get through all of this together? We went to bed at the same time that night, but it felt like I had gone to sleep alone.
Sunday. This was the day that Tina and I took a big step backwards. She was on call so she didn’t have to go to the hospital. I was looking forward to spending the whole day with her, possibly doing something normal like going to see a movie. But Tina kept her distance from me. She worked on her computer. She cleaned the bathroom. She did the laundry. She sat by herself and read through several medical journals. She barely talked to me. It was evening when I finally got the nerve to ask her what was wrong. She said nothing. I asked her if she wanted to go out for dinner. She said no. I asked her if she wanted me to leave. She hesitated, but still said no.
Before I could ask her anything else, my phone chimed. A text message. From an unknown number.
I FOUND U.
I looked over at Tina. She seemed to know exactly what message I had received. She shook her head, but I couldn’t stop myself from replying. I texted: Who are you?
NOT THIS AGAIN.
I responded: I’m showing these texts to the police.
So they can arrest you.
Tina shouted at me to stop, but I continued to text back. What do you want?
I WANT TO SEE U AND TINA.
I’m calling the police.
IF I KNOCK WILL U LET ME IN?
There was a knock at Tina’s front door. A soft, cautious knock, as if it had been made by a small child. Tina got up to answer the door, but I stopped her and showed her the text messages. Another text arrived.
LET ME IN?
Tina went over to the window that looked outside to her doorway. I nervously followed. Tina peered through the half-open blinds. She snapped them shut and turned to me. “There’s no one there.”
Another text. NO PEEKING.
Another soft knock at the door. Tina pulled back the blinds, shook her head and darted back into the living room. “There’s nothing there! Oh, my God. What have you done?”
“I didn’t do anything! Should I call the police?” Tina didn’t answer me so I texted back. Go away!
WHY? THIS IS FUN.
Tina sat down on the couch, and buried her head in her hands. Her body rocked back and forth as if she were crying. Before I moved to console her, there were several loud knocks at the door, completely unlike the previous times, full of force and urgency. Tina lifted her head and shouted. “Is that all you can do?”
Another text came in: WHAT’S WRONG WITH TINA?
Tina continued to shout. “Can’t you open the door yourself? Or walk through the walls? Can’t you do anything else besides knocking on the door and texting stupid messages?”
I’M JUST PLAYING. I’M ALREADY INSIDE.
The power in Tina’s house went out. It was twilight so we weren’t plunged into total darkness and I could see that outside lights were still on. Tina jumped up from the couch, rushed to her front door, and bolted outside. I chased after her. When I caught up to her on the street next to my parked car, I tried to talk to her, but she pushed me away.
Tina spoke while looking at the ground. “I can’t do this. I can’t do this. I won’t do this.”
Another text: WHAT’S WRONG?
I texted back. If I go back home, will you leave Tina alone?
OK. I PROMISE.
The power inside Tina’s condo turned back on. I put my arms around Tina and told her that I had to leave. That she would be left alone if I went back home. Tina nodded, but didn’t return my hug. She didn’t even look at me. We were turning into strangers.
I went back inside her place and grabbed my things. Tina stayed outside the whole time. When I got in my car to drive away, Tina finally looked at me. Tears that she had been holding back finally erupted and she ran back inside her home.
When I got back to my house, I stayed in my car for a while. Unsure of what to expect next. Unsure of everything except for the message that I knew would arrive.
I had my response ready. Please stop texting me.
BUT I’M HERE FOR YOU.
Please leave me alone. No more texts.
OK, I’LL STOP. JUST FOR U.
Thank you. Thank you, Middy.
HAHA. FOOLED U. I’M NOT MIDDY.
I didn’t respond. A couple of days have passed and I haven’t received any more text messages. Yet I’m still not sure if they have stopped forever or if I’m really going to be left alone. I don’t know who or what was behind the text messages, and I feel that the answer would only upset and frighten me more. I’ve left numerous messages with Tina, asking if she’s OK, and today I finally I got a response. A text message. It brought a smile to my face, but it quickly faded once I actually read what she had written.
Don’t worry. I’m fine. Middy thinks it’s best if we stay away from each other for a while.
I still believe in happiness, but my hopes are fading.