Mischa pulls up across the street from Byrdie’s apartment building. Shreveport is much different than she expected. Typically anything in Louisiana makes her think about bayous and the French quarter but it’s actually quite far away from that area. She silently hopes to herself that it is the only surprise in store for her during this visit.
Her encounter with Amber was a learning experience to be sure. After looking up Byrdie on Facebook, she sent her a private message explaining who she was. The response was instantaneous. Byrdie, unlike Amber, seemed to be of the same accord with Mischa when it came to the Soldier Ghost and was eager to share her story with someone who would listen.
Mischa takes a look around the car before she steps out. There’s been no visits from the Soldier Ghost as of yet. She wonders if she will ever see him again. If he is even half the deadbeat she thinks he is, then the answer is no. Confident that she is the only person in her car, Mischa calls Byrdie’s number and steps out.
“Hello?” The voice on the other line is full of excitement.
“Hi Byrdie? It’s Mischa. I’m just outside. Which apartment is yours?”
“I’ll be right down!” The phone clicks off.
Mischa tingles with anticipation. Maybe it’s knowing that she’s about to meet another of the ghost’s victims – one who actually considers herself a victim. But even as her anticipation mounts there are inklings of doubt. Amber had seen the ghost. She’d had many trysts with him. But her son wasn’t his, at least not in any biological way. What’s more, she laughed at the idea that it was even possible. Someone who’d seen the ghost in person laughed at the idea. Why would anyone else believe her?
“So I think we should talk.” A voice suddenly comes from behind Mischa.
She screams and swings her purse on instinct. When there is no contact with anything she looks around frantically. No one is there.
“Calm down will ya? I’m trying to engage you in a conversation here.”
Mischa knows that voice. She’s been waiting to hear it since she left Alabama. She turns around, more calmly this time to meet the gaze of the Soldier Ghost.
“Don’t sneak up on people like that.”
“I’m a ghost. Kinda hard not to. Anywhere’s like I was sayin’, we should talk. Now I feel kinda bad just duckin’ out on you the other day but by God if that woman Amber ain’t the most whacked out old bat I’ve ever seen… But that don’t have to get in the way of the special connection what we got goin’ for us, does it? Now I don’t know why you’d think that I sired you that baby you got in your belly but, I ain’t one to hold grudges, ‘specially with pretty young girls like yourself—hold, on where are we?
“Shreveport.” Mischa answers with indifference.
“Louisiana?” The ghost takes a look around, as though noticing where he is for the first time. At that moment a heavily pregnant blond waddles up to the front gate.
“YOU!” The woman screams. She struggles to unlatch the gate.
And with that, the ghost disappears yet again. Mischa would find it funny if it weren’t so predictable and sad.
The pregnant blond, Mischa can only assume, is Byrdie. She has to hand it to the Soldier Ghost; he’s three for three with the blonds. He definitely has a type. Byrdie is a pretty girl, similar to Mischa in age and stature but roughly half a foot taller and 3 months further along. She looks about ready to pop.
“That was him, wasn’t it? I can’t believe it!”
“Believe it. He was trying to get back together with me I think.”
“Tell me about it.”
The two girls look each other over for a moment. This entire situation is so unbelievable; it’s absurd. Yet somehow, having someone there who is going through the same thing, Mischa is able to do something she hasn’t been able to. She laughs.
And soon, Byrdie is laughing too. Tears stream down her face in a jumbled mix of emotions but she keeps on laughing. There’s not much more than can be done.
“It’s good to finally meet you, Mischa.” Byrdie wipes the tears from her eyes and opens her arms out for a hug.
“Thank you so much for meeting me.” Mischa accepts Byrdie’s kind gesture and hugs her. It’s a little awkward though, as they maneuver their bellies around the hug. “Wow, look at you.”
“I know. Should be any day now. Come on, let’s get you inside.”
Mischa follows Byrdie to her apartment, which is on the second floor. It isn’t a terribly far walk but Mischa still feels bad that Byrdie has to walk up and down the steps in her condition. Byrdie, however, seems upbeat.
When they reach Byrdie’s apartment, Mischa is greeted with a delicious smell. She isn’t sure what it is but it makes her mouth water. It’s so distracting that Mischa hardly notices the rest of the apartment. It is filled to the brim with books on the occult, the afterlife, ghosts, and demons. There is a work desk in the corner of the room that is littered with newspaper clippings and print outs from online articles.
“I know, I know. Pardon the mess. I got a little obsessed for a while, trying to make sense of everything. Now, I’m too fat and tired to clean up everything so… meh.” Byrdie shrugs nonchalantly. “I was in the middle of fixing myself something to eat, you want some?”
“Yes, whatever it is, yes.” Mischa replies excitedly.
Byrdie laughs. “Someone’s hungry. Well have a seat and I’ll fix you a plate.”
Mischa sits down on the couch and has a look around. There are books, quite literally everywhere she looks. She picks up one particularly thick anthology. The cover reads: Spiritual Awakening and Demonic Possession in Colonial and Pre-colonial America. As she flips through the pages, she stops on one ear marked page. There is an illustration of a terrified man in his bed – his arm being tugged by a woman in a white gown who floats above him. She can see why this page would have caught Byrdie’s interest. Mischa closes the book.
Byrdie emerges from the kitchen with two plates in hand. Each has a healthy serving of red beans and rice, sausage and cornbread. Mischa takes the place gratefully.
“So Byrdie, now that we’re both here, I’d love to hear your story.”
“In all honesty, there’s not a whole lot to tell. My boyfriend had just left on his first deployment a few weeks before it happened. I was nervous about being alone. I come from a big family, so I’ve never had to be in any place by myself and I wasn’t sleeping well. It was just too quiet. So I tried taking a sleeping pill and it knocked me out good. That’s the first time I met him. In my dream. It was nice, at first, having someone to talk to. Each night, I’d take a pill and have such realistic dreams. They were always in different places; here, out in the mountains, by the sea, even back in his home in Georgia…”
“He told you about himself?”
“Some. He lived on a farm out in Georgia. His father and all four of his brothers apparently died in the war. That was some sob story he told. He got all emotional too. Said he needed “comforting” it all just hurt his poor soul so bad.”
“I see, so that’s when you and he…”
“No! Are you kidding? Listen, I’ll admit, I was having fun on our little adventures, and sure I thought he was cute but I had a boyfriend sleeping on a hard cot in the middle of the damn dessert somewhere waiting for me. I couldn’t cheat on him, even in my dreams. But he started getting kinda… I don’t know… scary. Like his eyes were glowing blue.”
The memory of Mischa’s encounter with the Soldier Ghost flashes through her mind. She will always remember the moment when those eyes went from beautiful to eerie.
“I think I know what you mean.” Mischa puts a reassuring hand on Byrdie’s lap.
“After that I tried to wake up, but I couldn’t. I mean, I opened my eyes but my body wouldn’t move. And he was still there, just laying next to me like the creepiest old creeper you’ve ever seen. It was the most scared I’d ever been in my life. The whole time I thought it was fake, that it was a dream, but it was real. He just kept going back and forth between lying on the bed and hovering over me saying ‘It’s just a touch of sleep paralysis. You gotta demon sitting on your chest. You gotta relax, let go, let me relax you, blah blah blah’. Asshole.”
“Oh my God, that’s horrible. Here I thought he was just a perv. A deadbeat. But to think that to you – that he would take advantage of you in that state. You must have been… I can’t believe it, you were r—“
“No! Oh God no! Jesus! If he’d done that I’d be in the nuthouse for sure by now.”
“…Huh?” Mischa is confused.
“No he just kept rubbing my shoulders and floating all over me and all this weird ghost shit. It was creepy as hell.”
“So then… How did you get pregnant?”
“No idea. All I know is, that ghost was the only “man” in my life for a while. He kept coming around and doing all this molest-y ghost-y stuff around me and suddenly I’m pregnant. I tried to tell my boyfriend about it but he didn’t believe me. He still won’t talk to me. My family is ashamed of me, my friends think I’m nuts, and that bastard – who wouldn’t leave me alone no matter how much I asked – disappears as soon I mention the word baby. He just ‘poof’ up and gone. Haven’t heard from him since. Not until today… You telling me you actually had sex with him?”
“I thought it was a dream!” Mischa’s ears are a bright beet red.
“How is that even possible? He’s a ghost! Don’t you, like, go through him or something, I mean… seriously how do the mechanics of that even…”
“I don’t know, I don’t know! STOP JUDGING ME!”
“I’m not! I promise I’m not. I’m just a little surprised. Look at you, naughty girl!”
Mischa groans and melts into her plate. She wants to disappear. Byrdie never got suckered in to his played out romantic gestures. Mischa had, even if it were just for a short while. That fact makes her feel like she’s a weird mix of Byrdie and Amber. She stuffs her mouth to hide her shame.
“Let’s move on,” Mischa says through a mouth full of food. “Have you been able to find out anything about how this could have happened?”
“Not much.” Byrdie answers. She stands and retrieves some papers from off of her work desk. “I’ve looked and looked but I’ve never heard of anything like this happening. Not with a ghost at least. Demons on the other hand…”
“Demons?” Mischa very nearly chokes on her food. She hastily grabs for a glass of water.
“Well just because he looks like a man doesn’t mean he is one. I had to make sure I wasn’t carrying some kind of devil spawn.”
“All my medical tests show that my baby is fine. Perfectly healthy, no abnormalities. And then there’s this.” Byrdie shows Mischa a photocopy of an old photo. Mischa studies the photo closely. There is a general on horseback. On the ground next to him are four confederate soldiers, all are straight faced and battered with the exception of one.
Considering the amount of time it took to take a picture, smiling was a rarity in photos that old. Especially a photo from the battlefront. But without fail, to the far right, a young man with a shit eating grin steals the show. There is a caption at the bottom that reads: General Joseph Paxton and Confederate Soldiers. From left to right; Private Kenneth Hough, Private Ezekial Phillips, Private Daniel Smithey, and Private Josiah Jackson.
And there it was. Suddenly the Soldier Ghost had a name. Mischa hadn’t even realized that she never knew it before. Josiah Jackson. He was a real person.
“I know. Freaky. I managed to find some more stuff about him too. Byrdie hands Mischa a news clipping. It is an obituary for Josiah Jackson. Mischa is still too stunned to read it though. “Apparently, our boy Josiah always had a way with the ladies. He made it through the war but at the time news traveled slow, so he went around from house to house, still in his uniform and get unassuming women to take in the “wounded soldier from the battlefront”. Women who didn’t realize that the war was already over. Left a few broken hearts and a fair amount of angry husbands in his path. Says here a posse of them dragged him out of bed in the middle of the night.”
“Nice. So he’s always been a deadbeat. That’s comforting.”
“Actually it is. At least it makes me more confident that he’s a not a demon. Still I don’t understand how this happened… There’s another girl.”
“Seriously? How many of us are there?” Mischa nearly spits out her food.
“Most of the “Ghost Dad” claims are complete bull but this girl seems to be the real deal.” Byrdie hands her an article.
HOLLYWEIRD DRAMA! RODERICK KEATS EX CLAIMS LOVECHILD BORN FROM GHOSTLY AFFAIR!
“Her name is Janice Keats and she’s the wife of some big Hollywood producer, but DNA test showed that their youngest child wasn’t his. She said the father of her child is a man she calls J.J and he’s a ghost.”
“J.J. Josiah Jackson.”
“Exactly. She doesn’t mention him being a confederate but her description of him is spot on. And according to her, as soon as he found out she was pregnant, he was gone with the wind. Mischa,” Byrdie takes Mischa’s hands with a sense of urgency.
“I really want to meet this woman, but I can’t. I can’t risk traveling right now, so I need you to meet her for the both of us. Janice, she’s actually had blood work done on her child. Maybe it’ll match our kids.”
“Oh my God… We’d have proof. If it shows our kids are related, we’d have proof that he’s real!”
The two girls squeal and bounce in their seats with excitement.
“Yes! And once I clear my good name I END THAT DAMNED GHOST!” Byrdie stands, determined.
Silence permeates the house. Mischa’s previous excited energy has fallen off a cliff and died. It’s death wails float away and disappear in the evening air.
Byrdie reaches into the couch cushions and retrieves an obscenely large rife as well as a hand full of charms. “Special made ammo fires rock salt bullets! And that’s not all.” Byrdie waddles over to the work desk and retrieves boxes of random items; bones, incense, weird plants, bottles of liquids. “I have searched every method under every religious or superstitious source I could find for getting rid of ghosts.” She continues. “Salt, incense, paper charms, blessed daggers, you name it, I got it.
“Just you wait. I’ll show the world I’m not crazy. My boyfriend and my family will have to apologize for doubting me, and then I kill that scumbag for good this time.”
Mischa stares at Byrdie in shock.
“…o.k…” Is the only word that manages to escape her mouth. There is a gleeful glint in Byrdie’s eye that suddenly makes Mischa uncomfortable to be there. And what’s more, how has she been hiding that huge rifle in the couch?
Byrdie slings the gun over her shoulder with a look of satisfaction.
“So Mischa, how about dessert before you hit the road?”