Read The Haunting of the Gemini Online
Authors: Jackie Barrett
Maybe that was why I couldn't let it rest. This poor man needed help, and I felt I'd been brought into his story for a reason. Two days after his family told me to do nothing more, I set out for Union Square Park to do more anyway. I don't like seeing people in pain. Helping the vulnerable is one of my own vulnerabilities. And unfortunately for me, there were those who knew this.
I took a pack of smokes and some coffee with me. I know the currency of the streets, and a few cigarettes can usually buy you some information. I walked through the whole area, looking everywhere. I saw crack vials, empty dope bags, tiny specks of blood on the ground. I showed the man's photograph around, though most of these people wouldn't have recognized the guy if he were sitting on their laps.
I kept searching as the winter sun went down and dark clouds moved in. I finally sat down on a bench, about to admit defeat in my search for this nowhere man, when I happened to notice the feet of the person sitting next to me, wearing the same torn sneakers I'd seen in my vision three days earlier. I peeked into the blanket he wore wrapped around himself and got a look at his face. Jackpot! I told myself to remain calm. I did not want to spook him. I slowly pulled out a cigarette and extended it toward him. An aged, soiled hand emerged from the blanket and snatched it from my fingers. I lit it for him and watched the smoke billow from his nose and mouth.
“What do you want from me?” he said. “You a cop?”
“No. I'm no cop,” I said carefully.
He peered around his blanket at me with a very alert expression in his eyes. “Well, I ain't going home, and I ain't going with you. This is no place for you. Go away.”
Yeah, everyone knows how well
works on me. I knew of a men's shelter where he could get medical care. “I want to help you. Please, let me get you a warm bed, some food, and a hot shower, and then we can talk.”
He stood up and flung the half-smoked cigarette away. I stood up quickly, too, and said, “You have a family that loves you. You owe it to your daughters and yourself.”
He stopped, and I thought for a split second that I'd gotten through to him with the power of remembrance and love. Then he began to chuckle, and in a different voiceâone that sounded like a bucket of stones being dumped into the well of my soulâhe said, “You couldn't save your poor, tormented mother and you want to save me. You will always be a slave to salvation, you pitiful idiot.”
I know the devil talking when I hear it. I yanked the blanket off him and found myself staring not at the son and father I'd been searching for but some man in his thirties with long blond hair and track marks mapping his arms. That sudden movement attracted the attention of the many homeless people, and they began to move toward me. I knew I had to get out of there. I bolted and was almost away when I ran right into a tall man dressed all in black. He had coal-black eyes and hair, short except for a thin ponytail that hung over his shoulder. He grabbed both of my arms. “You could get hurt stalking people,” he said. He pulled me into him, and I could feel his breath on my cheek. He rubbed his lips up my face to my ear.
“Now we are one,” he whispered. “We are one. Two is one.”
I wrenched myself free and ran to the subway. The thirty-minute ride back felt like eternityâI had never been so glad to see home. My husband, Will, greeted me at the door and asked me where I'd been.
“I don't know,” I said, “but something is coming.”
I was working too hard. That was all it was, I kept telling myself. That was why this spirit was tugging at the edges of my brain, slipping past the corner of my eye, following me, and then disappearing as soon as I turned to look. Wrong numbers would appear on my cell phone and come back as disconnected when I called them. My voice mail would fill with incoherent messages. There would be knocks on the front door and no one outside when I answered.
Food that I loved now turned my stomach. I would awaken in the middle of the night and stare at Will, wondering who he was and how I could get him to leave. My friends started to complain that I was acting differently, talking differently, dressing differently. I ate with my hands in restaurants, even fancy ones, which was a breach of etiquette my Southern upbringing would never, ever allow. I would catch myself in outfits that looked more like hooker-chic than my usual modest dress. I would glimpse myself in a mirror and wonder who had styled my hair or put on my makeup. It certainly wasn't me.
Jewelry went missing. Not my everyday stuff but expensive pieces I usually wore only once or twice a year. I would find them stashed far in the back of my armoire, under piles of clothes. When I straightened up the house, I would fluff a throw pillow and put it on the left side of a living room armchair. The second I let go of it, it would lift up and smash down on the right side. If I switched it back, the same thing would happen. Music would suddenly start blasting from the turned-off stereo. My cell phone, which I placed fully charged on my bedside table at night, would be completely drained of power every morning. I finally took it back to the store and was told that there was nothing wrong with it.
Some nights, I would jolt awake from a dead sleep, consumed with overwhelming fear. I felt like I was being watched very closely, as though something were inches from my face. Other nights, I didn't wake up at all. But in the morning, instead of pajamas, I would awake to find myself in jeans and a T-shirt that reeked of booze and stale cigarette smoke, my feet covered with mud. Where had I been walking?
I got messages on my phone from strangers telling me that they'd had fun and asking if we could get together again. They never left names, and I quickly got in the habit of deleting them so my family wouldn't find out. Many of my appointmentsâboth personal and professionalâgot canceled, and when I asked about it, the people I had been scheduled to meet with said I was the one who had done it. I never had any memory of doing so.
I kept trying to work throughout these months. I am a psychic medium, and I interact regularly with people who are grieving or traumatized, so I always take great care to be respectful and kind when I communicate. But now, when I typed out e-mails to my clients, I found myself unconsciously inserting words in the middle of my sentences.
I'm stuck in an asylum.
None of these phrases had anything to do with what I was actually writing. I would stare at a completed e-mail in total confusion. Where was this coming from?
I slowly began to feel that I was losing control of my own life. Did I still even have one? One day, as I was saying good-bye to my husband as he headed off to work, I looked out our front door. The world outside was black and gray.
Maybe I'm dead, and he's afraid to tell me.
I had known spirits who had not yet figured out that they had really died. Was I one of them? The thought turned me cold, and Will stepped back from our hug as though he felt the chill.
He knew me so well, my big bear of a husband. And he knew other things, too. He was educated in voodoo mysticism, just as I was, and understood the other world that always called to me. He had always been able to tap into my thoughts and emotions telepathically, but now he looked unsure as he stared at me in our foyer.
I first saw Will when I was in my late teens, as he climbed aboard a streetcar in New Orleans. My eye was immediately caught by the tall, handsome black man with a voodoo protection symbol tattooed on his chest. I would see him occasionally in different places in the city, but I did not learn his name for several years.
At that point, in my early twenties, I was traveling the world, helping tend to wounded souls. The elders in New Orleans's small voodoo community began to worry about my safety and thought that having a protector would be smart. So they suggested someone accompany me on my travels, and introduced me to that streetcar passenger I had seen before. And Will Barrett and I became inseparable.
He watched over me and my daughter, Joanne, as all three of us became seasoned globetrotters.
He started asking me to marry him after we had been traveling together for about a year. I said no. He kept asking, and I kept saying no. I liked things the way they were. We were best friends, and I knew I could depend on him for my life. I didn't need a marriage certificate for that. Plus, I didn't want to put him in danger by linking him to me that way.
But that man wouldn't give up. He asked me for about the hundredth time on Saint Valentine's Day in 1997. It was a cold day in New Orleans, and I felt at that very moment an even colder blast run right through my bones. I knew it was time to make things right. So we got married in a voodoo ceremony that night in the Saint Louis Cemetery on North Rampart Street. He gave me a beautiful snake ring that symbolizes the white serpent of healing. And I gave him a ring that belonged to my father, a Blackfoot medicine man. We've been together for more than twenty-five years. He has made my work his work, and with him, I never felt scared or alone.
Until now. Will looked at me closely as he left for work and told me I was working too hard. I needed a break. Take a few days off. Maybe I was still among the living and not dead after all. As he walked down the path and away, I paused to look around at my front garden, which was slowly returning to color from the black and gray of minutes before. Even though we lived in New York now, I'd kept my New Orleans green thumb. Green twisting vines with big pink blooms grew up the front wall, and other plants surrounded the double-tiered fountain just outside the front doors. Everyone in the neighborhood seemed to enjoy it. A little bit of nature always makes things better.
And then there was my gate. I had designed it myself and collaborated with an artist and an iron worker to make it. It would have made my father, an iron worker himself, proud. A small cross sat on top of each picket, and the middle came together in a much larger crossâalthough you would have to walk across the street in order to be far enough away to realize that. There also were voodoo
âthe symbols of protection and love. I guess I'd brought more with me from New Orleans than just my green thumb.
I walked out into my garden, happy I could now see the pink of the flowers. Could I still feel them? I reached out and grabbed one tightly. Yes, thank goodness. The flower filled my hand, and I could feel every part of it. But when I let go, the bright petals started to fade and shrivel as they fell to the ground. By the time they reached the earth, they were dead. I touched one slightly with my foot, and it sounded like I had just stepped on broken glass.
“You killed it!”
I jumped and whirled around. The screech had been full of fury, but there was no one behind me. I looked out the gate. There was no one there, either.
I went back into the house, my heart racing. My hands were covered with pink from the petals and yellow from the flower's stamen. I walked into the kitchen to wash them. I soaped up, and the colors began to wash down the drain. Then came the blood. I looked my hands over, but there were no cuts anywhere. Yet the more I rinsed them, the more blood poured forth.
I grabbed a dish towel and dried my hands and arms. I had to get a second one to wipe the sink and the counter. Finally I seemed to have gotten it all. I used one more towel to scrub everything with bleach and then tossed all threeâsoaked with bloodâinto a bag. I didn't know what to do with them, so I took them down the block to a service laundry that I always use. I walked up to the counter, and the woman there eyed my small bag.
“Is this it?” she asked.
I looked around nervously. I did not want anyone to see my red-stained towels.
“I had a bit of an accident and cut myself,” I said. I knew this sounded odd, considering there was not a mark or a bandage on me. I pulled out one of the balled-up towels. “Please do your best to get the blood out. I just got these towels, and they're expensive.”
She took the bag from me and pulled out the other two towels. I was paying more attention to the people around me, wondering what they were thinking about me.
“Miss Jackie,” the woman said. From her tone, she must have been trying to get my attention repeatedly. She held up one of the towels.
“There is no bloodânothing. Only heavy bleach. I can wash them for you.”
I grabbed the towels and turned them over frantically, wanting to validate what had just happened to me. There was nothing. Only bleach.
*Â *Â *
After months of whispers and thumps and a disembodied voice, I finally started seeing the culprit. She would appear on the street and go darting through traffic. I would see my own reflection in the glass of a store window and then hers right behind me. Once I walked downstairs and found her sitting in my office chair, wearing the same lucky red sweatshirt I had just put on. Another time, she made me take a drink. I fought my own hand as it brought the alcohol up to my mouth. I've never been a drinker, and it immediately made me sick. I ran into the bathroom to throw up and found her sitting on the counter, where she babbled away incoherently as I hung over the toilet. I could make out some wordsâshe said that she was beautiful, and the two of us had work to do. She passed me a tissue so I could wipe my mouth and laughed at me. I felt sicker than ever.
I knew she was dead. But I did not know who she was or what she wanted. Did she want help? Did she want my body, my life?
Even my most mundane actions, my boring errands, were not exempt. I couldn't even make an ordinary trip to the grocery store, for goodness' sake, walking out to find the blue sky turning to deep gray. The air was thick, and the trees began to sway in the increasing wind. I quickened my steps, hoping to make it the six blocks home before the sky opened up.
“JackieeeeÂ .Â .Â .”
The word was whispered directly into my ear. I spun around, expecting to see someone right over my shoulder, but no one was there. The wind tugged at my clothes as I gawked at the empty sidewalk behind me. I turned and started toward home again.
“JackieeeeÂ .Â .Â . be with meÂ .Â .Â .”
This time there were footsteps, too, pounding the pavement behind me. I started to run. The sky cracked open and shot lightning. The way things were going, it was probably aiming directly at me. I looked up at it and lost my footing. Down I went with my bag of groceries, stupid cans spilling everywhere. And then there was stupid me, embarrassed as I got to one knee and started gathering my food. A woman stopped and bent down to help. I was starting to thank her when she took a can of beans out of my hands and began to giggle. I slid back on my knees to look up at her but couldn't see much past the matted hair obscuring her face. Just that glimpse, though, and the way she held herself sent a chill of fear down my back. What did she want with me?
“I see you're still eating this,” she said, her gaze on the can of beans. She kept staring at the can and my gaze followed hers, but I focused on her handâgray flesh and chewed fingernails embedded with dirt and blood. She saw my look and dropped the can, swinging her hand behind her back.
“Don't you look at me like that!” She started sobbing and licking her lips. “It wasn't my fault!” Her breath came in heaves, and I moved back, trying to put some space between us. I finally realized that no one else could see her. All the people rushing past me, crouched on the sidewalk, were not aware of the woman at all. I knew I had taken one step beyond that door of mine that swings both ways as often as it wants to.
“Do I know you?” I asked softly. “Why are you following me?”
She stood up and kicked over my poor grocery bag. “Take your stuff and get the fuck away from me.” Then she used one hand to cover her face while the other tugged at her dirty pants, reminding me of a shameful child trying to hide. I suddenly felt sorry for her.
“Don't cry,” I said. “I'm sorry if I hurt your feelings.” I stood slowly and carefully picked up my last few scattered cans, trying not to move quickly and set her off again. “Why do you follow me?” I asked.
“Because you know me. We're the same, can't you see?”
With that, she swung toward the busy avenue and bolted into traffic. “Race you home!” she yelled over her shoulder. I grabbed my groceries and raced after her, reflexively yelling for the cars to stop. I shoved past people waiting for the light to change and then stopped and reminded myself that I was the only one who could see her. The people behind me began to whisper about the crazy lady, meaning me.
It isn't me, it's her
, I wanted to yell. The light changed and I ran, away from the whispers and toward home.