Excerpt: Ghost Story

As a boy, I was scared by both my deep, hidden desire to be a girl and the spooky Main Line mansion I grew up in. Thirty years and a sex-change operation later, I came back ā€” only to discover Iā€™m still being haunted

When I’d told my mother that a paranormal investigator was coming over, she looked thoughtful for a moment.

“Now Jenny,” she said. “When you say ‘paranormal,’ do you mean, you know — other transsexuals?

I’d straightened her out on this score, but Mom still didn’t want to be around when the ectoplasm started flying. So as Wendy headed in, Mom headed out. She’d never seen a thing untoward in her house, and considered my constant tales of discombobulated zombies the work of an unquiet mind. “Look, if you two do find spooks,” said Mom, “do me one favor? Don’t tell me about them.”

Now Wendy and I stood at the bottom of the house’s grand staircase.

“Whoa, Jenny,” said Wendy. “There’s a cold spot here.” To her left was the old living room, the piano still in its alcove. The walls, now covered with tasteful cream-colored fabric, had ceased being black 30 years ago.

“What does that mean, a ‘cold spot’?” I asked.

“A spirit, probably,” she said.

Wendy got out two long copper rods. As she held one in each hand, they swung freely, like antennae.

“These are dousing rods,” she explained. “They detect electromagnetic energy. If there’s any disturbance in the field, they move. Spirits can move them, too. If the rods cross, that means yes. If they don’t, that means no.” She closed her eyes. “Is there anybody here?” she said, in a loud, commanding voice. For a moment, the house was quiet.

There was a loud creak at the top of the stairs. Then, one after the other, the stairs creaked with the heavy treads of descending footsteps.

The skin on my arms puckered into goose bumps, right on cue. We remained motionless for a moment. We could feel the presence of whatever this was, standing there on the bottom step.

“Are you lost?” said Wendy.

The rods trembled, crossed before her, then uncrossed.

Yes.

“Can you point to where you’re at?”

The copper rods trembled, moving back and forth like antennae. Then they stopped moving altogether. Something cool passed through us, like a soft wind.

“Darn it,” Wendy said. “He’s gone.”

“Where?”

She led us out of the study and back out into the hallway. “Is that your dad?” said Wendy, pausing in front of a large framed photograph on the wall.

“That’s him,” I said.

In the photograph, there was a trace of melancholy in the eyes. Next to the photo were two others. One of them was of me, at age 14. Next to it was a photograph of my sister, taken at the same time.

“Look at you,” said Wendy, picking up the photo of Lydia.

“That’s my sister,” I said. I’d told Wendy about the Ol’ Switcheroo a few weeks earlier. “This is me.”

Wendy looked at the photograph of the cheerful, wild-eyed young James.

“Whoa,” she said.

I nodded. Whoa pretty much summed it up. Then Wendy looked at my sister again.

“Hmm,” said Wendy.

“What?’

“I’m getting a weird energy from your sister’s photograph,” she said.

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