Barbacoa and Black Bean Wrap, Chipolte Black Beans, Lettuce, Tomato, Jack Cheese, Ranch


Rafe took a small taste of his drink. I wondered again what it was, but I didn’t want to inject a new topic into the conversation. I was determined to get answers, and Rafe was the best hope I had.

“You said it was your job to give Ada a proper burial. Who’s your employer?”

“Well, job is just the way I refer to what I do. I’ve been at it for a very long time. I don’t really have an employer, I just work on my own. When I sense an imbalance or see a problem that’s in my area of expertise, I try to rectify it.”

“Tell me more about Ada.”

“She’s what writers refer to as a poltergeist. She has a small kingdom under your house where she rules over the squirrels and other creatures. That includes the insects. She’s responsible for the lights going off and on, and any noises you hear. The word poltergeist means ‘noisy spirit’ in German. Sometimes they pound on things.”

“Why is she digging?”

“I’m the one who’s digging. After I get a certain amount of physical remains, I can rebury them somewhere else where she will rest easy. She’ll be gone from your house. In her present life, if we can call it that, she gets bored, which is when she makes herself known. She isn’t harmful, but poltergeists can be extremely annoying. She wouldn’t have hurt your cat.”

“So you’re digging up her bones? From her gravesite? And then you’ll what? Bury them somewhere else?”

“Yes, as I said. Somewhere more appropriate than beneath a house.”

“How did they get there in the first place?”

“That is a very good question; as I said earlier, one that I can’t answer. Yet.”

I thought about that, suddenly aware that it was pretty creepy living over a gravesite. And one that was in the process of being dug up. I decided to not exactly change the subject, but move it laterally.

“She can speak. She spoke to me.”

“Oh yes, in her way she’s conscious and aware of what’s goin on around her. Your mind is what came up with the sewed-up lips, that’s not reality.”


“Yes. You can either accept it or reject it, that’s up to you.”

“Can other people see her?”

“That depends. I can, though I see her differently than you do. She’s older to me, a teenager. She puts up with me because she knows I’m trying to help her. She doesn’t know what form that help will take, but she knows my intentions are good. Could your wife see her? Or even be aware of her? I doubt it. You are particularly invested in your house and your house’s history. And your job as a writer of fiction opens you to possibilities that other, normal, people would reject. You’re used to building worlds that others can’t see. These worlds exist only in your mind. When you write them down and put them where others have access to them they are out of your control. You worry about being crazy. All fiction writers are crazy to some extent, though I don’t really like the term crazy. Schizophrenic, used in a non medical way is better.”

So now, besides being whatever he was, some sort of spirit hunter and grave robber, Rafe was a psychologist and literary critic. His opinion didn’t surprise me; I believe what he said as well, at least the part about how writers have to carry around unreal worlds in their heads. And treat them as of they were real when they write them down.

BG noticed I had finished my Jagermeister and brought me a new drink. “Wild Turkey 101,” he said, setting the glass down. “It’s called 101 because that’s the proof. That’ll make up for the low-octane Jager.” I pushed my list of 69 drinks toward him and he initialed the Wild Turkey.

I was happy to get the Wild Turkey. Before I was a George Dickel man (as reported in an earlier post) I was a Wild Turkey drinker. At 101 proof and a medium-level price it’s a very economical drink and it fits nicely into my fondness for rough alcohol.

“I know I’m asking the same question but I can’t get my head around it: how did this Ada come to be buried under my house?”

“As I also said earlier, I believe she was buried first, then your house was moved on top of the grave.” He took another sip of his drink. For some reason the level of the liquid stayed the same, or at least it seemed that way to me. Also, the thick shot glass kept its gloss of frost.

“It’s all tied to the Ashburn School. The Ashburns were slave owners, and all indications are they were not particularly benevolent. Period accounts, letters, diaries, tell of them — both Mrs. And Mr. Ashburn — beating their slaves for trivial matters. Not that any matter deserved a beating. They loaned the slaves out, rented them to people in town, passed them back and forth among family members, used them any way they could to make money from them. I believe Ada was one of theirs. I read an accounting of their property from town records in the Hillsborough newspaper and they list a young mulato girl as belonging to them. They owned several other slaves as well, two men, and a woman of middle years, as she is described. I’m still reading the newspapers; you can access them online in the library and so far I haven’t found any reference to anyone dying, or any reference to moving the school building over to your property. If you’re interested you can look them up yourself. Just go to the Library of Congress’ website and put in the Hillsborough Record as your search term.” He stopped for a minute as if considering what he had just said. “Why don’t you do that, you could help me out; I’d appreciate it. As a matter of fact, if you really want to learn about this time in history and help me figure out why your house is involved, go to the local library and find an old guy named Aiden there. He sets up camp every day at a table on the second floor. Just ask anyone and they’ll point him out. He’s a retired history professor, taught at Duke for many years. Tell him I sent you.”

I fished my notebook out of my back pocket. “Aiden?” I asked, writing the name down. “Last name?”

“Mann, but you won’t need it. Everyone knows who he is.”

A train of thought suddenly occurred to me. “Do you think there’s anyone else buried underneath there? Besides Ada?”

“That’s a good point. That’s what I’ve been trying to ascertain.”

“That’s why there are two holes being dug”

He nodded. “The Hillsborough Record’s list of the Ashburn’s property was in the February 6, 1850 edition. I looked ahead to the same date one year later, and the list of their slave property has them down to one man and a woman. Ada is no longer there, and one of the men is missing.” He folded his hands on the table. The silence stretched between us. I didn’t really want to ask the question, but I saw no way around it.

“Do you think the man who disappeared might be buried there as well?”

“I need to find out.”


“I told you Ada is not a real danger, mostly just an annoyance. I need to relocate her for her own good. If there’s someone else under there, he needs to be dealt with as well. Because that’s my job, balancing your world with their world. If there’s someone else under there, I’m pretty certain he was a slave as well. The more I learn about those days, the more I understand how impossible these people’s lives were, the degradation, the hatred they felt, the misery, the shame and indignity, the terrible conditions they had to live with every moment of their lives.” Rafe leaned forward, toward me.

“If there are the remains of a grown man under there, and if that man died under unusual circumstances, and, really, what are normal circumstances to a slave, then maybe he’s going to come out of there just the way Ada has only more so. He’s going to be very very angry. And if he does, and if he is, I don’t think he’s going to be an annoyance. I think it’s going to be much worse than that. There’s a phrase people use: ‘Hell to pay.’ It fits. I think there will be Hell to pay. And you’re sitting right on top of it.”




4 thoughts on “Twenty-One

  1. So Rafe is a ghost too?! I hope jagermeister is the list’s low point. If that was the only alcohol there was, I’d be a teetotaler.


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