Over the years Kim has entertained a theory that what we perceive to be as ghosts are less supernatural in nature but more an imprint of energy. I didn’t really understand what he meant but on one of these occasions, as we were catching horses in the back 40, he likened it to a cassette tape.
A few years ago in late August we had closed the summer show and a small crew of us were still on the farm doing strike. We’d cleaned up from dinner but could smell something burning in the cook shack. It was strong enough our eyes were stinging but couldn’t see smoke or locate it’s source. Being an old building full of critters, our worst fear was an electrical short smouldering in the walls. We shut off the breaker box, as well as the supply to the propane tank and called the local fire department.
Five of us were sitting on the porch in the pitch dark when we saw the lights of not one but four fire trucks coming down the long dirt driveway. From a town that serves only four thousand people, it was awesome how completely absurd it was. Nine fire fighters in full gear, three complete with oxygen tanks and masks dropped out of the trucks and entered the building.
The whole fire department attended the call along with a few young recruits in-training. I quickly realized one of the fire fighters was an old friend of the farm, albeit a strange character. He walked confidently around the building waving at the walls, talking through his face shield about how old and poorly built the cook shack was and how one night many years ago while they were playing cards around the dining table, a fire just randomly flared out in the far wall by the kitchen sink. All the fire fighters clustered around the spot to inspect.
He was carrying an infrared heat gun with a screen and without warning he smacked the bench in front of me as hard as he could with the palm of his hand. In surprise I yelped and stumbled backward. He pointed the gun immediately at the bench. On the screen I could see a perfect infrared imprint of his hand. He said the gun registered heat so if there was a fire in the walls, this would sense it. Kim looked down at the hand print and back up at me. His electric blue eyes narrowed and he nodded. They didn’t find anything but the following summer the hot water heater in the kitchen lit fire. We tore the exterior wall open and blasted it with a garden hose. We didn’t bother calling the fire department.
As Kim and I lead the horses out of the Back 40 we reckoned the amount of energy we put into the shows every season, for better or for worse, must leave some sort of imprint on the land.
One of our days off this summer, on a particularly smokey afternoon I headed back to the farm with plans to avoid the dense particulate by curling into a book the rest of the evening in my cabin. I stopped in the cook shack to drop off my arm load of town run kombuchas in the communal fridge. A small cluster of the company were sitting on the benches around one of the 4’x8′ tables passing the time till heading into town for a movie. Not wanting to be entirely antisocial I sat down beside my theatre school pal Aj. The conversation moved from travels in Madrid and Barcelona to gossip about other theatre folk. It took a turn when they started relating stories about an actress from the city who is notoriously known as a dark witch. A brilliant performer they all agreed but any show she worked on terrible incidents inevitably followed.
Neither Aj nor I knew this woman but we both sat rapt at the bizarre stories of this actress getting inside actors heads, affecting their performances and dreams; even one show where the two other cast members, one of whom was telling the story, both broke their legs while working with her. I could feel Aj shift uncomfortably, goosebumps rose all over my body. Jimmy looked up at the clock and said ‘Oh, we’d better go’ leaving the two of us in the fading sepia light of the cook shack. Aj’s boys, 5 and 7 years old, were nearby in their cabin watching videos, otherwise the rest of the company was down the mountain in town.
She turned to me and said she didn’t believe a word of it, that if someone tried to ‘cast a spell’ on her she would just laugh in their face. She believed that by using humor and by not believing, she could nullify any darkness. The thought that someone would do that made her angry and protective of her family. I gazed across the table to the trees beyond the porch. I said I wondered if there was a bit of a witch hunt being acted out against this woman and that even though I do lean to believing there is a spectrum we don’t understand, my partner, well he’s a total rationalist — BDing! My phone was on the table behind Aj and the message alert was overtly loud. She bounced with a shriek. Simultaneously, the stereo in the kitchen came on full blast announcing ‘POKEMON is here to SAVE the WORLD from DESTRUCTION!!’
We both leapt up and screamed. Aj grabbed my arm ‘I have to go check on the boys! You have to come with me!’ I snatched my phone as she pulled me towards the door. The message was from my partner. Shaking, I held the phone in front of her ‘Look, Aj look, it’s just a picture of a polar bear rolling on it’s back. It’s not bad. It’s sweet. It’s good.’ She clutched my hand firmly, leading the way as we hustled through the haze to the Gatehouse cabin. When we turned the corner by the red house office there was a massive garter snake in the middle of the road stretched from one side to the other with a big lump in its belly, likely a toad or a mouse. Aj and I shrieked again, wrapped arms around each other and together shrank into a low squat. As it slithered gradually to the bathhouse lilac bush, she said that she felt like she was hallucinating and from our crouch called out to her boys if they were alright. Her oldest boy swung the crooked hobbit door open, stuck his head out with a look that we were clearly interrupting them and said ‘We’re fine. We’re watching Pokemon.’
My plans to spend the evening in the cabin reading supernatural tales were erased by the strange happenings in real time. Both shaken we decided we needed to pee and it would be better if we stuck together. We examined the stereo back in the kitchen thinking it must have Bluetooth and just picked up what the boys were watching. How it perfectly connected to that sentence loud and clear was uncanny but we settled our nerves that a hiccup from the WiFi was to blame. I spent the rest of the evening with her vigilantly refocusing our thoughts to laughter and good times, steering our imaginations away from a trajectory of fear. Shortly after sunset the rest of the company started returning from town. As a crowd gathered around Aj, I split. I climbed the hill towards the cabin and could hear her recounting with great zeal, our spooky afternoon events.
The following day Jason told me that the stereo doesn’t have Bluetooth and it auto powers OFF when it’s not in use so it was really unlikely it just turned itself ON. I never told this to Aj. I must admit that every time we gather to put together a show, peculiar events occur. Generally we don’t even notice it at the time, too busy pooling our collective energy into the work. I always kind of wondered if our being outside to the elements, in nature, in the woods, if it plays tricks with us or makes what we are doing more charged, more potent.