The music studio was the last place that still smelled like my dad. That, and the fact that it housed my dad’s vintage record player, collection of prime late-60s/early-70s classic rock and folk vinyl and an acoustic guitar collection resulted in me passing much of my final high school summer break in the little one-room studio tucked into the back corner of my parents’ suburban backyard.
We were in between the third and fourth lesson of my dad trying to teach me how to play guitar when he passed away. To be honest, we hadn’t made much progress on my lessons because I would usually get frustrated with my dad trying to teach me dull chords which strained my fingers and we would switch to just listening to his Rumours or Sweet Baby James LPs about 10 minutes in.
A fatal heart attack at 49 would prevent my dad from ever teaching his only daughter guitar. I’m still deep in the hard clutches of painful sadness from his passing, but trying to teach myself guitar and listening to my dad’s sad old vinyl in the studio during the summer after he died was my first semi-successful coping mechanism.
The studio was the perfect place to get high because of the silent “recording alarm” my dad setup in there. To ensure no one would barge in during him recording a song, he set up a system that silently flashed a red light on the wall whenever someone got within 10 feet of the studio door that auto locked to the outside until he turned it off. With the system on, I could always tell when my mom was coming.
My daily routine got started the day after my junior year of high school wrapped and about a month after my dad died. I woke up late in the morning, about two hours after my mom had already left for work. Ate an unhealthy breakfast. Headed out to the studio. Smoked. Tried to teach myself guitar. Smoked again. Listened to records. Smoked. Then went back to the house just after my mom got home. Picked at dinner. Retreated to my room and browsed around on the Internet until I fell asleep around 2 or 3 AM.
I felt the daily regimen helped me cope.
The night where everything changed started out just like any other that summer. I around 3 AM and heard music coming from the studio on my walk back to my bedroom from the hallway bathroom.
I knew the song. It was my dad’s favorite track from Rumours – “Never Going Back Again.” I could spot the fingerpicked slinky guitar melody my dad could never get just right with his own fingers.
I headed over to a window and looked out into the backyard and the studio. It was hard to tell if the light I saw came from inside the lone window of the studio or from the outside light on the side of the building. Either way, the song played on.
Maybe my mom was out there listening to Lindsey Buckingham at 3 AM? No. I could hear her snoring from her bedroom down the hall.
I threw on a sweater and headed out the back door.
The song was still playing when I followed the stone trail in the grass which led to the studio, but I noticed a distinct sound in the music. It did not sound like the music was coming from a record player. It sounded like a live acoustic guitar playing the song perfectly – avoiding all the little missteps which plagued my dad’s renditions.
The music stopped when I was halfway through the yard. The only light I could see was the little bulb which rested on the outside of the studio.
I went into the studio to investigate. The room was quiet and empty.
I couldn’t get to sleep the next night. It was still more than 80 degrees at 2 AM and the intense heat seemed to be working its way through the glass of my bedroom windows. I sweated under my blanket as I kept my ears on high alert for any unusual sounds from the backyard.
The music started again at 3:30 AM. It was the sound of a guitar again, but a different song. I couldn’t recognize it at first, but I eventually decided that it was a Rolling Stones song. One of their ballads. Angie, I think.
I followed the sound of music out into the sweltering backyard. The sounds of the cicadas and the choking humidity made it feel like I was in a jungle and not in a backyard in Ohio.
I could definitely see the light on inside the studio this time. I actually thought I could see the red glow of the recording security system light as I made my way through the backyard and approached.
The music stopped once I got closer. I was left alone with the song of cicadas and the mysterious disappearing guitar picker was nowhere in sight.
I checked the studio again, but there wasn’t a single sign of life other than the vape pen I accidently left in there.
I started to form a plan. I believed whoever, or whatever was playing guitar in the middle of the night was utilizing the recording alarm the same way I did. They vanished as soon as they saw the red light come on. I decided the next day that I would unplug the recording security system before I left the studio for the night.
Over the course of those two nights, my brain had turned into a stew of curiosity, hope, fear and anxiety. While I did truly want to know what was going on, there was a still a dark fear of the unknown and the unexplained. How was the person who was playing guitar escaping in the night without using the only door to the studio and without leaving any trace of evidence?
Worst of all was the darkest, yet most hopeful fear of all which simmered within my troubled brain. Could the musician be the ghost of my father?
I pushed that thought back. It was too hard to even think about. If that was the case, I was okay with being surprised.
The heat subsided the next night, but my sweating didn’t. I laid in my bed tortured by nerves. I tried to sleep, but found myself rolling over to check the time on my phone about every 20 minutes.
It was nearly 4 AM and I had yet to hear any music come from the backyard. Maybe I got too close last night and spooked the spook? My heart sank just a little bit with each passing check of the clock and each passing chunk of minutes. I eventually could take no more and slipped away into sleep.
I had no idea how much time had passed when I woke. Was it light outside? I checked my bedroom window. Still pitch black.
I heard the sound of a guitar ringing out heavy chords from behind the house. I sprang out of bed and ran for the back door.
I ran through the backyard as fast as I had since I was a little kid, my eyes stuck on the lights of the studio, excited that I didn’t see the red lighting of the security system and could still hear the rumbling power chords and what I thought was the sound of singing.
I dove at the door handle when I reached the studio. My body was still in a bit of shock when I took in the scene in front of me.
Seated in my dad’s playing stool was a long-haired kid clutching my dad’s vintage 67 Taylor acoustic guitar. He looked at me in panic with his straight brown hair covering half his face and tickling his lips.
“Oh shit. I’m sorry,” the kid shot out.
The kid dropped my dad’s pristine guitar and scrambled, almost falling off the stool. He stepped away from me and held his hands out in surrender.
“What are you doing in here?” I screamed at him.
He looked me up and down with light eyes and started to collect himself. He wiped his face nervously and slunk into a relaxed posture. I noticed a vape pen dangled in his left hand.
“I just moved next door and I was in the backyard and saw this studio back here and fell in love,” the kid answered.
He started to play with the shaggy dirty blonde hair around his ear. His eyes remained locked on mine. He maintained a slight, nervous smile. To me, he looked like Chris Pratt if he had become a rock star instead of a movie star and adopted the slender physique of a heroin-gorged guitar hero.
“I figured if I came back here in the middle of the night I could play guitar and listen to some records. There is about the best vinyl collection I have ever seen in here,” he finished by giving a wave at the stacks of vinyl which took up almost an entire wall of the studio.
The kid seemed genuinely sincere and harmless. I was still completely on edge, but his soft voice and features wore me down with each second we held our stand off in the soft light of the studio.
“Look. Here’s what I can do,” the kid started in and cleared his throat while taking a wallet out of his pants. “I can give you my driver’s license which shows that I do live next door and my ASB card which shows that we will go to the same high school next year.”
The boy produced two cards from his wallet and handed them over to me. The Ohio state driver’s license confirmed he did live next door and his name was Adam Long and the ASB card confirmed he would be going to Kirkland High School with me next year.
“I’m Adam by the way. Nice to meet you.”
I handed the IDs back.
“Nice to meet you,” I mumbled.
“You can call the cops if you still like. I understand. But, if you aren’t too totally freaked out, I would love to come back here, play some guitar, smoke out and listen to these great records if you are ever interested. I can even bring some of my own and my own guitar. Just head next door and knock.”
Adam walked right by me before I could get another word out and slipped out the door. Leaving me alone in the studio with the sound of the guitar still ringing in my ear.
The idea of knocking on Adam’s door and inviting him to teach me guitar or listen to records gnawed at me for three days before I finally made the trek down the street and found myself ringing his doorbell. I chewed on my lip as I waited for an answer.
Adam quickly answered with tired eyes and messy hair as if he had just woke up even though it was 1 in the afternoon.
“Uh, hi,” I mumbled.
“Let me get my guitar,” Adam blurted out.
Adam ran off before I could even get my question out.
Adam came back with a beat up old vintage guitar which looked like the one Willie Nelson plays. I think he calls it “Dolly” or “Darla” or something quaint that starts with a D.
Within minutes, Adam was picking out the opening to “Under the Bridge” on that ratty guitar and explaining to me that it was a 1964 Fender and possibly worth more than the two-bedroom fixer-upper he moved into with his parents about a month before.
I couldn’t help but laugh at Adam just about every minute. He had the demeanor of a puppy golden retriever, excited about everything and clumsy beyond belief. He actually fell off the stool before he launched into the verses of “Under the Bridge.”
Before he could even get up off the floor and before I could even stop laughing. Adam was insisting he wanted to teach me how to play guitar.
Adam seemed to have a knack for showing me the ropes of guitar my dad didn’t possess. He showed me the chords and how to hold the guitar, how to hold the pick, how to ring out notes properly the same way my dad did, but what he showed me seemed to actually stick in my brain. It was like he somehow could plant the directions in my brain before he actually showed them to me.
Adam’s guitar lessons became a daily routine. He would show up around 1 or 2 in the afternoon and meet me in the studio where I was already hanging out. He would teach me guitar for about an hour and then we would spend the rest of the afternoon listening to records with interruptions of him playing and singing my favorite classic rock songs.
It felt as if Adam’s lessons and companionship pushed along the healing process of getting over my dad’s death. Each day that passed with my new friend seemed to thread a piece of fabric over the giant, gaping hole in my heart.
I have to admit that Adam did more than just patch that heart though. He found a place for himself in it. Within about a week, our teacher-student-friend relationship crossed professional boundaries.
It was tragically cliché. We hinted at what we both felt through enough flirtations and lathered ourselves up with weed and some sips of vodka and lemonade I had stolen from my mom until we melted into each other halfway through Joni Mitchell’s “Blue” on the hottest afternoon of the summer.
We seemed to be the only other people either of us hung out with so it basically just felt like Adam and I were boyfriend and girlfriend from that very moment. Even though we had not been out together in public, neither of us had even seen the other’s parents and I had never been over to his house, it felt official.
It simply felt perfect and that was all I needed.
However, the problem with starting with perfection is you have nowhere to go but down, and we would go down a long, long ways.
The first chink in the armor of love took place on a night not long after that day of sealing the deal in the studio.
I woke up in the middle of the night to the sound of music coming from the studio again. I checked the clock. It was 3:30 AM. Right at the time when I first heard Adam playing in the studio.
I rushed out to the studio with visions of a romantic gesture by Adam waiting for me in the studio. Maybe him playing Blackbird in candlelight with some red wine pilfered from his mom in glasses or fresh picked flowers.
What waited for me in the studio was not the scene out of Nicholas Sparks novel I imagined. It was more like something out of a Chuck Palahniuk novel.
The unnerving Beatles track Revolution #9 blared through the door of the studio before I opened it. I didn’t even think the speakers of my dad’s record player could get that loud, but apparently they could damn near blow the doors off the building.
I opened the door to the studio to reveal pure darkness. Black was all I could see in the room. I could still hear the horrific song playing at full blast, but I couldn’t see anything in the room.
“Adam?” I tried to yell over the volume of the music.
The music cut out and the lights of the room came on, brighter than I ever thought they could. I can barely even summarize what I saw because of how much it still hurts…but, laying on the floor was my father, lying on his back, his arms limp and out to his sides, his face a sickening shade of purple, white foam coming out of his mouth, his hair wet and slicked back. I assumed it was the vision my mom came upon in their bathroom while I was at a friend’s house that day.
I wanted to run, but was frozen in my stance in the open doorway of the studio. The only thing I managed to do was pinch myself on my forearm to confirm that this was not a nightmare.
A quick shot of pain reminded me that I was very much awake in the moment I was in and a new song began to spin.
I recognized the song from the first note, “Starry, Starry Night,” it was my dad and my unofficial song that we loved to listen to together.
I was finally able to run. I ran away from the studio as fast as I could and made it to the pavement outside the backdoor to my house. I collapsed there. Fell on my side and curled up into a ball. I started to convulse. Sob uncontrollably. Right there, I was back in my friend’s car, on our way home from a movie, getting the news over the phone that my dad died and I couldn’t take it.
I laid there on the ground sobbing for what had to be nearly 20 minutes before I was able to pick myself back up and trudge to my bedroom and my bed. I shut the door and didn’t come out for more than 24 hours.
I wouldn’t interact with a single thing until the middle of the night, the next night. I had finally managed to get to sleep around 2 AM, but it didn’t last. I flashed awake around 3 and looked around my room that was completely dark except for a periodic flashing of blue light and almost completely silent except for a period rumbling on the floor.
My disorientation held my brain from realizing the flashing and buzzing was coming from my phone on my nightstand. I looked over to the phone and saw it flash one last time before going back to sleep.
The end of the buzzing let the room go back into silence, but only for a moment. I heard a shuffling sound come from over by my bedroom door before I could even unlock my phone.
I panicked. I dropped the phone and looked up to the door. Standing there in the same sheepish stance he had when I first caught him in the studio was Adam.
He pushed his hair out of his face.
“You weren’t answering your texts so I just came in. The backdoor was unlocked,” Adam explained.
I sat up in my bed and tried to catch my breath.
“What the fuck? My mom hasn’t even met you. She might have stabbed you if she ran into you in the kitchen in the dark.”
Adam found a seat at the foot of my bed and looked at the floor. His usual clumsy and jovial demeanor was nowhere to be found. He seemed now like a child who had just been told his puppy had died.
“I was just feeling really sad and wanted to say that I’m sorry for what happened to your dad,” Adam said so quietly I could barely hear it.
I recoiled a little bit from Adam in the bed.
“I didn’t think I told you about my dad.”
I had no memory of mentioning anything about my dad to Adam other than saying that the albums and the guitars in the studio were his. I’m sure it was a little strange to Adam that he had yet to see any living presence of my dad, but I had never mentioned anything about him being dead.
Adam froze. He looked up from the floor and out the dark window of my bedroom. I changed my posture and leaned towards him.
“How do you know about my dad?”
Adam didn’t answer.
“It’s okay if you just Googled him or something. I get that it’s weird that I didn’t say anything about him. I just want to know.”
Adam mumbled something I couldn’t make out. I leaned further forward and focused in on him just a little bit, it looked like there were tears in his eyes.
“You can tell me,” I insisted.
“No, it’s okay. I just wanted to check in on you because you weren’t answering your phone,” Adam spoke up, clearly, before he got up off the bed and walked out of the room.
I got up and followed Adam to the door which he left open.
“Wait,” I called out the open door and down the hallway, but received no answer.
The heart of the house was silent other than for the rumbling hum of the air conditioning.
I went back into my room and tucked myself into bed. I grabbed my phone up from off the floor and unlocked it.
There weren’t any notifications on my home screen. I checked my texts. I didn’t have any new ones. Checked my phone log. No missed or new calls.
Adam went dark for days. He wouldn’t return texts, phone calls, voice mails…nothing. I knocked on his door each afternoon, but never got an answer.
I passed the days practicing the chords Adam taught me in the studio and listening to music alone and it just didn’t feel right. The studio no longer had the warmth and coziness he had brought back to it. It went back to being a dim mourning room for my dad filled with sad old records and lonely guitars.
The days drug on like your worst days at a horrible job. The routine which had once given me a sliver of peace of mind had now turned into a mundane test of mental stability. I felt like I was on the verge of breaking down at any moment of the day.
I figured it was time to set up another trap for my friend next door.
I ordered a pizza to be delivered to Adam’s house on a Wednesday night at 8 and waited in the bushes next to his house to see him answer the door.
I sweated and itched in the bush as I watched the delivery driver stroll up to the front door of Adam’s house and ring the doorbell. I chewed on a nail during the wait for the answer.
An answer never came. The delivery driver eventually cursed under his breath and took his big heated bag of pizza and retreated back to his car.
I guess I had never actually confirmed that Adam and his family were even home. Maybe they had left on a vacation or something?
No matter the case, I needed to do my own investigation.
I ran up to the front door of Adam’s house and tried the handle. It was unlocked. I opened the door, stepped in and closed the door behind me.
The smell was the first thing which I noticed. The house reeked of the scent of abandon. Like when you go into a vacation rental home no one has been in since the previous summer, or the guest room at a grandparent’s house where people rarely go.
The fact that the house was completely empty was the second thing I noticed. A quick stroll around the main floor showed that there wasn’t a single thing in the home other than my presence. Every wall was blank and white, the carpet still stiff and new with nary a piece of furniture on it, the kitchen spotless. Maybe it was possible that Adam’s family simply moved out of the house a few days ago when he went MIA and they had already spotlessly cleaned the place out, but there was no way. There would still be a hint of life and I hadn’t noticed any cleaning trucks or heard any sounds of work coming from next door.
The sound of footsteps coming down a staircase at the end of the dark hallway I stood in interrupted my thought. I froze in my tracks on the immaculately clean white carpet.
“Adam?” I whispered down the hallway.
I saw a pair of feet wearing the navy Converse sneakers Adam always sported come into view. I watched as skinny legs in torn blue jeans made their way down the stairs until I saw a faded grey t-shirt I had seen Adam wear come into view splashed with blood. I held my breath and finally took in the full site when he stopped at the bottom of the stairs and stared at me from the other end of the hallway.
Blood snaked out from Adam’s wrists, dripped down his forearms and all over his jeans and t-shirt. He looked to me with pained eyes for a few seconds.
I stopped at the bottom of Adam’s sloped driveway and looked up at the front door. I tried to catch my breath, but couldn’t. I stared at the small windows built into the front door, wondering if I would eventually see him, but I didn’t in the minute I took before retreating home.
I locked my parents’ front door and turned on the alarm system before running up to my room. I grabbed my cell phone off of my desk. The only question was whether to call my mom or 911 first.
“Ruby,” Adam’s voice shot out from the corner of my room over by the bedroom window.
I shrieked in a way I don’t think I ever had before and clutched my chest. Truly wondered for a second if I had a heart attack.
Adam stood in the corner of my room without a drop of visible blood on him.
“What in the actual fuck?” I yelled across the room.
Adam started to move toward me.
“Are you fucking dead?”
I put it out there as clearly as I could. The blocks had all added up to that question in the past five minutes.
Adam stopped in his tracks. Looked away.
“Yes,” Adam confirmed. “But it’s not as bad as you think.”
“I don’t even know what that means. I’m not dead, am I?” I asked.
“You’re not, but things aren’t exactly what they seem. You’re going to need a lot of help, very soon and I’m probably the only one who can help you. Are you open to that?” Adam asked.
“I don’t even know how to answer that,” I whispered, realizing all the yelling might attract my mom to open the door and see what I imagined looked like me having an argument with myself.
Adam moved towards me again and put a soft hand on my shoulder.
“I don’t even know what to say,” I shivered the words out, salty tears falling into my open mouth. “This is the most freaked out I have ever been in my fuckin life.”
Both of us found a seat on the side of the bed. Adam put an arm around me. Nothing about his presence or touch felt dead. I questioned if Adam was telling me the truth about me being alive or not. I hadn’t left my house area in months, my friends seemed to be ignoring me and I barely saw my mom. This was all on my own accord, but I still wouldn’t have been shocked if there was a living, breathing barrier between me and the living world which was helping me stay away from it.
“You know that statistic you hear sometime that there has never been a recorded instance of a ghost causing the death of a person? I think they have mentioned it in a couple of horror movie trailers,” Adam said.
“I think so.”
“It’s not true. It’s not a lie. It’s just that people don’t understand how everything thing works. Ghosts kill people all the time. They just do it in a way that doesn’t make it seem like the case. Real ghosts don’t hide in the closet and then jump out with a knife or try to scare someone to death. If they want someone to die, they are much more covert. They’ll make it look like a natural cause or an accident. That guy cleaning the gun. Let’s make it ‘accidentally’ go off. The depressed woman soaking in her bathtub. Let’s slit her wrists. The overweight middle-aged man running on his treadmill. Let’s shoot him full of adrenaline and spark a heart attack. Make sense?”
“As much as it can make sense,” I said. “I’m going to go ahead and assume with your last example that something like this happened with my dad?”
“Why?” I asked.
Adam let out a deep breath. I watched him bite down on his lip.
“It’s a shitty world,” Adam said with an exhale. “You can’t always explain things. These dark spirits, some of them just wander the universe looking for someone to latch onto. I think this one lived in your house years ago and had some kind of unfounded grudge with your dad, and your family since you moved into their old place.”
“So it’s not just after him?”
Adam shook his head.
“That’s why I’m here. To try and protect you.”
“I don’t like that you used the word ‘try.’”
My statement seemed to set off a sharp pain in my stomach and I folded over on the bed, clutched my gut and struggled to breathe.
“So what’s this? This thing trying to kill me slowly and painfully?” I seethed through gnashed teeth.
“Unfortunately, yes,” Adam announced.
“What the hell can I even do?” I asked as the simmering pain finally starting to cool down in my stomach.
“That’s why I’m here,” Adam said and made eye contact with me for the first time in our interaction that night. “I can tr…I can protect you.”
I almost was able to force a smile when Adam stopped himself from saying the word “try,” but I didn’t really get what he could do. I felt like this thing was turning my insides into to rotting mush and I didn’t really see how a 17-year-old with a puberty mustache and acoustic guitar skills was really going to help. This wasn’t “The Greatest Song in the World.” You can’t beat a demon with an acoustic guitar solo.
“So you’re going to take the disease and pain this thing is sticking in my stomach and take it away?”
“I’m doing my best to just keep it there. You don’t want it to grow into anything more. That’s what it will do if I have to go away again. It will grow and grow until you are looking at that deep dark pain that you saw in the studio and you saw in my house again. That’s when it can really hurt you. The restrained pain, the one that gets in your insides you have now, that can take down an older man with some heart issues, but all it can really do to someone like you is make you sick. I’m going to do everything I can to make sure even that pain which has been reduced down to just a tickle in your stomach goes away.”
“And how are you going to do that?”
Adam leaned across the bed and kissed me softly on the lips. He reached around and gently placed his hand on the back of my head, he stroked my hair as we kissed on until I was tired, ready to go to bed and the burning in my stomach was a suddenly a distant memory.
I woke just before daybreak. Adam was gone, but I was perfectly tucked underneath my covers. I felt as if I could still sense him in the room with me, even though he was nowhere to be seen.
I went out to the studio at sunrise to smoke and make some progress on learning the chords to the first song Adam taught me – the simple chord progression of Wonderwall. I hoped hearing me play my choppy melody would coax him out of the empty house next door.
I broke out into a smile when the alarm system of the studio lit up and I anticipated Adam stepping in to join me in just a few seconds.
The jiggling of the studio door stirred my heart, I looked over to the entrance with the guitar in my hands, mid-strum.
“Welcome back,” I said, my throat still grumbling with morning grog. “Sorry…I.”
I stopped my tongue. Instead of Adam standing in the doorway, it was my mom. She was vomiting uncontrollably all over the floor and screaming at the highest pitch I have ever heard a human being emit.
“Mom!” I screamed out and threw the guitar off of my lap.
I ran over to my mom as she dropped to one knee and started to collect herself. I didn’t even think about the burning joint which fell to the floor behind me when I got up and ran over.
“Let’s go inside.”
I helped my mom to her feet and led her out of the studio. We walked through the backyard and back into the house.
I calmed my mom down in the kitchen with a tall, cold glass of water and a cold towel to the forehead.
“I don’t know what happened. I just woke up burning up at the crack of dawn. I couldn’t move at first and when I could I started throwing up everywhere. I tried to find you, but you weren’t inside. I didn’t know where you were.”
My mom started to break down and cry. I caught her tears with the moist towel and wrapped her in a hug. It was the first time we had physically touched since my dad’s funeral months before.
“I think I’m getting really sick,” my mom said in the midst of sobs into the fabric of my shirt where her face was buried.
I had pretty much forgotten about my mom in everything that had happened. I had been thinking she must have been worried about my withdrawal from the world and isolation, but I never thought about her doing the same. I joined her in tears as we embraced at the kitchen bar area.
My tears started to stop when I felt a wet mass wash down my back. I pulled away from my mom and looked her in the face.
The face I saw was not that of my mom at all. I was instead face-to-face with a bare skull dripping with melted skin, hair and viscera. It looked like the pool or wax that collects at the bottom of a red candle on a saucer. I vomited into my mouth and caught it with my hand. I staggered backwards in the kitchen and watched that face keep melting like a cherry popsicle in the sun.
The scent of what I thought was burning flesh stung my nose as I stood in the living room and watched the woman who I thought was my mother melt down into a puddle before my very eyes. I held my breath until I could watch no more and turned towards the door which led out to the backyard.
A quick look out the window informed me the smell overtaking my nose was not that of burning flesh, it was of burning wood and machinery. I could see the studio going up in flames at the back of the yard.
I screamed and ran out the back door, ignoring the final moments of the melting person who was reducing into a puddle in the kitchen.
A closer look from the backyard showed that the studio was already completely engulfed in flames. I ran to get closer, but couldn’t even get too close without feeling the power of the flames burn my face. There was nothing I could do. My sanctuary and memorial for my dad was gone.
I retreated to the house where there wasn’t a single sign of melting flesh anywhere in the kitchen and where my mom was waiting, screaming into a cell phone about the fire, looking fine and dandy. I confirmed with my mom that I was okay and ran out the front door, on a mission to get back into Adam’s house.
I wasted no time with knocks. I just ran right into the heart of the dark house and screamed out…
“Adam. Adam. Adam.”
I got no response. Just the faint echo of my voice bouncing off the lonely walls. I let out a pure and simple scream, hoping my raw emotion could draw out Adam, but no luck.
I swept the house on my own, but found nothing but empty rooms and the smell of dust and paint fumes. Adam was nowhere to be found.
The fire department was already at my house when I left Adam’s. I could hear the commotion of men screaming out directions and the distant spray of a powerful hose as I walked up to my front door with a hollow feeling carving out my insides. I had nothing left to even care about. My last safe place in the world was gone. Who I thought was my love turned out to be a flaky ghost who failed to deliver on promises and my mom was just as big of a mess as I was.
I retreated up to my room and tried to shut out the sounds of the sirens and the men trying to douse the fire which ravaged the studio. I dreaded knowing I would soon receive a knock on my door and have to be ushered out of the house by the dad of some guy I went to school with so I could be “safe.”
It felt like it only took two minutes for that dreaded knock to come.
“What?” I yelled at the door with attitude as if the person on the other side of the wooden door was trying to hurt me and not help me.
No answer was given. I looked up from the pillow I had buried my face in and saw what I thought was Adam standing just inside my bedroom door. I recoiled and climbed backwards on the bed, towards the wall.
I would have been scared to see Adam just appear like that in general, but my fear and recoil was inflamed by his appearance. Adam looked very much like the melted woman who showed up to the studio earlier in the morning. His scalp was burnt bald, just an oily slick of his hair left sticking straight up, his skin was scaly white and burnt away, like a shed snake skin you might find in your yard, his body was charred and his clothes were hanging off of him, scalded and stiff.
Adam made a couple steps toward me, but stopped.
“You were supposed to help me. Where were you?” I pleaded from my bed.
“I was there. I was the one who warned you. What you saw was your mom and your ghosts. You saw yourself melt in the kitchen and your mom barfing and burning in the studio from the smoke. I sent them for you to wake you up because you fell asleep in the studio and it was about to burn down and your mom was about to get burnt trying to wake you up and drag you out of there. That big ass fire wasn’t started by your little ass blunt. There was an electrical short in the studio right before you got out. The thing burned down in two minutes once it started. I saved you, and your mom. I saved you from the that fire by sending your ghosts to scare you out,” Adam explained.
Don’t worry. I didn’t 100 percent get it at the time either.
“And now I died again for you,” Adam said, but much more quietly than his previous statement.
Adam let out a flurry of grotesque coughs. He fell hard to the floor and curled up on his side.
I got off the bed and ran to Adam. The gore on his body was much harder to take in up close.
“The ghost that was after your family is gone now. I trapped it in the studio as it burned down.”
I may have said something cliché in the moment like “no, you can’t go,” or “wait, please stay,” to Adam, but I can’t exactly remember. I only remember what he said.
“You already knew me,” Adam said then gasped for air.
“Adam Rocket Central two-six-one. No spaces. Find it and you’ll find out. Just know overall that you and your mom are safe now,” Adam finished with another deep gasp.
That gasp would be Adam’s last. I watched Adam fade from vision shortly after those final parting words. Where Adam had laid on the carpet suddenly went back to just being a beige piece of fabric dotted with Diet Coke stains.
I took some time to (try and) absorb everything that happened before I took to Google to investigate Adam’s parting words. I’m glad I did because what I found warranted some calm and preparation.
AdamRocketCentral216 was a Twitter handle. Smiling back in the profile picture was a face which was instantly recognizable – Adam.
The profile’s tweets were protected, but there was a Tumblr link at the top I was able to follow.
The first post on the Tumblr couldn’t have been more clear. It simply read: Ruby, please start from the beginning.
The earliest post was from 2011, back when I was only 11. Fittingly, it was titled simply 11.
The post started with a picture of me in front of a glistening lake, smiling and flanked by a shaggy-haired boy I recognized as Zach Harris, my first boyfriend. I had never seen the photo before.
The copy of the post told the start of Adam’s story. He was a shy 11-year-old boy who developed a crush on yours truly at the summer camp we both apparently went to, but he never got the guts to talk to me and watched horrified as I fell in pre-pubescent love with Zach Harris.
The posts went on for three more ages, each about the summers we attend summer camp together and how I accumulated boyfriends and failed to acknowledge he existed. Each featured a photo of me with a boyfriend.
The second-to-last post, age 14, told the story of the progress Adam was finally able to make. He found out I had a crushing break-up with my boyfriend and he tracked me down on the dock and comforted me for an hour.
Adam detailed a lengthy conversation of bonding over quoting The Simpsons, shit talking love and the awful summer camp our parents made us go to. He said we ended the conversation by him writing his phone number in my camp yearbook with a promise by me to call him when we got back to our respective home towns.
Memories of that afternoon on the dock started to come back to me. I vaguely remember a boy comforting me about breaking up with my boyfriend, but I mostly just remember crying my eyes out about said boyfriend and not a good Samaritan. I understand situations like that where you view the interaction with someone as a deep, memorable event, but the other person simply sees it as a fleeting conversation with a stranger.
I rushed to the final post – 15. It started by confirming I never called Adam that summer and he talked his parents out of making him go to camp that year.
The post closed with a simple instruction: Find your summer camp yearbook from 2014. The name Adam Long is written on the last page with a phone number. Call the number and ask for Adam…the rest will take care of itself.
I dialed up the Cincinnati area code number and waited with my ear sweating against my phone.
“Hello,” a cautious female voice answered.
“Uh hi,” I had not idea how to start in. “I was told by Adam to call this number. Adam Long?”
The line went silent for a good five seconds. A deep exhale on the other side broke it.
“Is this Ruby?” The voice on the other end wavered with emotion.
“Adam gave very specific instructions on what to do if this day ever came. I can’t tell you anymore, but I am going to put a package in the mail for you this afternoon which will give you all the answers I can give. What’s your address honey?”
I gave the woman my address. We exchanged pleasantries. She hung up.
I don’t know if I thought of a single thing other than that package in the week and a half I had to wait for it to show up at the door.
I tore into the thing before even walking back to the house. The package was about the size of a shoe box, but contained nothing but a single flash drive. I smiled, knowing the mailing format was either a symptom of Adam being his over-dramatic self or him making fun of his over-dramatic self.
I opened up the drive on my laptop and saw it contained just one video file.
The video opened up on a shot of Adam sitting at a desk, looking around the age of 13 or 14 based on what I remember from the old summer camp photos on his Tumblr. He ignored the camera at first, but then looked straight at it with his soft blue eyes and smiled.
“Hey, it’s Adam. Welcome to my video blog. I started the Tumblr, but I thought this would be a better way to tell my story from start to finish.”
The first 30 minutes or so of the video explained the summer camp saga pretty well detailed on the Tumblr, but with a little more emotion and the painful image of Adam telling it himself just inches from the camera with me knowing I would never see his face again. I had to stop the playback at least a few times to collect myself and wipe tears from my cheeks, jaw and neck as they rolled down.
The last time I had to stop it didn’t have anything to do with Adam’s story. It was simply when the video stopped and then started again with him this time aged to 17. The age I knew him best. The little flecks of pathetic stubble on his chin. His hair a little longer and curled at the ends. His jaw a little stronger. He was as close to a man as he would ever get and had the same blue eyes I first connected with in the studio in the middle of the night.
I was able to get myself to eventually hit play again.
“This is it. The last message,” Adam said on the camera with a smile. “This is the hardest one.”
The tears started to come again.
“You might be watching this months later, even years later and be begging me not to do it, but just understand that I had to. It was the only way. I know this is crazy, but I think this is the only way I can get close to you. I’ve been reading a lot about love and the afterlife and how it all works on Reddit and I think I know how I can make this work,” Adam went on, tears falling down his cheeks.
Adam took out a long knife and flashed it on the screen. Long and thin, it was the kind you use for precise cutting.
“I’m ready to just do it. I’m bored of this existence. I Googled you and saw what happened to your dad and I think I can help this way. It’s not fair. That’s why I’m doing it. For you. Not for me,” Adam said with the knife flailing around in his right hand.
Adam took in a deep breath. His hands dropped below the view of the camera.
“You don’t have to see this. I love you. See you soon,” Adam whispered.
Adam let out a scream. He let out another and the screen went black.
I did my own search on Reddit and discovered the subReddit about the afterlife I believe Adam talked about in the video. It had all of the details about the good and the dark spirits Adam explained to me in that bedroom that night when he admitted he was dead.
Adam had been obsessed with me for years even when I didn’t know he even existed and even though we lived hundreds of miles away from each other. He thought he was in love, but it was just infatuation. He discovered through that Reddit afterlife forum that if he died, he could track me down and slip into my life. He also believed that a dark spirit had caused my father’s heart attack and was going to go after my mom and me. As a good spirit, Adam thought he could stop it, and, hopefully meet me and make me fall in love with him.
Now here’s where things get a little more tricky…
Things keep stacking up against Adam’s case. So much that I wanted to write it all down to explain why I am no longer so sure that what he told me was the truth and that he had my complete best interest in mind and not just his.
The Case Against Adam
1. The date stamp on Adam’s final broadcast where he killed himself was three days before my dad died, yet, he referenced my dad dying in the video.
2. I connected with the admin of the Reddit Afterlife forum and discuss what happened to me and he mentioned that anyone who killed themselves does not enter the afterlife as a good spirit. They enter as neutral at best, and many times, come in as bad spirits due to the darkness of their passing. The spirits also may not know what kind of spirits they are. A dark spirit may assume it is a good spirit because of their own personal belief in themselves, but not actually be one.
3. I started talking to my mom again and she divulged a secret about my dad I never knew. When I was 15, my dad intercepted a package addressed from me, opened it and discovered a collection of love letters and racy self-portraits. He also intercepted a call on my parents’ landline from the boy who asked for me, but my dad did not pass it on. Lastly, my dad discovered the boy hiding outside of the house one night and took him to the police station. My dad told my mom that he scared the living daylights out of the kid and got him to promise to leave me alone. My mom and dad didn’t want to scare me, so they kept all of this from me. My mom said she was pretty sure the boy’s name was Adam and my dad said he lived in Cincinnati.
To me, this suggests Adam may have taken the information from the Reddit forum, realized killing himself and using the spirit powers he knew existed to take out my dad from the afterlife so he could finally approach me without him in the way. Adam then died in the afterlife in the fire in the studio and fully passed on to the other side.
But, I’m not 100 percent sold yet, because…
The Case for Adam
I felt it. I truly felt Adam was genuine. I felt that he was telling the truth and we were in a strange kind of love. It lived in my gut, bones and heart.
And you know what they say…you should always trust your gut.