Messages from the Afterlife
by Lisa Richardson
We bought a church, my partner and I. A renovator, with
character. (Pink and aqua paint scheme, floorboards rotting away at the
entrance, sun-warped shingles that fly off in thunderstorms, layers of dust
that trigger prospective vendors’ allergies. In short, a fire sale.)
Cue jokes about lightning strikes, blasphemy, sex on the
altar, David Koresh. But the most common question, after “Can I have a stained-glass
‘Is it haunted?’
Our tenant suspects so. She lives in the finished half of
the building, while we prepare ourselves, amongst plywood floors and plastic
sheeting, for Phase 2. She wakes up at 3 a.m. Her stereo has suddenly come on: the
luminous green of the LCD glows across the room. Heart slamming, as though her
slumbering soul has been snapped back into her body like a violent bungee, she
switches it off, resists the urge to cross herself.
She visits a psychic.
“Tell me about the little red church,” she asks.
“Don’t do it,” warns the psychic.
“It’s too late. I moved in a month ago.”
“I see a fire,” says the woman.
We talk to our insurance broker.
Lisa’s boss lives in a priory, outside Gravesend, England.
It’s called Gravesend because that’s where they dumped the
bodies, in mass graves, during the Great Plague. Too many bodies and not enough
time to dig individual plots. A bucket of lime and away you go.
The priory is haunted. This is a known fact, recorded in
travel guides and history books. Someone has researched the ghosts of Kent, and
interviewed previous tenants from the heritage-listed building. Her boss gets a
kick out of this macabre fame, but Lisa thinks it’s so he has some company
apart from his witch of a wife.
The ghost is a woman in a habit. Long skirts, a veil
covering her hair. Previous visitors are reported to have come down for
breakfast and said, “Please thank the nurse for her kindness last night. I had
such a headache, and she brought me a wet cloth; it was very comforting.”