Huddled in the cleanest of the bathroom’s stalls, Lindsey flips open a new browsing window on her phone.
Russian Royalty in the East End Mall Starbucks – w4w, she types.
You were the lost princess Anastasia. I was the girl in line behind you wearing a red bandana. We talked about poetry, and you swept me off my feet. I would love to meet again. Send me your drink order to prove it’s you.
Coping mechanisms. Hobbies. This probably isn’t what Lindsey’s therapist meant, but it calms her.
People on the site think she’s making fun of them, but she’s not, not really. She just likes to pretend.
‘Missed connections’ is kind of a misnomer, in Lindsey’s case. They’re more like misplaced connections. The people who post the real ads had something, even if they lost it. Lindsey envies them. If she’s mocking them, she’s mocking them the way someone who’s ridden the bus every day for their whole life mocks the guy driving a Lamborghini. Maybe that makes Lindsey a sad and bitter old hag at twenty-four, but that’s what alcohol is for.
Her best friend prescribes alcohol as the cure to all woes. Lindsey takes the drinks as recommended, but those nights usually end with a slew of typo-ridden ad postings all the same.
The bathroom door opens, and Jenni calls down across the room. “Linds, you in here? Come on, I need you out front. Today’s crowd is killing me.”
“Just a minute,” Lindsey says. She clicks off her phone and slides it into her pocket, then makes a big show of flushing the toilet she hasn’t used. Her face still looks red in the mirror when she steps out of the stall to wash her hands.
“When are you going to find a nice man, honey?” Lindsey’s mom asks, and Lindsey has to move the phone away from her face so that she isn’t sighing right into the receiver.
She switches to speakerphone and opens her laptop. “I don’t know, Mom.”
“You need someone to take care of you. You’re so sensitive, sweetheart.”
“Uh-huh,” Lindsey says as she starts typing in the web address.
“You can’t live out of a tip jar forever, honey. I know you want to be independent, but I wish you would give more consideration to starting a family of your own. Then at least you’d have some structure. Some support.”
It’s a familiar argument by now. Easiest just to ignore. Lindsey stifles another sigh and clicks into the text box.
Atlantean Expat at the Community Swimming Pool – w4m
You were a merman from the drowned city of Atlantis with blue hair and sea green eyes. I was the girl swimming laps in the polka dot bikini. You told me you hate the taste of chlorine. I gave you advice on avoiding leg cramps.
“I just don’t feel like you’re getting any better,” Lindsey’s mom says. “All this therapy, and for what?”
“Yeah, Mom, I’m sure a man will fix me right up.”
There’s a long silence across the phone line, and Lindsey plays back what she just said. Winces. Bites her cheek. Plays it back again. Bites harder.
“Well,” her mom says. “If you’re going to be like that.”
Usually the ads don’t take long to get flagged, but the ones that stay up sometimes garner a few responses. Creeps and crazy people, or people calling Lindsey crazy. She guesses that’s fair enough.
She’s let several of them pile up in her inbox at this point, so she takes her laptop to the county park across the street and claims a bench beside a broken birdfeeder to begin her ritual purge.
Nearly all of the park’s greenspace beyond the handful of paces past a ring of wilting rosebushes has been sold away; the few surviving trees are crowded in by shiny new condominiums and locally-sourced charcuterie shops. The park is trafficked mostly by truant high schoolers and workers from the nearby businesses hunting for a quiet place to smoke, but whoever set up the tiny visitor center’s employee wi-fi didn’t bother to put a password on it, and Lindsey’s trying to get out of the apartment more. Leave her safe space, from time to time—especially for tasks that require her to face down the dregs of the internet. The pressure of strangers’ eyes on her helps Lindsey keep a level head.
you said you were looking for a vampire? i’d bite you. hmu.
Strong start. Lindsey rolls her eyes and clicks delete.
You shouldn’t post dumb shit like this. It’s not just a game for some of us.
Lindsey feels her stomach squeeze with guilt. Hesitates, then clicks delete.
lol, r u psycho?
I believe that you are confused. The entity that you described in your listing sounds far more like a nixie than a true merman. I would be very interested to hear more about your encounter with this creature. Please respond to schedule a time and place that you might be willing to meet for an interview.
There are only a couple of other people in the park, but the feeling of being watched seems more acute than usual. Lindsey’s face is growing hot. She can see herself flushing in the reflection of the computer screen, and for a moment the images in the glass seem to waver with distortion.
Lindsey scratches at the itch rising along her neck. She tries to focus on the stream of emails, but she feels like she’s on fire. She quickly packs her laptop away and seeks refuge in the visitor center’s bathroom.
It’s better, once she gets inside the dark little room and splashes some water on her face. Less exposed. She stares at her dripping face in the dirty bathroom mirror and tries to breathe. The single dim light affixed to the ceiling exaggerates the shadows under Lindsey’s eyes, giving her a hollowed-out sort of look, even to herself.
There’s something odd about the mirror. She leans in closer, and she could swear that one of the smudges over her left shoulder starts to move.
Lindsey sucks in a breath. The lightbulb flickers, once, and goes out.
“What about him?” Jenni asks.
“No,” Lindsey says.
They’re in a club. It’s dark and hot and cramped and pulsing, like they’re inside the gut of a living, monstrous thing. It’s impossible to relax. The bartender keeps looking over at them, but that’s his job, right? It makes Lindsey nervous anyway. She slams back a drink, but all it does is make her dizzy.
Jenni pouts. “Come on, he’s cute.”
Lindsey looks, just to appease her. The man in question is surveying the two of them with open interest. He’s stout and burly, with a clean-shaven head and a big beard of frizzy yellow hair. Definitely not Lindsey’s type.
“Why don’t you go talk to him then?” Lindsey asks.
Jenni glances towards the man and bites her lip. “I’m too tall for him, don’t you think?”
Lindsey frowns and looks back over. Yellowbeard is talking to a skinny guy wearing a sleeveless denim jacket. That one’s pretty tall, and his bright red Mohawk makes him look even taller.
“Yeah? Punk Rock over there looks pretty on brand for you, though,” Lindsey says.
“Come on, Linds,” Jenni says with a pout. “It won’t hurt to just talk to somebody for once.”
Lindsey gives her a flat look. Jenni may not always get it, but they’ve been best friends for nearly two years. She knows Lindsey better than this.
Jenni huffs. “Fine. You stay back and enjoy your comfort zone. I’ll go over there without you.”
“Yes, go. Go on,” Lindsey says. She raises the small chunks of melting ice that are all that remains of her drink in salute. “I’m good here.”
“Don’t just hang around the bar and mess with your phone all night, okay?” Jenni asks. She nudges Lindsey with her elbow. “Have some fun. Dance!”
“We’ll see.” The bartender’s looking again. That’s what Lindsey gets for waving an empty glass around. She gestures a request for another drink to cover her embarrassment.
The bartender has to shout over the noise of the club. “Refill?”
Lindsey doesn’t bother trying to be heard and simply nods in reply. She puts her glass back on the counter.
“Oh, all right. I get it,” Jenni says. “Wish me luck, babe.” She blows a kiss and leaves.
Lindsey watches Jenni go. Yellowbeard and his friend seem happy enough to receive her. They’re all smiles and laughter as Jenni fits herself in easily between them.
There’s a petite girl in a white dress with long lavender-beaded cornrows dancing near the three of them. She moves off the beat of the music, laughing as she twirls her hips in time to some private rhythm.
She would be a fairy, Lindsey thinks. If this were a fantasy. A fairy with pearls and flower blossoms braided into her hair. Fairies love to dance.
“Your drink,” the bartender says. He’s tall and dark-haired with a velvet voice. He could be a singer. A great singer, fallen from grace after a scandalous affair. “Sorry for the wait.”
“No problem.” Lindsey takes the glass. “Thanks.”
The bartender smiles. Lindsey ducks her head and takes out her phone.
Fair Lady at the Grapevine Club, Lindsey begins, but she imagines the girl on the other side of the dancefloor happening across the ad and backspaces it all away. Too real.
Ghost of the Lakeview County Park – w4?
I don’t know what you looked like or what sort of life you lived, but I felt your presence in my soul. I’d like to be a part of your afterlife.
The girl in the white dress appears beside Lindsey. The beads in her hair clatter against each other when she tosses her braids over her shoulder. There’s a light sheen of sweat over her skin as she leans across the counter to get the bartender’s attention.
“Just a water, please,” she says to him.
He hands one over, and the girl turns to survey the club with one elbow propped against the bar so that her whole body is open and angled towards Lindsey. She drinks the water in long gulps, eyes flitting around the room.
She glances over to Lindsey at just the wrong moment and their gazes lock over the water bottle. The girl gives Lindsey a quick once-over and a slow smile. She winks.
Lindsey hurriedly finishes her drink. A brief survey of the room finds Jenni wrapped up with Mohawk on the dancefloor. Lindsey types out an apology text that sounds just like a thousand others she’s sent. If the usual pattern holds, she won’t see a response until morning.
Jenni’s never been a great tipper, so Lindsey slides a few extra bills under the napkin pinned beneath her glass while the bartender is occupied elsewhere. The girl is a shimmer of white lace in the corner of Lindsey’s eye.
She heads for the door.
When Lindsey wakes up in the morning, she squeezes her eyes shut and holds all thoughts of the previous night at bay as long as she can. She swaddles the blankets around herself as though she can use them to sweat out the feeling of humiliation crawling under her skin and lays there for nearly an hour.
The loud trill of her alarm finally forces Lindsey to move. She rolls over, silences her phone, and then swipes automatically through the lock screen to check her email.
One response to an ad Lindsey doesn’t clearly remember posting. She’d been dwelling too much on every other part of the outing to really think of it. It was the park, wasn’t it? She cringes as the memory beats its way back into her brain. That one sounded even stupider than most.
Hello. I think I might be the ghost you’re looking for.
“Sure you are,” Lindsey says aloud to her empty apartment. Her thumb is already hovering over the button to delete the message when she scans the next line.
Sorry about the bathroom.
Lindsey’s breath catches in her throat. She remembers a trick of the light in the glass, remembers a lightbulb flashing. She tries to imagine what that could mean.
She thinks about replying. She doesn’t. She puts her phone back down on the nightstand, hand shaking as she does it.
She doesn’t delete the email either.
Lindsey does some research. She’s not that great at it. Her teachers in high school always docked points on her papers for using Wikipedia as a source, but no one’s grading her this time, so she figures Google is good enough for the job.
lakeview county park, she types. The website for the local park service comes up. Beneath it are several postings about upcoming events hosted at the more popular parks around town (meet a rescued raptor! join our walking challenge! ask a park ranger anything!) and one mention of a tax levy.
lakeview county park death, she types. A number of stories about animal attacks and hiking accidents, with the word ‘lakeview’ crossed out under the results.
lakeview county park ghost, she types. Google happily spits back her own Missed Connection ad.
There’s a number on the park department’s website at the bottom of a page that shouts ‘Contact us!’. Lindsey tries to imagine how that conversation would go. Hello, is the park near my apartment haunted by any chance? I think one of your guests may be trying to contact me from beyond the grave. Yeah, they probably get calls like that all the time.
A sharp ring from Lindsey’s phone cuts through her reverie, and she nearly knocks her laptop off the desk when she jumps at the sound.
The caller ID shows Jenni’s name. Of course it’s just Jenni. Who else would it be?
Besides Lindsey’s mom, that is.
“Hey, Jenni,” Lindsey says into the phone.
“Linds! Did you make it home okay last night? I’m so sorry I didn’t check back up on you, but listen, I have to tell you about this guy.”
“Sure,” Lindsey says. “I’m listening.”
She lies awake at two in the morning, staring up at the blank white ceiling.
She grabs for her phone and holds it over her head. Finds the email. Stares at that instead.
She thinks about ghost stories.
lakeview county murders, she types in another tab. Considers for a second. Adds ‘old’ to the search and hits return. She wasn’t getting any sleep tonight anyway.
Beheadings, strangulations, poisonings, one notable instance of disembowelment. No stories about anything so obvious as parks, park rangers, eco-terrorism, or serial killers with a penchant for burying their victims under rosebushes.
Lindsey does find something in an old post written by a couple of local history buffs. The tragic death of a young man who bled to death in his own home after being injured in a burglary gone wrong. There’s just one grainy, low-res scan of a black and white photo of the house where the murder occurred, but Lindsey pauses when she sees it. She squints, turns her phone sideways, and zooms in. She could swear …
It’s easier now that Lindsey knows what to look for. By quarter to three, she’s found an article covering a donation of land to the county by a wealthy family’s estate, given with only the stipulation that the cottage at its center be left standing. The old news clipping proudly announces plans for the property’s sizable gardens to be renovated and opened to the public as a highly anticipated nature preserve.
The clock reads 2:52 AM.
Are you really a ghost? Lindsey types. She presses send before she can think better of it.
She sets her phone aside. She draws the blankets up around herself. Closes her eyes. Opens them, rolls over. Flips her pillow. Rolls over again.
Her phone dings. She looks. One unread message.
3:00 AM, the clock reads.
Lindsey loads her phone up with a dozen free-to-download ghost-hunting apps and heads to the park. It’s pitch black outside. She doesn’t bother trying the door to the house. The grounds officially close at sunset, but no one ever locks the gate. She stands by the untrimmed evergreen bushes along the back wall of the building, trying to make sense of graphics of cartoon-specter-ensconced sliders and glowing green dials.
NO SPIRITS PRESENT, flashes Extreme Ghost Detector in bright red text.
This is stupid. Lindsey shouldn’t be doing things like this. She wonders what her therapist would say: insomnia, erratic behavior, possible delusions—or maybe just extreme gullibility. What does that add up to?
Her phone starts to ring. No caller ID appears on the screen.
4:16 AM, the clock reads.
“Hello?” Lindsey says.
The only sound coming through the speaker is static.
Lindsey sits down in the grass. The branches of the shrub beside her scratch against her arm. The chips of mulch dig into Lindsey’s knees, and she leans back against the visitor center’s hard, heavy wall.
“Sorry, I’ve never done this before,” Lindsey says. “I don’t know if there’s some better way to reach you, or …”
“I work at a café downtown. I tried going to school to be an accountant, but I dropped out after a semester. My dad’s still mad at me for that. Mom wasn’t happy either, but I think for her it was more about the social aspect than concern for my education. How on earth will I meet any decent people now? My therapist tells me to ignore her. So does my best friend. Jenni. She’s a real carpe diem type. Big on living in the moment and all that. She never really seems sure what to do with me, but it’s nice that she tries.”
Lindsey keeps talking, waiting for the call to finally cut out. The static continues.
She tries to tell herself that ghosts aren’t real, but it’s 4:30 in the morning and anything feels possible. It’s one of those moments, with her sitting alone in the grass, in the dark, at the edge of a neglected public park built on the bones of someone’s forgotten tragedy, when it seems that she has left the rules and routines of normal life so far behind her that reality itself might as well go out the window too.
“I’m sorry you’re stuck here,” Lindsey says. “I wish I could help.”
She sits in silence with the could-be-ghost until the line goes dead.
Lindsey goes back to the park three more times that week. Twice during normal hours, once after dark. Nothing happens. All her emails go unanswered.
“You seem a little out of it,” Jenni says when Lindsey has to remake a customer’s drink for the third time in a row. Their manager is glaring murder into the side of her head.
“I guess,” Lindsey says. “A little.”
Jenni frowns at her. “Anything you want to tell me?”
Lindsey shakes her head.
“Really? Nothing to do with those personal ads you’re always looking through?”
Lindsey stiffens. “What? Why? You’ve never asked about that before.”
“I dunno,” Jenni says, keeping her back to Lindsey as she scoops generous servings of frost-bruised berries into a blender. “You’re on there a lot. Sometimes I get curious. Can you hand me the yogurt?”
Lindsey checks on her lunch break. She nearly drops her phone.
shy girl at the grapevine club bar – w4w
you were wearing a dark blue sequin tank top and had this crazy orange hair and really cute freckles. i was the girl with beaded braids wearing white, if you remember me? you seemed like you might be interested but a little freaked out. i didn’t want to bother you, but i’ve been regretting not trying to talk to you all week! if you see this, message me with what day we were there or the color of my beads or what i was drinking or anything else you remember so i know it’s really you <3
“You can’t know why this person has stopped responding to you,” Lindsey’s therapist says. “Maybe they were never who they claimed to be. Maybe something happened to change things for them. Maybe they’ve just moved on. Whatever it is, it’s beyond your control.”
“I know,” Lindsey says. She’s doing her best to absorb and appreciate the advice she’s being given, even though she hasn’t mentioned the part where she thinks she was talking to a ghost. There are some things you just don’t say to medical professionals with the power have you committed.
Her therapist nods. “You need to find some way to get closure for yourself, Lindsey. It’s important that you continue moving forward.”
Lindsey looks at her hands. “I have to keep living my life.”
“Exactly,” the therapist says.
He keeps talking, but Lindsey isn’t listening. She’s thinking about funerals.
Lindsey takes a bouquet of white lilies and hides them in the dirt behind the bushes along the back wall. No one’s around to see, since Lindsey made sure to wait a couple hours after nightfall before coming by.
She pauses at the bench by the broken birdfeeder on her way to the gate. There’s a small plaque stuck to the back that she’s never noticed before. The inscription is too worn to read in the dark, but she’s certain it begins with the words “in memory of.”
Lindsey lays a hand against the strip of scuffed brass and says, “Thank you for reaching out.”
She goes home.
Saturday, purple, water. I remember thinking you looked like you’d danced right out of a fairytale.
Hi, I’m Lindsey. Nice to meet you.