In the Company of StrangersEXPAND
Craig LaRotonda

In the Company of Strangers

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In 2014, life was falling apart.

Again.

“My job’s being eliminated, my daughter moved out, and my dog died, all in the past month,” I told Jackie at my first-ever acupuncture appointment. Tears dribbled from my eyes.

“I can’t believe it!” she said. “My dog just died, too. I had to put him down on Monday.”

“That’s the same day my dog died!” I wailed. Then, like somebody had pulled the plug in a full sink of water, the details about my two-decades-long roller-coaster ride with a lousy second ex-husband went spilling everywhere.
When I finally stopped for air, I realized how rather pathetic it was to dump all that baggage on someone I’d just met, even though I felt a bond with Jackie on account of our dead dogs. I blamed it on nervousness. This was my first introduction to alternative medicine. Although Jackie came recommended by my hair designer, I couldn’t shake the image of a voodoo doll lying on a cutting board, with hatpins jutting from the eyeballs and throat.

“Okay,” Jackie said. “Let’s get started. Today we’ll do face up, so shoes off and lay down on the table. You know, what you just told me, Carol, is a lot to deal with. It’s no wonder you’re having stomach issues.”

She worked a needle into my third eye.

“I think you could be trapped in a shitstorm,” she continued. “You might need my friend, Robert, to cleanse your house. He does my office every month.”

“What do you mean, cleanse? Like maid service?” I wanted her to keep talking so I wouldn’t focus on the three other needles she had just tapped into the top of my bony skull.

“No! Cleaning out spirits,” she said, impatient. “He’s an intuitive.”

“Spirits?” I asked.

And what the hell’s an intuitive? Suddenly I pictured Rod Serling, his mouth moving, but no sound coming out. Then he said, “Your next stop, the Twilight Zone!”

“Hey! After what you’ve been through in your house, not to mention the prior owners and their crap going back, what, 80 years? …”

Jackie’s voice yanked me back to reality.

“Eighty-four,” I interrupted.

“The point is, you could have some serious shit stuck in there. It’s only 60 bucks.”

I took Robert’s card, but deep down, I simply wasn’t 100 percent with this cleansing-out-spirits-communing-with-the-supernatural concept. Paying someone to stick needles all over my body was a big-enough stretch. But hiring a ghostbuster? Sounded like a bunch of hooey, frankly. Besides, with unemployment lurking, the last thing I needed was another new expense. Did I even have ghosts?

I slept on things for almost a week.

Maybe Jackie’s right, I started to reason. I hadn’t confessed to her that I’d felt uncomfortable at home long before my daughter had moved out, or Chloe, my dog, had died.

For more than a year, uneasiness had crept over me each day after sundown. Once it was dark, I felt like I was being watched. That feeling intensified when Chloe would bark at the bedroom ceiling during the night. Propped up on one elbow, I’d flip on the light switch and squint in the direction of her gaze, fully expecting to see something, a cricket or a spider, clinging to the wall. But nope, never any critters. Just crazy Chloe starting to lose her mind, I thought. Then she started barking outside the bathroom door when I was showering in the mornings. Poor girl, she’s slipping quickly, I told myself. With an adult daughter and a dog under my roof, I shrugged off my paranoia.

“Ellie, I’m having the house cleansed,” I sheepishly said to my daughter one day when she stopped by. “Not cleaned like a maid, but cleansed like removing spirits.” An explanation was mandatory. How else could she talk me out of pursuing this ridiculous exorcism?

She didn’t.

“I think that’s great, Mom. Did I ever tell you that right before I moved out I saw a man in my room one night?”

“What?!?” I shrieked. “I’m pretty sure you never mentioned that! Why the hell not?”

“Because of how you’re acting right now. And besides, I didn’t feel threatened. The man seemed curious — kinda leaned over me with his hands folded behind him. He looked 30-ish and was dressed really old-fashioned, something not from this era — a light-colored jacket and matching pants, a white hat with a shorter top and wide, flat brim, and something shiny by his throat, a bolo tie maybe.”

I nicknamed him “Bolo Boy.”

The day of my appointment, Robert parked on the opposite side of the street two houses down, like the cops do when they don’t want the perp to know they’re on the scene. I studied him through my peephole as he approached the door. He looked normal, like somebody’s grandpa — mostly bald with gentle, brown eyes, no tattoos, no piercings, and wearing khakis and a polo shirt. He was empty-handed. What did he plan on tackling my spirits with?, I wondered. He should have been more battle-ready, in my opinion — armed with a cross and a Star of David dangling from his neck, a couple of smudge sticks, holy water, crystals (I read online that black tourmaline’s a shield against negative energy), and maybe a fat, white candle, all poking out of a sagging, black backpack. There was none of that.

Robert and I sat and chatted briefly about his background, and my reasons for calling him. At first, when he mentioned that his day job was managing a music store, I felt an immediate bond, being a pianist. But that quickly dissipated when I remembered he wasn’t there to tune my piano. Then, just as quickly again, I was impressed to hear that he’d been an intuitive since he was a teenager — able to see spirits and communicate with them. At the age of 63, it was still his passion in life to help the living and the spirits.

I shared the story of Ellie’s encounter with Bolo Boy. Maybe I should have kept that quiet just to see if Robert was the real deal. But I also wanted to give him a heads-up to ensure that I got my $60 worth.

Robert stood up, signaling an end to our conversation.

“I’m going to my car to get my bag. Go where you’re going to go, and I’ll give you a call when I’m almost finished.”

Ah hah!, I thought. He did have some tools of the trade. I headed out, leaving him home alone to do heaven knows what. He said to give him a good hour.

The little voice in my head sprang to life and chattered away at the first red light.

“Sure. In a good hour, you’ll be minus all your artwork, flat-screen TVs, computers, jewelry, underwear, and bank account information.”

“Damn it!” I mumbled, when the light turned green. “Might as well have thrown three $20 bills into a roaring fireplace.”

Shortly after arriving at my office, a text message popped up on my phone. It was my next-door neighbor, Andrea.

“You expecting a worker or someone at your house? Guy looking intently at your front door.”

Oh, crap. She saw him!, I thought. And what’s he doing outside?

I messaged back a chilled-out, “He’s ok.”

I assumed she was referring to Robert. Otherwise, I think she would have said, “Some weirdo’s carting your shit away.” I had no plans to expound on my reply to Andrea. It was bad enough my daughter knew about this.

When I was given the all-clear to return, Robert gave a few, but not all of the details about what he’d encountered. He said he didn’t want to scare me.

“I met Bolo Boy,” he said. “His outfit was exactly what Ellie had described. I told him he was dead and needed to move on, then helped him go to the light. He went willingly. There were other spirits I chased out, too, hiding on shelves in your closets, in the garage, even in the backyard.”

As he left, he looked back, hollering over his shoulder, “You might need a re-cleanse.”

Another 60 bucks, I’ll bet.

Five months later, Ellie’s bedroom carpet crunched when I walked on it, as if there were bags of potato chips underneath it. The week after that, an old NSYNC compact disc that had lived on her dresser for years mysteriously appeared face down on the floor in the middle of her room.

I fished Robert’s card out of my planner.

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