European Ghost Stories
Six years ago, my grandmother bought a copy of the painting of Mona Lisa. The artwork uncannily resembled the original. My grandma hung it on her guestroom wall.
When my mother and I visited grams, we often found ourselves admiring the painting for extended periods. There was something about her eyes; they were so life-like and seemed aware we were staring into them. They gave us the creeps, actually, but because the painting was so magnificent, we couldn’t help but be drawn deeper into those smiling eyes.
One year after my grandmother had bought the Mona Lisa, my mother passed away. I became very lonely. I was 17 then, and didn’t want to stay alone in my mother’s house, so I moved in with grams.
I lay in bed and stared at Mona Lisa for a long time. The longer I stared at her, the more real she seemed. And at one point, I thought I saw her lips stretching wide into an eerie smile. Spooked, I rolled on my side, slid my head under the pillow, and prayed.
I had to face Mona Lisa every night because the wall she was hung on was just a few feet away from the foot of my bed. However, in time, I got used to her smile and stare; the artwork had become part of the room furniture and I thought nothing more of it. But on one particular night, the Mona Lisa wanted my special attention.
“An, my An.” The words came from the direction of the painting.
My eyes sprang wide open and remained glued to the picture on the wall. With only the moonlight seeping through the window, it was hard to discern if Mona Lisa’s lips had actually moved, but I was sure the voice, which sounded like that of a young woman, came from the painting. Still, I could not discount that just maybe it was Grams calling me. Guardedly, I swung my legs off the bed and threaded on the creaky planked floor. I peeked into Nana’s room, and sure enough, she was asleep. My heart refused to stop pounding, so I sat on the sofa instead of returning to my bedroom.
What was that? Was it in my head? How did she know my name? The questions circled in my head.
When my nerves and heart were calmed enough, I stalked back to my room and climbed into bed, avoiding even a glance at Mona Lisa. Under the covers, I prayed until I fell asleep.
In the morning, I told Nana about the strange words I had heard.
“Darling, it’s a painting. You must have been dreaming,” the bespectacled woman said as she cupped my chin.
I didn’t have a choice but to psych myself into believing the words ‘An, my An’ that I kept hearing for eight months thereafter was all in my head. I began to doubt my sanity even. I started covering the picture frame with a sheet of linen every night before bed and slept with the room light turned on.
“An, my An.” The call startled me once again.
This time, I saw the linen slipping off the painting. Then I saw Mona Lisa’s eyes shift. As if those were not enough a scare, I felt cold hands grasping around my ankles, holding my legs from moving. My lungs began to bloat, but instead of screaming out insensibly, I shouted at the woman in the painting.
“WHAT DO YOU WANT!”
I thought my scream would have awoken the entire neighbourhood, but it did not even wake my grandmother. What the scream did do was turn my fear into anger. I slipped out of the covers and stomped to the wall. But, instead of screaming at the painting, I spoke in a soft but grating voice.
“What do you want, Mona Lisa?”
The woman in the painting stared back silently, mocking me with her ever present smile.
“Gosh, I can’t believe I’m talking to a painting,” I soliloquised and turned away.
“An, my An.” The voice said again.
“WHAT THE F——K DO YOU WANT FROM ME?” I turned and shouted, feeling the heat of rage under my skin.
Then something moved in the painting, just below her right eye.
“What the…” I stepped closer to look.
My skin turned cold. It was a teardrop. The ball of tear then rolled down her cheek and thinned out. I ran a finger down the tear trail; it felt wet. I tasted it; it was salty.
Oh, my God! It’s real! It’s not in my mind! It’s real!
I could not go back to bed. I was terrified yet excited. In the morning, I told my grandmother about the teardrop from Mona Lisa’s eye.
“Don’t be silly, dear. You mom just died and you obviously miss her. Your mind is playing tricks on you, sweetie,” Granny said with a smile that in any other circumstance would have warmed my heart, but in this, I became more frustrated.
I decided to get help whether or not my grandmother would acknowledge. Searching the newspaper, I saw an advertisement of a psychic practicing in town. I called her. She sounded friendly and she did not seem wacky, so I made an appointment to meet her in a couple of days.
I was having second thoughts of entering the little home-shop; the pentagram on the door conjured ideas of satanic rituals in my mind. I was about to turn away and leave when I saw a figure moving behind the glass window. A woman’s face appeared behind the translucent curtain. She shifted the embroidered drape aside and beckoned me to come in. Seeing her wide and warm smile gave me some comfort. The door beside the window opened and the pint-size woman parted the strings of shell beads that hung as curtains from the doorframe. She extended her stubby hand.
“Hi, I’m Julia. Don’t be afraid, An Marie.”
I was taken aback. How does she know my full name? I only told her I was An!
“I sense things, you know? That’s why I knew you were standing outside and was afraid to come in. And I know your name is An Marie because…er, well, Marie comes often enough after An,” she said with a cheeky grin.
I wasn’t in the mood for a light-hearted conversation, so my face remained solemn; I was still wondering if seeking out a quirky medium was the right thing to do. She offered me tea, which I gladly accepted. I took two sips and scanned her living room. A small cabinet here, a tall vase in the corner, a side table against the wall, and other common things we all have in our living rooms. The only peculiar thing I noticed was the sweet scent of incense in the air.
“So, what is bothering you then, young lady?” Her voice squeaked.
I gawked at her, not knowing where to start. I put the cup and saucer down onto the table and looked at her with words at the tip of my tongue but not able to vocalise them.
Her head tilted to a side. “It’s all right dear, I’m sure you won’t say anything that I haven’t already heard in my many years of being a psychic.”
I took a deep breath and rolled out my apprehensive words. I told the stumpy woman about the Mona Lisa in my room. Her face remained expressionless, so, swallowing the ball of saliva in my throat, I mentioned the teardrop and the words I had heard from the painting. I waited for her reaction, but there was none. Her glazed, ebony eyes, only stared back at me in silence.
“Only you?” she finally asked, poker-faced.
“Hmm?” Her sudden and incomplete question restarted my hope. Her silence had me thinking she may have become disinterested with my problem.
“Only you heard the words and saw the teardrop?”
“Oh, yes. My grandmother wasn’t in the room with me at the time. I told her about the things I heard and saw, though, but she didn’t believe me. She thinks it’s only in my head.”
Julia smiled, her head nodded like a bobbing-head doll but her eyes remained glued to mine. I sensed she was taking me seriously. I didn’t feel like I was insane the way my grandmother made me feel.
“I hope not to intrude, but I need to ask you something.” Julia leaned forward.
I nodded, ready to answer any question however personal it might be.
“Has anyone in your family, someone close to you, died recently?”
“Yes. My mom,” I said without hesitation.
“The voice that you said you heard? Did it sound familiar?”
I realised where she was going with that question. “You mean, like my mom’s?”
“Hmm, yes, or anyone else for that matter.”
“I can’t say, really. The voice was kind of soft but sharp in tone.”
“Excuse me for a moment.” Julia stood up from the sofa and went to the back, into a room. She returned with a black velvet pouch and a black velvet cloth. She spread the cloth neatly on the tabletop and emptied the contents of the pouch onto it. Uncut rocks of various colours and sizes clonked against the teak wood under the velvet spread. They were crystals of various kinds, and they sparkled like the stars.
Her bulging eyes, reminiscent of a frog’s, peered intently at the precarious arrangement of the scintillating stones. I could only wonder in suspense at what the glittering gems were telling her. When Julia looked up, her dark face was not as dark anymore; blood had receded behind her skin.
“You have to discard the painting,” she said, her eyes round as golf balls.
No way! My grandmother loves the painting. She’d never allow it, I voiced in my head. “The painting belongs to my nana. She’d never allow me to do that.”
“Your mother’s soul is not at peace. Is it true that whenever you look at the painting, you think of your mother?” Julia’s eyes shifted like ping-pong over mine.
The tiny psychic was right. The thought of my mother often surfaced whenever I looked at the Mona Lisa. Maybe because when my mother and I first saw the painting, my mother said something peculiar that had since remained chiselled in my brain. She said Mona Lisa’s eyes were sad like mine. After my mom said that, she herself became depressed. I never thought about it until Julia mentioned it. My mother was right; I was sad most of the time for no apparent reason. It started about a year before my mother passed away.
“Why do you think I became depressed way before my mom actually died?” I asked Julia.
Julia closed her eyes, touched the crystals with both palms, and took two deep breaths. When she opened her eyes, she gave me a stingy smile.
“Let me first tell you why your mother became depressed after she saw the painting. I believe the painting triggered your mother’s extra-sensory perception. She could sense your sadness before you could. Somehow, you had harboured the sadness of your mother’s demise even before she had passed on.” The minute medium leaned forward and touched my chest with her fingertips. “Your heart, it seems, has an uncanny ability to pick up emotions from the future.” Julia peered into my eyes. “Now, your mother feels she has to protect you from your own sadness. That’s why she has lingered on. She won’t go anywhere until she knows you are okay. Her spirit is here right now. I can sense her and hear her thoughts.”
I was shocked to hear that. I wanted my mother to go to heaven and be at peace, not stranded here on this planet. No, not my mom!
“Do you want to say something to your mother, An?” Julia pointed to my right with her opened palm.
My eyes began to well up. “Is she standing beside me?”
I faced my right side and sobbed out, “Mom, I love you and miss you so much, but you must go to heaven. Please don’t worry about me. I am fine. I really am.”
I felt a tingling sensation on my cheek that ran all through my body. After that, I felt a sense of utter bliss. When I looked up, Julia was gazing into my eyes, just as my mother used to do. She then leaned forward and wrapped her arms around me.
“Everything is going to be fine, An.”
When I got home, I explained the situation to my grandmother, and surprisingly, she understood and agreed to get rid of the Mona Lisa.
“I’ve been having dreams since you started staying here, An, dreams about your mother. She tells me to take care of you and listen to you. She says you are very lonely, and I believe her,” my grandmother said, choking back her tears.
After ridding the Mona Lisa, my grandmother never dreamt of my mother in a troubled state again. In her dreams now, my mother is always smiling and happy.
I am happy that I made the effort to contact Julia. She turned out to be my saviour, and my mom’s too.
An Marie West, 22.