For a brief period of time when I was a small child I would often wake up in the morning with scratches and bite marks all over my body.

ghost ladyAt first my parents thought they were self-inflicted in some way, but the shallow fingernail rakes down my back and tooth marks on my neck would have been difficult for me to create. They took me to specialists who were unable to help me, and then, inexplicably, they took me to a man who claimed to be an exorcist.The man claimed that I had a spirit following me. He offered to neutralize the ghost for us. Apparently he couldn’t get rid of it completely, but he could make it unable to hurt me.

 

 

He added that children are very resilient against spirits, so for years the worst would be these bites and scratches, so we had some time if we wanted to wait. I don’t know what my parents thought at the time, but they agreed to his treatment and paid him a small sum. The exorcist performed a ritual then, which looked like a prayer followed by three rapid slicing motions as if he were cutting off some evil force that had attached itself to me. He then mimed placing something in a box, locked it, and gave it to my parents with the admonishment that they never open it. In fact, I don’t think he ever gave them the key. 

This all happened while I was too young to remember, and I only know about the story because as I was older I asked about the strange box kept at the bottom of my closet from time to time. My parents were always uncomfortable telling the story (I guess they realized they got fleeced by a kook), but they did say that after that, the injuries stopped. We didn’t really bring it up much, and truth be told, I forgot all about it until I saw the box again. 
Dad died a few years ago, and Mom stayed living in their old home. When she passed away this week, those of us from out of town came in for the funeral and a few of us stayed at the house rather than renting a hotel room. We spent shifts cleaning out the closets, trying to figure out what to do with all of their accumulated stuff when my brother-in-law and his young daughter came upon the box. He asked me about it and I laughed, thinking of the old story and told him about it.  “Creepy!” he said. “So you never had the key?” He shook the box, holding it up to his ear. “It sounds empty.” 

“I always figured there was some charm or talisman inside. But maybe there’s nothing.”  “We could find out,” he offered. “I’ll bet I could pick the lock.” He pulled out a small pocket knife with a slender blade.  I hesitated, and the hair on the back of my arms stood up straight. I forced my nerves down, telling myself I was being silly. “Go for it,” I finally said. “You can even keep any ghosts that are locked inside.”  He laughed and set about picking the lock. When it didn’t open immediately, he sat down on the bed to concentrate on his task at hand. I saw his daughter was getting agitated. Bored, I thought. “Amber, let’s go downstairs and get some water,” I offered.  She took me up on the offer and as we went into the hallway, she grasped my hand tightly. This was strange as she tended to be fairly shy and usually seemed to avoid me the few times of year we saw each other. “Is everything okay, Amber?” 

“Yes, Uncle Mark,” she answered quietly.  “It’s just that you don’t usually hold my hand. I thought you were shy.”  “I’m just afraid of the woman that always follows you.” Her answer was blunt and factual, which made me nearly miss a step. I resisted the urge to look behind me.  Mouth dry, I asked, “The woman that always follows me?”  “Yes. She always lunges at you like she’s trying to hurt you.”  “But I never get hurt. She can’t hurt me,” I said as soothingly as possible.  “Of course not. She has no hands and no head, like someone cut them off.”  “That still sounds scary!” I indulged, though I felt cold shivers tingling across my neck. “But you’re with me now. Did you realize she can’t hurt you, too?”  “No. I’m still afraid, but she stayed upstairs with Daddy. She seemed awfully interested in what was in that box!”