No one is sure if the thing on 18th Avenue North actually constitutes a ghost. But no one is sure what else to call it. Some say that you can almost see it on rainy or foggy days, a shape, like a person, but not quite, around which the moisture bends as the shape moves down the street.
Kids say dirt will do the same, hit it and deflect, and it’s not unusual to see kids walking from the corner where 18th and Clarksville Pike split north towards Potter’s Field kicking up dust in front of them, trying to get a glimpse of the thing before they step into it.
Because stepping into it is like stepping into old grief. It’s the step you took, hands tight on your grandmother’s casket, as you helped to slide her into the back of the hearse, the first step you take after you hang up the phone from hearing, “I’m sorry but your son is dead,” the moments you pray to forget and can’t.
No one knows if it’s a person or just a bad feeling that lingers between the Jewish cemetery and Potter’s field. But it sticks with you, once you’ve felt it.
So people do what they can to avoid it.
Edited to add: Okay, let’s see if we can’t fix this.
This weird patch is not the most disturbing ghost on 18th Avenue North. That honor goes to a young boy, who is often seen playing just inside the gates of the Jewish cemetery.
“I finally told them,” the cop told me, “that if you see a white kid in the Jewish cemetery, do not even bother to call us about it. There haven’t been white kids in that neighborhood in decades, I mean, like 70 years, and the gate is locked. No one is letting their seven year old climb the fence and play in the cemetery. That kid’s not real. Do not call me.”
I waited for him to settle down. He looked down at his plate of food and continued. “I mean, I sure as hell do not want to ever, ever see that kid.”
“Who is he?”
Soon enough, I was walking into the barber shop that sits kitty corner from the Jewish cemetery and the three men in the place looked at the officer I was with like he had just violated all rules of social decorum.
“She’s asking about the Judge.”
“No,” said one guy.
“No way,” sad the second.
“I know,” said the third.
“Will you tell me?” I asked.
“Hell no,” said the first man.
The third settled into the barber’s chair and rested his head against the back.
“My dad used to run this place and he would tell me about how, when he was a kid, there used to be kids who worked in the mills over in Germantown. Small kids. Or how you’d go downtown and there’d be these kids on the corners selling newspapers or stealing apples out of the barrels that sat on the sidewalks. Some folks wanted those kids in school, thought they were a menace and needed to be off the streets. Other folks said that they couldn’t run their businesses without those kids.
“Bad shit… Sorry, miss, bad stuff would happen to those kids, sometimes. The Judge, my dad said, was beat to death by a man right downtown, in broad daylight. Worst part was that they just left that kid, like trash, on the sidewalk. When his mother got off work, she came to look for him and found him in a heap, people just walking around him.
“He’s buried right there.” The third barber motioned across the street. “My father saw him once. He was sitting in this window and a white man pulled up in his car and got out and started coming towards the door. A few seconds later, a little boy, just a few years younger than my father was then, appeared and seemed to be hurrying to catch up with the man.
“He had some business with my grandfather, that man. I don’t know what it was. Times were different then, and you sometimes had to make some unsavory deals to keep your family safe. ‘Sir, your son doesn’t have to stand outside,’ my grandfather said. And my father said that they all looked out the window and there was the small boy, just standing on the sidewalk, staring in.
“The white man went pale and started to shake. They tried to offer him a seat, but he rushed out, got in his car, and drove off. My father says that he looked right into the face of that boy. They weren’t maybe three or four feet apart. You can see how close that sidewalk is. Just separated by glass. And my father says he didn’t think anything strange of him. He just waved at the kid and the kid, for the first time, smiled and waved back, and then… And I am not even joking… he just faded from view.
“Now, I heard from some white folks, and you might try to find them, if you can, that that kid followed the man who killed him everywhere, for the rest of his life. Everyone saw him, all over town.
“And when that man finally died? No cemetery would take him. When that kid died, he was just trash. But by the time that man died, that kid was the victim of a monster. You know what I’m saying? People couldn’t ignore what he did or just pretend like that’s just what happened to kids. And they didn’t want a child killer in their cemetery.
“So they put him in the field there. My wife will tell you he doesn’t rest easy, that he’s the bad spot. I worry about that kid, but she says the kid seems all right, not scared or sad, but where he wants to be.”
“That’s not what Granny Rose says,” the cop said, and I realized I was in the middle of a long-standing family discussion. “She says that kid is just waiting there for bad men, that even now, he can tell if you hurt little kids and he will torment you until you die. He just needs those bad guys to come close enough.”
“Then why are you afraid of him?” the third barber asked.
“Dad, that stuff is scary. I don’t care. It’s weird and it creeps me out,” the cop said. I thought for a second he might storm out and leave. But when he got to the door, he turned back around and he said, “And I don’t want to stop him. If he does what Granny Rose says? Good. Most of the time, it’s more than we can do.”