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  4.       <td width="250" div="div" align="justify" valign="top"><font style="font-family: bakersville; color: #171717; font-size:11px; line-height:15px; letter-spacing:.5px; text-transform:; text-shadow: .5px #404040">Sitting with my nan on the sofa, her arm was cradling me as I leaned into her soft body. My pet hamster Foxy had died and I was absolutely devastated. Only in that moment, I wasn’t crying because I missed his relentless 3am jaunts on his wheel. I was crying because as I’d laid in bed and begun to drift to sleep, I’d felt the phantom sensations of tiny hamster feet scurrying across my arm, just as I’d felt when I’d let little Foxy out of his cage and let him run about. Like any boy who’d attended a Church of England school and paid attention at least sometimes, I knew all about heaven and hell. It was only when I experienced my first brush with death, finding Foxy’s stiff little body under his shredded bedding, that I gave it much thought. Gripped by the fear of where Foxy went, I now needed answers.  “I don’t know where he is,” Nan had said, “but I believe he’s still here. I think we never completely disappear.” My small fingertips traced the protruding veins on her delicate hands and I was reminded of the unfortunate truth that Nan was, in fact, <i>old</i>. Though morbid, this seemed the ideal opportunity. “Hey Nana, when you die, will you come back to see me so I know you’re still here?” She agreed with a gentle squeeze and a kiss atop my head. “I promise,” she assured me and I felt comforted. Little did I know it would be 18 years later and she’d still be alive. Not that I’m not, like, thrilled about that.<br><center><br><img src="https://i.imgur.com/Ftz3YdX.png"></center><br>There were nights when I was small when the three of us would huddle in Rosie’s bed, one of us having heard a sound that couldn’t be explained or a thunderstorm thrashing outside giving us an eerie soundtrack for the comparatively PG-rated horror stories of our naive young minds. As thunder cracked above or our old, creaky house moaned beneath us, we’d dig our fingertips in each other and squeal. Well, my sisters squealed. I’m sure I emitted much manlier sounds of terror. My sisters are the ones who instilled in me an appreciation for believing in things, from the garden gnomes my older sister Rosie told me came alive at night to astrology to ghosts. To Rosie, everything could be painted with a whimsical brush and believing in a bit of magic made life more exciting. My younger sister Clarista, on the other hand, is the one who looks for answers in ancient systems— or at least how they’ve been repackaged for millennials on Instagram. Within it all, there’s this implication of <i>meaning</i> and I can’t say, as my brain ticks in overdrive on a sleepless night, that my skeptical side doesn’t take over. But there’s still that odd night when I’m alone in bed and hear a rustling sound and click on the light  just to be certain.</font></td>
  5.       <td width="250" div="div" align="justify" valign="top"><font style="font-family: bakersville; color: #171717; font-size:11px; line-height:15px; letter-spacing:.5px; text-transform:; text-shadow: .5px #404040">By 15, I’d graduated from the tame ghost stories of Disney to films like <i>The Ring</i> and <i>Amityville Horror</i>. It had gotten harder to scare me, even when Rosie read aloud from <i>Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark</i> and used her creepiest voice and jumped out at us at the exact right moment. Instead, my two best mates and I would bike into town to rent a film, taking turns picking it out, challenging each other to find the next film that would actually scare us. My mum was always strict about us watching violent movies, but we didn’t care about gore, we wanted to be <i>terrified.</i>  Eventually, even that proved difficult and we ordered a Ouija board on the internet, purposely calling spirits into this realm and if any of that happens to be real, probably bringing upon some evil curse onto my family and our house. At the time though, with the slight nudge of the  planchette across the board, selecting letters to spell out what was assuredly some important message from the great beyond, we felt that thrill where your blood runs cold and your skin prickles as the hair on your arm stands straight up. That is, until we realised our spirit was spelling out the word, “wankers.”<br><br><center><br><img src="https://i.imgur.com/Ftz3YdX.png"></center><br>Ironically the last of my friends to drive, it was instead my job to harass Carlos to drive us places in his mum’s ancient Ford Fiesta. I’d scoured the internet for places to go once the sun went down, printed out what I’d found and stashed all of it in my rucksack as I climbed into the front seat. My gangly legs allowed me permanent bagsy of the passenger seat, but I was also always the navigator, directing my little crew to our next adventure. On one particular night, it was the River Pang in Tidmarsh in Reading and on our way there, I’d read aloud the story of a young boy who’d slipped and drowned in the river years ago, and is said to haunt the area near the old rectory. I had to speak loud to be heard over the music that seemed to suspiciously get louder and I was interrupted twice by suggestions we go elsewhere, at least at first, maybe for a bite to eat? Once there, George led the way as Carlos continued to suggest McDonalds and I trailed behind, aiming my flashlight anywhere the moonlight hadn’t flooded with its cool glow. We’d only been walking a few minutes before George had turned and swiftly passed by me, his shoulder bumping my arm as he strode wordlessly back to the car.  Looking at each other, Carlos and I shrugged before heading back as well. Driving back down Mill Lane with the radio even louder than before, George finally muttered, “his face was practically dissolved.” To me, this was evidence of ghosts. To Carlos, it was evidence that McDonalds had been the better idea.<br /></font></td>
  6.       <td width="250" valign="top" div="div" align="justify"><font style="font-family: bakersville; color: #171717; font-size:11px; line-height:15px; letter-spacing:.5px; text-transform:; text-shadow: .5px #404040">We were laying in the grass in the park on one of those rare early spring days in London when the sun finally peaks out between the grey clouds and brings out the pale-faced English in droves as we thaw our bodies in its warmth. She was laying over me and smiling, her eyes bright and sparkling as she teased me. We were in the throes of new what at least she thought was love and it still felt good. “You better not hurt me,” she said in a musical tone a lot less ominous than her actual words. “Or I swear to God, I’ll haunt you.” She laughed and then I laughed, but that moment slid into the  cracks to a deeper part of me— the part that knew that as our bodies touched, our spirits hadn’t come close. And sure enough, the time came when our sunny days ended and were replaced by the thunderstorms of arguments and guilt and pain. Then finally gradual distancing until what we once had became the ghost between us. Eventually, even that spectre evaporated and it felt as if I’d finally been released. That is, until the early moments of future flirtations, when I could suddenly feel her hand on my arm again and hear her musical voice in my ear and I realised that she’d somehow managed to keep at least that one promise.<br><center><br><br><img src="https://i.imgur.com/Ftz3YdX.png"></center><br><br>I was 27 when I took someone new on a haunted pub crawl in Montreal. My life was already so crowded with ghosts that I no longer worried myself over whether or not the sort that groaned and shot ectoplasm out of their mouths were actually real. Those who’d tightened their grasp around my neck as I stumbled through my mid-twenties were frightening enough. The ghost tour was just a thrill to me then, yet another adventure to add to the list I’d been compiling in the hopes of impressing her. I hadn’t met anyone in ages who’d so easily agreed to my suggestions and seemed to match my enthusiasm. We were still at the point where we’d find excuses to brush up against each other, the poltergeist that possessed me holding me captive in my own body. It had somehow managed to keep us apart, even as our spirits had already tangled themselves together. With a few drinks in my system and a startlingly convincing tour guide weaving his spooky tales, I felt it begin to release its hold. She then shrieked and laughed at one of the guide’s well-timed jump scares, that infectious coupling of glee and surprise, and  I instinctively grabbed for her. I held her close as we both continued to laugh. Still a bit haunted, but hunting together.</font><br><center></td>
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