Flickering Lights

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By Anne E. Beall

The following essay was submitted in response to our call for true ghost stories.

I sat by the hospital bed in my father’s living room in Rockport, Massachusetts. He looked weak and, at times, disoriented. The lung cancer had spread to his brain. He was dying.

Facing his last days, I hoped he had changed his beliefs about life after death, that he wasn’t staring into a dark abyss.

“Dad, do you think there might be something beyond all this, after this life ends?” I said, my voice tinged with hopefulness.

“No, sweetie. You know how I’ve always felt about that,” he replied, sounding weary.

“Dad, I can’t help but feel you’re wrong. I think you’ll see I’m right when the time comes.”

His tired blue eyes looked up at me. “I suppose.”

There was a long silence. Tears slipped down his reddened cheeks as his eyes gazed into nothingness. Reaching for his hand, I found it smaller and weaker than I recalled, not the strong, reassuring grip I’d always known. Tears welled in my eyes. Our time was slipping away.

My father, a chemistry professor, had always been a pillar of rationality, believing only in what could be proven and measured. He dismissed the supernatural as absurd. But now, as he approached the end, I hoped he might find solace in the possibility that he would go to a better place and see us once more.

Our bond had been unbreakable. Built on love, respect, and endless conversations. He was the constant presence in my life, captured in every childhood photo, always ready for a chat, a coffee, or a walk. He’d been there for every major milestone: college, my first apartment, my graduations, and every setback. 

Now, as I faced losing him, those memories were bittersweet, and I clung to an uncertain hope that our connection might transcend the finality of death. Wasn’t there something more? Something beyond this life? The energy, the very essence of a person, how could it simply vanish?

We talked a great deal during his last week as he reflected on what he had achieved, the lives he had touched. I think his disbelief in the afterlife led him to try to convince himself that he had made a difference.

“I finished all the chapters for my last book. They’re all done. All my co-author needs to do is add his parts, and the book will be complete,” he said.

I told him it was amazing he’d written while unwell.

“It had to be done,” he said, determination in his voice. “And I’ve received several notes from family, friends, and even old students saying how much they appreciated me and everything I’ve done for them.”

“That’s wonderful, Dad.”

My father was sixty-four. Always health-conscious, he ran ten miles a day, ate mostly home-cooked food, and rested even when he had a headache. At age sixty, he stopped winning races. Breathing difficulties led to a diagnosis of lung cancer, stage four. He lived four more years. Just as he thought he’d beaten it, the cancer spread to his brain.

Shortly after that discovery, I received the phone call I’d been dreading. It was my father. “Annie, I think I’m going to die tonight. Please come as soon as you can,” he said, his voice breaking.

Time seemed to stretch and contract, each second an eternity as I scrambled to pack my bags, find a flight, reach the airport. Every moment was a race against the unthinkable, the entire world moving in slow motion except for the frantic beating of my heart. 

“Please God, don’t let him die before I get there. Please let me see him one more time.” I whispered these words over and over, as I sat in the airport and then on the airplane, the miles crawling by. 

Upon arriving in Massachusetts, my entire body trembled with both dread and hope. Stepping out of the cab seemed almost impossible. Knocking on the front door, I felt I might collapse. But he was alive. Seeing him, feeling the warmth of his hug, I burst into tears.

He died one week later, in the small home by the sea that he shared with my mother. Outside, the day was beautifully bright, the sky a serene shade of blue, and an ocean breeze wafted through the garden where friends and family had gathered. Sunlight touched their faces, but inside, I felt a darkness settle. How could life everywhere else go on? All I could feel was loss. My father should have lived to be much older, should have had more days under that bright sky. 

The day he died, I walked from their little house to a footpath on a bluff surrounded by high grasses overlooking the ocean. Looking to the right, you could see the ocean flowing into the harbor. Off in the distance, a lighthouse stood, no longer casting its light. I found solace in these familiar sights, reassuring me that the world was not ending, even though it felt like it was.

In this moment, I yearned for my father to sit beside me, to feel the breeze, watch the seagulls dance above, see the swaying grasses, and remark on the boaters nearby. But all I heard were the shrill cries of the seagulls overhead, which sounded mournful, echoing my sadness. A lump rose in my throat, and tears blurred my vision. Exhaustion and hopelessness seeped into every part of my body, leaving me feeling weak and drained.

As I sat, I felt someone come up the path. I turned around, but no one was nearby. Yet, the sensation of a presence persisted. Could it be my dad? Or was it perhaps just my deep longing for him to be nearby? The feeling was strong, almost tangible, and it lingered in the air.

A few days later, I started a run from his house, taking the path that led to the ocean. As I began, I called out, “Hey, Dad! Go for a run with me!” I knew that was impossible, an attempt to comfort myself. I put on my headphones, felt the cool breeze off the water, and ran faster than usual. 

As I approached a steep hill on my return that I’d always disliked, I clearly heard my father’s voice say, “Annie, let’s go!” 

Startled, I bounded up the hill. Later, I thought it must have been my imagination, a vivid manifestation of my wish to hear his cherished voice, which I knew I’d never hear again. Yet, deep down, a tiny part of me held onto the hope that it was truly him.

The entire year after he passed, I thought of my father constantly and struggled to find myself. A dullness descended over my eyes, turning everything in my sight a hazy gray color. The bright colors of life eluded me, hidden behind a veil. Finding joy became a challenge, even in activities I once cherished, such as watching movies, taking long walks, and spending time with friends.

The first Thanksgiving without him, I hosted the holiday. But it felt completely different without the man who used to carve the turkey, make jokes, and relish time with his loved ones. The flavors of my favorite foods—turkey, stuffing, and corn pudding— were muted. I ate little.

Later that evening, the chandelier in my dining room flashed on and off after dinner. Although I turned it off, it continued to flash. It was unsettling. An irrational thought gripped me; could my father be trying to communicate? But then I became uneasy. What if this caused a fire? I was anxious. I couldn’t control the lights.

I shouted, “Dad, please stop!” 

A few moments later, the lights went off.

Several months later, while traveling for business, I found myself at an office complex with a couple of hours to spare. There were only three other businesses nearby: a Domino’s Pizza, a dry cleaner, and a new-age bookstore. I wasn’t hungry, so I ambled over to the bookstore, curious about what it might hold. As I stepped inside, a sign greeted me: ‘Psychic Readings in Back—$20.00.’

I didn’t want to go back to the office, so I handed a crisp twenty-dollar bill to a woman at the counter. She guided me deeper into the shop, where a threadbare curtain of deep chestnut separated a tiny alcove. The psychic, a man around fifty with a mustache and donning a faded rust-colored sweater, looked like an ordinary person. I felt some disappointment. 

He welcomed me with a warm smile, his eyes twinkling with a gentle assurance. In the small space, filled with the faint scent of incense, he gestured to a cushioned chair.

I sat down, and he seemed to gaze past me. “You have a male energy around you… it’s your father.”

Was he truly sensing a presence? Something in his eyes gave me pause. He didn’t appear to be lying; his expression was calm, earnest, almost compassionate. 

“Really?” I replied.

“Yeah, he’s gone to the other side.”

“That’s true,” I acknowledged.

“But he’s with you…” the psychic continued.

That thought embraced me, providing comfort and easing the pain of my father’s death for the first time since he had been gone. I took a deep breath and felt my heart rate slow. 

After a brief silence, the psychic looked at me directly and said, “He’d like to apologize for the lights.” 

It was my father’s final message to me. In that profound moment, warmth enveloped my entire body, as if I were embraced in a gentle hug. I realized life extended beyond death, and he remained with me, ever-present in spirit.

Anne E. Beall is an award-winning author whose books have been featured in People Magazine, Chicago Tribune, Toronto Sun, Hers Magazine, Ms. Career Girl, and she’s been interviewed by NBC, NPR, and WGN. She has also published in several literary journals.

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