Ghosts Among Us

Anyone can play her, / any child off the street/ can be hog-tied and dumped from a van / or strangled blue in a kitchen, a bathroom, / an alley, a school. That’s the beauty / of a dead girl.” – Kim Addonizio “Dead Girls”

It ends with a click: the click of a ballpoint pen finishing a signature, the click of a gun out of bullets, or simply with the click of a car door closing shut. I stood against Mike’s car, my smaller frame was comically dwarfed against the home we parked next to. The black bars gating the windows look thicker than my wrist from this vantage point. There was movement behind the curtain, as though someone were peeking out into the street. We were here. After hearing the stories and remnants of stories, we were here.

We drove from Mike’s apartment in Glendora to Turnbull Canyon, a neighborhood within a suburb in Southern California. This area was home to half-million dollar homes hidden behind waist high brick walls covered in ivy. This area had the Turnbull Canyon bike trail where you could walk along the trails where you can look over the rocky winding roads and see the Rose Hill Memorial Park and Mortuary. Mike, our friend Katie, and I came here because of the stories. We lace up our running shoes and start along the bike trail.

Going to Turnbull Canyon was a two-fold experience, just as all things I tired to plan were. I was busy, trying to get everything in order to move to Milwaukee for graduate school and spend time with my soon to be ex-boyfriend and our one mutual friend before I left. I was anxious to go—to Milwaukee and to Turnbull Canyon. There was the prospect of learning something new, of possibly experiencing something would change our lives before our lives were changed for us by distance setting us apart.

Out here on the trail with only the power lines above us, it didn’t feel as if we were in Southern California anymore. The bike trail was along a wilderness preserve that bordered the homes. It was so vast and empty to me. I was used to houses everywhere, and mini-malls and parking lots. While running, I would look over and look down into the city that looked like a miniature version of a city, and then a little further in the horizon was the rest of Los Angeles. Here it felt as though everything was so far apart. Here, you felt alone.

“I don’t think I can live out here,” Katie says as Mike pulls ahead of us on the jog.

“Why not?” I asked in between breaths.

“It’s nice to come here once in a while, but it just seems too lonely.”

I say nothing.

“And boring.”

Lonely and boring was probably what caused Gloria Gaxiola to come out here. She was the other reason we were here. Rumors say that ten years ago, Gloria drove up here with her new boyfriend and his friends to cast spells and devil worship. Gloria was a devout Catholic, and she was sacrificed for the blood ritual. Rumors and ghost stories the three of us had heard in high school tell us she haunts the area now. They say that it was her ghost that protects joggers from being attacked and that it is her knocking on the undercarriage of your car as you drive down Turnbull Canyon Road, not the rocks kicked up from the hillside. The deep mists that drain battery life from your cell phone, that’s Gloria too. Rumor doesn’t tell us that she was shot in the head by men 10 years older to twice her age.

Police reports tell us more. Gloria isn’t the only one to die here. Reports of bodies found in the area are as consistent as the almost year long summer weather. A body was found, assumed to be Amber Hill, woman missing from Huntington Beach. The bones were too badly decomposed, but her wallet was found near the remains. A male body was so badly burned that it was initially thought to be a mannequin. Most recently, parts of a Jane Doe were discovered; they found a jawbone and parts of a shoulder. Ten years after Gloria was found, investigators are no closer to solving her murder other than two clues involving a late-model silver 4 door with tinted windows, and a woman who got out of the passenger side of the car and screamed when a passing jogger flagged down the vehicle.

We knew even before coming out to Turnbull Canyon that we were being foolish and feeding into the urban legends. Most of the stories were easily explained away, such as how a girl was abducted in Covina, dragged into a waterway under the park, raped and then killed. The story went that this girl was wearing a bell necklace and if you were in the waterway, you could hear the bells of her necklace jingling as she tried to escape. No one seemed to mention that there was a railroad crossing above the waterway and that the bells that the young or naïve or perhaps both, would hear would be the chimes of the railroad crossing signaling that a train was on the way.

The Turnbull Canyon Trail was hedged by large untrimmed bushes. Needing a bit of rest from the sun, I started to run closer to the edges, along the long drooping branches of the greenery. The earth underfoot was soft and as I ran, the tips of my shoes scooped up dirt and rocks. As I ran a little a head of Katie but very far behind Mike, I stepped on something that caused me to fall over. As I sat on the ground, I looked back to see what I had tripped over and what was right near my hand, what I had stepped on was the severed head of a cat.

I screamed. Loudly.

Katie ran up to me thinking I was hurt or that I had a muscle spasm. She came up alongside me and asked me what was wrong, I pointed at the head and kept screaming.

And so did she.

I got up to my feet quickly. The head was orange with small stripes of a darker orange. One eye of the head was open and the other, which was on the side of the face caked with dirt, was closed. I kicked the head away from me watching it roll down the path over the cropping of rocks and into the brush.

Mike ran back to us. “I heard Katie screaming, what happened?” He said as he wiped sweat from his forehead. “You ok?”

I stammered out a loosely strung sentence about cat head and rabies.

We stood there in silence and the breeze kicked up cooling the sweat off of our skin. Katie was the first to speak, “Let’s go home.” The sheen of her skin made her look younger than her nineteen years of age. Her age was betrayed by the sleeve of tattoos on her right arm and the fact that she, at 16 had graduated with Mike and I from undergrad. We started walking and as I looked to my right, on a pile dried brush was the rest of the cat. Or what was left of it. There was a bushy orange tail and a skinless spinal cord that curved into a U-shaped smile that was connected to four orange-striped feet.

I broke out into a sprint. Katie and Mike were close behind.

Gloria lives on, ten years after she was found because people keep talking about her. Her Myspace page, which has since been archived, listed her involvement in the Agape Christian Church. I called them before we decided to seriously investigate the claims of hauntings in Southern California. I asked the youth minister on duty, a Enrique Torres about Gloria Gaxiola. He spoke about her in the present. I asked him how he knew her.

“We all knew her,” he said. “Like we all know God and each other.”

I asked him about his age.

“I’m eighteen. Why?”

The rest of the people I managed to talked to said the same thing. They spoke of Gloria as being sweet, kind, smart and faithful to her life in Jesus. But they couldn’t tell me what she looked like. Before her Myspace page was taken down, there was a picture of a girl at a birthday party wearing jeans and a Lakers jersey with her arm around another girl who is looking down, staring at her feet as if that was more interesting than the camera. She’s wearing a dark hoodie and shorts. Either of these girls could be Gloria.

When Mike, Katie and I make it back to the car, a man is standing in the doorway of the house we parked near. “What are you three up to?”

“Out for a run,” Katie says.

“Heard screaming,” he eyes Mike and I. “You ok young lady?”

“Yeah,” Katie says as she opens the door for me so I can sit in the back seat. “Noel fell over a dead cat and it freaked us out.”

The man’s shoulders drop a little. “You gotta be careful out here,” he says. “Coyotes. They go after the strays.”

“Well, we’re heading home now.” Mike says as he shifts uncomfortably from foot to foot.

“Get home safe. Especially you,” he says, motioning to Katie. He watches us pull away and I look back through the rear window and see him looking out at us through the door and finally close it with a click.

As we drove down the canyon pass towards the 605 freeway, I stared outside the window and the brush and dirt paths melding into a brown and green haze as we sped by. Shadows snuck around from bush to bush, behind this tree and that. They snaked their way up and around the hillside, vanishing one by one as we came closer. I watched and let out a sigh as Katie turned on the radio. Depeche Mode. “Somebody.” I closed my eyes and could almost hear either a coyote in the distance or the moaning of the car making its way on the road. Anyone could live here. Those bones could have been Mike, Katie, or myself as much as it could have been a stray cat.

“I don’t think I can live here either,” I tell Katie.


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