It’s October and you’ve come here looking for a ghost story haven’t you? But ghosts don’t exist; at least that’s what we tell ourselves as we walk alone by the graveyard at night. I’d rather tell you about a girl named Agatha, a trip to Vermont and three little mysteries.
If was fall, just like now, a perfect time for the family to head over and see the leaves change, but Agatha didn’t want to go; her boyfriend had just dumped her. But when you’re fourteen you don’t get a vote so she put in her ear buds, gazed out the backseat window and lost herself in the music and muse.
After hitting the usual apple stand, chocolate shop and outlets, her parents pulled in front of a rickety old barn that a retired couple had converted into an antique store. They spread out and wandered about when Agatha saw it – a very old wooden radio collecting dust in the corner. She was surprised by the price tag, only $25 dollars, and when she asked why it was so cheap the old man said, “Oh, because it doesn’t work child. More of a paper weight now.” She used her babysitting money to buy it on the spot.
Later that night after skipping dinner (apparently he took her appetite with her heart) she made the mistake of looking at his Facebook page, “twisting the knife”, as her best friend Jen would say. There he was posting fresh pictures of the fun he was having without her and in one of them he had his arm around a new girl. She paced the room furious, not sure if she’d scream or cry, when she picked up the radio cradling it in her arms. As she sat down on the edge of the bed the tears came, running down her cheeks and dripping onto the radio. The salty tears touched the old wiring and just like jumpstarting a car, that broken piece of junk came to life. A small light glowed in the front and the speaker filled with static. There were only two knobs, one controlled the volume, the other a tuner, yet when Agatha went from left to right and back again there was nothing but white noise.
What happened next nobody would believe except the few whose lives it changed. If Agatha tuned the radio’s dial far to the left she heard the voice of an old woman saying, “Shhh, Nanas here. Coca Peas.” She said it over and over again as if it were a recording. When she turned the radio dial to the middle she heard a man’s voice saying over and over, “Foley’s right. Bakery locked it. Munch.” And when she turned the dial all the way to the right it was a child’s voice, “CJ’s with me. Tell mom. Mat your west.” None of the voices were clear but they kept repeating the same things like a recording. Agatha wrote them down and a short while later drifted off to sleep with the notepad still in her lap.
The next morning when she woke the radio was as dead as the moment she bought it. She took her notes and the radio into her parent’s bedroom and told them what happened. Her father said she must have been dreaming because the radio had no wires to plug in or batteries to make it run so what she was saying was simply impossible. Her mother just stared at the messages Agatha had written down, turning white in the process. “If this is a joke honey, it’s not funny,” she began. Agatha assured her it was not, telling them the radio did come to life and she wrote down exactly what she heard.
“When you were little and feeling sad, you loved going to your grandmother’s house,” her mother continued, “and you called her,” “Nana,” Agatha answered. “That’s right, and said her mother pointing at the first message, “she’d cheer you up by making you hot cocoa only you couldn’t say the word ‘cocoa’ or ‘please’ very well so it sounded like ‘Coca Peas’. Agatha’s grandmother had been dead 10 years. Is it possible Agatha’s grandmother saw her crying and was trying to ease her pain?
As crazy as it sounded, that explained who the first message might be from, but what about the other two? They didn’t know anyone named Foley or CJ so they were lost. It wasn’t until a few days later when her father was reading the newspaper that Agatha found herself staring at part of the answer. A front page headline: “Detective Foley retires after 33 years.” Tom Foley was a cop in the next town and was finally turning in his badge. Agatha called the police station; left him a cryptic message and being a sharp detective he called right back.
They say every cop has that one case they couldn’t solve and for Detective Foley it was that of Sarah Runyon, a 12-year-old girl who vanished walking home from school, her body later found in a nearby swamp. When he heard the message Agatha had written down, “Foley’s right. Bakery locked it. Munch.” he nearly dropped the phone. Munch was the nickname of his partner (he loved to eat) who died the previous year of a heart attack. Foley had always believed Sarah was grabbed by someone working in one of the businesses along the route she walked home that day. One of them was a bakery, run by a friendly man who lived right above his shop. He was so clean he squeaked so they discarded him as a suspect.
An hour after hanging up the phone with Agatha, Foley and some of his friends went to the bakery with a search warrant based on “new information”. There, hidden in the bottom drawer of the baker’s private desk was the locket Sarah was wearing the day she was murdered. The voice must have been saying, “Foley is right. Bakery. Locket. Munch.”
Weeks went by and Agatha could not figure out what the third message from the radio meant. She called Detective Foley for some advice and he said, “If you are completely lost, go back to where this all began.” The antique shop.
The old couple was surprised to see Agatha walk in holding the broken radio and even more so when she said, “I need to know where you got this.” A check of records showed it came from an estate sale held in nearby Shaftsbury. A family, which had suffered some kind of tragedy, was selling everything and moving away.
Whether Agatha was lucky or it was always supposed to happen this way no one could say, but just as she and her parents pulled into the home’s driveway the moving van was backing out. A woman in her early 50’s with tired eyes was confused seeing a teenage girl blocking her path holding a radio. Her radio. “My name is Agatha, Ma’am. I’m sorry to bother you, but I need to tell you a story and then show you something.” After explaining what happened with the radio, she handed the note to the woman with the final message. It was as if the breath was snatched right out of her.
Her name was Norma Gates, a mother of two who had suffered more loss than any parent should. Her first child, Charles Johan Gates “CJ”, died in Afghanistan. As they mourned his loss her only other child, a daughter Missy, was diagnosed with cancer. When she got close to the end Missy would comfort her mother by saying, “It’s alright Mama, I’m going to heaven and CJ will be there.” Her favorite song was called “Save a Place for Me” by Matthew West. It’s about saving a place for someone you love in heaven. Agatha read the third message out loud, finally understanding what the child was saying, “CJ is here. Tell mom. Matthew West.” For the first time since she lost Missy, Norma felt at peace.
The radio sits quiet now and Agatha doesn’t talk about what happened. Who would believe her? When she’s sad she’ll hold it sometimes, but the magic never returned. I guess that’s how magic is. On days like this, when November’s cold creeps at the door, Agatha lights a fire, makes a cup of hot cocoa and hums a familiar tune. If you stayed in the shadows and watched her you’d swear she wasn’t alone.
**The above story is fiction, but the love is real. Happy Halloween.
John Gray is weekely columnist for the Troy Record and the Saratogian newspapers and news anchor at ABC 10 and FOX 23. He can be reached at email@example.com