Sarah Alexander didn’t know what was waiting for her in Salem, Massachusetts. She had moved there to escape the smog and the smugness of Los Angeles, craving the dulcet tones of a small town, seeking a less complicated life. Her first hint of the supernatural world came the day she moved into her rented brick house near the historic part of town, close to the museums about the witch trial days, not far from the easy, wind-blown bay. As the heavy-set men hauled her furniture inside, her landlady leaned close and told her to beware.
“If you hear sounds in the night it’s ghosts,” the landlady whispered, glancing around to be sure no one, human or shadow, could hear. “The spirits of the innocent victims of the witch hunts still haunt us. I can feel them stirring now. God rest them.”
Sarah didn’t know what to say. She had never been warned about ghosts before. The landlady peered at her, squinting to see her better.
“You’re a pretty girl,” the old woman said. “Such dark curls you have.” She still spoke as if she were telling a secret, and Sarah had to strain to hear. “You’re from California?”
“I moved there after I got married,” Sarah said.
“Where’s your husband?”
“I’m divorced now.”
“And your family is here?”
“In Boston. I wanted to live close to my family, but I didn’t want to move back to the city. I’ve always wanted to visit Salem, so I thought I’d live here awhile.”
The landlady nodded. “Boston,” she said. “Some victims of the witch trials were jailed in Boston.”
The landlady was so bent and weak looking, her fragile face lined like tree rings, that Sarah thought the old woman had experienced the hysteria in Salem during the seventeenth century. But that was silly, Sarah reminded herself. The Salem Witch Trials happened over three hundred years ago. There was no one alive now who had experienced that terror first hand. Sarah wanted to tell the landlady how she believed she had an ancestor who died as a victim of the witch hunts, but she didn’t say anything then.
“Yes, they’re here,” the landlady said, staring with time-faded eyes at the air above their heads, as if she saw something no one else could see. “Beware, Sarah. The ghosts are here. And they always come out at night.”
The landlady shook as if she were cold, though it was early autumn and summer humidity still flushed the air. When Sarah put her arm around the old woman to comfort her, she felt her skin spark like static. She rubbed her hands together, feeling the numbness even after the old woman pulled away.
“It’s all right,” Sarah said. “I won’t be frightened by paranormal beings. I don’t believe in ghosts.”
The landlady laughed. “Salem may cure you of that.”
For a moment Sarah wondered if she made a mistake moving there, but she decided she wouldn’t let a superstitious old woman scare her away. She thought about her new job in the library at Salem State College—Humanities I liaison, go-to person for English studies, well worth the move across the country. She saw the tree-lined, old-fashioned neighborhood and the comforting sky. She heard the lull of bird songs and the distant whisper of the sea kissing the shore. She felt a rising tranquility, like the tide of the ocean waves at noon, wash over her. It was a contentment she had never known before, not in Boston, never in Los Angeles. She was fascinated by Salem, looking forward to knowing it better, certain she was exactly where she needed to be, whatever may come.