Sunday, September 12, 2010

Ghostly Encounters (by Vesna Ilievska)


“No, I don’t do demons,” he said, and took a sip of his drink. “That’s a completely different thing.”

“Really?” I thought. “Is he for real?” I looked at Kevin and Sarah, in hope that they might be thinking the same thing. But, no, my classmates remained cool as ice and awkwardly professional, so I had to fight off the urge to laugh and looked at his name tag again. “B. Lenga--Manager,” it said.

Meet Bill Lenga

Bill was in charge of our on-campus pub and the food and supplies the whole campus was getting. He always wore glasses, a baby blue button up shirt, his name tag and a welcoming smile, like he had been in his line of work for ages. But Bill was a man of many talents, to say the least, which I why we chose him for our final documentary project, as part of our Non-fiction Production course. He was also a judge in his town, but after work each day he took on the job of a ghost hunter. And it was on our first meeting when he emphasized the difference between ghosts and demons. “Demons are evil spirits that don’t come from Earth nor have ever lived here, and in general they are much scarier and more powerful. Ghosts, on the other hand, are just lost souls who used to be humans at one point. They are rarely mean and can in no way harm you.”

“Ahhhhh…,” we nodded. “So, have you always been into ghosts?”

The answer was shocking. It turned out Bill used to be a man of facts and data, a top scientist back in his day, working for the army in Vietnam, where he had his 1st near-death experience. He came back and a couple of months later, after a terrible car accident, his life was hanging on a thread again. Ever since, he had developed some sort of sensibility towards what people call “paranormal” phenomena, and realized that he loved helping all sorts of beings out, both humans and ghosts. And the moment he said that, I knew we were going to have a lot of fun with this video.

Next, we asked him to talk about his personal life and how this “ghost correspondence” affected it.

“Well, everyone close to me knows that I am serious about this, and that I love doing it. I go on holidays with my wife where part of the trip is an organized ghost tour. We meet with other couples in haunted inns, for example, and see whether anything happens. In fact, I am so serious that the International Ghost Hunters Organization has even officially accredited me as a paranormal investigator.” He flashed this license and took another sip.

I must admit I was amazed. I couldn’t wait for the outcome of the project.

Two days later, we met up with him on “an expedition” in Phoenix, New York, and we were not disappointed at all. We were going to explore Sarah’s house, who thought that there might be something more in her basement other than what her and her family were seeing. At this point, however, I found Mr. Lenga as intriguing as the possibility of finding a ghost in the house, maybe even more.

Imagine this timid and welcoming guy, armed with military pants, a Ghostbusters t-shirt, a Wiccan crystal, a couple of weird looking gadgets which resembled Star Trek tricoders and to top it off, a small bottle of holy water. Pure j-o-y and excitement came over me! “This is definitely why I came to the States,” I thought.

The house was quite normal and cute. The basement, on the other hand, wasn’t! It had all the elements required to do some ghost-busting…low ceiling, not much lighting, things hanging from the top, and three pairs of cat eyes staring at us. Yes, Pandori, Duma, and Sheena simply loved the place. It almost looked as if they admired this 1800’s structure as much we did.

There was no lighting coming from outside, no cracks or windows, nothing that would disrupt the feeling that you might have entered a completely new dimension inside that basement. Being the camera person on the crew, I had to take some time and inspect the place. I freaked out when I saw the stuffed raccoon, which apparently came with the place, but besides that, the only thing that worried me was the lighting. The whole basement had only three light bulbs illuminating it, and no power sockets where we could hook up our reflectors.

Nevertheless, we were ready to proceed and Bill even notified any potential ghosts out there by saying something like: “Dear spirit, we mean you no harm, please welcome us into your humble abode and let us communicate with you.”

My eyebrows almost rocketed out of my face.

“You see,” Bill continued, “to be able to sense a ghost, you need to make sure it knows you are friendly and be open to the experience. If you don’t believe it’s possible, you won’t see it, you won’t feel it. It’s as simple as that.”

He got his tricoder gadget out and started searching for our invisible host. It gave out a random spike or two, but nothing … three minutes, five minutes, eight minutes of nothing. Hope was gone and so was the blood in my shoulder muscles.

Bill put his gadgets down and headed for the entrance of the basement. We were baffled and disappointed, especially Sarah. Luckily, though, the camera was still on because at one point, both Sarah and Bill got goose bumps and shared a very intense look. I knew something was up and the tricoder confirmed it.

It seemed that we had finally grabbed our ghost’s attention, so Bill got the crystal out and started asking it questions. Apparently, the ghost was supposed to answer them by redirecting Bill’s mind power to make the crystal move. Yes-and-no questions only. I held my breath and my camera as I tried to observe the whole process and tackled the insufficient lighting. The image was dark and grainy, it would flash every 10 seconds or so, while my shoulder ... well, it felt as if it was no longer a part of my body. But at that moment the bloody crystal started moving, so there was no time to rest or complain. In fact, the crystal was moving so much so that there was no way Bill could have been cheating.

“Wait. What the …??! Just breathe,” I thought. I was flabbergasted and so was Kevin, who was, by the way, holding the boom mike. We continued our séance with the ghost for about 35 minutes more and then Sarah took over. I remember her asking whether the visions she had as a child of her imaginary friend were actually the ghost we were chatting with right then. The crystal started swinging like crazy and I thought of my imaginary friend, who, I was pretty sure, at least in my case, was all inside my head.

From this point on, things continued quite normally: editing until early in the morning, previews for our professor and peers, follow up interviews with Bill, getting some background footage etc.

“I’m worried about the lighting: I didn’t do a good job,” I said to Mr. Scott right after the first screening of our draft.

“Why?” he inquired.

“No matter how much I adjusted the settings it would keep flashing … look!” I slowed the video down and showed him.

He crossed his hands and leaned back. He asked for our tape and disappeared, which actually meant that he took it to Master Control to have it analyzed. The guys there were in change of all the equipment and technology at the Park School of Communications, so if anyone knew what was wrong with the camera, it would be them.

Some 15 minutes later, Mr. Scott came back and informed us that we would have to go back to the location again, but this time with a different camera. Evidently, no one had an explanation about the flashes. The camera was new and the sensors were working smoothly so the professionals were just as confused as we were. Oh boy, like we didn’t have things to do.

So, we went back, filmed the sequence again. Bill had a family obligation, so he couldn’t make it, and it seemed that our ghost had arrangements to keep everything still, except the camera image, where the flashes continued showing up. Finally, we got back with the tape and then we had to beg the guys at Master Control to allow us to film the analysis of the second tape, which is a process where they put the tape in a special kind of recorder that analyzes the image and compares it to the camera settings. Surprisingly, the effects on the footage were exactly the same as before and once again they couldn’t explain it. According to them, something was up with the lights sensors, interrupting them, some weird electromagnetic energy. Hearing that, for a moment there, it felt as if I was caught in a Scooby Doo episode, and the Mystery Machine would appear out of nowhere to take us to our new adventure right after we solved this case and exposed the ghost. But, since this was not a feasible scenario for the analyst, he was very careful not to say anything ambiguous and tried to keep the explanation as scientific as possible. This was not what we were looking for as such statements weren’t helping our story, but we didn’t feel the need to ask him to stop as we took the joy out of seeing him confused and sweating the answers out.

At one point I put the camera down and gave out a sigh. This seemed to have got the tech guy’s attention, so he said in an apologetic voice:

“Oh come on, you don’t really believe demons caused these flashes.”

“No, definitely not demons,” we said and smiled at each other, and thought of the unusual knowledge we had gained during our spring semester at Ithaca College.


Vesna Ilievska is a fourth year student at Ss Cyril and Methodius University in Skopje, Macedonia. She spent a year at Ithaca College in New York.

“Ghostly Encounters” is copyright 2010 by Vesna Ilievska and may not be republished or reposted without the author's permission.


Friday, September 3, 2010

Loving Lethal (by Zorica Petkoska)

Author Zorica Petkoska reading her fiction at Café Magor, Skopje, Macedonia

Let me speak tales of letters and words, small things, yet so great. Oh, but don’t let me speak of letters and words, because I will speak for days and torture you to the point you will wish you were illiterate. Yet, let me speak a little, let me lay down at your feet--how lasciviously I have longed for languages for so long. Let me tell you how “the tip of the tongue takes a trip to touch the teeth” or how words can woo a woman. Let me wallow in words and lust for letters and linger a bit more to listen or read.

Words have reigned my world since birth. I was the only two-year-old who could speak all the letters of the alphabet faultlessly, and thus I became the kid in my street who was being sent constantly to the supermarket, as I was the only one who could pronounce the “r” in “Partner,” the popular cigarette brand back then. And while all other children sang and danced in front of a video camera, I used to stand still, serious, and I would solemnly recite something or make a strangely odd speech for my age. And while all mothers told bedtime stories to their children, I went on and on for hours following my mother through the house, inventing fairy tales as I spoke and she was my half-interested audience. At night, my little sister was the rude audience who would fall sleep in the middle of the story, but I kept talking on and on, although I knew she was asleep. And who could blame her when my stories were endless and I talked until there was no strength left in my voice to continue? But, let me now continue from sound to sign.

When I was five, a teacher started giving us classes and, of course, as in every primer in the country, we started with the letters M and A, so that we could form the most essential word in our childhood: “MAMA.” I came home greatly disappointed stating that knowing just two letters won’t help me read. By 10:00 p.m. that same night I went to my mom and read her a passage from my primer. She grabbed it from my hands in disbelief. Then she gave me a newspaper and asked me to read out loud for her. I did. Without a mistake. I don’t remember much of this, but she says she marvels at it until this day. I can only guess that my animalistic hunger for letters and language manifested as an instinct of ferociousness and I as a small word-thirsty beast.

So, when I managed to devour this wonderful alphabet, for years I led a life of reading books under my desk while in class, reading half of the book on my way back from the library and randomly bumping into people, trees and lampposts, reading until my parents had to come in and forcefully tear the book from my hands, rhyming and coming up with a poem while tying my shoelaces and then forgetting to go to school, and rhyming in my thoughts and walking past the school, forgetting to go inside and then bashfully turning around and coming back to it. The only difference today is that I bump considerably less into lampposts.

You would be wrong to think that one language was enough to quench my insatiable language thirst. I read fairy tales in Serbian at only seven, holding books larger and heavier than me and hunting for the words I didn’t understand by bothering each of my parents. Then I started rambling through the English language at eight, without knowledge of the Latin alphabet, and managed to learn something after all. After learning the alphabet I managed to learn so much of the language that I was the most hated pupil in history: English teachers had nothing to teach me and they hated my guts.

Then came eight years of French. Oh, let me tell you about French. Of how I still enjoy forming French gerunds more than eating honey and how “en sachant” (1) holds more sweetness for me, than the ragged, ravaged and overused “je t’aime.” Because I love knowledge more than love itself, because I love the sound. And then how I translated texts in class ad hoc, and when asked how did I know the words I answered: “I don’t. I feel this should be translated like this” and looked calmly at the professor’s perplexed expression, because the translation was invariably strangely correct.

In high school, I started digging through the relics of Latin and there was my mysterious translation theory again, I didn’t look up words, I FELT them. So, my professor pushed me and pushed me until I agreed to go to a national competition in Latin and went on to become that year’s national winner. I remember every echo of every step I stepped on, slowly and bewildered, as if sleepwalking, to receive the award. And there were many steps indeed, for

I was sitting at the back of the amphitheatre, not hoping for anything at all. Every day I step into A3 at the “Blaže Koneski” Faculty of Philology; I remember the sound of those steps and the silence they pierced. I never knew it would be there that I would take the most important exams in my life for years to come, and that there my steps will echo again in the silence, while first year students scribble their answers, frightened. Eventually, a dead language wasn’t the death to my longing for languages.

At this point, it would be appropriate to bring up my one and unhappy love. German. Oh, let me tell you now, how hot, salty and bitter were my tears, how ashamed I was for being unable to hold them although I was supposed to be this grown up, independent student of English language beginning her life alone in Skopje, this big ugly capital. I shed these tears in front of the German language library after hunting for the professors for a month and eventually being told that I was not allowed to take up German as my minor due to a lack of basic knowledge of the language. “Darf ich (2),” I muttered, and “ich, du, er, sie, es, wir…” time after time, bent over the computer screen, trying to learn the language on my own. Every time they said “jetz gleich” on the German television, I would chime happily to my sister that that meant “coming now” and “see, I am beginning to understand,” but it was the hope of an infatuated fool, I have realized by now. However, compulsive eaters eat whatever they find in the fridge, so in the same fashion I took up Italian--previous knowledge: not required.

I studied two years of Italian, putting minimum effort in it and basically building on to the remnants of my Latin.

Language and love must not be separated. They share the same beginning letter.

And for me, Italian shared the same first letter with “indifference.” It is like trying to get over someone you love by randomly going out with the first boy you meet. It never works.

After easily completing two years of Italian with maximum grades and obtaining first level of proficiency, I naturally stopped there and focused on the first language I chose to love and cherish, the language I chose to study at the University and make it my companion for lifetime: English. Having read this far (and hopefully still awake, unlike my sister) you can assume how much I enjoy this language, its words, its sounds. I engaged myself in mastering to say “what” with a glottal stop, Cockney accent. Then repeated “love” numerous times to grasp that particular pronunciation with which the Liverpool waiters finished their questions (“Anything I can do for you, love?”). And much more. I think in English! And yet, for an insatiable beast like me, even the thousands pages of the Oxford English Dictionary are just a meal and too much is never enough.

Next thing I know I was frantically learning to write “kokeshi” (the Japanese word for “a doll”) and I went on to lament the almost nonexistent use of “ai shi teru (3),” picturing the phrase enslaved between the thick covers of a dictionary. This project failed, or shall I rather say it is postponed, since I never give up on a language I find a reason to love.

The reasons to love a language are many and varied. Sometimes it is just the language itself, the country and its language or you love a person and instantly fall in love with their tongue. My interest for Finnish became with the love for the country, but my love, my lust, my longing for it was crowned by the love for a person. The way his lips produced this sweetness is now a matter of blind worship to me. The hunt for Macedonian and Finnish words with the same roots is my obsession.

And I have vowed to my language thirst and my letter hunger that I will learn all of these for as long as I live. And I have vowed to my heart and my tongue that my very first language, my lovely lovely Macedonian, will never suffer because of that, because I can love beyond common sense and normal proportions. And I am still keeping those vows as I dig up words like “чемер (4)” and “скрб (5)” and nourish them and breathe them life. And I will carve the ancient alphabet glagolitza on my skin and carve all other languages in my brain. They are all now carved deep into my heart.

Oh, why have you let me tell tales of translations and texts? And speak of languages and letters, words and woe? As if years ago, people are dazed and blank, others have fallen asleep halfway and I go on, sleepless, exhausted, insane.

In fact, I should have just read you a poem:


Flowing like honey,
Melting as chocolate.
Slowly and sweetly.
Sometimes chaotic,
sometimes folded neatly.
Hard and sharp,
rising like fjords.
Wild mountains,
mellow meadows,
In all colours and blackness.
I am a master
and a servant, both.
To you.
You sweetest, cruelest,
my drug and truth.
My fiction.
Music, wind, friction.
This heart and lips
can love beyond common sense,
beyond safe prescribed quantities.
I nibble you delightfully,
my foreign god,
My language.

1. (French) translation: by knowing

2. (German) translation: May I?

3. (Japanese) translation: I love you.

4. (Macedonian) translation: woe, anguish

5. (Macedonian) translation: grief, sorrow

Zorica Petkoska graduated in 2010 from Ss Cyril and Methodius University, Skopje, Macedonia. She majored in English translation.

"Loving Lethal" is copyright 2010, by Zorica Petkoska, and may not be reposted or republished with the author's permission.


We are Indies

If you are an Indie writer,

please consider joining

on Facebook.