There are certain places that always feel creepy, and will give you the chills no matter what. This mausoleum was one of those places. Well, let me be more specific- the one small room where Justin’s ashes were kept was. I purposely only went when the weather was as nice as could be, in an attempt to chase away the cold, eerie feeling I always got in there. It never worked though. Every bright, happy, sunshine filled day disappeared like freezing cold water down a rusty drain as soon as I stepped inside that room. Still, I felt like I had to keep going back.
Justin and I had been close for a few years, but his mother, his only local family, wasn’t friendly to me during the last year when he became ill unexpectedly and then passed away. Since I didn’t go to the memorial service she held, I felt very strongly about visiting his ashes, although I was so disappointed they were in such a dismal place.
The first few times I went to the mausoleum, it just seemed very cold in that room. Walking through the hallways leading to the room he was in didn’t seem all that cold, but once I was in that small room it was so cold. I mentioned it to a staff member, who promised to look into it, but it was still so cold in there the next two times I went. When I asked again, the staff member looked puzzled and told me she had checked the thermostat shortly after I had mentioned it, that it was working fine and that she didn’t feel cold at all in that room. I decided just to deal with it.
The next time I visited, it was a gorgeous day outside and I tried to stay optimistic that I would have a more cheerful visit. But the sunshine and warm breeze seemed like a memory, as I stepped cautiously into that room. It was the coldest it had been, like walking through snow in bare feet. “What the hell?” I murmured, as I knew the hallways hadn’t been cold at all on my way there. I pulled on the sweatshirt I had tied around my waist and stood in front of Justin’s ashes and began to talk to him like I always did. A minute or two later the lights began to flicker and then went out completely. There was some light peering through from the hallway, but at this point I was actually scared. I was standing alone in a freezing cold mausoleum room that I had been assured wasn’t in fact cold at all, and now the lights had gone out. Just a few minuted earlier, I had been outside enjoying a warm, sunny day and now I felt like I was in a low budget horror movie. I practically ran down the hallway, trying probably unsuccessfully, to calm down as I reached the front desk. “I’m sorry to bother you again I said, but it’s the lights, the lights went out in the room.” She walked with me down the hallway, and opened the door to the room- where the lights were on, not flickering at all. Not only that, it was comfortably warm. I had no idea what to think, and I was both embarrassed and scared. “I’m so sorry” I said nervously, “They had gone out just before.” The woman looked at me like she wasn’t sure if I was crazy or playing some sort of joke on her. “Well, I’ll keep an eye on it” she said, “Could just be a loose bulb.”
I left the room with her, not wanting to be alone in there anymore. I sat down on a bench once I was outside, trying to make some sense out of what had been happening. All of a sudden I realized a woman was standing in front of me. I guess I jumped a little as I looked up. “Susan, I thought that was you” she said. It was Justin’s mother, I recognized her right away although it had been over a year since we’d seen each other. “Ms….” “Please, call me Audrey” she said. “Hello, Audrey.” “I’m so glad to run into you” she said. I was surprised to hear those words from her. She sat down next to me. “You were visiting Justin?” she asked. “I was.” She looked a little embarrassed as she said “I should tell you something.” After a long pause- “Justin isn’t in there.” “What? but, I checked with the front desk.” “Well, everyone else thinks he’s in there.” she said. “You see, his father as you know, didn’t have much contact with Justin, he wasn’t much of a father. After Justin died, he told me that he wanted his son’s ashes in the mausoleum where his mothers ashes are. He was pretty insistent about it and honestly I just didn’t have the strength to argue then. So, I told him I would put his son’s ashes in the mausoleum. But, I was the parent who was there for him, and I knew what Justin would want. He would want to have his ashes scattered by the mountains he camped by during his years as a boy scout. So, I bought an urn, the one that’s in there, but its empty. I don’t know if that sounds terrible, but it kept his father and me from arguing and left me the chance to do what Justin would want.” “Wow” was all I could say. “I understand, and you did the right thing.” She then apologized to me and told me that she never disliked me, she was just a bit jealous that I had a lot of Justin’s attention during his last days. She didn’t know how to contact me after I had moved, but hoped we would run into each other one day and make things right between us. I told her I was was very happy to see her and I’d like for us to be friends. “I know Justin would love that” I said, “And I’m glad to know he’s at peace and his ashes went to his happy place.” “Actually” she said, “they haven’t.” “I feel so bad about that, but I just couldn’t bring myself to let them go.” She looked at me. “Would you come with me, and we’ll scatter his ashes together?” And we did just that, the following week.
Thinking about it now, it’s funny to me that I didn’t immediately realize what was happening when I went to the mausoleum. I have always believed in ghosts and spirits, and people reaching out to us after death, desperately trying to tell us something or resolve some unresolved issue. Justin wanted me to know that his ashes weren’t where I thought they were. And he wanted his mom and I to become friends. His spirit couldn’t be free until we let his ashes go where he wanted them to go. I went back to the mausoleum a few days after we scattered the ashes, it was something I felt I had to do one last time for closure of the situation that had frightened me so much. This time, the room wasn’t cold and the lights didn’t play any tricks on me. It no longer felt creepy, and I didn’t feel any pull to go back again.
Edward S. Gault is a poet and fine art photographer. He lives at Mosaic Commons, a co-housing community in Berlin, Ma. He has a wife Karen, and daughter.