On a dark highway during a dark night

Boaz was a staunch rationalist. I’m a believer – for the pure reason that I like to be spooked.

A dark highway (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
A dark highway
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
I was stranded, with no money or a place to stay, impossibly far from my apartment in Tel Aviv. I was in Mitzpe Ramon (I had gone for a solo hiking trip, but lost my wallet somewhere along the way) and I couldn’t think of many solutions aside from applying for a job at the local grocery store and trying to start a new life.
It came down to Boaz. Sure I barely knew him.
Sure we hadn’t spoken since that one date we went on two months ago right after I moved to Tel Aviv.
But Boaz, I knew, had a car.
And he was the only person I knew in the whole country who had one. So I called him. He must have been surprised to get the call, but not nearly as surprised as I was when he said, “I’ll be there in a couple of hours. Hold tight.”
Every so often, depending on the kindness of strangers works out. Generally when you need it the most.
A couple of hours later and the sun had set in Mitzpe Ramon. The desert chill had set in and an orange moon hung heavy in the sky. Suddenly, in this tiny southern town, a pair of headlights appeared on the horizon.
On our one date, Boaz and I had talked about typical date things. Siblings.
Work. What we do for fun.
But finding ourselves in this strange new context, on a dark highway during a dark night, we opened up. We talked about God and the afterlife. We talked about spirits and ghosts. Boaz was a staunch rationalist.
Me, I am a believer for the pure reason that I like to be spooked.
“But have you ever actually seen one?” he asked me.
“No,” I admitted. “But I’m hopeful.”
Boaz sighed and cracked the window to light a cigarette.
“I did have one strange experience,” he said. He looked over at me and instantly my skin prickled. I could tell it would be a good one. He started in on his tale.
BOAZ WORKED for a real-estate development company – a big one owned by his father. This explains why he had a car. He was not the Florentin hipster type I typically run with. He had a corporate edge and a serious, unsmiling face. Our failure to get to date No. 2 probably owed something to this.
One day he was visiting his father’s office. He introduced himself to the new secretary, a scatterbrained redhead who lit up when she heard his name. “Boaz! Yes, yes, I knew I’d find you!” “What do you mean?” he asked.
“Well,” she said, “I recently saw a medium who told me I would meet a Boaz. He said you need help.”
Boaz scoffed, but took the number the woman wrote down for him. He continued upstairs to meet with his father; they had to talk about the problems they were having with the new development up north.
Perhaps it was curiosity, or just for laughs, or perhaps it was just late at night… whatever it was, Boaz called the number a few days later and was surprised when a man on the other line picked up and said, “Boaz, hello!” Being a skeptic, he held his cards close to his chest.
But after the medium, a man in Haifa named Aryeh, had told him enough uncanny details, he began to trust. “Boaz,” the man then said. “You need to come see me. It’s about the new development.”
A few days later Boaz was en route to Haifa. The medium took no money, and earned all he had by working in construction. His psychic abilities were always given in free assistance to those who he had a sense was in need.
“No one is going to buy those houses,” Aryeh said, pouring two cups of coffee. “Because they are built on graves.”
Boaz paled. He wondered how this man could know such a thing. He became paranoid that some sort of trick was going on. What was most disturbing was that this was absolutely true. They had uncovered graves during construction, but due to concerns about the budget they had plowed right ahead without reporting this find to the relevant parties. It had, Boaz thought, remained a secret between him and his father.
“Go to the site at midnight,” Aryeh said. “Take pictures with a flash and I’ll be able to see the ghosts if they are there.”
Boaz, as we’ve established, was a very serious sort of person. Taking ghost photographs at midnight in an empty housing development was not something he had ever expected to do, but the next night he grabbed an old Polaroid camera to do just this.
HE WALKED about the abandoned site taking photos, wondering all the time if it was possible that he was passing through an unseen crowd of ghosts. To his own sensibility, that of a real-estate developer, the site did seem haunted. It was haunted by the ghosts of the people who had not moved in, and by the absurdity of a perfectly inhabitable village standing unused. The next day he returned to Aryeh with the photos.
Aryeh studied them, tracing them with his finger, making intermittent noises of concern and intrigue.
“Yes, yes,” he said. “Ghosts. And plenty. And angry.”
Boaz understood now that there was no way out of this situation but through it. And so he returned again to the site, this time with Aryeh, bundles of sage to burn, and some archaic Jewish blessings scrawled on notebook paper.
“Does it matter if I don’t believe in what we’re doing?” he asked Aryeh. “Not particularly,” was the response.
THE CHILLS on the back of my neck stayed with me the rest of the long drive home to Tel Aviv. I’ve always wanted to see a ghost, and have at times forced myself to imagine that I indeed did see one. There was the time I was home alone and felt sure I saw the ghost of my cat, who had died falling from the balcony, rush past my feet. But in the light of day it seemed implausible and misremembered.
Until anything more substantial occurs, I make do with the lore of friends and acquaintances, the truthfulness of which I judge based on the amount of goosebumps the pop up on my forearms. Boaz’s story, in that it came from a skeptic who wasn’t trying to convince me of anything (he himself was not convinced), was especially compelling.
At times it seems that Tel Aviv, a city whose dustiest antiquities are generally no more ancient than a century or so, is a poor place to await a brush with the supernatural. Ghosts, as I imagine them, tend to spring from older histories, like sunken ships or weather-worn Victorian homes.
But in the wake of Boaz’s account I was able to remember that while Israel may be newish, and myself within it even newer still, an ancient history lies underneath, slumbering peacefully, hoping not to be disturbed.