Facing the Ghosts Together

It’s past midnight as I sit in the infamously haunted Gribble House warehouse. Our tour guide Ted has long since packed up, locked the doors, and returned to the safety of his own home. I can faintly hear the cars passing outside on Martin Luther King Boulevard, unaware that I am now second guessing my journalistic endeavors staying in one of Savannah’s top paranormal sites. As I quietly chat with my boyfriend to remain distracted, he whips his head around to inspect the far left corner of the warehouse.

“What is it babe?” I ask not entirely wanting to know the answer.

“I could’ve sworn….someone said… John.”

We both begin nervously talking again, but once more John’s head turns to face the former 401 West Perry Street address.

“There’s something in there. It sounds like someone’s walking around on leaves.”

While John has never been dismissive of the supernatural, he has also never shown total belief in it. He always remained respectful when I detailed my first-hand accounts growing up in a haunted revolutionary house in Pennsylvania, but not having an encounter himself, it was exceedingly hard for him to believe in the invisible presences. However, the tour only a few hours ago, seemed to have made the theory irrefutable for both of us now.

Although the actual house is no longer standing, today’s warehouse stands exactly where the triple homicide took place one afternoon in 1909. When the police arrived on site, Eliza Gribble was found dead after her skull had been repeatedly hacked by an axe and daughter Carrie Ohlander was also discovered lifeless with her throat slashed open. The third woman, Maggie Hunter, rested in a pool of blood by the front door and even though she suffered from both a cranial beating and throat laceration, she was miraculously still alive. Maggie would only live three more days in the hospital, but during that time she identified her husband JC Hunter as the culprit.

JC was found guilty and sentenced to hang after bloody rags were found in his house. Continuously pleading his innocence, JC was given a reduced sentence for life in prison. After only serving a few years, he was surprisingly released.

The house was eventually torn down to build a warehouse for building World War II ship components, then serving trucks, and most recently, storing trolleys. When the trolleys moved to a more spacious location, the current owners investigated the supernatural elements for six months before opening it to the public with a safe conscience.

The first “hot spot” our tour visited was the exact spot Maggie Hunter was located when police arrived. Ted began asking who was with us. To our disappointment, our equipment showed no sign of paranormal activity. John decided to hand me the spirit box.

This tool continuously scrolls through radio stations and is the easiest way for the spirits to communicate with the living. I in turn handed John the EMF detector. Electricians typically use this gadget to locate concealed electrical components, but the tools can also identify the electromagnetic field spirits typically possess. EMF detectors hidden within dolls or stuffed animals specifically target children that have passed on. Although paranormal investigative phone apps do exist, the agency prefers to use instruments that have had a long history of credible interaction.

Again, Ted asked who was with us. No response. Trying a new tactic, he suggested we introduce ourselves. Then, interrupting the rapid station scanning, a male voice said “John.”

Did you hear that? He just said your name,” I whispered to my boyfriend.

Again, “John” was spoken so clearly on the speaker, it was as if someone were standing right next to me.

“He just said it again,” I stated in disbelief.

“Again.” The same male’s voice said repeating me. I could feel goosebumps spread over my body.

Even if I wasn’t a believer, it was too remarkable to not consider someone else was in the room. While I had supplied the owner and tour guide my name for the reservation, I had not provided my boyfriend’s since I wasn’t certain of his availability. The spirit appeared to be practicing his speech by repeating select words we used! Perhaps the man had been deceased for so long he had forgotten the linguistics to communicate full sentences?

Ted mentioned how much energy it demands for spirits to contact. We sat there for a bit longer, receiving more names including “David” (JC Hunter’s real name). We began to get quiet before a spirit requested us to “speak”. When we inquired what they wanted to talk about, the spirit simply said “speak” again before going quiet.

Walking into the former slave quarters, I could feel the mood significantly darken. Without any windows, I was grateful for the two small electric candles flickering against the brick wall. Ted again began asking who was with us. Suddenly a deep male’s voice crackled through the speaker “Get out!” and a different male saying, “Run!” My body tensed up and I no longer wanted to remain in this cold, unsettling room.

griffith house 2

Following Ted around as he packed up for the night, I listened to his chilling encounters from working at the warehouse. Finishing up his last hair-raising story, he pulled a hat box out from one of the storage rooms.

“We don’t usually show people this, but I feel for your story it might help.” It was JC Hunter’s weathered, black top hat. The warehouse also stores the century old carriage that was found in the Gribble House. Typically, the guides will not pull these items out since the owners would like to preserve them.

When we left the warehouse, we decided to go to a bar for a beer. We thought it best not to bring anything directly home with us and it made a good excuse to stop for an IPA. This wasn’t exactly what John probably had in mind for date night, but by now he knows this isn’t going to be the typical relationship.

 

 

 

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We’ll All Float On Okay

I used to work nights and weekends at Eastern Mountain Sports. The additional job was mostly to save money so that I could pay my loans while I was in the Peace Corps, but it was also for the benefits. As an employee, I not only got discounts on sweet gear like ENO hammocks and solar panels, but I got free rentals of kayaks and stand-up paddle boards.

One Sunday I wasn’t scheduled to work so John and I strapped two SUP boards to the top of his Honda Accord. I asked a few of my co-workers where we should go. The Perkiomen Loop, a section of the Perkiomen River, was close by and not that long. It sounded easy enough.

The day was pretty hot, but since the route was only supposed to take an hour at max, we decided to leave our water in the car. We also left our phones since with my luck I would drop it in the river.

We began paddling, enjoying the time together and the quiet. But the paddling seemed to go on much longer than an hour. Then two hours. Something was not right

Should we pull over and hike back?!” I asked in a panic.

What I really wanted was some direction. I had a tendency to get myself (and others) in these situations, but never wanted to solve the problem. I wanted someone else to take control.

Off to the left there was a rustling in the bushes and then I saw something walking with that iconic Big Foot swagger. But it wasn’t a hairy mountain man, it was a woman chasing her young child. It was now or never.

“May we use your phone?” I yelled paddling over in her direction.

Perhaps my chapped lips or John’s already apparent sunburn gave it away that we were incompetent paddlers in need of help. She didn’t question us, but just handed over her iPhone.

I dialled the only number I had memorized, my sister’s. I could feel her smugly smirking as I quickly told her where we were and what happened. My family has come to learn this is just how I am.

“Okay. I’ll tell mom,” Jolene said.

I knew I could count on my mom. She always seemed to save me in these circumstances. Like the time I was in Amsterdam and my debit card got demagnetized. I had called asking for money to be wired, but it was a holiday she couldn’t do that. Instead I like to say I pulled a Ghandi and fasted, saving what little money I had for cultural experiences. My mom later wired money to London, where I was returning to do my summer internship. At least this time I was not that far away.

When my mom’s silver hundai pulled up, John had to carry the boards up the hill to the parking lot. Barefoot. He had left his flip flops back in the car too. Stepping on stones without complaint, he carried each heavy board up the embankment.

He drove off with my mom to fetch his car and then we silently loaded the boards to return them back to the store.

I like to say that in those moments John was getting a sample of what was to come, that he saw the sometimes half-thought-out adventure that was dating me and still went for it.

SUP

 

A Rough Start to ‘Ever After’

One common story all couples tell is how they first started dating. Much like Stephen Colbert’s tale of how he met his significant other, looking back at the beginning John and I can’t help but laugh at how clueless we really were.

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John and I went to the same high school, played varsity soccer, and even had many of the same friends. But for some reason, both of us never thought the other would be interested in dating.

High School Years

We seem to be saying, “THIS is bad hair”

Fast forward to my junior year in college when I returned home for Thanksgiving break. My friends asked if I wanted to go out to a dive bar for some drinks. I pounced on the chance. My boyfriend at the time had not only cheated on me, but also ended things. He couldn’t even allow me the satisfaction of leaving him. A beer and some distraction was exactly what I needed so I agreed despite hating the bar.

While the bar first started as “Moody Monkeys,” it went out of business quickly and a new owner named it “Ryan’s”. But a new name and a modernized décor (a welcomed change from the strange jungle-theme from before) couldn’t save it, and it would eventually also go out of business. At least when it was “Ryan’s” it didn’t feel like we were crashing a six year-old’s birthday party.

When we got there, I saw John already sitting at a high-top with his friends who graduated high school a year ahead of me. Although I wasn’t more than an acquaintance with John, I did know the other boys, so I walked over to say hello.

If you ask either of us today, we couldn’t tell you what we talked about, but I quickly forgot my ex. I remember thinking: Wow, I can’t remember the last time I laughed this hard.

So when they asked if I wanted to hang out after the bar closed, I excitedly said yes. I left with them to drink one more beer before John offered to drive me home. He had been designated driver and didn’t mind.

As I got out of his car, my phone fell out of my back pocket onto the passenger’s seat. Neither of us noticed in the pitch blackness of that late winter night. John would later learn that this is a reoccurring flaw of mine; that I leave and lose things pretty easily. Back then though, John thought it was my way of saying I wanted to see him again (which I did of course).

Through Facebook messenger we planned a day for John to drop my phone off at my house. When he did, he asked me out.

Before I went back to school for my last term, he picked me up wearing a nice polo and khaki pants– a very different look from the jeans and soccer tee I was so used to seeing him wear. I remember how cute it was he tried cleaning out his Oldsmobile. That car certainly earned the ‘old’ part of its name. The passenger’s window didn’t work and the brown dashboard was curled, and rigid like a banana that had been left in the sun for too long. But the state of this car seemed to reinforce what I already liked about John. He wasn’t like other guys who were flashy or tried to be something he wasn’t. What you see is what you get.

After I graduated, we continued to hang out, mostly on John’s parents’ patio. We would sing along to Jack Johnson’s “Banana Pancakes” or The Fugees’ “Ready or Not” and talk for hours. He made things come naturally, so naturally I didn’t even think twice about singing in front of him.

Close to six years later, I would give anything to go back and watch it all happen again.

 

 

 

Peace Corps Volunteers: Only As Strong As Their Support System

It takes a strong person to stand beside someone hell-bent on volunteering with the Peace Corps for two years. John did just that and more. While I was first applying I had to submit three recommendations: from a professor, a previous employer and a good friend. I decided to ask John to complete my friend recommendation after only dating for two years.

This letter would be private so he could have easily written something that would hinder my chances of advancing onto the next stage and thereby keep me home. But he didn’t. He wrote a letter so convincing of my “good character” that when a Peace Corps representative interviewed me via Skype and drilled me with the uncomfortable questions: “What if you get pregnant,” “What if he proposes,” or “What if he breaks up with you,” all I had to do was direct them to his letter. They never made my relationship an issue again.

Swear in

John proved to be an even better partner while I was in South Africa. He spent an embarrassing amount of money on international calls when I was on the brink of losing it from homesickness or frustration. When I chose to summit Kilimanjaro instead of coming home for Christmas, he not only accepted my decision, but he helped raise money to make my dream of summiting Africa’s highest peak come true.

Kilimanjaro Summit

Thanks John! I made it!

But my favorite thing John did during my time volunteer service was visit me. Countless friends had enthusiastically promised to visit me in South Africa when I got accepted, but then the realization that flights cost at least $1,000 set in and no one followed through. Except for John and my mom.

Hiking Cape Town

 

My mom flew back home and John and I continued our stay in the Bo-Kaap region of Cape Town. It used to be a township and sadly, before that, slave quarters. Today, the houses are all brightly painted, in an attempt to mask the walls’ dark history.

Bo Kaap

Refusing to smile for one more photo

 

Then came the time for John too to fly home. It was much harder saying goodbye this time as it was now him leaving me. When I woke up the next morning, John had already left for his flight. Loading my bags into the airport shuttle, I was not looking forward to flying back to Durban and then the long day of taxi rides back to my village. But the driver knew how to cheer me up. He said someone had already paid for my way.

Between my mom and John, I was traveling back to my village with an extra duffel bag full of food. I found comfort in knowing I could taste America through Kraft Mac & Cheese, Andy Capp’s Hot Fries and candy. John’s goodies even included marshmallows and Starbursts that would allow the children in my village to try some American sweets.

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Love is like Diving with Great Whites

 

John doesn’t like fish. He doesn’t like to eat them and he certainly doesn’t want touch or be in the water with them.

They swim around eating the poo of other fish. Who wants to eat that?”

I, on the other hand, love to scuba dive and observe these strange creatures in their natural habitat. It seemed like a wasted trip to South Africa’s western coast without visiting Shark Alley—the hunting grounds for numerous Great Whites. I figured since both of us loved nature television shows, John could overcome his distaste for fish for an up close encounter with these exceptional predators.

The day we were to go out, the ocean waves were abnormally choppy. Most of the other diving companies were going on the opposite side of the island, while our company was the only one to decide against doing this. Although the water would be calmer on the other side, sightings of Great Whites were less likely and they wanted to make sure we left happy.

shark diving

Posing in a replica of the cage

The waves were really rough. So rough that most customers became seasick and didn’t want their turn in the cage. Even when they were told it actually helped seasickness to get in the water, they refused. I chose to take their turn, staying longer in the cage and John lingered little longer too. With the overcast sky and wind, the July day felt colder than most in the southern hemisphere’s winter. Shivering in the Atlantic’s winter waters was worth it if it meant seeing these majestic carnivores at work.

These massive, unpredictable Great Whites approached from far below in the ocean’s shadows and within seconds they would be a few feet in front of us, sometimes inches. Their infamous white bellies being the only way to spot them in the murky water. They would breach, somehow propelling their large bodies above the surface of the water to snatch the bait. Their skill was so impressive you literally found your mouth dropping, causing you to accidentally swallow the salty water.

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Never looked better

I longed for an oxygen tank so that I could stay submerged and constantly look for the sharks. We were forced to take deep breaths before pulling ourselves under, gripping the iron hand rail. Often we would hear, “Shark on the left” yelled just as we surfaced for air. By the time we submerged again, we only saw one last flick of the shark’s exit. They were so quick! The water teemed with sharks so we still got our fair share of viewings.

When the captain said we needed to head back to land, we climbed back on board and tried to take off our full-length wet suits. Nothing was more comical than trying to remove these stubborn suits as the boat hit wave after wave. We would reach for our sandals and they would slide to the other side of the boat. When we moved timidly to fetch them, they would quickly return back to our seat. Trying to put my cover-up back on, I was rocked and thrown against walls blindly every time the boat would hit a wave. But it was all worth it.

We went on to kayak with penguins, hike out to Cape Point, visit Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens and ate as often as possible of the local cuisine. At the end of the week, I returned to my village and John went home. We just had to wait one more year for my service to end until we could see each other again, but in the meanwhile, we were high off of our South African adventures together.

john and i in the garden

Relaxing in Cape Town’s Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens

Georgia on my Mind

This past August I began my Writing M.F.A studies. When I applied, I was living in South Africa and completely unaware that I could take the classes online. Moving to Savannah, Georgia gave John and me the opportunity to finally live together somewhere new and exciting. But the move proved more difficult than we expected. It quickly became a story we like to tell friends over a few beers.


The weekend we planned to move to our new apartment, everyone else seemed to have the same idea. All of the Uhaul minivans were unavailable for weeks. I had procrastinated in reserving our own vehicle and now we (and by ‘we’ I mean John) were stuck driving a bulky 10′ truck down 95.

If you have ever seen a Uhaul truck, you know that the sides feature random facts with a corresponding image. When we went to claim ours, I was embarrassed to discover it was about slavery. It seemed like a cruel joke; a young, white couple moving their belongings to the Deep South with an image of a slave slapped on the truck. I worried what this would say about us.

Uhaul image

Uhaul’s prank on us

To save money, we completed the 11-hour journey (not including gas and bathroom stops) in one day. It seemed the trip would never end, but then we crossed the Talmadge Memorial Bridge just as the sun began to set.

Our landlady met us to give us the keys and then despite how tired we were from driving all day, we unloaded the truck. We wanted to turn the Uhaul in as soon as possible the next day so they didn’t tack on another day’s charge. Although we didn’t have much, we were exhausted and not thrilled about our next task.

The apartment was located in Midtown Savannah and that night there was a drunk who sensed an opportunity. He loitered around, slurring his offer to grab stuff for us. While I wanted to believe in his good-will to help, I just didn’t like how he kept eyeing up the boxes. Taking turns so as not to leave what little we had for the taking, we loaded as much as we could in our arms and schlepped up the two flights of stairs to apartment 206. After two hours of this workout, only the couch and John’s weights remained for the next morning. As long as we dropped the keys in the key box before the Uhaul dealer opened, we wouldn’t have to pay an extra day’s charge.

We were completely spent and famished. Of course, this was the perfect time to learn that not many restaurants in Savannah deliver. Our mattress also had not yet arrived, so we slept on the floor.

Then came the fun part. We got to explore Savannah. We went to Tybee Island’s beaches (such an upgrade from the dirty, overcrowded Jersey beaches we were used to).

tybee

Enjoying our first time to Tybee’s beach

We went to Charleston, SC for a day exploring art museums, wandering down neighborhoods lined with historic homes and eating grits for the first time. While John didn’t care for the texture, I loved the cheesy, thick goo.

Charleston

Out back at Gibbes Museum of Art

We visited Savannah’s modest Botanical Gardens and pretended to be butterflies.

We spent sunny days in Forsyth Park and visited the farmer’s market early Saturday mornings for local produce and the best home-made curry.

forsyth park

Our first time in Forsyth Park

And boy did we eat! Unlike the chain restaurants that litter the north, Savannah offered so many delicious and unique places that made us want expandable waist pants and stretch out on the couch after.

Olde Pink House

Thanksgiving at the infamous Olde Pink House with my visiting mom and sister

Besides the oppressive heat in August, John and I loved Savannah. We loved how we constantly stumbled on new restaurants, we fell in love with the romance the Spanish Moss exuded, and everyone seemed friendly.

Nine months later, our Savannah chapter seems to be closing. Being in our late twenties, most of our friends from home are getting married. Our siblings have young ones we don’t get to spend time with and holidays away from family are difficult. Having lived abroad for two years, quality time with loved ones seems really important right now.

The job market and pay rate has also been a deciding factor for our move. John made a sacrifice to blindly follow me as I furthered my education, but penetrating the tightly knit southern job market proved more difficult. With most of my core classes completed, I will be switching online and hopefully finishing my degree Spring ’18 quarter. John, on the other hand, has multiple job offers back home and has decided to move back tomorrow.

This of course means that I finish the last six weeks of this quarter here by myself.

It means I walk through Forsyth alone, past the restaurants we took our families and friends, and home to an empty apartment where we first slept on the carpet floor completely spent but happy. It means I have no one to throw dirty socks at from upstairs and no one to hug when a grad school critique feels harsh. After living on separate continents for close to two years, you would think it would be easy for me.

I am excited for him though. And I am also excited to start the next chapter, whatever and wherever that is.

matching

Nelson Rocks: Ain’t No Mountain High Enough…

John and I really enjoy nature. Early on in dating we would go hiking since not only was it inexpensive, but it was a good way to get to know each other. It wasn’t expensive and the privacy of the trails allowed us to really open up to one another. As things got more serious, I wanted to introduce John to my favorite place to hike, the cascading trails throughout “Wild and Wonderful” West Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. Autumn meant that all the trees would be flickering in burnt oranges, crimsons, and golds. It was also a great time for him to meet my college guy friends, a test in its own right.

John and my guy friends got on a little too well. We all had a few too many beers and when we woke up early the next day to drive the two and a half hours to Nelson Rocks, we were already looking forward to going to bed that night. Today’s “hike” was a bit more extreme than either one of us had done before. After I learned that a Via Ferrata−a climbing route using a steel cable to clip into−wasn’t far from my old college stomping grounds, I knew we had to go.

Nelson Rocks (an outdoor adventure company named after the rock formation they climb) suited us up with helmets and harnesses and then took us to the beginning of the course.

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The vertical incline didn’t have any promising foot/hand holds, so steel grips were inserted into the mountainside. The entire climb doesn’t have these ladder-like bars, only the sections that absolutely demand it. Looking straight up at what we were about to do hungover, we had second thoughts. But of course there was a family in front of us with a young boy half our age. If he was going to do it, we had to.

John clings to cliff face

The look of pure regret

After inching along, clinging to the cliff, we finally felt confident about completing the course.

WV Via Ferrata in Fall

That was until I saw the Indian Jones ladder we had to cross.

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My small body could easily fall between each plank if I didn’t properly clip in my two carabiners. But this obstacle, we too accomplished. The only thing left to complete was a six hour drive back to our Pennsylvania home in time for John to get to work.

Via Ferrata in Fall

John terrified about the state of my helmet

Irish Travels Gone Wrong

Traveling has always been important to me. I get anxious if I’m in a place for too long, so after a few years dating, I pressured John into taking a trip with me. He had never been abroad. In fact, he had never made ventured far from our Eastern Pennsylvanian hometown. He had helped a friend move from Florida back home, but that was about it so I knew this would be a big step for him. Both of us were proud of our Irish lineage and I thought the North Atlantic island would be a good place to start. After months of planning our itinerary, we flew to where the beer is dark and heady and the pastures really do have greener grass.

When we arrived, the customs worker asked if we were on our honeymoon. He either hadn’t noticed our bare hands or just asked every couple that. I shook my head and responded we just wanted to visit the country for a week. We planned on spending two nights in Dublin, one of which meant staying at a real castle (Clontarf Castle). Then we would take a bus to see Killarney, Galway, and finally stay on the quiet island of Inishmore before quickly returning to Dublin to fly back home.

As with all travels, there are factors you simply can’t control. For us, this included a bus strike, extreme winds when kayaking in Killarney, and stubborn horses more interested in grazing than permitting an easy ride through Killarney National Park. But by far our most memorable blunder was when we unknowingly entered an avant-garde art exhibit. This is our favorite story from the trip, one we told family and friends when we returned and one that shows the true essence of traveling as a couple for the first time.


The Situation

Any time you walk into a room and thirteen people say in unison, “Welcome. To. This. Situation,” you should run. You should punch whoever blocks your path, high-tail it to the nearest pub for a whiskey shot and say, “Fuck, we almost didn’t make it.” But my boyfriend John and I remained frozen in the doorway, too nervous to offend the creepsters than consider what would happen next. I apologetically squeezed his hand, unable to look over for his reaction for fear I’d laugh or cry. I’m sure this hadn’t crossed his mind when he agreed to go to Ireland with me.

The day had began as normally as it could, granted that we were in a different country. At our B&B we had the traditional English breakfast of fried eggs, sliced tomatoes, toast, bacon, and romance-generating beans. We left early for the Iveagh Gardens, eager to cram in as much of Dublin as possible. The central city park was filled with statues and in the process of seeing them all, we became disorientated.

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“No worries, let’s go this way.”

As we left the park, a sign for a free art exhibit caught my eye. Tourists go to the top ten must-sees, but travelers go where the day takes them, especially if it is free. Curious about what amateur Irish art would be, we walked in the door and were greeted by a bookish old woman who whispered for us to silence our phones before pointing to the stairs. We climbed the lime green staircase, admiring the roasted turkey breast wallpaper that dripped with a greasy forewarning. How unusual, how artsy.

As soon as we walked in the first door, I questioned if we did indeed have the right room. There were no paintings on the walls or even sculptures; the room was a bare white square. People were scattered looking in all directions at the nothingness. One man sat in the room’s center and a few knelt down. Just as we were about to turn around and try another room, it happened.

“Welcome. To. This. Situation,” they said in chorus and began to move in slow motion. One middle aged man added jazz hands, while the woman sitting on the ground slid across the floor and got up. Everyone glided in haphazard directions, taking turns to ask questions.

“What does it mean to exist?”

“Is there a god?”

“What are we doing here?”

Strange man, I was thinking the same thing.

The questions flowed one after the other, leaving no time to respond. Just as I was wondering how this artist cult planned to murder us, another woman entered behind us. John and I looked at each other with the same message, That’s our cue. The fifty-year-old woman grabbed my arm as we turned to leave.

            You should really stay. It gets interesting.”

I fumbled for an excuse, but gave up. We bolted down the stairs and outside into one of Ireland’s sporadic rains. I was about to apologize for my poor judgment, when he reached for my hand. John laughed, “Talk about a weird situation.”

I had an inkling he was the type of guy that wouldn’t run when things got scary or awkward so I squeezed his hand again.

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On Inishmore