Every now and then, I collect a ghost story. This one is from the Upper West Side of Manhattan.
Thirty years ago, a newly-married woman -- let's call her Prim -- moved into a spanking new apartment building on the Upper West Side. Her study windows faced a much older building, the Dakota, a gem from the 1880s. The problem with the bright new building was that it had a very old, not-so-pleasant ghost.
Eating toast in her kitchen one morning, Prim smelled smoke. She ran into the living room where she saw the cut-crystal cigarette lighter shooting flames into the air. Prim ran to the coffee table, snapped the lighter shut, and opened the window. The faint sound of children playing calmed her down, and she continued on with her day.
The next afternoon, Prim heard her bicycle bell ringing. The bike was upended and stored in the hall closet, surrounded by the usual clutter. The tinkling stopped as soon as Prim opened the door. After that, the tiny bell would ring again and again, usually in the morning.
Finally, Prim decided to move. On her way to look for packing boxes, she stopped for coffee in a long-gone pastry shop. One of her friends asked what was wrong -- poor Prim must have looked spectral herself. She told her friend about the fire, the bell, and strange knocking sounds in the living room. "Time to move," she said. "My husband never hears these things, and he thinks I'm going crazy."
Her friend stared. "Wait a minute, don't you live near the Dakota?" "Why, yes," Prim replied. "You know that." "But you didn't tell me that you were so close!" "Uh, no, why would that matter?"
"Because, silly, your apartment must be on the spot where the playground was! I've heard about this before -- the children in the Dakota were very upset when they lost it."
"Maybe so," Prim answered, "but this child is beyond upset. He's getting malicious!"
"It's the little girl," the friend said. "She tripped and fell over some bricks and hit her head when the new building went up. I don't think she ever was the same afterwards. Her parents took her away, upstate, and I think she died in Syracuse."
"Well, what's she ... I mean, her ghost ... doing back down here?" Prim replied.
"Probably wants to go out and play."
"So what do I do?"
Her friend smiled. "You need to ask her, politely, to leave you alone. Perhaps she'll respond to kindness. Maybe you need to tell her that you didn't take her playground away."
Prim still lives in that building. Every now and then, she hears the faint sounds of children playing from somewhere deep in the alleyway between the buildings.