Are Ghosts Real?

After telling you all my spooky stories, I thought I ought to at least own up to my own point of view. Do I believe in ghosts? I don’t know. I hope so. I believe that some folks, if they could come back, would.

Supposedly, Jean-Claude Schmitt says that ghosts are those who resist the social necessity of forgetting. I think there’s some truth to that. In order to live, you have to move on–from successes as well as tragedies, sadly enough–but ghosts ask us to linger, both with them, and on them.

Here, they seem to say, is a spot the past hasn’t let go of, a place where long ago still is. Every ghost has the luxury of fresh grief. They inhabit a place–whether real or imagined–where faces aren’t forgotten, smells are still fragrant, a touch is still soft, and the knowledge of those things is not dulled by time. Places ghosts are said to inhabit are places where the past comes leaking back into the present.

(And I think ghost stories fascinate us because they’re little love notes to a fucked up world. No matter how bad things are, someone loves this place enough to never want to leave it.)

Ghosts don’t move on, and that’s what frightens us about them; they inexplicably linger. And the living are their mirror image, rushing on to forget, to put it behind us, whatever “it” may be. Between the living and the dead, because there are haunted places, there’s a necessary balance, one that allows us to move on without completely forgetting.

That, I must say, is why “ghostbusters” make me sad. They storm into places and contact the disturbing spirits and send them off “into the light.” The connection between the “what has been” and the “what is” is severed. The haunts can no longer continue to confront us.

And I think that’s too bad, because real or not, ghosts connect us with our own pasts, some of which we’d like to leave behind, and some of which we’ve missed so desperately, we’re glad to have it back, if only for a spine-tingling moment.

The Last Spooky Story for Halloween, pt. 2

Our house was also strange. There were the usual old-house problems. The house had settled and, unless you pushed hard on the doors and made sure they latched, they wouldn’t stay shut. It creaked and groaned.

And our family was going through some tough times. My brothers were self-destructing in spectacular ways that often involved the police. And we had no pets, so the house was big and, often, empty feeling.

Strange things would happen. Often, when I’d shut the door and made sure it latched, I’d be doing stuff in my room and I’d see the doorknob turn and the door open a foot or so, as if someone was just opening it up to stick their head in to check on me.

One day, when I came home from church, I was in the front room, getting ready to turn the TV on when I heard someone upstairs snoring. I thought it was possible that my dad had somehow gotten home before me and decided to take a nap before lunch.

Strange. Out of character. But a possibility, if he wasn’t feeling well. Otherwise, he’d just be sprawled out in the Lazy-boy. So, I go upstairs to check and see if he needs anything and, of course, there’s no one up there. I do a walkthrough of the house and there’s no one home yet but me.

One night, as my mom was laying in bed, not yet asleep, someone sat on the edge of the bed and stroked her hand.

Another night, my brothers had a friend up from downstate, and they were in the library watching TV. It was a Saturday night and, as anyone who knows me from back in the day can attest, if you spent Saturday night at our house, you had to go to bed at a reasonable hour because your ass is getting up for church, regardless of your religion.

On this night, they were watching TV in the dark in the library because, from that vantage point, you can see anyone who’s coming through the house from either direction and sneak in the other direction back upstairs without being noticed. The other advantage to the library is that it’s kind of tucked under both staircases, so you can hear folks on the stairs long before they actually get down them.

So, it’s late and they’re watching TV and they see the black outline of a man in the dining room. This startles them because they haven’t heard anyone on the stairs. But they think maybe they just didn’t hear my Dad coming down the steps. So, they turn off the TV, and sit there in the dark, hoping that Dad hasn’t noticed them. The figure mills about in the dining room for a little bit, and then comes into the music room, which is adjacent to the library and mills about a little bit and then seems to head back into the dining room and fade from view.

They wait to hear if Dad is going to go back up the back steps. They don’t hear anything, so they figure he must be in the kitchen getting a drink. So, they sneak up the front stairs. Just as they’re passing my mom and dad’s room, though, they notice that both of them are laying in bed and that my dad is snoring away.

The next morning, they still tell my dad he scared the shit out of them and ask him why he didn’t just come into the library to tell them to go to bed. Of course, he denies ever having come downstairs.

The Last Spooky Story for Halloween

When I was in college, my parents and brothers moved to a big brick house in a little town just up the bluff from the Mississippi river. The house was, I think, the nicest house my family has ever lived in. The downstairs was open and spacious and each room was connected by these beautiful French doors. There was a big, formal staircase at the front of the house and an informal staircase at the back of the house leading into the kitchen.

Strangely enough, the house next door to it was set up almost exactly the same, except a little smaller and, where our house had square walls and straight hallways, the house next door had curvy walls and hallways.

When we first moved there, my mom and I were talking at Walmart about how cool the two houses were and the woman who was checking us out was like, “You live next to the Methodist Church?” We said, “Yes.” She said, “I lived in the house next to yours. It’s haunted.”

She then proceeded to tell us how she and her husband had rented the house, just for a few months, right after the previous owner had died. She said that the previous owner’s death had really stood out for the community because it was the last time anyone had been laid out at home. So, the body laid in the front room for three days and then they came and took the coffin right out the front door, and across the street, and into the Catholic Church for the funeral. During the funeral, she said, the bell at the top of the church rang out once for each year she’d lived. Again, an old-fashioned moment, a nice touch, except that no living person was ringing the bell.

The woman at Walmart said that when they were living there, there was still some stuff of the old woman’s in the house. Specifically, she said that the woman’s hope chest was still under the front window. She and her husband, though, had turned the parlor into a bedroom and decided to move the hope chest into the dining room and use it as a kind of bench seat at the window there.

She said that the night after they moved it, they woke up to the sound of it dragging itself across the floor. She said they found it in the doorway and decided if it wanted to be back under the front window so bad, they’d just put it back and leave it there. So, they did.