Saturday, January 5, 2008

Ghostly Tale

Around ten years ago, the last time I had money, I bought an expensive new home on the other end of town. It was a center hall colonial, very fancy and up to date, and had had only one owner before me, a young family who had chosen to move closer to the school their children attended.

Within a couple of months of moving into the house, I was aware that there was something other than me and my cats living there. For lack of a better term, I referred to it as a ghost.

I am neither superstitious nor religious. I don't believe in any sort of afterlife. But I've always had a fondness for the concept of ghosts. And the one that came with the house was hardly more than an irritant. No blood curdling howls. No strange apparitions in the middle of the night. Just a tendency to knock things over and move things around. Twice it turned on cassette players (one upstairs, one down, neither time with a cassette in the player). A couple of times it tilted all the paintings on the living room wall. A couple of times it took my comb out of the medicine cabinet and left it on the edge of the sink. Things I hadn't done and my cats couldn't do. Just dumb little things, maybe twenty such incidents over the years I was there.

One day I was walking from the staircase to the kitchen when I ran into the ghost going the other direction. I was so accustomed to coexisting with it, I wasn't even particularly startled. I remember being sorry I didn't have my camera with me, but that was about it, until the next day when I thought, Wow! I saw a ghost!

My recollection of the ghost was it was two or three feet long, torpedo shaped, with no features. It was about four feet off the ground, and it seemed to know where it was going (at least it didn't stop to ask for directions). It was a gauzy translucent white and bore an unfortunate resemblance to Casper The Friendly. One would like one's ghost to be a bit more original in appearance

I did some internet research to see if there was any scholarly work being done on ghosts, since I would have been happy to participate, but I couldn't find what I was looking for. I did locate a lot of websites where people spouted fiction as fact (ghosts like this; ghosts don't like that-as though someone had done a Zagat for ghosts). One place had lots of photographs; my favorite was The Ghost At The Bagel Bakery, which was a photograph of a ghost at a bagel bakery (no report on whether it favored cream cheese or butter).

Sometime after I'd run into the ghost, I attended a small gathering, maybe ten people, all adults, all sane. The subject of ghosts came up (my guess is I brought it up). It turned out three other people at that gathering had seen ghosts. One of the other ghost witnesses was a World War Two veteran, who had vivid memories of seeing a ghost when he was a young boy.

It fascinated me to think that 40% of the people there had seen a ghost. Actually, it still fascinates me. So I'm putting a poll on the left side of the blog, to see how many of you, oh beloved slowly gained readership, have seen a ghost. And if any of you want to share stories by way of the comments section, well, I'd love to read them. Your ghost is almost guaranteed to be more interesting than mine, although it may have a way to go before beating The Ghost At The Bagel Bakery!


S.M.D. said...

Susan, I could hug you right now. My power went out all day yesterday and so I thought at about 10:30 last night to finish up some reading and get to D&G. I opened it up and was astonished to find you had personalized my copy! I don't know how I missed it. I've flipped through the pages already, but I did and when I saw it I smiled. That was so nice of you. Thanks!
I found it quite fitting that I was reading a disaster story where the power goes out while sitting around with a flashlight having my own power off...
It's good so far by the way. I hope to finish it by next weekend!

Lee said...

So if the ghost wasn't a problem, how come you moved out of the house? Did you ever try to find out who the ghost was, and did you ever write a book about it?

I've never seen a ghost, but my Auntie Ellen had. When she was alive, she told us kids about ghostly experiences, including one she had while visiting us.

We lived in Nanaimo, BC in a split-level, with the front door on the landing between the upstairs and downstairs.

One afternoon, my Auntie was going downstairs, turned the corner on the landing and there at the bottom of the stairs was a youngish Native man, with traditional Native headdress. She stopped, turned around and went back up. She went back down a few minutes later and he was gone.

She never told us about that incident because she didn't want to scare us, and didn't tell us until we had moved a couple of provinces away. She had other stories too, but that one gave me the superwillies.

janni said...

Seen, no. But once in the United States (at Cahokia Mounds State Park in Illinois), and more than once on both my visits to Iceland, I've had so strong a sense of, well, the past breathing over my shoulder, that there's no way I would have voiced my usual skepticism aloud, for fear of being heard.

I honestly don't know these days whether I believe in ghosts or not.

Colleen said...

I lived in a haunted house in Jacksonvill, FL when I was four years old. My mother and I have talked about it a lot - we all believe it was haunted. The radio used to turn on by itself at night, there was weird stains on the walls in my bedroom and my brother's - my mother cleaned them, they reappeared, she finally hung crosses over our beds - we got struck by lightening constantly (one time completely destroying our front porch) and my mother heard voices in the hallway - lots of voices.

Creepy unhappy house. We weren't there long as my father got a job in Central FL and we moved further south to the beach. Whatever was in that house, it wasn't happy.

S.M.D. said...

Okay, now I'm going to write a comment that actually has something to do with the post!
I can't say I've ever actually seen a ghost. I believe that they exist, or perhaps some phenomenon that we think is the spirit of a dead person, but really isn't. I find it hard to believe all those shows on TV though. They all just seem so phony and fake and I find myself laughing.

I remember when I was a kid, though, living in a Naval military base that we (the other kids and I) used to dare each other to go into an abandoned house. I don't think there was anything in there, but needless to say something spooked us and we ran. I can say that half the time we spooked ourselves, but at the other half we were legitimately freaked out over something. What? I don't know. it was a sort of spooky place, even though it was built just like all the other houses in the area. The light came in weird, it was all boarded up, and it just scared us. I don't think any of us made it to the second floor. I made it a few steps up, but that was all.
I don't think anything was there though. We were just kids.

On a side note: my friend swears that he saw a ghost come out of my face once. I used to think he was joking, but he took it seriously. Maybe he really saw something, or he imagined it.

Alice said...

I've never seen a ghost. This may be due to my unhealthy appreciation for cats, but I am CONSTANTLY seeing cats out of the corner of my eye, and I turn to look and there's nothing there. :O

Susan Beth Pfeffer said...

Hi s.m.d. and lee and janni and colleen-

Thank you for contributing your ghost experiences. They're much better than mine. A good ghost story should be at least a little spooky. I, on the other hand, got a ghost who tossed the sponge onto the middle of the floor (how, I don't know. But I didn't do it, and the cats weren't at home at the time).

I had a realization from writing about my ghost and that is that Life As We Knew It is all about the mundane. I sometimes think of it as the laundry book, since Miranda complains regularly about having to do the laundry. I wanted to write an end of the world story that dealt with things like laundry, because I felt that most diaster stories, movies and books, focus on the leaping the lava moments, and no matter how bad the circumstances, there are very few times in anyone's life where they have to jump over the flowing lava to safety. Whereas laundry always has to get done.

My ghost is like that. I didn't get the scary, headless, spirit from a different time kind of ghost. I got the suburban house ghost. One winter when there were no episodes, I even thought it had gone to Florida (it may well have, since things started up again that spring).

Oh well. By definition it's interesting to have seen a ghost, even if the ghost you saw looks like Casper and doesn't do much except knock over the salt shaker and toss a sponge around.

Marci said...

I was once in that house of yours taking care of Alexander and Emily. As usual, Emily was hiding in the bedroom and I went up to say hello to her. Found a small framed photograph lying in the middle of the bedroom floor, far from any piece of furniture that it might have been on. It was lying upside down and I know that the cats didn't do it. I figured it was your ghost, but I never did see it. I picked the photo up and put it where I thought it belonged and it stayed there. This is a very boring ghost story. You must have had the worlds calmest ghost.

Now my friend Wilma grew up in an old house in Bensalem PA which had been in the family for generations. Her great grandfather killed himself in that house and forever after it was haunted. They would hear footsteps, doors banging and the room that he died in had an oppressive feel. She was happy to leave that house, but then she was visited by the spirit of her great-great Grandfather who would just stand there. She never saw him but she could feel his presence. Even I could feel him. He left some diaries from the Civil War and he seemed to want her to read them. So she did. She became an expert in the Civil War. She no longer is visited by him but she dreams of dead people all the time and they talk to her.

Missouri-loathing anonymous said...

I saw one a month ago. It totally looked very simliar to your picture but turned to the side. I was on a trip and looked out the window and saw it walking down the street well more like floating.

Anonymous said...

To quote the immortal bard, Popeye...

"I am askared of ghosks, cause I cants explains 'em."


Susan Beth Pfeffer said...

I've really enjoyed the ghost stories here (or ghost reports, as I prefer to think of them) and have been having fun keeping track of the poll. So far it's 50/50. I was particularly pleased to hear from missouri-loathing anonymous about seeing a ghost so similar in appearance to mine. I used to tell people I'd be able to identify my ghost in a lineup, but either there's more than one ghost that looks like mine (always possible, since mine was kind of generic) or my ghost got around (and up and down rather than sideways).

I don't miss my ghost, even though it was pretty innocuous. But I'm glad to have had the experience of sharing my home with one.