Wednesday, October 16, 2013

the scary series: ghosts.

This week’s real-life scary is about something scary you’d normally associate with Halloween. We’re talking ghosts.
Not this kind.
When I say real-life, I’m not saying that I’ve had actual encounters with ghosts or that I even think they’re real. However, all it takes is a spooky story and some mysterious noises to trick my dumb brain into thinking there’s something out there. To put it simply: I don’t believe in ghosts, but I’m afraid of them.

That’s not to say that I didn’t once believe in them. Remember how, when I was a kid, I was completely enthralled with the supernatural? I would come home from the library with an armful of books about banshees, chupacabras, aliens, and urban legends. I managed to read all these books and somehow NOT have nightmares – at the time, we lived in a rather small farmhouse, and I figured that there just wasn’t room for anything creepy. As a child, I was never scared of monsters under my bed – instead, I was scared of spiders and of the house burning down (thanks to a traumatizing video I watched at Safety Town).

Ghosts tended to be my topic of choice. There was something very interesting to me about someone’s spirit hanging around on earth. You’d think they would have better things to do.

I read every ghost book I could get my hands on. While I loved a tried-and-true ghost story, my favorites were the books that claimed to be true. My Grandma Lorraine had been an elementary school teacher, so she had a treasure trove of old ghost stories. The library (as always) was an excellent source, and I could occasionally talk my parents into buying me a ghost story book from the book orders they’d hand out at school.

Remember book orders? They were these colorful booklets on thin magazine paper, and you’d have to fill out this long strip of paper on the back and turn it in. Then, you’d wait in eager anticipation for your book to arrive and for your teacher to hand it out. That same strip of paper would be tucked inside, and that’s how you knew it was yours. I always did my best to choose books that I was a.) interested in, and b.) came with a toy. I remember getting rubber aliens, fake blood, and some green slime.

Some of my favorite ghost books came from these book orders. That’s where I was able to get collections of “true” stories: I remember ordering one specifically about haunted schools and another about ghostly pets. The ghost pets really got to me – I’ve always had a soft spot for animals, and the pet ghost stories were all about dogs who died saving their owners lives but came back in spirit to show they were ok, or cats that died but came back as a cat-ghost to comfort their former owner when it was needed. I only read the ghost pet book at home in my room because – without fail – it turned me into a blubbering mess. I bet if I read it again, it still would.

Most of my ghost stories were less comforting and more creepy. They were the kinds that you’d tell around campfires with a flashlight… or that’s what I assume. My only campfires growing up were with my parents or at a church camp, so no ghost stories there. Just jokes (parents) and stories about finding Jesus (church camp).  I did tell scary stories at sleepovers with my cousins and friends, so don’t worry: I didn’t miss out on sleepless nights with friends, scaring the bejeezus out of each other.

My friend Allison lived right in Arlington, and when I would go over to her house for sleepovers, we’d spend a good portion of our night wandering around town and talking about local lore. She would point out the houses that she’d heard were haunted (including a former funeral home and a house in which a murder was committed in the 1800s), and I’d listen with wide eyes.

Allison also informed me that her house was likely haunted. She had seen clocks run backwards and had heard weird noises when no one else was home. I, of course, wanted to experience this ghost for myself, but nothing ever seemed to happen when I was around… except for one night. It was late when we finally decided to go to bed, and it was pitch black. We were both dozing off when suddenly, the room flooded with light. It was a brief flash, but it was as light as day. I thought for a moment that I had simply been dreaming, but after a moment, I heard a cautious “…did you see that?” Allison had also witnessed the burst of light, so it was no dream. Both of us were totally convinced that it was the ghost. In reality, it could’ve been just about anything – car headlights, lightning (even though there was no storm that night… heat lightning, maybe?), but that night, you couldn’t have told us that it was anything but a ghost.

As I grew older, my interest in ghosts waned, but it never completely disappeared. Even as I entered the “I don’t believe in ghosts, but I’m afraid of them” mindset, I was always up for a good ghost story – how you swear you saw an ethereal figure strolling across your lawn, or how doors slam in your house when there’s no one home. Bring ‘em on – I love those stories.

That is, unless I have to stay in the ghost house after you tell me your ghost stories.

Many years ago, when I first started dating James, he and I went to visit his parents. His parents’ house was a few hours away from our college, so we planned to spend the night. On the way there, James started telling me stories about how he was pretty sure that his parents’ house was haunted. Apparently, every member of his family has reported hearing strange noises in the middle of the night, and both James one of his brothers say that they’ve heard empty beds creaking in their spare room. A couple of them have even seen a shadowy figure wandering about and/or sitting in their rocking chair.

So I’m learning about all this as I’m going to spend the night there. I don’t think I slept at all that night, as I was too busy listening for ghosts. I could’ve sworn I heard ghostly clattering in the kitchen in the wee hours of the morning, but James informed me that it was probably his dad. Whew. No ghosts.

Whenever I stayed with James’s parents, the ghost stories were always in the back of my mind. Aside from those first few nights, I didn’t spend much time listening for them – our weekends visiting James’s family were always jam-packed, so I was usually too tired to care if there were ghosts or not.

The ghosts were brought up again one night this summer. James and two of his brothers regaled me with some fresh ghost stories, which scared me anew… right around bedtime. I was dead tired, but I was awfully reluctant to go to bed. I curled up under the covers and did my best to convince myself that the noises I heard were just standard house noises. I never saw anything shadowy, nor did I hear anyone/anything sit down on the empty bed next to me, so maybe the ghost took the night off.

So anyway, that’s how I feel about ghosts. I do my best to be logical and not believe in them, but – thanks to my rather active imagination – it’s not too hard to trick me into a night of buried-under-the-covers-jumping-at-any-sound with some first-hand ghost stories about wherever I’m staying that night. But don’t get me wrong: even though those stories scare the living crap out of me, I can’t get enough of them. I’ll always listen to your ghost stories – just don’t expect me to sleep that night.

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