In the days leading up to the March 1st release of my collection In Search Of and Others, I’ll be sharing some of my idiosyncratic questions on the so-called “paranormal”…and their idiosyncratic answers.
Ghosts are my favorite paranormal phenomenon, so much so that I’m not even sure I’m up to the task of writing an appreciation of them.
Here’s my appreciation: “THEY’RE GHOSTS, THE GOSSIP OF THE DEAD! THEY’RE AWESOME!”
I have never seen a ghost and that fact really pisses me off. If I’m walking in the wilderness someday and I see Bigfoot or the Loch Ness Monster or a trio of gray aliens dry-humping a cow carcass, I’m going to fold my arms and say, “Really, universe? This is what you’ve got for me? Fuck you.” And I’ll walk away and never report it to anyone out of sheer petulant bitterness.
Hell, for all you know, that’s already happened.
I’m pretty skeptical about heaven. In fact, I always have been. I once asked my Lutheran pastor grandfather what went on there and he said, “You live in total comfort and happiness, singing hymns to Jesus and praising His name forever and ever.” To which I replied, “That’s it?” He sputtered in a fury about how that was my final reward and my grandmother had to explain that a ten-year-old boy doesn’t want to spend eternity singing about Jesus.
Indeed I don’t. I do want a debriefing like I wrote about in the “In Search Of” story, but I don’t know that I want to hang out with ANYONE for all eternity.
But I don’t like the idea of my consciousness dissipating completely when I finally collapse into a puddle of my own juices someday, either. That’s one of the reasons I write, to haunt all you people forever.
That’s what ghosts are all about, right? The return of stories, imperfect and garbled by time, hazy at the edges, distorted by human transmission AND human reception? The question, of course, is who is transmitting and who is receiving.
Do you hear a story and haunt yourself? Or do the stories somehow stick to the places they happen?
I can think of no mechanism by which a place can “record” strong sensory impressions, but those are the only paranormal phenomena I’ve ever personally encountered. I have gotten bad feelings about places, leaving immediately under the weight of dread, only to find out later that my impression was justified.
Once, I passed a row of old houses nestled back among oak trees with long Spanish moss beards — a common sight in most Florida towns, not particularly redolent with significance. But when we got to the second or third house along the line, I saw a strange flash almost BEHIND my eyes, and there was a silhouette of a house that looked far different than the one that was standing there. It was narrower and more rickety-looking.
I screamed, of course, because that’s what you do. And my mother screamed. And my stepfather, driving, screamed. And my friend beside me in the back seat screamed. And we peeled away in a great surge of the engine and a spraying fishtail of gravel.
We compared notes and discovered that we’d all seen more or less the same silhouette. And after some research among the old-timers, careful not to reveal quite why I was asking, it turned out that yes, there was a history to that place. They’d been narrow shotgun houses once, and a murder had occurred in one of them.
Dunh dunh dunh!
Did that lot somehow absorb the great human passion and pain of that assault? It seems impossible.
Or did I perceive something very subtle, maybe the traces of an old foundation or the same melancholy atmosphere that might make someone more prone to murder in the first place? Did I assemble all of that in my brain in a fraction of a second and play myself a ghost story?
Either way, that’s amazing.
That’s what makes ghosts wondrous.
- If they “exist” as we commonly believe them, spirits or echoes or whatever, that’s an extraordinary sign of the universe’s sense of narrative.
- If they don’t “exist,” if we make them up from fragments and signs and sensory impressions, if we can tell ourselves these stories of great timeless human emotion in a flash behind the eyes…then that might even be better.
Ghosts by definition are the most human of paranormal phenomena. One way or another, on perception or reflection, we wish them into being and use them to tell ourselves stories.
In that way, we’re all ghosts.