Chronicler: Michael J. Miller
Kalie has been excited about starting a new feature on Just Dread-Full where people can share their own, real-life experiences of the supernatural. Ghost stories in novels, movies, and around the campfire are a common part of our culture. However, the stories in this series will be different in a small but significant way. These are stories contributed by people we know and can attest to as sane, rational, logical human beings – people we trust. This gives a new layer, a more “personal” layer, to the discussion of these sorts of phenomena. It also provokes (at least for me personally) larger and more interesting questions about just what is out there and how the world beyond our eyes and (more importantly) our understanding can work. I can deconstruct a fictional ghost story. I know what those are and how they work. These stories though? They are a little trickier to know what to do with…
That being said, I’m happy to be the first person to write an entry in this series. However – FULL DISCLOSURE – I don’t really believe in ghosts, at least not as they are often depicted. My vision of the supernatural world isn’t one with a lot of room for demons, devils, or things that go bump in the night. Yes, obviously I agree that evil exists. And yes, I believe in the spiritual world. But I struggle with how to work your traditional ghost story framework into my understanding of the universe. No matter what sort of spiritual evil is out there, I believe that God (or however you’d like to name the Divine Light of Being) is more powerful. If you don’t open yourself up to evil, seek it, or play with summoning it, I’ve always believed that God’s easily more powerful than the Darkness. Dualism’s never worked for me. There’s nothing out there that can best God. Yes, we create a lot of practical evil on earth; that’s our problem and our job to fix. But the rest? I don’t know. As to good ghosts sort of roaming around this world? Again, I don’t see how they could avoid the loving embrace of the All after death (or why some entity would choose to stay here, knocking cans off shelves for eternity as opposed to being enveloped in the total embrace of Unconditional Love forever). As someone with a BA in Religious Studies, an MA in Religious Education, and a teaching certificate in Social Studies, I am personally and professionally intrigued by tales of this sort of phenomena…but I remain very skeptical. Yet, to paraphrase the great theologian Marcus Borg, it is the height of academic hubris to believe something can’t be true just because you can’t explain/understand it. So I continue to explore the topic.
That’s why this particular story is so fascinating to me. This is the first story I’ve ever heard that rang with credibility…and I don’t know what to do with it. The story comes from a trusted friend of mine who’s asked to remain anonymous (which, secretly I love because I think it makes the story spookier if its origin is slightly shrouded in mystery (and I kind of hope she intentionally did it for that reason too)). We met while I was in grad school and, to this day, she remains a good friend and trusted confidant. There are few people I’ve met who I’d say I trust more than her…so I know if she told me this happened, it happened. I can’t explain how or why. I can’t even make any plausible guess as to what was really going on here. But she told me (with creepy, hair-raising detail) what happened so I believe it occurred, exactly as she told me. I might doubt the veracity of others, but not her.
My friend (we’ll call her “Sydney” for ease of storytelling) isn’t one to chase the supernatural. In fact, her personal view on the matter is very similar to mine. Her family is the same…despite living in a house that regularly challenged those perceptions. To this day, it’s not a topic often discussed but the experience is impossible to forget and difficult to reconcile with those personally held beliefs about the supernatural. While living in her childhood home, every member of her family had regular experiences that made them think their house may be haunted. While they lived there, no one voiced those fears out loud. Yet, when her family moved out of that house, stories were shared and a fuller picture of their creepy homestead began to come together.
Sydney’s bedroom was in the attic, the largest room of her old house, featuring a peek ceiling descending to half walls. The walls featured enormous closets designed to help take up the extra space in the attic. There were two on each wall, facing each other, with their ceilings sloped, matching the roof. The first closet was built out a little into the room, so upon opening the door you’d find a second closet within. As they were moving, her mom pulled a mattress out of one of these upstairs closets and found odd streaks of some sort of strange, red goo. It almost looked like wax, a sort of gelatinous wax. Upon seeing this mysterious substance, Sydney’s mom made a face Sydney said she’ll never forget. The face was born of absolute shock as her mother had never seen anything like this before. She had no idea what it was. Her mom then told the kids to be careful around it because it was probably some sort of funky mold. The red mold was cleaned up and the moving commenced.
Sydney, her brother and her sister were surprised to see the red goo for a very different reason. Months earlier, around Halloween, her parents were out and Sydney and her siblings were watching one of those paranormal investigator shows on TV. The parapsychologists/ghost hunters were outlining what commonly occurs in a haunted house. They watched with rapt attention as every single thing mentioned on the program applied to their house with the exception of a red goo the show claimed would be found in a haunted house. However this goo wouldn’t remain absent for long. When Sydney’s mom pulled the mattress out of the closet, Sydney and her siblings were freaked out not because they’d never seen something like this before but because they had. Here, in the upstairs closets, was the exact same red goo profiled on the show. Sydney said, at that moment, it felt like her world came crashing down. She felt like she could deny everything else that happened in their house up to that point. But this? What was it? There was no way to explain it.
Once settled in the new house, the red goo in Sydney’s old closet opened the door to more discussions of the odd occurrences everyone had experienced while they lived in the old house. Every member of her family had personal stories of hearing voices in the house or picking up the phone to hear a conversation already in progress when they believed they were home alone. Living in a family of five however, they never jumped quickly to the idea of “ghost.” They would always just think that someone else was home without their knowledge. The same answer would apply when they’d find something inexplicably moved from where they had left it. When you hear hooves, you think “horsey” not “zebra” you know? But as they spent the evening swapping stories they realized those presumed explanations didn’t hold up. There were just too many experiences to account for. Every member of her family could share story after story of things being “off” or “odd” in their old house.
The examples continued. Sydney’s mom often yelled at them for staying up far too late, talking into the night. When this would happen, Sydney and her sister and brother would argue that they really were asleep as they were supposed to be. Her mom never believed them because she’d clearly heard people talking upstairs. In a similar vein, her mom would yell at them for leaving lights on upstairs, lights they knew they’d turned off. And then there was the walking. Ugh, the walking… If her family was sleeping downstairs, as they often did because there was no air conditioning upstairs, they would hear someone walking up there…back and forth, back and forth.
The stories ultimately culminated with more discussion about Sydney’s bedroom. Her dog, Admiral Barkington III Esq. (not her real name either) loved Sydney. Barkington was by her side whenever Sydney was home, with the notable exception of when she was in her room. The dog would follow her lovingly through the attic door, all the way up the stairs…but always stop at the top of the stairs, inexplicably refusing to cross into her room. If Sydney carried Barkington in the room with her, she’d run faster than ever to get out as soon as she let her go. She’d happily nap with Sydney on the couch or lay by her side anywhere else in the house. But she never entered the room.
Sydney also had an odd, yet not overly sinister, recurring dream. She would often dream that she was laying on her bed and a small child was in her bedroom with her. This little girl would be running around the room, urging Sydney to come and play with her. “Come find me! Come find me!” she’d squeal as she’d dart in and out of the closets in Sydney’s bedroom, “Come find me! Come find me!” While the little girl never seemed malevolent or insidious, Sydney never felt right joining in her excited game of hide and seek. No matter how many times she’d have this dream, she always stayed on her bed.
The evening of story-swapping concluded with the question of whether or not they had actually lived in a haunted house hanging in the air. Months later that very same question would return. Sydney was working as a tutor in college. One afternoon, she was meeting one of the students she was tutoring. They were chatting before the work began and he happened to mention he loved ghost stories and tales of haunted houses. Sydney told him that she believed she and her family once lived in a haunted house. He eagerly asked her where she had lived. Sydney gave him the general area they had moved from…and he gave her the exact address of her old house.
Shocked, Sydney asked him how he could possibly have guessed that. He informed her that her old house was a favorite of local ghost enthusiasts. Constructed in the late 1800s, her childhood home was supposedly the site of a grisly murder. He then told her the tale of the murder that had taken place in the house…how a young girl was killed and then chopped into tiny pieces, so her body could more easily be hidden in the attic closets.
Right?! Aaahhhh! That’s creepy. I got chills all over again typing the tale, as I do every time I’ve told it to someone. When Sydney first told me about it, it was nighttime and we were standing in an empty parking lot under a flickering light. I know that was all a coincidence but it sure as hell added to the effect of the story! I think of that night and this story often when I wrestle with the idea of ghosts and hauntings. My above opinions remain unchanged. But I know Sydney. I know she’s not crazy. I know she’s not lying or inventing anything either. I know this happened to her and her family…and I don’t know what to do with it. All I know for sure is I fully believe everything played out exactly as Sydney described and it reeeeeeally creeps me out.
What do you think? Do you believe in hauntings? Does it fit into your metaphysical world view? What do we do with these sorts of stories? Because I sure don’t know…