Ghosts: Shadows, Silhouttes
Have you ever seen a ghost? Not just felt an unearthly presence, not just a chill down your spine. But an actual visual resprentation occupying space in front of you? I have. And man, is it spooky! I was 18 the first time I saw a ghost. I was 18 for the first time of a lot of things. But this was by far the creepiest experience...
From the Introduction of "Ghosts, A Treasury of Chilling Tales, Old and New" (State Street Press)
"Ghosts alone retain their ability to make me uneasy, largely because it is not necessary to accept any concomitant religious system to believe the possibility of theier existance. If man passes to another plane, it may only be because there are more aspects to our puzzle-box universe than we originally realized. Or parapsychologists may be right when they suggest that violent emotions leave an energy residue in 'haunted' housesf, an ash that manifests itself as magic-latern shows of the mind."
--Marvin Kaye, 1980
Haunted Train Station
Zuul the Ghoul
specter, feind, wraith, phantasm, phantom, presence, ghoul, poltergiest, spook, bogey, shade, apparition
Viva la Revolution
Soldier in the Street
I grew up in a city in Westchester County, NY, just outside of New York City. New York is old. It was old before the British got here. It was one of the original 13 colonies and saw a lot of blood shed during the Revolution.
I had always felt the history of my home town, the heavy weight of the people who came before. The house I grew up in was a leftover from the Victorian era and the presence of the resident spectre was keenly felt. For thirteen years, I lived beside docile Harry, whose most frightening escapades involved opening the basement door. I heard Harry. I felt Harry. But I had never seen Harry.
We've all seen movies about ghosts and how they would appear to us. The two most provocative images of the supernatural from my childhood were the Banshee from Darby O'Gill and the Little People, and Ghostbusters. The former was a scary faced woman, sheer and wispy, made of ether and gauze. Until I was a teenager, Darby O'Gill's Banshee chilled me to the bones. Ghostbusters was one of the first movies I saw in the theater, I was 4 or 5 years old. As an adult, the supernatural characters like "Slimer" and "Zuul" strike me as campy and comical. As a child, those ghouls contributed to many a nightmare.
Despite the movies I had seen, nothing could quite perepare me for actually seeing a ghost myself.
When I was 18, working at a coffee shop in the most haunted town I've ever been in. As a kid, I had family in Bronxville, NY, and always enjoyed visiting the charming little town. It's an old fashioned village nestled in the middle of larger cities, its geography helping to create a spiritual nexus, a doorway between dimensions. It would provide many a close encounter in my early adult years.
This one night would teach me just how freaky this town could be.
Bronxville is a village of old money, high taxes and a sense of security, even on the darkest streets, in the dead of night. Or so I thought...
I had closed my store and sent my coworkers home, feeling perfectly at ease in the spring air, waiting for my ride on the outside patio. It was maybe 11:30 or 12 at night, at the town was deserted. Around the corner, in either direction, you can find two local taverns, but even the revelry inside the pubs was subdued that night.
In the silence, my mind began to wander, as I stared into the train station parking lot across the street. The parking lot, situated between the train tracks and the street for about the length of a block, was empty and there was no traffic, either on the road or train tracks. A hush filled the air, but I didn't notice an eeriness to the silence until something caught my eye.
Up the street, in the parking lot, something was moving. No, it was someone.
I could see the features of a man in a strange hat--like colonial era fashion-- coming towards my direction. But, he was up too high to be on his own feet, and moving in a pattern quite unlike human walking. He must be on a bicycle, I reasoned. Perhaps one of the eccentrics from the local college. Slightly uneasy, but convinced I was letting my imagination get the better of me, I continued to watch the only person out in the town that evening.
He moved closer, and I could make out more details. That was no bicycle he was riding. He was on a horse. A horse? Here, in town? But, why couldn't I hear the clip-clop of the horse's hooves echo through the still night? And the hat was not the only odd aspect of his wardrobe. His hair was curled onthe sides and pulled into a low ponytail at the back of his neck, and he was wearing a long blue uniform coat with knee-high leather boots. He looked like a soldier in the Revolutionary War. A soldier?
He kept getting closer, and I hoped the improved view would clarify this vision, but the details of his person did not appear any clearer than they had at a distance. My mind realed as I tried to make sense of what I was seeing. Just ahead of the apparent soldier was a lamp post, and he would be passing directly across the street from me. However, as the front end of the horse crossed behind the post, which was no more than 6 inches in diameter, he did not reappear on the other side. Within a breath, the entire image, man, uniform and horse, had vannished!
The air felt electrified, and my brain on fire. I sat frozen, mouth agape, eyes wide. My bones felt a harsh chill but my skin was sweaty, clammy. I had only one explaination for what I just saw: a ghost! I just saw a ghost!
I struggled to regain control of myself, settle my emotions and lose that tingling down my spine. After what felt like an eternity, I was finally able to pry my eyes from the spot my soldier and horse had disappeared. I looked around the block, and still could find no other sign of life. There was no one else. No explaination, and no other witness.
I was alone with this apparition.
My ride soon arrived, whisking me back to the chaos of real life. But I couldn't shake that chill...
The Graveyard Book
Be hole, be dust, be dream, be wind
Be night, be dark, be wish, be mind
Now slip, now slide, now move unseen
Above, beneath, betwixt, between.
by Neil Gaiman