“...and things that go bump in the night, Lord deliver us.” I don't know where that prayer came from but I always think of it at this time of year. I grew up loving Halloween and I grew up hearing ghost stories—some of which have come in pretty handy for my writing life.
Because I spent much of my childhood playing with my friends in Mary Opelt's Woods, I was never afraid of the woods but on those occasions when someone would organize a “ghost walk” I was usually pretty doggone scared. This always happened at Girl Scout Camp in the summer. One night the leaders would build a big fire and we would sit around it while they told ghost stories and then they took us on a walk through the woods where creepy things hung in trees and strange, white specters floated in the distance. I remember being very frightened most of the time.
But I did love ghost stories. My Gram Werner was a great one for telling them. She believed in ghosts. Of course, back then they believed that ghosts were lost souls stuck in Purgatory who were looking for prayers to get them into heaven. In The Crazy Old Lady Unleashed, Tom Quinn tells his brother Joe a ghost story that their grandmother used to tell and I took that straight from one of my grandmother's tales.
They say that tonight—Samhain in the “old religion”—is when the walls between the worlds grow thin and spirits can slip through more easily. Today we say that is superstition and we dismiss it but I am not so cynical as to think that there isn't some element of truth in musings of that sort. I think there exists in the human psyche a fascination-with/longing-for/rejection-of the mysterious. Some people are mesmerized by it and want to explore it, some people are tantalized but afraid to delve too deep, some people reject it outright. I would submit that within the longing itself lies proof of there being something more, something we don't quite understand.
I have long said that I believe there is a parallel universe in which characters live and they are always on the lookout for a writer whom they believe can tell heir story. I have had this experience of characters coming to me in the twilight state before sleep. I have written their stories—at least I did with Arthur's Story—and often when I am writing, a story will pour out and afterward I'll re-read it and think, where the heck did that come from? For me that is proof that there are mysterious forces at work—call them ghosts or call them imagination—it's all the same to me.
Haunted places are another phenomenon that I find intriguing. When I was a kid there was a large, abandoned house in a field not far from our house. We called it Bum Seelye's, I really don't know why. Our parents forbade us to go there but we went anyway and I remember going in and out of the broken, falling down rooms, climbing the rotting out staircases, peeking in the moldy, smelly closets. Always hoping for something tremendously strange and frightening. Now when I think back on it I think that we had a real haunted house (although it wasn't really very haunted) to explore.
In recent years I've gotten interested in the “urban explorers”—young adventurers who explore abandoned buildings and underground tunnels in search of whatever they happen to find. I think if I were young again I would want to do that. I've watched their videos on YouTube and enjoy every creepy minute.
So today is Halloween and the walls between the worlds—well, I'm not sure what state they are in. But I know I will keep myself open to the possibilities. Maybe someone with a story to tell will come through. I'd be happy to tell their story.
Shameless plug: Tonight would be a good night to read Ghosts of a Beach Town in Winter, Ghosts of aLighthouse in Autumn, or The Legend of Father Cuneo's Grave—just sayin'.
Happy Halloween and thanks for reading.