Katherine crept down the basement stairs, cringing as each step sent a creak throughout the empty room below. While she was allowed to play in the basement, she didn’t want any of the adults to hear her go down there. She needed to escape the half-empty boxes, tearful conversations, and big decisions. Though no one had asked her to participate, she still felt compelled to solve the problems, ones she could only begin to understand.
As Katherine reached the bottom of the stairs, her sneakers squished into the dingy brown carpet. Despite the warm, 1970s color palette and the bright light bulb hanging over the pool table, the room sent a shiver down her spine. Katherine had visited the house hundreds of times in her 12 years, but this was only her second visit since her great-grandmother had died.
The first had been on the night IT happened. Katherine and her parents had received the phone call during dinner, discarded their unfinished plates, and rushed into town. All the commotion had passed by the time they arrived. So, they stood around the edges of the living room with the rest of the family, each member careful not to disturb the towel in the center of the floor. Katherine almost wished they’d hadn’t covered up the blood. She worried her imagination was worse than the reality.
Alone in the basement, Katherine walked over to her great-grandmother’s pantry closet. Sliding back the door, she surveyed the shelves. They were stacked full with brownie mixes, canned vegetables, and more. Atop each container, her great-grandmother had written the expiration date in thick, black Sharpie. Katherine touched her fingertip to one of the dates, partly sad that her great-grandmother would never reach 11/05, partly comforted by her familiar scrawl.
As Katherine pulled back her hand, goosebumps rose across her arm, and she got the distinct feeling that someone was watching her. She turned around, expecting to see her mom or one of her aunts waiting on the stairs. No one was there.
Just as Katherine started to turn back around, the light bulb above the pool table flickered. Katherine froze and stared. The light bulb flickered again, and that time, the chain swung back and forth, clinking against the glass bulb.
Putting her hand over her mouth to avoid screaming, Katherine turned and bolted up the stairs. As she reached the top, she slammed the door shut and pressed her back against it. Her mom rushed in from the kitchen, her forehead wrinkled in concern. “Are you okay?”
“Mom, the basement is haunted!” Katherine gulped in a deep breath and pressed her hand to her chest, as if that would keep her heart inside her rib cage. “The light bulb over the pool table flickered. And the chain… it was moving like someone had pulled it.”
“Wow.” Mom rubbed her lips together, and her eyes narrowed in thought. After a moment, she gave a small smile. “I bet grandpa was just teasing you. I’m sure he’s happy now that grandma is with him again.”
Katherine wrinkled her nose. “You think?”
Mom nodded. “He was always a trickster. I’m sure he’s having a good laugh at your expense.” Mom’s face softened, and she rubbed Katherine’s shoulder. “But don’t worry. You know he would never hurt you.”
“Of course.” Katherine shifted from foot to foot. She knew her mom was right, but something about the house still felt wrong. Even if the ghost had just been her grandpa saying hi or playing a joke, she needed some fresh air. “I’m going to go outside and see what Daddy is doing.”
No ghosts, not even Grandpa, could bother her with Daddy there to protect her.
Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately), that’s the only real-life ghost story I know. Oh, yes. I am not a Katherine. But that Katherine and her story represent me.
Despite my lifelong fascination with the paranormal and supernatural, I’ve never come closer to a ghost or monster. And as I’ve grown older, I’ve rationalized that moment from my childhood to normality (I haven’t asked my mom if she believes in what she said, but since she reads my blog, I bet she’ll tell me…). The light bulb was probably just close to burning out or a large appliance, like the furnace clicking on, caused it to blink. The jolt of electricity (or my wild imagination) could have caused the chain to move. I don’t know. I’m not an electrician. But ghosts can’t be real… right?
Every October, I remember my near-ghost experience as I bask in the glory of Halloween. This year, as I’ve suffered yet another family death, it got me thinking: why do we love ghost stories? And why, not-so-deep down, do I hope my great-grandpa really was teasing me that day?
On the surface, the answer seems obvious. If ghosts are real, then there’s something after we die. Whether its heaven or hell, purgatory or haunting our old house, we continue to exist. It’s a comforting thought — for our future and all the loved ones who have already passed away.
On the other hand, maybe ghost stories prepare us for the opposite. After all, who wants to turn into an evil specter and harm the living for eternity? Maybe nothing would be better than being a Grade A asshole until Sam and Dean come along and blow us away with rock salt.
And perhaps it’s even a little deeper than that. In a way, ghost stories allow us to “experience” death in the same way that romance stories allow us to “fall in love” through their characters. And by doing so, they also remind us to appreciate life.
We often see the tormented ghost berating the innocent protagonist, until it finally lets go of its lost life and finds peace. As we reject the ghost’s behavior, we commit ourselves to being a better dead person than it is. We will accept our fate with dignity, and as such, we will appreciate our life while we have it, “live life to the fullest,” etc. Thus by entertaining the ghost story, we end up feeling more alive.
Then again, maybe there’s nothing deep to it at all. Maybe some of you twisted souls just like to be scared.
I, for one, do not. So, Grandpa, if you’re still present in the ether and watching over me as I write this… please don’t mess with the lights. At least not until sunrise.
How do you feel about ghost stories? Have you have any encounters with the supernatural? Share your experiences in the comments!