Sunday, November 3, 2013

Happy Diwali

Tonight, my Mojito brothers and sisters, it's time to clean up the house and light a candle to welcome Diwali, the festival of lights.

Diwali is a Hindu festival that marks the end of the harvest season.  In India, the celebration is a way of giving thanks for the abundance of the current harvest and for welcoming a prosperous harvest in the next year.

Traditionally, Diwali is associated with goddess Lakshmi, the first of the gods to emerge from the "churning milk" of the cosmic ocean.  She is also the goddess who triumphed in battle over the demons of darkness.  So, Mojito sisters, this is a good night to meditate on the aspect of the feminine that is represented in Lakshmi, a major ass-kicking goddess who is said to be the power of material creation, the shakti that corresponds to Vishnu/creation.

Lakshmi is associated with abundance, inner wisdom, wealth, prosperity, fertility, luck, beauty and love.  She is the feminine counterpart of the lord of creation, and it is said that in every incarnation of Vishnu (as in Krishna and Rama, etc.) so does Lakshmi, his consort also incarnate (as Rada, Sita, etc.) because the two cannot be apart.

More importantly, the festival celebrates the triumph of light over darkness.  So as to be sure that I am not making any faux pas, I am quoting here straight from Wikipedia:

While Diwali is popularly known as the "festival of lights", the most significant spiritual meaning behind it is "the awareness of the inner light". Central to Hindu philosophy (primarily the YogaVedanta, and Samkhya schools of Hindu philosophy) is the belief that there is something beyond the physical body and mind which is pure, infinite, and eternal, called the Atman

The celebration of Diwali as the "victory of good over evil", refers to the light of higher knowledge dispelling all ignorance, the ignorance that masks one's true nature, not as the body, but as the unchanging, infinite, immanent and transcendent reality. With this awakening comes compassion and the awareness of the oneness of all things (higher knowledge). This brings ananda (joy or peace). Just as we celebrate the birth of our physical being, Diwali is the celebration of this Inner Light.

While the story behind Diwali and the manner of celebration varies from region to region (festive fireworks, worship, lights, sharing of sweets), the essence is the same – to rejoice in the Inner Light (Atman) or the underlying Reality of all things (Brahman).

Although I am not Hindu in either religion or race, I am nonetheless fascinated by Lakshmi and Diwali, and every year, if I remember, I light candles and clean my house, for it is said that Lakshmi never enters a house that's dirty.

By this small and simple ritual I welcome the light of reason and the light of peace into my home and heart, that I may wake from ignorance and be embraced with the abundance of wisdom and of inner peace with is the birthright of every human being.

And if you want to make an extra umph on Lakshmi, her mantra is Om Sri Maha Lakshmiyai Namah.

Happy Diwali.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

MLS True Ghost Stories: Remembering The Dead on All Hallows Eve

I was going to tell you all about the time when my family was sitting at the kitchen table at lunchtime, and we heard someone fall down the staircase, hit the wall, and land in the vestibule right by the front door.  We searched the house inside and out, didn't find a person nor a tree limb nor anything else that could have made the whole house shake as it did.  But that's all the story there's to tell and though it was frightening to me at the time, in retrospect, it's just another spook story.

Instead I have been compelled to tell you about a different kind of ghost story.  It's about the ghosts that lurk quietly, not to scare us, but, perhaps to watch us and help us not to get into any more trouble than we already get into all by our lonesomes.

For instance, when in the late 90's my sister called me from Italy to tell me that my grandmother had passed away, I already knew.  That night I had been sleeping soundly, when something in my dream shifted abruptly.  I felt my grandmother entering my dream with such vividness that the emotion I felt in seeing her sucked me awake. I asked my sister what time my grandmother had passed away, but even before she confirmed my suspicions, I already knew.

She visited a couple of times since then, too.  I cannot mistake the smell of my dear grandmother, that mix between cigarette smoke and chef's soap.  When she's around, I say hello to her in my head.  I imagine she's always surprised that I know she's come.

I've also had some other lucky visitations. The most vivid of them was when I was 8 or 9 years old and I'd gotten lost on a mountaintop during a snow storm during ski camp.  The lifts had closed down but my brother and I had got stuck on the top of the mountain, and there was no way to get to safety but on skis. An instructor had tried to help us out, but my brother was so small that the wind kept sucking him up, so the instructor tucked him between his legs and propped him on top of his own skies.  That was enough of a balancing act that he didn't look back to see if I was following, and he didn't notice that, though I was bigger than my brother, the wind was slowing me down.  Pretty soon my brother and the man disappeared into the mist and snow, out of my sight, and shortly after that, their voices were too faint to hear. There was nothing but ravines around me and trees ahead of me. I didn't know the way.

I was talking to myself, saying something like, "God, I'm going to die," mewling and thinking of all the stuff I'd seen on the news of people getting lost on mountains and freezing to death, when I heard a calm, friendly voice behind me, a man who asked me if I needed help.  I was a little embarrassed to have been caught talking to myself and I barely nodded. He told me to take off my goggles and slipped them in the pocket of his ski jacket, but I never actually saw this man above the waist. I never looked up to see his face.  He led me down the mountain and shielded me from the strong gusts of wind, and when we got down to the shelter he helped me take off my skies, then asked me if I wanted some hot chocolate. Still without looking at him I nodded yes.  He led me inside the chateau and stepped into the crowd.

The moment he did, I heard my father's voice behind me: "Where have you been?"

I told my father everything.

"Where are your googles?" my father wanted to know.

I pointed to the crowd where I thought I might recognize the man who had gone to buy me a cup of hot chocolate, who still had my ski googles in his pocket, but I realized I didn't know him.  He could have been anyone. We waited and waited, but the man never came back.

Was he a ghost? A dream? An angel?

Does it matter?

One time as I was driving on a highway towards work, I got sandwiched between a slow truck before me and a car speeding fast into the highway from a ramp to my right. With no time to step on the breaks I had to cut off a woman in a corvette on my left lane.  I then slipped back into the right lane to give the corvette room to pass me, but the corvette had also slipped back to the right lane, and seeing me maneuver like that, the woman driving the corvette leaned heavily on the horn.  She passed me to my left, but not content, she slowed down so that we traveled at the same speed.  She leaned on the horn again, staring at me and cursing me out.  I flipped her the bird.  I saw her gape at me.  I saw the look that came over her face with her unsavory decision.  I saw her spin the steering wheel, her lips between her teeth, obviously intent on slamming her corvette into my station wagon.  I saw the hood of her car nearing towards mine.

This is the part I still don't understand.  Her car didn't hit me.  Her car swerved as if pushed away by an invisible forced and did a 360 on the highway. I barely swished by and saw the corvette spinning in the rearview. Luckily she did not crash, nor did anyone behind her on that busy highway.  Something similar happened a few years later when I was stopped at a light and an out-of-control car screeched and careered towards me only to swerve on a split second, again as if by pushed away by some invisible force.

And this ghost visitation seems to be a family matter. When my sister was a baby, my mother woke up from her crying. Slow to respond she was surprised that before she got to the baby's room, the baby had stopped crying already. She peeked softly into the baby's room, careful not to make noise. A woman in a WWII nursing uniform was bent over the cradle -- or so it seemed in the shadows. My mother asked, "Who is that?" but there was already only just darkness.   Another time, during a particularly trying night, my mother saw and heard her father call her name: he was dead then already twenty years.  He was an illusion of light, a whisper of the wind, but he had enough substance to say her name, to ask what is the matter, in a loving enough voice that my mother jolted out of her sadness and into wonderment.

Yesterday, I was working on an email in response to something my sister had sent me that had made me angry. Needless to say, what I was writing wasn't kind. When I hit the send button, however, my gmail said "There is a problem with the server. Please try again later."  The thought hit me that it might have been a sign not to engage in an argument with my sister, but I hit send again.  And again a few moments later.  Still, the email wouldn't go through.

To appease my guilt, I began to edit the email down. For every paragraph that I edited or cut, I hit send, and still the same error message came back. I checked my internet connection. It was working. I checked FB. It was working.  I tried to send my message again and still the same server error popped up.  This went on for a while. I went on FB and asked if anyone else was having problems with gmail. Nobody else seemed to be having problems.

Finally, my better wisdom prevailed and I deleted the email to my sister.  Within a few seconds, I was able to send and receive email again.

Was it a ghost or an angel or just coincidence?

I don't know, but I did remembered then that Halloween is, after all, not just about ghosts and monsters. It's also about remembering those who passed away, and about honoring the "hallowed" saints who look over us from that world beyond.

So it occurs to me that the dead want to be remembered, not just as spooks and apparitions, but also for their best hopes for us.

It reminds me of one of my favorite poems by Susan Mitchell, The Dead, from which I will quote only a few lines out of respect for copyright:

Some dead find their way to our houses.
They go up to the attics.
They read the letters they sent us, insatiable
for signs of their love.

So on this All Hallows' Eve I'd like to express my gratitude for those who watch over us, and also offer a little prayer for our ancestors:  that they may thrive in peace, love and joy, wherever they may be.

Laura Valeri is the author of Safe in Your Head, which has ghost stories in it, and the author of The Kind of Things Saints Do.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Day 1: Don't Worry, Honey, It's Just The Paranormal Messin' Around by Leah Rhyne

Jon Bon Jovi Comin' for YOU!
A long time ago, in a state far, far away, I was just a little girl growing up in the medium-sized borough of Sayreville, New Jersey. The most notable thing by far about our town was that it is (as the signs say) the boyhood home of Jon Bon Jovi. No lie. But that’s not exactly scary.
I mean, there were always rumors that in a far corner a neighborhood known as Tangletown sat the original home of Bloody Mary, but I think most old towns think they can boast the original home of Bloody Mary. So also not exactly scary.
But, you know, it’s New Jersey, and sometimes that’s scary enough. We are the home of the Jersey Devil after all. Ever heard of him? He’s this little fiendish creature, born of witches or voodoo or something equally devilish, who lives deep in the forests of the Pine Barrens and feeds on the souls of innocent children. Or something. It was enough to give me nightmares as a little one, though it’s certainly not enough to scare me now.
But (and this is a big but): I do believe in ghosts. Wholeheartedly. And I do believe someone ghostly loves to mess with my husband and me whenever we watch scary movies.
Here’s my story.
Have you ever seen The Ring? You know, that ridiculously terrifying movie about a little girl who comes out of the television to kill people after they’ve watched this atrocious avant garde slasher flick? Yeah, that one. The first time I saw it was in a movie theater with an old friend, and it scared the pants off me. I screamed. I hid my face. I wanted to run away.
When my husband and I first lived together, I used to talk about this movie as one of my favorite scary films. My husband had never seen it, though, so one night we rented it (this was back before NetFlix, if you can believe that) and settled in to watch it.
We had the lights out. We had the windows closed. We had popcorn. In short, we were ready for a good time. And the movie was just as scary as I remembered it. There was Naomi Watts, looking all gorgeous and terrified. There was the girl with the long stringy hair. There she was, about to come out of the TV in one of the most climactic scenes in horror movie history.
And suddenly…our lights surged! Our TV blazed! Everything turned on in our living room, and then everything turned off! I screamed. I also fell off the couch. My husband leaped to his feet, his eyes searching around the room. We looked outside, but no one on our street seemed to be experiencing electrical difficulties.
It was just us. But no biggie, right? Just a random power surge? Well, then. Explain this one. It was a year or so later. We’d rented 1408, the John Cusack flick based on the Stephen King short story of the same name. This movie is all about ghosts in a haunted old hotel. All the scary stuff starts happening after a single piece of electronic equipment – a clock radio, I believe – turns on in the middle of the night, all on its own.
Well, we watched the entire movie and had a good time with it. It was just creepy enough that even though the end was lame, I went to bed with the heebie-jeebies.
A couple hours later, we were both sound asleep in our bedroom. In our bathroom sat, silent, an electric razor that made an extremely loud whirring sound whenever someone turned on the cleaning cycle.
Well, something (someone??) pressed that button while we were both sound asleep. Something turned that razor on. The whirring sound jerked us both awake. We both jumped up. I leaped from the bed, terrified. My husband unplugged the razor and it quieted back down, but it took us forever to get back to sleep.
I’ll be honest. We don’t watch many scary movies around here anymore. You could blame it on the fact that we have a kid now, and she doesn’t like to listen to scary things while she’s trying to go to sleep. Or you could blame it on the fact that something (someone?) probably still likes to mess with us whenever we’re silly enough to mess with ourselves, and frankly, I don’t want him to.

Tag, Laura Valeri! You're it!
(This post first appeared on Little Miss Train Wreck, a blog of fashion, reviews and author interviews. Visit for more information. Photo Courtesy of Hyena Reality at Free Digital Photos.)
* * *
Leah Rhyne, author of the Undead America series, is a Jersey girl who's been in the South so long she's lost her accent...but never her attitude. After spending most of her childhood watching movies like Star Wars, Alien(s), and A Nightmare On Elm Street, and reading books like Stephen King's The Shining or It, Leah loves writing tales of horror and science-fiction. She lives with her husband, daughter, and a small menagerie of pets. In her barely-there spare time, she loves running.

Visit Leah at her website:

Zombie Days, Campfire Nights: Book One of the Undead America series --  Millions died when the zombie plague swept the country. For the survivors, the journey has just begun. 

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Day 2: Ghost in the Machine by Joel Caplan

The Ghost in the Machine

I shall preface this by saying that I am an honorary member of the Mojito Literary Society, being a man, and am only granted this privilege as I house and feed the other members, on occasion, and also do my best to get them drunk.  I have photos of multiple women writers, all writing, in my living room.  I could say that’s a Halloween horror story, but it isn’t:  I love and cherish these women and am honored to have them in my life.  So on to the story.

It isn’t a horror story.  It is a ghost story.  There is very little drama.  This is a small account of a very timid, but effectual ghost.  It is mostly silly, but definitely real.

I run a gelateria in the historic part of Savannah, Georgia.  The shop is in a four story building, which includes a basement.   My shop is on the first, ground level, floor.  What is interesting about this particular building is that the top floor of it was used as a slave auction house during the rain, and until recently, the trappings of the slave trade were still there (raised floor, hooks in the wall to attach shackles to, etc).  The outdoor slave sales happened about about a block away.  

Two blocks away from me is the First African Baptist Church, which was a major link in the Underground Railway, the delivery system that rescued slaves and propelled them north to a hopefully better life.  Visitors today can see the floorboards, with air holes, that hid the slaves sheltered underneath.  What is interesting here is that a school had been constructed for slave children, and that school was in the basement of the building where my gelateria is currently located.

To put it succinctly, my business is in a building that witnessed the sale of slaves and the education of escaped slave children.  All at the same time.  You may draw your own conclusions about how this energy may have affected my space.

Over the past ten years we have experienced multiple odd phenomena, all of them having to do with screws and bolts.  All manner of things come unscrewed, and the screws themselves disappear.  I have seen screws come out of place from mechanisms that do not experience vibration.  Screws come loose from internal mechanisms that cannot be accessed without significant dissection.  One evening a screw came loose from an ice cream cone holder, and the plate that the screw held in place, about 16 inches in diameter, flew across the store.  It did not hurt the employee that witnessed it, but she was surely spooked.

We have learned to live with and accept this ghost.  We have music in the store, and if we leave on jazz, all thru the night, the spirit seems to be content and leaves my machinery alone.

Tag, you're it, Leah.


Joel Caplan is the owner of Cafe' Gelatohhh in Savannah, GA and an honorary member of the Mojito Literary Society.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Day 3: Popcorn Ghost by Rebecca Johns

This story comes from my in-laws, at least four of whom were witnesses to the events I'm about to recount. 

My husband's grandmother during her life was very fond of popcorn. She'd make a pan of it every night and eat it watching old movies on TV. My mother-in-law says that the house constantly smelled of popcorn.

One night many years after she died, my in-laws went to visit my husband's grandfather at his house in Northwest Indiana. He was a bit of a shut-in then, with strange habits. They weren't at all sure he'd even open the door. But when he let them in that night, they smelled a very strong scent of popcorn. My mother-in-law asked her father, "Have you been eating popcorn?" and he said, "Popcorn? Are you nuts?" because he didn't have any teeth. But there it was: the distinctive smell of popcorn. And my father-in-law smelled it just as strongly.

They might not have thought too much of it, though, except that a few months later they took the kids (my brother-in-law Matt and sister-in-law Erin) to visit their grandfather. As they were pulling up to the house, the front door opened, and Erin, who was maybe ten at the time, said, "Who's that lady next to Popo?" and Matt (12) said, "Yeah, who IS that?"

When they got to the front door they asked their grandfather if there was a lady in the house with him, a friend or a nurse. No, he said. He was alone.

But Matt and Erin swear to this day they saw her standing next to him.

Tag You're It: Joel

Rebecca Johns is the author of The Countess: A Novel of Elizabeth Bathory, and of the novel Icebergs

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Day 4: Emma in the Ouija by Laura Valeri

This time I’m going to tell a Ouija story I haven’t yet told.  It’s from the time i was in college at NYU and rather than studying for tests, my friends and I much preferred gathering in one of the cramped dormitory rooms, drink rum and coke out of plastic cups and play Tears For Fears on a boom box.   Somehow one night the conversation got onto Ouija.

My friend Vinny, the only one of us who wasn’t dorm-bound, was intrigued by the stories some of us had told of playing with Ouija board and things getting increasingly weird, so he went to a toy store or two, only to be let down that nobody carried such an outdated thing anymore. It was the dawn of the age of video-games.  Tower Records was still on Houston.

Then one morning he stepped out of his home, walked for half a block and literally stepped on a Ouija board that someone was hawking on that Brooklyn sidewalk.  Those sort of things, I’m told, happen a lot with Ouija.

Vinny arrived one late evening at our dormitory and slipped it out from under his windbreaker with a winsome smile and a chirping, “Surprise!.”  Before long we all had our fingers on the planchette, trying to make it move.  With collective will, it’s not hard to make something happen. Soon we were asking stupid questions at a piece of hard cardboard and getting mostly misspelled, terse answers.  Still, no one wanted to leave the door room, not even for more rum, afraid we would miss something funny from our four favorite Ouija ghosts:

Emma, an 18th century woman who died of some kind of fever
Mo, the guttermouth who died in Vietnam
Mary, a mostly shy ghost who seemed to like speaking only to Clemencia, my roommate
And Andy, who died in a motorcycle accident and whenever we asked him where he was standing, would say, “On your tit.”

(It wasn’t until months later, when I woke up one morning to stare at my only-half read Jane Austen masterpiece that I realized that all the initials spelled Emma).

Before long, a room that was intended to be a tight abode for two smallish college girls became a speakeasy with smoke tufts blowing from under the door, music playing late in the night, and voices ringing with questions like, “Which one of us will be the first to marry? No, no, wait, I have a question but I don’t want to ask it out loud. Can you read my mind?”

The dormitory door was always open and boys and girls were streaming in between classes to get their turn at touching the planchette and asking after a grandfather, aunt, or lost cousin.  One girl became convinced she was talking to her long gone grandmother, in Greek.

Soon the room began to smell of feet, bad breath, and unwashed laundry.  Our little gatherings didn't sound so fun anymore when we were accusing one another of hogging too much time or for not being a “good enough conduit.” We were all so caught up in this addictive intercourse with the other world that we didn’t even care when Vinny began to shout that he’d had enough, that we stank as badly as that room, and that we all needed to cool it and get some fresh air or he was going to take his Ouija and go home.

We all unanimously agreed that Vinny was an uptight asshole.  As for his taking his Ouija back, “Over my dead body,” said Clemencia in a deadpan, and then slept with it under her pillow for a night or two.

One day, a skeptic friend who had been observing us for days asked the Ouija for proof.  He didn't want to put his finger on the planchette: too easy it would be, he claimed, to get caught up in the illusion. Instead he asked the four of us who were sitting in session to ask Emma the ghost what his middle name was.  The planchette unwaveringly spelled it out.  I was in the room, and I saw my friend’s mouth hang open.  He muttered “That is correct. I’ve never told anyone.”  

Finally, Tracy, a girl who was a self-proclaimed Born-Again Christian, talked me into stealing the Ouija and sneaking it  when Clemencia was sleeping.  Clemencia, she pointed out, was a church girl with nothing but Christ in her mouth.  Yet that afternoon, when we told her she was becoming obsessed with Emma, Clemencia had looked at me and said, “Fuck you. Both of you. Get out of my room.”  

Tracy dragged me down to the dorm’s basement, with a Bible in her coat pocket and the Ouija under her arm. Once we’d set up the board over the ping pong table, Tracy began to invoke Emma, the ghost who had most consistently haunted our Ouija board.  At first the planchette moved hesitantly under my index finger.  Then it began to pick up confidence.

“Are you there, Emma?”


“Your name isn’t really Emma, is it?”


“You’re Satan, aren’t you?”


“Do you know God, Emma?”

Q    U    A

“Do you fear God, Emma?

Q   U   A   C   K

“Quack?” I didn’t speak English all that well yet, and it seemed odd to me that Emma was impersonating a duck.

“Yes, you're a quack, the quacks of all quacks,” Tracy intoned.  She read a passage from Revelation, fire and brimstone and lakes of sulfur spilling out of her mouth in dramatic Evangelical overtones.

I don’t know whether Emma was a duck or a dead person, whether she meant that Tracy was a quack or that God didn’t exist.  But I do know, sure as I know I’m typing this right now, that the planchette was spinning too fast for my finger to keep up.  I lifted up my finger and after a second or two, Tracy did also.  The planchette kept spinning all by itself.

It spun for about four or five more seconds, so fast that it looked to my naked eyes like it had lifted half a finger’s height off of the Ouija board.  Then it shot very fast and hard like a hockey puck at Tracy’s face.  Tracy ducked. The planchette landed somewhere in the darkness of the dormitory’s basement.  We heard its thuck thuck thuck and then it was quiet.

Tracy congratulated herself on a job well done of exorcising the demon in the Ouija.  As for myself, I don’t know what it was that spoke in Greek and could move a planchette without a physical body.  But one thing is for sure: I never played Ouija again.


Laura Valeri is the author of two award-winning short story collections, Safe in Your Head (SFA Press)  and The Kind of Things Saints Do (U of Iowa Press).  You can follow her blog at

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Day 5: Haunted Holland

Note: I begged Jennifer Graham, my awesome photographer friend, to let me borrow some of her famed cemetery photos for this post. All photographs are copyrighted. Please do not use without permission. I've included Jennifer's contact information at the bottom. I highly recommend liking her White Rabbit Creative Facebook page.    

When my oldest child was a toddler, we lived for a year in the Netherlands. Our neighbors joked that we inhabited the oddest house in all of Holland.  It was a brick row house that was built in the 1920s and ran eight meters across the front, like its normal row mates, but shrank to only one meter in the back—enough for a single door. When the rental agent showed it to us, we immediately fell in love with the oddball home and nicknamed it “The Wedge.” We signed the lease and drove out to IKEA to furnish our beloved wedge with modern Swedish decor. 

Soon, I became friends with our most interesting neighbor, an astrological adviser. Given her profession, I assumed that she was open-minded to the supernatural. I saw no reason not to ask her if she had noticed any weird occurrences at The Wedge or if she had heard stories of it being haunted. She looked at me, shocked, and said, “There are no haunted houses in Netherlands.” No haunted houses in Netherlands? My foot! I’m from the South. Everything is haunted (“got haints”). No amount of modern, minimalist furniture can excise persistent ghosts from the past.

The Wedge didn't possess bad energy. In fact, it was a sunny, cheery place.   My toddler son would giggle, wave, and carry on a delightful conversation in babble to an invisible person on the balcony.  Often I would return to the states and, alone at The Wedge, my husband would work late into the night.  He told me stories of how he had locked the balcony door, only to find it open again.  Once he looked into the mirror and saw the reflection of a man standing behind him. I guess my most interesting experience was waking up in the night to see a tall, reed-like man standing in our bedroom, wearing a dull 1940s suit, smoking a cigarette, and peering out the window.  He looked as if he had been drawn in charcoal.

I have since learned that these grayish, sketch-like apparitions are a particular classification of ghosts.  I understand that they can have yellow eyes. Luckily, I didn't get to see my night visitor’s glowing orbs.  

These were just isolated incidents in our time in The Wedge. I still remember the home with tenderness and warmth. Maybe it was so lovely there that its former inhabitant didn't want to leave.

Question: Have you ever had a supernatural encounter while traveling? If so, please share your story.

You can see more of Jennifer Graham’s work at the White Rabbit Creative photography websiteEtsy, Twitter or Facebook

Susanna Ives is a mommy and romance writer living in Atlanta. Her upcoming book Wicked Little Secrets will be available on December 3rd.  You can learn more about her books at, Twitter, and Facebook

Tag! Laura, you're next!

Friday, October 25, 2013

Day 6: My Sister's Story by Maryanne Stahl

This is my sister’s story.

My youngest sister lives on a hill where Indians once roamed, near the Long Island Sound.  Incredibly resourceful and blessed with wonderful taste, she has transformed what was a rather ordinary ranch-style house into a lovely, unique home that is open and bright, filled with vintage treasures.  In this house she has raised four sweet sons, three dogs, five or six or seven cats, four rabbits, several lizards, and some fish.  From her gardens the scents of lavender and roses mingle with the sea breeze. A haven, one would think.  And yet.

She didn’t notice anything when they first moved in. Life was busy and the signs were gradual. Her middle boys, twins, had trouble going to sleep at night.  They heard whispers in their ears, they said.  But what child liked going to bed when there were video games to be played and frogs in the yard to be caught?  “I hear whispers” seemed no more alarming than “I need a glass of water.”  Go to sleep, my sister would say.  Often, the boys would pile together into one bed.

“Shut the closet door,” they would plead when she bid them good-night, and she would do so. After all, she understood how creatures could seem to lurk in closets; at the least, shadows could be cast.  But the boys told her it was more than that.  Something bad was in there.  Or someone. The whisperer came from there, they were sure of it.

So the closet was kept shut.  And some nights, that was enough,

But the room was cold, the coldest in the house, no matter what window caulking was done or heat adjustments were made. The twins’ room was icy.  So the boys would hunker down under the blankets,  covering their ears, whispering to each other to keep from hearing other, creepier sounds.

And so time passed and the twins grew.  They did their best to ignore the whispers by playing music or the television.  They slept in their own beds now, but still piled on the blankets. Sometimes, the room was quiet for weeks.  They got to high school, grew tall, played sports.  They had a dog who would guard the house, barking when anyone came up the path, fearless, apparently, except where their room was concerned.  She refused to enter it.

One night when the boys were about eighteen, one of them was away, so the other slept alone in the room.  He didn’t hear anything as he began to drift off, but before long he sensed something: someone else was there in the room with him.  He felt someone near. Had his brother returned? He opened his eyes.

At the foot of his bed, bending, looming over him, was a huge, dark figure—with burning red eyes.  The kid screamed , leapt from his bed and ran to his parents’ room, where he spent the rest of the night, half ashamed, at age 18, to have acted in a way that was not at all usual for him, half still frightened out of his wits.

Shortly after that everyone started hearing the whispering. It moved between the twins’ room and just outside their door, in the hall.  It said my sister’s name one night, as clear as if she’d said it aloud herself, and she was not the only one who heard it.

For years my sister had tried not to upset the presence, whatever it was, but enough was enough.  It had been terrorizing her sons for too long and her youngest son was afraid it would one day haunt his room too. One day when no one else was home, my sister entered the twins’ room and spoke to whomever or whatever was scaring her family. She asked it to stop. She insisted. It was time for it to go. And then she lit a bundle of sage the size of her arm and spent an hour cleansing the room from bed corner to closet corner.

That was about a year ago and the presence has not made itself known since. Of course, both boys are out of the house now—one at college, one in the navy.  If the same entity is still around, it is manifesting itself differently. But that is a story for another day.

Maryanne Stahl is the author of the novels Forgive the Moon and The Opposite Shore, and the chapbook Electric Urgency.

Tag, Susan is next.  Boo!

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Day 7: The Postmaster by Ann Hogsett

Of all the more colorful ghosts in my small West Virginia hometown—the woman who shot her mother, the man who killed one, or was it both, of his parents with an axe—my phantom, the one who came calling that night in Apple Alley, was merely the Postmaster. Unremarkable in life. Doggedly persistent in death. Vengeful to the depths of his sorry soul.

We should never assume that the unpretentious apparition is not the one to be reckoned with. A ghost is a ghost is a ghost.

The Postmaster lived with Mrs. Postmaster, who was also The Postmistress, in a pretty cottage on the main street of town. Whatever else might have gone awry in his life, the house must have been his refuge, his satisfaction, his place of pride. At some point he told someone—someone who remembered and entered it into the saga of the town—that he was NEVER going to leave that house.

Then he died. There was a funeral. There was a burial. After that, he headed on home. His wife was still there for company but then she died, too. And when they drove her over to the IOOF cemetery, she stayed where she was planted. The Postmaster had the house all to himself.

For awhile.

Then an enterprising young couple with two lovely children and a cat named Olive Jones converted it into a bed and breakfast. Now there were guests. Things got crowded. And that’s when we showed up—for a class reunion weekend—in the room at the top of the stairs under the peak of the single gable, in the old bed that “came with the house” courtesy of the man who still preferred to sleep there. Alone.

They told us about their ghost. I knew him by name, of course. Remembered his face and his wife’s, both of them staid and efficient, managing our mail. The young innkeepers were quite merry about how he was still around. He was good for business now. The frisson of dread was entertaining at breakfast.

3 o’clock in the morning? No.

I remember moonlight filtered through lace. The silence everywhere. City people forget how still the night world can be in a lightly inhabited town. Still, still, still. Except, of course, for the sound of footsteps on the stair. Slow. Heavy. Closer and closer, as I rifled my mind for a reasonable explanation. Here’s what I came up with: The Postmaster is now standing right outside the bedroom door. 

I slipped out of bed, shivering in the sultry August dark. I stopped at the door. Now what? We were facing each other with two inches of old oak between us. I put my palm on the wood. He laid his on the other side. Palm to palm, me and The Postmaster’s ghost. I know this because my sweaty hand bonded to the door as flesh always does when it touches frozen iron. And I know because our minds froze together, too, and he showed me exactly what it was like to be dead.

It was not what I expected. 

Ghosts are realer than you. Truer than a Monday. More forever than a Sunday afternoon. 

And here. We are right here.

(Tag, Maryanne Stahl, you're next!)
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Ann Hogsett is a mom, wife, and novelist who lives ten yards -- ten! -- from the shores of Lake Erie, which she describes as "beautiful, compelling, threatening, raging by turns. Always impossible to ignore." You can share her adventures at her blog: Lake E.