Everyone has heard of haunted houses. We all know what they look like. You see them in every cartoon and B-grade horror movie—big, drafty, darkly Gothic, and ill-repaired. I’m sure there are such houses somewhere in the world. I’m sure there’s a house that looks just like the one that Norman Bates lived in. Maybe it even has a ghost or two, but somehow I doubt it. I have no doubt that some places are haunted. I’ve been to battlefields and war hospitals that held such a sense of sadness and loss that I lost my breath and had to sit silently and cry. I’ve been to other places that felt dark and angry—hostile to my very presence. But, on the whole, I’ve found that people are haunted more than places. Spirits, ghosts, haints, whatever you want to call them seem to follow certain people. The more scientific of my friends would say that this is because those people believe in ghosts, so naturally, they’re the ones to see them. But, that’s not always the case either.
As a child, me and my cousins saw plenty of ghosts at my grandmother’s house, situated as it was beside a family cemetery, and only a couple of us actually believed what we saw were spirits. Oh, we all believed it at the time. Any eight-year-old, at night, in a dark room overlooking a graveyard will believe what he sees. But a twenty-year-old with twelve years behind him and only a memory for a guide will usually say how silly he was to think the neighbor’s pale dog was a ghost. It must’ve been a tree or a shadow or a person taking a midnight walk, right? There’s no way it was a ghost. I don’t believe in ghosts—anymore. Most kids do, you know. Even when their parents tell them there aren’t ghosts or that there’s nothing in the closet, they don’t really believe it. Kids know that parents, however well-meaning, are often wrong. How can the gut feeling of an eight-year-old stand up to a parent’s logic?
When my sister and I were children, we spent a lot of time at my grandmother’s house which was conveniently right across the road. We lived in the country where there are no streetlights, no noises other than owls and cows after midnight, and you can really see the stars. Sometimes we would sleep out in my Granny’s back yard in cub-tents with my faithful dog, Samson, at our feet. Sometimes we slept in a pile of cousins in the big main room with the fireplace and grandfather clock. It didn’t seem to matter where we slept. We usually saw something. Once we saw a patch of white mist rise up out of the graveyard and move slowly down the road. Once we saw a pale face looking in the bedroom window. He tapped on the window once and smiled and then faded away. Sometimes appliances would turn themselves on and off again without being plugged in. Often we saw a small blue-white light on the back porch circling and bobbing for hours.
Our parents told us that we’d eaten too much sugar, stayed up too late, excited ourselves with nonsense, or watched too many scary movies. But, my grandmother told us they were ghosts. She wasn’t alarmed. She said it matter-of-factly. We lived by the family cemetery and, apparently, family members, alive or dead, were to be accorded visiting privileges. My grandmother visited the graveyard often and brought flowers cut from her garden or plants for the graves. She talked to the people buried there. She’d tell them what was going on with the family. I suppose she believed it only right that they should visit her, as well.
My grandmother’s ghosts never caused any problems. They were in the house, the barn, the yard, and the graveyard. They sometimes made noises, but never anything loud—quiet shuffling, tapping, a rush of wind. My granny said you could talk to them if you had a mind to. I never did. I didn’t really know what to say. I was always a little afraid of them—just like I was nervous around relatives I didn’t know at the family reunion.
Since my grandmother has died, her house is closed up. It’s a farmhouse over two hundred years old. For the first time in two centuries, no one lights a fire in the fireplace, no one cooks dinner in the kitchen, no one sleeps in the back bedroom on the wrought iron bed. I often wonder if the ghosts still visit. Are they disappointed that there’s no one to see? Do they miss my grandmother’s visits to their graves? Or do they talk to her in person now? Somehow, I think that it wasn’t the house that they came to see, but my grandmother herself. Certainly, she saw ghosts in places other than her home. She saw them at my aunt’s house, in the fields, and on the road. They never bothered her. She took them as just another part of life. I wonder whom they visit now. It isn’t me. I never see any ghostly relatives in my home or at my sister’s house. Perhaps they’ve shifted their attention to another branch of the family. Or, maybe they do still visit the old house, hoping that someone will be home.
Beverly Forehand is a freelance writer and painter living in Nashville, Tennessee. Her short stories and poems have been published in Atriad Press' Haunted Encounters, Bewildering Stories, FATE, The Harrow, LongStory Short, Quantum Muse, Typhoon.net, Waxing Waning Moon, Ultraverse, The Wheel, Zephyrus, and other publications. She recently published a pet recipe book with Dawson Progressive and is a monthly columnist for Critter Exchange. Her hobbies include cultivating her medieval herb garden and begging her cats (unsuccessfully) to stay off the sofa.