Growing Up Haunted
Happy Halloween! My first Halloween here on the site since my big redesign, and since I started actively blogging again. And my reading is tonight! I’m excited.
If you’ve read the introduction to “Counting From Ten” (or its online counterpart, my “Why Horror?” article), then you already know all the prosaic, ordinary reasons why I was interested in horror and the unexplained from a very early age. The reasons I’ll tell anyone.
But there are other reasons, ones I don’t always talk about. In the spirit of the season, I thought I’d talk about them today.
The house I grew up in was haunted. I’m perfectly serious. I don’t have any really Hollywood-spectacular stories to tell you — it’s not like there was blood dripping from the walls — and we never found out that the previous owners were murdered or anything nice and neat and dramatic like that.
All we had, for the most part, was the sound footsteps in an empty hallway in the middle of the night. Nothing that couldn’t be written off as dreams or imagination. We used to joke about it, in a half-serious way.
But the one thing that happened that we couldn’t explain, or attribute to imagination or coincidence, happened one evening when we’d all sat down to dinner. The tea-kettle suddenly flew off the stove, knocked by something unseen about six feet sideways through the air.
That was when we knew we weren’t alone in that house. I don’t remember any of us ever being afraid — despite that one sudden outburst, we never got the sense that it was angry or upset. And that was the only time it ever did anything that really got our attention. I honestly think that maybe it just wanted to let us know it was really there.
We never saw anything else we couldn’t explain. Well — not inside the house, anyway.
We did see, my mother and I, lights in the sky, late one night. Three of them, two hanging motionless and one moving down and to the left. Too big to be stars — about the apparent size of a nickel held at arm’s length — and surrounded by a blazing corona. The one in motion left a flaming trail behind it as it descended.
My father had already gone to bed, and we both ran to wake him, but they were gone by the time we returned. I will always wish that, even in our panic and excitement, we’d thought to leave one of us at the window to watch.
I don’t know if they were, you know — visitors from another world. I don’t know if they were fairy lights. I just know people have been seeing them for centuries and I know they were certainly UFOs because they were objects and they were flying and they sure as hell were unidentified. (My astronomy teacher, at the time, tried to tell me we’d just seen the planet Venus. Oh, of course, because Venus totally looks like three separate flaming balls of light.)
All I know for sure is, growing up in that house with its footsteps and its lights in the sky taught me that there are things that happen in this world that we can’t explain, that we’ll maybe never explain. It taught me to accept that. No, more than just accept it — to be delighted by it, to live in a world of brighter lights and deeper shadows beyond our safe and comfortable explanations and expectations.
I can never go back to the old house. It was torn down years ago. I can’t even find the street I used to live on — the streets in that area now are black and recent, and don’t seem to follow the same grid pattern as the streets I used to walk.
But in a way, I go back to that old house every time I sit down to write. Thanks for coming with me.