Wednesday, October 06, 2010
It's cold in the front room and that ratty old blanket doesn't offer much protection against the chill. Your sleep is fitful at best, but you just pull your meager covering up to your chin and try to cling to the brief moments of sleep you've managed to steal for the night.
But there's a weird feeling that keeps sleep at bay. Maybe you feel a tingle on your arm. A shiver down your spine. Turning over doesn't help; recliners are made for napping and this one is old enough to list to one side and trying to readjust your position only makes you more uncomfortable. You reluctantly allow your consciousness to return.
You sit for a minute in that half-sleep state that is so comforting before you have to look at the alarm clock and deal with the awareness that you have to get up in fifteen minutes. But the cold is biting, almost like you left a window open, and then you realize you feel a breeze across your face.
Damn. Left the window open after all.
You open your eyes, but instead of seeing the dim outline of the couch in front of you, you see see shadowy face, a silhouette really, hovering less than an inch from your own.
One of the first things that comes to mind when I think of Halloween is ghosts.
Being an avid reader the word "ghost" comes up so often; a ghost of a chance or a ghost of a smile and whether you believe in them or not -- and I do -- the very idea of a wandering soul can't help elicit feelings of both excitement and dread.
And ghosts, regardless of the season, are hot these days.
A quick search of reality shows currently filming that feature our spectral friends includes Ghost Adventures (Travel Channel), Ghost Hunters (Syfy), Celebrity Ghost Stories (Bio), Ghost Lab (Discovery), and Paranormal State (A&E), and there are easily twice as many shows of this nature that continue to air well past their cancellation date. Paranormal Activity 2 also makes its way to theaters this month for the ghost-hungry masses.
When you get right down to it, ghosts may be as prevalent in the culture as the debate over whether vampires should sparkle or not (NOT!).
I'd ask what gives, but I think I know why ghosts have captured popular interest so decidedly.
Almost everyone either has, or knows someone who has, a real-life ghost story. The story at the top of this post happened to my sister-in-law.
As much as I'm a believer, I'm also a bit of a skeptic. I think most ghost stories belong to the imagination of the person who relates the tale. How many stories have we heard that begin with I was sleeping and...? Who hasn't seen or heard something strange in the fugue state of sleep? Normally I'd brush off my sister-in-law's ghost story (not to be ungracious) but the ghost sightings in her house are pretty firmly established. Friends and family are declining invitations to stay over and maybe one or two people have left the house rather abruptly. I'm intrigued but not planning on visiting.
Ghosts are part of the supernatural world that we can actually attempt to grab hold of (metaphorically speaking) while vampires and werewolves are generally accepted as part of our folklore. Some overenthusiastic people might have fangs veneered to their teeth-- but we know they're faking it.
What I really love about all the shows that are on right now are the hoops our fearless ghost-hunters are jumping through in some vague hope of proving our dearly-departed are still hanging around. The knocks and screeches they catch on tape frequently sound like distant machinery that has been radically amplified. The voices they supposedly hear can easily be attributed to the power of suggestion.
But we still tune in.
Ghosts are also a reminder of history. In America it's not unusual to hear of stories surrounding the sites of great Civil War battles, while Britain has a 900-year-old history with the Tower of London.
Ultimately it's the stories themselves that are the draw-- more so than the spirits. Don't you think? Whether it's a more commonplace story like my sister-in-law's or one that's set in a place that steeped in national history, we want to know who these people might have been. Did they die a tragic death? Or do they just have unfinished business? The eerier the story, the better.
To tell the truth, I hope we never find a way to prove, or disprove, the existence of ghosts. Some things are better when they remain a mystery.