Stephanie Burgis
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This afternoon I listened online to a wonderful episode of Ellen Kushner’s Sound and Spirit: Ghosts. Lovely spooky stories, great music, and a fascinating variety of traditions. It was a great show to listen to right before Halloween, and it reminded me of how much I love good ghost stories.

What are some of your favorites? I’ve always loved Barbara Michaels’s creepy, historical ghost stories, especially her novels Ammie, Come Home and House of Many Shadows (ghosts AND alchemists - how could I not love it?). Edith Wharton’s short ghost stories are also lovely, freaky, pieces.

I’ve never believed in ghosts myself, but over the past few years I’ve had a couple of experiences that helped me understand how people could believe in them. After Nika died, when I felt completely distraught by grief, I used to think I could hear her rustling around the bedroom at night, the way she used to when she was alive - my longing was so strong, I couldn’t stop imagining those familiar noises. In the last months of her horrible illness, she constantly shed tufts of her beautiful, long, speckled fur, along with pieces of flaked-off skin. Months after her death, when I was taking Maya out on a walk through our neighborhood, I glanced casually down at the sidewalk beside me...and I saw one of those unmistakable tufts of speckled hair, connected to a fragment of dead skin.

I had an immediate physical panic response. I was so overwhelmed by sensation, my vision went blurry. My body went into fight-or-flight response, and I instinctively sped up until I was almost running, dragging Maya with me. All I wanted was to race back to the house as fast as possible and lock myself inside.

Then I stopped. I turned around, and I forced myself to walk back to where I’d seen the tuft. If this really was some kind of freaky supernatural occurrence, then damn it, I was going to confront it. (After all - though I’d never believed in ghosts - if it was Nika’s ghost, I was NOT going to be scared of it.) Still, my hearbeat was racing the entire way, and I was almost crying.

I found what had caught my eye. And guess what? It was a fragment of leaf from a nearby tree. The whole thing had been a trick of my eyes. But I had been absolutely, physically convinced by that one look I’d taken earlier. If I hadn’t forced myself to go back to check it out, I would have gone to the end of my life convinced that it really had been a supernatural occurrence, and wondering what kind of message Nika had been trying to send me.

Even though all my own freaky, paranormal-seeming experiences have turned out to have perfectly normal and rational explanations, there’s still something about a good, creepy ghost story that’s so much fun to read - especially to curl up with at night, near Halloween.

What about you guys? What are your favorite ghost stories? Or your creepiest personal experiences?

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