Ghosts of the World

I promise this is about Ghosts. So just keep reading.

So, I’m a mutt. My heritage is basically a strange amalgam of people whose branches started in Eastern Europe and what would become the United Kingdom. These people then screwed their way across a landmass until they found each other, then found an ocean to cross, then continued screwing away on the other side of it.

Probably on the boat too. Not even gonna lie.

This means that Europe is where my inherent world views sprang from. It’s no one’s fault – it’s chance. I happened to be born from those branches of human culture. This means I carry the baggage that comes with it, culturally speaking. I grew up with European stories and mythologies. I learned about what the early European settlers carried with them and what grew out of it. The Legend of Sleepy Hollow to The Fall of the House of Usher to the latest Stephen King novel have come to inform my reading and writing choices when it comes to horror and the supernatural. We get Faeries, Vampires, Valraven (this concept is as fascinating as it is gruesome), Ghouls (though technically these came from Arabia), and probably a hundred different kinds of ghosts.

As I’ve noted before, the idea of Ghosts has gripped me firmly since childhood. I have always been fascinated with both the idea of cheating death (who hasn’t, really) and the idea of the spirit lingering on in the world toward a singular purpose.  Of course the stories aren’t all that way. Improper burial, desecration of grave sites, or committing brutal crimes in life could all get you sentenced to a maddening half-existence where you are present, but ineffectual at causing anything else but misery and fear.

Meet the new life – same as the old life.

But, the myths do leave some room for interpretation in Europe. Not all ghosts are necessarily evil. Some come to portent events that can be altered. Some reveal the nature of crimes done against them in life so that justice can be served.  Others linger to protect loved ones. It’s all definitely creepy, but not all based on ill-intent.

hamlet's dad
Hamlet’s dad, his heart was in the right place. I don’t think he wanted THAT MANY people dead.

Now, my girlfriend on the other hand, her cultural ghost interpretations are entirely different.

She comes from two cultures that pretty much define ghostly existence to be absolutely the worst thing that could happen for all parties concerned. I’m sure you’re familiar with the Japanese take on ghosts. Because they tend to go something like this:


And this…


And this…


These… are decidedly unfriendly ghosts. The concept of Casper doesn’t fly in Japan I’m told. Ghosts are there for one reason only: to torment the shit out of the living. I am led to believe that this impression, J-horror films aside, is not an outlier. This is straight up what ghosts do in Japanese folklore. Kami (the revered spirits of the Shinto religion) can be beneficial. But Yurei  (a Japanese catch-all word for ghost) are straight up torture and murder machines. Take a look if you like. Ghosts are all about wrath or unfulfilled lust it would seem – the more the better. Certainly every portrayal of a Japanese ghost I’ve seen leads to at least one more dead body to add onto the pile.

The other side of my girlfriend’s heritage is that of Native North America, specifically the Lakota people. I’ve not had much experience with  Lakota folklore and tales, but she assures me that generally speaking, Lakota culture is generally anti-ghost. Any spirit of the dead who is hanging around the living is manipulative at best, and is more likely to be angling for someone to follow them into the land of the dead with them. It is exceedingly rare that a dead human’s soul would hang around for any kind of good reason she tells me.

ghost lumbergWhen I write about ghosts, I tend toward the cultural tones I see on my side of things – though it certainly benefits the craft when I expand the repertoire.  It’s also why ghosts are such great subjects for stories, at least in my own opinion. given my interest in the topic, it sometimes puzzles me why I don’t write more stories about ghosts. It’s clearly something I love reading about.

I guess a part of it is simply being scared – not of the ghostly aspects of things. Clearly I’m okay with writing about horrifying things on occasion. But the fear I think comes from being able to fully live up to the stories from all of the cultures I know of. I rarely do it (though one of the preceding links contains a rare example where I do).

I think I ought to do it more.

I had an idea recently in the middle of the night – which is the perfect time to be thinking about ghosts – so maybe I sketch that out a bit more. See what falls out.






Tiny Ghost Story – My First Apartment

So, let me tell you a personal ghost story.

In 1996 I went off to college. It was about an hour away, and over the state line.  The college didn’t have much of a dorm setup – there were three options. The first was a converted Best Western with truly squalid living conditions. An old hotel with all of the amenities of the house from the Amityville Horror. Or, the really expensive option: an apartment in an aging, highrise apartment complex.

Ghost - rent
Which led to its own kind of haunting.

After some conversation, my parents and I decided that the highrise apartments seemed the best choice.

The drive was uneventful. We arrived in my dad’s station wagon, filled to bursting with what little items I owned. And on the way, my dad starts talking about my grandfather, long passed away a full ten years before I’d even been born. I was always fascinated with stories about both my father and I’s namesake. Old Maury had done much in his life. He’d been in the second world war. He’d been a rum runner when he was still in Minnesota during prohibition. He’d once set himself on fire in a drunken and ill-advised decision involving a generator, a cigarette, and a plot to siphon gasoline from his car.

And, as it turns out, my grandfather worked at this very complex I was moving into when my father was just a boy. He was one of the maintenance men when the buildings were brand new. They treated him pretty well too – he got an in-city basement apartment as a perk. I get the impression old Maury didn’t stay there for too long – he had a few demons of his own that kept him moving around between jobs. He was a complicated kind of guy. The kind of guy who tells his fourteen year-old only child that he has four brothers and a sister.

In fact, one of the heavy blankets that is in our car, a thick, woolen beast that feels like steel wool but is warm as you could ask for in cold winter weather, came from this very complex – or stolen, depending opn the version of the story you believe. There’s a reunion of sorts going on here, the blanket coming home. We have a good chuckle at that.

We pull into the complex and we find my apartment after a few misadventures. And as we’re pulling things up through the elevators, dad and I become separated. I’m walking across the courtyard of the buildings to get to the office. Dad is going to the car to grab something. And as I walk I hear someone. Someone who is calling my name.

‘Hey! Hey Burt!’

Ghost - ernie
Not what you’re thinking.

Now, I’m brand new here. I know exactly nobody – my roommate hasn’t even arrived yet. The only person who really knows me is Dad – and he’s somewhere else. I look up and at the windows. Nobody is leaning out to shout at me – as a matter of fact, from the angle I’m at with my own building, it’s hard to get a vantage point on me.

But, I heard it. Sure as anything, I know someone called my name. And I felt like I was being observed. Not maliciously. Not with ill intent. But with curiosity.

When I reconnect with my father I ask him if he was calling me, and he says ‘No, why?’

I tell him what happened and he says that it’s odd, but definitely not him. We both have a look around. We both felt a little weird about it. But dad eventually shrugged it off. ‘Maybe the old man is looking after you.’

To this day, I’m convinced that dad was right, Pop was looking out for me. Keeping an eye on his blood while roaming the halls of the complex.

And for the remaining two years of my time at that residence, I did feel like I was protected. Like whoever called out to me that day was keeping an eye out for me. Making sure I was okay.

That’s my ghost story. And I’m sticking with it.

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