Believe It Or Not

October 22, 2004

"What, is’t a Spirit?
Lord, how it looks about."
-The Tempest, Act I, scene 2

It’s not that I don’t believe in ghosts. It’s just that I’ve never met one. I’ve heard enough ghost stories, but the problem is there’s either no way to back them up, or they’re obviously made up. When I was in Cub Scouts our fathers would occasionally take us out for a "camping trip" (three hundred feet from a house) and after the rituals of using the fire to turn hot dogs into charcoal pencils, flinging flaming marshmallows at each other, and surreptitiously trying to steal a slurp from one of the numerous open beer cans around it was time for the ghost stories. The best part about the ghost stories on these trips wasn’t the stories themselves. It was Chuck, who, if you believed what he said, was the bravest guy in the world. All through the story of a cruel mill owner who was finally attacked by his slaves, sawed in half lengthwise, and whose two body halves still wander the property on moonless (or full moon, depending) nights looking for each other Chuck would snort and say, "Yeah, right." And then when we were taken on the "ghost walk" he’d say, "Oh, that’s Allen’s dad behind that barn waiting to jump out and scare us," or, "Oh, I can see the fishing line holding up Bobby’s dad’s severed head." Yes, Chuck was the bravest one among us, at least until midnight when he woke up the entire camp with a blood-curdling "I WANNA GO HOME!" that was more frightening than anything else on the camping trip.

My favorite ghost story, though, is one my grandfather told me. One night he and a friend were walking home from a party, and to get home they had to walk by the town graveyard. It just so happened that a few months before Old Man McKraken had been buried in that same graveyard. McKraken was one of those people who was born with the name "Old Man". One of the stories about him is that when he was born and the doctor slapped him, McKraken levelled a shotgun at the doctor and said, "Do that again and it’ll be the last thing you ever do. Now git off my property!" In fact he said "Now git off my property!" so frequently that it may have been carved on his headstone, but people settled for burying him with his shotgun. His cold, dead hand probably wouldn’t have let go of it anyway, and since it was a month and a half before he was found his cold dead hand wasn’t attached to the rest of him, but people were still afraid to take it away from him. And it seemed appropriate since his shotgun was the only friend who’d been there for him whenever he needed it: hunting for deer, chasing small children out of the store, or going to church. As my grandfather and his friend, who we’ll just call Chuck for convenience, were walking past the graveyard they saw a mysterious glow coming from the ground. They both stopped. Chuck grabbed my grandfather’s arm and said, "What is that? Is that Old Man McKraken’s grave?" My grandfather, who was pretty good at imitations, quietly said, "Git off my property." Chuck was home and in bed before my grandfather could even turn to see what the effect of his joke was. The glow, as my grandfather knew, wasn’t swamp gas or the planet Venus or a weather balloon, but simply phosphorous that seeped to the surface of the ground. When the phosphorous hits the air it glows. And the best part of that ghost story is it’s one you can actually believe.

Enjoy this week’s offerings.


Top 10 Houses to Avoid while Trick-or-Treating

10. Any house that seems to be imploding into a hole in the ground.

9. Any house made of food.

8. Any house that has ornamental lawn hyenas.

7. Any house whose only entrance goes to the basement.

6. Any house where high-tension power lines seem to stop.

5. Any house that keeps growling, "Get out"

4. Any house where the furniture seems to be walking around the living room.

3. Any house that looks like a giant, pulsating orb floating 3 feet above the ground.

2. Any house with a yard full of statues of people in running poses.

And the number 1 house to avoid…

1. Any house that wasn’t there a couple of seconds ago

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