ON GHOST STORIES, PART IV: MY STORY
I was not scared the first time I observed the laws of nature momentarily suspended. It was more an understated feeling of exhilaration, and a delayed sensation at that. The strangeness of it all came later.
Let me back up a moment for those who haven’t been following along. I can’t prove that the events I’m about to describe actually happened and have no intention of trying. This is, as always, just between you and me. It’s one of those situations where you’re going to have to choose one of the following:
A.) Pat is describing something that actually happened.
B.) Pat is describing something he believes actually happened, but is simply mistaken.
Of course there is also:
C.) I’ve had enough of Pat’s ghost nonsense and am going to see if there are any new pictures of Kim Kardashian’s ass trending somewhere. (If there are, I’ll join you there shortly. In the meantime, I have to get this off my chest.)
Apologies in advance if you clicked on the link expecting to be scared out of your wits. There are terrifying ghost tales and there are mundane ones; if I could have chosen the Bell Witch to appear before me I would have. No wait, I take that back. Based on what I’ve read, she sounds dreadful.
My friends know that I am someone who wants to believe in stuff. God, ghosts, aliens, Bigfoot, the possibility of a good new Star Wars film– I make no bones about desiring these things to be real. That being said, I never actually observed anything I could honestly classify in my own mind as supernatural until my late twenties. Not that I hadn’t seen some weird stuff. On the contrary– I had one truly unsettling thing happen to me a few years before this story, and I’ll get to it below, but there were too many possible explanations in that case.
So, the year is 2010 or 2011. I am sitting on the couch in my brother and his wife’s apartment in South Boston watching Michael Mann’s great film about the cigarette industry, The Insider. It’s late and they’ve gone to bed. Pizza boxes, Pepsi bottles, plates, glasses, beer cans, and utensils cover the coffee table before me.
Something slams the coffee table. From underneath. I know it’s from underneath because I see the table lift a fraction of an inch off the ground. Utensils rattle, Pepsi bottles topple, an empty beer can rolls off on to the floor. The whole thing’s over in less than one second.
I stare at the table for a solid minute, not moving except to blink. Suddenly I’m on my feet, moving swiftly around the table. Could it have been something heavy that had fallen off? Might something on the ground have simply tumbled over and hit it? No, and in any event I saw the table slammed and lifted upwards, not bumped and moved slightly askew. I circle the table a good three or four times. Eventually I find myself just standing there, staring at it. For how long, I do not recall. Eventually I sit back down. I do not turn off the light.
And that was it. There was some minor strangeness the following day. My brother and I saw some utensil, a dipping spoon or some such thing, pop right off its hook above the sink in his kitchen, then he lost his keys and found them in an unlikely spot behind a row of books on a shelf, but I paid none of it much mind. There’s also a history of my sister-in-law’s family seeing things in the house; figures here and there—again, fun stuff to talk about, but stuff I can’t vouch for. All of it was background noise at the time, anyway. The goddamn jumping table was what chiefly occupied my thoughts that day.
That’s the weird thing about seeing something like that. You’re not frightened as much as you are propelled into a kind of impromptu existential crisis. Sure, I was raised Catholic, believed in ghosts and all the other stuff, but even at my most willing to believe, it was still all in theory. I’d never actually seen the rules broken like that. And in such a mundane, almost nonchalant way! This wasn’t a guy walking on water or parting the Red Sea, nor was it a bunch of demon hands ripping out of the sofa like in Ghostbusters. It was something very small, yet very much not possible. Earlier this year I saw the film Noah, and was really impressed by the scene where the Creator (the movie never refers to the Man Upstairs as anything but the Creator) announces His presence to Noah. A single rain drop falls from the sky, lands on the grass before him, and a tiny flower immediately sprouts. Small, miniscule even, but still very much against the rules. In my case, I didn’t have the benefit (or curse, as it were) of my little moment of impossibility being followed by a booming voice telling me to do this or that. I’m no closer to knowing for certain whether there’s a God or ghosts or any such things out there. All I know is that, for less than one second, I saw the rules break.
This isn’t to say I immediately declared the episode a supernatural experience and was done with it. I made several attempts at rational explanations. None were satisfactory, and all were repeated to me by anyone who later heard the tale. One might wonder why I’d jump from there to the supernatural explanation. I admit I’d have to keep searching for that rational response if I was trying to prove this in a lab or in a court of law. That not being the case, the testimony of my eyes was enough to satisfy the court of my brain.
I imagine there are people who see things like that and just forget about it. It’s the same reason people ignore a strange blotch on their skin or a lump in their breast. Seeing things that aren’t supposed to happen is pretty much the check engine light of the brain, and as someone who’s worked in a mental ward or two, I can vouch for those being the scariest of all afflictions. Although I (and anyone who works with me) can’t completely vouch for my own sanity, my lack of hallucinations in the years since has allowed me some measure of comfort. On the other hand, I can see people putting it out of their mind because of what it might mean if it actually did happen. There’s a reason Alfred Hitchcock once said the scariest image in any horror film is that of a closed door; the rationale being that nothing is more terrifying than what we imagine lurking on the other side of it. That table didn’t just jump on its own. As I said, something slammed into it, something very much like a fist. Barring the possibility of an earthquake localized to the spot directly underneath my brother’s coffee table in Southie occurring, well, it damn well could have been anything.
As for myself, I haven’t put the episode out of my mind (clearly), but jobs, bills, relationships, responsibilities and other demands of everyday life inevitably overshadow that weird thing I saw that time. The enormity of it hits me every so often though, usually in the bathroom. I’ve never been into meditation, and I don’t pray as much as I used to, so I have to admit that’s where my quiet moments of reflection tend to happen these days. When I do think about it, the thought usually starts with, “Holy shit, that happened. That actually happened.”
That other thing I mentioned earlier is something I am less sure happened. In fact, I rather hope it didn’t. Nevertheless, I’ll tell the tale because it shares a thing or two in common with the table story.
So it’s several years earlier, about 2008. I’m still living at home, in the attic, and am working on the horror screenplay that will become my very first Camp Redblood material. This particular script involves a subject this Catholic boy has long been interested in, the demonic. Many reasonable people will tell you that while they don’t believe in such things, they also don’t mess with it. A wise policy to be sure, one I’d be smart to adopt.
In the course of writing this tale, I’ve researched dozens of legends of demons from the Bible and the ancient world. Anyone who’s looked into demonology from a Catholic perspective knows that the identities of these mythological entities are of great significance. The first thing an exorcist demands of an “unclean spirit” according to The Roman Ritual is its name, followed by the date and hour of its departure. As I write my screenplay, I have a sheet of printer paper with half a dozen demon names scribbled on it right beside my computer.
I close down for the night and head to bed. It’s a summer night and the attic is hot. Lacking an air conditioner, I turn on the fan. I lie down and drift to sleep. Some time later I waken. Not all the way, but enough that I open my eyes a little. Somewhere on the dark carpet I spot a small white rectangle, a sheet of paper. Suddenly the paper jerks up, as if someone had flicked the center of it with their finger from beneath. I give the paper a good long look, but the tide of sleep pulls me back in. I wake up the following morning to find the sheet of paper on the floor where I’d seen it. I pick it up and, sure enough, it’s the paper with all those demon names on it. I crumple the paper and hurry downstairs.
Clearly there are plenty of explanations on this one. I was asleep. I was dreaming. It actually happened, but the paper was merely caught in the draft of the fan. The possibilities are endless. A few things still stick in my craw, however. When I went to bed, the paper wasn’t on the floor. It was on a desk that was behind the fan and around a corner. Still, a breeze from another window could have given it a lift. Another thing is the way the paper snapped upwards when it was on the floor. That sound you hear when you flick a sheet of paper with your finger is the sound I heard, not the gentle sound of a paper being lifted by a draft.
The court of my brain ruled that one a dream. Later on, after I saw the table jump, I thought of that sheet of paper again though. The similarities between the two weren’t enough to change the ruling on the paper incident, but I gotta tell ya, it hasn’t done much for my sleeping habits.
P.S. I had hoped to save this tale until it was a little closer to Christmas. Telling ghost stories on Christmas Eve is a very old tradition that has been mostly forgotten or ignored in favor of Halloween.