Friday, February 20, 2009

Giving Up The Ghost

I want to believe.

Last night was almost a bad night: none of our Thursday night must-see TV was new. I was about to do the unthinkable, go to bed at 8:30 on a major TV night, when we flipped around and realized...

Ghost Adventurers was on.

Oh, joy!

This is my newest guilty pleasure show. It appeals to two different things I love: the possibility that there are such things as ghosts, and making fun of douchebags.

If you're not familiar with Ghost Adventurers, it's a show on Travel Channel (motto: even the biggest ball of twine in Minnesota looks like a hot attraction when you put a bikini-clad model in front of it) wherein this guy who wears tight black t-shirts over his amply-muscled arms takes two more guys and some amateur AV equipment into haunted locations and spends the night.

The glory of this show is in this cast of (living) characters. These three manly men make a big show of how brave they are by staying 24 hours in these creepy abandoned prisons, mental institutions, or underground tunnels. The host, he of the black t-shirts and well-developed guns, employs provocation as a method of trying to rouse these ghosts and get some kind of reaction. I don't think he means to be funny when he tries to piss off the spirit world, but it's quite awesome nevertheless.

"Is this where you killed your wife, Mr. Boots? Is this where you watched her die? Why don't you come out and show yourself, Mr. Boots, if you're such a big man?"

And then he jumps like a little girl as a moth flutters by his head.

"Was that you, Mr. Boots? Dude, I just felt something touch my arm. Did we get anything on the tape?"

Every episode I've ever seen has had some spirit allegedly touching this guy's arms. Probably because they are always displayed for maximum manly-man muscular effect.

Last night I was in tears by the time the episode was over. They visited a former prison in Idaho, and spent much of their time in the gallows room. Which means I got to hear our hero say over and over,

"Is this where you were hung? Why don't you come out and show yourself if this is where they hung you?!"'s "hanged!" When a guy is hung, that's something altogether different.

And he also at one point asked the ghosts to "Touch me! Go ahead and slap me!"

I bet he tells the girls that all the time.

Of course, I can't make too much fun, because they did capture a voice in one of the rooms clearly saying, "Not my life." So in between giggles, I got the shivers. If that wasn't a trick, or one of the guys trying to perpetrate a hoax, it's pretty darn freaky.

So I went to bed last night with visions of murderers dancing in my head. I believe in the spirit world, but I want to see some proof with my own eyes. Sure, I've seen some weird things in my house (the winter after my dad died, his radio/CD player, which now resides in our den, used to come on all by itself) and heard weird things in the dorms I used to live in in college, but I've never had hard physical evidence that the spirits my mom's spiritualist friend has told us haunt both our homes are really there.

"If only I had lived somewhere where a previous occupant had met a grisly end..." I thought.

And then my eyes snapped open. I DID live in a place once where someone met a grisly end. I just don't talk about it much because I have tried to block it out.

Want to hear the tale?

When I was in fourth grade, my parents separated and we went to live in Mom's hometown of Heidrick in scenic Knox County, Kentucky. My mom's aunt is one of the most prolific real estate owners in the county and at this time happened to own an apartment building right next to her home and a 2-minute walk from my grandmother's trailer. For nine months, we rented a 3-room apartment that didn't even have its own bathroom; we had to share with the occupants of the two other apartments on the top floor. (Someday I am going to write a book about all this. It was an interesting time.)

The apartment's sole source of heat was an ancient upright gas heater with a grate. To get us warm, Mom has to turn on the gas, light a match, and WHOOSH! Blue flames jumped up. I was warned of two things right off the bat:

1. If I ever played around and turned the gas on and no one was there to light the pilot light...everyone in the building would get poisoned by the gas and die. Or someone would light a cigarette and we would get blown to bits.

2. No matter how cold I was, I was never, ever, EVER to stand close to the flames. Especially if I were wearing a nightgown or a robe that was long enough to get in the grate.

We all know that Cranky is deathly afraid of fire, right? I really needed no further incentive to stay the hell away from the heater.

I got some further incentive, though.

Mom's aunt was a big fan of furnishing her rentals, which worked out great for us. Mom sat me down on the floral, formal upholstered sofa in our living room.

"It's really important that you stay away from the heater. Lord, I hate that thing. A lady burned to death in this apartment."

Dear. God.

This old lady who had lived there a few years before, whose name I don't recall but who I shall call "Miss Havisham" for my Great Expectations fans out there, had stood close to the heater one night while wearing a long polyester nightgown. Being older and not so sharp with her senses, Miss Havisham did not realize her nightgown had caught fire until she was engulfed in flames. Someone heard the screaming and came in and put her out and layed her down on the couch. Nothing else in the room had caught fire. The lady went into shock, and with her age and her weak heart she died. Given that my aunt heard that her nightgown melted into her, it was looked upon as a blessing that she died right away.

That was a lot for a 9-year-old to hear. I started crying.

Then it hit me.

"Mom...did Berthie get rid of the couch?"

See, my aunt is a wealthy woman, and she got that way by saving money and cutting corners...and by simply fumigating and re-upholstering couches that old ladies burn to death on.

"Well, it is an antique," my mom offered.

I didn't want to believe my mom about Miss Havisham, so I later asked my grandmother, who clucked her tongue and shook her head and talked about how it was such a horrible way to go. And told me to stay away from the heater.

The rest of that winter that we lived there, I don't think I was ever closer than 6 feet to the darn thing. My mom was so afraid of it that she didn't run it at night while we slept;we huddled under a dozen blankets instead. After mom and dad got back together, Berthie remodelled the whole building, putting in central air and heat, and giving each apartment its own bathroom. Nowadays, those are cute little apartments. (And I would bet money that the occupants of our old place have no idea what happened there.)

The last week we were there, Berthie's grandson came and got the Couch of Death and replaced it with another more comfortable, less antique-y one. Oddly, I was sad to see it go; after avoiding sitting on for weeks, I eventually got over the fact that someone had died on it (sadly, I had more tragic things going on in my life and even the fable of the couch faded in the face of all the real-life dramas that happened that year). Since mom and I had to share a bedroom, the couch even became my second bed for those nights when I just wanted to be my myself.

Did I ever experience anything paranormal in this place so deserving of a good ghost story? Not really. But...

As the year went on, I grew up a lot. By the last weeks of school, I had Mom's permission to get off the bus and go to the apartment by myself in the afternoons if I didn't want to go to Mamaw's trailer. I would make the beds, wash the dishes, and dust so that Mom could come home from job number one and rest before she had to go to job number two. One glorious spring afternoon I was standing in the kitchen washing dishes when I heard a voice right behind me. I didn't hear what it was saying, but a woman's voice distinctly said something.

I turned, thinking my mom had come home, or my aunt was checking on the place. But no one was there. I remember a cool breeze came through the open (and screenless, gotta love that) window in the kitchen and I didn't feel alone anymore. I felt like my presence was no longer wanted in the apartment. Needless to say, I spent the rest of the day at Mamaw's, and was never as comfortable being in the apartment alone again.

I say all the time that I want to see a ghost, or hear a clear voice giving me a message from beyond. I want to someday go to the Stanley Hotel in Colorado, where Uncle Stevie got the inspiration for The Shining, or go on an old south ghost tour, or visit the catacombs in Paris. I want to go to a haunted place, but I've probably already been to one and don't know it. I mean, I slept on a couch where someone died after being burned, for crying out loud, and didn't see or feel anything truly concrete.

Maybe I should lighten up on the Ghost Adventurers guys. I, too, would probably scream every time I felt moth wings on my arm while sitting in a dark room where horrible things happened to horrible people.

But I think I would have the sense to not taunt Mr. Boots.

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