I have been haunted for a majority of my life. I’ve talked about it some, but I have mostly just learned to live with the understanding that there are things around me that I can’t understand or control.
My first exposure to anything intentionally scary was at a sleepover in elementary school. My friend’s parents put on Body Snatchers (1993) and then promptly went to bed, leaving myself and my 9 year old best friend in their big dark living room to watch this film about the perils of falling asleep all by ourselves. A few minutes later my buddy fell asleep and I was there, alone, watching what was probably the most terrifying depiction of anything bad that I had ever seen.
If you’re unacquainted, the film is set on a military base in Alabama where people are acting… strange. Without ruining the story for you, when people fall asleep their bodies are being cloned and replaced by pod people. The first body snatching scene of the movie freaked me out so bad that I’m pretty sure I didn’t sleep for a week.
There was a distinct start to supernatural occurences in my life, however that doesn’t mean that there were no experiences before that. It’s impossible to say for sure because young kids see the world differently. When my boys were younger they used to tell me about “the small man” that would come out of their closet to check on them at night. I would fight any man on earth to protect my kids… but I am very glad that I was never called upon to intercede with the small man because hard pass on that. “As long as he’s not hurting anybody just let him do his thing” was my expert dad advice on how to handle the tiny visitor. In my defense, they never seemed too freaked out about it.. which leads back to my point that kids interpret the world differently than the rest of us.
When I was in the fifth grade my stepdad made a career change and answered a lifelong call to Christian ministry. I have written about this before but in this instance it is merely a setup to the rest of the story and provides important context. As a new clergy member in the United Methodist Church, there existed a program called the local pastorate program. Essentially, the UMC will pay for some/all of your schooling if you pastor one of their small or struggling congregations while earning your degree. With that, we moved to a very small old house in a very run-down inner city neighborhood in a less than desirable part of South Florida. The house came with the job, which seems a lot cooler to me now as an adult who cuts a check for my home every month than it did at the time, but the house was in pretty bad shape. Our bikes were stolen the first week there, someone offered me (age 11) drugs for my bike on the way to school one morning, it was a culture shock all the way around.
The house was a small 4 bedroom with a carport. It sat next to an empty lot that included the foundation of a home that was destroyed for the construction of the interstate at some point, leaving our little house as the last property before the interstate sound wall. We would have drifters pass through our back yard along the wall on occasion, but they never bothered anybody and we eventually got used to the setup. Again, the house was free so how upset can you really be about any of this. One of the things that we all noticed about our new home was the presence of a black cat. I’ve never owned a cat but I know that some of them just live outside all the time for some reason. Just a living being that comes to you for food and then ignores you to sit on your neighbor’s porch for the rest of the day? Never understood the appeal, but nonetheless there was a cat that was always around. It was probably like in the early scenes of a horror film where the audience notices something weird scene after scene but the happy family moving into their new house seems oblivious. This cat was always around, like he was protecting the house.
The house was laid out in a symmetrical design, with two bedrooms on each side and the rest of the house in the middle. A small kitchen in the back with a dining room and a door to the back porch. One night while eating dinner my parents and I were carrying on normal conversation about our day. My mom was telling us about something she encountered on her shift at the hospital, when all of a sudden the cat walked through the back door and into the living room. Important to note that the back door was not open. It Casper’d it’s way right through the wood door and casually strutted past the three of us, forcing us to try to make sense of what we had just experienced. We all saw the same thing, and the cat vanished as it entered the living room just beyond the table.
This was weird, but not really very concerning. It was just a cat, and from that point on we left the black cat alone when we saw him around the house. He was part of the house and that was cool with us.
My grandmother died in the guest bedroom on my side of the house after a brief bout with ovarian cancer when I was in 6th grade. She was on hospice and our whole family was there when she passed. It was very peaceful and I remember that day with a fond sadness, she was a special lady. My way of coping with the sadness of this important part of my life vanishing was to hope that she would somehow come visit me. In a weird way I thought that she could just pop in and tell me that she loved me or missed me or ask me about my friends or anything else that felt in any way like our life before she moved on because she loved me and probably wanted to see me as much as I wanted to see her.
As far as I know, she never showed up. I feel good about that, hopefully it means she was and continues to be at peace enough to not want to come back to this shithole. However that works I’m not sure. That said, someone else did show up. I began to notice that things around the house would be moved around just slightly enough to make me think I was crazy for noticing. At night I would hear whispering in my room, just faint enough to make me think I was crazy for noticing. I was heavily involved in church and Christian music at this time and my band would practice in the room in which my nana had passed. Certain items in that room would fall off of shelves when we would play. I didn’t think much of this due to the fact that we were playing loud music in a small room.. but the items were always spiritual in nature. Angels and such. That room went from feeling like a peaceful place where I had spent my last moments with my grandmother, to a big dark empty-feeling void. I started to hate having to go in there because I hated how it felt. Bad vibes all the way around.
Right around this time my parents invited a family friend to live in that bedroom during what I assume was a challenging time in his life. This guy was a teacher at my school and remains a close family friend to this day. As part of something with which he was involved at the school, he had a long black Gene Simmons style wig that he would wear as a joke on occasion. He was a school teacher so he had jokes. This will become relevant later, but the point of this guy is that he was/is great and my parents felt that we should open our home to those in need, and they did just that.
My unease with the house continued to grow as I developed through my pre-teen years and the stories of spiritual warfare from my deeply religious school began haunting me. I couldn’t take the trash out at night without praying for “a legion of angels to protect me from the darkness”, you know… normal kid stuff. I don’t want to spend too much time on this but these stories cause very real emotional trauma to kids who don’t understand anything. Demons everywhere all the time?! Scary shit, don’t do that to your kids.
One night I was sitting at my Compaq Presario desktop computer, the one with the purple plastic on the front for the early internet OGs, talking to girls on AIM or updating my LiveJournal or something equally cool.. when I heard a noise at the door to my room behind me. I turned around expecting to see one of my parents or our family friend, but instead saw a man with long curly black hair over his face staring directly at me as though he was peeking around the corner of the door jam. A door jam that sat directly against a wall, meaning there was no way someone could actually be standing there.
It took a brief second register what I was looking at. By the time I figured it out, he pulled his head back around the door jam and disappeared. My instinct was that I had just seen the teacher in his wig playing a prank, except he wasn’t home. Upon a cautious exploration of the rest of the house I learned that he wasn’t home and that my parents were in conversation in their side of the house completely oblivious to my spooky visitor.
It felt like things at this point had reached a boiling point, and they continued to escalate in different ways until we had someone bless the house… at which point everything seemed to stop. Just like in the movies, the bad stuff stopped happening and everything felt as ease again.
My experiences as a kid have led to something of an obsession with ghosts. My podcast queue is full of “true ghost story” shows. I love those really cheesy haunting shows on cable TV. I am always down for a ghost tour and literally not a single one of these things has ever convinced me in any way that any of it is real. My own childhood encounter with a full body KISS-cosplaying spirit hasn’t even convinced me that this shit is real. I think there are a lot of factors involved and that ultimately your mind sees what it wants to. Reaction to trauma, subconscious coping mechanisms, a desire to garner attention, and a thousand other things can culminate in a good ghost story. That said, I also believe that you can’t tell someone that they didn’t experience what they experienced. At this point in my life I believe that ghost stories say more about culture and religious background than anything else. Visitations from beyond the veil are one of those things that seem to exists in all cultures. Is any of it legit? I don’t know, probably not, but also maybe?
Whatever caused my experiences as a kid, they were still things that I actually experienced, and the payoff is that I now sometimes spend hours on YouTube watching garbage videos about real hauntings that all make me say “ugh this shit is so dumb… yes absolutely play the next one”.
photo © Nicola Samori