This is where I want you to be afraid. Stop for a second and feel the air around you. Is it suddenly a little cooler? Can you feel the cliché, the hair standing on your neck? Is there someone reading this over your shoulder, perhaps a shadow standing in the doorway?
I'm twelve. It's Halloween. I live in a small apartment inside an old school building on the bumpy Alaskan tundra in a Yup'ik village. The building has something of a history. My friends tell me this. The villagers who teach in the school with my mom won't stay in a classroom alone. The school cook takes students with her to retrieve supplies down the long corridors that connect the school to the boilerroom, storage, and abandoned teacher's quarters. In a village with each house cramped, every inch of floor covered with a body and a blanket at night, there are three vacant buildings.
Each one, connected to my house by a long narrow hallway that leads to darkness.
A teacher wrapped a rope around his throat and swung from a rafter in the abandoned teachers quarters. Another died of a heart attack during a school Halloween haunted house. This is the school building I called home for a year of my life. I would be lying if I told you I wasn't slightly terrified of that place then, or even today after they razed it - a new school built over the top.
It wasn't so much the lights going on and off, or the windows and doors opening and closing. Or hearing the balls bouncing, and thinking the janitor might want to shoot hoops - only to look down the long dark hallway to an even darker gym.
Even that Halloween night, when I sat there - lights off - in the school office chatting on the phone, when one of the gray filing cabinet doors slowly rolled open with a metallic groan - even then I wasn't as scared as I am now.
--------------------Because now I know something I didn't know then. ---------------------
See, my mom could explain things. She could explain the lights turning on and off. She could explain the footsteps in the hallway. She could even explain the cabinet I watched open from some invisible bony hand. The lights, she said, were part of the generator problem, and the doors and windows opened from the strong arctic drafts rushing through the building. The footsteps? Those were the building shifting from the permafrost, or a janitor working late. The cabinet? It always opened like that - why else would she tape it shut? The tape must have come loose.
This was how I became a skeptic. This was how I stopped believing. Things can be explained. Everything had a logical explanation. There was nothing to be afraid of.
Then one cold dark Alaskan night ----- make it stormy, too ---and don't forget that figure standing in the doorway ----- mom explained something else. She explained away her explanations. Those were the worst nights of my life, she said. With your dad working in Bethel. Just your sisters and you, and me.
------------------And the ghosts.
It was all a lie ========
- like Santa and that damn chocolate egg laying bunny ……….
She lied about the lights, she lied about the footsteps, and she lied about the voices - yes I forgot to mention the voices because it's 2 am and as I write this I'm scared, again.
She lied because she, "didn't want us afraid in our own home."
She didn't want us to fear the place like she did.
She even spoke to the air and said, "Look, I live here now too. Don't you bother my babies."
But they did.
One night my sister Beth, Shirley Temple curls, four or five at the time, stood at Mom's bedside and whispered, "There's someone standing there."
Mom let Beth crawl in with her, but she could feel it too. Whatever it was, whomever it was, standing there beside them at the edge of the bed.
She covered their heads with the blanket and prayed for sleep.
Thanks. Thanks a lot, Mom.
Now I live in my own home, and I'm scared. Not because of the ghosts in our old school house, but because now I have to confront these ghosts. I have to believe. I can't just want to believe. I have to somehow, believe the events I witnessed, the events we all witnessed were real. The events we experienced during that year were real. And now they are some sort of evidence. But evidence of what? Of life after death?
To believe in ghosts, is to believe in spirits.
Then too, spirits must leave a body at some time, and where do they go? Old school buildings on the tundra?
Is it too much to believe? And, why all the fuss about believing in the unbelievable anyway? What propels this desire to need something other than the ordinary life to believe in?
Why look to the heavens, the mountains, the undiscovered country, the darkness - for answers to questions we won't listen to?
- - - is there no one right question to ask????????
Not one, particular piece of pie to solve the equation, or prove beyond all doubt and reason, there is anything left in which we should (not) believe?
And those GHOSTS… those footsteps in the hall? Those basketballs bouncing in the darkness? The voices? Am I supposed to believe they are the proof I need?
The proof we all long for but refuse to accept?
[This is an excerpt from an old essay I wrote a while back, thought you might enjoy it for Halloween! If you're looking for a scary read check out my novel The Raven's Gift.]