I have just sent in a new collection of short stories to my editor. As yet untitled, it contains a ghost story. In 2016, a ghost story novel will be published. I have published other ghost stories, Something Upstairs, Seer of Shadows, and there is a ghost short story in the collection Strange Happenings. No surprise then, then from time to time, I am asked, “Do you believe in ghosts?” My standard answer is, “No, but I believe in ghost stories.”
I was about nineteen, visiting Maine with my parents. It was summer. We were heading home to NYC. I must have looked at a map because I realized that as we passed through the western outskirts of Boston, I was directly east of where my favorite aunt and uncle lived, just across the Massachusetts border. “Let me out,” I announced, “I’m going to hitchhike and visit Aunt Flossie and Uncle Jerry. But don’t tell them. I want to surprise them.”
Off I went, hitchhiking across Massachusetts, taking most of the day. When I reached the nearest town (in New York state) where they lived, I set out to walk the last few miles. It was about four in the afternoon.
I had walked about three miles along a single lane road through rural country, pretty and hilly. Quite suddenly, the sky grew dark. A thundercloud had gathered. As the rain started, I stood under a tree to keep dry. It was no more than a summer cloudburst, soon over.
As I stepped out from beneath the dripping tree, I realized that I was at the bottom of a hill, at the summit of which stood a church, one of those classic white, New England steepled structures. On the hill below was a cemetery, replete with old slate stones—old, I knew, because of the way the stones were shaped and titled. I even thought what an odd place for a cemetery.
Even as I looked at the cemetery, I saw a rectangular gray-colored mist rise up from one the stones. It stopped me cold. My heart pounded. I stared. The mist held its human shape for quite a few moments. Then the sun broke through the clouds and the mist faded away.
Quite shaken, I climbed that cemetery hill and examined the stone. It was old, covered with lichens. No question, the rain caused the phosphorescent elements in the stone to glow.
At least, that is what I told myself more than fifty years ago. Except I have never forgotten, and the image I saw (and felt) does appear in my ghost stories. So no, I do not believe in ghosts, except …