Sunday, July 25, 2010

Paranormal Mysteries: Mystery Readers Journal: Chris Grabenstein

Paranormal Mysteries: Mystery Readers Journal (Volume 26:2) has some great articles, so I thought I'd post one of them here. To see the Table of Contents or to Order this Issue, go HERE. It's available in hardcopy and as a .pdf download.

This article is by Chris Grabenstein, Anthony and Agatha award winning author of the Haunted Mystery series of middle grades ghost stories for Random House Children’s Books: The Crossroads, The Hanging Hill, and The Smoky Corridor.

I HOPE GHOSTS ARE REAL by Chris Grabenstein

    I hope ghosts are real.
    I think that’s why I have written so many ghost stories. If ghosts are real then that means life goes on after death and we all get to hang around town a little longer and maybe catch a movie now and then, maybe grab a slice of pizza, because the thought of hanging out in the bright white light listening to angelic choirs doing Gregorian chants seems like it might be interesting for a couple hours, maybe even a week, but an eternity?
   But I digress.
   I’m not sure digression is allowed in the after life. Too many Gregorian chant rehearsals to attend.
   I write ghost stories because I don’t want this glorious story of life to end, in particular, my own life. Hey, it’s been a fun ride. Met some interesting people. You get to fall in love, eat food, drink wine. Ambrosia for eternity? Shredded coconut, walnuts, pineapple chunks, a can of fruit cocktail, marshmallows, and maraschino cherries all mixed up with nutmeg and cinnamon is not my idea of haute cuisine. I’d rather have the Mahi Mahi special.
   That said, I have never seen a ghost, except the older Boy Scouts who used to paint their faces with green glow-in-the-dark paint and come spook us in our tents after we’d all been sitting around the campfire listening to the story of Von Doon, this creepy guy who ended up drowning in a vat of radioactive waste while he was cooking up some sort of mad science project and now roams these very woods we’re camping in as a glow-stick type ghost, the kind that only exist in Boy Scout campfire tales.
   I think I once saw the ghost of Willow, our cat who used to like to hang out in a sunny spot in our living room, perched on the top edge of the sofa. One day, months after she “crossed over Jordan,” or whatever river cats cross over (probably the Nile, given that whole Egyptian-cat connection), I swear I saw Willow in her old familiar pose. Until I looked back and she was gone.
For the record, Willow did not glow in the dark.
   Many of the kids I talk to in Middle Schools, when I do author visits for my “Haunted Mystery” series, swear they have seen ghosts. They have very specific anecdotes to relate. The one in the room at their grandmother’s house. The other one who hangs out in the boys bathroom at school. Hearing their tales, I am reminded that once, I kid you not, I saw a six-foot-long ant crawling along the wall inside our garage in Buffalo, New York, where I lived at the time. Maybe it was a renegade mutant from the nearby toxic Love Canal. Maybe my mom was putting something extra in the Kool Ade.    Whatever. I never told anyone about the ant, or the scary devil I saw rise up out of an oil splotch on the floor of that very same garage some weeks later. That one I blame on the fact that, at the time, I was attending Catholic Catechism School.
   Do children see more ghosts than adults because they are closer to that side of life, having only recently departed that other world to come into this one?
   Or do they just like spooky stories. Interestingly, a few adults have asked me if I think THE CROSSROADS, THE HANGING HILL, and THE SMOKY CORRIDOR are too scary for children. No child has ever said they were. They love staying up late at night with a flashlight under the covers and gobbling up my thrills and chills.
   My wife and I are hoping to take some sort of ghost hunting vacation this year, to help me as I write the fourth book in the series. By the way, I hate those ghost hunter shows on TV. Lots of grainy video and people bustling about in the dark with shaky flashlights and meters and microphones saying, “Did you hear that?”
   Yeah. I heard it. It was someone banging their head on an overhead pipe because they forgot to turn on the lights down in the dungeon.
   I always enjoy hearing the historical ghost stories at the top of these shows, like the legend about the woman who was bricked up alive behind a castle wall during the middle gages and now haunts the catacombs. That would be a good reason to hang around and haunt the folks who “Cask Of Amontillado” -ed you.
   On the other hand, I hate the crew of intrepid Ghost Hunters with their ghost probing paraphernalia. Dan Aykroyd and Bill Murray’s had cooler equipment and did a better job of exorcising the evil spirits than those dudes in the vans on basic cable.
   I want ghosts to exist, as I said, so I know death is not the end.
   However, having watched the last episode of Lost, I’m a little afraid of who might show up for “the concert” in the Unitarian chapel when it’s my turn to wait for the light. Who decides what was “the most important part of my life” and gets to cast my gang of fellow travelers? What if they decide it was that summer I sold hot dogs at a greasy spoon in downtown Knoxville, Tennessee? Or when I was a struggling actor and had a day job at Citibank helping rewrite The Country Risk Assessment Manual? I mean the people who survived the island on Lost may have gone on to do great things. Maybe they didn’t want to hang around waiting for Jack and Hurley when they passed over. Maybe they’d rather be remembering an Oceanic Airlines celebrity pro-am golf tournament they won or something.
   When I was researching the first book I ever wrote (it was called THE PRAYER CIRCLE and has never been published), I read a lot about near death experiences and what awaits us on the other side of the bright white light. Typically, your ancestors greet you first. I’m not so sure about this being a good thing. The one grandfather I actually knew was kind of a creepy old Greek guy who sat slumped in his chair when we visited him in Florida every summer. He mumbled in Greek, never put in his teeth, and kind of smelled like mothballs. Then again, he was ninety, I was six, and accustomed to seeing giant ants crawling around in the garage with Satan.
   My Greek grandmother, who was about twenty years younger than her husband (I think it was one of those Old World arranged marriages that awaited you once you made it past Ellis Island) was fun. At the end of those summer trips to Florida, she would always give us a bag full of pencils she had collected all year long plus an envelope stuffed with five bucks if we promised we’d keep getting good grades when we went back to school in the fall.
   She was a seamstress who survived the Great Depression (the old one, not the new one), even though the “Republican Banker” came and took away her sewing machine when she missed a loan payment, thereby also taking away her only means of ever repaying her debt. I remember, right before my high school graduation, my Yiya (that’s Greek for grandmother) said to me, “If you ever vote Republican, I wring your neck.”
   Her I wouldn’t mind seeing in the tunnel. And, yes, all these years later, I have still never, ever voted for a Republican. I do not have to fear neck wringing in the afterlife.
   Actually, I wish my Yiya were a ghost and would come by and give me more long-lasting words of advice like that again. It has made Election Day very easy for close to forty years.
   If I were a ghost, the first thing I would do is go to my own funeral. See who was there. See what people thought about my will and what I left them.
   But then, if I stuck around, I’d probably realize that life went on with or without me. And there I’d be, rattling chains, moaning and groaning, giving people goosebumps, having absolutely no effect on anything, except to make a few people scream or wet their pants.
   Not a very productive existence.
   I guess this is why Willow the cat never came back to our couch after that one visit, why ghosts, if they do exist, eventually move on.
   And that’s truly why I hope ghosts are real.
   It means we all have some new experience to move on to after we’ve put in our time “doomed for a certain term to walk the night,” to quote the ghost of Hamlet’s father.
   Yes, Shakespeare believed in ghosts. I wonder if his own ghost stuck around long enough to see any really awful productions of his work. Probably just one. And then he moved on.
   I wonder if Shakespeare still gets to write and make up stories where he is.
   I wonder they need more writers in that place we eventually move on to? If so, I hope, when I meet my Greek grandmother in the bright white light, she brings me some more pencils.

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