As anyone who's paid attention to movies or TV lately can tell you, ghosts are hot stuff right now. "Paranormal Activity," the biggest sleeper hit since "The Blair Witch Project" (and a much better movie), is likely to top $100 million on an $15,000 budget, and you can't turn on most of the cable channels on a weeknight without running into at least one gaggle of earnest geeks chasing spooks with all the zeal of a senator after an intern.
It's no great surprise, really. Proclamations about the recession's end to the contrary, a lot of us are in deep trouble right now. The world is a pretty darned scary place, and sometimes it's actually more comforting to believe your house is haunted than it is to believe it's about to be repossessed.
This is not to say that all reports of paranormal happenings, hauntings or other ghostly goings-on are pure hokum. I've always preferred to operate on the "Where there's smoke, there's fire" principle, and that tells me in this case that given the staggering number of reports, at least a few of them must have a grain of truth. "There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy, Horatio," wrote the Bard, and the world was a lot simpler place in his time.
Of course, part of the reason I find it easy to believe some of the stories are true is that I've got abundant evidence that my own abode is haunted. There aren't any levitating tables or graceful arcs of pea soup, but it's nearly a sure bet that something otherworldly is floating around.
It's 10:00 a.m. on a Tuesday, and the house is quiet. The kids are at day care, my better half is at work and the dogs are sleeping here in my office. I am typing away, busy explaining the finer points of libel (Guess what? You can't call someone a murderer when they haven't yet been convicted.) to a writer while sipping my fourth cup of coffee of the day.
Then, it happens.
From the kids' playroom comes a sound so blood-curdlingly eerie that it makes my heart race and my skin freckle with goose bumps. Elmo is laughing again.
Never thought Elmo was creepy? You, my friend, have obviously never had a Tickle Me Elmo, which normally requires a fairly stout thwack to the abdomen to do his routine, spontaneously activate when there was no one around. It makes one cast back to all the "demonic toy" movies of the '70s and '80s and start waiting to hear "GET OUT" issue from a heating register.
If it had been just Elmo, I could have written it off to some sort of malfunction, but the list of toys that have come to life of their own accord with no one doing so much as walking by them is extensive. We've had activity mats, toy monkeys, shape sorters and a panoply of other battery-operated toys come to life of their own accord.
My house was built in the early '50s, and the man who built it died in it. There were no instances of great suffering or emotional agony of which I'm aware, having spoken to the man's grandchildren. But, nevertheless, there is pretty convincing evidence that we've got ectoplasmic company here at the sprawling suburban Weird Chronicles world headquarters.
Even more creepy than the toys was the smell of smoke. Smokers and those who are around them on occasion know that tobacco smoke has its own very identifiable odor. There have been times that the smell of tobacco smoke in parts of the house were so strong as to make it unpleasant to stay in the room. Thankfully, that particular effect appears to have diminished in the last year or so.
So, am I yanking your chain? Am I hallucinating? There's been no real sense of menace in any of the odd happenings, and no one other than my partner and myself have been present for their occurrence. I get the feeling the situation is more one of curiosity and playfulness rather than some Amityville-spawned face-chomping demon.
So, I've told you my story. Now, I want to hear yours! Drop me a line
and share your ghost story with the understanding that it may be used in an upcoming column (you'll be kept as anonymous as you wish). I'd also love to see any ghost photos you have to share, but please make sure that the picture isn't bigger than 400x300 pixels. I'll compile the photos into a slideshow for an upcoming column!