Not Quite Ghost Stories

October. The blogosphere is blooming with reviews of ghost stories, and personal anecdotes of real-life spooky encounters. Why not get in the spirit? (Sorry. That pun was an accident — honest!)

English: Cover of the pulp magazine Ghost Stor...
English: Cover of the pulp magazine Ghost Stories (October 1928, vol. 5, no. 4). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Unfortunately, I gave out the closest I have to a real life ghost story when I first started this blog. But here it is again.

After my father-in-law passed away, my husband brought home one of his Dad’s old tripods, which ended up in the back of my car. This happened to me soon after, while I was on my way to a dance class.

Then I felt what I thought was a tap on my shoulder. By reflex, I turned, though of course there was no one else in the car. I saw nothing but my braid (I have long, heavy hair, which I wear braided when I dance). It was caught in the shoulder harness of my seat belt. It disentangled itself as my head turned, and fell with a thump on my shoulder.

I thought of my father-in-law.

“He’ll come back to visit,” my sister told me, when I’d called her with the news. “Lola [my grandmother] came to visit us after she died. Didn’t she visit you?”

Um, no. I don’t think so. There is a family tradition of visitations from the dead, on both my mother’s and my father’s side, and my sister is supposed to be “the psychic one”, so if Lola would visit anyone, I suppose it would be Isabel. I don’t believe these stories, really, though I am romantic enough to wish that I did. This probably explains my taste in literature.

But, still, at that moment under the Coke sign, I thought of my father-in-law….

I like to imagine that he was taking one last look around his old neighborhoods, before moving to the next place, riding along with his tripod like a witch rides a broomstick. But of course, it’s more likely a mere coincidence, the intersection of my hair, my seat belt, and my nostalgia.

Still, it makes a good story, doesn’t it?

I wonder how many of us have stories like this, not ghost stories, but odd little things, coincidences that could be ghosts, if we look at them the right way. Maybe all of us do, just most people aren’t inclined to look into such events for their paranormal possibilities. My sister believes she got a visit from my grandmother, after Lola passed away. The evidence consists of the fact that my then-baby niece started acting unexplainably skittish one day, the same day a bag of carrots disappeared from my sister’s refrigerator, never to be found. Really, that’s it.

But then again I come from a family that enjoys looking for the paranormal possibilities. Consider this. Or this. I tell myself I don’t believe such things, but deep down in the credulous part of my brain, I know that there are Things Out There that disagree with my musical tastes. And I don’t just mean my husband.

I get obsessed with music, you see. When I find an album that I really love, I will play it repeatedly, to the degree that any other sentient being within hearing range would probably have a mental breakdown and try to murder me. I got this way about an old Gloria Estefan album once; it was the last year I was in grad school. I was living alone in Pittsburgh, finishing my dissertation, while my husband had already moved back to Berkeley for his post-doc. So there was nothing to stop me from listening to “Con los años que me quedan” over and over and over again….

And then one evening, as I was making dinner, the music player just clicked off, in the middle of a song. I was on the other side of the room. There was no power dip, or the lights would have flickered. The music player had never been flaky before. I went over and turned it back on.


The house sat silently, waiting to see what I would do. I blinked. I switched CDs. And Los Lobos whooped and blared out of the speakers — no problem at all.

One of my old cars used to spit CDs out of the player when it got sick of them. I could never re-feed the offender back in after the car had rejected it (until the next day), but never had any problem getting the player to accept a different disc. My current car hasn’t offered any opinions on my music yet, but I find myself apologizing to it when I feel the urge to listen to a song again, especially if I hit repeat more than once.

“Just one more time,” I tell it. “Then we can go to the next song, promise.”

Oh, and then there’s The Spirit of the Studio. A group of us were in a Berkeley dance studio late one evening, working on a choreography that we were going to perform in two days’ time. It was a fast song, with a fairly intricate choreography; we’d been going over it for about fifteen or twenty minutes, just this one song. I felt a current of air; something flickered at the corner of my eye, as if someone had passed by very near to me. I turned my head; nothing, of course. Half a minute later the music clicked off.

It continued to click off every time we tried to play that song, for the next five or ten minutes. Finally, whatever-it-was took pity on us, and we were able to finish rehearsing.

This happens at the other Berkeley studio, too (it has very old equipment). Berkeley dance studio spirits are evidently cranky, or maybe they are dance and music snobs. Our San Francisco studio has no problem with us at all.

I imagine all my readers rolling their eyes about now; you think I’m being silly. And you’re right. But it’s October, and in honor of the season, why don’t you try to open your eyes and your imagination to the odd little things, too? You don’t have to believe in ghosts, just entertain the possibility. What if ghosts exist, and this is one?

Because seeing the ordinary in an extraordinary light is one way to keep the sense of wonder in your life. And that’s never a bad thing, right?

10 thoughts on “Not Quite Ghost Stories

  1. What interesting anecdotes! Your music obsession reminds me so much of my sister. She listens to songs over and over again till everyone around her is absolutely sick of it! 😦

    I can’t say I’ve had any experiences with ghosts though I do believe in them. The closest I’ve come to such an experience is when I went to an ancient fort. I’d walked on ahead of my class preferring to explore the stone chambers on my own rather than listening to all the giddy chatter of my classmates. I came a cross a lovely open chamber full of carvings. I just stood in the centre of the chamber, quietly listening and looking about, and I could literally hear the gentle chatter and laughter of women with a distant tinkle of bangles and other jewellery. I began to suspect that I was in what was once the women’s quarters….and minutes later I heard the guide confirm my suspicions.

    It really was a lovely experience!! Whenever I think of it I’m always glad I wandered off on my own. 😀

    1. Great story Risa! I like exploring ancient dwellings too. They do make it “easier” to believe there “could be” such things as ghosts…

      1. Agreed — that’s a great story! I’d count it as one of the “odd little things,” or maybe even a little more than that.

    1. Great story! Thanks for sharing! Did you know that the apartment complex was across the old US 40 beforehand? Not that this would necessarily get you thinking of Civil War soldiers…

      Cute article here on Sleep Paralysis and “The Old Hag” (the most common “ghost” to be seen on the edge of sleep, apparently). Not saying that’s what happened to you, but it seems related.

  2. Not rolling my eyes at all. I taught for 15 years in a girls’ school that had a resident ghost, and I had several encounters as did my students. The incidents never were frightening, just unexplainable and clearly out of the ordinary.

    1. Thanks for chiming in! I find that there’s a kind of ambiguity to many of these type of encounters: if you think about it hard enough, you often can come up with a natural explanation — but it’s never an entirely satisfying explanation. But the ambiguity, somehow, keeps it from feeling too spooky. At least for me.

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