Fiction Blog, Sci-Fi, Fantasy, & Geeky Things

Why We Love Ghost Stories

Katherine crept down the basement stairs, cringing as each step sent a creak throughout the empty room below. While she was allowed to play in the basement, she didn’t want any of the adults to hear her go down there. She needed to escape the half-empty boxes, tearful conversations, and big decisions. Though no one had asked her to participate, she still felt compelled to solve the problems, ones she could only begin to understand.

haunted stairsAs Katherine reached the bottom of the stairs, her sneakers squished into the dingy brown carpet. Despite the warm, 1970s color palette and the bright light bulb hanging over the pool table, the room sent a shiver down her spine. Katherine had visited the house hundreds of times in her 12 years, but this was only her second visit since her great-grandmother had died.

The first had been on the night IT happened. Katherine and her parents had received the phone call during dinner, discarded their unfinished plates, and rushed into town. All the commotion had passed by the time they arrived. So, they stood around the edges of the living room with the rest of the family, each member careful not to disturb the towel in the center of the floor. Katherine almost wished they’d hadn’t covered up the blood. She worried her imagination was worse than the reality.

Alone in the basement, Katherine walked over to her great-grandmother’s pantry closet. Sliding back the door, she surveyed the shelves. They were stacked full with brownie mixes, canned vegetables, and more. Atop each container, her great-grandmother had written the expiration date in thick, black Sharpie. Katherine touched her fingertip to one of the dates, partly sad that her great-grandmother would never reach 11/05, partly comforted by her familiar scrawl.

As Katherine pulled back her hand, goosebumps rose across her arm, and she got the distinct feeling that someone was watching her. She turned around, expecting to see her mom or one of her aunts waiting on the stairs. No one was there.

Just as Katherine started to turn back around, the light bulb above the pool table flickered. Katherine froze and stared. The light bulb flickered again, and that time, the chain swung back and forth, clinking against the glass bulb.

Putting her hand over her mouth to avoid screaming, Katherine turned and bolted up the stairs. As she reached the top, she slammed the door shut and pressed her back against it. Her mom rushed in from the kitchen, her forehead wrinkled in concern. “Are you okay?”

“Mom, the basement is haunted!” Katherine gulped in a deep breath and pressed her hand to her chest, as if that would keep her heart inside her rib cage. “The light bulb over the pool table flickered. And the chain… it was moving like someone had pulled it.”

“Wow.” Mom rubbed her lips together, and her eyes narrowed in thought. After a moment, she gave a small smile. “I bet grandpa was just teasing you. I’m sure he’s happy now that grandma is with him again.”

Katherine wrinkled her nose. “You think?”

Mom nodded. “He was always a trickster. I’m sure he’s having a good laugh at your expense.” Mom’s face softened, and she rubbed Katherine’s shoulder. “But don’t worry. You know he would never hurt you.”

“Of course.” Katherine shifted from foot to foot. She knew her mom was right, but something about the house still felt wrong. Even if the ghost had just been her grandpa saying hi or playing a joke, she needed some fresh air. “I’m going to go outside and see what Daddy is doing.”

No ghosts, not even Grandpa, could bother her with Daddy there to protect her.


Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately), that’s the only real-life ghost story I know. Oh, yes. I am not a Katherine. But that Katherine and her story represent me.

Despite my lifelong fascination with the paranormal and supernatural, I’ve never come closer to a ghost or monster. And as I’ve grown older, I’ve rationalized that moment from my childhood to normality (I haven’t asked my mom if she believes in what she said, but since she reads my blog, I bet she’ll tell me…). The light bulb was probably just close to burning out or a large appliance, like the furnace clicking on, caused it to blink. The jolt of electricity (or my wild imagination) could have caused the chain to move. I don’t know. I’m not an electrician. But ghosts can’t be real… right?

ghostEvery October, I remember my near-ghost experience as I bask in the glory of Halloween. This year, as I’ve suffered yet another family death, it got me thinking: why do we love ghost stories? And why, not-so-deep down, do I hope my great-grandpa really was teasing me that day?

On the surface, the answer seems obvious. If ghosts are real, then there’s something after we die. Whether its heaven or hell, purgatory or haunting our old house, we continue to exist. It’s a comforting thought — for our future and all the loved ones who have already passed away.

On the other hand, maybe ghost stories prepare us for the opposite. After all, who wants to turn into an evil specter and harm the living for eternity? Maybe nothing would be better than being a Grade A asshole until Sam and Dean come along and blow us away with rock salt.

And perhaps it’s even a little deeper than that. In a way, ghost stories allow us to “experience” death in the same way that romance stories allow us to “fall in love” through their characters. And by doing so, they also remind us to appreciate life.

We often see the tormented ghost berating the innocent protagonist, until it finally lets go of its lost life and finds peace. As we reject the ghost’s behavior, we commit ourselves to being a better dead person than it is. We will accept our fate with dignity, and as such, we will appreciate our life while we have it, “live life to the fullest,” etc. Thus by entertaining the ghost story, we end up feeling more alive.

Then again, maybe there’s nothing deep to it at all. Maybe some of you twisted souls just like to be scared.

I, for one, do not. So, Grandpa, if you’re still present in the ether and watching over me as I write this… please don’t mess with the lights. At least not until sunrise.


How do you feel about ghost stories? Have you have any encounters with the supernatural? Share your experiences in the comments!

Writing & Publishing Articles, Writing Craft & Tips

Writing Fears: The Manuscript Monsters

Every writer is closely acquainted with the blank page. You know the one: that ghostly white computer screen with the mocking black cursor, or that sickly pale paper one with the dizzying horizontal lines. When we, as writers, are confronted with that blank page, we face the beautiful and mysterious possibilities that our ideas hold. Will our words weave themselves into lyrical masterpieces? Only time will tell!

In equal measure to this euphoric hope and optimism is the overwhelming negativity and fear. The blank page is not only a welcome friend; it is also a threatening foe. Will our words wrestle against our authority? Like stubborn teenagers, will they curse and stay out past curfew and laugh at our attempts to corral them? Or will they become something worse?

Will our manuscripts turn into monsters?

ghostThe Ghost

The Ghost is perhaps the most terrifying manuscript. It is the idea that we fell in love with too hard and too fast. The one that we raced to the keyboard to type, only to sit down with a look of bewilderment, like someone awakening from a daydream. We abandon our beloved, leaving the page empty, white. The Ghost is the blank page manuscript, the one we never birthed. It proves to us that we are commitment-fearing, lazy, unambitious fools. It haunts us.

The Mummy

The Mummy is the manuscript that we (want to) believe is perfect. We treat it like a fallen Pharaoh. We wrap it in bandages to keep it together. Then, we wrap it in the most beautiful prose we can muster — each adjective becomes a ruby, each verb a sapphire, each word of dialogue a diamond. We encase it in a golden cover, our beloved Pharaoh, hidden away in its sarcophagus of jewels and gold. We go so far as to build a pyramid in its honor — each Tweet, each Facebook post, each proud remark to friends and family becomes a brick in the impressive structure that will hold our manuscript. Others come from miles around to admire it. But when they crawl inside the pyramid, pry open the sarcophagus, and peel back the bandages, all they find is a rotting corpse. The Mummy is the manuscript that we desperately try to make perfect and imposing, but that is still horrid. It shames us.

demonThe Demon

The Demon is the manuscript from Hell. It is the big idea, the one that has been simmering down in our subconscious, the one we know we can’t handle, but we summon anyway. We lure it out to the crossroads and try to seduce it into doing our bidding. The Demon pretends to agree, and it behaves, for a while. But then, halfway through, we realize that we were never in control. The ideas are beyond our grasp, every word burns our  fingertips, and it feels like we are not the one writing. And we aren’t. The Demon is the manuscript that we attempted too early, too hastily, too thoughtlessly. The Demon is the manuscript with a mind of its own. It possesses us.

The Vampire

The Vampire is the manuscript that drains us. It is the one for which sit down in front of our notebook, open the proverbial vein, and  bleed onto the page. We pour ourselves, the very essence of our humanity into it, and instead of fulfilling us, it makes us woozy and pale. The Vampire is the tiresome, long-winded, overemotional manuscript. It sucks us dry.

Frankenstein’s Monster

Because, as writers, we know that the Monster has no name, and Dr. Frankenstein is Frankenstein.

frankensteinThe Monster is the manuscript that makes us feel like Gods. When we write the Monster, we feel powerful and omniscient. We manipulate our characters with ease, building them from pieces of forgotten friends, stitching them into our ideals of perfection and imperfection. We create a world of our design. We tell a story for the world. And then, before we know it, the manuscript takes on a life of its own. It runs away from us, lashes out against us. And when we finally glimpse it in the moonlight, we see that it is not the manuscript we created. It has become vile, uncontrollable, grotesque. It is nothing like we planned. It is Our Monster.

At the beginning of the writing process, we all fear our manuscripts will be monsters. We want so badly for our words to morph into a respectable book instead of some Halloween creature. As much as we try to prevent it, at some point in the writing process, our manuscripts will likely become monsters. In fact, if you feel like your first draft is turning into a monster, it probably is. But that’s okay. Keep writing and finish crafting that hideous beast. Then, when it thinks it has won, give it a good revision to whip it into shape. The worst thing you can do is let your manuscript stay a monster.

No matter what, don’t let your fear of bad writing stop you from writing. Now, right now, grab that demon by the horns and get to work.