When I got my first teaching job, my husband and I moved to southern Maryland, where we lived in an area that was isolated, densely wooded, and generally creepy. The sliding glass doors to our deck overlooked a forested slope that eventually led to the Chesapeake, but at night when you peered out, all you saw was inky blackness and eerie reflections on the glass.
The one time I truly appreciated this creep factor was at Halloween. We would invite friends or family to stay the weekend and with a “safety in numbers” approach, we’d fully embrace the spook of the season, getting dressed in costumes, renting half a dozen horror movies, and scheduling at least one Halloween excursion to a haunted house or hayride. One year in particular we drove down to Point Lookout State Park, which sits at the edge of a peninsula that was once a prison camp for Civil War POWs. The camp was said to have held up to 50,000 prisoners at one time, 8000 of whom died of war wounds, small pox, or illness, and were buried in a mass grave. Inevitably, the park abounds with legends of spirits of these soldiers who still roam the woods in search of peace or revenge.
As you drive down the long road that leads to the park, you are told to look out for the ghost of a soldier who reportedly runs across the road every night at dusk, wearing ragged clothes and reeking of gunpowder. Those of us in the car that night were silent and tense as we watched the road, expecting the apparition of the soldier to fly across our path at any moment. Once in the park, there were the usual ghost tours and tall tales, but the most eerie part of the evening was the hayride out to “the most haunted lighthouse in America.” As the driver took us out to the very tip of the peninsula, we sat on hay bales and chatted through our nerves, keeping our eyes peeled for the ghost of Ann Davis, a former keeper’s wife who was said to haunt the widow’s walk wearing a long blue dress and whispering to all who came near, “This is my house.” Even though I never saw her, powerful shivers ran the length of my body as we circled the lighthouse. It was both exhilarating and terrifying.
To me, ghosts are the most frightening creatures of the paranormal brotherhood because I actually believe in them. I have never seen a ghost, but I have felt a presence I couldn’t explain with my rational mind. One time many years ago, my husband and I stopped at a large bed and breakfast on our way to Rhode Island. When we unlocked our room and entered, dread landed squarely in the pit of my stomach and I felt myself go weak and shivery. As we walked through the room, I felt cold spots, places where the temperature was at least fifteen degrees colder than the rest of the room. My husband didn’t have the same response, but I had never had such a visceral reaction to a place before. It seemed clear to me that there was some presence in the room, and not a benign one. Even though it was completely illogical, I got the sense that the spirit was a mother who had killed herself in the room. I didn’t know why, nor did I care; I just wanted out. I was relieved beyond belief when my husband discovered that the toilet wasn’t working because it made us seem less crazy when we requested a room change. Once installed in our new quarters, I felt completely normal again, and we slept the night soundly.
Had the first room really been haunted? Who knows? It could have been my imagination. Maybe my subconscious mind imagined the cold spots and the sinister aura that seemed to pervade the place. But whatever the truth, I’m glad we didn’t stay there because I wouldn’t have slept a wink.
So, yes, I fear things that go bump in the night, but mostly I fear the ones I cannot see but can only sense, the ones who conjure up images of dying soldiers, mourning widows, crazed mothers, and vengeful children. In the end, it doesn’t matter if they’re real or not. Like the best fictional characters, ghosts endure so long as someone believes in them. Do you believe?
Eve Marie Mont is the author of A Breath of Eyre (Kensington/KTeen, March 2012), the first in a trilogy about a girl who gets lost, literally, in her favorite books. Please stop by her website for more info, news, and updates.