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Ghosts I have known

I had intended to write a serious column on vaccinations, but given the paucity of Lawrence Fury’s ‘strange tales,’ this month, and given that this issue comes out right before All Hallow’s Eve, All Saints Day and All Souls Day, I decided to share with you a few of my own ‘tales of the strange,’ that you can take or leave as you want. I offer no explanations, and say only that when it comes to ghosts, I am an agnostic.

My most spooky occurrence happened the night my father died, and my sister and I were the only witnesses to its beginning—convenient for skeptics, as she’s now dead and not available to corroborate.

My daddy had been working at the Yellow Creek Nuclear Plant in Iuka, Mississippi. The town is pronounced “eye-yoo-kah” and if you say that sentence with a southern accent, it’s a beaut. Some time before the whistle blew to signal the end of shift, he had a heart attack and died.

Lucky for him, one of his fellow workers knew CPR and worked on him until the ambulance arrived, whereupon the EMTs got his heart beating again. If I remember correctly, he died again in the ambulance or at the hospital, but was again revived. 

At the time this occurred, I was living in the lovely little town of Wanatah, Indiana with my sister, Faye. Faye lived in a ‘converted’ funeral home; I give converted special emphasis because the conversion consisted of some two-by-fours, drywall and suspended ceilings thrown together in the front portion of the building to make a living room, kitchen, bath and three bedrooms with little thought given to aesthetics or building codes. Truthfully, I never thought much about the building being a former funeral home, and it has no bearing on what I’m about to tell you, but I mention it here because it gives this story a slightly more spooky tone.

All in the house were asleep until sometime around 2 am when my sister began shaking me, insisting “Wake up. Wake up now!” Groggily I peered at her and she asked me, “What the hell do you want?!” I would say I responded, “Whatever do you mean?,” but I think all I got out was “uhhhhh?”

“You were calling me and you wouldn’t shut up,” my sister insisted, and this is not the creepy part because there are many family stories that involve me talking in my sleep, most of them funny, and all at my expense.

With my eyes pried open, I led my sister out to her living room, where we both collapsed onto the couch and lit cigarettes—this was in the late 80s, a time when smoking upon waking and doing so inside the house was acceptable to both of us.

My sister proceeded to share with me how she’d been woken out of a nicely sound sleep by a voice that kept calling, “Tiny! Tiny!” This had me stumped, as my sister’s name was not Tiny, it was Faye, and the only nickname I had ever called her by was “Faye-Faye.” In addition, the voice seemed to be coming from the front of the house, not the rear, where I had been sleeping. But as we sat there on the couch, something strange occurred. The microwave turned on, and ran for about a minute.

With that emphasized ‘converted’ in mind, let me explain that where we were sitting directly faced the galley kitchen. In front of us was a counter where people could sit to eat; behind that was a narrow aisle (about three feet) and behind that a counter, on which sat the microwave which we could easily see. This microwave had a dial that turned to set time and, when time was set, a button was pushed to turn it on. Needless to say, we had not turned the dial, nor pushed the button, and sat speechless on the couch listening to the sound of the microwave motor while gazing on the light that poured from the machine.

With a ‘ding!” the microwave turned off and my sister and I turned to look at each other. Without saying a word, we both got up and went back to bed.

The next morning we were full of ideas about power surges and the like, and shared this story with Faye’s brother- and sister-in law. They lived next door, on the second story of a ‘converted’ business building. Entry to their apartment was via the fire escape, which opened directly onto a counter that wrapped around their kitchen. As we were telling the story, we all heard the sound of someone climbing the stairs. When they reached the top, and knocked on the door, I leaned over from where I was sitting to open the door. There was no one there. I immediately stood up and moved the two steps to the door itself, whereupon I could see there was not only no one on the landing, but also no one on the stairs coming up the side of the building.

Scared the crap out of all of us, let me tell you.

It was a short time later when Mom called to tell us that Dad had died twice, and was still in intensive care in the hospital in Mississippi. We threw things into suitcases and drove down there. Eventually we told Mother our story. Her eyes got wide and she looked at my sister and said, “Dad always called you Tiny when you were little. Don’t you remember that?”

Dad recovered from that heart attack and lived several years more, but never had anything to offer regarding our spooky incident. He himself had experienced that now-mythical tunnel with the light at the end, but he always discounted it, saying he had read too many stories about near-death experiences; that knowledge had tainted his own, leaving him unsure whether it was real or not.

One other ghost story. I was living right here in Clark Fork when my oldest brother Boyd died. His cremated remains were mailed to me, for sprinkling under an apple tree in accordance with his wishes. Needless to say I did no such thing and, 14 years later, they still sit on my bookshelf.

But for a long time after he died, I would take his ashes down from the bookshelf and set them on the dining room table; then I would set up a boom box right next to them and put on some Simon and Garfunkel (his favorite) to play. And then I would sit there with my head on my arms and cry. Massively.

The last time I did that, laying there sobbing my eyes out, that very heavy (four-and-a-half pounds!) plastic container of ashes suddenly slid almost two feet across the table. I didn’t see this, but I heard it. My tears turned off as if on a switch and I bolted upright, staring at that box in its new position. The table is a very heavy, sturdy one that rests firmly on the ground. We had had no earthquake. To this day I have no idea why that box of ashes moved, but at the time I slowly stood, crept into my bedroom, and carefully shut the door so that I couldn’t see them. The next morning, I put them back on the bookshelf. I still occasionally play some Simon and Garfunkel for Boyd, but I don’t take him off the shelf to do it.

On that note, may you all have a spooky Halloween!

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Landon Otis

Tagged as:

ghosts, Faye, Boyd, dad, near-death experience

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