Phantom phantoms.

Last night, before I settled in at the computer to make my nightly post, I saw a phantom figure of a young girl in the hallway upstairs.

Phantom may refer to:
Ghost, in traditional belief, a physical manifestation of the soul or spirit of a deceased person
Illusion, a distortion of the senses

It was late, of course. All the living souls – human and animal – in my house had been asleep for  hours. As usual, I was tidying the bathroom as I brushed my teeth. I adjusted the shower curtain, wiped off the edge of the tub, straightened the bath mat. I turned toward the sink so I could spit out my mouthful of foam. From the corner of my eye, I saw the girl – simply standing – just beyond the threshold of the open bathroom door.

She was wearing a pastel nightgown. (Pink? Peach? Yellow? Certainly very pale.) Its bodice was smocked; its sleeves were short and puffed; its hem reached mid-shin. The girl’s bangs obscured her face because, I think, she was looking at the floor. By the time I registered what I had seen, and wrenched my neck to look directly at her, she was gone.

I do not believe I saw a ghost.  Nor an apparition – at least not in the usual sense. (I mused on the difference between ghosts and apparitions in my post I am not a ghost hunter.) In the ten years I’ve lived in this house, I have never sensed a spirit presence. My cats have never stared into empty corners. My children have never complained of boogie-men in the closets. I have no reason to believe my home is haunted.

Besides, I know what happened. I saw the girl because I needed to be reminded of one of my quirks.

When tired – spacey tired, I mean – I’ve seen all sorts of things. Things like a bowl falling (but not really) off the edge of a counter when I go to fetch another soda from the fridge, or a pedestrian strolling the shoulder of deserted road when I’m driving at midnight.

I’m not a good sleeper. Never have been. It’s hard for me to sustain slumber. As a child, I sleepwalked. As a teenager, I had nightmares. As a young mother, I had to check on the children, multiple times, throughout the night.

Even harder than staying asleep, though, is falling asleep. My mind doesn’t like to shut down so – when I fail to keep it busy with other things – it keeps itself awake by gnawing on all my fears and worries. I believe this problem is common to many adults, but for me it’s been true since I was little.

I used to wait about an hour after being tucked in, then pretend to fall out of bed, so that my mother would come switch on the radio to lull me back to sleep. It helped, but often listening to music wasn’t enough to quiet my mind. Then I would think of sad things, so that I could cry, which made me sleepy. (I adored songs like One Tin Soldier and Seasons in the Sun.) As soon as I could, I read anything I could get my hands on – including, I swear, hundreds of Harlequins – until my eyes burned. (Which worked just about as well as a good cry.)

I spent most of my childhood being really, god-awful, exhausted … and seeing a whole host of not-real things.

Somewhere around the age of 13-14, I discovered that I could painlessly drift off while watching television. I’ve rarely since slept in a room that didn’t have one.

In recent years, I’ve mostly figured out how to avoid becoming spacey-tired. I’ve convinced myself that my children are probably breathing. (Now that they are 25 and 16.) I’ve become a connoisseur of documentary narrators. (Peter Coyote and Paul Winfield are the best of the best.)

Since I recommitted to writing fiction and blogging, however, I’ve been getting by on less and less sleep. I checked my sleep log today, and discovered that in the last week I averaged five hours a night. Apparently that is not enough. When I saw the little girl last night, I realized that I have to be careful – even if I’m very much enjoying my new schedule. I won’t be a very reliable paranormalist if I keep this up.

RCA Indian Head Test Card ca. 1940

Go to sleep, already.

What, do you suppose, are my chances of being arrested in the next 1001 days?

In the ‘studying ghosts’ section of my 101 in 1001 list, I have the following goals:
59. develop basic script for EVP solicitation
60. master equipment & software for EVP recordings
61. develop photographic procedure for paranormal investigations
62. develop complete paranormal investigation template
63. compose solicitation letter for for owners of potential investigation sites
64. build a tempting ghost toy
65. do at least one complete investigation of a graveyard
66. do at least one complete investigation of a reputedly haunted house
67. do at least one complete investigation of a mystery creature hotspot
68. do at least one overnight investigation of a reputedly haunted hotel/motel

Numbers sixty-five and sixty-seven are giving me the cold sweats.

The first six tasks in this section are completely within my control. (I like to be in control – I make detailed plans, to ensure that I stay in control.) The last, an investigation of a haunted hotel/motel, is simply a matter of having enough money to rent a room. Even the more difficult ‘investigate a reputedly haunted house’ only requires that I convince a stranger, who has no reason to trust me, to give me permission to poke into every nook and cranny of his or her house, in the middle of the night, for hours. Primarily so that I can satisfy my own curiosity. Still, unless something goes terribly, terribly wrong, number sixty-six won’t get me arrested.

It’s those remaining two goals that have me mentally rehearsing my inevitable encounter with some fine officer of the law, who has every right to sling my butt into jail for trespassing. Lately, when I am out driving by myself, I find myself considering using a payphone to call a police station to ask – you know, hypothetically – what a cop might do to a well-intentioned, harmless, middle-aged lady they find prowling around a graveyard at midnight.

Emmeline Pankhurst being arrested at King's Ga...

Image via Wikipedia

Obviously the way to avoid being caught committing a misdemeanor is to find isolated, out-of-the-way places to investigate … preferably places where a local property owner isn’t likely to justifiably shoot the trespasser skulking around and his or her land.

It’s not much of a plan yet, is it?

NOTE: To illustrate my post, I found the above public domain image. Curiosity made me look up the pictured woman. She was an important British suffragette. Click Emmeline Pankhurst to learn more.

I am not a ghost hunter.

I finally watched the Travel Channel’s Ghost Adventures. I recorded this episode because it was set in Winchester House – a location which has fascinated me for decades. I hated the program. It was loud, jangly, irreverent, disjointed and confusing. In short, it was silly.

In this episode, this crew is granted permission to do an overnight investigation of Sarah Winchester’s home. Sarah – an heir to the Winchester rifle fortune – was a quiet, semi-reclusive woman who paid her workers generously, donated large amounts of money to local charities, and held nightly seances in the bowels of a house that was – by her order – under construction, night and day, for more than 30 years. Logically, then, the Ghost Adventures crew chooses to use this opportunity to jury-rig a man-made “portal”, so that demons from two remote locations can come visit them on site.

If I were Sarah, I’d be hiding in some still undiscovered secret passage, waiting for these guys – with their beeping, flashing machines – to get the hell out of the haunted house I built. And I might be ticked off that they are inviting into my home exactly the sort of entity that I spent considerable time, energy and money avoiding while I was alive.

Sarah Lockwood Winchester in her only extant i...

Image via Wikipedia

It seems to me that the best way to experience the paranormal is to be quietly attentive to it.

Many hauntings can be classified as apparitions – in which witnesses repeatedly glimpse or hear a presence going about a specific task. I believe that some apparitions are residual energetic impressions of a person who once lived. (Other instances of apparitional phenomena can be attributed to natural or man-made environmental conditions that affect human perceptions.) In either case, attempting to interact with an apparition is futile. In this situation, the task of a paranormal researcher is to locate and record the phenomena as best she can. Her equipment should be unobtrusive. Her thoughts and behavior should be calm, so that her observations can be dispassionate. Her notes should be meticulous, accurate and, above all, honest.

Rarely, an investigator may have the chance to explore a more interactive haunting. A ghost is a spirit which has consciousness – or at least some seeming awareness of the living world. If such ghosts exist, they were once people. Doesn’t it make sense, then, that a researcher should approach such a spirit as if it were a person with interests, feelings and curiosities?

I believe the researcher should arrive prepared to engage the resident spirit. If the reputed ghost is a child, it might be appropriate to bring a toy or a storybook. An adult ghost might appreciate receiving information about family members or associates who survived him or her, or about the outcome of an anticipated event that occurred after his or her death. The investigator should introduce herself, clarify the purpose of any equipment that is present, and explain the reason for her visit. Boundaries should be set: “I’m not here to hurt you and I don’t want you to hurt me. If you don’t want to interact with me, that’s your choice. If you want me to leave, I will leave. I am here because I am curious about you and your state of being.”

If, in response, a voice rasps, “Get. Out!” I will go. (As my husband and I agreed to do long ago … back when we had no idea we were going to actively investigate the paranormal one day.) Absent such forthright communication, I will stay and observe and record. When I’ve gathered all the information I can, I will return home to analyze the photos, recording and readings I’ve obtained. Then I will write about the experience and share the results of the investigation in this blog. That’s it. No agenda, no hype, no “enhanced” anything.

I am not a ghost hunter. I am a curious woman with an open mind and an interest in the paranormal – otherwise known as The Paranormalist.