The Ghost of Kalamazoo

a short story by

John Bonath

As life unfolds with the unrelenting passing of time, our choices create the roads we walk down.  Some choices build highways without exits.  Such was the crossroad in my life when I chose to move to Kalamazoo, Michigan.  This difficult decision set the course of my life. The rationale was weighted by the humorous idea that I could tell people I was moving to a place that rolled off my tongue in a delightful sound; a name that triggered my imagination; a city with a poetic ring like somewhere at the edge of the universe in a Star Wars remake.  There was a gut feeling of absurdity as I would say in whimsical disbelief, “I’m moving to Kalamazoo.”  I said this phrase over and over until it felt like a line out of The Wizard of Oz.  The sign at this fork in the road pointed like an omen, empowering and guiding me.  I was a carefree lad, tossing a coin for guidance, then whistling as I skipped down the road to Kalamazoo.  None-the-less, it was the choice I made for graduate school; a wrong turn made on a one-way highway with no U-turns; a choice from a time when I did not know what I know now.

I was twenty-five and on a full scholarship for graduate work at Western Michigan University.  My first impressions of WMU were romantic, laced with red-carpet incentives, lures, and the promise of getting a masters degree without debt. The most exciting perk was being given my very own cottage house to use as a studio – the university had future plans to tear it down, but while I was there, it was my private work space.  The teachers had little to offer and I was alone to produce art in an isolated vacuum.  It was hard finding friends that I felt anything in common with; my photography professor was threatened by my photography, and refused to show me any of his work for over a year.  I was used to vibrant critiques that were thought provoking.  The new critique norm was getting brain-dead drunk, filling the room with suffocating cigarette smoke, and just saying downright idiotic things.  They made it well known that I was an outcast for not consuming as they did in this small macho-men’s group.  My goal became doing as much independent study as possible and getting out of there as quickly as possible – with a masters degree that enabled me to apply for university teaching positions.  

The alternative option was to move to Rochester, New York, and study at the Visual Studies Workshop with Nathan Lyons (a famous teacher and artist at the top of his profession).  I was one of only two accepted for graduate studies at this prestigious institution that year, but the program was longer and would have been more expensive. In hind-sight, a wrong decision made for the wrong reasons. Paths not taken are like aborted fetuses that never get forgotten.  Life is simply something that must be lived in the best manner we can muster as the world spins on.  No matter how certain the future may feel, certainty is never the nature of tomorrow.  So I played the cards that were dealt me at WMU, produced a tremendous amount of work, enjoyed teaching classes in photography and history of photography, and focused the helm of my ship to steer through the waters of Kalamazoo, a place where I hung my hat for a year and a half.

The first thing I needed to do after moving to Kalamazoo was to find a place to live. I went through the listings of venues that fit my budget and were close enough to school, meeting with landlords, and mostly being told the rentals  were already rented out. I didn’t let it daunt me and just told myself something better would come through… and then my cows came home.

The house was high on a hill – a unique upper and lower duplex.  There was a substantial plot of land on the top of this knoll with a dirt driveway leading past the house to the back.  In front of the house, a giant maple towered above with the fresh scent of a summer’s breeze rustling through its abundant leaves.  I met with the landlord and he showed me the upper unit.  He was a gruff “slum-landlord” who was used to taking advantage of students like me.  As with most of the places I have lived, it was a complete mess, but the price was right.  With a lot of work, it had great potential to provide me with a nice place to live in the long run.  I succeeded in getting the landlord to pay for paint so I could begin getting my new rat hole in order.  I was left gagging when I opened a refrigerator full of black and white, cotton-like mold and the remains of whatever it was that it all grew from. Such things didn’t bother this landlord though and that was the last I ever saw him.

Soon after I started to clean up the place I met the tenant from below.  His name was Jim Bunyan and his looks struck me as an Amish dwarf of some kind. He was sweet and very curious to meet someone who was not a Michigan native.  He smiled and constantly laughed an impish laugh.  

Jim said, “Hi, I’m from Marquette, Michigan. Where are you from?”

“Cleveland… at this point in time anyway,” I said.

“Do you know where Marquette is?”

“No, I haven’t a clue.  Did some French revolutionary soldiers get lost and settle there?  Where is it?,” I replied.  

He then he presented me with the open palm of his hand.  He didn’t seem to be offering me a handshake, so I just stood there staring at his hand, waiting for him to say something.  This curious ritual turned out to be something I would see quite often as a way to explain the geography of Michigan (the state had a similar shape to the palm of a hand when the fingers are closed and the thumb is sticking out) – I had much to learn about Michigan. As I waited for his gesture to play out, he pointed to the very top of his hand.

“Marquette is way up here,” he said, “It’s a nine-hour drive and it’s really more like a remote area of Canada than the United States. People hunt deer up there and they skin their carcasses on the trees in their front yards, leaving blood all over the snow.  Do you eat meat?”

“Not a lot,” I reluctantly replied, not sure where this conversation was leading.

He then told me, “My mother died when I was young and my dad raised me.  One of the most important things my father taught me was how to recognize good meat.  Most people buy a steak with the least amount of fat on it but those people don’t know anything about meat.  My father taught me that the best meat is the cut that has the most fat on it. It is what makes the meat tender and juicy.”

I said, “Is that so?”, still wondering where our conversation was going.

I imagined his dad as some kind of lumber jack that looked like an older version of Jim with his Amish looking beard , shaved above his lips, and that he had the same gap between his front teeth.  I fantasized Jim’s father being a jolly old sort raising a son single-handedly in some cabin with snow shoes hanging on the wall as he bounced little Jim on his knee and fed him pieces of fat-filled steak.

With a stone-serious face, I asked him, “By any chance is your father’s name Paul?”

Not getting the joke, he proudly replied, “No, we have the same name.  I’m Jim Junior.”

That seemed to make a lot of sense at the moment, then Jim changed the subject and said, “Do you know this place is haunted?  Did the landlord tell you?”

“What do you mean?  No, he didn’t mention anything of the sort.  But he seems like a rather despicable sort of landlord, kinda like a bad banana with a black, greasy peel.”

“He’s only around when he signs a lease with a new tenant.  There are worse things up there to worry about… well, you are the third tenant whom I have met since moving in a year and a half ago.  All the others had to move out before their leases were up and lost their security deposits… because the ghost drove them out.”

My eyebrows rose, and I said,  “I don’t really believe in ghosts, but if one does live up there, I am sure we will make good roommates.”

“You will see.  There really is a ghost up there and no one has been able to live with it. You would be the first.  I certainly wish you luck and am glad to have someone like you living here.  Do you want me to show you the basement?”

I thought, What next?

The entrance to the house opened onto a stairway with three landings.  At the top of the stairs was my apartment door, Jim’s door was directly across at ground level, and there was also a door at the bottom of the stairway which was the basement.

We looked down the stairs together and I said, “Is that the door to the basement?”

He replied, “It’s always unlocked.  Want to see for yourself?”

I said, “Of course, let’s check it out,” and we went down. He opened the door and pulled a string. A bare light bulb turned on, illuminating what appeared to be a horrid, and dank smelling dungeon.  

I gasped and asked, “Does anyone ever go down here?”

Jim replied, “No. Previous tenants from long ago had several large dogs that were always kept locked up inside.  They left their door open to the stairway so the dogs could come down here to relieve themselves without having to ever go outside.”  

The entire floor was covered in several inches of ancient dog feces. There was a crust of musty, acrid greenish-white mold covering what appeared to be a lunar landscape. It was a terrifying thought to get any of it on the bottom of your shoes, so we stayed on the rickety steps, staring into the pit. It was a very dark place where the light of day never showed, like a petri dish where spores mutated – not a place for anything warm blooded to enter. 

I wondered, Is this where the ghost rests during the light of day, like a vampire, coming out to haunt the inhabited portion of the house at night?

I said, “Thanks for showing me this.  This will be one door that I never open again.”

I had only seen a couple other places in my life that repulsed me as much as this old basement.  

One was a public rest room in the remote countryside of China, where my bus made a pit stop. The structure was a concrete walled, open uni-sex room that had about ten holes in the concrete floor to squat over.  However, it was impossible to get to any of the squatting holes.  The problem was that long ago everyone started squatting around the holes, instead of over them.  The floor was covered with so many piles of human feces that it was impossible to make it to a hole without stepping, or worse, slipping on it – then add the flies and stench.  After contemplating the predicament in utter disbelief, I realized that I was in Rome.  So I did as the Romans were doing and squatted over a pole at the ditch with everyone else from the bus.  My change of plan provided the natives with a good laugh.

But the room that takes first place for the “gross-award-of-my-life” was the toilet room in the first apartment that I lived at in Japan.  This residence was situated deep within a neighborhood labyrinth where no cars could go.  From the main street, it was a twenty minute walk, down alley after alley, to get to the apartment building where I lived.  At the entryway of  this catacomb complex, was a sign that functioned as a kind of map acting as the key to the maze with the Kanji names of long-time families that lived inside notated on the map. It was difficult to find my way home without a trail of breadcrumbs.  Returning home at night, exhausted and brain-fried, I would often get lost and wander for an hour, lost in the labyrinth, on the verge of collapsing in tears. This particular apartment building was only rented to “gaigins” (foreigners) and was run by a Japanese slum-landlord who seemed to hate gaigin.   He had an air of loathing for his tenants and looked down on us foreign pariah with distaste, like a breed of inferior animal.  To him, we were “barbarians” and it was simply our way to live in filth.  He never did anything to keep the place up.  My entire floor shared one hallway toilet-room and I went to the neighborhood public bathhouse to bathe.  The hallway toilet-room was just large enough for the toilet and the door almost touched your knees if you dared to shut it.  

Although I became very good friends with my direct neighbor, (who was a journalist working for Time Magazine named Peter Iyers), most of the other gaigin tenants were strange, seemed marooned, and always were on the verge of mental breakdowns.  Some nights, I would hear one tenant wailing, howling, and screaming in torment for hours on end from inside their room in a state of total mental melt-down.  One tenant, who used my floor’s toilet-room, must have had horrendous sinus problems.  For when he sat on the toilet, he would work up huge yellow, brown, and green hockers and spit them on the walls and all over the toilet.  For what I guessed must have taken years, the walls and door were covered with at least four layers of his thick, dripping, and dried mucous.  There was not a square inch of surface left uncovered.  For a very short time, I contemplated cleaning this room but I simply could not figure out how it could be accomplished.  I just cleaned the seat before sitting and never closed the door. 

Then there was my grandparents’ outhouse.  As a child, I was always afraid of falling in.  It was a double-seater and I wondered how that worked as I never had to share the outhouse with anyone. It was clean enough except for the spiders that kept an eye on you from their corner webs. The toilet paper was stored in a large Hills Brothers Coffee can.  My mother told me that before toilet paper, they used the pages from Sears-Roebuck’s catalogs. I wondered if they had to go in numerical order, page-by-page, or if they were allowed to carefully pick and choose their favorite pages.  My great-grandmother, who seemed as old and ancient as time itself, was blinded with white cataracts and often got me mixed up with people who existed long before my time.  She was the one who told me that they used corn cobs before toilet paper was invented.  I spent much time trying to imagine exactly what wiping one’s butte with a corn cob must have been like. Apparently even after toilet paper was common, some people in the Western United States still preferred using corncobs in their outhouses.  At any rate, my grandfather grew a lot of corn and corn cobs must have been a plentiful luxury.  When I was five, I remember well the day that my grandfather and I tore down the outhouse.  Now there was this basement to add to my special list…

After seeing the basement of the dwelling which I now tenanted, I vowed it would be a place that I would never venture down into again.  With that, Jim and I parted ways.  I saw Jim often as he didn’t seem to have any friends in Kalamazoo and seemed to be magnetically drawn to me as his best-friend-wanna-be. I had never met anyone quite like him.  He was always in a cheery mood, like a singing/smiling dwarf out of Snow White.

I thought to myself, A ghost indeed – poppycock. Stuff and nonsense… then I dismissed the thought. But I couldn’t help wonder about what had happened to the previous residents who had up and left, breaking their leases. Could this house actually have hidden secrets that I was about to be privy to? Questions without immediate answers indeed…

The only other place I had come across that was reputed to be haunted was from childhood.  Behind the house I grew up in was a field that bordered a vast woods.  Far into the middle of the woods was a derelict log-cabin. There was also a gang of older, tougher boys, who would venture there from the opposite side of the woods.  The boys on my side of the neighborhood said this cabin was haunted. Rumor had it that if the boys from the other neighborhood caught you there, they would cut off your nipples and pin them to the cabin walls for the ghosts to eat.  After my first nightmare about it, I went back and found it to be a very peaceful place with no dried up, half eaten nipples scattered about. I decided to nonchalantly treat this Kalamazoo ghost story with the same air as any other campfire horror story.

So exactly what kind of “ghost” was Jim describing?  Although I had never run across any real ghosts looking like people covered in sheets, I have had several psychic-type experiences that involved spirits of sorts.  Perhaps this was all leading to some kind of encounter the likes of which I had not previously been exposed to.  Encounters with the paranormal were, up to that time, limited to my grandparents – experiences the likes of which have left unanswered questions which I ponder to this day.  

My maternal grandmother, Netta (aka Nettie), was the matriarchal pillar of my family.  She was a strong, charismatic woman, the center of family gatherings, and deeply loved by all.  In her youth, she was a classic beauty, mature beyond her years.  Her father died when she was a teenager leaving her to raise her five siblings single-handedly while her mother worked the farm.  When she was eighteen, she married and took the youngest sibling with her.  When I was a new-born baby, I can remember the love and warmth radiating from my grandmother as she held me in her large, warm bosoms, looking down into my face with a deep love generating from her eyes. From a small child growing up, I spent many overnights and week-long stays with her.  She was a major role-model in my life.

When Netta was in her fifties, she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer.  Her doctor gave her six weeks to live.  Through sheer will-power and the love that surrounded her, she stretched it to over six years, ultimately passing at the age of sixty-four.  On her last day of home hospice, the entire family gathered at my grandparent’s home.  (I was a junior in high school at that time.)  She had been in and out of a coma and was moved into the living room.  She lay in front of double windows with thin, gossamer curtains. The family hung out in the kitchen, quietly socializing, as we took turns sitting at her side.  During my turn, I held her hand, as the light came through the windows and fell onto her body.  The light was such that if dust were in the air, you could see it.  While I sat there, I visually witnessed her energy field, or energy body, rise above her physical body, hover momentarily in place, become untethered, and dissipate upwardly into the air.  At that moment, I heard her breath cease.  I sat there stunned, absorbing the experience in great sorrow and awe, before going out to the kitchen to inform the family.

I never thought of this as a “ghost”.  It was an energy field of some sort, defying physical gravity, deconstructing into a translucent vapor and rising.  It was a magical and beautiful moment to witness, but did not feel beyond rational understanding. After a back injury that put me in constant pain for a year and a half, I experienced times where I was able to “leave” my body to escape the pain.  It was a technique called “astro projection” – a state where my energy body was able to leave my physical body and hover over it for short periods of time. What I witnessed hovering over my grandmother’s body was not so different except that her energy body became untethered.

Due to health issues from childhood that have not been understood by doctors, I have searched beyond Western medical practices for understanding, including areas of “energy work”.  This search has led to many sojourns into various forms of “Chi cultivation”.  (Chi is our “life energy” or the variant factor between a dead person and a living one.)  In my ongoing research into such things, I have met some amazing masters of Chi practices and witnessed some “miracles” in cultivating and directing Chi within the healing and martial arts. One such teacher was Bruce Frantzis, a Taoist master of Chi Gong, Tai Chi, and Kung Fu.  He dropped out of high school to search the world to learn from the greatest masters of the martial arts.  He eventually ended up being adopted by a great Chinese master and given inheritance to his lineage.  After a life of learning in Asia, Bruce moved to California to teach.  When I was studying Chi Gong with him, he told me the story of when he got into a motorcycle accident in China that pulverized his spine and broke most of the bones in his body.  The doctors told him that he would be paralyzed from the neck down for life.  He was in bed 24-7 for six months.  During this time, he worked on moving his bone fragments into place and regenerating nerves by directing his Chi.  He succeeded at a complete and full recovery.  He also showed me a common Tai Chi demonstration, that I had seen demonstrated before with another Chi master as well, where he holds his arm straight out and three men climb and hang on it without it wavering.  He was able to do this, not through muscle strength, but by sending Chi into his bone marrow.  One day he asked me to put my hand on top of his shaved head.  As I spread my hand across the top of his head, he proceeded to explain that he was going to send Chi between the bone plates of his skull.  As he did this, the bone plates of his skull spread apart, then went back together, over and over.  It was hard to question anything he said after that.

I also studied with a child-prodigy yoga master in Japan, named Yutaka Sokonuma who I consider to be one of the greatest yoga masters alive today.  I made a video of a “Kudalini energy” technique he called “hopping” in which he harnessed the Kundalini energy at the base of his spine, and in a full lotus position, was able to actually levitate off the ground.  Whatever Chi energy is, is what I witnessed leaving my grandmother’s body, and in so doing, leaving her body in a state we classify as “dead”.  But this understanding only scratched the surface of what I saw or what happened to her life force.

Japanese #37, Kyoto - Yutaka Sokonuma, Yoga master, author and sensei

My maternal grandfather, George (aka Gramps), was another role-model in my life.  George courted and married my grandmother in the early 1920’s.  During the roaring twenties, he and his brothers had the reputation of being fashionable “dandies”.  My grandfather’s closest brother, Edward, also married a beautiful and charismatic woman named Libby around the same time.  The two couples were inseparable and Uncle Eddy and Aunt Libby often visited our weekend family gatherings as I was growing up.  My grandmother, Netta, and Libby were best friends from the get-go and stayed that way through life.  Libby, was the matriarch and pillar of her own family, and like my grandmother, always the life of any gathering.  Everyone loved Libby and my grandfather was no exception.

From the age of fifteen, my grandfather began working his way up to supervisor at the Ferry Cap and Screw Company in Cleveland and after fifty years, retired.  He had four hours of commuting each day and I often remember him on Sunday afternoons, sleeping soundly in a stuffed chair as his grandchildren played at his feet.  He had a preciously odd sense of humor which consisted of pulling people’s legs with a straight face and just letting them wonder what he was thinking.  Once he raised a large garden and marked the rows with poles on which he mounted the various vegetable seed packs, but when all these different vegetables came up, they were all radishes.  He also had a pet rock on his table that he would tease visitors with.  On my twenty-third birthday, I was living in San Francisco and he sent me an Easter card with a dollar in it and told me to buy a hot dog.  As with many on my mother’s side of the family, my grandfather kept much to himself. 

After my grandmother died, my grandfather lived alone for ten years.  I would go over to visit him regularly and spend five or six hours just hanging out with him.  We never said much and we never thought much of it.  The most common thing we would do was sit in the shade of the old garage next to the house, and gaze down the long, country driveway.  We often sat next to each other for three hours at a stretch, in a sort of meditative state, just staring down the gravel drive.

One afternoon we had been sitting next to each other for hours and I heard him say something inconsequential to me. But he was not talking, just looking at me.  I looked back at him and mentally replied.  He mentally replied back to me.  The communication was short and of a simple nature.  It was dreamlike and I just let it pass as something I was probably imagining.

Then every time I visited, things began to happen that I started to realize could not be my imagination.  I remember once finding him sitting in his cellar when I arrived on a cold winter’s day.  Down the steep stair into the black and gray cellar was my grandfather sitting in his usual bright red corduroy shirt. I just went down and sat across from him, saying nothing. 

I thought, It’s cold down here.

Then I heard him think, Light a fire in the stove.  Use the coal and kindling over there, as he looked at the coal pile, The matches are on the shelf next to the tomatoes [that my grandmother had canned years before].

I then walked over to the coal and kindling pile, crumpled up some newspaper, saw the matches and started a fire in the stove to warm us for the next several hours. We said nothing else.  At that point, I started to just communicate simple things telepathically, such as when I was leaving and we would just say our good-byes in that manner.

Another time, I thought to him, I’m hungry.

He thought back, Let’s go inside. I have some meatballs.

We just got up and walked into his porch, which had an upright freezer.  He opened the freezer door and took out a bag of frozen meatballs that my mother had made for him.  We went into the kitchen, he pulled out a frying pan, and put the meatballs in the pan on high heat.  I just stood there watching him in a sort of trance, with no question in my mind about what he was doing.  The meatballs began to burn and billows of smoke filled the kitchen as we both did nothing and just continued to calmly stare into the pan of burning meatballs.

As our eyes connected, I thought to him, Gramps, the meatballs are burning.

He thought back, Yeah, we need a fan. There’s a fan under the sink.  Get it.

I thought back, I’m turning the burner off.  I held my breath, turned the burner off, and opened the cabinet door under the sink and there was a fan sitting there.  I plugged it in and began to clear the kitchen of smoke.

I thought to him, There the fan is on. Let’s get out of here and let it clear out, and we just stared at each other for a moment and went back outside and resumed our sit.

I had never experienced anything like this with anyone and struggled to understand what was happening, and just kept it to myself.  I finally came to some kind of understanding that seemed plausible.  I believe there was something hereditary involved.  They say that DNA and certain hereditary traits pass on to every other generation.  Traits like baldness, for example, (that tends to pass to every other generation on the mother’s side).  Could there be some part of my grandfather’s brain that genetically had an equivalent in mine enabling us to share some kind of thought frequency?  It seemed plausible.

During those last years, my grandfather raised some hundred bantam chickens in his large barn for the fun of it, then my cousin’s Hells Angels gang moved into the barn, replaced the chickens, and looked after him.  At that point he put the place up for sale and when the family would ask him what he was doing, he would just reply that he was moving to Alaska.  Everyone was very worried for years because they had no idea what he was really thinking.  When he did sell his place, he gave me a $100 inheritance and moved into my parent’s house.  My grandfather was a life-long pipe smoker and after moving in with my parents was diagnosed with cancer of the jaw.  Deciding he did not want to go through the dehumanizing results of having his jaw completely removed, he let nature take its course and died at the age of seventy-eight.

Netta at age 16, with her five siblings, circa 1920
(left) George & Netta 1927 –– (right) George & Netta on their wedding day in 1922... and 43 years later in 1965

In ancient Egypt there was a ceremony when a Pharaoh died called “Opening of the Mouth”.  Little is known about all these practices but there was a specific ceremonial tool that was used to pry the dead Pharaoh’s mouth open with the next Pharaoh present.  It was thought that the dead pharaoh was then able to communicate and pass on important information for this transition.  Carl Sagan speculated on the evolution of man, that in prehistoric times, when certain individuals were singled out as artists/shamans/leaders that a physical part of their brain had a connection of some kind to a spiritual world (for guidance) which enabled audio-wave communication to happen. As human evolution progressed, this part of the brain was not used and became a “function-less” part of the body. Is it possible that we anatomically still have remnants of this unused body part?  Perhaps this area of the brain part was stimulated with the “Opening of the Mouth”;  perhaps even with Moses on the Mountain; perhaps even with modern day clairvoyants and famous oracles throughout history; perhaps there was something that could explain what was happening here between my brain and my grandfather’s.

Priests of Anubis, the guide of the dead, perform the opening of the mouth ritual.  A special ceremonial tool was used to pry the mouth open.  The ceremony involved many various rites.  The Book of the Dead also contains a spell for this process, which the deceased may use on themselves:
My mouth is opened by Ptah,
My mouth’s bonds are loosed by my city-god.
Thoth has cone fully equipped with spells,
He looses the bonds of Seth from my mouth.
Atum has given me my hands,
They are placed as guardians.
My mouth is given to me,
My mouth is opened by Ptah,
With that chisel of metal
With which he opened the mouth of the gods.
I am Sekhmet-Wadjet who dwells in the west of heaven,
I am Sahyt among the souls of On.

Back when I was studying Chi Gong with Bruce Frantzis, he also demonstrated some of his Chi expertise with me as it pertained to Kung Fu (an extreme marital art used for sparring or battle).  His master taught him how to mentally project Chi in order to control the mind of his opponent.  At certain critical moments in the fight, it was his practice to direct his Chi energy directly across space, into specific points of his opponent’s brain, triggering specific emotion, such as fear, self-doubt, and insecurity. I have no doubt this is a practice that only the greatest of masters could do. The ramifications are such that a part of this training involved ethics.  The greater potential of our brains mostly goes unused, but can be accessed.

Shortly after my grandfather died, my brother got married.  I attended the wedding and so did Aunt Libby.  Much time had passed since I last saw my Aunt and we embraced in a hug.  Immediately upon our physical contact, my aunt jolted, experiencing what seemed like a mild electrical shock.  At that moment of contact, I was rendered completely helpless when my grandfather’s spirit took over my body in order to connect with Aunt Libby.  I have never experienced the likes of such before or since.  The sensations inside my skull were similar to the centrifugal ride at an amusement park where you spin around, the floor drops, and you stick to the outside of the ride wall.  Everything in my conscious brain was forced to the periphery of my skull, and held there while the center of my skull was filled completely with my grandfather’s consciousness.  It was as if he were using me to project his presence into my aunt.  It was horrible as I screamed inside my head for him to get out of me and that what he was doing was not OK.  I had total awareness of what was transpiring as we shared “my mind”.  It was as if the two of us were a two-headed body and his head was in control.  When I separated from my aunt, she was shaken and my grandfather was gone as quickly as he had taken over.  I think he was just communicating his love for her through me.  What happened was undeniable yet impossible to understand. It appears that I functioned as some kind of physical medium.  I theorize that the part of my brain that enabled my grandfather and I to telepathically communicate in life was used as an instrument to reach out from the grave, somehow, as mediums talk about “vibratory” connections.  

Later the next day, I told my mother about this and asked her if she had ever noticed anything unusual between my grandfather and myself when I was young that could explain this.  She said that she had not. But she was aware of my grandfather’s deep love for my Aunt Libby and told me an interesting story which few people knew.  My grandmother, Netta, and my grandfather’s brother, Edward, died the same year.  She told me that the following year, my grandfather invited Aunt Libby over to visit and bought her a huge bouquet of roses – then proposed marriage to her.  She declined and he was heart-broken.  He kept that story to himself.  I wondered about the age-old question of whether a “consciousness” can continue after the brain is dead and decided that one day we will all know, one way or the other… or not.

My paternal grandfather, Mathias, was not someone that I remember, as he died when I was three, but is someone I have always felt a genetic connection to. In 1906, he was 29 and my grandmother, Johanna, was 26 when they left their native land of Germany and immigrated to the United States.  There are many unanswered questions to their motives – adventure, the rumor of streets paved with gold, and prospects of a better life were what brought most.  Perhaps my grandfather had debt from gambling.  Mathias’s father committed suicide and perhaps that is a clue to family troubles in the homeland and a desire to break with family ties.  Mathias and Johanna came through Ellis Island, unmarried with $175 in their pockets.  Why my grandmother set out on such an adventure and left her family is a million dollar question; she was a devout Catholic, perhaps she was in love, perhaps not.  They immigrated with my grandfather’s sister and after the three of them arrived, Mathias’s sister went off on her own and was never heard from again.  My grandfather was a brick mason and farmer.  After immigrating, they ended up settling some farmland in Ohio and got married.

From the stories I had heard of Mathias, I have always thought of him as a Rasputin-like character.  He was an abusive alcoholic and I suspect manic/depressive. Johanna was a devout Catholic wife, giving Mathias twelve children to work the farm and to pick elderberries which keep Mathias’s wine cellar well stocked.  The children were afraid of their father – afraid he would beat them, kill them, or steal any loose change they may have managed to hide from him. My father had a weak stomach due to his father spitting chewing tobacco into the spittoon in the middle of the dinner table.  One day my father and one of his brothers axed down some of my grandfather’s precious elderberry bushes and their angry father beat them. My father and his brother decided to take revenge and snuck into the basement with a master plan.  The basement was a dark, damp place with long wooden steps leading down onto wooden planks that were used as walkways across the damp dirt floor.  It was mainly a place where my grandfather’s wine kegs and my grandmother’s canned goods were stored.  After locating my grandfather’s favorite wine keg, my father and his brother emptied their full bladders into this keg.  That night, they giggled with great satisfaction as they watched their father drink their urine with his dinner. 

Due to the domestic violence, my father ran away from home and dropped out of school in the sixth grade. He would come back to visit his mother on weekends when he knew his father was out.  As the years passed, all the siblings grew up and moved out, except the eldest, Tini.  Aunt Tini was a spinster and she took care of my grandparents. When I was three, Aunt Tini was changing the channel on their TV set and experienced what she initially thought was an electric shock – until blood made it apparent that her father had just shot her in the back.  She managed to get to the roof where there were structures she could hide behind as her father chased her down, trying to finish her off.  He finally gave up, went back in, found my grandmother, and shot her through the head.  Assuming he had killed her, he put the gun to his mouth and blew his own brains out. As fate would have it, he was the only person who died.

The bullet went through one side of my grandmother’s temple and out the other in a straight path through her head.  The bullet’s path left her completely intact with only some loss of hearing.  It was a miracle which cemented her reputation as a saint within the family.  Since they were Catholic, my grandfather was not allowed to be buried in the hallowed section of their cemetery because suicide was a mortal sin which barred him from access to heaven and resting on consecrated ground where faithful Christians are buried.  To get around this dilemma, they buried him in a plot right on the center line which separated the Catholic graves from the non-Catholic graves.  When Johanna eventually died, she was buried on the Catholic side of the line – so sinner and saint managed to lay next to each other in some eternal sense.

Memories of my paternal grandmother, Johanna, are vague as she died when I was around five.  I never enjoyed going to visit her because my mother strictly instructed me that it was mandatory to kiss her on the lips when we arrived.  She was like a delicate porcelain doll with the smell of an old lady mixed with rose water. Johanna couldn’t walk and was always in a wheelchair when we visited.  She had a high, squeaky voice with a German accent; she smiled and giggled a lot but didn’t speak much.  A visit to her house had many smells beginning on the entry porch with a leaky gas stove and a urine bucket for the men to use.  When the urine bucket was full, it was fed to the vicious pigs corralled outside.  I usually just hung out in my grandmother’s bedroom, banging on her upright piano to pass the time.  Next to her bed was a high wooden box that was her toilet.  Inside was a pan that Aunt Tini attended.  Aunt Tini took very good care of her mother – like a favorite doll.  She sponge bathed her, dressed her, and took care of her hair.  My grandmother’s long white hair fell to the ground around her feet when it was let down.  Every night, without exception, Aunt Tini took down my grandmother’s hair and combed the long white strands to the count of one-hundred strokes – no more, no less. Then each morning, she would braid her hair into long braids and wrap it around the top of her head in a crown that Medusa would have been proud of.  I always saw her in her white nightgown or her loose Victorian white lace dresses.  Given that she was always in a wheelchair and didn’t talk much, it was easy to see her as a perfect porcelain doll.  Her features were extremely delicate and her soft, white skin was always scented with rose water.   

They say you manifest certain DNA genes inherited every other generation, more so than directly from your parents.  That is the way I have always felt.  My role models were more my grandparents than my parents. Perhaps I shared some brain chemistry with both of my grandfathers. That would explain my suicidal tendencies with attempts as early as twelve, repeated at nineteen and again, with closer success, in my thirties.  There have been many studies linking suicidal tendencies to genetics.  It is also theorized that we inherit the unresolved karma of our ancestors within our genes.  There are many new age practices and group therapy retreats to help release this karmic DNA.  If any of this is true, much of my grandfather Mathias’s unresolved karma is in my bones and releasing my own repressed traumas have included his as well. 

Johanna & Mathias on their wedding day, circa 1907

Up till then, these were the only life experiences that determined my definition of what a “ghost” might be.  I thought the idea of a haunted house and satanic ideas of exorcism were only fodder for a badly rated horror flick.  When I finally got my new place fixed up, it was my dream home – and the rent was cheap.  The space was small and open, without separate rooms.  It had a small kitchen at one end and the dining room/living room space went all the way to the other end.  At the far end was an unusual nook in the wall.  This recessed space was about three feet up and was the perfect size for a mattress.  You could even sit up after crawling in.   Also at the far end, next to the bed nook, was a large glass door with long, beveled glass windows on each side.  The door was there – but it opened to nowhere.  There were never any stairs built on the outside of the house. The drop at the door was two floors down.  Directly outside of the heavy glass door was a giant maple tree. It was a magnificent tree and along with the grassy hill and the fields beyond, it offered a scene out of some meditation visualization.  In the morning, the sun would come in and shine into my bed.  I would open the door, sit there with my legs dangling down, and watch the tree leaves dance in the breeze, as I ate my breakfast. I felt like I was living in a special tree house. The scenario suited my soul and it filled me with false optimism as I began my new life in Kalamazoo.  I had been there for over a month and it seemed like a peaceful enough place.  The thought of “ghosts” never crossed my mind.

Kalamazoo was not a sunny place.  Usually the weather was gray and when the rare blue of the sky appeared, it was cause to celebrate.  It was a good place to get a lot of work done.   It rained and stormed often and in the winter there was lots of snow to navigate the car through.  In the summer, the assiduous landscape was lush and humid.  There were a lot of churches that pervaded the college campus and Christianity was a norm that everyone seemed to assume.  Michigan’s isolated history attracted many settlers fleeing religious persecution in Europe, such as the German Lutherans and the Dutch.  Towns in the state could easily be found that were still little pieces of the old country; still speaking the early settler’s languages such as Holland, Michigan, with its tulip festival and Frankenmuth, Michigan, with its Oktoberfest.  The consciousness of Michigan, above the lower part of “the hand”, existed in its own reality bubble, rarely challenged from the outside world – a conservative bubble I never felt comfortable with.

One evening, I went to bed as usual and fell into a sound sleep.  With sudden, shrill force, life as I knew it was turned upside-down.  It was around two in the morning when I jolted out of sleep; the hairs on my back stood straight on edge while my heart pulsated adrenaline through my veins like a semi-automatic machine gun.  There was a deafening, groaning cry, as if something dehumanized were trying to come back to the world of the living but still had one foot caught in hell – like a wounded, dying animal caught in a trap.  The auditory presence took possession of the entire space; a  loud, deep, wailing scream filled my house with terror.  The vibrating timbre of the sound was something I could feel deep within my body – even the souls of my feet felt it.  The groaning lament went on but did not repeat itself in any mechanical pattern loop.  The acoustics were totally an organic improvisation from some living, sentient organism.  Could it be the acrimonious crying of a tormented soul?  It came like a sudden tempest, sweeping me into its raging waves of delirium.  Then it would stop, come back, stop, come back, and then suddenly be gone – as suddenly as it had appeared. What kind of creature of God was this? I lay there chilled to the very marrow of my bones until the sun began to introduce some comfort with the light of day.

The next day, I was still shaking and unnerved.  My thoughts were racing from what seemed an encounter with a phantom of dark matter – a spirit from the other side. Exactly what had happened? It was the quintessence of terror.  I was reminded a little of a time when I lived by myself in Cleveland.  That apartment had a very unusual layout, with rounded turret rooms in the corners and a single, long hallway dividing the apartment in half.  One night I was awoken by similar screams, sending chills down my spine and the hairs on my back to stand on end.  I had set a mousetrap in the long, echo chamber of a hallway.  In the middle of the night, the trap caught a mouse. Instead of dying, the mouse was stuck with a broken back in the trap, dragging it around in trails of blood, screaming down the acoustically magnified hall. Half asleep, my thinking was quite dysfunctional as my heart raced.  Instead of just stamping on it or throwing it down the toilet – an execution that seemed quite inhumane to me in that moment of shock – I surrounded it with extra loaded mousetraps and poked at it to run into them.  It took awhile before the mouse finally died and stopped screaming.  But there were no screaming mice or mousetraps this time.

I went to school the next day, but thinking clearly after that sleepless night was impossible and I did not want to go back home.  Was the ghost waiting for me?  Eventually, I forced myself to return home, fixed some dinner, and collapsed into an unconscious state of deep sleep.  I had nightmares of bats in the basement with huge open eyes watching me and the swarming of bees in a moonlit sky encasing my soul.  The dark dreamscape that night took me to the gates of hell and back.  When I awoke the next morning, I wondered if what had happened the night before could have just been another vivid, incredulous nightmare… 

The nature of this encounter was not such that I could bring it up in conversation with my fellow students without them laughing in disbelief and adding to their already odd perception of me.  So I just kept it to myself until I could get a better reading on what might be taking place.  The next night, I went to bed and fell into a normal state of sleep.  Once again, in the middle of the night, I was awoken by the incessant, discordant wailing, seizing me with pathological fear. Once again, the sound filled my entire being and felt like it was sucking the life from my weary body. I lost complete track of the boundaries between reality and dream and was sucked into a frightening cesspool that showed no signs of abating.  It went on for hours – no comfort, no solace, relief, nor end seemed forthcoming.  Then it suddenly stopped and the peaceful silence was deafening.  I fell back to sleep only to be woken again in a living state of siege, tortured with the rapid thump of my heart about to burst, surging blood through my veins as the now familiar groans deafened my ears, and excited me into a state of uncontrollable terror. 

Again the next night, the ghost howled and moaned, off and on, throughout the night. Again, there were no apparitions to accompany the voice, only sound and vibration.  In between the spine tingling cries and groans, I had snippets of nightmares where a specter appeared out of the darkness and came to me in bed.  It grabbed my soul and tried to pull it out of my body.  My soul was like a writhing worm struggling to stay in the earth as the bird grabbed it with its beak – attempting to pull it out and eat it.  I felt helpless as my soul was pulled at one end, and on the other end, stubbornly held its own, stuck in my body.  It felt like neither end would let go and surely my soul would be ripped in two as worms often are.  Then I woke up to a sound that was worse than the nightmare.  A sound so loud in my ears that it felt as if I was going mad.  How could this be real? How could this be happening? Where was this dying moan coming from? The struggle to grasp at some understanding fried my brain pulp into a state of frazzled madness.

This host would come back , off and on, for several months.  There did not appear to be any pattern or logic to when its spine chilling moans would come and drive me to the brink of insanity.  Occasionally it happened in broad daylight but it was the sleep-deprived nights that made it difficult to function or think in a rational fashion.  My perseverance with getting to the bottom of it with any semblance of scientific logic had reached a dead end where reason tottered.  I had thoroughly scoured the apartment and there were no more rational targets to investigate.  It made no sense and was relentless.  Sometimes there would be periods where it would not come back for weeks, during which I was be able to regain my strength, but I never knew when it would return and I was always preoccupied with anticipation. Each night, I went to bed with trepidation, preparing myself for the worse and just laying there awake, simply waiting for what often never came.

I scoured every corner of the apartment over and over.  It was not coming from any particular direction or location.  It was ubiquitous and generated from the entire space of my apartment without any finite source; it seemed to spontaneously manifest everywhere.  It was not responsive to my shouting or screaming.  What was this demonic cacophony? I had never experienced the likes such as this before. It wasn’t coming from here or there; it was like being in the center of a surround-sound head phone – no matter where I went.   Nothing physical seemed to be generated or connected to it.  It came from its own separate physical plane and into mine.  It disturbed nothing and nothing moved.  It had no visual counterpart.  Why had it come here? Why was it appearing to me?  Jim could not hear it from his lower unit and the few times I tried to bring him up, it always stopped. Yet what I described to him was exactly what the previous tenants had described – depriving them of sleep, driving them mad, and forcing them to move out.

However, no ghost was going to force me to move. The next day, I began my morning in the usual psychotic state of stupor from the previous night, barely able to think or function.  But it was daylight now and the common sense reality of the day hours prevailed. I had to get to the bottom of this.  One moment, the sun was shining through the glistening leaves of my magnificent tree.  The next moment, moonlight transformed night into a dark, maddening, unrelentless hell.  At this point, all possible explanations seemed viable, no possibility was ludicrous any longer. What was happening within the realm of my house made no logical sense.  There are things that science can’t test but that doesn’t mean they don’t happen.  We simply do not know everything and I needed to be open to every possibility.

Was my house a crypt for a lost soul wailing from the pain of a dark and brutal death?  Was my little ghost caught in some kind of limbo, wandering back and forth through a worm hole from the twilight zone?  What was it about this “ordinary” apartment that made it a doorway for this phantom to enter and take over?  Did this apartment have some kind of cosmic imprint on it causing an energy echo from a disembodied voice?  Was there something embedded in my home that could prevent closure with death?  Was there something I could do to help release it from some kind of eternal bondage?  Or had I simply taken leave of my senses?

Perhaps the toxic mold in the basement could be getting into the air causing audio hallucinations similar to those self-generated in cases of schizophrenia.  Perhaps the house itself had an unusual electromagnetic field, undetectable to the conscious brain, leading to the perception of things that are not there.  Order must exist in the universe, even in relation to ghosts.  There must be some form of order that this ghost was not capable of eluding.  Whatever this phenomenon was, it did exist with certainty, and then again there are things we are not meant to be clearly understood.  The lack of answers to any of these questions drove me to my wit’s end.

In my search for an explanation, I wondered if Quantum Physics could offer any new possibilities in terms of the relationship between energy, time, and matter.  I had read that the experience we come to understand as matter – and the separateness of objects – is only an illusion.  With each atom consisting of 90% space, matter takes on a new understanding;  everything is made of loose, gyrating atoms existing as one cosmic space.  The vibration of the sound penetrated and filled the space inside every atom within my apartment, including every atom in my own body; the vibration of the sound physically penetrated to a molecular level. It was as if two separate planes of existence were now interconnected on a molecular level and vibrating together as one form of pure energy.  Such were the straws I was grasping.

All the dead ends placed me on the brink of mental deterioration, coupled with sleep deprivation and the burden of keeping this secret to myself.  What was I dealing with?  Whatever it was, was something I was ill-equipped to understand – something that was outside of any universe that I frequented.  I had to think outside of my box to figure it out, as all presumptions thus far had led to folly.  I became obsessed with theories of death, mortality, and the states between.  Figuring out possible anomalies were all part of the detective work I was undergoing to win a battle, a battle against what?… a ghost.

Fear of our own mortality plays an important role in the belief that ghosts exist.  People have always wanted to believe in life after death and the idea of ghosts offers support for such notions.  There are many ideas of places where unfortunate souls get stuck after death.  In these places they are prevented from fully dying and are stuck for eternity in some horrid undead-unliving moment of never-ending time.  One such notion is the Tibetan idea of a “bardo” where souls get stuck after death yet still retain some connection to their past life in a state of unresolved pain.  Was this the ilk of my ghost?  Ideas of either getting into heaven or being refused at the gate, can leave souls in a perpetual state of limbo with no where to go.  When my father was on his deathbed, he was scared of the possibility that he would not be allowed to enter the kingdom of heaven.  Many still believe in the fires of hell and all the naked bodies screaming as they burn for eternity.  The Japanese have shrines for “mizuko”, the souls of aborted fetuses, miscarriages, and stillborn babies (translated as “water babies”). They have never lived a life to determine the fate of their souls and as such, their souls are stuck for eternity in limbo.  Little stones are piled up along with little mizuko jizo statues (little Buddha-like deities) in these shrines to symbolize, comfort, and take care of the souls of the fetuses as they wait out being stuck in this state of limbo. Ceremonies and rituals help send these souls on their way from the water of the womb to their original liquid state in the beyond.

During the time I lived in Japan, I visited this "mizuko shrine" in a forested area somewhere in Wakayama-ken.  The outside shrine grounds had many "mizuko jizu" (little Buddha statues, each representing the soul of an unborn fetus).  The inner shrine was carved out of a cave in the ground.  The above image is a "jizu" statue at the entrance to the underground grotto.  The sign says this is a Buddha-jizu statue that wards off evil.
Many "mizuko jizu" statues outside the underground shrine grotto. Each one put there representing the soul of some woman's unborn fetus. Mothers would come and make offerings of children's pleasure food (usually candy and junk food but sometimes fruit) to feed and comfort, as well as to give solace and enjoyment to the unborn souls of the fetuses as they bare out their time stuck in this dark limbo.
Lit only by candle light, deep inside the dark, humid underground womb of the grotto, mothers would make little piles of rocks. Each little pile of rocks is the same thing as the more realistic "mizuko jizu" statues - they are another form of a little Buddha that represents an individual fetus' soul.
A mother lights a candle to pay homage to the soul of a "mizuko" (water baby) - to comfort it and to comfort herself.

As time passed, my perspective and attitude towards this “ghost” changed.  I decided to try a new approach and to accept whatever it was that I could not fathom – and become friends with it.  Perhaps in such a calm, relaxed, and  centered state, some form of understanding of this anomalous phenomenon would open up and come to me.  So I decided to embrace it and approach it with deference.  When it appeared next, I tried sharing its torment with empathy.  In that moment, I gave up being a detective or a warrior.  There was no longer any resistance or fear with this realm of the unknown.  I became one with darkness – only to be driven closer to the brink of insanity.

I tried earplugs, but the sound could still be felt in the air.  When I was able to sleep, it was in a state of consternation.  I could no longer deny its irrational existence in a rational world; it existed yet was not of this world.  My roommate had squatter’s rights over me.  Something that came in through the walls which a new coat of fresh paint could not keep out.  My home was its womb, in which I lay in fetal position at its mercy.

Or was this all some kind of perverse practical joke – a ruse of some kind?  Foul play so clever that all the former tenants were taken in and left their security deposits in the dust?  I had seen an episode of the Sixty Minutes news show where landlords were secretly documented planting cameras in their tenant’s apartments to watch them naked or having sex.  One landlord even worked up and spit a huge hocker into a half-eaten Chinese take-out that was in his tenant’s refrigerator while she was out, assuming the tenant would eat it on camera when she returned.  My landlord was certainly a scum-ball.  Were there speakers hidden somewhere that I just couldn’t locate?  Could this be a serial and nefarious strategy of his?

After exploring all possible avenues, an “ahah” moment occurred when I noticed a hatch in the middle of the small kitchen’s ceiling.  It was so small that it would have been possible, although difficult, for a slim human body to fit through.  What did this trap door lead to?  Was this my last stone left unturned?  There must be an attic space above.  Could there be a dead body up there? Would I find a dried corpse with stretched skin around its’ open mouth of yellow teeth frozen in its’ last scream?  Could this be where the landlord had planted speakers?  Going up there could reveal answers to all the secrets I was in search of; it appeared to be at the heart of the matter. I had a step-ladder from painting and decided to wait until the next time the ghost appeared in broad daylight.  Then I would either discover the scientific secrets of the universe or confront the mystical corpus of my ghost. The secrets entombed in this overhead chamber would soon enough come to light.

The next afternoon, I was working at home on a drawing when the wailing groans began.  They didn’t last long, but I was ripe to have a face-off with this ghost or finally discover the hidden speakers.  I was determined to wage the battle of my life with this paranormal phenomenon – if that is what it took.  Filled with adrenalin, imagination, and true ghost-buster righteousness, I set up the ladder and ascended towards this mysterious portal, ready to stick my head into what seemed like Twilight Zone headquarters and face my destiny.  After forcing it ajar with a hammer and putty knife, I squeezed my body half way through.  Scanning my flashlight around, what I saw took my breath away.  Was this a real ghost’s lair?

The entry opened into a pristine tomb that had been sealed in time.  The attic space was undisturbed – hermetically sealed for the most part – with the exception of a tiny hole in a far corner, through which a spot of light was barely visible. The spaces between the attic floor joists were filled with sawdust, the clean smell of which was still in the air.  Attached to the tops of the rough wooden floor joists were porcelain ceramic posts that held tightly strung copper wire.  The taut bare wires ran parallel to each other, about two feet apart, across the length of the attic.  One wire was the current-carrying hot wire, the other, the grounded neutral wire. (This “knob-and-tube wiring” was common from the 1880’s through the 1930’s and occasionally into the 1950’s.)  I knew, if I were to accidentally touch both wires, I would be instantly electrocuted.

What made it like a little shop of horrors were all the mummified animals that lay strewn about on top of the pristine sawdust.  There were about fifteen dehydrated little corpses – squirrels, pigeons, and a small cat.  All the body remnants were frozen in time, telling their story for the first time as my flashlight illuminated the scene within their tomb. They were so old that most of the fur had fallen off, leaving only dried skin stretched over bones in various death-pose positions.  The shrunken lip skin on the squirrels and cat exposed articulate yellow teeth that were imprinted with frozen voices.  These dramatic mummies set the perfect stage in the den of some creature about to return, or more likely, the lair of my resident ghost. I waited in what seemed like eternal stillness for any sound to come.  But there was only the silence of this spellbound still life.  After soaking it all in, I descended the ladder, leaving everything the way I found it.  With great disappointment, I closed the hatch back up.  As macabre as this spooking chamber was, there were no speakers, no human remains, nor any ghosts. Of course, that night the ghost came back to spite and taunt me with a vengeance.

The next morning, a summer’s breeze wafted through the leaves of the maple tree as I ate breakfast with legs dangling out my treehouse door.  As my stress began to melt, I noticed the ever so subtle sound of the tree “creaking”.  It was like a moan coming from this living, ancient tree.  The sound was somewhere between a very quiet stomach growl and an insect singing.  There was something uncanny about this sound that was similar to the unique voice of my ghost.  Could the spirit that dwells within this magnificent tree somehow be the same as the spirit in my house?  Could this sound frequency somehow trans-migrate from the tree into my house?  Was there some osmotic vehicle?  No… the tree did not touch the house in any way.  The only thing touching the house was the electrical line running up to the house.  But was the house close enough to the tree for this massive, ancient spirit to jump the gap, like a spark plug?  Not really – the notion seemed like nonsense, yet the branches did creak in the wind, the leaves rustled, and I could not help but think there was the soft emulation of a ghost’s voice trapped inside that tree.  I entertained this thought as I continued to eat breakfast, relaxing in the nurturing comfort of my tree.

In a sudden flash of certainty, a most profound revelation flooded my brain.  The epiphany was no less than Einsteinian in magnitude.  In that moment, I felt as if I understood the past, present, and future of the universe – the universe of that moment anyway.  The clarity was absolute.  With feverish determination, I grabbed my saw and headed out of the house.  Down the hill I went, following the electric line that attached to the house.  I thrashed through bramble, crossed an overgrown stream, trespassed through several private backyards, and ended in a small field.  There I saw what I was looking for… a giant tree with a large branch resting on the electrical line.  Without hesitation, I climbed up the beast with the full fervor of my mission, severed its appendage and watched it fall to the ground. Scratched and bloodied, I headed back home with a sense of euphoric exhilaration.

That night I slept soundly with a deep stillness and peace in my bones.  The next morning, I awoke to the birds singing in the sunshine outside my tree-house door.  I shared the news with Jim – the only other person to know about my secret ghost.  And so it was. I waited out the week to see if I ever would hear from my ghost again.  I never did.

That distant tree branch had been resting on the electrical line for who knows how many years.  When the wind conditions were right, the heavy branch rubbed along the taut wire, becoming the perfect cello bow, vibrating across the string.  The resonating aches and moans of the tree coupled with the strokes of the bow rubbing back and forth (pulling then releasing in a complex sawtooth pattern) created the most unearthly and tonally complex sounds imaginable. (A “note” is actually the combination of various frequencies that all contribute to the timbre, acoustic richness, and character of the sound we perceive.)  As in a string instrument, the vibration itself was not sound. The wave frequencies traveled up the wire in silence leaving the air around the string nearly unaffected.  (The string’s job is to capture the energy coming from the bow movements and transmit this energy in the form of waves.)  When the silent wave reached the house, it would enter the attic on the bare copper wires and become sound inside the giant, enclosed resounding chamber of the attic.  The house, the ceramic posts, and possibly the joists may have been acting as the sound posts.  My house literally was a giant cello, the likes of which I lived inside of.

Although  this ghost was now reduced to a scientifically acoustic phenomenon, it still occupies a place in my imagination and contributes to who I am.  The human mind is always hungry to know, hungry to understand.  The belief in this ghost was a placebo that manifested in my psyche. The human psyche includes those things beyond imagination and understanding, for a human brain is only a small part of something much greater than thought itself.  When mundane, finite things are perceived as magical, a deeper realm of wonder is opened up. The magic in the attic tomb was real, just as the voice in the tree was real and spoke a language beyond mere words.  Memory is a place that accommodates emotion, understanding, and imagined fantasy in that soup of gray matter that defines what the reality of the moment is.

One minute, I felt hubris and cosmic clarity; the next, the simple peace of closure, enabling me to move on.  Up to that revelation, there were two of us – the ghost and me.  Now there was only me, feeling a secret victory over simple happenstance.  Now that I knew it never existed, it was no longer my nemesis.  The world of logic and sense once again ruled.  I had reached the goal I was striving for, but as with everything, it was more about what I had passed on the road along the way.  Although the moment to reflect on victory was a quiet occasion of expansive peace, with that peace came a flash of melancholy, knowing that things were now changed forever.  It was akin to an exorcisism which left a void where a spirit had once existed; a hole in the fabric of things that are. The dark was now filled with light but the magic was still there.  There was magic in the leaves bristling in the breeze, magic in the ancient voice of the tree creaking – and I could see it all from my tree-house.  In that moment of power after destroying a ghost, I also knew I was creator, and in that never ending cycle of destruction and creation that defines growth, I knew this ghost was a part of me.

The present carries many hitchhikers from the past as we ride it into the future and the ghost of Kalamazoo is a welcome passenger, still along for the ride.

The End

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    • Ivar
      March 13, 2021

      Excellent story John, i wasn’t sure that I could finish as I lay soaking in the tub this morning, but you’re thrilling tale kept me going, and science/music won out in the end!

    • Lin Hark
      March 13, 2021

      There is not always a logical explanation for odd occurrences. Glad you stuck it out and found the cause of your “ghost” and learned and grew along the way. Loved the story and the words used to bring an explicit picture in my mind. You are a true artist!

    • Arlette
      March 13, 2021

      Another great story

    • Arlette Lucero
      March 14, 2021

      Again I am totally amazed by your incredible talent. Your story is exciting, insightful and delightful. Your photography never ceases to amaze. I have enjoyed your other stories and have taken the tour of your areas of interest many times and even brought other family members with me. Thank you and never stop writing and making beautiful art.

    • Gary
      March 14, 2021

      Loved it John. As always you kept me enthralled till the end. Perfect timing to be a snow day read. Keep em coming!

    • Hiroko Hansen
      March 14, 2021

      Engrossed in your story, in front of my floor to ceiling window, watching the snow slowly overtaking the 30 foot pine, perfect reading.

    • Carley Warren
      March 14, 2021

      Great story! Didn’t miss a word!

    • Brian Scheuermann
      March 15, 2021

      Thanks for the story Cuz. I remember some of the parts about Grandpa George but I was much younger than others. I have a picture of Grandpa, myself, and my brother Scott, and I am holding Grandpa’s pipe. That was probably his idea…. HAHA. I remember Michael and the motorcycle club next door too.

    • Anna L
      March 17, 2021

      Truly captivating! The experiences in your history + the plot to find the ghost of Kalamazoo. I can’t wait to read your next story! Thank you John!

    • Mike Holtby
      March 19, 2021

      Great, engaging story John! I think you ought to pitch it to The Moth podcast. What I personally found most interesting was not the ghost, but your ancestors including their photos.

    • Suzanne Hunt
      March 24, 2021

      You certainly are an artist with words as well as the visual! I enjoyed reading the entire story and was on the edge of my seat! So well done John! And I look forward to the next ones. The subjects of your writing are so intriguing!

    • Linda C Everson
      March 24, 2021

      Another intriguing story John. I can’t imagine how you’ve experienced so many nasty basements, bathrooms, and attics, but it added a certain “smell” to the story. It was suspenseful to the end, but knowing you, I knew you’d figure out the culprit. I’ve been looking at old family photos too, but don’t have quite the tales to tell as you did. Looking forward to the next blog.

    • Greg everson
      March 27, 2021

      From skeletons in the closet to a ghost in the attic and sleuthing equivalent to Hercule Poirot – a must read. Very cool.

    • Barbara Hoffman
      April 11, 2021

      Very interesting story that I took as your real experiences. Your sensitivity and creativity abound!
      I also had a maternal grandmother who ‘s love I felt as you did yours. It is life forming.
      I was surprised to know that you almost crossed paths with my brother-in-law who is an art photographer in Rochester, NY. He was a student of Nathan Lyons first class in the mid 60’s of his Visual Studies Workshop, which was affiliated with RIT. I have sent him your web site.
      I hope there are more stories !

    • Scott Scheuermann
      April 13, 2021

      I really enjoyed reading about our family and seeing the pictures. Being younger there are many things I didn’t know, or was too young to remember. I remember your dad talking about his dad once. He just said that he was not a nice man. He was probably just trying to spare me the gory details! When you mentioned about the outhouse my immediate thought was that I don’t remember it being there! Then you said it was torn down…probably before I was born, so all made sense.

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