On Halloween we dress up in costumes of monsters, celebrities and ghosts. But for me, ghosts aren’t just something I think of on Halloween. I tend to think a lot about ghosts all year long, because I often write about them in my books.
In my Mortician’s Daughter series, Riley’s life is overrun by the dead. Some of them follow her dad home from the funeral home. Others just show up. They usually need her help with something. In the first book in the series, One Foot in the Grave, Riley manages to help a young woman get justice and put the man responsible for her death away. In the second book, Two Feet Under, Riley is faced with an even scarier ghost, one who is a murderer.
So, why my fascination with ghosts? It may date back to a dream I had as a child.
I was thirteen and I woke up that morning with sunshine spilling through my window. But the memory of a dream I’d just had made breathing difficult. There had been no sunshine in the dream.
It was spooky, but even more strange and sad. Like an old movie, I could still see it playing in my mind. But unlike a movie, my memory came with all five senses. The smell of wet earth and the scent of a storm brewing somewhere close by. I could feel the wind hit my face, blowing my blonde hair across my eyes. Tombstones, aged and cracked, littered the ground around me. All was silent—deadly silent.
A small group of people stood quietly by a gravesite. All wearing black. Even the sky held a dismal shade of sadness. There seemed to be no color in the image—no joy, all drab and gray. I stared at the faces of those grieving people. Did I know them? Yes, but . . . vaguely. And from where?
Immediately, my gaze shifted to the casket. The tiny polished box carried the only color in the scene. A bright pink ribbon rested on top. My gaze shot back to the people again. They weren’t crying. For some reason that seemed odd. They needed to cry. Cry for the child who obviously lay tucked inside that casket. The child who would never run and play and who would never know life.
I studied the faces of the people again, trying to remember where I’d seen them. How could I know them when they looked so out of place? Like people from old pictures. People from another time, another life.
And then came the realization. The woman dressed in a thick black wool coat, hugging herself against the cold and staring at the casket with empty emotion, was my grandmother, but younger. A lot younger. The woman was now in her sixties. But yes, I remembered seeing her younger face in family photo albums.
Then, I recognized the other people. My mom and dad when they were young. My grandfather and one of my uncles. My gaze shifted from one person to the next. This was one weird dream.
Then my gaze returned to the casket.
Who had died? Part of the answer came with the next cold whisk of wind: A baby. A baby girl.
I wanted to tell someone how sorry I was. Emotion built in my chest. A crazy thought hit. Someone needed to cry for the child. I stood back from the crowd, not really present, but somehow still there. I felt the odd sadness. But why weren’t they crying?
Then my grandmother, my mom, dad and uncle were gone. As if they’d vanished into the air. I saw the casket being lowered into the gaping chasm. Abruptly the dream changed and I saw the gravestone. It simply read, Our baby girl: Christie.
Christie? CHRISTIE? That was my name. How could the baby have my name? That’s when I’d woken up. My heart still thumped against my breastbone at the memory, and I had tears in my eyes. Not wanting to be alone, I went and found my mom cooking breakfast.
I told her about the dream, about the casket with the pink ribbon and seeing my name on the gravestone.
Shock hit my mom’s face. “What is it?” I asked, but was almost scared to hear her answer.
“It’s just weird, you’d dream about that.”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“Your grandmother got pregnant a few months after your dad and I were married. It was a girl. She only lived a few weeks. You were named after her.”
The spookiness tiptoed up my spine as chills skittered up my neck. I looked at my mom. “Why didn’t anyone cry?” Suddenly, I wanted to cry.
Mom answered, “Your grandma told everyone no tears. She said she couldn’t handle the tears. We weren’t allowed to cry.”
I dropped down into a kitchen chair and asked the question burning inside me. “How could I have dreamed this?”
“I’m sure you heard the story,” Mom said.
“When? When could I have heard the story? I swear I never knew about my aunt before now.”
“I don’t know, but you had to have heard it. How else would you have known this?”
To this day I think about that dream. I think about the little girl, my namesake. Did I really hear someone tell that story and my mind simply played it back to me as a dream? Or did the spirit of Christie somehow visit me? Did she need me to know about her? Did she need someone to cry for her?
Now do you understand why I often write about ghosts? There’s a part of me that believes in them. What about you? Do you believe in ghosts?