When I was a kid, the fright in a ghost story was the sense of evil or impending doom-not the actuality. You didn't see guts slathered on the wall or heads rolling around like runaway bowling balls.
Today's fright is visual, probably a result of our worship of movies and television. If it doesn't bleed and puke, it isn't scary. Never mind the delicious anticipation of horrible things; let's have a drooling demon pulling the legs off children.
This may scare the wadding out of you…but it's not a real ghost story. No, a good ghost story has sounds in the night and unexplained deep cold and shimmering visitations. Chains clank and there are footsteps where no person is.
Each June I teach a writing workshop in northern Vermont's Northeast Kingdom, a sparsely-populated area of the rolling Green Mountains. The houses are Colonial, both in style and in age. One student, a resident of the small town, wrote a piece titled "The Ghosts of Craftsbury."
She had interviewed residents of the several small towns in the vicinity…and almost every one had a story to tell. Now, these were not superstitious backwoods types. Some were on the college faculty and all were educated and not given to superstition.
How about the widow with a daughter who moved into a house where almost immediately they encountered a red-bearded ghost? It was a benevolent presence, almost a friend, albeit an insubstantial one. She took in a friend who was terminally ill with cancer and he too saw the wraith many times and was comforted by its presence.
The widow remarried and the ghost never came again, as if its mission had been accomplished.
Less heartwarming was the tale of a couple in East Craftsbury who bought an antebellum home and began stripping wallpaper. Under several layers they found a charcoal drawing of a Civil War soldier. Vermont had an inordinate number of boys who left to fight for the Union and were killed. Immediately after the drawing was uncovered they began to hear inconsolate weeping in the night.
They hastily covered the drawing again and the sobbing went away.
There were many such stories and they all raised a chill, that feeling when the hairs on your neck stir and you swallow nervously.
Now that's a good ghost story.
The stories that follow are throwbacks. They don't involve dismemberment nor buckets of blood. In some cases the ghosts are in the mind (which are, after all, the worst kind). Some are benevolent, some unhappy, some evil. Some might not even exist.
Outdoor ghost stories are nothing new. The Headless Horseman was a pioneer, and almost every kid on his first campout has the bejesus scared out of him by the story of the golden arm.
Indians saw spirits in everything and in the long run, after we've destroyed our natural world and in turn have been crippled by its loss, we'll realize they were right. We should have paid homage to the spirits in the trees, waters and air.
Dedication & Introduction
• The Invincible Grouse Hunter
• Helping Out
• Tackle Box Demon
• Northern Lights
• Going Home
• A Christmas Present
• Portrait of A Hunter
• The Damned Little
Bitty Brown Thing
• The Brass Compass
• The Haunted Cabin
• Unwelcome Stranger
• Snow Leopard
• Pie Supper
• The Pilgrim
• Then and Now
• The World’s Greatest
• Ghostly Ridge