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Who Can Explain It, Who Can Tell You Why…?
This is the introductory paragraph of the series overview I wrote for Dark Horse’s prospective re-launch of the Gold Key title Spektor (formerly Doctor Spektor) that, sadly, never made it to print.
“Have you ever met anyone who, at some time in his or her life, hasn’t experienced something inexplicable? Knowing the phone was going to ring a second before it did? A premonition that proved true? A horoscope that was uncannily accurate? Next time you’re at a party, ask if anyone has a “ghost story,” a tale of something spooky that happened to them. Almost everyone does.
“I have several “ghost stories,” and I’m the second most skeptical man on Earth.”
If you’re wondering, the most skeptical man on Earth, at the beginning, at least, was going to be Spektor.
When I see him, I’ll ask Mike Richardson if I can post the overview and first Spektor plot I wrote. I don’t see why not….
That introductory paragraph is me talking, for real. I don’t believe in ghosts or in anything the existence of which has not been proven to my satisfaction.
However, things happen everywhere every day that defy explanation. I have had many minor, eyebrow-raising, inexplicable experiences—knowing the phone was about to ring, déjà vu, “prophetic” dreams, uncannily accurate how-the-hell-did-he/she-know-that readings? Etc. You know. I suspect that everyone reading this has had at least one of those.
Until someone figures out a watertight explanation for such occurrences, to a certain extent, anyone’s explanation is as good as anyone else’s. The Wiccans will say it’s witchcraft, or the energies pervading nature or whatever, the E.S.P. fans will say it’s undiscovered mental abilities, the flying saucer people will say it’s the work of extraterrestrials…you know. I think we can rule out the theories of the people who think they’re mutants because sometimes a street light will go out as they approach.
But don’t think I’m making fun of Wiccans and other people who believe what they believe. I know a woman who’s a whole lot smarter than me, a Fulbright scholar, who firmly believes in natural forces yet unidentified by science. I’m not sure if she calls herself a Wiccan, but I have heard her refer to herself as a “hedge witch.”
This is October. A good time to ponder things beyond the world mundane.
I have a few ghost stories….
Some of you have made it clear that you don’t want me straying off of the subject of comics, so I will confine these tales to extra weekend posts.
And I invite you to share here any ghost stories or tales of spooky or inexplicable events that you might have. Please. Enter them freely, and of your own will.
I Ain’t Afraid of No Ghost…
…but I was, almost forty-nine years ago.
I was eleven. I was a paperboy. I delivered the morning paper, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in the neighborhood where I lived and those close around in Bethel Park, Pennsylvania. Six days a week, at about five AM, I would set out on my route with as much as sixty pounds of papers in a canvas bag slung over my shoulder, down Thornwood Drive then up and down the hills all around. The Post-Gazette didn’t have a Sunday edition. Thank God.
Every house had its delivery preference—inside the screen/storm door (depending on the season), on the porch, through the mail slot, in the milk box…. Remember milk boxes? I didn’t think so.
On Saturday afternoons, I’d walk the route house to house collecting. Six days of the Post-Gazette cost 42 cents. Most people gave me fifty cents. Keep the change, kid. I envied the Pittsburgh Press paperboy who had approximately the same route, delivered after school and, since the Press had a Sunday edition and a week’s worth was seventy-five cents, most people gave him a dollar. A twenty-five cent tip! Jeez, Louise!
October 27, 1962 , was a classic, bleak fall day. Windy. High overcast, with lower level clouds scudding by. Most of the leaves were off the trees and they bowed and rustled when gusts swept by. A gray, foreboding day.
The house on the corner of Elderwood and Chessbriar was surrounded by a high hedge. There were big, bare, wind-scourged trees in the yard. I wish I could tell you that there was a wrought iron fence with a creaky gate, but, nope. Just a flagstone walkway leading up to the porch.
I had never seen the people who lived there. At every other house, I’d knock on the door, someone would answer and give me my forty-two cents and sometimes throw in an extra eight cents for the effort. Sometimes not. When I came collecting at the corner house, though, there was always an envelope taped to the door with exactly forty-two cents inside.
But not that Saturday. And not the two Saturdays before, either. No envelope.
I’d been faithfully delivering the papers anyway. They’d pile up for a few days, then they’d be gone. Then they’d pile up for a while again, then they’d be gone again.
Looked like the grass hadn’t been cut for a long time.
The first two no-envelope Saturdays I figured the people who lived there were away or something. By the third time I was starting to wonder. I had to pay for those papers whether or not I got paid.
I knocked on the door. No answer. I knocked louder. I wanted my $1.26, darn it!
I was about to give up. Then the door opened. It was an old lady—you know, old like a teacher or someone. Probably more than thirty! Like my mother.
She was wearing what in those days was called a housedress. Plain, ordinary clothes. She looked a little confused, like she couldn’t quite grasp the situation—a paperboy wanting to collect. A kid, coin changer clipped to the belt. Receipt deck with binder rings in hand. Hello-o?
I demanded $1.26. She looked troubled and confused. She said she didn’t have any money, but maybe she could find some.
She asked me to come inside while she looked for money.
I came inside, as requested. In those days, if an adult asked you to do something, well…he or she was an adult, so….
The place was largely empty. As if a lot of stuff had been moved out. There were a few odd pieces of furniture, some taped-up boxes and some piles of stuff apparently in the process of being sorted.
The lady poked around, opening a drawer here and there, looking under little piles of papers and small items. Didn’t seem likely to me that she’d find $1.26 anywhere she was looking.
I started thinking maybe I should just go. And said so. Told her I’d come back later. I was getting that hair-standing-up-on-the-back-of-the-neck creepy feeling….
No! she said. She asked me to follow her to the kitchen. Maybe there was some money there.
Numbly, I followed.
Sit down, she said, pulling out a chair at the kitchen table for me. Okay….
She looked in the refrigerator. For money?
There was nothing in the fridge except for one bottle of Coke. She was delighted. She offered it to me. I said no, thank you, but she insisted. There was a bottle opener mounted on the side of a cabinet. She opened the Coke and put it in front of me.
Then she sat down and started asking me questions. Where did I go to school? What grade was I in?
Memorial School, just up Elderwood and over the hill. Sixth.
She wanted to hear all about it. Did I have friends? What were they like? What did we do? Did I like school?
I started feeling very…what’s a good word? Uneasy? No, I’d felt uneasy since the door opened. Okay, default to comic-book-speak. I felt a nameless dread. I was scared.
She pressed me about what it was like, my life. Looking back from this distance, granted, in nameless-dread, comic-booky terminology, what it was like to be alive.
Suddenly, a feeling of terror overwhelmed me. I said something like, “I have to go.” And I ran out of that house as fast as my scrawny legs would carry me.
I ran all the way home.
I didn’t deliver papers to the house at the corner of Elderwood and Chessbriar that week. Steered clear of it.
The next Saturday, I went collecting again. Skipped that house.
The next door neighbors were customers. I knocked on their door and Mrs. M., answered. As I was giving her fifty cents change for her dollar, I asked her what was up with the lady next door. I told her that I came to collect from her a week ago but she couldn’t find any money.
Mrs. M. looked puzzled. She told me that the lady who lived next door had died a month ago, and insisted that no one had been in that house since, except her brother once or twice, packing things up.
True story. I swear.
Now, I can hear you thinking, coming up with various explanations. I’ve done that, too. Surely there is a rational explanation—a sister or cousin who came by to help pack. Whatever.
But I was scared out of my mind. Nameless dread. A kind of terror piercing to the soul that defies description.
NEXT WEEKEND: My Girlfriend’s Dead Aunt Comes to Call
Again, please, if anyone has any tales to tell, please do so.
Berni Wrightson, or Bernie Wrightson, as he now prefers, told me about a weird event that happened to him that makes the few tales I have seem paltry. I’ll see if I can get him to tell the tale. Joe Jusko, I know you’re in touch with the estimable Mr. Wrightson, and I know you stop by here sometimes, so rattle his cage for me, please, if you will.
And if you have one or more….
Anyone else with knowledge of comics guys I can bug for a tale, please rat them out.
MONDAY: Jane’s Fighting Ships, the Marvel Encyclopedia and Where It Went From There