Seven years ago, I revealed in this column the startling presence of mysterious, ghostly visitors in my home. The behavior of those spirits has changed slowly but steadily since that time, and during the recent summer months, their activity rose to unprecedented levels. Sightings are rare, as they seem to have become averse to direct human interaction. Yet their existence is harder than ever to ignore: they have become ghostlier, but also messier and more annoying.
Weekend and school holiday mornings are occasions for peaceful solace in our home; the children sleep late, and ghostly disruptions are nonexistent. The ghosts, like most ethereal excursionists, keep a schedule perfectly designed to bother middle-aged folks—instead of an “early to bed, early to rise” model, these spirits are most spirited during nocturnal hours. I’ve been awakened many times by the eerie disturbances of these unseen, unsettled, uninvited guests.
I’d hear the ghosts almost every night, their presence often announced by the faint sounds of music—pop music, funnily enough. Accustomed to the company of supernatural creatures, I’d casually call to them from my bed, half-asleep, asking “Can you turn that down?”
I never garnered a response. It seemed the spirits just weren’t interested in communicating with me, but now I realize that perhaps my methods were flawed. Rather than using text messaging or sophisticated ghost-detecting equipment to reach out to them, I attempted to make contact by asking simple questions aloud, like, “How was your day?” or “What did you do today?” On rare occasions, I’d be rewarded with a grunt.
A popular theory about ghosts states that they linger in one place because they seek some sort of aid from the humans who share their residence. I give credence to this argument, because when the enigmatic visitors in our home do reach out, they always seem to want something. Their requests are strange, given ghostly mythology and history—rather than seeking vengeance, or the correction of some perceived injustice, they mostly seem to want money.
Sometimes this is conveyed with the sudden appearance of an upturned palm, emerging from behind a door and waiting to be filled with cash. The apparitions become more irritating when not satisfied, so it’s usually worth it to fork over a few bucks for peace of mind.
Surprisingly, the hands of these rarely-seen creatures resemble solid flesh and bone when they are receiving a boon, yet they seem unable to pick up or put away anything else of substance: dishes, towels, clothes, glasses. Those items all sit in disarray where my own children have left them, and don’t move unless my wife or I pick them up. Yet bowls, plates, and utensils will often disappear from their proper cabinets and drawers, unaccountably reappearing near the television, kitchen, or especially, my son’s room. My children deny responsibility, claiming no knowledge of how the items arrived there. With traces of food still evident, this is obvious proof that spooks and spectres do require sustenance, and not in the form of souls or life energy. They seem to prefer macaroni and cheese.
They are, however, amenable to most fried, high-fat, high-sugar, or high-salt foods, as any of these brought into the house quickly go missing. The appetites responsible are patently supernatural, since such a diet could not sustain a normal human being; one is reminded of the gastronomic tendencies of the green goblin-ghost Slimer, from the movie Ghostbusters.
While the unexpected coming and going of victuals and crockery point toward food-centric motivations, these spirits also seem to exhibit elements of pure mischief—or perhaps other leftover human characteristics, like wastefulness and laziness. I repeatedly find lights and fans left on in rooms absent of any human presence, but never have I experienced that staple of ghostly experiences, an abrupt, unaccountable shutoff of those devices. Maybe these spirits prefer to drive us mad subtly, rather than suddenly, by steadily driving up the electric bill.
Scissors, tape, and tools frequently go missing, only to be found in the kids’ rooms, or outside near their bicycles. Perhaps it’s the work of a playful poltergeist; there are, after all, certain similarities between the young protagonist of the 1982 film Poltergeist and our own children, who also spend much of their time staring blankly at television screens, or in a concession to modern technology, monitors, iPads, and smartphones.
It has also occurred to me that we might be the latest victims of the mischievous “Not Me” ghost, whose troublemaking adventures have been depicted for decades in the comic strip The Family Circus, along with those of his invisible accomplices “Ida Know” and “Nobody.” While those accounts are not presented as fact, the similarities between our afflictions and the fictional Keane family’s are too obvious to ignore, leading to an inescapable conclusion: that the strip conveys more truth than its creators have publicly acknowledged. Viewed through this lens, the cloying comic’s continued existence finally makes sense, its publication revealed as an extended, desperate attempt to warn others and appease vase-breaking, candy-eating spirits by granting them a minor degree of fame.
Then there are the voices. Unearthly, high-pitched, chittering noises, barely intelligible to human ears, they are occasionally punctuated by sudden squeals—sharp, shrill, shocking sounds forceful enough to shatter the barriers between a nether-dimension and our own. These voices seem to correlate with my daughter’s presence, as well as her smartphone, but abruptly cease whenever I enter the room. This ghostly “girl talk” may involve the long-dead trying to commune with the modern and voguish, as the few discernable bits of meaning have to do with hair, fashion, music, and clean-cut teen males. The voices disturb me more than any of the other phantasmic phenomena, because they make me feel as if there are things happening in my own home to which I am completely oblivious.
I’ve described our situation to many people, solicited several opinions and suggestions. Most certain in their advice are parents with children a few years older than our own, who claim that even if no ghosts seem to be present at a given moment, threatening aloud to charge rent or reduce the supplies of food in the house will put a swift end to many of these inconveniences.
It’s worth a try, I suppose, but I have my doubts about the effectiveness of this unusual exorcism technique; it seems to stretch the limits of credulity. After all, unless the spirits were to assume corporeal form long enough to get jobs and driver’s licenses, they’d continue to be mostly housebound, and it’s doubtful that greater independence would radically alter their irksome schedule of late-night activity. It appears that, for now, the midnight visitations—and annoyances—will continue.
Peter Dabbene’s website is peterdabbene.com. His latest work, “Call Waiting,” can be seen at idleink.org. His book “Complex Simplicity” collects the first 101 editions of this column, along with essays and material published elsewhere. It is now available on Amazon or lulu.com for $25 (print) or $4.99 (ebook).