Balto

Balto

Both sides of my family put a lot of stock in the supernatural, and I spent most of my early life certain that some phantom was going to grab me and do whatever it is transparent things that are only half of this world are supposed to be able to do. Shatter the mind, is my guess: Which begs the question- How much of a mind have you got if you believe there’s a shade that lives in the piano?

My mother insisted her uncle was a ‘sensitive’, who was frequently tormented by ghosts. She often told a story about him visiting a black church to hear the singing. He acquired a love of gospel music as a teenager and spent Sundays and Wednesdays driving to different churches and just listening. He had to relieve himself at an outhouse at one of the churches, and as he sat down a pair of hands reached up from the toilet between his legs and held him there until everybody had left to go home for dinner.

He had, as you might guess, also acquired a love of  locally manufactured bootleg liquor as a teenager. My mother always neglected to mention that. It wasn’t just my mother who insisted there was a parallel world  trying to break into this one and get in on all its delicious happiness and spoil it, I had an aunt who would listen to the wind shaking the leaves and issue macabre prophecies…

“The tractor’s rolled on your uncle, boy… Either that, or one of the cows is down.”

So I figure I come by “the gift” honestly when I tell you I’ve seen a couple of ghosts, or what convincingly appeared to be ghosts at the time. And I still don’t believe in them. I do believe my upbringing has left me with unaccountable scars I will never have the trainloads of cash it would take medical science to ameliorate. And consequently I have to confess the forms of cheap self-medication that are available to me went a long way to “sensitize” me for my supernatural experiences.

The first ghost I saw was while I was having  dinner with some friends, dinner being mostly a very fine single-malt scotch chased by a couple homebrews, and maybe some tortilla chips. It was about 1 AM, and I stepped into a narrow upstairs hallway to drunk-dial somebody. About the time I picked up the handset, a transparent figure of a bearded elderly man drifted in through the window and sort of walked through me.

Ever since that time I have congratulated myself for not soiling my pants.

I mentioned it to my hosts, who said they’d keep an eye out for whatever it was. Sure enough, a few nights later, while they were washing down some potato chips with Glenfiddich or Lagevellen or whatever, one of them had a similar experience. We never tried to determine what it was besides some anomaly in the window glass that projected the headlights of an approaching car in such a way to make it seem you were being assaulted by Will Geer. It didn’t affect our drinking.

My second encounter with the spirit world occurred at our previous residence. Our bathroom faced, through a small coatroom, the dining room. I was catching up on some reading when I noticed what I thought was my wife walking through the dining room. But my wife has never really been in the habit of partially dematerializing and walking through the dining room table, even if it’s the shortest way to get from A to B.

So I felt compelled to scream at the top of my lungs in a high register.

My wife ran downstairs, nearly certain I was having one of those lethal toilet-bound heart attacks that take so many protestants away on Sunday mornings. Noting that she was upstairs during the incident, I was even more shaken. So much so, I nearly took the vow. I was that close.

That’s almost it, except for one that turned out to be real. I was working on some outdoor project in 2000, and it being midday, I decided to have a nap on the porch of my shop. I was in the early heavily groggy phase of it when I caught a brief flash of movement out in the yard. I began thinking or dreaming I saw a tropical bird. I’ve learned over the years that, for me, there aren’t many distinctions between the two. So I was really surprised when I fully opened my eyes and there was, in fact, a tropical bird in my yard. I made that clicking noise, the way people call horses, and he flew up to my shoulder.

When my wife got home, he immediately abandoned me for her, and has adored her (or her footwear) ever since. We named him Baltimore, because we figured he’d come from somewhere north (he’d lost a couple of toes to frostbite).

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