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  • Writer's pictureKathleen Irene Paterka

Do You Believe in Ghosts?

Some people think the idea of spirits is nothing but silly nonsense, but I am a believer in ‘things that go bump in the night’.

I’ve believed since I was 9 years old…since the day I saw a ghost.

I grew up in Toledo, Ohio, in a large house built in the early 1900s. It had a double living room and a staircase with wooden banister leading to a landing. Beyond the landing, the staircase turned and continued out of sight to the floor above. It was a sunny afternoon, late in the day. I was curled up on the couch in the main living room, alone, reading a book. My father was at work, my mother was in the kitchen, and my little sister was outside playing. As I was reading, my concentration was suddenly interrupted. Not by a noise, but a ‘feeling’. A prickling at the back of my neck. I looked up, glanced around. Everything was the same. I was still alone in the room. The living room was filled with late afternoon sunshine. Nothing seemed disturbed. Yet things felt different. The air sparked heavy with energy, and I remember feeling suddenly spooked…afraid to move, afraid to breathe. I felt as if someone was there, watching me. But who? How? The room was empty. I snuggled deeper into the couch and glanced at the open area in the second living room. That was empty, too. Slowly I lifted my gaze to the stairs and the landing beyond.

And that’s when I saw him.

A man—a very old man—stood on the landing, glaring down at me.

He looked as if he’d stepped out of a faded photograph. He was dressed in a shiny suit of black cloth, with a tab collar white shirt buttoned tight around his neck. A bowler hat sat atop his head. His face was stern, and his eyes burned black and menacing. I’d never seen him before, but I knew right away he didn’t belong on our stairs, or in our house, or in this world. He wasn’t a person. He wasn’t real. Or was he? As he continued to glower at me, my terror grew. I must be seeing a ghost. Scarier yet was the thought pounding through my heart, beating through my brain:

What if the man started down the stairs?

What if he reached me, clenched his bony hands around my neck, choked me?

What if he killed me?

My breath caught in my throat, and I slapped my hands over my eyes. I couldn’t bear to witness my own death. I scrunched myself up in a tiny little ball, certain that any moment he would grab me, choke me, kill me. Time passed, and nothing happened. Finally I dared a peek through my hands. Nothing was in front of me. I took another breath and glanced at the staircase landing.

The man was gone.

Bolting from the couch, I fled to the kitchen and the comforting presence of my mother. I didn’t tell her what I’d seen. I was too scared. I was afraid if I talked about the ghost man, it would make him more real than he already was. And I knew he was real. I hadn’t been dreaming. It had really happened. And I didn’t want it to happen again.

Thankfully, it never did. I never saw the ghost man again. We moved away the following year, but I’ve never forgotten that ghostly encounter from my past. Even now, more than fifty years later, just thinking about it prickles the hair on the back of my neck. Especially after I heard a story my mother shared with me a few years ago.

The two of us were chatting about our old house in Toledo, and I finally confessed about seeing the ghost man. My mother asked me what he looked like. I described him exactly as I remembered…his black suit, the bowler hat. “Oh, my,” she said in a shaky voice. And then she told me the story of the old married couple who were the original owners and had built the house. Married many years, they’d raised their children in the house, and were parted only when the old man suddenly died in his sleep. It happened upstairs in one of the bedrooms of the house where we’d lived. Shortly after that, his wife moved to a nursing home. After she died, their son sold the house to my parents. When the sale was transacted, the son showed them old pictures of the house and his parents. According to my mother, the photo of his father was an accurate description of the man I’d seen on the stairway landing: a somber man with black eyes, black suit, and a black bowler hat.

Do you believe in ghosts? I’m convinced they are real. I know how I felt and what I saw that day. Fifty years later, my memories are vivid. The ghost man, the malevolent look in his eyes as he stared down upon me from the stairway landing. I’ve no desire to see him again, and I never have. Oh, I’ve been in other places where I’ve experienced the heebie-jeebies. Heard things, caught a glimpse of something odd out of the corner of my eye. Haunted hotels, castles of horror. But I’ve never actually seen anything, not like I did that day with the ghost man. Suffice to say that Halloween, when the spirits of the dead are rumored to wander the earth, is not my favorite holiday. Enjoy the trick-or-treating, the parties, the once-a-year-frights. But while you’re celebrating, if you should suddenly glimpse a man with piercing black eyes and a black bowler hat, I suggest you hightail it as fast as you can in the opposite direction…and whatever you do, don’t look back!

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