Monday, October 26, 2015

Did you believe in ghosts?

By Ami
Happy Halloween from SDAP! Thank you to our Patreon donors who make these posts possible.

It was our first horror movie: a late-80s ghost story called The Lady in White, surreptitiously screened at a sleepover with our cousins. My mother, the devout Seventh-day Adventist, believed horror movies were mostly satanic, all demon possessions and murder. Worst of all to her were the stories that claimed God’s power for humans or devils or false idols. We knew nothing could raise the dead to life except Jesus’ second coming.

But, oh, the thrill when the ghost girl slipped through the locked coat room door, silver and translucent as a strip of moonlight through the curtains, singing the song that would betray her killer: Did you ever see a dream walking?  

It was the summer after our sister died, the summer my brother’s grief became ambulatory: standing in the living room, silvered by the moon, empty eyed when he laughed and dashed out the front door, never locked in all my childhood. Almost nightly, he walked in his sleep. My mother had nightmares. I was haunted.

When she was small and living, my sister often climbed in bed with me at night, pretending to be afraid, so I would stay awake with her, whispering stories, watching the moon move outside the open bedroom window. When she was gone, I woke alone every night for years, certain that I would see her: a demon with my little sister’s face. Did you ever hear a dream talking?

SDAs believe in ghosts but not in the restless spirits of the dead. A specter of your loved one is a demon come to tempt or torment you. In The Lady in White, the ghost is just a dead girl. She wants her mother. She wants to rest. It’s sad but less terrifying than the SDA version.

My mother had recurring nightmares. Once a yucca tree grew in the backyard, racing up fast as a weed, fast as a child growing. In the dream, she cut the tree down and found my sister, alive, curled inside the trunk like Thumbelina. And in the dream, oh the rejoicing! A miracle, and we believed in miracles, didn’t we? And then the thing that was not her child began to climb out from the hollow trunk, a perfect smile on the face which was and was not her child’s face. She knew what it was. She knew the words to banish it, the spell from the book--Get thee behind me, Satan--but, for a moment, she couldn’t say it.

It was years before she told me that dream, and by then I had already read “The Monkey’s Paw” and found it familiar: the old woman clutching the horrible thing to her chest, turning the doorknob. I knew already that what you got back was never the thing you’d lost. I’d already begun to think of heaven that way--all the miracles I could no longer quite believe.