The Truth About Ghosts

Submitted into Contest #191 in response to: Write about a character who is starting to open up to life again.... view prompt

27 comments

Creative Nonfiction Mystery Thriller

Lenny didn’t know how old he was. I mean, he knew how old he was when he died—eighteen—but he wasn’t sure just how long he had been dead. That’s one of the first things you should know about ghosts. They have no concept of time. I mean, they see the sunrise and sunset, and if it’s necessary, they can still read clocks. But to a ghost, each day is pretty much like the one that came before it and identical to the one yet to come. It’s why they love dogs so much, there’s more about that to come. 


But back to Lenny, as I was saying, he didn’t know for sure how long he had been dead. There were clues to be sure. For example, he had been killed by a horse-drawn carriage, but the house in which he currently lived had a 72-inch flat-screen television, so he had to be pretty damn old. 


In many ways, Lenny was just your average ghost, but when you think about it that doesn’t really tell you much about Lenny or ghosts. It turns out most people don’t know anything about ghosts. They think they do, but all they know is what they see in horror movies and hardly any of that stuff is true. What is true is ghosts don’t travel often, they really are homebodies or home-spirits or whatever. Bottom line, they like to stay close to where they died, and for the most part, they really don’t want any trouble. There are a few bad apples who get into the whole haunting thing, but Lenny, like most ghosts, just wanted to live in secret. He never wanted to bother the humans in his house, and he spent his days watching his co-inhabitants like characters in a soap opera.  


He also enjoyed the special connection he had with the family dogs. (I told you we’d work our way back to the dogs.) You see, dogs can see ghosts as plain as day. No one is really sure why but you’re just going to have to trust me on this one. If you think about it, this little anomaly is actually a good thing for both the ghosts and the dogs. The interactions tend to fill the void a ghost feels after death, and the dogs seem to like it, too. Whenever you see a dog barking at nothing in particular, he’s probably just carrying on a conversation with the specter of the house.  


Ok, where was I? Oh, that’s right, I was telling you about Lenny. 


Lenny had been living in the house on Elm Street since the day he died. Well, technically he had lived there eighteen years longer because that’s where he lived before he died. It’s a little complicated, but I think you get the idea. The important thing is everything was going along swimmingly until the Johnsons moved in. 

 

The Johnson family, Roger and Mary and their daughter, Anna, were as nice as alive people can be. They kept quiet for the most part and were great fun to watch. They also had a mutt named Baxter who loved nothing more than to dig in the dirt and bark at Lenny. 


Lenny, of course, couldn’t care less about the digging. Ghosts really have no opinion one way or another when it comes to holes, and he loved the boisterous Baxter because he was always up for a talk.  


For the first few years after the Johnsons moved in, Lenny was as happy as he had ever been since he had died. The Johnsons were a nice family, and Anna, who had been fifteen when they first moved in, had grown into a beautiful young lady of seventeen.  


In all his years dead, Lenny had never done anything to announce his presence. He saw no upside. He loved his people, so he didn’t want to scare them, and it was a pretty well-established fact that humans don’t like ghosts. I mean, they liked Casper, but Casper wasn’t a real ghost. He was just a cartoon. Cartoons are another source of false myths about ghosts, but that’s really off topic right now. The important thing was Lenny’s desire to remain secret changed because of Anna. 

 

Lenny had been killed when he was on his way to his very first date. He had asked one of the young ladies in the village to accompany him to a Friday night dance, but he never made it to his destination. As a result, he had never found love, not the kind of love a young man feels for a young woman, and his ghost heart was falling hard for Anna.


Now, Lenny was a realistic ghost. He knew he and Anna could never be together, but he was finding it increasingly hard not to at least talk to the beautiful young woman. In reality, that’s not as hard as you might expect. It doesn’t take a whole lot of effort for a ghost to make themselves known. This is a common misconception perpetuated by the movie Ghost. Lenny didn’t have to take over Whoopi Goldberg's body to communicate with Anna; he just had to talk to her. There was one problem with this plan, though: she could hear Lenny, but she couldn’t see him. It’s hard enough to get a girl to like you if you were a handsome devil. It’s nearly impossible when you are an invisible ghost. Lenny didn’t care though; he was going to take his chance.


In the two years the Johnsons had lived in Lenny’s home, he had never entered Anna’s room while she was alone. He wasn’t an officer and a gentleman, but he was a ghost and a gentleman. He had been in her room plenty of times when Roger or Mary or both had been there, but he always left when they did. 


But not tonight.


Lenny's plan was, well, he didn’t actually have a plan. I mean he was a ghost about to talk to a human for the first time. What could go wrong?


When it came time for Anna to go to bed, Lenny and Baxter headed to Anna’s room and sat together in Anna’s wingback chair. (In case you didn’t know, ghosts can sit. They are basically like us except they can walk through walls and fly. Now that I think about it, maybe they are not as much like us as you would think. But as I was saying, they can sit in chairs and that’s exactly what Lenny did.)

 

From the chair and with Baxter by his side, Lenny spoke for the first time in what had to be over one hundred years. 


“Hello. My name is Lenny, and I’m a ghost who lives in this house with you.” 

 

You have to admit, Lenny wasn’t one to mince words. He just came right out and announced himself. 


To his shock and amazement, Anna responded calmly. 


“Hi, I’m Anna. It’s nice to finally meet you.” 


You see unbeknownst to Lenny, the Johnsons were a family of psychics and had known there was a presence in the house from the first day they moved in. It turned out that the Johnsons were glad to share their home with Lenny. They knew ghosts were mostly harmless, and they also knew about dogs and ghosts and figured Baxter could use the friend. 

 

From that day forward, Lenny became a secret part of the family. He would join them for movie nights and would even play Monopoly. He was always the top hat. Lenny never told Anna how he felt, but she kind of knew, and in her own way she liked him, too. 


The happy family dynamic continued for almost a year, but alas, all good things must come to an end. Near the end of Anna’s junior year in high school, a priest moved into the home next door. Ironically, this wasn’t just any priest. This priest specialized in exorcisms. I would say it goes without saying that the worst neighbor a ghost could have is an exorcist, but wouldn’t that be some sort of paradox? Anyway, with this new neighbor, the Johnsons' secret went from minor to major. Something had to be done. 

 

To keep Lenny safe, it was decided that Anna and Lenny would go to a boarding school a few hours away where both could live safely. As the priest was only in town for a year, Lenny and Anna could return when the priest had moved away. Anna was excited to have a chance to spread her wings and try adulting. Lenny was equally excited because the boarding school was located in an old Gothic manor, and what ghost doesn’t dream of vacationing at a Gothic manor? 

 

The year at boarding school was everything Anna and Lenny could have hoped for, and with the extended time alone, the two became closer by the day. Anna would spend her days in class while Lenny would explore the manor. As I said before, this is one of the myths about ghosts that is actually quite true. They love to live in old dark Gothic manors. It’s kind of like the beach for surfers or the mountains for, well, for people who like mountains. Bottom line: they both loved their new digs. Each night Anna would use her mother’s old coffee pot and the hot plate provided by the school to make a cup of coffee, and with Lenny for company, she would diligently complete her homework. 

 

Since writers have been writing, there have been stories of lovers who could not be together for one reason or another. Romeo and Juliet, Scarlett and Ashley, Wesley and Buttercup. It’s a tale as old as time, and there are very few things more difficult to overcome than love between one who is alive and another who is not. As the final semester worked its way towards a close, Anna and Lenny added their names to the list of great unrequited love stories.


And then came the fire.


One of the truisms we should all know about Gothic manors is they are tinderboxes. Everything in them is flammable, and a single spark can destroy a manor in the blink of an eye. It is also true that an old hotplate with fraying wires can easily provide the necessary spark. Unfortunately, that is exactly what happened.


Anna was pulling an all-nighter getting ready for her last final (last final? Is that some sort of weird redundancy?) and, as is the case with most teenagers these days, she used coffee to get her through the night. She turned on the burner, put a pot on to boil and sat back down at her desk to study.

 

She didn’t see the spark. She didn’t notice it falling on the paper towel next to the pot. She didn’t see the flame until it was too late. By the time she looked up from her book, it had engulfed the counter and was making its way toward the only door out of her third-story room. There was no way out. She was trapped.


This brings us to our least fun fact about ghosts: they can die. Ghosts have the ability to reanimate for a few short minutes, but the stress of doing so snuffs their spirits out forever. It’s not a very well-known fact because, in the history of the world, only two ghosts have ever actually used this power. Tonight would prove the third. 


Lenny loved being a ghost. He had loved being part of family after family and getting to know hundreds of dogs, but he had never been in love until now and he couldn’t let Anna die. In a moment of true, enduring, and endless love, Lenny came back to life, scooped up Anna in his arms, and raced through the flames, bringing his love to the safety of the front courtyard.

  

For the first time, Anna was able to see Lenny. She grabbed him and held him tight. She then kissed him like he’d never been kissed before and professed her love for him. She had no idea how he had become real, but she was thrilled to finally be able to touch him. Her joy, however, was short-lived as Lenny explained to her the terrible consequences of his decision. Anna broke down in tears and asked, “How long do we have?”


“Five minutes at most,” came his heartbreaking response.


    The words stabbed her in the heart like a knife. She had known she could never really be with Lenny, but she expected he would always be there to look over her. Now that lifetime of time was reduced to a devastatingly short five minutes.


Wanting to savor every second of the time they had left, the two star-crossed lovers sat down, held hands, and stared into each other’s eyes. Anna wanted to memorize everything about Lenny’s face, and Lenny wanted to feel Anna’s touch for as long as possible. 

 

When a ghost dies, they fade away like a fog. It happens slowly, until they are just no more. This is exactly what happened to Lenny. Little by little, his face and his touch began to evanesce. As the last bits of himself disappeared, Anna heard Lenny’s voice one last time. 


“I love you, more than death itself.” 


And with that, he was gone. 

 

Throughout the rest of her mortal life, Anna never saw or heard another ghost. She did eventually find love again. Her husband was a good man and the pair had one child, a son Anna named Lenny. Her son was a secret reminder of her first love and her first kiss, and if she looked really hard, she was sure she saw her other Lenny in his eyes. 

March 31, 2023 20:42

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27 comments

Glenda Toews
02:07 Apr 05, 2023

Bloody hell, I live in a forest and my beagle barks at nothing up the west slope ALL THE TIME... thanks a lot for that image that I will never be able to shake out of my mind...ever.

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Thom With An H
02:18 Apr 05, 2023

I really did laugh out loud. Hopefully your beagle is friends with someone as kind as Lenny. 😀😀

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Glenda Toews
02:29 Apr 05, 2023

Good Lord, the beagle barking and the banjos... I'm so screwed :P

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Thom With An H
02:30 Apr 05, 2023

Just in case, it was nice knowing you. 🤣

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J. S. Bailey
03:12 Jul 17, 2023

Great story. Breaking the fourth wall was an excellent choice as I feel it would not have connected otherwise. Excellently done and a lovely mood throughout the piece.

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LokisDottir 3753
08:21 Jun 24, 2023

I discovered you through your story "Home of the Brave". My partner had asked me to read them a story to help them sleep as they have trouble. While reading it out loud I immediately fell in love with your writing. Hence I read this story and "Grace and Mercy". These stories are so well-done!

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Aoi Yamato
04:01 Jun 20, 2023

I like this.

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Maddie Lee
23:17 Jun 04, 2023

Wow this is really good! I feel like all other ghost stories I've read have been the same and absolutely boring in my opinion, but this one is great and different in a good way! I loved reading about how Lenny and Anna's relationship grew, and the ending was great as well (I can never make a good ending in my stories lol).Thanks for sharing this with the Reedsy community and keep up the good work! Happy writing!

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Amanda Lieser
20:37 Apr 25, 2023

Hi Thom, So let me just say that the childhood version of myself who watched Casper, the friendly ghost, is absolutely screaming at the story! That final scene with Christie Ricci was such a romantic culmination of everything I had ever believed about love up until that moment, and this story, just felt like a wonderful iteration of that. I really liked that It was a happy ending and that there was something to be learned from it all. I think sometimes the best loves that come into our lives are the ones that we don’t get to keep forever. I ...

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Calvin Kirby
14:46 Apr 22, 2023

Thom, you did it again. Best ghost story I Have ever read. I will be in touch to use it for our group discussion in June. Keep up the great writing. Your friend, Cal.

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Jody S
02:20 Apr 21, 2023

Fabulous ghost story! I am convinced my two previous pups interacted with ghosts! I love the sad but beautiful ending. Beautifully crafted! Thank you for sharing!

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Lachel Reyes
15:00 Apr 10, 2023

Used this in speech therapy with middle schoolers. Awesome way to work on our sounds while reading something they were actually interested in.

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Thom With An H
15:37 Apr 10, 2023

This may be my favorite comment ever. You made my day.

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Richard E. Gower
14:28 Apr 10, 2023

Just spellbinding! 👍😀 But the creative nonfiction tag has me stumped. There must be yet another story behind that, n'est-ce pas? Cheers! RG

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Susan Catucci
13:42 Apr 06, 2023

Hi Thom! I decided not to read any comments below because I want to tell you my first impression, untainted and uninfluenced by anyone else's thoughts or words. I LOVE LOVE LOVE this story! It's a wonderfully fresh take on several common themes. What's here is uncommonly heartbreakingly lovely. You did everything right with this one and wowwy-wow-wowed this reader once again! Love yr stuff.

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Ann Miller
19:00 Apr 05, 2023

I thought it was just because he is a hound. Now I know better. Great story.

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Mary Bendickson
18:49 Apr 04, 2023

Enchanting story, Thom. One thing I don't understand. I thought 'creative non-fiction' meant it was based on truth or your own experience. So are you a ghost? Or son of a ghost? Or friend of a ghost? Or just a historian of ghosts???

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Thom With An H
18:59 Apr 04, 2023

I am so glad you noticed that. I thought it might cause a chuckle or two.

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Helen A Smith
16:34 Apr 04, 2023

What a beautiful story. I loved that he sacrificed himself for her. The tragedy of not being together made it more powerful than an ordinary love.

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Milicent Kaimuru
05:03 Apr 04, 2023

beautifully written

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Stevie Burges
03:43 Apr 02, 2023

I too liked the references to the great loves in literature. You've written a delightful, whimsical story that was so enjoyable.

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Thom With An H
19:45 Apr 03, 2023

Thanks so much. It's nice to write a fairy tale every now and then. :-)

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Michelle Oliver
02:44 Apr 02, 2023

What a sweet ghostly romance. I loved the references to pop culture romances, Shakespeare, Gone With the Wind, The Princess Bride, Ghost. Thanks for sharing

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Thom With An H
19:45 Apr 03, 2023

This was a fun story. It's also nice when I get to make up all the facts. I wish real life was like that. :-)

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Lily Finch
22:01 Mar 31, 2023

Thom, tragic ending to a forbidden love. Always an option when a reader reads that a ghost and a person fall in love. Very well written. I wonder if seeing Lenny in Lenny's eyes was a bit creepy for Anna? I didn't know if this line was missing a word or had too many words? "...but there was some there there." I liked the movie, television, book references you addressed and "ghostese" that humans believe that you dispelled as "not true" save the last which is what got Lenny in the end. Good story plotting. LF6.

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Thom With An H
19:46 Apr 03, 2023

Lily!!! Thanks for the read. I removed the there there line all together. You made my story better. Thank you!!!

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Lily Finch
22:21 Apr 03, 2023

Anytime Thom. Isn't that what this community is for? I enjoyed your story and didn't want a silly typo to bring it down a notch. LF6. :)

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