ghosts from the past
When I entered 7th grade our school guidance counselor gave an introductory talk to incoming students that in some way invoked the topic of the supernatural. I think he was making a general point that there are things out there in life which are bigger than we realize, but I do not remember the details, it did not make much of an impression on me at the time. I only remembered the talk several years later when other events brought it to mind.
For several years in high school I participated in a creative problem solving competition and the same guidance counselor was our coach. Through the time we spent together travelling to events we developed a nice friendship. When I was in eleventh grade we traveled to the University of Akron in Ohio for the national competition and roomed in a dormitory at Kent State University, just outside the city of Akron. While we were there he told an interesting story to our team of four guys.
His wife had attended Kent State University and was there in the May of 1970 at the time of the Kent State shootings when four students were killed by rifle fire from members of the Ohio State National Guard. My guidance counselor and his wife were friends of one of the victims. Returning to the campus was a traumatic experience for him. Earlier that evening he had met some other coaches who were close in age to him and they visited the site of the shootings. I remember him describing a sculpture there which has bullet holes from that day. When they were at the sculpture they started yelling into the night sky in an expression of anger and anguish as they remembered those events and that time in their lives.
Somehow that story transitioned to another college memory of his, I think because he was in an introspective mood following his experiences that evening. When he was in college his best friend had a roommate who would wake up in the night and say things in his sleep. Allegedly he would sit up in bed and say, “Mommy, Daddy, Joey’s on fire!” in a high pitched, child like voice. When awoken he would not remember any details at all. Further connecting the behavior with the supernatural, he described one night when a group of students was playing with a ouija board down the hall and the sleep talker sat up in bed and added more details to his usual mantra, including the name of a town.
The following summer my guidance counselor and his friend took a road trip after graduating college and stopped at that town. They somehow looked up records of fires in the town, or perhaps it was some other detail they used to connect the sleep talking with an actual event, I no longer remember the details. They were able to locate the name of a boy named Joseph who had been killed in a fire along with his family. The two guys found the address and stopped to take some pictures. When they returned home after the trip and had the film developed, all the pictures but those of the fire location turned out fine, only the pictures of the fire location turned out overexposed.
Pretty scary stuff to be hearing from an adult late at night, but for me it got worse. One of my friends on the trip was a Christian and had been sharing his testimony with me for years. The thing that always surprised me was the way he described Christianity in very manner of fact terms. It was never, “I believe this or that…” but rather, “This is why this happens…” kind of explanations based on the bible and his fundamentalist religion. He was someone I really looked up and to this day may be the most intelligent person I have ever met. I asked him what he made of the story and in his matter of fact way he explained that the boys’ mother was a witch who deliberately started the fire the boy died in. The sleep talker had been possessed by demons with knowledge of the event.
While somewhat incredulous that he could know with a degree of certainty what happened in the spiritual realm, I was none the less convinced that something very real was going on in this spiritual realm he described, which up to that point I had been rather skeptical of. I did not sleep very well alone in my concrete block dorm room I was so scared. That is likely the first time I ever prayed for help from God.
To this day I do not know what to make of the story. While I am not especially inclined to defer to the supernatural for explanations of events, I do not know what happened either. Clearly there are many possibilities. I do know my guidance counselor was haunted by those events and they have affected him to this day. I know my friend with the supernatural answers has crazier supernatural answers now than when I knew him in high school. And I know I still do not care to delve into ghost stories or the occult, even apart from Christian injunctions against involvement with spiritualism. It is still a scary story to me to be honest. Man’s decent into darkness and madness can be very real regardless of its source.