Last Halloween my friend Al asked whether I
wanted to go ghost hunting.
He pulled out this aluminum Y with a slack
wire running across its arms.
"I got this in the mail," he
"What is it?"
"A ghost zapper. It shoots out electrical
waves that kill ghosts."
"You can't kill ghosts," I said. "They're
"But you can make them dead dead," he
explained. "Finished. Kaput. No more."
"How does it do that?"
"Ghosts are just waves themselves. Brain waves
without a body. The waves go right through your skull and make you see
what looks like a ghost."
"You mean you don't actually see
"Your brain sees ghosts."
"My brain sees you."
"Your eyes see me. Then your brain. With
ghosts, your brain sees them directly."
I thought about that for a moment. Then I
asked, "Why do you want to kill them?"
"Just something to do. Anyway, they don't want
"Like I told you. They're brain waves left
over from something in their lives that was unresolved. Like maybe they
were murdered and the murderer was never caught. Stuff like
"Killing them won't resolve
"It'll resolve them," Al said,
grinning. He brandished the zapper. "Help give them that little push over
to the other side."
"How do you suddenly know so much about
ghosts?" I asked.
"Came with the zapper."
We decided to meet at the cemetery behind St.
Edward's at 11:30 PM, figuring that midnight was the most likely time to
When I got to the gate, Al was already there
waving his zapper. It was a cold, crisp, moonlit night, so cold that I was
shivering even in my sweatshirt and ski jacket. Though not only from the
"You take the zapper," he whispered. "Hand it
up to me at the top of the wall."
The gate itself was six feet of sheer wood,
but the wall was rough stone and could be climbed. So when Al got to the
top I handed him the zapper, then heard it drop on the other side, then
heard Al drop and started over the wall myself.
By the time I got down he was already stalking
ghosts like a cop, jerking around rows of headstones with his zapper held
out arm's length in both hands, finger on the switch.
"What are you doing?" I
"Shhhh," he whispered
I shrugged and started wandering among the
headstones. The moon was three-quarters full and halfway down to the
horizon, so I could see pretty well. Nothing but names and dates and
little phrases, like "Loving Father and Grandfather," and "We'll Miss You
Always." Some kids. That was sad.
Al caught up with me and began playing with
the switch on his zapper. I heard the thing buzz, then saw a faint blue
light shoot across the arms of the Y.
"Cut it out!" I whispered. "You want to see
ghosts or not?"
He put the thing down by his side and stopped
fiddling with the switch.
"I'm freezing my ass off," he whispered after
a few more minutes. "Come on, let's go. There aren't any ghosts
"How do you know?"
"It's almost midnight on Halloween. If you
haven't seen any by now, you aren't going to see
Suddenly one appeared about three rows of
headstones from us. He was about six feet tall and broad, and walked with
a light shuffle as though his feet were tied loosely
Although he looked solid, he walked right
through the rows of headstones as though they were beams of light. He had
his arms raised as if to strike us, and his face seemed twisted with
"Holy shit!" Al screamed, throwing his zapper
to the ground. He raced for the wall and clambered over. Within seconds he
The ghost kept coming at me, white as though
drained of blood, but with eyes like black holes. He was wearing
weather-beaten clothes, also drained of color, just a tee shirt and jeans,
and I could see white sneakers as he cleared the last row between us and
began to stumble directly towards me.
He's just brain waves! He's just brain waves!
I kept repeating to myself, totally unconvinced, then scrunched myself
together in preparation for the final blow. But he walked right through
me, as though I weren't there.
As I watched him recede, I picked up the
zapper, curious about whether it would work, though reluctant to find out.
Having survived my first ghost, I was less afraid of them, less willing to
wreak some unknown havoc with what I held in my hands.
I decided not to use it except as a last
resort, partially because I wasn't sure what damage it might do, partially
because I had no desire to end a ghost's existence
I continued to wander, looking for more
ghosts. Within a few minutes, another appeared, a young girl, maybe eight
years old, standing forlorn among the headstones not ten feet
She was also a bloodless white, but less solid
than the former ghost, since if you looked hard you could see the
headstones behind her showing through her body.
She had her eyes cast down, as if in sorrow, a
look of unutterable sadness. Then she looked up at me.
My heart stopped dead as I looked into the
holes she had for eyes. Holes leading to a howling nothingness, not eyes
at all but windows to annihilation.
I screamed and shrank away, hiding behind a
headstone. When I dared look up again, she had resumed looking at the
ground, so I took the opportunity to tiptoe backwards away from
Then I turned and ran. I had had
But before I got to the gate, two more ghosts
appeared in my way. One second not there, the next second there. They were
a man and woman, and for some reason I knew they had been married and had
They came at me holding hands, swooping about
two feet off the ground, the same white, bloodless faces, the same
horrifying holes for eyes.
I ducked and hit the dirt, but they had
already gone right through me.
And then came other ghosts, swooping,
stumbling, walking, standing -- a host of grief, a crazy ballet of sorrow.
And the moans! A river of moans, each ghost a tributary pouring in its
I couldn't look. I lay on the damp grass
between headstones and hid my eyes and ears in my arms, the zapper useless
in my right hand.
"Oh, God!" I moaned to myself. "Oh, God, Oh,
God, Oh God, Oh, God!"
I wasn't afraid of the ghosts. Not by now.
They seemed to be of a different density, as though they existed in spaces
between my atoms and there was no way we could touch.
No, I was made afraid, terrified, really,
by the ghosts. I never knew the universe could hold such misery.
I wondered how much each of them had suffered in life, and why they now
still had to exist.
And then they were gone. Just like that.
Appear, disappear. And I was lying on the damp grass
I got to my feet. Nothing. I ran for the wall
beside the gate. Nothing. Leaving the zapper behind, I climbed the wall,
pausing at the top to look back. Nothing.
Dear God, I prayed. Thank
And I climbed slowly