Monday, November 28, 2011

Featured Ghost Story in the Madhouse: Scott A. Johnson

EVERY WRITER HAS A STORY

Every writer has his or her specialty, even within genres.  There are writers who specialize in zombie stories, vampire stories, and other more bizarre things.  We don't all specialize, but some of us do.  If I'm known for anything, I like to think it's for my ghost stories.  One of my favorite things to do is tell the old tales of ghosties and ghoulies and long-legged beasties and things that go bump in the night.  I love to drop my voice at just the right moment and open my eyes as wide as I can, and scare the hell out of an audience.  But people have asked me time and time again two questions:  What's my favorite ghost story, and why do I tell them?  I know so many ghost stories, that one might think it a difficult question to answer.  I could choose between haunted houses, dolls that move, parks that are mass graves, and a thousand other stories that I regularly tell to chill and terrify.  But the answer often surprises people.  The answer to both questions are the same. 

My home town (a little stain of a place called Lake Jackson) was built on a swamp that used to be a sugar cane plantation.  It was owned by a pair of brothers, John and James Jackson, one of whom shot and beheaded the other.  So you see, my home town had a rough beginning, one filled with blood.  Years later, the land was bought by Dow Chemical, which, to some people, was not an improvement.  Dow built the town around the chemical plant, and Lake Jackson was born.  That was in 1943, and one of the first people to buy a house there was my Grandfather, Addison, and my Grandmother, Doris. 

My Grandmother was, in her youth, a beautiful woman, and as she aged, her beauty became more refined in that she radiated strength and love.   She was a Principal for the tiny school in Lake Jackson, and as she grew older, her love of children grew as well.  When she retired, she opened up her own school, a preschool, for anyone who cared to come, but I suspect it was just a ruse to get to spend more time with us, her grandchildren.  She lived to be around 90 years old, and because of her kindness, the turn-out for her funeral was huge.  Everyone in Lake Jackson knew who Doris Johnson was, and everyone loved her. 

But then, there was her house.  The old converted duplex was old, and none of us wanted to take possession of it, so we decided to sell it.  It may have been wishful thinking on our parts, but we wanted to sell it with a stipulation, that it be sold to a family or person with at least one child.  The house was where she taught her nursery school  classes, and to us, children were a sort of defining characteristic of the house.  All the days of playing in her massive back yard or her converted garage needed to never be lost, and enjoyed by a new generation of people. 

A woman moved to town, recently divorced, with a brand new job at Dow, and wanted to buy the house.  We didn't know her.  In fact, she came from a different state and knew nothing of our town's history, or my Grandmother.  But she had a little girl and very little else.  The house wasn't what she was used to, but it was what she could afford.  And, she noted, it felt more like a home than just a house.   My uncle brokered the deal and that was that.  The house was hers and everyone was happy.

Three months after she moved in, my uncle got a curious message from her.  In the message, she asked him to come by, to see the renovations she was performing on the house, so he'd know she was taking care of the house he grew up in.  A kind gesture, to be sure, if a little odd.  But my uncle, himself a recent divorcee, agreed to meet her at the house for coffee.  The two of them sat in the kitchen, drinking coffee, making small talk, when the woman blurted the inevitable question.

"Did someone die in this house?"

My uncle was, understandably, taken aback.  He told her yes, that his mother died in the house. 

"Was she about this tall," she said as she raised her arm, "with white hair and a crippled right hand?"

When my Grandmother was a child, she fell in a fireplace and burned her right hand so bad that it was, for the most part, useless.  It was the one blemish on her beauty, but one that the new homeowner could not possibly know about. 

"Yes," said my uncle.  "Why do you ask?"

"Because my four-year-old sure does love playing with the sweet old lady who still lives here." 

Usually, at that point in the story, I drop my voice, pick the gooseiest looking person in the crowd, lock eyes, and scare the hell out of them.  And every time I tell it, my audience gets goosebumps. 

So there it is, my favorite ghost story, and the reason I tell them.  I grew up around ghost stories, and I have them in my own family.  That particular ghost story has a special place in my heart. 

Scott A. Johnson is a professional author specializing in horror and true ghost stories. He currently has eleven books in print and is the Paranormal Studies Editor for Dread Central. In his free time, he teaches Kajukenbo karate, hunts ghosts, and spends time with his wife and two daughters. And this blog is updated when he feels like it, not according to some schedule. 

Scott is available for readings, signings, guest lectures, or just to stand around and tell ghost stories. He is adept at public speaking to any size audience on subjects that include, but are not limited to, writing, getting the first novel published, and ghost hunting. He can be reached through the following e-mail address: