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My Friend Richard: A True Ghost Story is a Mystery/Suspense pick #paranormal #memoir #nonfiction
Title: My Friend Richard: A True Ghost Story
Author: William Hart
Genre: Paranormal Memoir; Nonfiction Narrative
A close friend of mine, maybe the brightest student in our high school of four thousand, came to see me some years back. He came as a ghost with a favor to ask, renewing a friendship that continues a decade later.
Richard has the same immature young adult personality he had when he died in a Haight-Asbury fire in 1970. But as a spirit he can travel very far very fast, appear and disappear at will, or shape-shift into a feisty moth. He enters locked homes to visit loved ones, sometimes projecting powerful images into their minds. Annoyed, he’s a smelly, destructive nuisance. Sometimes he’s affectionate.
Anyone wanting to know more about ghosts will find a wealth of firsthand information in this true narrative, which follows the life and afterlife of my artistically gifted but dismayingly self-destructive buddy. For adults and young adults.
My wife and I live in a mountain valley thirteen miles north of downtown Los Angeles and two thousand feet above it. On a clear day, standing atop the highest foothill on the south valley rim, one can see spread out below most of the vast “city of angels,” from the San Bernardino Mountains sixty miles east of us to the Pacific Ocean forty miles south and thirty west.
It was about 2010 I think. I’d just taken a long hike halfway up that tall foothill, called Verdugo Mountain. Nearer the clouds, with our little valley beneath me and the massive San Gabriels to the north, I found a flat rock to sit on. There I sat, letting in whatever came into my head. It was something I did occasionally back then. It would be pretentious to call it meditation, though some of it may have been. Mostly it was woolgathering, I’m sure.
After communing with nature, I hiked down to the valley floor and back to our townhouse complex on a street shaded by mature trees. I was climbing the stairs to our second floor when I noticed a slight, quick break in the light a few feet ahead of me. What’s that, I wondered. It was like seeing a person on the other side of a fence pass behind a crack. Just a flash of something, then nothing. For reasons I can’t explain, I thought it might be a ghost—though I’d never experienced one before. It didn’t frighten me because I sensed no bad will. In fact, I felt it might like me. I waited for more clues, but there were none, so I continued on to our master bedroom as I merged into my plans for the day. I kept thinking about the incident though.
Today our valley is filled with an LA bedroom community. But four hundred years ago it was the land of the Tongva, one of several bands of people the Spaniards called Gabrielino. Remembering where I’d sat on that green spring hillside flush with wildflowers, I realized that a Native graveyard couldn’t have been better placed than right there—on a peninsula of surviving wilderness with coyotes and rattlesnakes and deer that divides the city of Glendale, human population 197,000. Was it ridiculous to think that the ghost of a long-buried brave, perhaps approving of my respectful, meditative visit to his resting place, might have come home with me? Maybe he’d sensed kinship, a love for nature similar to his own. Or maybe he wanted to check out the creature comforts available to the living. My dreamy fantasy was ridiculous, I know. Yet it pleased me to imagine those things. And there I left it.
A few weeks after that, I saw the light disturbance again, this time in our master bedroom on the second floor. I was more certain then before it was a ghost and thought it might have taken up residence with us. I still wasn’t worried because it seemed benevolent. Our three-bedroom condo is big enough for two people and a ghost, especially since the ghost had so far been quiet, well mannered, and largely out of sight.
Another day my wife and I were talking in the master bedroom when the light disturbance happened a third time. It seemed to catch Jayasri’s attention, so I asked her, “Did you see that?” I’d mentioned my two previous sightings and wanted to know if she could make the connection on her own.
“Was that the ghost?”
“What do you think?”
“It’s definitely something. Could be a ghost.”
I knew that as a child she’d experienced a ghost. She’d told me several times about being visited by her grandfather’s spirit in the days following his death. She knew it was him because he brought the heavy smell of incense and tube roses into the room, the same smell she remembered from his funeral ceremony. Jayasri was one of his favorite granddaughters, and her cousin, grandpa’s other favorite among the girls, reported a very similar happening at her house around the same time. Neither cousin thought it was a big deal. In their Bengali culture, ghosts are an accepted part of the natural world.
I had no previous experience with ghosts, and many in my cultural group—American honky—doubt their existence. I was open to their existence, based partly on my wife’s story and partly on my conviction that modern science doesn’t have all the answers. There was something else. At the time of my father’s death in a hospital room, I was holding his hand when he exhaled his last breath, a long sigh that sounded more substantial than mere air. Didn’t I perhaps hear the departure of his nonphysical essence?
Over the next several years my wife and I saw the light disturbance a number of times, usually independently. It happened almost always in our master bedroom. I now was sure a spiritual visitor had moved in.
In the fall of 2013, Jayasri and I attended Haiku North America, held that year aboard the Queen Mary, permanently grounded in Long Beach Harbor and operating as a hotel. The ship, though retired from the high seas, is said to retain all the ghosts it ever had, a claim broadcast by the City of Long Beach, which currently owns the Mary and runs the hotel, a money-losing proposition every year. One way city fathers reduce loss is by hosting monthly ghost events aboard the ship. The biggest transpires on Halloween. That night you can wander the ship’s decks with a tour or freestyle, giving yourself, they say, an excellent chance of a ghost sighting.
Halloween was still a month away when we were there, but one evening during our stay a two-hour lecture on ghosts was delivered in the ship’s auditorium. My wife and I attended, hoping to learn more about the subject. One of the Mary’s officers, a rotund fifty something in a white uniform, introduced us to what was known about the ship’s ghosts. His talk was buttressed with slides and film footage of the spirits doing their thing. We saw animated though relatively motionless human figures standing around looking at the camera. They were the color of bleached flour, with the bodies and faces of people. They looked quite real, but who could tell for sure? Long Beach is a short drive from Hollywood, where imaginings of all kinds are made to seem actual when of course they aren’t. Among the Queen Mary’s ghosts was the spirit of a cat the same white color as the human spirits, though only partly visible in wrap-around bands. For some reason, that cat alone strained my credulity, maybe because it was cute.
We could tell that the ship’s officer was a passionate ghost believer. In his years aboard the Mary he’d racked up many personal sightings. He’d also interviewed passengers and crew who’d had experiences of their own. He told us where the ghosts usually hung out during the day—behind the louvered panels lining a hallway on the ship’s deck. And he knew where on board during a night walk you’d be most likely to bump into a spook. His most powerful argument was his unshakable and fired-up personal belief, so strong it infused him with charisma. To him, ghosts were as real as living people. And certainly more interesting.
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William Hart is a novelist and poet living in Los Angeles. After earning a doctorate in English from the University of Southern California, he taught college writing courses in LA and wrote. Now he writes--fiction mostly--while helping produce the documentaries of filmmaker Jayasri Majumdar, his wife. Hart's work has appeared in several hundred literary journals, commercial magazines, newspapers, and anthologies, and fourteen books.