Mary Aileen (@patchworkmouse) pointed to this story on Twitter, and I happened to see it, which is very nice because I’m not spending a lot of time on Twitter just at the moment.
I clicked through and read the story. So should you.
Oh, I just noticed now, after I read it, that it’s by Naomi Kritzer. No wonder it’s good.
The Thing About Ghost Stories
The most interesting thing about ghost stories is that almost everyone has one.
The other really interesting thing, to me, is that they’re nearly all terrible stories if you try to take them as stories. A good story has a beginning, some buildup, and then a resolution or a twist or something at the end. Ghost stories go, “This creepy and inexplicable thing once happened to me. The obvious explanation is that I dreamed or imagined it; I am certain that I didn’t dream or imagine it.” Or in some cases, “I used to live in this house where creepy stuff happened all the time. Then we moved.” Every now and then you’ll hear a story with a ghost that has a beginning, middle, and end, but those are most often urban legends: “One day we were driving along and we picked up a hitchhiker.” (Beginning.) “As we drove, we had this creepy conversation with the hitchhiker.” (Middle.) “Then we reached our destination and the hitchhiker had vanished from the back seat.” (Twist!) That one’s not a real ghost story. It did not happen to your cousin, no matter what he says.
It feels like ghost stories should mean something, but it’s not at all clear what. I managed to get about a hundred pages out of the question, “What do these mean, anyway?” when I wrote my doctoral dissertation to get my PhD in Folklore, all without reaching an actual conclusion. My mother helpfully pointed that out when she read the manuscript.
“If I give them a real answer, they’ll just complain about it,” I said.
“So just tell me, Leah,” she said. “What do you think ghost stories mean?”