“Shiver by shiver, we gain insight.”
Guillermo del Toro, Haunted Castles: The Complete Gothic Stories of Ray Russell
Somewhere around midnight, when I was 7 or 8 and staying with my family on my grandmother’s
Indiana farm, as I lay in a creaky bed in a small bedroom at the back of the old house, I saw the
ghost of a baby floating above me. The baby was life-sized and dressed in a stiff white gown. It was
glowing. And weeping. They were not tears of joy. I couldn’t move. The wailing grew louder,
almost siren-like, and this eventually released me. I sprang out of bed, threw off my covers. Howls
were coming from the room down the hall where my younger cousin was staying. By and by, I
could hear her parents telling her she’d had a nightmare and should go back to sleep. I went back
to sleep too.
In the morning when I told my parents about the ghost, they said that clearly I’d heard my cousin,
who was not much more than a baby herself, and so had dreamed up this visitor. I did not believe
them. I said that the sad little ghost had been summoned by my cousin’s crying, that it had slipped
in under the cover of her tears. In an investigative spirit, I asked my grandmother if any babies had
ever died on the farm. My grandmother, never one for soft-balling sharp truths, said that in fact she
herself had been in that inconvenient condition on the farm when she was first born, and that if a
doctor’s assistant hadn’t pumped icy water on her at the kitchen sink while the attending doctor
took care of her mother, she would be in that inconvenient condition still. My parents—ever eager
to rationalize and no doubt not yet far into their first cups of coffee—then said that probably I had
already heard this story about my grandmother’s still birth and revival without realizing it, and that
my cousin’s crying had helped craft the submerged memory into a nightmare.
“But I was awake the whole time! It was Grandma’s ghost! She sounded angry!” I said.
“Grandma is right here,” they said.
“But she died, she said so!” I said.
“Go out and play,” they said.
And that is what I did.
Copyright © 2020 by Laird Hunt. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.