I knew I was haunted by the time I left college. Standing back from the
bar, one hand balanced on my hip, the other clutching my keys, I eyed my
friends—heads tossed back in throaty, careless laughs—and their
drinks. That’s when I felt it. The graze across my backside, so slight,
but sharp and hungry, like a scythe sweeping for flesh.
I turned around, but nothing was there.
My friends told me later that for them it started much earlier, that I
should be so lucky to have lasted this long.
I remember the sleepovers during elementary school, just us girls
sprawled across sleeping bags, where we would tell each other ghost
stories late into the night. Spotlighted under our chins by the beam of
a flashlight, we traded tales told to us by older sisters, revealed
whispers overhead from our mothers on the phone. We cradled each story
in our palms and offered a taste to one another, the thrill to feel the
danger in its sharpness, its weight—each a knife of ice slicing lines
into our outstretched hands, melting quickly with our trembling, eager
By the time it was my turn, I couldn’t help but let the ice slip through
my fingers, and, unable to grasp what was in front of me, let it drop to
the carpet unseen—pooling into a damp spot that would dry without a
trace in the morning.
It’s very hard to prove a haunting. Your word is as fragile as gossamer,
as thin as a sheet lashing in the wind. No matter what you say, you
sound crazy. The only people who understand you are those who have
ghosts of their own.
When I was in high school, I told an old boyfriend about the ghosts,
turned to face him on the couch and confided how they whispered things
when I walked past, even in broad daylight, the sun dripping off of my
“But they’re not saying bad things?” He sat up, turned to me. “Have
you tried just ignoring them?”
My mouth opened, unsure of what to say.
Some believe they haunt only pretty girls, girls with hair that glides
behind them like water, waists as pinched as salt, skin as white as
swans. This is only true in movies, books with glossy black covers,
television specials airing on the Friday night death slot. Ghosts are so
noisy with their shaking chains, their clomping around the house, their
demands to be heard, to be feared. But the dead? They never get the
chance to speak.
I’ve tried burnt sage, seances, even had my palm read by a woman who
could only place her hand on mine, shake her head, and with tears in her
eyes tell me that she was sorry, that there was nothing she could do.
“You just have to pray,” my mother said, “that you don’t end up like
At a college Halloween party, I learned that ghosts can shapeshift, can
turn into just about anything: a drink mysteriously refilled, a sudden
partner on the dancefloor, warm breath curdling the blood in your ear.
Ghosts can be kind at first, helpful even. I watched one prop a drunk
girl up, promise to take her somewhere cool and quiet, somewhere where
they could talk undisturbed. I tried to find them weaving through the
crowd, but like most apparitions, they simply disappeared.
When I was sixteen, I bought a Ouija board with a friend in our naïve
attempt to understand the spirit world. But we received little in
return. No matter the questions, whether opened or closed, the
planchette with its magnified eye shuddered under our fingertips to
“No,” and stayed there. Again and again, going nowhere, the center of
the “o” enlarged and bloated like a doorknob, a tunnel, the endless
cavern of an open, silent mouth.
Some are haunted by versions of themselves. How do I explain this? There
are different kinds of ghosts. The ones that haunt from the outside and
the ones that haunt from within. The ghosts that one learns to live
with: who you were then, who you’ve become, that person you’ll never
be—all of these selves follow you around like a shadow, creep along
the walls like a spider, always lingering, always lurking, always there.
My mother never told me that she was haunted. But when I was thirteen,
wanting to go for an evening walk in the neighborhood, she told me a
story. She was my age when she was riding her bike in the neighborhood
and a truck appeared with its headlights beaming, casting her long
shadow before her—an echo of her body, the trace of her life stretched
as thin and sharp as a spindle. I think about those same motions, of her
feet cycling up and down, the wheels spinning over and over, and how
after she found somewhere safe to hide, she still needed to head back
home. How when she remembered that story, passing it down to me, her
hands kept turning and turning, frantically pedaling, even after all
Michelle Champagne earned her Master’s degree in English from Wake Forest University, where was also the Graduate Fellow for Fiction Collective 2. Her work can be found in Sledgehammer Lit, Barren Magazine, and Porcupine Literary.