Ghosts of a Different Pallor–Justine Graykin

A while back, I was challenged to write a ghost story. Now, ghosts are not my specialty. Most of what I write has a firm grounding in science (Archimedes Nesselrode being a stark exception — but I wrote that just for fun). Still, I like a good challenge. So I tried to think outside the paranormal box.

There are all kinds of ghosts, and some of them are not the supernatural kind: They are the ghosts that haunt our minds. These specters rise out of the graves of memory and take on the shape of our fears and regrets. They can be conjured from the shadows of a childhood lost, a childhood shattered. These sorts of ghosts can be very difficult to exorcise, because they do not respond to Bibles waved or solemn incantations. They abide within our neural connections in places beyond our conscious control. In this way, they can be more fearsome than any ghost of dark legend.

This became the premise of my story, “Haunted House” . I crafted it from the clay of my own memories and experiences. On a whim, a woman decides to show her child the house where she grew up. She does not anticipate the box of horrors she opens up in her own mind when she returns. New owners have changed the house, but still, the house remembers her. When her daughter asks, “Mama, why are you crying?” the man who has been kind enough to show them around explains it as nostalgia. He is very wrong.

When you take on a trope that has grown gray and wizened with use, try to think outside the box. Think of directions you can take it that are surprising, and that relate to your own experiences. We are all individuals with a combination of character traits and memories that make us unique. Exploit that uniqueness to develop your own writing style, your own take on things. This may not guarantee commercial success, since the market notoriously prefers tried and true to fresh and new. But it will guarantee that your prose is genuine, and is spoken in your own voice.

If you are going to haunt a house, use your own ghosts. They will be like no one else’s.

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