I grew up in Bronxville, New York in an old Victorian house that my mother claimed was haunted. Every night, she would tell my brothers and I stories about the ghost who lived in the empty rooms on the third floor. The ghost was supposed to be friendly, and as the legend went, had even put out an electrical fire in the kitchen that should have burned down the house. But still, he was a ghost, and very scary.
Sometimes at night, I would wake up to the sounds of creaking floorboards coming from above. Someone, or something, was up there. I knew it wasn’t my brothers—they were as terrified as I was of the giant, claw-footed tub with rusty stains, the sheet-covered furniture, and the dusty, painted shut windows. I would look over at my cat for comfort, but she would also be staring up at the ceiling. Together, our gazes would follow the sound of the footsteps as the ghost walked, eventually descending the creaking staircase, passing by my bedroom and then vanishing. Was this real or my imagination?
Storytelling in my family has always been a tradition. From making up stories to recounting true ones, whenever we gather, especially at holidays, we love to tell our favorites: the time my father blew up the front lawn when he lit a gasoline-filled mole hole; the day my oldest brother was sent to stand up to the neighborhood bully; the time my mother saw a theatre dummy hanging from a tree and called the police because she thought someone had hung himself. Sometimes these tales get a little stretched. It doesn’t matter, they connect us in a way stories can.
As a storyteller, my mother knew how to weave truth with fiction, reality with imagination. Even more than this, she knew how to draw my brothers and I into her nightly tales, and not just as passive listeners. We seemed to enter her world. Even when she finished, the echoes of the stories stayed with us. She understood the connection between the storyteller and the listener, the power of a well-timed pause. Her bedtime stories opened the door to a magical world where anything was possible. This was both terrifying and thrilling to me back then and an important lesson for me now as a writer. Think big and bold and fearlessly step into the world of your imagination.
My family sold that house in Bronxville many years ago, but I went back once to see it. Although completely updated, I could still see the shadow of a stain on the right hand side, and a strange reflection in the attic window. I couldn’t help but believe that sometimes at night, the sound of creaking floorboards could be heard as the ghost keeps his watch.
Kim O’Brien lives in Texas with her husband, daughters, and four-legged friend Daisy. She worked for many years as a writer, editor, and speechwriter for IBM before becoming a full-time fiction writer.
Kim will be at the YART Young Adult Texas Tea event on April 21st.
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