“You know, it seems that my partings are
always not as nice as I'd like them to be.”
-- J.L. (10/21)
Before taking up residence in a place they call Indian River, I lived in Detroit, where the night before Halloween was known as Devil’s Night. It would be nice to say that the events on that particular night didn’t justify the moniker, and Detroit was up to nothing its municipal counterparts weren’t also up to. But the hellish mischief that permeated throughout the city on that night, and the days leading up to it, far transcended the relatively harmless pranks and hijinks that were simultaneously being perpetrated in quainter towns around the country.
It was different in Detroit back then. I never really understood what the word “mayhem” meant until I experienced the nighttime festivities leading up to October Thirty First. Some faction of the citizenry – though not me of course – became overwhelmed with the instinct of destruction, which a more content and comfortable populous buries beneath thin layers of affluence and contentedness. Therefore, in Detroit, the night before Halloween was not about the usual tricks – eggs, soap smeared on the windows, toilet paper cast among the tree branches, perhaps a garden hose pushed through the mail box of a front door and then turned on to flood out a vestibule. It far transcended a sloppy bag of flaming dog waste on the front porch of your crotchety neighbor who gets his comeuppance when he stomps it out in his slippers only to find the smelly brew then splashed all over his favorite pair of pajamas. I can certainly think of a few even more deserving targets in more recent years.
Anyway, unlike those well deserving targets aforementioned, nobody’s sins warranted Devil’s Night in Detroit, and it was a very sad thing that happened there during the 1980’s. Harmless fun did not spread through this city on All Saints Night. On this night, the saints were doing battle, and that could only mean one thing: Fire. A lot of fire.
Whomever the perpetrators of all this mischief, one thing was for sure. Scoundrels one and all throughout the city snuck around under the cover of darkness with their Molotov cocktails sparking their infernos. The phenomenon reached its peak in 1984, when flames engulfed hundreds, if not thousands, of houses, abandoned and occupied alike. According to the fire chief at the time, most of the fires remained unsolved, which was probably for the best, as it often is.
From my top-floor apartment on Jefferson Avenue, I listened to Eric Clapton and looked out over roofs bathed in the hellish glow of these infernos spotting the dark city below, with red fire engine lights racing toward some of the gleaming dots. Most of the blazes were left to burn out as does the campfire when its maker retires to the tent after excitedly packing the pit with too much wood and then growing tired during final ghost story of the night.
In response to this wide-spread arson there was little anybody could really do other than go about their business and hope that the fingers of this devilish endeavor did not touch upon their property, or, God-forbid, their person.
I only mention this phenomenon, which I have heard to have abated significantly in recent years, for as I recount to you the events leading up to my first encounter with a ghost, I cannot help but conclude that there was some correlation or link between the mad energy within the city at the time and the ability of this spirit to reach out across the threshold of this existence and grab me.
My encounter with a ghost didn’t involve the usual shenanigans and hijinks we so often hear about in fiction and on television, like chains dragging down the hall, doors slamming, furniture being stacked up to the ceiling, floating apparitions of spirits moving indiscriminately through walls when your house is built on a a sacred Native American buriel sight, or even a possessed Rottweiler in the yard. None of that. It was far stranger, as it confirmed that there are ghosts among us, that our dimension is not singular and often the line between who is a ghost and who is not is very thin.