Monday, September 28, 2015

Ghosts of Autumn

A writer friend of mine once contacted me about a story he was working on that entailed a haunting in summertime. He told me that he only ever associated ghosts with one season, and that was autumn. So I proceeded to remind him that there are ghosts that haunt in the summer, and chill unsuspecting bystanders with sudden drops of temperature, or screams and wails that can be heard above the white noise of air-conditioning or window fans. There are specters that turn up in the winter, coming forth as discrete white shapes from banks of snow, or stalking through the formerly cozy family room with the blazing fireplace and all the antiques from estate sales that crowd the mantel. And of course there are spring phantoms: young teenage lovers that died tragically coming home from prom, or the blurred voices that are carried along the winds of a sudden, violent thunderstorm that bruises the skies in black and gray and shakes the windows with its sheer force. 

He found a way to write a summer haunting.

Ghosts are year-round, no doubt to those of us who believe they exist. But still, my friend had a point. There is something particularly spectral about autumn. Sure, it's the fact that there are more hours of darkness than light. There are the beautiful leaves that fall from the trees, only to turn brown and brittle, leaving skeletal branches to withdraw their vibrancy in the face of oncoming winter. There's that holiday devoted entirely to candy, costumes, and chills, all fun and games but with roots in some fairly frightening beliefs.

And then there's just that feel of autumn. Believers in the paranormal/supernatural/otherworldly/unseen dimension also believe that for whatever reason, the "veil between worlds" is thinner in autumn. Somewhere back in our cultural traditions, there is the age-old concept that Fall is the time when we of the living can more easily find and reach out to those who no longer walk the earth in physical form. And they can more easily find and reach out to us.

We are living in a very scientific age. Nearly everything on the physical plane that can be analyzed and explained has been, even if we may not know the last detail of every single mechanism. Yet. We know that trees go dormant during the cold months. We know that leaves turn color because they stop producing chlorophyll. We know the days are shorter because of where our planet is in relation to the sun. All of it has been explained by science and none of it is a surprise any longer.

And yet...there is an intangible something about autumn. 

Lots of us writers, especially those of us who write with one foot in the other world, so to speak, feel unusually inspired by the early darkness and the growing chills. We listen to Fall winds that whistle through cracks in the window and blow the hapless leaves down the gutters and across the streets, and we feel the stories begin to grow inside of us. We sniff the fires being started in countless fireplaces and conjure up memories of walking home from school, from work, from the bus stop or the train station in a time of growing shadows and early night, and images of other worlds and snatches of dialogue between characters who only exist within us urge us to our pens and pads and keyboards.

Maybe it's true of all creative people. Maybe every art has its own season. But for me, Fall is claimed by the writers. Fall is for those of us who sense the souls who have gone on ahead and yet still linger behind to tell their dark tales. So as much as I miss the long days of summer, the sunsets that come hours after dinner and the sunrises that greet me before I even stumble into the bathroom to brush my teeth, there is that part of me that always welcomes the coming season of short days and long, long nights. 

There is a part of me that will always welcome the ghosts of autumn.


  1. I only watch horror movies in the fall. I thought that was weird, but after reading this I feel more normal. Like the collective unconscious is reeling me to tap into those stories in the fall.

  2. Fall is the time of ghosties and ghoulies and things that go bump in the night. I never thought about only watching horror movies in the fall. I saw The Exorcist onscreen in January, and it was pretty horrific, coming out of the theater to all those dead-looking trees. But you're right - a whole bunch of horror movies debut in the Fall. You are definitely not alone!