I have, one time. That’s all.
Even though most of my books contain supernatural or paranormal elements, and I’ve actively looked (ask me about Ghost Tours that I’ve been on and the cemeteries I’ve explored), I think my mind is too scientifically ordered. That might sound intellectually snooty, that I’m just more logic driven, but it’s not. I know people who do see and hear and experience the supernatural, and I believe them.
Why are you getting this story now? We’re past October and Halloween when the internet is flooded with creepy tales and directions to creepy places. It came up because of All Souls Day, November 2nd, today.
My daughter-in-law is from Mexico with both a Catholic and Indigenous background, and she and my son set up an alter in their home each October-November to recognize those family members who have passed from this life. I know in New Mexico, it’s also common. My 86-year-old mother-in-law, born in the north-eastern part of the state, remembers that her grandmother did the same in her home. My son and daughter-in-law called on November 1st and asked my husband and me to tell a remembrance about those people we love on their alter. And this is the one I told about my ghost. It happened a few years ago.
I keep my cell phone by my bed and use it as an alarm to wake me up in the morning, set for 4:25 AM and then 4:35 AM. I wrote before work which is why I got up so early. My husband gets up even earlier, so he’s already out in the den working on his computer. There are only two of us in the house. The bedroom’s dark, but the phone’s screen lights up when the alarm goes off and, that morning, I lay facing away from my phone. So, I roll over to hit the snooze button.
And there she was, standing by my bed. A little girl—maybe 10 years old—with brown hair to her shoulders, parted on the right side, the left side caught up with a small ribbon, wearing a dress, and eating something from a small paper bag she had in her hand. Just standing there in that bubble of light from my phone. Right by my bed. I could’ve reached out and touched her. I remember thinking it was peanuts or popcorn that she was eating and that I wasn’t afraid at all.
We both froze, her hand halfway to her mouth, eyes wide—I don’t think she expected me to see her. We stared at each other for a few seconds and then I did something I regret. I touched the phone and turned the alarm off. And she was gone. I wish to this day that I’d said hi, hello, what’s your name, greeted her in some way instead.
I got up and walked down the hall to the den and said to my husband, “Do you know how I’ve said I’ve never seen a ghost? I did this morning.” And his eyes got wide, and I told him what had happened. And I told my friend at work when we went to lunch that afternoon.
But that’s not the most astonishing part of this story. Because later that day is when I realized who the little girl was.
I got a call at work that afternoon, around 2:00 PM. It was dad, and he could barely talk, his words all jumbled and agitated, and he ended up handing the phone to my mother’s caregiver. You see, she’d had a stroke ten years before and once my dad couldn’t take care of her anymore, he placed her in a 24-hour residential care center and went to visit her every day. The lady on the phone said to me, you need to come home (my mom and dad’s home). Your mother is actively dying. She’d slipped into a coma the night before and wouldn’t wake up. It was a shock. She’d lived with her stroke for so many years, I didn’t expect it.
I had to get people to teach my classes, so I called around to the other profs in my department. And I called my friend I ate lunch with who I told about my ghost, and she said, “Do you think that was your mother this morning by your bed, coming to say good-bye?”
Yes. I do. And I’m so glad she was eating her snack because for so long, with her stroke, she could only have soft food, and only have it fed to her. Why she chose to visit me as a young girl I didn’t recognize? I don’t know.
But it’s a visit I will cherish forever because I didn’t get to see her before she died. On our way, driving the next day, my sisters called at the halfway point in our journey and said our mother had passed away from us. They got to be there with her, holding her hand and saying good-bye.
Sometimes, I channel the heavier emotions into my writing, and I did with this remembrance of my mother because I’ve always felt guilty about not being there with my mom more. She wasn’t easy sometimes, after her stroke as the years went by. I was almost relieved to be 8 hours away. That weighs heavy.
Anyway, I used those emotions and that guilt to write a scene in The Third Warrior, hoping it would be therapeutic. If you haven’t read the book, I think it’s my favorite of the three Nicky Matthews mysteries I’ve written so far. I’m going to excerpt the scene below, with a little background.
Nicky is going to lose her home by foreclosure because of a past indiscretion. Raised by her grandmother, Nicky inherited the home that had housed generations of her family and all the treasures and memories and stories they’d collected over the years. Her guilt was overwhelming.
When three young men are arrested for poaching, the law says that they will lose anything that was used in their crime. One of the young men had taken his grandfather’s rifle and a handmade beaded scabbard decorated by his grandfather’s grandmother, a family heirloom and treasure, all to be confiscated and destroyed because of the boy’s indiscretion. The young man’s mother and grandfather arrived to bail him out, and Nicky goes to speak to the grandfather about the situation.
excerpt From The Third Warrior.
Nicky shut her truck’s door, stomach jumping. With the bag of fruit clasped in one hand and the printed picture of the rifle and scabbard under her arm, she expanded her chest on a long, calming breath. Her actions could come back to bite her hard if this encounter wasn’t handled properly.
She walked under the shaded overhang and rapped on the door numbered with a brass five.
Mr. Hopinkay, Willy’s grandfather, opened it and stood on the threshold in old leather cowboy boots, faded black dungarees held up by suspenders, and a crisp long-sleeved button-up. The scent of coffee and starch wafted through the doorway as worried brown eyes peered at her from under wrinkled lids. “Sergeant. Is everything all right? Willy and Joe?”
“They’re fine. We should be hearing back on bail soon.” Nicky held out the bag. “I brought you apples from my garden and a case of water, in my truck. May I speak to you and your daughter?”
“My daughter is not here now. But we can talk.” He accepted the bag and opened the door wide.
The boardinghouse room was scrupulously clean, even if its decor seemed from another age. Large, plain area rugs covered the wood floor, colorful blankets doubled as bedspreads and drapes, and the heavy furniture—a sofa and two chairs—were slipcovered with dark red fabric. In one corner, a Formica countertop held a sink, microwave, coffee maker with a half-full pot, and a tiny refrigerator. A casserole dish, covered in aluminum foil, sat next to the sink, and an unopened box of pastries rested on a round table near the window.
“The Aklinne a’bo’yanne People have been generous. Coffee? There are sweet things, too.” He waved a hand the color of walnut at the table.
“No, thank you.” Nicky handed him the printed page. “I’ve, uh, come to speak to you about the guns Willy and Joe carried. Under tribal and federal statutes, they’ll be confiscated and destroyed if your grandsons are found guilty of poaching and resisting arrest.”
His suddenly sharp gaze scrutinized her bruised chin and split lip. “That lawyer, the woman, she explained this to us.”
Nicky widened her stance and clasped her hands tightly in front of her. “Willy told me the history of his gun. How much it means to you, its place in your stories, your family. I, uh, I understand that. My grandmother left me heirlooms, furniture—many years old—for safekeeping, and her house. Five generations of my family grew up there, including me. I, uh, haven’t been a very good steward.” Saying it out loud was almost cathartic, even though it didn’t mitigate the imminent loss of her home. “I don’t want Willy to feel the way I do. It’s—it’s like a spiritual wound. It shadows everything.” She ran her hand over her hair. “I have a way to get your family treasures back to you.”
Mr. Hopinkay stared at her for a long time. She fidgeted under his gaze. Finally, he hobbled to a chair at the table and, using a hand on the back, levered himself into the seat. He smoothed the paper across the tabletop. Nicky’s tongue worried her lip as she waited for his response.
“Would this way to get me the rifle be illegal? Get my grandsons or you in trouble?”
“Not your grandsons. Me? Not if you don’t tell anyone.”
The skin around his eyes crinkled, causing them to almost disappear, and echoing creases bracketed his smile. “You think this is so important—this rifle—that you would sacrifice yourself?”
“Yes, sir.” Nicky frowned. “Isn’t it?”
He slapped his thigh with one hand. “Let me tell you, young lady, I would love to have my rifle back, and my grandmother’s scabbard.”
Nicky opened her mouth to explain her plan, but he shook his head.
“Not for reasons you believe are important. That rifle is worth a lot of money. Money we don’t have. Money my family needs now for the defense of my grandsons. If you got me that rifle back, I would sell it and not give it a second thought.”
Nicky blinked, surprised. She’d had to do that, too. Sell her family’s heirlooms to pay for her defense. But she felt like a failure for it.
“The more I think of it, the more I believe it’s my fault for putting such value on this gun. It has warped my grandson’s judgment so that he thinks he is worth less to me than an old piece of wood and metal. It was not like that for our grandfathers. In that time, after our Creation, the A:łashshina:we moved with the Earth, chasing the seasons.” He draped an arm over the back of the chair, his gaze focused only on memories. “The People could not carry much, so they took on their backs only what was necessary, relied on their skills for food and shelter. It wasn’t until some fine fool built a house that these worldly goods took on such importance.” His gaze dropped and pinned Nicky. “You ever seen that TV show Hoarders? Well, we are all hoarders now.”
“But sir … your history, the stories associated with that gun. Willy’s first deer, food it put on your table. And … and the love put into the scabbard by your grandmother. All that will be lost if—”
“Do you hear yourself, girl?” He swiveled and grabbed the box of pastries. “You think that after these are eaten, we won’t remember the kindness of the one who brought them? That’s important, not the thing. You melika and your need to write everything down or jam deshhuk’wa in a museum. You know, I visited President George Washington’s house one time. They kept that poor man’s teeth for everyone to see. If he was alive, would he want that? You talk about your family’s history in the form of heirlooms and a building. Do you think if your grandmother could come back to this world and visit for one day or even one minute, she would choose to sit alone in that old house, surrounded by old furniture?”
Nicky looked at the old man, and her vision burned and blurred. She would give everything she owned, even years off her life, to see her grandmother one more time. To talk and laugh and … Throat tight and aching, she closed her eyes.
Mr. Hopinkay was silent while she cried. When she finally dried her eyes, she held a damp, old-fashioned handkerchief.
“Thank you,” she said. For so much more than the cloth tucked in her hand.
He nodded. “I learned just as much about myself. Now, if you really want to help my boys, explain why that fancy Santa Fe lawyer wants them to keep their mouths shut instead of taking a plea deal so the law can find the one who put them up to this.”
Have you ever seen a ghost or something you couldn’t explain? I’d love to hear your story.
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