True Ghost Story

The end of life as a universal horror show

Timothy Kreider
Human Parts
Published in
8 min readOct 30, 2019

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Photo: George Mdivanian / EyeEm via Getty Images

One night when I was in high school, maybe even middle school, I was working in the study when my mother came in and asked me whether I’d been playing the piano. Only the two of us were home; my father and sister were both out. I did often play the piano in the “music room” (really just a hallway) adjacent to the study, or listen to classical music while I worked, but I hadn’t been that night, and said so. Mom appeared to me to be weirded out. “I could’ve sworn I heard piano music,” she said, with that amused/embarrassed/wary affect people exhibit in the presence of the uncanny. Maybe a radio had been left on, we speculated, playing at near-subliminal volume. I helped her search the house, looking for the source of this alleged music, but we found nothing. Mom was so adamant about what she’d heard that it became a family story, one of our go-to anecdotes when we’d gang up on and make fun of each other — the night Mom thought she heard piano music.

Mom always told this as a ghost story. She believed the 200-year-old stone farmhouse where we grew up was haunted; Mom lived on there for decades after my sister and I had left home and our father had died, and she told us she heard strange things there sometimes. There are more obvious, less interesting explanations for noises in a 200-year-old farmhouse than a haunting, of course. But Mom was insistent that these weren’t the normal creaks and scuttles of a house settling or mice in the walls. She sensed presences there — not always friendly ones, she said. She looked up the property records and learned that no one had ever lived there for longer than 40 years; the house didn’t get passed down within families. She thought people got spooked there.

Recently my mother asked me: “Do you think it’s possible to have memories of the future?” I surprised myself by immediately answering: “Yes, I do.” I was thinking not of woo-woo superstitions like precognition but of some of the science fiction classics of my adolescence, in which time is trickier than humans’ linear perception allows. It’s not just the visionary wackos who make for good sf writers who are skeptical about time’s stolidity; Albert Einstein said that “past, present, and future are only a stubbornly persistent illusion.” When I read Mom this quote, she asked me to write it…

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Timothy Kreider
Human Parts

Tim Kreider is the author of two essay collections, and a frequent contributor to Medium and The New York Times. He lives in NYC and the Chesapeake Bay area.