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man in a dark forestMy continuing series of True Life Ghost Stories to celebrate Halloween.

My grandmother Margaret had a hard life. Widowed in her twenties with two young boys to raise, she spent the rest of her life as a single mom scrubbing office floors to make ends meet. She shared a ramshackle house with her eldest son Jim, her aging mother, her sister Ruthie and her young nephew Dennis, whom they all helped raise.

One summer when she and Denny and Jim came out to visit us in California, all the boys, including my Dad and young brother, took off on a fishing trip near Visalia. That’s when tragedy struck again.  This time Margaret lost her youngest son, my Dad, and the nephew she had loved so much. Denny, unable to swim, fell into the river and my father went in to save him. They both downed together.

Despite these tragedies Margaret was a warm, kind woman. She had a gift of gab and loved to chat up people. When we visited her in Indiana she would take us to work and introduce us to all the people whose offices she cleaned.  They all greeted her warmly and told us what a fine person she was. She loved her job and took pride in her work, eventually becoming the head of the housekeeping department. But she never stopped scrubbing floors; she believed in leading by example.

As much as she loved her job, she was looking forward to retirement. What she wanted more than anything else in the world was to visit Hawaii. It was all she could talk about.

When she finally turned 65 she travelled with friends from Indiana to California where we lived, camping along the way to save money. Her plan was to visit us then fly across the ocean–her first airplane ride ever– to that tropical paradise she had always dreamed about.

Paul_Gauguin-_Manao_tupapau_(The_Spirit_of_the_Dead_Keep_Watch) public domainSadly, on her trip to visit us she suffered a heart attack and died.

That night my mother woke from an extremely vivid dream where Margaret had come to her weeping so hard she could not speak. My mother did everything she could to try to comfort her and find out what was wrong. But Margaret would not be consoled. And she would not let go of my mother.

She hung onto her so tightly it scared her. It felt as if Margaret was trying to climb inside her body. My mother fought hard to push her away, and eventually Margaret let go and wandered off, still crying mournfully.

Banshee wikipediaThe next morning my mother was deeply disturbed by this dream. That’s when she discovered that Margaret had died that night–the night she visited my mother in her dreams. My mother always believed that Margaret was crying because she was not ready to leave this world, not ready to give up her dream of visiting Hawaii.

That would have been the end to this ghost story, except for a strange event that occurred about a year later. My mother was talking to a cousin back in Indiana, catching up on family news, when her cousin asked, “Have you heard about Dorothy? You’ll never guess the change that’s come over her this past year, or where she’s off to. Hawaii, of all places! Can you imagine that?”

Well, anyone who had known Dorothy would be surprised indeed to hear that. Dorothy was the spinster daughter of some distant cousins. She had been a recluse her whole life. She was so timid and shy she had never married, never worked, and still lived with her aging parents. The only thing she seemed to love was working jigsaw puzzles. There was always one set up in the front room for her to work on.

Now, it appeared, Dorothy had undergone a complete personality change. Not only was she outgoing and gabby, but she had applied for and taken over her cousin Margaret’s old job! And now she was headed for a long vacation in Hawaii!

Well, my mother could believe it. And she knew exactly what had happened. After my mother had fended her off that night, Margaret went searching for a more docile partner whose body she could share. And who would be more compliant than her timid and retreating cousin Dorothy?

Margaret finally got her trip to Hawaii, it appeared, and she and Dorothy had a splendid time together. Not long after the trip, Dorothy quit her job and went back home to live with her parents. She spent the rest of her days peacefully piecing together jigsaw puzzles.

oldhagThis ghost story ended happily enough, as many of these types of paranormal experiences do. Some call it body-hopping, some soul-sharing, some spirit possession. Whatever the name, this kind of activity, cross-culturally, is more common in women than men. Often when a disincarnate entity takes control of another human body, there is a noticeable change of personality. It can even have a positive effect on the life of the willing partner, some say. While my mother managed to fight off Margaret’s attempt to possess her, Dorothy may very well have consented willingly.

But there’s another type of spirit possession where an entity embodies an inanimate object. My husband and I encountered that type of possession when we were house-sitting for his aunt and uncle one summer.

At first it seemed as if the house was haunted. But it didn’t feel the same as the haunted house I lived in as a child. We weren’t sharing the house with disembodied spirits. Not at all. This felt much more ominous.

The house itself was possessed. We had taken up residence in the belly of the Beast.

This is Part III of an ongoing series of true life ghost stories, experienced either by me or by people I trusted.

You can read the full series of ghost stories at the links below.