Steven Price, Kennebunkport: Ghost in the Machine

I’m a materialist, so I don’t believe in ghosts. However, I believe in ghost stories, and one of the best is “The Haunting of Hill House” by Shirley Jackson, on par with “The Turn of the Screw” by Henry James.

In both of these stories, the emphasis is less on the supernatural and more on the psychological and emotional states of the main characters. Are they really in touch with the spirit world or are they so damaged emotionally and psychologically twisted that their alleged ghostly experiences are nothing but illusions or hallucinations? In other words, are they psychic or just crazy? This enigma is what gives these stories depth, mystery and literary richness.

I was fortunate this Halloween season to have participated in a presentation at Readers’ Theater of Shirley Jackson’s Ghost Story. The seven-person reading was carried out by the Portside Readers, a group of local, enthusiastic and talented readers that I formed last spring in association with the Louis T. Graves Memorial Public Library in Kennebunkport. In training the Portside Readers, I was fortunate enough to find two theater professionals, Valerie Reid and Karen Stathoplos, who turned Jackson’s novel into an original Readers’ Theater screenplay – a remarkable achievement accomplished in just a few weeks.

Our group of amateur readers had two rehearsals where we worked on blocking, interactions between characters and a few pieces of “business”, the theater is about physical activity performed by an actor for dramatic effect. My biggest deal was dropping an invisible glass that hits the ground and shatters (silently) to show my fear during a spooky event. I interpreted him as Luke, whose aunt owns the haunted house, and described in the novel as a liar and a thief. He is also a clever and a coward. Secretly, I was worried that Val and Karen had cataloged me.

Video recording went well, with few verbal blunders or timing errors. The plan was to split the drama into three episodes, with the first two ending on cliffhangers. When the first episode aired on the library’s Facebook and YouTube pages four days before Halloween, the public response was overwhelming. The next day we got almost 350 views. Maybe we got a hit on our hands.

The night after the recording, my brain still buzzing with stories of ghostly apparitions and manifestations, I had a dream. In my dream, I received a visit from my parents, both deceased. It wasn’t a scary dream, even though my mom and dad are now, by definition, ghosts in the machine, that mysterious mechanism we call our minds. Maybe not a bodily existence, but real enough to wake me from a deep sleep. I don’t remember all the details of my dream, but one thing survived in my consciousness – my mother, young, beautiful and happy again, telling me to believe. Believe in what, mom? Ghosts? God? My dreams? The future? If she told me, I couldn’t remember.

I still don’t believe in ghosts, but now more than ever I believe in ghost stories. The good ones, anyway.

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