Sunday, October 25, 2009

A True Ghost Story

It's nearly Halloween and time for tales of the unexplained and mysterious. The following is a true tale that demonstrates the senses of our animal friends.

You can hear the original story below and other ghostly tales, poems and music on "Ghosts of the Internet, 3" at

Hear the story, CLICK HERE

Boot Hill
by Keri Dearborn

You say you don’t believe in ghosts? Well neither do I, not in white sheets billowing in the wind or magnetic force fields measured by TV ghost chasers gripping their electronic gadgets. Let me tell you a true ghost story.

You see, I believe in the tangible, a poke in the arm, a spectral man seen by a group of strangers and the reaction of an innocent.

People can conjure up things. Our emotions and fears get the better of us and paint the world we want to see or are afraid might be true. But a dog, well a dog has no preconceptions. A dog hasn’t read Poe. A dog doesn’t pursue frightening experiences for the thrill of it. Animals know that the world is dangerous. Real threats abound. To have a cozy and comfortable life beside the hearth is a blessing, not a bore.

Dodger was a mix of golden labrador and laughter. He was broad chested, surefooted and after a good romp sat with his tongue lolling to one side of a wide smile. He would chase a stick for as long as you could throw it. He was well-traveled and well-behaved, but he insisted on walking in front. Oh, he never strayed off, he just liked the freedom of being the leader.

One summer driving through Canada, we stopped in Barkerville in British Columbia. Barkerville was a gold rush town in the 1860s. Today it is a Provincial Park and the wooden buildings of main street are open to visitors during the day. Some of it is restored, but some of it stands weathered and aching with the past.

It was a rainy evening. The campground was empty. We ate dinner in the car and decided to walk through the closed-up town before crawling into our tent for the night. Gray mist shrouded the quiet street of hand-hewn plank buildings. Dodger couldn’t be happier. He was always ready for a walk. The wet street offered a new place to be explored combined with the aroma of horses and mud puddles. It was a canine heaven.

I’ve always loved deserted towns. I like to look in windows and image what scenes have played out inside. Here each glass pane was a portal to a time when your income came out of the ground, when men left their families to search for El Dorado, when one night of gambling could cost a man a year’s hard work. Much of the street has been resurrected to its former glory, a saloon, a dry goods store, and of course a Chinese herbalist. On this quiet evening, tin cups still rested on tables. The splashing stream continued to drive a huge water wheel. And through the shifting ground fog, two horses chased after each other in a field. There was a feeling as if the miners had all run to the next canyon because someone had struck it rich and, any moment, they would all be back.

As we wandered the town, Dodger trotted ahead. He’d catch a good scent and get lost in the discovery, then race to catch up again. When we came to the end of the town’s main street, we followed a road that went back around the outskirts of the buildings. The gravel was easy walking and Dodger dashed ahead. His ears and tongue flopped with each bound and I’ve never seen a truer expression of bliss.

As we came around a bend, the road followed an old wooden fence. The timbers were gray and twisted. The white flowers of Queen Anne’s lace rose up behind the fence, its foliage lush a wall of green. As the road curved, there was a break in fence. Dodger trotted right up to opening. Then he stopped. His ears perked and his head tilted to the side.

“Good boy,” we said. “You wait for us.”

A narrow path made its way through the vegetation. It seemed to turn back toward the town, so we started to follow it. But no canine friend raced ahead. Dodger stood at the fence line. His ears still up, the smile gone.

“Come on, boy. Let’s go this way.”

He didn’t budge.

“Dodger, come on.” Michael called.

Then I noticed a drab gray board half hidden in the damp grass. A wooden cross. A low iron grating in the shape of a rectangle. Another cross and another. “I think we’re in the town cemetery.”

“Cool,” Michael said. “Dodger, come on.”

But the dog wouldn’t come. We couldn’t coax him, we couldn’t order him.

What could an old cemetery mean to a dog? He couldn’t know a tombstone from a fence board. Could he? Nothing had been buried here for a very long time. But Dodger wasn’t thinking of the past or the meaning of the place. He perceived just what it was in that real-time moment.

We looked at each other and realized that if Dodger wasn’t willing to walk through the cemetery, maybe we shouldn’t either. We went back to the road. Once we were both at his side, the dog turned with a bounce and skipped toward camp.

What did he sense in that ghost town cemetery? We’ll never know. But no one told him to be afraid. He didn’t read it in a book or see it in a movie. There was something real that night, something real and tangible that a dog could sense, even if we couldn’t.

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