The Dead in Venice: Guest Ghost Story Post by Stant Litore
This is indeed a true story, and I have never forgotten it, though I also never thought I'd write about it.
I was raised in a house inhabited by the unquiet and unrestful dead. Footfalls on the stairs in the empty hours, and a revenant that would shake the bed at 3:53 am each morning without fail. The house had been built in 1903 and it was in every way unsound: black mold thick as cobwebs in the attic, rotting wood porch, and all the memories of some family that had lived there before and no longer did. My father kept a shotgun by the front door, and we had the county’s largest, loudest dogs outside to watch over both house and livestock.
But that was just the character of the house; it wasn’t chilling, it just was. Waking up at 3:53 you could get used to, and you or your brother, whoever woke first, could always chuck a pillow at the offending spirit. One time I sat up and rubbed my eyes and, because I was a little older then, I told the spirit quite soberly that I was sorry but I couldn’t help it.
It got a little quieter after that.
None of that was scary – certainly not fearful like being stalked by a cougar in the woods, which happened to me once. That was fearful – you knew there was a good chance you might be eaten, and you couldn’t see a thing through the ferns.
But this was our house, and these were its dead, and none of them particularly malignant, just full of sorrow and loneliness and insomnia. Other people’s dead are scarier.
It was the cold, windy December of 2002 and I was in Venice traveling with other students. What you have to understand about Venice is that for all its gondolas and its moonlit night-time beauty, it has more dead than most places in the world and many of them died in nasty and unmentionable ways, and a good many of them linger there now without name or memory. The people they might wish to communicate with are gone, and the things they might want to communicate about are gone, and they’re all that’s left.
I don’t know why this night was as scary as it was, but I’ll tell it the best I know how. We had just come back from visiting the Jewish Quarter with its somber monument of apology (in four languages) to the innocent sent away to die in WWII. Why we went there by night in December I have no idea. We were coming back and waiting for a vaporetto by the canal, there in the back of Venice, the part you don’t see in movies. The houses were ancient and drowning and water-logged and looked as miserable as people sitting naked in a swamp. There were broken windows and rooms that maybe hadn’t been lit in years. It would have been just mournful, but seeing what we’d already seen that night, those lonely windows just seemed to whisper: Terrible things happened here, terrible things, we saw them, but we won’t tell you about them, we’ll just sit here and look at you.
One of the girls in our group shrieked. We all looked up, but she and I were the only ones that saw it. The others said afterward they saw nothing or maybe just a sort of white blur. One of the other students said they actually thought they saw a doll in a white dress.
I know Allison had nightmares about it for weeks. I can’t say that I did, but it sat with me and has ever since, and I think of it sometimes and when I do I go get a sweater or an afghan and pull it around my shoulders like an old woman with a shawl.
What I saw that night I will write here with reluctance. It wasn’t like the dead in my father’s crumbling old house. It wasn’t like the dead I’ve seen or think I’ve seen since. I saw a young girl who couldn’t have been more than fourteen, dressed in white and slamming her palms on the glass and screaming without sound. I will never forget her eyes. I won’t forget the way she was there – extremely, visibly there. And then the way she wasn’t. And the way she was back again a moment later, not because she’d moved or been pulled away but because one moment she existed at that window, and the next she didn’t, and the moment after that she was there again screaming as though there had been no interruption or pause. Like flicking a light switch on and off. And I will never forget the looming shadow behind her, and the way my heart pounded in my chest at the sight of it.
If I ever feel the kind of terror I saw in that girl’s eyes, I don’t think I’ll survive it. I think it would leave me a mindless, shaking animal without thought or speech. And afterward, I might not even remember how to scream.
By the time the late-night vaporetto chugged up to our drenched station with a noise of bubbles and old motors, the light switch had flicked off for a while and the girl hadn’t come back. Allison was crying softly and one of the other girls was holding her and trying to calm her down. I was just watched the window, and I kept my eyes on it until the waterboat took us around a bend in that little back-of-Venice canal.That’s the only real ghost story I have to tell, because most ghosts are just lonely and restless, not unlike some people are even before they die. But that one wasn’t just lonely and restless, and I hope before God that whatever man or thing hurt her in whatever century she lived in felt the remorse of it for the rest of his existence.
Stant Litore writes about the restless dead, and the first volume in his series The Zombie Bible is now available at Amazon (http://www.amazon.com/dp/B005SNK13K) and Smashwords (https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/94033). It’s called Death Has Come Up into Our Windows and tells the story of a prophet imprisoned in a well in a dying city; each day, his gaolers toss one of the ravenous dead in after him. You should read it; the book will leave a mark on you. Stant lives in Colorado with his wife and two daughters, and stays out of certain parts of the mountains during the dark of the moon.