Hungry: Some Ghost Stories
by Samantha Henderson



Some of the following is true.


The Ghosts in the Kitchen

They gather in the kitchen sometimes; I can feel their cold bellies pressing into my back as I stir the soup, the risotto, curious as they strain to look over my shoulder.  There are three: short; middling; and tall; like a vaudeville comedy act.  When it's very hot and I have to use the stove I close my eyes and wish for their marble-smooth coolness, but they never come then.

I don't think they were people who lived in this house.  Sometimes I don't think they were people at all. There's not that much personality to them—only curiosity.

The other place they gather is the bedroom, right in the middle of the old chest of drawers that was damaged during the London blitz.  One, two, three.  Perhaps that’s where they’re from: England of the 1940s, killed in the bombing.  On rationing, and that’s why they’re so obsessed with the kitchen; they’re hungry. 

Do you have any ghosts?  What do you feed them? 


The Ghost on the Porch

He's standing on the porch, and I'm inside, staring at him through the rippled old glass of the living room window.  His hands are in his pockets, and he looks out to the street, his back to me.  It’s evening, and I’m stripping thick paint off the redwood built-ins.  My hands are burning from the chemicals; I have to be careful not to rub my eyes.

Later I hear from my neighbor that the son of this house married the daughter of her house when he returned from duty during World War Two.  An airman, he survived overseas service, came home, married the girl next door and was killed in a training accident a few months after the wedding.

She also tells me he made the Adirondack chair that's stored in the garage.

I remember that his clothing has a look of the 1940s about it, but I don't know if that's a detail I've added in after hearing about the airman. 

I am, by nature, a liar after all. 

The neighbor died last year; she beat breast cancer twice but the third time got her.  During one of her treatments she lost all her hair.  She came over to try on some suits I was getting rid of: they were black and plain and sharp and with her shiny clean head and lean old body and slightly pointed ears she looked like a very modern, anime vampire.  She looked wonderful.

I had a vivid dream about her about a year later: she’d opened up a bed and breakfast in the Land of the Dead.  I don’t know if that counts as a ghost.

What ghost have you made out of whole cloth?


My Uncle's Ghost

On June 17, 1958, several temporary struts reinforcing the Second Narrows Bridge in Vancouver, British Columbia failed.  A number of workers were killed when they fell into the water below. 

My uncle was one of them. 

My uncle was also the engineer who had designed the struts, and it was determined at the time that it was an error in his calculations that caused the failure. 

At the time of the accident my grandfather, in his bed in Sydney, woke to see his son standing at the foot of the bed, reaching out to him. 

I don’t know if that story was true or one of the many, many stories that grew like wildflowers around the stories of my uncle’s death: how he walked onto the bridge at the last minute; how he dreamed about it the night before; how he knew his figures were off and told his bosses but they ignored him.  Each story is a ghost in itself. 

He was the only son, the golden boy. We create ghosts because we’re hungry for them, not the other way round.

What ghosts have you spawned on your family, your children, your generations, yourself?


The Dog

Painting the children's room and accustomed to dogs, I step over the coiled figure of a black lab in the center of the room amid a cluster of paint cans and crumpled newspapers.  The roller is on the wall before I realize I don't have a black lab.  I roll on the thick cottage white and don't turn around because I know what I'll see.   Paint can. Newspaper. Nothing else.  The hair on the back of my neck prickles.  I paint.

Much later my husband has transferred the home movies of the original owners to video and there he is: a black lab frisking beneath the fig tree in the back yard.  The tree in the shaky black and white images is a spindly thing; now it's enormous, with a hollow trunk we're going to have to fill someday—it's eighty years later, after all.  A few years ago my daughters found a family of possums living in the hollow, babies all pink and fetal, with hair like bristles poking out of their soft-looking skin, the mother all curved teeth like a mouthful of splinters.  My dogs would pluck them like ripe avocados, and I pen them up until the possums leave.

Will you forgive yourself? 



I get up early in the morning to see totality, the moon orange as a bruise, and find my neighbor in his front yard watching it as well.  I don't know these neighbors, in an immense, beaten-up craftsman with its neatly raked yard, very well; there's a married couple with assorted adult children that come and go.  I don't recognize this one, but he smiles and nods at me before turning back to the sky, and I think sometime before we must have met; perhaps I drove by and waved as he weeded the river-rock constructs in the front yard.

We watch companionably as the Earth's shadow passes, and then I hear him say, "'pop.'"

"What?" I say. 

"There's a point when the moon turns into a ball, do you see it?  It doesn't look flat anymore. It’s three-dimensional.  And it kind of goes ‘pop.’”

I squint at the moon.  He’s right; it’s round as a marble.

“You’re right,” I say, and there’s no response.  I turn to look, and he’s gone.  There are no lights on in the neighbor’s house, no sound of a closing door.  The air smells burnt, as if the moon is an ember.

I look for him in the front yard, but the man lifting river-smooth rocks isn’t him.  I think about asking but the subject never comes up.

Who lives with you, breathing your exhaled breath, eating the smoke of your sacrifices?


The Mini-Van

When I shut the door and glance in the rear view mirror, in that millisecond before the light goes off, I see someone sitting in the back seat. It’s a little girl, with two blonde braids, I think. 

How's this—she was killed in a car crash and the metal from that car was salvaged and melted and used in my Honda Odyssey and somehow she's bound to the metal or . . .

. . . I parked for a while at the place she was killed and her spirit just kind of moved in, or . . .

. . . it's an illusion made by the shadows cast by seat and belt and headrest, or . . .

. . . she's one of the possible ghosts that cluster around our children; every time they come home safe the wraiths of those potential deaths we fear every waking minute—the car skidding out of control, the serial killer lurking around the corner—cluster around them, invisible but we see them, we crave them, we eat them.  A boy is dragged purple from the bottom of a pool; he gasps, he lives, but that branch of time where he didn't glows severed, like those Kirlian photographs of cut leaves—there he died and haunts us.  And so, over and over, until the ghosts that never were multiply between us, blood of our blood, flesh of our flesh, and we feed . . . .

My mother-in-law sat in the passenger seat for months after she died.  I miss her very much. Sometimes she comes into the kitchen.  They gather in the kitchen sometimes . . . .





About the Author:

Samantha Henderson lives in Southern California. Her fiction and poetry have been published in Strange Horizons, Chizine, Realms of Fantasy, Fantasy Magazine, Helix, Lone Star Stories, and Weird Tales, and her first book will be published August of 2008 by Wizards of the Coast. For more information, see her website at


Poem © 2008 Samantha Henderson.