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

In these two stories, the emphasis is less on the supernatural and more on the psychological and emotional states of the main characters. Are they really experiencing contact with the spirit world or are they so emotionally damaged and psychologically twisted that their purported ghostly experiences are merely delusions or hallucinations? In other words, are they psychic or simply nuts? This conundrum is what gives these stories depth, mystery and literary richness.

I was fortunate this Halloween season to have participated in a Readers’ Theatre presentation of the Shirley Jackson ghost story. The seven-person reading was performed by the Portside Readers, a group of local, enthusiastic, talented readers I formed this past spring in association with Kennebunkport’s Louis T. Graves Memorial Public Library. In forming the Portside Readers, I was blessed to find two theater professionals, Valerie Reid and Karen Stathoplos, who turned Jackson’s novel into an original Readers’ Theatre script – a remarkable achievement accomplished in just a few weeks’ time.

Our amateur readers’ group had two rehearsals where we worked out the blocking, character interactions and a few pieces of “business,” theater speak for physical activity performed by an actor for dramatic effect. My biggest piece of business was dropping an invisible glass that hits the floor and shatters (soundlessly) to show my fright at a spooky event. I performed this as Luke, whose aunt owns the haunted house, and described in the novel as a liar and a thief. He’s also a smartass and a coward. Secretly, I worried that Val and Karen had typecast me.

The video recording went well, with few verbal flubs or timing miscues. The plan was to divide the drama into three episodes, with the first two pieces ending on cliffhangers. When the first episode aired on the library’s Facebook and YouTube pages, four days before Halloween, audience reaction was enthusiastic. By the following day we got nearly 350 views. Maybe we had a hit on our hands.

The night after the recording, my brain still buzzing with tales of ghostly apparitions and manifestations, I had a dream. In my dream I was visited by 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 mind. Maybe not corporeal existence, but real enough to wake me from a deep sleep. I don’t remember every detail in my dream, but one thing survived into consciousness – my mother, once again young and beautiful and happy, telling me to believe. Believe in what, Mom? Ghosts? God? My dreams? The future? If she told me, I could not recall.

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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