POINT OF VIEW
We have the haunted train depot in our sights when Little Bean stops in the middle of the tracks and says, “Daddy, this is a good place to sprinkle some ghost repellent.”
“Ok,” I say as she unscrews the lid of her home-made mixture of green food dye in water. Her theory is that ghosts don’t want to be seen, and getting the food dye mixture on them will make them visible so they’ll stay away. “But there’s good ghosts too, right?”
She looks at me like I’m insane. “Daddy, this is only for bad ghosts. Why would a good ghost care if we saw them?”
Her logic is impeccable, as usual.
A couple days earlier, we had received word from a friend in the area that there were some busted down, haunted boxcars sitting on the tracks near the Hannah Duston Memorial Historic Site in Boscawen. Of all places, this seemed to be the most likely haunt for ghosts.
Little Bean and I had been visiting state parks and sites over the past year, but I wasn’t looking forward to checking out Hannah, whom the state refers to as a “symbol of frontier heroism.” Not only is the site itself – a chipped, dirty statue of Hannah sitting on an off the beaten path island alongside the old railroad tracks – depressing and not well maintained, but explaining the bloody, awful history of that particular brand of frontier heroism to my six-year-old seemed like a stretch.
Turns out I was worrying for nothing. Being as close as it was to Halloween, she was only interested in ghosts. We had ditched our car at the parking area up on Route 4 and wandered down to the train tracks looking for boxcars, but the tracks were empty.
Still, it was a beautiful day and Little Bean had prepared a whole ghost hunting kit, so we set off to find… something.
When Little Bean marched into the kitchen that morning with her kit, I knew she meant business. In her arms she held the aforementioned repellent, along with a headlamp, a cloth duster for cobwebs, a field guide and pen to draw what she saw, and snacks. The snacks were for her because ghost hunting makes you hungry.
So, undeterred by the lack of haunted boxcars, we moved south down the tracks, over a couple sketchy bridges and past the actual Hannah Duston statue, to which Little Bean paid barely a glance. Our destination was what appeared to be an old, gray train depot, boarded up and pushed right up against the tracks.
This is where she decided the unleash the repellent, which she did with a great flourish, sprinkling a protective barrier in front of us so we could witness and study the depot without having to worry if the ghosts were sneaking up on us.
Despite this excellent plan, I can feel her hesitancy, am aware of her shifting closer to me – my normal child of movement and curiosity becoming a bit unsure suddenly of this whole ghost hunting thing now that we stood in front of the peeling paint and foreboding shingles.
“What now?” I ask.
“Take a picture,” she says.
“How about a video? Sometimes things appear on film later that we can’t see at the time.”
She nods and tucks herself in under my arm as I turn my phone toward the building and do a slow scan, from right to left, the sun creating flares and bursts on the lens. The air is quiet. Hannah Duston looks down at us over my shoulder.
“Done,” I say.
“Ok, let’s go, we’ll look at it in the car.” She’s finished with this place. She sprinkles the last of her repellent in the general direction of the depot and hightails it back the way we came.
Her step becomes lighter and her sense of adventure returns the further away from the depot we go. Then, a discovery!
Near the statue, on an old tree stump, someone has left a handful of twigs.
“It’s a message!” she shouts.
“Well, I don’t see any words there, baby, but maybe it’s a sigil.”
“Well, it’s sort of like a magic sign or a signature of a spirit.”
Her eyes grow wide. “Like a ghost trying to talk to us!”
“Well, I don’t know- “
“I know what to do,” she cries.
She gets down on her hands and knees there beside the stump and begins to rearrange the twigs.
“Daddy, I need two little stones.”
I do as she asks and hand her two small nearby pebbles. She has written the word “Hi!” out of the twigs. One stone is placed above the small “i” while the second she gently places for the exclamation mark.
It is a greeting.
A message for the ghosts during this time when the veil between the living and the dead is at its thinnest. A little girl in an obscure park near a river sending her essence toward the All Hallows and the All Saints, a reconciliation and appreciation of those that came before and pronouncement of friendship.
“That’s nice,” I say.
“Will they read it?” she asks.
In a world where a sunrise can bring us tears of joy and the memory of a lost loved one can cause tears of grief, I’ve never been prepared to rule out ghosts entirely. When Little Bean was a baby, she used to stare up at blank spaces and laugh and giggle, and I always just assumed it was the friendly ghost at our old home playing with the new baby in the house.
Kids and pets: you know, only they can see them. And maybe train ghosts as well. Maybe we’ll go back and see what message the ghosts left for her. Maybe we’ll have a conversation with them, over tree twigs and pebbles. Maybe, as Emily Dickenson would say, the brain creates corridors beyond these material places.
“Daddy, are you coming?” She’s waiting for me, my ghost whisperer. “Let’s watch that video.”
Further wonders await.