NPR logo Apparitions


For Round Five of our contest, we asked you to send us original works of fiction that began with the line, "Some people swore that the house was haunted," and ended with the line, "Nothing was ever the same again after that."

Backlit worshippers.

Some people swore that the house was haunted. That old house, first home of the congregation; it was shotgun, long and narrow with a series of rooms connected by double doors. Outside, there was nothing noteworthy about the simple structure; no architectural evidence to denote its modest role in the transformation of so many. It held onto secrets as tightly as its old windows clung to the jambs. Thick with layers of paint, it took prodding just to crack them enough to let the night air in.

It was hot and the house was crowded, bursting at the seams with worshippers. The music had a pounding beat and thumping base rhythm accompanied by raspy strained vocals. The sound permeated the house, passing like an invisible force through writhing bodies and past folding metal chairs as if fluid. Until at last, it reverberated off hard plaster lathe with enough intensity to rattle windows and chime metal window weights hidden within the walls. The sound was a flood that carried wailing human voices in its unrelenting torrent. Bodies, trailing flailing arms and legs lurched and twisted as if being swept away by the sheer volume. Women and young girls shrieked, some twirling like Tibetan prayer wheels, while others jerked back and forth until long tresses of hair tumbled down whipping before and behind. Men and boys lunged, fighting unseen opponents with clenched fists and kicking feet. With every shifting glance the spectacle unfolded.

Responding to the strains of a faint melody some danced alone in singular fashion. Others leaped as if part of an aboriginal ritual. And, prostrate on hard wood floors, a few wept and moaned heavily, chanting repetitious syllables over and over, forming words linked to phrases not intended for earthly ears.

The sights and sounds merged as a single sensory overload; and yet, it all seemed choreographed as if by some unseen spectral hand. This was the outpouring of the spirit. These were blood-washed, Jesus name-baptized, Spirit filled saints of God. It was as if ghosts of time past, Quakers and Shakers, had possessed the living, but intensified as if on steroids. This wasn’t the Transkei bush, the back alleyways of Bombay, not even the hollows of Appalachia; it was happening in urban America. Perhaps by its very existence in the land of apple pie, McDonald's, pop-culture and Oprah, the movement garnered some sense of proprietary authority to bolster the claim of heavenly authority. This was the golden arches of the esoteric kingdom of religiosity, where the Bible was served in a sesame seed bun and the secret sauce was the Holy Ghost.

I was fraught with anxiety on that visit, especially when the chairs went flying. But finally in turn, one by one, sweaty disheveled apparitions once again claimed human form; and settling with a hush, were seated. An offering was taken as a tarnished copper plate passed to collect loose change, a few dollars here and there. Hands fluttered, grasping folded paper, fanning pink-faced children and ashen seniors alike. Perhaps in pity, impoverished as it and they were, the house's only ceiling fan shuddered as it hastened its speed. Upon a call to prayer every head bowed. And as words of gratitude were spoken a lone stranger looked about, on parents, children and elders all, each praying for the simple needs of common life. The walls of the house seemed to close in, like the loving embrace of a kindred spirit. And a stranger no more, like that old house, haunted, I found pity within. Nothing was ever the same again after that.