Tag Archives: grandfather

“Don’t ever let them in.”

I am terrified of the dark. My grandmother, on the other hand, had an affinity for the dark. She loved and enjoyed the dark so much that most windows in her house were walled shut and the few that remained were, except for rare occasions like family visits, blacked out with several layers of black curtains.

It was only when I was about 16 that I realized that those two, her love and my fear of the dark, were connected.

When I was small I was, supposedly, very hyperactive. My mother never managed to control me and my father only did so on those rare occasions when he threatened me with punishments. But I loved my grandparents and, as my parents, said, I always behave right when my grandmother was around. Accordingly my parents dropped me many times at my grandmother’s place so that they themselves could have a calm weekend.

I was 8 years old when she died. At that time I was already scared of the dark – except, of course, when my grandparents were around.

Those eight years I stayed many times over. I remember vividly how I played with my grandfather and uncle Owen in the darkness. We had our special games, like a noise-based version of hide and seek which only worked when the house was particularly quiet and my grandfather taught me how to carve wood into spoons and flutes with just my sense of touch.

I remember their faces exactly – the way their faces were lightly visible in the dark but their eyes always penetrated even through the thickest curtains of darkness with a black pupil surrounded by a bright white that seemed to glow from inside.

My grandmother was always working around the house – cooking and baking for me, cleaning or tidying or preparing the beds for the night. The room always felt warmer when she was there and so, usually, i asked my grandfather and uncle Owen to play with me in the room that she was in.

Those weekends I never missed the light. Even my dreams were, often, just noises and smells and textures and shapes – never colors or visible objects. Still today I can navigate perfectly in the dark. And still today I can see very well in the dark and around my 16th year of life I concluded that my strong vision at night was the cause for my paralyzing fear of the dark.

The fear had been there as long as I remember and on most nights I slept with a nightlight. On those weekends with my grandmother the darkness had never been a problem. Cuddled up to her warm body I never felt fear and I never minded the figures that seemed to stand in the room, all around my bed.

They only came with the darkness. Never when there was a slight flicker of light, just with the absolute blackness of a night in a room without windows.

My grandmother called them the ‘Outcasts.’ She said that they were family and friends, former close ones, that wanted to return from the other side. She taught me again and again that I should never let them return.

I remember the way she said it. We were lying in the bed, my head cuddled up to the warmth of her shoulder. Somewhere behind me my grandfather was snoring and when I turned I could see his face glowing in the darkness, with his white skin it was even more visible than that of my grandmother.

“You can see the difference in their faces,” she said. “Their faces are darker. But if you really want to make sure then you have to look at their eyes. If their eyes are as black as their face or even darker then they are on the wrong side; they are dead and and they should stay that way no matter how much you miss them.”

“So they can’t come?”

“They can’t come unless you allow them to come.”

“What if I let them in?”

“Don’t ever let them in.”

Black on black, but I still saw them as clear as a pencil line pressed hard on a piece of paper, the type of pencil line that doesn’t just color the paper but rather pushes itself into the paper.

That night my grandmother fell asleep quickly but I, in the safety of her arms and with my grandfather behind me, watched the figures. They were gesturing and moving, voiced words and sometimes fought against one another; they pushed each other to the side and backwards, fighting for a spot on the borderline to life.

I saw their figures and I recognized their sizes and hairstyles, often I even thought I knew which clothes they were wearing. I never asked my grandmother about that, but for myself I concluded those were the ways they looked in the moment that they stepped from life to death.

With my grandmother I was safe. But without her the nights were terror. They came closer and they seemed more energetic, more violent, more likely to break through that barrier. Maybe they were closer because I was closer to letting them in, half out of fear and half out of curiosity.

The nightlight was my savior, but in those nights when my parents forgot to plug the light in there was no salvation. They stood above me with their dark figures pressed into the darkness and those eyes so dark that they seemed to extend deeper into space; as if they were hollow.

With 16 I tried to cure myself off my fear by “shock therapy.” I threw myself into one dark night after the other but rather than improve the situation got worse.

There was one figure particularly pushy. A smaller one with wild, curly hair and the darkest eyes of them all. I always knew who she was. She had only been there since I was 8.

The conclusions of my 16th year made too much sense to be overturned. I gave up my defense and accepted my fear and eternal dependence on nightlights. When I moved to university I even chose an apartment with a street lamp outside so that the light would certainly come through my window and keep the figures at bay.

With 23 I learned the truth about my fear.

I was at my mother’s place. We were at our second bottle of wine and a soothing melancholy, the type that you can see in a French actress’s eyes, had enriched the air. Somehow we came to speak about my grandmother.

“I miss her,” my mother said.

“Me too,” I said. “Sometimes I still dream of her cookies and when I wake up I can nearly taste the vanilla.”

“Oh,” she said. “Your grandfather loved those.”

“Did he? I don’t remember him eating any?”

My mother laughed.

“You were probably too young to remember that.”

“Not really. I remember playing with him.”

“Oh, you do?”

“Yeah. I played with him all the time.”

“Really, you remember that?”

“Of course.”

“Wow,” she said. “I’m really happy for that.”

“Me too.”

“I always thought you wouldn’t remember him because you were so young.”

I took a sip from my glass and let the bitterness fade from my mouth.

“I don’t remember going to his funeral.”

“Of course not,” she said. “We left you with a friend and went alone.”

“What? Why?”

“We thought you wouldn’t understand it. You were just 2 when your grandfather and uncle Owen had their accident.”

When I was 16 I thought I was scared of the figures standing at the borderline to our world.

Since I’m 23 I know that I’m not actually scared of those figures at the borderline. I’m scared and wondering how many others were allowed back inside.

My Grandfather Knew Why We Run from the Dark

I always admired my grandfather’s courage. He had fought in the war on what we nowadays think of as the wrong side, but he had never been a believer in the cause. Sometimes a rifle is pressed in your hand and your choice is either to fire and worry about being shot from the front, or not to fire and be sure that you’ll be shot from behind.

He was young when he was drafted, barely 16. Before he left he gave his first kiss and a promise to a girl. She waited five years until the end of the war, surviving on just five or six letters that she kept as treasure.

The war ended but even the defeat was celebrated. Not openly, but in the hearts and eyes of the people. People never wage war, it is politicians that wage war. No soldier that ever stood in the line of a rifle believes that war is heroic, only those divorced from reality, those that sit in tidy offices, those dream of war.

Soldiers came home with thin bodies and bandaged limbs. They hugged their wives and women before they fell onto beds and relived the front in dreams that made them toss and turn and wake up from their own screams.

His girl watched with tears in her eyes while her sister and mother each welcomed their men home. She heard the men scream at night and each scream lodged a stone in her throat. She prayed that the man she had kissed did not have to scream and then she prayed that the man she had kissed was alive enough to scream. Then she prayed for forgiveness for her selfishness. Continue reading

The Orange Sun and the Smell of Chocolate Chip Cookies

The sweet smell of chocolate, one of the warm and soft cookies melting on my tongue. My grandmother smiled, then turned back towards the sink to clean the tray.

The orange sun rained warmth on us. With my fingers still sticky I sneaked up to her side, grabbed a cookie from the white plate and quickly ran back to my chair.

“Hey,” she said. Then she laughed.

I reclined on my chair with both hands on the cookie. The backrest knocked against the only wood-paneled kitchen wall. A dull, hollow sound. Then my chair slipped.

During those two weeks in the hospital the orange sun and sweet chocolate air filled my head. That might be why this moment still lives so vividly in my wind. Whenever I remember that moment I can place my hand back into the scene; the coldness of the wooden chair and the warmth of the sunrays on my skin. It is the last memory in which I can still see my grandmother with brown hair. The movie that lives in my head just lacks the end; the fall. The best of hundreds of memories in that kitchen. Continue reading

The Old Doll

The problem is that my fiancée hates the old doll. She doesn’t understand that I need it. Kerri doesn’t understand that bad things happen when the doll is not around.

As long as I can remember the doll was there.

It has a soft round face and rather stiff arms and legs. The red shirt and blue pants are sewn right onto the doll’s skin. Its eyes are blue buttons.

I got the doll from my grandfather. He died shortly before my third birthday and gave me the doll probably a year before that.

I have photos of myself as a two year old. On every one of them the doll is with me. Continue reading

White Devils

“The war made him first from a boy into a man, then from a man into a broken man.” Grandma always looked sad when she said that.

The three years of war never left him. You might have heard about PTSD, but hearing about it is not the same as experiencing it. Even when I was just a child I knew that something was wrong with grandpa.

When I was very young he scared me. He was nice to me, always nice and friendly, but I could hear him scream behind closed doors and stomping up and down the stairs in the middle of the night.

Whenever my dad came home late after his bowling nights I would tell him that he “smelled like grandpa.” That was grandpa’s way to cope and I think he inherited some of it to dad and dad in turn to me. When you grow up with the knowledge that alcohol solves problems and preserves sanity then it is hard to get around that idea.

Grandpa drank to forget; to forget the memories and flashbacks and nightmares. When Kim Il-Sung attacked the South grandpa’s boots were some of the first Western boots on the ground. They drove the North back; then they got too close to the Chinese border.

I still remember grandpa’s cursing when he spoke about the “millions of Chinese” that crossed the border. Their weapons were inferior, their training too. Still, by sheer mass, they drove the UN forces back.

Grandpa was one of thousands that came home with scenes and images etched in their minds. Some lived a normal life; grandpa barely functioned.

As a teenager I read many books about the war; their authors often served in the same battles as grandpa. Others I asked in person.

Still, no one else ever spoke about nightly attacks on the camps and no one else ever called the Koreans “White Devils.”

Grandpa always cursed about them. Ever since the war he stayed up at night and slept during the day, just because of them. He said that he needed to protect his house and family.

I hated it when we stayed over at my grandparents’ place; there sleeping was impossible for me. If grandpa’s cussing didn’t wake me up it was the baseball bat crashing on floors and furniture, and sometimes even gunshots at imaginary enemies.

I never dared to go down to stop him. I never dared to sit down and talk with him. I feel guilty for that now, but as my dad usually points out it was already much too late – no one could get through to him.

All grandpa talked about were his nightly encounters with the white devils. Dad usually cut him off and told him grandpa that he needed to go again to see his therapist. No matter what time of the day – grandpa always answered the same way: by pouring a large glass of liquor.

Twice grandpa tried to talk to me about the white devils. The first time I must have been around 11. I cried when he told me about the shrine he destroyed and that the Koreans, as revenge, killed most of his squad. That was the only war story he ever told that day – else he only talked about the white devils; that they were trying to harm his family and him.

After that I too began to have nightmares, but only whenever I stayed over at grandpa’s place. I saw small white figures behind the window, white-socked feet behind the door, and a few times even figures standing in or walking through my room.

When I told grandpa about my nightmares he made me sleep with the door open. He patrolled the house, the baseball bat in one and a cold glass in the other hand. His presence made me nervous and it was harder for me to fall asleep – but in return the nightmares ended.

The second time grandpa sat me down was when I was 14. I don’t remember the details of our conversation, but I remember the sickening smell of his breath, the way he slurred words and that he kept talking about the white devils.

He said that I was old enough, that I had to help him protect the family because my father refused to do so.

In retrospect it seems obvious that around that time grandpa’s mental health began to deteriorate rapidly. The shouting got more frequent, often furniture was broken in the morning and several times the neighbors called the police because grandpa’s gunshots broke through their wall. Back then I didn’t notice the change, it was too gradual and I think I wasn’t the only one deluding myself that the deterioration was just ‘temporary’ and that grandpa would return to his previous state.

Then he began to speak of “proving it.” A few times others had stayed awake with grandpa to help him hunt his memory ghosts, but no one ever saw anything.

Grandpa was prescribed new, stronger medication, but he never took it. He usually said that he needed “to be awake and alert.

His screams woke me up. Not cussing and cursing about white devils; screams. Grandma too was on the corridor and followed me downstairs.

“Help.”

“Get off me.”

“Let go.”

“Help!”

Grandma and I heard the shot from the stairs; just one. Then silence.

I tried to keep grandma out of the garage, but she was too quick. She too saw the open skull, the fleshy mass splattered on the floor, and the red spots on the ceiling.

The gun was still in his mouth.

At the other end of the room, on the floor, was a camera. It was on, but there was no tape.

Grandpa got a funeral with full honors. We were proud of him that day. Grandma cried, and so did dad. For me it was strange to hear grandpa being called “a hero.”

Now I too call him that, and not just for the war. Now I too have a house and a wife that I want to protect; I feel the urge and drive to protect.

My son is now six. This morning he told me that he can’t sleep. He said that there are figures next to his bed; small figures with dark black eyes that stare at him; he said that otherwise the figures are bright white.


This is my story, originally I published it on Reddit.

The Ghost that Got Revenge

Liz brushed the short black hair out of her face.

“I remember seeing my grandfather for the first time when I was small. I must have been five or six. He walked around the corner with this incredibly pale face and the white nightgown. That day I only saw him for a moment, but he was always there, every time we visited. I was terrified of him, not just because he was so pale, but also because he always looked angry.”

“You were scared of your grandfather?”

“Yes. When I was small I refused to sleep alone at my grandmother’s house. I was worried that the ‘man in the nightgown’ would get me. He always walked through the house with his teeth clenched together. My mom thought I was just being silly and forced me to sleep alone in a room. I had many horrible nights because of that; because the ‘man in the nightgown’ kept patrolling through my room.”

“Your grandfather was patrolling the house at night? Were there many burglaries?” I paused. “I’m not sure how any of this could prove your uncle’s innocence.”

“I’ll get to it,” Liz said with an angry tone. “You have to judge my sanity, fine. Let me talk then.”

“Okay.” I said.

“Okay.” Liz said. “The point is that my grandfather was there when I was a child. He was always there; he was always patrolling the house. The adults never saw him, but I did, and once one of my friends came along on a visit to my grandmother, and she saw him too.”

“Your grandfather was invisible for adults? Like a ghost?”

“Exactly. Seems like you are a particularly smart person.”

“Sure.” I said.

Liz frowned, and then quickly shook her head.

“Anyway,” she said. “My point is that I’m not making this up to protect my uncle. I saw my grandfather many times when I was just a child; I told many people about seeing him; I told them about him even before I knew that there was a grandfather missing. I only understood that my grandfather was dead when I was eleven or twelve, but long before that I described to people how ‘the man in the nightgown’ looked.”

“I called him ‘the man in the nightgown’ and I knew that he was always angry and that he always held a blade in his hand; a small, thin blade. I think that was the knife that killed him. My grandmother always flinched when I talked about him, and particularly when I mentioned the knife and how angry he looked.”

“Liz, you are trying to tell me that your grandfather was haunting your grandmother’s house?”

“Yes. I think he was waiting for revenge. My grandmother always said that he died from an accident. But I think my grandfather was murdered. I always saw this long thin line on his throat. I never understood what it could be, but it all came together at the funeral.”

“What happened at the funeral?”

“Well,” Liz said. “I came along with my grandmother. I first thought it was strange that she wanted at all to go to the funeral. I mean, the guy was killed in her house, and her own son, my uncle Terry, was locked up for killing him. It’s a bit disrespectful to go to the funeral of a man your own son killed, isn’t it? It’s even disrespectful if he was an old friend.”

I nodded.

“So, I was angry at my grandmother for going, and I didn’t pay much attention to the ceremony. I only went along so that she wouldn’t fall or have a breakdown or something of that sort. But when I lead her to the casket I recognized the wound. I recognized the wound because it looked exactly like the one I had seen so many times on my grandfather’s throat. On the corpse they tried to hide it under the collar and with makeup, but still it was clearly visible: just one long and thin cut.”

“You think the wound looked similar and that’s why your grandfather’s ghost must have killed this man?”

“At first I didn’t think of that. First I only noticed that the wounds looked the same, I just thought it was odd. But then later, when they carried the casket to the open grave, I saw my grandfather standing just a few feet away from the hole. I hadn’t seen him for several years, but he looked exactly like in my memory – the short mustache, the neatly done hair and the long nightgown-like dress on top of his pants. But he was smiling. I saw him so many times as a child, and a few times as a teenager, and every one of those times he was pacing through the house and looked angry. But this time, at the funeral, he was just standing still and smiling.”

“Alright, the ghost was smiling.” I said with a hint of impatience.

“That’s not everything,” Liz said. “The thing is that I didn’t know the victim’s profession. I mean, it wasn’t relevant and nobody had ever mentioned it. But the priest, while he was speaking, he said that the victim was a barber. You understand, he was a barber! And in that moment the scales fell from my eyes: The thing my grandfather was wearing, that wasn’t a nightgown; it was a barber’s cape. It was one of those capes that they put around you so your hair doesn’t get on your clothes.”

“Okay.” I said.

“And you know why they never found the knife that the victim was killed with?” Liz smiled triumphantly. “That’s because my grandfather still has it. I saw him playing with it. It was the same knife that I’d seen so many times, but he was happily swinging it around. My grandfather took revenge. He took revenge because that other guy killed him first!”

“So, Liz, you are saying that this man killed your grandfather during a barber’s accident sixty or so years ago and now your grandfather’s ghost took revenge?”

“I don’t think my grandfather’s death was an accident,” Liz said. “And he didn’t take revenge just for that. I think he had a second reason.”

Liz grinned.

“At the funeral I met the victim’s granddaughters. He has two. And they both look just like me.”


This is my story, originally I published it on Reddit.