The conventional assumption about haunted houses is that these are places where the spirits of the dead remain in the place where they died. That these sightings are so few and far between is taken to mean that those dead who do not become ghosts are at peace, that they have moved on.
This is not strictly true. It is not the dead who move on, but us.
When a typical person dies, their spirit is separated from the body. No longer subject to gravity or inertia, they remain rooted to the exact point in space where they passed away. Why then, do we not report millions or billions of hauntings, the remnants of everyone who has ever died?
Because YOU are not rooted to a point in space.
Right now, unless you’re reading this on a bus or some other mode of transportation, you feel that you are stationary. Set in place, unmoving. But this is, of course, an illusion. You, and your chair and your house, your city and country and continent, rotate with the surface of the earth at hundreds of miles per hour. If this were all the motion that a stationary ghost had to contend with, then such senses as the spirit holds after death would be subjected to an endlessly whirling carousel, a blur of images moving too fast to ever come into focus on provide meaning.
But the earth is not stationary.
In addition to the rotation that gives Earth its days and nights, we must also consider the source of its year and seasons: revolution around the sun. Our planet travels through the solar system at over 18 miles per second. What the ghost must experience now changes. Instead of a spinning top of incomprehensible life, at the moment of death, they now see their world, the only thing they have known, flying away at an alarming rate, leaving only empty space and the sun to focus on. Earth will return in a year, breaking the spirit’s monotony for at most seven minutes, much of this spent in the glowing magma core and mantle. If, of course, this was all the motion to consider.
But the sun is not stationary.
The solar system makes its own revolution around the center of the galaxy, more than 10 times faster than Earth’s own revolution, and on a circuit thousands of light-years in length. As our ghost watches the earth recede, they say goodbye as well to the sun, to the other planets, to the asteroids and comets, not to return for hundreds of millions of years. There is no longer any point of reference but the stars in the sky.
But the stars are not stationary.
The stars that we see, unaided by telescopes, are residents of our Milky Way galaxy. But the galaxy is also moving, at several hundred more miles per second. Given the size of the galaxy and the distances involved, this recession would not be noted or perceived by the spirit, but it would be happening, relentlessly, all the same. In time, the stars will move away, shrinking to a point as the galaxy flees. In place of the myriad stars which may, for a time, have given the spirit some small diversion or point of focus, there will now be only the fainter points of distant galaxies, themselves moving steadily farther away as the universe resolutely expands, until, after countless millennia, billennia, trillennia, they too fade into the endless blackness of space.
This, then, is death: to be aware as Earth, the sun, the stars, the galaxies, all possible points of light and meaning and reality, fade and disappear into the cosmic dementia, leaving nothing but void for all eternity.
So what of the haunted houses? What of the ghosts, ghouls, and poltergeists? What of the restless spirits, the grim spectres, the eerie presences, the hallowed apparitions, the tormented wayward souls?
To put it short, they are the fortunate ones.
A spirit cut loose from the flesh is not subject to the physical laws of nature, but it is an entity of emotion, and is bound by forces of emotion. And there is no stronger emotional force than fear.
The ghosts we encounter here on Earth are those that died in terror. Fright is a tether, anchoring the spirit to a place, a person, or even an object with emotional resonance, something which keeps them connected to this ever-hurtling world.
They are the only ones who get to watch humanity continue on after death. They are the only ones who get to listen to music. They are the only ones who can hang on, at least for a while, to a place where meaning–where anything–still exists.
And it is why they must frighten you. Fear is the only thing that keeps them attached to the world they left behind, their fear and yours. Fear of houses where the walls shift in the dark and meet at unconventional angles. Fear of paintings whose eyes follow you as you pass. Fear of porcelain dolls with holes where their eyes should be, and which are never found where you last left them. Because once the fear is gone, and the tether unravels, there is nothing left but the abyss.
So accept the dare to spend the night in a haunted house. Whisper forbidden names in your mirror at midnight. Wander into the dark basement as your flashlight begins to flicker. Say a prayer each night to Saints Krueger and Voorhees, to bestow on you blessings of torment and nightmare. Live each day beneath the shadow of fear, and when you die, make sure you die with a scream clawing at your lips. Because in the end, fear is all you have.
The rest is darkness.