Rules for Telling a Ghost Story
You must have a flashlight,and you should have a storm.
Place the flashlight under your chin,
but say nothing at first,
while they squirm a little on the couch
and start to giggle.
Giggling is not allowed (not yet),
so you wait.
Then you speak—
quietly, slowly, in a normal voice,
except that you have this flashlight
pointing up at you like a madman
(it’s the contrast that you want).
Pretend it’s a story you didn’t
want to tell;
say with a sigh,
This was thirty years ago,
in New Jersey. 1983. Late August.
Details are important.
Happened to my buddy Jay,
because names are even better,
as long as you don’t hesitate.
Watch their eyes, and when they say
You already told us this one,
with the girl in the movie theater
who was really dead the whole time—
just shake your head
and say, No, this is a different one.
But maybe (with a shrug)
you can’t handle it.
Look away for a moment,
as if debating how much to say;
and then tell them about Jay,
something funny and odd, and true,
so they know he’s real.
Make them laugh, and lower their guard.
And then pace through the dark
while the story unfolds, letting the
flashlight drop as you walk,
as if you’re lost in the story yourself.
Tell it from memory.
Talk about the time you went down with Jay
to his basement and he said there’s a
hole in the wall, toward the back,
and sometimes he hears a voice
(a girl’s voice, you remember him saying,
his voice shaky and young, he can tell you this
only down here, in the dark,
away from the light and the day).
Wait for the thunder,
and watch their eyes follow you in the gloom.
(There must be gloom.)
And wait for them to say the words
you know they want to say:
Did this really happen?