In late September I found myself wandering through the library, wishing only to curl up with something new despite my hectic schedule. As my fingers grazed book spines, I came across one with a curiously simple title: GHOST STORIES. I plucked it from the shelf and shuffled through the pages, then flipped back at the sight of a black and white sketch of a desolate looking basset hound. I didn't bother with the title or author, but rushed head first into the story of Dog and his sickly child owner, the unusual narrative reading like the winding flow of conscious of a hound exploring his secret world of scents. When I finished, I was surprised to find it had been written by Ray Bradbury! Why had I never heard of The Emissary before now? It was just the kind of beautifully eerie, yet somewhat heart warming tale I had been aiming for with my own supernatural dog story, Cinder, published last Fall in Specter Spectacular: 13 Ghostly Tales.
Wondering how common spectral animals are in the real world, I began searching for "true accounts" of animals having extra sensory connections to the paranormal. There are many medians out there who claim not only connect the living to their lost loved ones, but also to their lost pets. Even at my local library, there has been an account of uncanny dog barking at a time when no dogs were around. But what if we turn the tables -- are there living animals haunted by the dead? Many pet owners will tell you how their dog or cat bristles and tracks something unseen with their eyes, while the witless owner is left to blindly guess at the source of some strange sound. Another odd story is that of Oscar the cat, whose story has been published in The New England Journal of Medicine and recounted many times on the web. Oscar lived in a nursing home, and was somehow able to "sense" the coming deaths of many of the residents. He was consistently found perched on the dying resident's bed hours before and after their passing. Many have speculated how he knew when a resident was drawing near to death, but of course, he hasn't revealed his secret.
As a once and forever student of biology, animal behavior has always fascinated me. How do elephants, despite being frightened of the sight of other elephant skeletons, know to morn their dead, stroking the bones of a loved one year after year as they pass through the same graveyard on their migratory route? How do cats, dogs, bats, birds and so many other species sense on-coming storms or earthquakes and know to clear out of an area long before we do? And what about species that can see ultraviolet light, or pick up echolocation, or use lateral lines to sense electromagnetic activity? What could these sensitive animals tell us about the many realms outside of our perspective?
It seems uncanny to me that so few ghost stories exploit the ultra-sensory phenomena of the animal world. Perhaps this is why animal conscious haunted my latest paranormal story, soon to appear in the second Specter anthology, Specter Spectacular II: 13 Deathly Tales (coming in early 2014).