By Kristina Wojtaszek.
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.
It got me wondering just how many animal ghost stories are out there, because initially, they don't seem to be all that common, and isn't that odd, when dogs and cats and other pets abound in our lives? But as I began watching Halloween movies with my little boys, I encountered several spirit dogs (and other animals) in ParaNorman, Frankenweenie and The Nightmare Before Christmas (remember Jack's cute little ghost dog, Zero?). In fact, I've read that Tim Burton strongly associates the afterlife with dogs. I also began reminiscing about the ghostly animals in a few of my favorite childhood books and remembered the ghost cat in The Doll In The Garden and the plethora of haunting animals in The Children of Green Knowe, including a spirit horse, a hundred year old fish, an ebony mouse that comes to life at night, and even a little dog. As a teen I encountered the demonic animals in Stephen King's Pet Sematary, which haunt me to this day.
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).
Kristina Wojtaszek grew up as a woodland sprite and mermaid, playing around the shores of Lake Michigan. At any given time she could be found with live snakes tangled in her hair and worn out shoes filled with sand. She earned a bachelor’s degree in Wildlife Management as an excuse to spend her days lost in the woods with a book in hand. She currently resides in the high desert country of Wyoming with her husband and two small children. She is fascinated by fairy tales and fantasy and her favorite haunts are libraries and cemeteries. Author of Opal, a fairy tale novella, and short stories in the Specter Spectacular and Specter Spectacular II anthologies. Follow her @KristinaWojtasz or on her blog, Twice Upon a Time.
World Weaver Press
Publishing fantasy, paranormal, and science fiction.