Kage Baker was fascinated by ghost stories. She only wrote one, though, and was not very pleased with it – neither were any of her editors, and I think it’s only available these days on Fictionwise.com. I like it, but I must admit that it was not up to her usual standards of … well, reality. Surreality? Meta-reality? Whatever it was that gave her stories that internal skeleton of veracity is not quite as obvious in Incident On the Land Belonging to Senor Rojo.
Because what Kage liked were ghost stories that purported to be real; parapsychic phenomena and history. Little voices asking for their bones from the cupboard, teenagers wandering back roads in their prom dresses – all the obvious folk lore stories, they bored her. She’d roll her black eyes, and mutter “Oh, crap, another Resurrection Mary story … that girl gets around more than Paris Hilton!” But anything that might be real – something someone actually saw, whether it turned out to be another White Lady or a raccoon in the garbage – was cool. And she found ghost story books in every town we went to; there is always a Local History section in the indie bookstores, and one or two volumes are always about the restless dead.
Though I must warn against overindulging in such tales after an evening spent bar-hopping and drinking Irish Coffee. The combination of ghost stories with caffeine, sugar and whiskey induces very unnerving palpitations.
Weird creature stories were also acceptable to Kage. Nowadays those have a respectable name – cryptozoology. And the re-discovery of animals previously assumed extinct is one of the original sources of Kage’s Company stories: it was wondering about all those living legends wandering into backyards that led her to postulate someone doing it on purpose.
It was the ghost stories, though, that held first place in her heart.(“Does the world need another species of iguana?” she would wonder. “And if we do, can we trade in salt-water crocodiles for ’em?”) The last years of her life were much enlivened by the ghost shows on television, especially as they multiplied with a bacterial ferocity. Most of them were just held up to ridicule – the sort of shows where the audience (us) howls advice and bad jokes at the feckless “researchers” and is rooting enthusiastically for the ghosts. I name no names … but no other team measures up to the solemn standards of the noble plumbers Jason and Grant, and they were her favourites.
Maybe because it’s because there is nothing so heroic as a good plumber, and no woman reaches her 40’s without discovering this. Usually in traumatic circumstances. Also, those guys sometimes found nothing, and they always admitted it when that happened. Undeniably cool.
Now, nearly every pretty little town on the California coast has a ghost tour, and Kage loved to take them. Her absolute fave was the Tour in Monterey, a town we loved and visited anyway, for sheer delight’s sake. The Tour there is run by a madly enthusiastic and knowledgeable local historian, in a most charming vehicle: a converted trolley that runs on bio-diesel. The bio-diesel is processed from cooking oil, and so the tour winds through the dark streets of Monterey in a gentle breeze that smells like french fries and doughnuts.
At several places there are stops, where one can get off and run about amid the historical buildings (Monterey has more standing, functional adobes than any other city in the country, I think), peering in the windows and generally carrying on like Halloween. Kage loved that; she was fascinated with peeking into other people’s houses … the final stop is in the old Catholic Cemetery, where on may wander amid the graves in the moonlight. It’s damned scary, too; among other potential terrors, the graveyard is over-run with geese. Big vicious ones.
There were no geese in downtown Monterey, though, on our last trip: just gorgeous houses we could peek into. One such was reputed to be somewhat indistinctly haunted – lots of shadows and white shapes and strange noises; possibly from the bandit Joaquin Murrieta, who grew up around the corner … we crowded up gleefully to the front door, staring through the beautiful cut-glass peephole at the elegant front hall. Nothing weird to be seen, but after drooling over the truly lovely woodwork, Kage snapped a picture on her new digital camera.
And here it is: Kage took the picture through clear glass, looking at a well-lit entrance hall. What she got was this mass of orbs. What is it? No idea. But it’s real, whatever it is, and it delighted her.
I’m going on a Rural Cemetery Tour this Saturday, up near Santa Rosa. Who knows what I will see? I’ll bring back word …
Monterey Ghost Tour: http://www.toursmonterey.com/gpages/ghomey.html
Tomorrow: maybe cryptozoology