I’m not what you would consider one of those mystical psychic types, well versed in the mumbo jumbo of the supernatural. But I’m not a skeptic, either. All I can do is simply accept what happens to me, that which I experience, and write some things off as unexplainable. Such was the case with the ghost of Coalcomán.
Coalcomán, Michoacán is a small, inter-montane town tucked high in the crevices of the western Sierra Madre mountains. From the flatlands of Apatzingán a two-lane highway takes you there, twisting and winding its way up toward a deep blue sky with rolling cotton clouds that hug the fir-covered crests. Long pine needles rustle in the cool mountain breeze. Horses roam here and there. This is definitely high country.
Approaching Coalcomán the long limbs of bougainvilla reach out over fence tops with delicate blood-red tissue paper flowers. Just past the cemetery a sign reads, “Welcome to Coalcomán; home of illustrious men and radiant women.”
My husband, Rafael, had business there, so off we went on that fine January day in 1997. We dutifully checked into the hotel that had been provided for us in spite of the fact that the family house was just a few blocks away. After spending the morning taking care of business matters, we grabbed a quick lunch and decided to pay a call to Aunt Berta, the aging mistress of the house.
A bony hand pulled open the creaking wooden doors of the old carriage entrance. Aunt Berta hadn’t changed from the last time I’d seen her. In her early seventies she still sported an over two inch heel, wore heavy black eye-liner with bright red lipstick, and dressed impeccably. Never mind the stroke she’d recently suffered. It left her off balance and unable to walk straight. But most notably, she’d developed a bizarre problem where she involuntarily and constantly chomped her jaw. This wasn’t so bad in and of itself, but her unglued false teeth floated in her mouth so that each time she chomped there was a clacking sound.
Berta led us to the dining room of the 160 year-old house where we sat at the end of a table for sixteen. Evening was settling in, and I enjoyed the refreshing night air while I took a look around. All the bedrooms – I think there were nine – ran around a central garden, the house being shaped in a U. The well had been long closed and was overgrown with vines. At the back of the house there was an extensive yard that in times past held chickens and pigs, whitewash, fruit trees, and children at play.
As we sat there at that table, the three of us, I realized that we were not alone. I either felt or perceived the presence of two beings at the end of the table. If I had to describe them I would say that they were light-like, or like pure energy. Since this wasn’t the first time that this had happened to me, I simply accepted them as a part of my surroundings as I would a piece of furniture. They were just there, one elderly, and one childlike, and it seemed they were watching Rafael and me, like two excited children who’ve come to see the visitors.
That’s all I know. That’s all I can say.
All of a sudden, in came cousin Agustín, a bubbly, youthful bachelor in his mid-forties. Well, one thing led to another and as always, the conversation turned to the hidden treasure that Old Grandma Gregoria hid from the soldiers during the Cristero Revolution.
“When I was a kid I found gold coins right over there.” And Agustín pointed to the corner of the yard. “That’s where the hogs were, and they buried the treasure there because they knew the soldiers would never turn over a hog pen!”
“No,” said Berta. “The treasure’s under the floor. Right there.” She pointed and proceeded to tell us about how one day she had hired a guy with a metal detector to come and search the entire house for the treasure.
And then the ghost stories started.
“You know that there’s a ghost here?” said Agustín, nervously bouncing one knee up and down. At this point I had to interrupt.
“Oh yes.” I said. “There are two. A little while ago they were right over there.” I waved with my hand. “And I can tell you exactly which room they come from.”
Now I don’t know why it is that sometimes when you go into an old house, a museum, or an old hotel, and you find that for no apparent reason one of the rooms or some part of it gives you the creeps. Well this room did, to me. So I got up and Rafael and Agustín followed me to that room, just off the parlor.
“This was their bedroom.” Agustín said. The old house, now empty of everything but an excess of dust, was once filled with the bustle of life. “All my aunts and uncles were born in this room.” That’s saying a lot, for Rafael’s father is the second to last in a line of twenty-two.
“And this is where the old abuelo (grandfather), Espiridión, died.”
I didn’t want to hear all the details. That room made my hair stand on end. I turned and went out.
The rest of our visit that evening was filled with stories of footsteps in the hall that could be heard in the dead of night and the knocking on the wall that comes from the next room. We ended the evening determined to look for the hidden treasure the following day, and Rafael and I went back to our hotel.
We stayed in an interior room, the only window of which opened to a hallway inside the hotel. Thus, with TV off and lights out, the room was as pitch dark as Poe would ever have it. No reflection, no light, nothing, from anywhere. But – ah! – what a fun evening it had been. Talk about hidden treasures and gold coins. I wonder what it would be worth now? And the vastness of the house, lonely for the gaiety of days gone by. With these thoughts I fell asleep.
Out of the depths of my slumber he came. He came to haunt me. The old abuelo Espiridión. To my horror, there he was, a tall, white ghost, approaching me, closer and closer, coming toward the bed. The message was: Don’t go back to that house…Don’t go back to that house. I was awake and in the darkness I could make out the room around me, the bed, the dresser and mirror beside me. And the hideous ghost came closer still. In my defenseless state I began to scream, a muffled scream that got stuck in my throat. The kind of scream that only a woman can make, a creepy kind of wail.
“Julia, ¿Qué te pasa?” my husband said, and turning on the light he woke me up.
I was sweating, clammy and cold. I had goose bumps and chills. I knew I had been awake, and yet I had been asleep. I’d never before felt anything like the horror I’d just lived. I looked at where the ghost had just been but saw nothing but the mirror smiling its reflection back to me, in a mocking sort of way.
The next day we did return to the house, and left our luggage in the bedroom that was to be ours for the night. To my relief it happened to be the farthest from the room that gave me the willies. And to my relief, I slept soundly the whole night with no unexplainable visits to haunt my sleep.
When I think back about the ghost of Coalcomán, I conclude the following. Either I dreamed it, even though I was awake, which means I had some sort of out-of-body type dream, or else it really did happen. I was visited by the ghost of the old grandfather, Espiridión. If this be the case I believe I was being challenged, or tested, in some sort of way because I did go back to the house in spite of my fear.
But who knows? I still can’t say whether I believe in ghosts. All I can say is what happened to me. And so, I now have my own, personal contribution to the campfire tales…