Despite being a big fan of In Search of… as a kid in the ’70s, I never had much faith in ghost stories. I tended to get hung up on the logistics or pick apart the logic. Like: Why would a ghost break all the china? Was he in a snit? Or: So a ghost knows how to flip a light switch on and off—big deal.
Or: Ghosts smell? C’mon, that’s just grandma’s jar of Vicks VapoRub. I used my rational mind to combat the irrationality of fear. Most of the time it worked, though, for the record, I still give the Bermuda Triangle wide berth.
Jack Heffron’s West Side Story column this month, about two brothers pumping new life into Miamitown with their ghost tours, reminded me of the one truly spectral thing I’ve seen that I still can’t explain. Home on a break from college back in the late ’80s, I went up to Oxford to visit friends at Miami University. It was a weeknight, as I recall—not a great night to go carousing on the main drag—and we were trying to figure out what to do when someone suggested heading outside of town to see the phantom motorcyclist. The legend held that, decades earlier, a man was riding a motorcycle late at night down a lonely stretch of country road. At the end of a straightaway there was a sharp right angle turn; he missed it, drove through a fence, and was decapitated. Since the accident, his ghost was said to haunt the road at night, the lone headlight of his motorcycle appearing and disappearing over the hills.
The gauntlet had been thrown and we were all in. About six of us piled into a couple of cars and drove out to the site of the crash. It was past midnight. I remember the sky was black and the air was crisp. We pulled off the road at the right angle, turned the car around so it was facing back toward the straightaway, cut the engine, and flashed the lights three times. Then we waited. Nothing. We flashed the lights again. This time, a single circle of light glimmered faintly in the distance (probably no more than a mile) down the road. Everyone got real quiet real fast and we kept our eyes on that light. It seemed to be coming toward us, growing a bit brighter. Then it disappeared. We listened, cupping our hands to our ears to hear an engine whining, a muffler backfiring, anything. All we could hear was corn husks rustling in the surrounding fields.
Suddenly the light appeared again, cresting the next hill. “There it is!” someone shouted. It grew brighter now, closer, just before it slipped into the last dip. A couple guys took off running toward it, hoping, I guess, to try to intercept the ghost before he vanished again. But that was it. The light didn’t reappear, and there were no sounds of a motorcycle (or a car with one light out, or an Amish farmer on a horse and buggy, or anything else our minds could conjure), shifting gears, turning around, or pulling off the road.
Silence, they say, is golden. But that night it was deeply eerie. We got back in our cars and headed back to town. Fast.