While there is some debate about the reason why ghosts stay behind to haunt the Earth, many agree on a few things:
- Ghosts choose to stay on this plane of existence.
- There are several reasons why they can choose to stay.
- They cannot move on by themselves.
Why, then, would they choose to stay? Well, to begin with, some ghosts don't necessarily know they're dead. Their death may have been abrupt and unexpected, leaving them with the belief that they are still alive. Why should they leave, when they're 'still alive?' Other ghosts know they are dead, but choose to stay behind for family members or loved ones, preferring to stay around them rather than leaving for whatever lies ahead. The third type are the ones that have "unfinished business." Arguably the most well-known type of ghost (almost to the point of being cliché), these ghosts stick around because they feel they cannot move on. These are often the ones who were done wrong in life, or in death, and who need help in order to move on. One literary example would be the ghost of Hamlet's father. When Claudius killed Hamlet Sr. to marry his wife and take his crown, not only did he murder Hamlet, but the body was hardly cold before Gertrude's bed was warm once more. Both in life and in death, Claudius had wronged his brother. Much like in the play, such ghosts are loathe to move on without these wrongs being remedied.
In this group of ghosts, two subtypes take the fore: the ones who want revenge, and the ones that want truth to prevail. Hamlet's father seems to fall into the first category, but in fact manages to fall in both. He cannot move on until revenge has been taken upon the new king Claudius, but he needs his story to be believed and for truth to prevail before anyone will act on it. In this same way, many of the ghosts that seek revenge remain unsatisfied, for a couple different reasons. Ghosts have limited energy, and can only have so much influence on the physical plane. While some ghosts have an impressive grasp on this ability (e.g. poltergeists), the vast majority find themselves impotent in the face of the living. They may gain more understanding of how to use energy over time, or lose energy, based on multiple different factors, and by the time they have their abilities well in hand, the object of their rage may be dead and gone. What then is there for a ghost to do? Having given up their chance at the light, they get to sit angry and confused, waiting for anywhere from days to hundreds of years for another chance to find the light. Understandably, this is quite the blow. Some theorize that this is why some ghosts are malicious toward humans within their reach. With the object of their anger gone, they lash out at whomever they can; innocent though they may be.
The other subtype can be just as wrathful, though tend not to be in the beginning. These just want people to understand what happened, or to know who they truly were. For example, there are stories of innocent men who hanged at the gallows, 'hanging around' (if you'll pardon the pun) after death, protesting their innocence, even after their last corporeal breath. They may find the same anger in futility, especially as the years pass, their stories buried and forgotten.
I'd guess it's fair to say that stories like this fascinate Angela Townsend. I once had the opportunity to meet her, and she talked about how stories of people who weren't properly sent off, who never got to tell their stories fascinated her.
Which brings me to my final point. The leading minds in the fields of paranormal research and investigation, parapsychology, and mediumship tend to agree that ghosts cannot move on by themselves. While there is some mild debate on how exactly to make a ghost move on (my favorite suggestion was irritating them enough that they wanted to move on by themselves, e.g. playing non-stop rap music), the consensus seems to be that they need a guiding hand, someone to bring them to the light or, if possible, to give them what they wanted. If all the ghost wants is for someone to know the truth, to recognize their story, that can be an easy enough task, especially with the resources available on the internet and in local libraries. Between microfilm and records of the time, it may be simplest to find out what the story of the ghost was. Were they wrongfully accused and committed? Did someone murder them? Public record can be a great help in this. In honor of today, national Tell the Truth Day, I encourage you to tell the truths you don't want to be stuck hanging around for. Get that weight off your chest, so you don't end up like one of these pour souls.
If you found out your home/workplace was haunted, what would you do? Would you try to force the ghost out? Or would you want to know why it was hanging around in the first place? One of my favorite things about The Forlorned is the way Ms. Townsend tackles the issue of a particularly vicious haunting in a place Tom Doherty cannot escape from.
To read his story, you can find the book here.
I can't wait for the next book in the series, as Ms. Townsend deals with the issues of ghosts in a very real-world manner. There's no sense of Deus Ex Machina in The Forlorned, just one man struggling for survival and sanity.