Parenting Guru: The man on the bed - A ghost story

I was three years old when my family moved into an ancient, crumbling building near the outskirts of town. From the first night there, I saw him: a middle-aged man in a plaid flannel shirt, with a wild look of terror or fury in his eerie blue eyes. I could plainly see him standing on my bed. I ran to my parents' room and frantically asked them to make him leave. but they informed me that he was imaginary. They told me this every single night for two years.

The memories of this man-- or whatever he was-- are more clear and vivid than any other memories from my earliest childhood. I remember holding a Cabbage Patch doll with a black-and-white dress tight against my body and praying for the man on my bed to go away. But, every time I opened my eyes, he was still there, looming stubbornly and hauntingly over me. He never moved. He stayed in the same position, with his eyes locked on the exact spot where my head rested at night. The plaid flannel shirt, the jeans with the tear in the left knee, and those steely blue eyes are burned permanently in my memory.

As I grew older, the man on my bed started disappearing from time to time. I would have occasional nights when I had my room to myself, without the apparition staring at me while I slept. Those nights became increasingly frequent until the specter finally vanished forever.

As a teen, I brought him up to my mother a few times, asking what she thought of that oddly persistent figment of my early-childhood imagination. She said to me, "To be honest, it scared me. That was a very old house, and your stepfather and I used to wonder if you were seeing a ghost." It was startling to realize that my parents, who kept reassuring me that the person I saw standing on my bed was imaginary, had themselves been creeped out by the situation. Although I didn't latch on to the notion that I actually had a ghost in my house, those memories left me feeling haunted and concerned: aware of the undeniable fact that things happen that I can't rationally explain or understand.

For quite some time, I gave no thought whatsoever to the man who had once stood on my bed. As I grew into the scientifically minded, skeptical woman I am-- with a child and a career of my own-- the ghost became a distant and surreal memory. If I thought of him at all, I thought of him as the product of an overactive, young imagination, not the result of some supernatural force.

Then, one day, I was moving into a new apartment with my daughter, who was then three years old. She walked into her new room and jumped, then ran into the hallway shaking and crying. It took me a few minutes to calm her down enough to bring her back into her new room and to get her to speak about her odd reaction to the new place.

"What did you get upset about?" I asked, adding that her new room was very nice and that she was going to love the new apartment.

"I don't know," she said, still shaking a bit, "I just-- I thought for a second that there was a scary man in my room."

A scary man? I swallowed and glanced around the room, the ceiling, the windows, and the closet. Nothing. There was nothing there even remotely suggestive of a "scary man." A chill swept over me as I asked where she got the idea that someone was there.

"I just-- I thought that I saw a man standing on my bed," my daughter said quietly.

Juniper Russo is a freelance writer and dedicated mom living in Chattanooga, Tenn. As a skeptic and freethinker, she prides herself on rational, evidence-based worldview. It doesn't leave much room for belief in ghosts, but that doesn't stop Juniper from feeling creeped out by the man on the bed and his later return.