The Boy Who Lived With Ghosts

The Boy Who Lived with Ghosts:  A True Story of Childhood Haunting87487370

The Boy Who Lived with Ghosts will be released in paperback on July 1st 2013 and a short while later in e-book format.

This is a funny but tragic tale of poverty, abuse, addiction, insanity and death.  It is the true story of a small boy haunted by many ghosts, told uniquely through his eyes.  The boy is relentlessly resourceful, living in a decaying house with a grandfather who thinks he is a train, an alcoholic father who has gone to see a man about a dog and a diminutive Scottish grandmother who has a deceptively powerful right punch.  He suffers physical abuse and the horror of being locked in the cellar by his sister while he continually tries to come to terms with the ghost of a man who hanged himself in the toilet.

His mother slowly slips into her own world of delusion and depression and the boy knows that he must find the cause of his mother’s madness before it is too late.  But the sound of a screaming girl in the attic convinces him that his house is haunted and confirms his belief that the spirit of the man who hanged himself in the toilet is intent on killing the family.

The boy grows through the story into an adolescent who is ready to take on the world and survive.  The ghosts, however, will be with him forever.

This is my story. I hope you will find time to read it, to share it and to be helped by the belief that we can all find humor and survival, even in the face of tragedy.

Till then,

John Mitchell


It is a strange thing but you cannot see darkness when you close your eyes. In fact, when you close your eyes, you are left with an after-image, a ghostly representation of what you had been looking at. In order to see darkness, you actually have to open your eyes in a dark place. I don’t mean a room that’s dimly lit, with shadows in the corners. I mean a windowless cellar that’s so dark you can only imagine the dreadful things that live in there.

You can close your eyes to things you do not want to see. But even if you want to, you can never erase the images in your head of things you wish you’d never seen. Closing your eyes or living in the dark will never change anything in this world. You will simply deny their existence.

I grew up with many horrors, being locked in a dark windowless cellar being one of them. And some of the horrors I grew up with are just too awful to write about here. But throughout my life, I have held onto something which helped me beyond anything. It is something that grew inside me as a little boy and stays with me today. It is something that literally saved my life.

It was the burning, overwhelming ambition to escape. To escape poverty. To escape abuse. To escape insanity.

Hiding or running away does not work. The horror is still there, waiting for you. And I found, that the greatest impact I could have on my future was to change the people who were in it. It didn’t mean that everyone had to change. But some people needed to go away forever and others needed to be new people, wonderful people I was yet to meet.

And even if you had a rosy, beautiful childhood, you may still have found entrapment in your grown-up world. Loveless relationships, unfulfilled dreams, a poverty of existence.

But you do not have to be trapped in the darkness. It is in the human spirit to survive but there is a whole lot more to this life than mere survival. It is your purpose in life to be fulfilled. You can only do this with your eyes wide open. Not in the dark but in the beautiful light of day.

Have an ambition to escape. Change the people in your future. Do not accept a poverty of existence. If you do not have a plan to be fulfilled, no one else will create one for you.

Or you could live, trapped forever in a windowless cellar and open your eyes to the darkness, terrified of the nameless creatures that live in the corners.


Tommy almost killed me. He was my best friend and those sweets he gave me weren’t mint imperials. They were moth balls. Nana stuck her fingers down my throat three times to make me sick. She said moth balls are poisonous and I could die.

Then, while Nana was busy making me sick, Tommy ate all our cabbage because he was starving. It was only a few leaves but he didn’t even ask. And that made Nana even angrier, which is understandable because we needed that cabbage for dinner. So Tommy wasn’t my best friend anymore.

And then there were the eggs. I should have known the eggs were for the lodgers’ dinner. They were paying to live in our house so they had to be fed more than cabbage and potatoes. But I took the eggs anyway and put them in my cowboy hat and covered them with Nana’s scarf, the tartan one with the tassels.

Nana almost lost her mind trying to find those eggs while the lodgers paced up and down in the kitchen after a long hard day digging roads in the rain. She knew she had four eggs in the pantry, two for each of the Irish road diggers.

So I told her I took the eggs and they were in my cowboy hat with her scarf to keep them warm and I was going to hatch them into chickens. I would keep the chickens in a pen in the backyard and then we could all have eggs for supper or even for breakfast. And it wouldn’t matter if Tommy ate our cabbage leaves again.

Nana slapped my face for being so stupid. Even a five-year-old should know that eggs from the pantry cannot be hatched into chickens. Daddy said I was just trying to put food on the table. But Nana said that was his job which he could do if he wasn’t out drinking all day long.

So Daddy said he was leaving and I tried to hang onto his leg but he pushed me away. And Nana said I would go to bed without any supper for causing her such an embarrassment. And Tommy could not come round ever again because the next thing you know he would be eating our potatoes as well as the cabbage. Then everyone would go hungry at suppertime.

I didn’t mind the pain of hunger. Eggs from the pantry will not hatch into chickens. And at least I knew that if you eat moth balls, you will die. Even if you are starving. But I never knew if Daddy would be coming home again.

Thirsty Work

I saw Nana hit a man once outside a pub and he never got back up.  He didn’t see it coming because you don’t expect a grandmother who is only five feet tall to punch you on the chin so hard you fall over.  She distracted him by swinging her left arm around so he would think she was going to hit him with her left fist but then she caught him on the chin with her right. No one argued with Nana.

She was from the Highlands of Scotland, so she made me wear a kilt for my fifth birthday. But anyone could see it wasn’t a kilt. It was a girl’s tartan skirt. Nana said there wasn’t much demand for kilts in Portsmouth.

Then we danced the Highland Fling in the kitchen, holding hands. We hopped from foot to foot across the swords laid on the floor. They weren’t real swords, of course, because they could cut your foot off. So we used the broom and the mop.

And my twin sister cried when Dad said I could go for a ride in a police car for my birthday. She cried because Dad said it was dangerous work and only for men. I cried too when I found out it wasn’t a police car. It was a milk float. That’s why I had to get up so early in the morning the next day. I had to help Dad deliver the milk but we pretended we were in a police car.

We were chasing the baddies but they got away because we kept having to stop to deliver the milk. And then Dad was thirsty and I said he should have a pint of milk but he said he needed pints of a different kind and left me to guard the milk float while he went into the Sailors Home Club.

He must have been very thirsty because he was gone for most of the afternoon.

Drown the Boy

You can open your eyes under water.  That’s how I could see the black cloak of seaweed circling my head.  But I knew you couldn’t breathe under water.  So when someone pushes your head down into the sea, you have to hold your breath or you will die.  And soon, a ringing begins in your ears and you forget that you could smell cotton candy and doughnuts when you first arrived on the beach.  You forget the excitement of running into the ocean waves. And thoughts of building mighty sandcastles and making a moat and filling it with the frothing sea.

I watched the seaweed circle one more time and then my sister let me up to breathe. I only took one breath before she shrieked with her girlish delight and held my head under that huge wave. My big sister loved the fun of playing with me in the sea. So much more fun than the terrible darkness of the house.

If my twin sister was there in the water, she could have screamed for the adults to come and save me. But she had that broken piece of glass stuck in her foot. It wasn’t her fault that someone left broken glass on the beach.  Dad said it was probably from a cider bottle because no one drinks wine on the beach and it didn’t look like the shape of glass from a beer bottle. Yes, definitely a cider bottle.

And when my big sister finally let me go, I ran to the grown-ups and told them that you can see under water but you cannot breathe and if you do, you will die from drowning. And they laughed and sang, “Oh, I do like to be beside the seaside. I do like to be beside the sea.”

They drank their beer and sherry and danced together while the massive ocean roared and the black seaweed silently wished for me to come back and play. Come back and stay forever.

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