I Sense Dead People

Apr 24, 2022 | No-Niche Posts

My parents dragged me along for a Sunday drive. I was 15. They weren’t exactly “house hunting” – more like “real estate window shopping.” The drives never interested me, and my lack of acute interest in the scenery always seemed to disappoint my mom. “Look! A fox!”


“Oh, you missed it.”

Whatever. I would put my head down on the bench seat of the station wagon and promptly doze off again. The sameness of ordinary roads, houses, and neighborhoods never interested me. I remember, years ago, traveling Puerto Rico by taxi – me, seasick and sleepy; mom, grabbing me by the scruff of the neck, saying, “Look! Look! We may never be here again!” True enough, I have never been to Puerto Rico again. I remember the Fortress and the Governor’s Mansion all lit up at night for Christmas. I remember the view of the ocean. But on car trips, I have never been accused of being “observant.” So when my mom and dad roused me, that day in God-only-knows-where-Florida, asking, “What do you think of this place?” I assumed they meant as a vaguely potential place to live.

Half-asleep, only one thought came into my head – one clear-as-a-bell, fairly panicky thought, which I blurted out loudly: “No! We can’t live here! All the people who live here are DEAD!” My dad looked surprised. Dumbfounded. My mom laughed. She laughed.

She didn’t explain, just asked me to look out the window and tell her my thoughts as we drove through town. My thoughts? The shady, tree-lined neighborhood was nice enough, but my initial impression never wavered. We weren’t exactly unwelcome, but we couldn’t live here. We couldn’t. It was crowded with dead people. As we reached Main Street, the sensation changed: “It feels like we’ve crossed into a place where time stands still. It’s like nothing ever changes.” And I noticed something very odd: almost every business in town had a sign like “Spiritual Advisor” out front. Homes, too. I wasn’t sure what it meant. We found the one my parents were looking for – they had an address – and we went inside. My mother went back to speak with someone – one of those “Spiritual Advisors” – and was gone close to an hour while my dad and I waited. He told me that I could get a reading after she came out, if I wanted to. We were in Cassadaga, Florida. And once I understood what that was, my initial impression made sense. Suddenly, it wasn’t so alarming. I understood why my mom laughed, and why my dad looked surprised. She’d never seen such things as odd, spooky, weird, occult, or nonsense. And neither did I, because I knew the stories.

When she was nine, she and her parents moved to Arecibo, Puerto Rico. She’d kept saying she couldn’t wait to get there and see “the little red shoe on the roof.” No one paid much attention, until they arrived in Puerto Rico, got to the house they were going to live in, and went around to the back. There, on the roof, was a child’s red shoe.

When I was a toddler, my mom’s parents were traveling overseas – now, this was before wifi and cell phones and inexpensive long distance calls – and my great-grandmother, my mom’s grandmother, had to be hospitalized. There was nothing my parents couldn’t handle, so they debated whether to spoil the trip by contacting my grandparents. Before they could call, my grandfather sent a telegram: “What’s wrong?” That’s it. Just “What’s wrong?”

Speaking of pricey long-distance calls, my mom and I used to “think up” my grandmother. She could better afford the charges. One could argue that the odds of her calling were high to begin with, but invariably, five minutes of focused “thinking her up” would result in a call.

There were more stories to come, and if asked, I’d say “telepathy” was no more than weak, but particularly tuned, waves similar to radio or TV. No “spookier” than satellite communications. You can train someone to suppress the ability more easily than you can train them to use it. You can suppress “the gift” yourself, if it’s alarming. But I don’t think it’s “supernatural” or “occult” or “spooky woo woo.” Frankly, I do not trust anyone who treats it like it is.

Anyway, when my mom returned, the man, who’s name I cannot now recall, called me back. He refused to give me a reading, but spoke to me for about 10-15 minutes. He told me that he wasn’t refusing due to anything bad he saw in my present or future; he simply could not, ethically, give me a reading. He would not go into more detail than that, but he did talk about my mother, telling me that if ever I needed guidance, I should turn to her. Later, my mom said he’d told her that she was “more psychic than he was” and that he’d seemed uncomfortable giving her a reading. I don’t doubt it.

Years later, I revisited Cassadaga. I wish I still had all the detailed notes of what the medium I talked to said, but I was careful not to give my name or a credit card before the reading. I did not make an appointment in advance. I’d parked down the street and it would have taken some serious sleuthing (someone with access to the DMV) to identify me. Facial recognition was not yet a thing – certainly not in Cassadaga in the early 2000s. I don’t remember the name of the man, now, but his first words to me were, “You’re a writer.” It wasn’t a question. Okay, I’d give him that – I nodded. “Why haven’t you written the book?” Um. Well. That was…different. True, too.  I didn’t know why. And I had been asked this before, and had written out – but not published – the answer. (Read “Putting the Cart Before the Horse.“) I smiled. “Write it,” he urged. “Maybe you should write about health.” Meh. Years later, I blogged about having breast cancer. But I prefer to write fiction and poetry. I have since published three children’s books: Trockle; A Puppy, Not a Guppy; and A New Leaf for Lyle, as well as a collection of short stories. I’ve also blogged, and contributed short stories and poetry to anthologies. I retired, two years ago, after a long career as a technical writer. You may even have one of my user’s guides on your shelf, somewhere, and will never know it.

No one ever said you had to do exactly as your psychic suggests.

We moved on. I’d hoped, perhaps, to hear something about – or from? – my mom, who died in 2002. I did not. But I got an earful about my grandmother! She was, according to him, “rearranging all the chairs in Heaven, entertaining, holding court, and telling everyone where to sit.” I laughed and laughed. Good Lord, that sounded so like her. She’d probably tell God, himself, where to sit. And thoroughly charmed, He’d go along with her. I heard about my supposed past life, wherein I’d been killed, he said, for speaking out on something – it was righteous and had to be said, but I’d died for it. I have no sense of this one, personally, but when I left to ask another psychic, there, about the one my mom had consulted years before, she informed me that the Spiritualist community’s rules, back in the 1970s, had prohibited them from discussing anything related to past lives, and that maybe he had sensed that and had nothing he could say to me without violating the rules. So there we have it – me exercising “free speech” throughout the centuries and suffering the consequences. (See also: Disagreement Stirs Negative Energy In Spiritualist Enclave)

She told me where to find the house; the man she thought we’d seen had died, but the house had passed on to a relative. I walked down to the address she gave me. The house looked abandoned, though she’d told me it was lived in. I won’t describe it in detail, but it was the only place I ever sensed malevolence in all of Cassadaga. I left quickly.

About 5 years later, I took my daughter on a haunted walking tour of New Orleans, when she was just a little older than I’d been on my first trip to Cassadaga. We did not see, or sense, any ghosts. Capturing “orbs” on cell phone cameras was very trendy, then, and we caught some dust motes and insects flitting in the street lights. Near midnight, we walked across Jackson Square, just the two of us, heading back to our hotel. There was one lone psychic sitting at a table in the square. We stopped to get a reading. I struggled not to laugh – I did smile at the woman – as she warned my daughter to beware her lead foot. She saw the possibility of an accident – not likely fatal – in the future. But it could be avoided through driving the speed limit. She told her to keep up with her well-woman visits, to watch her health. (I was tempted to give the woman a fist-bump under the table. It was all such lovely, common sense advice.) She asked if I’d like a reading.

“Sure, but I don’t believe in spooky woo-woo. I don’t doubt that some psychic ability exists, but I’m not interested in showmanship.”

She laughed. “Really hard to be all spooky woo-woo when your dad teaches you how to do this over cornflakes in the morning.”

I was skeptical, but she said nothing exceptional that would raise an eyebrow. She did ask where my husband and son were. They had not come up in conversation earlier, not with me nor with my daughter. Lucky guess? Possibly. Maybe she’d seen all four of us together, earlier in the day. I didn’t remember her, and I would have thought it hard for her to be so observant if we’d passed by with the crowd, earlier in the day. Like I said, no one’s ever accused me of being that observant. So while I learned nothing from her of any particular interest, and was glad she “advised” my teenaged daughter with what was simply good advice, I also sensed nothing of the charlatan in her. She only asked for donations and didn’t charge ridiculous fees. And I have run into those, in the past. As I said to someone, earlier, when you run into a psychic scammer, just RUN.

And never give your name.

Holly Jahangiri

Holly Jahangiri is the author of Trockle, illustrated by Jordan Vinyard; A Puppy, Not a Guppy, illustrated by Ryan Shaw; and the newest release: A New Leaf for Lyle, illustrated by Carrie Salazar. She draws inspiration from her family, from her own childhood adventures (some of which only happened in her overactive imagination), and from readers both young and young-at-heart. She lives in Houston, Texas, with her husband, J.J., whose love and encouragement make writing books twice the fun.


  1. Ailsò MacTavish

    Awesome story! Thank goodness they dragged you on all those car rides, it gave you great experiences to write about. :))

    • Holly Jahangiri

      Oh, I’m grateful, believe me. We still laugh, though, about all the bears, foxes, hawks, etc. that I missed over the years.

      When my daughter was 5, we were all in one car together, in New York. As we turned onto the rural lane to my cousin’s house, there was a large deer laying in the road – clearly it had been struck by a car. My daughter was dozing on the back seat, next to my mom, and I turned around and started to tell her to look at the deer – don’t ask me why I thought she should see a DEAD deer, but it WAS large, close, and she had never seen a fully grown deer – my mom caught my eye and started laughing. “See? It’s hard. You can’t help yourself. NOW you get it! But yeah, maybe let her sleep through this one.”

  2. Jill Ebstein

    Very interesting and well done. Love “spooky woo woo” and it’s good to know that there is such a thing as “Spiritualist community rules.” I now need you to write the next installment…. please, pretty please, with sugar on top.

    • Holly Jahangiri

      I’m still chuckling at the thought of you thinking this was fiction, Jill. Trying to come up with a “next installment.” Hmmm…

  3. Patricia Doyle

    Fascinating. I often wonder how intuitive/psychic some “readers” are and how much is just show. I’m never sure as often the reading is so generic, and we tend to hear what we want to hear, too. It’s nice to hear a first hand account.

    • Holly Jahangiri

      It helps if they say something so specific that it couldn’t be chance. I agree that most are fairly generic and it’s hard to tell. I’m pretty good at dream interpretation – at least for friends. 😉 If you have some knowledge of their personality and life experiences, it’s not hard to interpret dreams they can’t even see for themselves. I once dreamed that my mom was twins: one loving and fiercely protective who was trying to save me from the other twin who was out to kill me. I told her about the dream, and she cracked up. “Well, that’s pretty obvious, isn’t it?” And it was – but it wasn’t, to ME, until she pointed it out.

  4. Mitch Mitchell

    Family lore is an interesting thing. I’ve only had this experience twice in my life, the day Dad and Mom passed. Turns out other family members have had things “happen” that they couldn’t explain but turned out to be reality. And… I’ve never visited a psychic!

    • Holly Jahangiri

      It’s funny how compelled we are to “explain” everything that happens. I think there’s something between blind faith and acceptance of the fact that we just don’t know everything – yet. 🙂 If you’ve experienced such a thing, you get it. You may not want to acknowledge it (and some go down the psychic rabbit hole and let it define them). Again, I think there’s something in between – I almost said “a happy medium,” but that’s just too cliche, isn’t it?

  5. Mitchell Allen

    Radio frequencies. That works for me. I’ve had several “tuned in” experiences over the years.
    I enjoyed your post, as you turned it into a fine “Readers Digest” experience.



    • Holly Jahangiri

      I’m too rational for weird, horror movie explanations, you know? You do know – you’ve known me a long time. But radio waves makes perfect sense, absent a better explanation. Especially after what I noticed about “pitch” of thought. We usually describe it as “focused” or “intense” or even “obsessed.” But there’s an additional component, that “pitch” – like a silent tuning fork. I’m not sure how else to describe it, but you can FEEL it when it happens. It’s that sense you get, maybe, right before a near miss or an accident in the car.

  6. Bob Jasper

    Have never visited a psychic or had a reading. I do remember getting uncomfortable vibes in Sedona. Fun to read your experiences.Was it you, Holly, who told of something heavy up and falling off a shelf across the room? It is a foggy memory that occurred to me as I read. I always found that Spanish moss spooky. Maybe I’ve seen too many spooky movies set in locations where it grows. Good job!

    • Holly Jahangiri

      That was me! That was “the haunted photo”!


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