Excerpt: Ghost Story

As a boy, I was scared by both my deep, hidden desire to be a girl and the spooky Main Line mansion I grew up in. Thirty years and a sex-change operation later, I came back — only to discover I’m still being haunted

“THIS IS THE street,” said my father, as we drove past big houses with wrought iron fences on a summer day in 1972. At first glance, Philadelphia’s Main Line didn’t seem like a neighborhood where our family would fare very well, what with our secondhand cars and gelatinous dog and large cast of deranged relatives.

We pulled into the driveway. “No. Wait,” said my sister Lydia. “You’re kidding.”

Before us was an enormous, collapsing Victorian Devon mansion, green moss or mold flourishing on its stone walls. It was three stories tall, with crazy dormer windows and a gabled roof and several crooked chimneys.

“Welcome home,” said my father, and turned off the radio.

“I don’t believe it,” said my sister. “You went and bought this — wreck?”

“We bought it,” said my father.

“It’s like the Munsters house,” she said. She meant, in a bad way.

We walked into a rickety pantry, with a set of crazy shelves nailed into some pine paneling. Just beyond this was a decaying kitchen, in which there appeared to have been a recent fire. We walked through the burned-out kitchen, through a formal dining room with a cobweb-enshrouded chandelier, and into the living room. Its walls were painted black.

“Black walls,” said my sister. “Why am I not surprised?”

Dad put his arm around her back. He almost never did that with me, but then, you could hardly blame him. It was different with boys.

“The only thing this place is missing,” Lydia said, “is a dead body.”

I STARTED NINTH GRADE a few weeks after we moved in. One afternoon, I was alone in my room, practicing a speech for Ancient History. The window was open, and in the distance I could hear the sound of freight trains lumbering down the Penn Central tracks toward coal country.

My dog, Sausage, growled softly. She was an enfeebled, morbidly obese Dalmatian, from whose eyes oozed an inexhaustible reservoir of mysterious brown goo.

“What is it?” I asked the dog. The hair on her back stood up.

I felt a creeping voltage in the air, and the room grew cold. Something passed through me.

“Yaahh,” I said.

I spun around. The room was empty.

From out in the third-floor hallway, I heard a soft set of padding footsteps. They came right up to my door and stopped.

Sausage growled again.

Then, slowly, the door to my room creaked open, a little bit at first, then all the way. I closed my eyes.

Please make it go away, I thought. Please God. I won’t ask to be a girl anymore if you’ll just make it go away.

The door creaked closed. The footsteps padded down the hall.