For the record, Jan Fowler and her fiance, Greg Colvin, who live in Odessa, are serious people who make their living as business brokers. They do not want me to make them look like, you know, nuts.
Also for the record, each one tells me it is the other who really is the most interested in this. "Jan seems to think it's a ghost," Greg says. "He's the one who's been sending it out," she replies.
This is what happened. Colvin, an accomplished nature photographer, was hauling his tripod into the house the other day with his Nikon still attached. "I was being lazy," he grins.
As he pulled the apparatus through the back door of the house, he heard the camera's shutter go off. There's a wasted shot, he thought, figuring he must have hit the remote control.
But when he downloaded the day's images, he looked twice at the final one, the accidental shot, and thought: What is that?
Here's the photo. No doubt it is a trick of the sunlight, but there is an indistinct image between the door on the left and the kitchen window on the right. The window itself, you will also notice, is not blurred by motion.
The more that they looked at it, the more they thought it looked like … well, you know. The oval of a head, maybe a dark spot of hair, maybe an arm extended.
Now, this being Halloween week, how could I resist? So I visited their house. I can tell you that the smudge, or trick of light, or whatever, is in the foreground of the shot. You can look right through it and see the kitchen counter behind. So the sunlight traveled from the front door, arrived at the middle of the family room, and created this effect.
I called in the ghost guys.
Bill Sharpe is the leader of a group called Tampa Ghost Watchers (www.tampaghostwatchers.com). He surprised me a bit by going on at length about how most photographs he sees are tricks of light, or clumsy fakes, or just wishful thinking.
"These days, in the ghost-hunting business, you've got to be really careful," Sharpe said. Some people are trying to get out of a mortgage or lease. Some even turn around and sue the ghost hunters.
As we were talking, I e-mailed him the photo.
"That's pretty nifty," Sharpe said finally. Then he immediately started talking about how he would debunk it. The first thing would be to try to re-create the exact circumstances of the photo to see if the image recurs. The ghost watchers do this sort of thing at no charge, so if Fowler and Colvin are interested, he's game. I passed it along.
Getting into, you know, the spirit of the thing, I asked Sharpe why there would be a ghost in the house. It was built in 1982 and not much ever happened there. Fowler and Colvin say a former owner, a man, did die in the house. Some years back a neighbor's father died in the area that's now the back yard, suffering a heart attack after rescuing a boy from the lake out back. But no murders, mysteries, native American graveyards, that sort of thing.
But that is Hollywood stuff. Sharpe says that a spirit doesn't really need a dramatic reason, and might not even be related to the house. It might be attached to an antique piece of furniture. It might be drawn to a particular person.
"Every ghost is not the same," Sharpe said. "Different reasons, different kinds of locations."
I could tell Sharpe was wary of mocking media-types like me, and so I asked, on a whim, whether he hates Halloween. "Oh, yeah," he said at once. "For us ghost people, it creates disrespect. These spirits were somebody — your grandmother, your uncle."
Look, I think it's a trick of light.
But it is, as Sharpe says, nifty. During my visit I noticed that all of us had taken automatically to referring to the image as "she." Fowler mentioned a longtime close friend who died recently.
There is one other thing. Being a dog sort of person, I instantly took to Savannah, the 11-year-old family golden retriever. Savannah is getting on in years and spends much of her time sleeping in the bathtub for the coolness.
But lately Savannah has been, shall we say, a little off. Her ears often perk up at nothing, and she leaps up eagerly to look for the source. She tends to stop at vacant rooms, sit at the threshold and wait patiently. Sometimes while Colvin is working, she comes to the door of his office, sits until she knows he is looking, and then turns her head to stare back down the hall. She sits and watches, sits and watches.
This story has been changed to reflect the following correction: The name of Greg Colvin was misspelled in a column Thursday.