Tuesday, October 04, 2005

 

In Which I Look Like I've Seen...

First, I guess it's time to end the Giveaway of Crap. I'll be contacting folks shortly. Thanks for playing, everyone!

But remember, everyone who bids gets something, so maybe you could make it easy for me and email me your mailing address (along with reminding me what you bid on). Otherwise, I'll be haunting you via email.

Where was I? Oh yeah...



Like pain, panic is a hard thing to recall. Afterwards, you remember that it happened and the impression it leaves on you is profound. But if pressed, you may find it's difficult to provide concrete details about the depth of the sensation itself. I guess this isn't so surprising. As responses go, I'd have a hard time imagining others that could more quickly overwhelm the rational, analytical mind.

I do remember that when the panic hit, it was as sudden as though someone had thrown a switch. Anything that felt remotely like exhilaration vanished and I felt as though something very heavy had fallen on me from a great height, like an iron pole dropped straight through my head and into my stomach.

It felt like this the first time, too, when I was 12
(and alone in the house, standing under the eaves of the third floor of the 18th century farmhouse where we lived, and watching the heavy wooden chair roll by itself across the floor towards me)

It felt like this when I was 13, and had gone to see the old man who lived in the marsh
(the one they called "the witch man," who had scared me badly by revealing things about me no one else knew)

All of which I'll tell you about some day.

But there were some keys differences between my earlier experiences with this kind of panic and now. For one thing, in the two previous instances, I had been able to run like hell.

In this case, I couldn't move. And believe me, I wanted to.

Once on a construction site, my dad touched a pipe that was touching a live wire and he was electrocuted. For the few timeless seconds until someone cut the current, he said it was the worst feeling on earth. He couldn't move, he was nailed to the spot, but every nerve in his body was screaming for him to run.

I'd never been electrocuted, but I thought I knew what he was talking about.

And then I heard the voice. It wasn't the voice of someone or something else, let me hasten to clarify. It was a voice in my memory. Don't let it in, let it through. It had been a useful piece of advice imparted to me under all-too-similar circumstances years ago, a gift from a wise person to a scared kid who was way out of his depth. Those words signified a way to think about panic, to box it, to get on top of it.

I made myself draw a breath.

You're startled, not scared. They just want your attention, I thought. You've been here before. There's nothing to be scared of. As I thought this, the panic that was building inside me suddenly eased, like a muscle unclenching.

And just like that, I could move again. I jumped back, staring at the spot on the floor where I'd felt the cold spot. I looked up to face the door at the end of the hall, the door in the shaft of dirty light. Whatever it was, it had my attention. It was time to let them know.

"Who is it?" I said, my voice barely above a squeak. I was never good at this part. But I squinted, and I listened and I waited. Already, whatever I'd felt before seemed a distant memory, almost as though it had happened to someone else.

I'd like to tell you I saw something in that shaft of dirty light, heard a noise like a tapping, or a voice. But all I ever felt was the overwhelming sensation of that cold spot there in the room.

And a moment later, even it was gone.

And a moment after that, I heard voices in the hallway. Her Lovely Self looking for me. I backed up towards the door and opened it (had I closed it behind me?). There in the hall D, the bride-to-be and half the wedding party had suddenly appeared, along with the music director for the church, a severe old lady who stared over the tops of her bifocals at me in a critical way that made me think of every strict teacher I'd ever had. I hung a smile on my face, made my excuses, said I'd been looking for a bathroom and quickly segued into introductions.

The music director--I forget her name--declined to shake hands with me. "The restrooms are in the back by the church offices," she sniffed at me. "No one is allowed in the storage room."

Well, then it might be an idea to lock that door, huh, you puckered old bag, I thought, somewhat meanly. But of course, I was on my best behavior and so I only thought this and said not a word, simply smiled and nodded and wished the worst wedgie upon her.

As everyone herded into the sanctuary to await the priest, Her Lovely Self turned back, gave me a quizzical look. "You feeling all right?"

"Sure," I lied. "Just fine." In fact, I was beginning to feel a little light-headed. Almost feverish. And VERY thirsty.

"Okay," said Her Lovely Self, who was more easily fooled back then than she is now. "You just look--"

She paused. I was sort of holding my breath.

"--a little distracted."

I smiled, then squeezed her hand. "Let's go," I said, holding the door to the sanctuary open.

Well, I thought. At least she didn't say 'You look like you've just seen a ghost...'

I'd love to have this be the build-up to some bigger climax--spirits roaming through the chapel, poltergeists spattering sacramental wine on the wedding party. But, as is so often the case with these stories, you pretty much know the most exciting part. Still, there is one more part to this tale that makes it a proper ghost story, and I'll get to it in a bit.

At length, the priest showed up and the rehearsal went off without a hitch and we all got on like a house on fire. Even the stern music director stopped giving me the stink-eye as she got into the swing of things and began playing bubbly wedding music on the antique organ in the church. But I would be lying if I said my mind was on the proceedings. I was still terribly parched, an odd thing in itself. I couldn't remember feeling that way the last time anything like that had happened. Which had been a solid 10 years ago. I tried to go back over what I understood about these things, what others had shared with me.

Some of which I will share with you now.

To be clear, I believe a rare few people do have some gift of perception beyond the five senses. But I do not think I have it in any appreciable measure. I was what my uncle called "a screwdriver in a toolbox."

His theory went something like this: In this world, you have people who are magnets. They are surrounded by powerful forces, drawing things to them in ways you can't see, just as a magnet draws ball bearings or iron filings to it. These people have the gift. My uncle, for example, was--still is--a magnet.

My uncle believed in other kinds of magnets too. He believed that ghosts, spirits, paranormal whatever--he called them haints--were magnets too, rather different from other magnets, but still working and acting in powerful, invisible ways. Some magnets were positive, some were negative. If you were a positive magnet and you chanced upon a haint that was likewise positive, then you were likely drawn to one another but no bad thing would happen.

On the other hand, if you entered a place where a negatively charged haint was, you were likely to have all sorts of repellent things occur. Or as he simply put it, "Then ol' fella, it's time to get down cos the goddamn cutlery goes flying."

My uncle's belief in the magnet theory of the paranormal worked well for him--and he could explain it a lot better than I just did. To be honest, I forget most of it. What I do remember, though, is his theory of the screwdriver in the tool box.

Let's say you are NOT a magnet. You're just an ordinary tool, like a screwdriver. You are not surrounded by strange invisible forces. You can no more perceive them than can a block of wood. But let's say you get thrown in a toolbox next to a magnet. What happens then? Over time, with enough exposure to the forces of the magnet, the screwdriver becomes magnetized. It's never as powerful as a true magnet, but it becomes attuned to those same unseen forces in its own small way. Thereafter, it would have and exert a certain attraction to the same forces that acted on other magnets.

By my uncle's reckoning, even a stupid tool like me could become aware of the unseen world. I had spent most of my adolescence in a 200-year-old farmhouse--a big rickety old toolbox if there ever was one.

And it was filled with magnets. Positive and negative.

My uncle had always said that if I spent enough time in that house, some aspect of whatever was there would eventually rub off on me and forever after I would become aware of and influenced by those unseen forces.

Ten years on, it was still happening. It didn't happen very often, and when it did, I sure as hell didn't talk about it--honestly, would you?--but it happened nonetheless. And now here I was, presented with a bit of a dilemma. I wanted to understand what had happened. It was not just my nature, it was now my job, to ask questions, to put the pieces together, make a whole story out of random events and anecdotes. I wanted to get some sense of the history of this place, of the people who lived or worked here.

The problem was, we'd be leaving tomorrow after wedding. So if I wanted to explore this, I was going to have to start asking some questions. Today. Even if it meant breaking my promise of good behavior to Her Lovely Self.

By the time the rehearsal was over, I had made up my mind to talk to the priest. D, my wife's friend, and her fiance, invited everyone out to a nearby restaurant for the rehearsal dinner. The priest agreed to come along and I decided to offer to drive him over. Everyone headed out through the double doors in the back and I hurried out of the chapel, hoping to catch up with the group.

As I came through the doors, I felt a sharp, strong hand clamp on my shoulder like a vise and I almost crapped.

I whirled and there was the puckery old music director, staring at me over the tops of her bifocals. We were alone in the back of the church.

"Jeez!" I cried. "You sure gave me--"

"Did you see him?" she asked matter-of-factly.

My jaw hinged open like a cartoon character's.

The music director whose name I've completely forgotten never took her eyes off me. "Young man, I'm 69 years old and I have no time for nonsense. You know who I mean. Did you see him in his room?"

"I--no. There was--I felt someone was on the other side of the door. There was a cold spot in the room. I felt--"

She nodded. "Sick. Like you had a fever."

I shook my head. "Not so much. More just thirsty. Really thirsty."

Her lips got very thin. "I could tell right off. Had it written all over your face. I tell Father and I tell Father to lock that room, leave the poor creature alone, but it doesn't matter how often Father locks it. That door wants to be open."

I leaned towards her. "Do you know--? I mean, who's in there?"

For the first time, the old woman smiled, and my, it was an awful smile. "Young man, I have no idea. I wish I knew. I taught at the school for 20 years before they closed it and he was here before that. The children said he was a caretaker who used to live here. They say that was his bedroom, that little room under the stairs. Some say he wasn't right in his mind and ate rat poison. Another story--and I think this is more like it--is that he got the influenza and died in that room. "

Just then, we could hear Her Lovely Self, calling to me down the corridor. The old lady began walking with me.

"So you've seen him?" I asked.

"More times than I care to tell. He doesn't mind me so much, I've been here so long, he must think I'm the spirit. Others have felt the coldness like you, although nobody goes in that room these days. Most folks hear him."

"Hear him?"

She nodded. "Late at night, people have said they heard a screaming from the church. A man calling for help. Though some say he's crying for water, as if--"

"--as if he's thirsty," I offered, licking my lips. She didn't reply.

We were almost to the door that led outside.

"So, has anyone ever tried to, I don't know, talk with him? Get him to move on?" I asked. "I've had some experience with that sort of thing and--"

She made a strange guttural bark that I realized was a laugh. "As if Father would let some hippie in here for a seance! No, he's here to stay I think. And we leave him alone. Father won't even hear a word about him." And here she stopped and grabbed my arm with those pincer-like fingers. "And a word to the wise: don't be asking Father about it. We had a woman here for a wedding a year or so back, saw that poor creature in the window, his sad old face looking out at her. She knew what she'd seen and when she went to ask Father, he got so mad I thought he was going to refuse to do the wedding."

We stepped out into the late October afternoon, which had suddenly turned cool. It seemed dark in the distance, but it was hard to tell if that was because the sun was setting or a storm was coming. Her Lovely Self was on the sidewalk, talking to D and the priest.

"But...don't you want to know more--?"

She shook her head and her expression turned stern again. "No! I don't need to. And who do you think you are, that you have to know everything about something?" she demanded. I couldn't help but smile; it was exactly what my in-laws said about me. She poked me in the chest with a bony finger. "Sometimes not knowing is good for you. Ever think of that?"

"I guess--" I started.

"You do that," she said. "Guessing is good for you too. Now go. You're holding folks up." She pointed to Her Lovely Self, now standing alone, waiting for me. I hurried over, then turned back, thinking foolishly that the old woman would have vanished. But I could see her clearly, climbing into a great old boat of a sedan and roaring out of the parking lot like an unmarked patrol car giving chase. As she squealed around the corner, Her Lovely Self said, "So, what was she talking to you about?"

I looked at her as we turned and headed off to the party and the rest of our lives.

"Honestly," I said, "I don't think I'll ever know."

But I do know this:

About five years ago, in the dead of night, that church and most of the buildings attached to it burned to the ground. Nobody was injured. The priest who lived at the rectory was on vacation.

Neighbors across the street were awakened by a man shouting from the direction of the church and then by the soft glow of the fire behind stained-glass windows. By the time the fire department arrived, the old church was beyond saving. The fire was blamed on old wiring, which the church had in abundance.

During the investigation, police and fire fighters tried to find the man who had first shouted and raised the alarm, but there was no trace of him.

The neighbors across the street weren't able to help investigators either. After all, they hadn't seen the man, only heard him.


They said he'd been shouting for water.




Yours,
From Somewhere on the Masthead


Comments:
Ooohh, good ghost story, MM. Hope the caretaker found peace after the building was gone. I actually have a pretty open mind towards ghosts but I've never seen or felt one. My father didn't believe in them at all.
 
Aack. What a great story.

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

I'm with Hamlet and your uncle all the way.
 
I actually read the second-half of the story first. :P Bummer. You gotta include some sort of tacky warning for the likes of me: "...and now, the dramatic conclusion of..." :)

I've never been one to believe in ghosts. Too scientific, too rational thinking. Perhaps I was never "magnetized" enough as a kid. :) Here in Singapore (Asia, actually), ghost stories are rather popular; you know, the thin woman with the long black hair who wears a white gown and can't speak properly, like the woman in "Ju-on." And then I've been studying under an imam for the past few months, who's given us some tantalizing snippets about exorcisms he's performed on women who were possessed by jinns. (Unfortunately, I don't know enough of the stories to write them up in a decent post.) Now my thoughts are like, "Well, let's see. We'll keep an open mind."

On a completely unrelated topic, I've posted a photo of an ornament on one of my blogs that I thought might bring a little inspiration to Art Lad. You know where.
 
Creepy, wonderful story. Got chills at a few moments...

Now, let's get down to brass tax. Who do I call to option it? :-)
 
Yiieeeeee...that was goooood. Tell me more, like about the chair for instance. More!!
 
ooooooooh. I can't get enough blankets to cover my neck from the heebee jeebees.

Excellent story. And you are so very brave, you little screwdriver.

I totally believe in spirits, and think I am magnetized but not a magnet myself. That'd be too scary for me for sure.

Now, onto the other two stories. Like thestraightpoop said, tell us about the chair!
 
Nice ending! I got chills :>

I hope the ghost found peace, too. If not, I wonder if he went anywhere, or if he still stays in that same spot?
 
Stink eye? Only you MM, only you. Great story.
 
Oooooooh, sweet.
 
I love ghost stories, but they scare the willies out of me at the same time. That was a great one! What things did the crazy witch-man tell you?
 
I believe.

Years ago, my mom visited an old mansion that had become a museum. She could tell the tour guide what was in every room before they got there, and she said that she even knew what was supposed to be in the dresser drawers and closets. She could picture it in her mind as clearly as if it were "real".

She had never been in that house (to her knowledge) in her whole life. She says to this day that it was like something came over her...

Yep, I believe.

T. :)
 
That was great! Leave it to your uncle to come up with a matter of fact description like that.
Sadly, I'm not magnetized...I don't even think I'm in the tool box!
 
The ending gave me actual goosebumps. Haven't had that happen in a long time ;)
 
Great story... I could be mistaken, but I think your magnet theory is off a bit... don't like charges repel?
 
Yeah, you're right, opposite attract and all that. But it was my uncle's theory and I didn't feel right tinkering with it too much. I think he was willing to carry the principles of magnetism only so far in his theories.
 
I'm still not sure what I believe when it comes to spirits who haven't found a resting place...it doesn't gel well with the Christian faith...but I do believe in demons and angels..maybe they fit in there somewhere. Who knows.

Beliefs aside, this was a wonderful story...I loved every single word. Bravo.
 
great story. your uncle's theory is interesting...never heard it put quite that way before! But I do believe there are people who are "magnets" and can use other senses to see things the majority of us cannot. There's probably a lot of poeple like that out there, more than we realize, because how many of them are really going to go around telling people they see spirits?
I am certain that this ability exists in children...probably all children. Maybe we are born with it and grow out of it as we age and our innocence is lost. When my son was born we lived in an old apartment in New Orleans and I can't count the number of times I would catch him in his crib babbling baby talk to a space on the wall or laughing at ceiling or waving his chubby fist at an empty space on the floor. It was a bit unnerving, but since he always seemed so happy with whatever he was seeing, I didn't worry about it. Much.
Hope to hear more ghost stories as we get closer to Halloween.
 
Truly one of your best. ::massive applause:: Gave me chills. I had a related experience with what I will always believe was a guardian angel.

http://lesstraveledby.blogspot.com/2004/08/african-love-knots-guardian-angels.html
 
VERY CREEPY!!!! Such a great and spooky tale... do your stories get scarier as Halloween approaches?

Goosebumps!

Love your uncle's theory. I think there's a lot of truth to it.

Witch Man! Witch Man!
 
Either you are telling the truth about this story or you really know how to tell a story!!!

I LOVED IT!!!!
 
I was magnetized by my mother MM...

It's creepy, isn't it?
 
Now THAT made me wish I'd been sitting around a campfire, eating s'mores, listening to branches cracking in the woods and Owl's whooing while you tell that story. Or just eating s'mores while I read the story. Hell, I just like s'mores.

Glad I found the link to your blog on Church of the Big Sky. If you ever have time, the light's always on at mine. Feel free to stop by.
 
I'm scared!! Somebody hold me!!!

Very intense, MM. Whew.

Bring on the Witch Man!!
 
I'm a tool...er...you know what I mean. My brother is a magnet though. He actually started a blog about ghosts, but he never got past the first post. Hopefully I'll get him back into it.

Great Story.
 
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