I Had a Ghost

I had a ghost. Not someone following me. I might like that. Not a ghost writer. I’m a writer who is basically unread so I think of myself as a ghost writer.

A long time ago my former wife and I were on the path to become former. She was off …modeling, I think she called it, in one city or another. I was remodeling our house. Perhaps in the back of my head I was thinking about sprucing it up for sale, but maybe it was just to clear out some of the dust of a marriage that had grown old and crumbly.

I concentrated on the basement which a predecessor in the fifties had redone with horrendous tile and wallpaper covered plywood walls. I worked methodically through the basement. We had a large, walk-in cedar closet. The cedar boards were thick and still very aromatic. Carefully, I pulled off each cedar board so that I could reattach it after I sealed the concrete behind it. I got to the last section. I realized that the parts of the boards that overlapped the concrete foundation wall weren’t attached but the rest of them were glued on to the last section. I tried to figure out how I could remove them without losing them.

Exasperated, I leaned on the section and it moved inward with an audible, metallic click. I stepped back and the perfectly disguised section of wall swung effortlessly open to reveal a secret room. There was a light switch by the disguised door. Miraculously, it worked. It turned on a naked, single-bulb, ceiling fixture that had an outlet in it. Plugged into the outlet was a Bakelite plug and cloth-wrapped wire cord that hung straight down. The naked, copper wires at the end of the cord were coiled around a heavy, home-made metal cot. The harsh light revealed an otherwise empty, twenty foot long narrow room. When I say narrow I mean not as wide as my outstretched arms. Two sides were concrete basement walls. The door formed the third and the back of a plaster-and-lath wall in the large room of the basement was the fourth.

Trembling, I tip-toed into the room as if fearing to wake someone.

I was too late.

It took about two months to finish the basement. I cleansed it of anything that than hinted at torture and spent some research time in the library. The Bakelite plug and cloth-wrapped wire suggested that the setup had been done before the introduction of modern plastics. Other than discovering that my house was built in 1929, the house and the neighborhood had a quiet history, I found no evidence of a sadistic maniac loose in the Denver area.

The basement was done. The marriage was all but done. I was asleep. April 19th, at a bit past one in the morning, I woke because I was unable to stretch my feet out.

I assumed it was my dog, Fozzie, and was about to make her move when a scream coming from that spot at the foot of my bed chilled me as though I were walking through the frozen section of a grocery store wearing nothing.

I switched on the light, saw that Fozzie was standing frozen at my left side looking at the depression at my feet. The scream intensified. After what seemed an interminable length of time, it and the weight on the bed dissipated. Fozzie, who never passed up a chance to investigate anything with her nose, snuggled close to me instead.

I walked through the house. It was closed-uptight and there was no evidence of anyone but the dog and I inside. I found the door to the cedar closet open, closed it. A cedar closet works on the principle of concentrating the cedar odors from the heartwood oils that thwart an invasion of moths. Leaving the door open was a like having a neon sign advertising an all-you-can-eat wool dinner. Although I considered it, I didn’t lend much weight to the notion that what had just occurred was related to the torture room, because months had transpired since I finished remodeling without anything happening. I continued my patrol, Fozzie glued to my side. Finding nothing, I chalked it up to a bad dream but, for some reason, sleep couldn’t find me again and I spent the night with a book.

The next night, at a little past midnight, I was just settling in. A long, hard day with little sleep behind it made me forget about what I had convinced myself had to have been a dream. Just as sleep was calling me to her, someone sat on the bed beside my right hip.

I assumed that my wife had returned home unannounced and sat next to me in a misguided attempt to right the wrongs of a marriage gone bad.

I turned on the light. Fozzie was on my left. Hair raised and a strangled growl emanating from her. The scream. I hit nothing as I slapped at the air over the depression in my bed. I covered my ears and rolled away from it. Like the night before, the scream and the presence, disappeared.

After another sleepless night. I called in sick to work. I went down into the part of the basement that was the torture room and told the air, “I’m not your tormentor. I just live here. You are free. You don’t need to relive whatever happened to you.” I was a smart and creative guy and was pretty sure that would do the trick.

April 21st. I sat up in my bed reading. I was not going to let my half-asleep subconscious deal with whatever was going on. One a.m. Fozzie stood up, her hair raised as if she were in a Tesla Chamber. A growl struggled to get out of her body. The room chilled. I watched the bed depress as if someone sat on the edge next to my right arm. The scream pierced me. Eyes clamped shut and hands desperately trying to block the heart-rending sound, I rolled to my left.

As before, it stopped. I yelled, “Either kill me or let me sleep. I am not the person who hurt you.”

Although my every inclination was to check into a motel or move and worry about my possessions later, I remained in the house. I moved the television into the bedroom figuring that late night television would discourage the most insistent ghost. That night and for nights to come, there was no visitation. I congratulated myself that the ghost had understood and taken pity on me.

But strange things started happening. Friends, who normally loved to spend some time at my house, quickly suggested going out or made an excuse for leaving. I had a party. One of the guests brought a Ouija board.  After much kidding and joking about raising the dead, I watch from a distance filled with trepidation. As soon as her fingers touched the planchette, a look of electrical shock took over face. She started to moan. We all thought she was kidding but her body tried to continue to moan after she had run out of breath. I grabbed the Board and planchette from her and threw it outside explaining that I had a ghost and raising the dead wasn’t the best idea for the party. The party devolved into a ghost hunt before it devolved back into a party. It was a hell of an ice breaker.

One morning, I was hustling to get ready for work. I had to iron a shirt and the laundry room was in the basement. To get there, I passed through the kitchen and I noticed a broken shade, which I had been meaning to fix, lying on the breakfast nook table. I ironed the shirt. On my way back through the kitchen, I saw the shade hanging in the window. I raced through the house hoping to catch whoever was playing this prank on me. The house was still locked from the night before.

My hand shook as I reached to touch the shade. It was real and it was fixed. From then on, anything that needed repair ended up on the breakfast nook table. The ghost decided his or her time was better spent elsewhere.

In December of that year, a friend of mine moved into my basement. He knew about the ghost but we didn’t talk about it since nothing ghostly had happened in quite a while. About two months later, I was wakened by what I thought was an explosion followed by what he would describe as an angry yell, what I thought was a scream of panic, in the basement. I went into the basement calling out my friend’s name and assuring him that it was me. He told me everything was fine but when I entered his room, I saw a nine millimeter gun in his hand and a small hole in the ceiling over his bed. Thank god for the way houses were built back then. The bullet lodged in the stout subflooring of the living room.

He said that he woke when he felt someone get on his bed. Standing over him was an apparition wrapped in what he thought was aluminum foil. Naturally, he shot at it. I mean naturally if you’re a gun owner.

Other than putting a hole in the ceiling and making me worry just a little bit about his stability, I understood. I told him the ghost was harmless and he went back to sleep as if I had given him a knock-out potion.

April 19th and for the following two nights, the screaming returned. For whatever reason the ghost didn’t wake my friend again who was sleeping mere steps from the torture room but decided to scream at me instead. I wondered if sleeping with a gun was such a bad idea.

About a month later, I started dating. I had known this woman for a while and this was not her first time in my house. She was a model as well, so it didn’t strike me as out of the ordinary when she took an intense interest in her image in the mirror of the dining room. What I did notice was Fozzie, remember my dog, standing in the corner of the room, hair raised, and gurgling a growl. The room chilled perceptibly as if a gigantic air conditioner had turned on.

I looked back at Barbara. Eyes locked with herself in the mirror, she mumbled a mantra, “It’s not me!” She took her long nails to her face. The first sight of blood sprung me to her side. I grabbed her hands to keep her from doing permanent damage. I thought about calling 911 but had no idea how to do it and still control her hands. I wished there was some way to just say, “Siri! Call 9-1-1!” But that wasn’t available then.

After a brief struggle, she stopped. I tended to her superficial wounds. She had no recollection of what had just happened, and accused me of scratching her until I she saw the specks of blood on the underside of her nails. For some reason, she stopped seeing me. Women!

A year passed with the same pattern. Two other people had interactions with the ghost that I didn’t witness. April 19th through the 21st the screaming recurred. It would wake me, I’d wait it out, then almost as soon as it stopped I’d fall back to sleep.

I was hired to write a libretto for a new opera and the producers moved me to New York for a short time to be close to them. The composer lived in Paris. Through the mail and telegraphs, we communicated through some of the most interesting French-English mishmash exchanges one could imagine. I wished there was some way to correspond instantly and maybe have a computerized translation as well.

One of the producers introduced me to a famous psychic who wanted to hire a ghostwriter for his memoir. Ironic? He was the soothsayer to the stars.

He invited me to his house which was opposite the old Saint Patrick’s just south of Houston on Mulberry. Seated in the solarium, we started the interview to see if I was a psychic fit for him—something I thought he should have been able to divine without my presence but what do I know of psychics. The doorbell rang and he excused himself. I was sitting there, probably picking my nose or something when in walked Princess Diana and a body guard. As she removed her scarf and sunglasses, she said, “Oh, hello!” To which I responded, being smart and very creative, “Hi…Di!” Her body guard whisked her out of the room afraid that I might say something even more insipid.

I sat there for a while. I could hear voices in another room, one of them feminine and British. It gave me time to think of all the things I could have said. Just as I was ready to find the Princess and say something more indicative of a person with a brain, Patrick walked in, excused himself and set another date for us to interview. As he was walking me to the door he said, “You have a ghost.” I, being smart and creative said, “Uh huh.”

“Dig up your backyard and you’ll release it.” He punctuated that with the close of the door behind me.

In the succeeding year, I relandscaped the yard. Not because of what the psychic had said but because I was bored.

I didn’t find any bones or bloody clothing or tools, but the house changed. No more screaming. No more things getting fixed by invisible hands. No more friends tearing their faces off or firing guns at the intangible. I wish I could say that I had one last visit where the ghost patted me on the head for helping him or her shuffle off this mortal coil, but no. Much like my marriage, it simply dissolved.  The haunting was so confined and regulated that it never became central to me. Just another odd link in the chain of events of a human life.

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One Response to “I Had a Ghost”

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