I have been chastised by my most faithful reader, “Enough of your crazy ranting! I want something fun to read.”
Actually, she was much nicer than that but I did get the message. Here, in atonement, is one of my short stories. I promise to work on more of the fun things in the future.
Uncle Henry’s Ghost
Having little to his name when he died, the reading of Henry Fromm’s will went quickly. And, of course, since young nephew William was the only living relative, there would have been little time required in any case.
Bill trudged home slowly after the reading. His hope for inheriting a bank account full of cash had been dashed at the reading. After all of the expenses were paid there was hardly the equal of a week of Bill’s salary left. Uncle Henry’s little bungalow on the edge of town was not what he wanted for his new home and it wouldn’t sell for much. It was too small and too far out of the way.
Bill and Margaret were engaged and between them, they had little in the way of financial support to start their wedded life. He had hoped to get something of value from Uncle Henry’s estate to help them start their own life.
“Well,” he thought, “we had nothing before and now we have more than nothing. I should be happy for that. I just hope Meg feels that way.”
“Hi Meg,” he called when he saw her bounding toward him.
“Hi Billy. Ohhh, we’re not rich, are we?” She said as she noticed his crestfallen expression.
“Well, I got everything he had, but it’s not much.”
“Don’t look so sad! We have each other, we have jobs and now we have something more than we had before. What did he leave to you?”
“There’s almost no money left at all. The only thing of value is his little house and no one will want that.”
“I think that’s exciting! Let’s go take a look at it. Can we go inside?”
“Yeah, I have the keys to the place. When do you want to go?”
“Let’s go right now.”
“Ok, hop in the car. You know, Meg, I’m so happy that you’re taking this so well. I was worried that you’d be disappointed.”
“Bill Fromm! I am surprised and hurt that you would think I’d feel bad about not getting enough from an inheritance! I thought you knew me better than that.”
“I know you’re a wonderful person. But, you know, I want you to have everything. I want you to be happy and never want for anything again. I guess I was worried that you would be as disappointed as I was.”
Bill turned the key and, after a few sputters, the old car coughed, groaned, shook and roared as it struggled back to life.
“I’m surprised that you were disappointed.” Meg shouted over the noisy car. “I never thought you were greedy or envious.”
“No, it wasn’t envy or greed. I just wanted so much to have something really special for you.”
Meg leaned over and kissed his cheek, “Ok, so you’re a softhearted sweetie and I love you. Now let’s go see your new house.”
The brakes cried in agony as the car stopped in from of Uncle Henry’s little house. The mostly white picket fence needed a little repair and a paint job, but it could be an attractive feature. The yard had clearly been untended for a long time. Weeds and grass, previously pulled and mown, were now showing weeks of unhindered growth and threatened to hide the cottage completely.
A pile of old, yellowed newspapers adorned the front step and the mailbox spouted a wad of papers and envelopes almost as high as the weeds in the yard. But the house itself appeared to be well maintained with nice, fresh paint, solid rain gutters and a good looking roof.
“It looks so quaint! I bet there are lots of people who would like this place. I kind of like it myself,” Meg said as they surveyed it from the car.
“Quaint is an interesting way to say old, crummy and run down.” Bill answered. “Well let’s go in and take a look around.”
“Quit being such an old grouch. Other than needing a bit of yard maintenance, it looks really nice. Now put on your smile and let’s go in and see what your new place looks like.”
The gate took some pulling and pushing before it could be coaxed into opening once more. The hinges squeaked as Bill pushed it aside. But the key turned easily in the lock and the door swung open with no squeaks or groans.
“Well, it seems that at least the door is in good shape,” Bill grumbled.
“Quit griping and get inside. Let’s raise the shades and open a few windows,” Meg said. “It’s too dark and stuffy to get a good feeling for the place.”
Meg quickly took care of the shades and the windows while Bill took a quick walk through the remaining rooms.
“Everything looks pretty good,” he called to her. “There is a room here that has a lot of boxes of stuff. We’ll have to sort through it and dump the junk.”
“That sounds exciting! Let’s start now.”
“It’ll be time for dinner in a little while. We won’t be able to do much today. Maybe we should come back this weekend and take look.”
“Is something bothering you?” Meg asked. “I’m surprised you’re not more excited than I am about this.”
“No, nothing that I can put my finger on. I’m just a little uncomfortable. I never was in Uncle Henry’s house before; I feel like I’m sneaking and snooping. Maybe I’ll get over it soon. Well, let’s get the first box and we can get started today.”
Bill carried one of the boxes into the sitting room and set it on the floor in front of Meg. Sitting across from her, he ceremoniously opened the box and they both peered inside.
“Papers! A whole box full of old papers, letters and documents. Now we’ll have to look at every one to determine what’s important,” Bill complained.
“Look at the date on this one,” Meg exclaimed. “They’re really old. These must have been from his parents or grandparents. He wasn’t old enough to be signing papers so long ago.”
Taking the paper from Meg, Bill peered very closely at it, as if he understood exactly what it meant. “Wow! This is dated more than one hundred years ago. It must be from his grandfather, not his father. Some of this stuff might be valuable just because it’s so old.”
Meg and Bill both jumped at the deep bass voice coming from the doorway.
“Who are you? What are you doing in here?” Bill demanded.
“I am the caretaker of the house. Where is Henry?” The visitor demanded in return.
“I didn’t know Uncle Henry had a caretaker. Why is the yard so unkempt? And why is mail still in the box and papers piled on the porch?”
“I am neither the gardener nor Henry’s employee. I take care of the house. And you say you are Henry’s nephew. I didn’t know he had any relatives.”
“How can you be the caretaker but not work for Henry?” asked Meg. “Who do you work for?”
“And you are…” was his icy response to her question.
“She is my fiancée. But just answer the question,” Bill demanded.
“I am the caretaker of this house. I always have been the caretaker of the house. I work for no one.”
“Listen,” Meg replied, “if you don’t give us a straight answer, I’m going to find a cop and have you arrested!”
“A cop indeed, that would be interesting.”
Shouting, Bill replied, “Listen, this is my house now and you are trespassing. You can tell us who you are and why you are here or you can leave immediately, or else I will have you arrested.”
“Patience young man. I am William Boyd, but I doubt that you have heard of me. I built this house and I have taken care of it since then. I think you are the trespasser here.”
“That’s enough of this nonsense. Meg, run out and find a cop. I’m going to stay here to watch this guy. Hurry!”
Meg ran to the doorway and tried to push past the stranger but she went right through him like passing through a bit of fog. She tumbled to the floor, jumped up and ran back right through the strange figure to Bill.
“My God! I went right through him!” she squeaked as she clung to Bill.
“I don’t like you!” the visitor boomed in his deep bass voice. “You ask too many questions. I liked Henry; he was quiet, he never asked questions. You are going to have to leave my house now!”
“We’re not leaving!” Meg replied defiantly. With a tear in her eye and a catch in her throat, she was not about to back down. “I don’t care who or what you are. You are going to have to leave our new house!”
“Well young lady, I never used to believe in ghosts, but I have finally accepted the fact that I am a ghost. As you noticed, you can go through me and I can go through walls. Now there is nothing you can do to me, but I can make you very miserable. I never sleep and I never go out. As long as you are in this house I can torment you.”
The ghost almost seemed to be giving off a reddish glow. “So, you will leave my house! You can leave now and be happy, or you can wait until I have made you into a screaming maniac and you are carried off to an asylum.”
“Well sir,” the defiant Meg replied, standing up to face the ghost. “You can live peacefully with us, or we can sell it. Then it will be torn down and a gas station built here. How would you like to haunt a gas station?”
“You probably shouldn’t be threatening a ghost,” Bill warned her in a whisper.
“I’ll threaten him alright! I’ll put him out in the street and pour concrete where his house used to be!”
“You can’t threaten me!” he boomed. The reddish glow was clear now.
Suddenly the glow faded and he asked, “What is a gas station?”
“Hah! You don’t even know what the world is like now. People don’t use horses anymore. They ride in cars that are stinky, dirty things that ooze toxic liquids and spew noxious gasses. They use gasoline for fuel in the cars and they buy that in a gas station.
“So your house will be knocked down and hauled to the dump. They’ll dig a big hole where it stood and put in tanks full of poisonous gasoline. Then people will drive through what used to be your garden and fill up the fuel tanks in their cars.
“You lovely house will be gone and the ground will be full of poison! Would you like that better than having us move in with you? We can be your friends, and when we have children, you can play with them as well. You can stay here as long as you like and enjoy life. Or death? Whatever it is that you are now, you can be it with us living here with you or you can have nothing.”
“Would that really happen? Has the outside world gone so bad since I left it?”
“Yes that would really happen and no, the world has not gone bad. There are some things, like gasoline, that are bad but many, many things are better. It’s is really a wonderful place. I think you should join us and go out to see the world.”
“I can never leave this house. This is very difficult. I don’t like change. I want my quiet little house where I am peaceful and happy. What would happen if you filled the place with running, noisy children? I’d never know another moment of peace. I just don’t know what to say.”
“There’s nothing difficult about it. You just go on as you have been and we join you. I’m sure you’ll love the children. How does ‘Grandpa Boyd’ sound?”
“It sounds absolutely frightening. I have not been around a child for more than a hundred years. Don’t they run around and make noise and throw things around and make messes?”
“Yes they do, and you’ll love it. You never have to clean up the messes and you can run right with them and make your own noise. I assume ghosts never get tired; you might be able to keep up with them.”
“Hey, turn the power rangers back on! I love that episode.”
“Grandpa Boyd! The TV has to be turned off and the boys have to eat lunch.”
“Meg, you have always been a tough one to deal with,” Grandpa Boyd said as he eased into the rocking chair. “I just wish I could make this thing rock!”