JACK AND THE GHOST
A Short Story
Harold (Jack) McLaughlin, Ph.D.
My friends, John and Mary (not their real names) moved into an old Victorian House about 35 or more years ago in a historic town in rural central Missouri. This story is about actual events but real names and places are not used to protect the privacy of the living -- and dead. This historic town is idyllic, small, with most of the Victorian homes legally designated as “historic” meaning, renovations must retain their original look. On the town’s east side is a beautiful natural lake, with many homes situated on the lake’s shore. Beautiful old trees, Oaks, Maples, Elms and Pine of many varieties line the streets of this old town.
During summer months, these huge old trees form a virtual tunnel of green through the town’s streets and pathways. For a few short weeks during the fall months, the leaves change, painting a picture of beautiful color, green, flaming red, orange and yellow and many shades in between. A large round clock sits on a tall pedestal in the meridian of main-street, providing the time of day for the convenience of all. Bells in a nearby church steeple gong at noon to alert townspeople and visitors alike that it is time for lunch.
Town center has a large ornate elevated gazebo where local talent provides free musical concerts on Friday and Saturday nights for the town’s people during the warm summer months. A cider mill is nearby is set back in an Oak woods where residents enjoy freshly squeezed Apple cider and warm donuts while their children play on swings and teeter totters. The entire area makes one feel like they have stepped back into the mid nineteenth century when the world moved slower and people were friendlier.
Our friend’s house is equally idyllic, built in 1890 on five acres of wooded land with a red barn in back of the property for storage of a motorized lawnmower and other tools needed to keep this old house and surrounding grounds in good repair. Two very old and knurled Apple trees in the backyard are beyond producing edible fruit but the visiting deer don’t seem to mind eating the bounty of countless bushels small wormy fruit they produce each year. A swing made from an a bald automobile tire suspended by a sturdy rope from a large knurled branch from one old Apple tree and is there for the pleasure of their visiting grand children and children of neighborhood children. In one corner of the yard is a small pond kept full of clean, cold, water from an underground spring. It is home to several species of fish such as Sunfish, Bluegill and Croppies as well as Snapping Turtles, Ducks and an occasional goose. John and Mary’s children enjoyed fishing this pond when they were young, and now their grandchildren and a new generation of great grandchildren enjoy it too.
This big, beautiful, three story home is situated on a country road outside of town. It is made of wood painted white with a porch that encircles the entire house, which is great for those summer barbeques. A large Gazebo sits on the shady side of the porch and provides protection from the sun and rain for family and guests when used in the summer and fall months for outdoor parties. Most of the glass windows throughout the house’s several stories are original, and have bubbly imperfections that make it difficult to replace when broken. The basement features a steam furnace that heats the house very efficiently with tall radiators in every room. This deep basement is also used as a cool pantry to store Mary’s home canned goods and for John’s workroom needed for his many tools to keep the house in repair.
The first floor houses the kitchen, dining room, sewing room, a tiny bathroom and living room, all with 12-foot ceilings. Their upstairs has five bedrooms and a bathroom. I’ve never been in the attic and have no desire to venture there for reasons that soon will become obvious.
When John and Mary moved into this house so many years ago, they found they had an unwelcome and permanent unwanted guest, a ghost. John was the first one to discover this active and mischievous ghost. One day, John returned for the local market with about a dozen cans of peaches and stored them in the kitchen pantry. The next day he wanted one of those cans and they were gone, nowhere to be found. He asked Mary if she had used them and she had not, in fact she had not seen them since John stored then in the pantry. His young son and daughter had not seen them either. He was perplexed and dismissed the issue, for the time being. He felt a more thorough search of the house would be in order the next day. However, the next day’s search of all rooms in the house, including the attic was fruitless (pun intended). More than a month passed then almost magically, the missing cans of Peaches had mysteriously reappeared, just where he had stored them and in the same order and position, as far as he could remember. Some months later, John put his wallet on his dresser as he usually did when he undressed and got ready for bed. The next morning his wallet was gone, disappeared, never to return again, ever. He was starting to get an eerie feeling about his house and wondered if indeed he had a permanent invisible houseguest.
His concerns increased when his young daughter said someone or something was pushing her down the stairway, from the second to first floor. This did not happen just once, but many times. Fortunately, each time this happened, his young daughter was able to recover her balance and no harm came to her. For some reason, John and Mary seemed to sense this entity was a little girl and they sought help to confirm their suspicions. Activity seemed to be greatest in a small sewing room adjacent to the master bedroom. Strange and unexplained things continued to happen in this room. Since this entity was not going to leave, they wondered what they could do, so they could peacefully co-exist as they loved this old house and didn’t want to move.
My mother was a psychic of sorts and was always giving her family and friends readings with Tarot cards. She was experienced in such matters because she and my father attended and hosted Spiritualists séances in their homes and their friend’s homes during the 1940’s and 1950’s when such a practice was in vogue. As a young boy, my older sister and I would put our ears to the cold air return register of our house and listen to the strange sounds and voices emanating from the basement where those spooky séances were conducted. Those voices and eerie sounds did not sound like the voices any of the attending Spiritualists nor of this world. Hearing those eerie sounds frightened my sister and I but we continued to listen and even looked forward to these strange sessions. I wonder, to this day, were those real or somehow manufactured by the Spiritualists themselves but doing so would be counter productive for their fellow member Spiritualists, especially since they rotated to meetings to one another’s houses..
John and Mary asked me to invite my mother to their house so she could give them her opinion if they had an unwelcome guest. My mother accepted their invitation. Upon her arrival, she went through the basement, and all the rooms in the first and second floors. She did indeed sense an entity and also felt it was a playful little girl, one who did not want to leave HER house to “strangers.” My mother had no suggestions for John and Mary how to co-exist with this now identified and unwelcome invisible little girl – playful or not!
Mary was not going to leave her house she loved so much because of this “playful” invisible imp. She thought and thought and finally decided to try to reason with her. One day she went into the small room thought to be the little girl’s and sat down and started to talk with her. First, Mary named her ghost, “Mary Jane” a nice name for a little girl; it may not have been her real name but it is better than calling her nothing. She then started her conversation by saying, “Now I don’t know your real name and since you can’t talk to me, I’ll refer to you as Mary-Jane. Mary –Jane, my name is Mary and my husband’s name is John. Our son’s name is Jim and our daughter’s name is Sally. We bought his house to be ours and now it belongs to us. This may have been your home at one time but now it is ours. We don’t mind sharing it with you so long as you behave by not taking our things and not push our daughter down the back stairway.” Mary continued these talks with Mary Jane almost every day for weeks.
Gradually, these conversations seemed to be effective as things disappeared then reappeared less and less frequently and Sally was not pushed down the steps any longer. Finally Mary Jane quieted down and only rarely would she pull pranks on them or their workers or friends. A truce seemed to exist between the family and Mary Jane.
But not completely! Mary’s large dining room, as was the rest of the house, decorated in early American, the period in which the house was built. Mary is quite creative and has a talent for decorating and quilting, her two great loves. In her dining room, she had a life size, department store mannequin beautifully dressed in period clothing. The arms of this mannequin were movable but not the wrists or hands. One day, Mary’s cleaning lady, Lois, was going about her duties, cleaning the floor and dusting when Mary asked Lois if she could manage on her own as she, Mary had to run some errands. Lois thought that would be fine, not a problem at all. Mary departed to complete her errands while Lois was all by herself in this very large, beautifully decorated house. Lois was then busy mopping Mary’s large dining room floor when Mary Jane had a mischievous moment. She somehow made the mannequin’s wrists move as though it was waving at Lois. Lois was frightened out of her wits, almost had a heart attack, and ran out of the house, not to return.
Upon her return home, Mary found the house open, a bucket and a mop in the middle of the floor and Lois not to be found. Mary telephoned her to find out why she left so quickly. She told Mary what happened and said she would not return, not as long as that spiritually activated mannequin was around and she’d never stay alone in her house.
Mary was quite annoyed with Mary Jane and had another heart to heart talk with her about this turn of events. Now Mary had to find a new cleaning lady, which was no easy task as the word spreads in a small community about what had happened at her house. The talk must have done some good as Mary Jane was quiet once again - for a time.
Several years later, John and Mary’s children grew up, moved away and started their own families. John was, at the time, renovating a room in the house and hired a handyman, expert in that particular task. The handyman had worked there for several days and became friends with John and they shared stories about their respective families. In so doing, John mentioned he had no children or grand children living with them in this big house, only he and his wife Mary. One day, John was at work and Mary was away doing errands. The handyman, who had not heard rumors about this house, arrived one-day to continue his work. He had a key to the house so he could work when John or Mary was not home. The handyman arrived one day, unloaded his tools and material he had brought for the job and in so doing, he looked up at the window in the attic. There he saw Many-Jane who had materialized her self, looking out the window at him. The handyman was so frightened; he dropped his tools, got back in the truck and drove away, not to return again.
When John and Mary returned, they found the handyman’s tools and material but no handyman in sight. John called him and the handyman told him what happened. John listened and understood. Now he had to find someone else to finish the job. Not an easy thing to do under the circumstances. Another talk with Mary Jane followed and she was quiet once again – for awhile.
My wife Ann and I owned our own business and throughout the years, traveled a great deal, often returning to this small town to visit John and Mary, staying with them in their haunted house. Since I have always had more than a passing interest in the paranormal, because of my parent’s activities in this field when I was a boy, I had always wanted to experience their ghost, Mary Jane. I always hoped to see or experience their “permanent house guest” but that was not to be, at least not for a while. However my wife did get such an opportunity some years after the workman’s incident. Mary Jane had been quiet during this period of relative peace.
One year, Ann had an occasion to visit John and Mary and upon her arrival she rented a car at the airport and drove to their house and was their guest for several days. Ann was given the room that Mary Jane seemed to occupy the most. Ann stored her rental car’s keys in her suitcase when she didn’t need to use them. On the day she needed the car, she searched for her keys and they were not to be found even though she removed everything for the suitcase. She had to call the rental car company who delivered her another set of keys. The next day, she was scheduled to leave John and Mary’s; she opened her suitcase to finish packing it for travel. When she opened it, her missing keys were right on top in easy view. Evidently, Mary Jane was up to her old antics.
A couple of years later, it was my turn to visit John and Mary’s as I was on a business trip in their area. I accepted their invitation to stay with them during my stay. I thought this might be my chance to have a sought after “encounter with Mary Jane” or so I thought. I was also given the room that Mary Jane was supposed to frequent the most. John had a plan to make my wish come true but kept it to himself.
That night I went to bed in the assigned room which was adjacent to John and Mary’s. At 2:30 a.m., my bed started to shake, hard enough to simulate a violent earth quake which of course awoke me. Even though I wanted an encounter with Mary Jane, I was frightened out of my wits. I got out of my shaking bed, and I too was shaking, removed a Crucifix from the wall and held it up over my head in hopes it would ward off this unwanted spirit. I ran to John and Mary’s room, wearing only my Jockey shorts, still holding the Crucifix over my head, yelling that Mary Jane was shaking my bed. They of course were very startled and concerned for my safety, or so it seemed. Even though John was startled, he was wearing a slight smirk. I got suspicious, returned to the room with my shaking bed, still shaking. I got on my hands and knees, looked under the bed and found a vibrator on a timer affixed to a hollowed out section of the mattress. By this time, John and Mary were howling with laughter. I had been had, really had, but good! I almost got my wish to see some of the “other side” but not in the way I had imagined. And yes, we are still friends to this day! Each time we get together, John, Mary, Ann, me and other friends, that story is retold, over and over, with a bit of embellishment with each telling. The joke was on me. That was more than 20 years ago but I still have to laugh at myself. And no, I still have not seen or met, the one I have wanted to meet for so many years, Mary Jane! Perhaps I will when it is my turn to “cross over” into the unknown.