Dale Jarvis’ “Haunted Ground” (Flanker Press) has reminded me of why I grew up shit-baked.
Fear of haunts of one sort or another kept my bowels blocked. Every shadowy droke, every wood-shrouded lane or road, every abandoned house was a hidey-hole from which a ghost — or whatever — might pounce on me, grab me by the laps of the arse and drag me off to the Old Boy.
Mr. Jarvis — sometimes addressed as the Ghost Man — reports a “snippet” regarding a ghost horse: “There was a story told of a horse with no head that could be seen along the road.”
I encountered that horse, or its spectral cousin. One dark evening while still a trembling bay-boy, I saw that headless nag in Charlie’s Droke. I had to past through the droke’s canopy of hundred-year-old firs to get home from Granny’s house. It didn’t help that, just as I was leaving Granny’s lane, Uncle Tack — the shagger — called, “Mind out for the headless horse.”
I heard the clop-clop of the ghost horse’s hooves when I reached the middle of the droke. I scuffed forward until I the horse’s ghostly-white, headless shoulders became visible in the night. Paralyzed — shit-baked — I looked and listened until the ghost horse vanished and the clop-clop ceased.
“Pshaw,” or words to that effect, said Pappy when I arrived home shaking in my boots. “What you saw, Harry, was Old Dan’s white arse-end. Old Dan’s headless white arse-end dodging along ahead of you.”
Sure it was, eh b’ys?
Whatever the case, I wasn’t a smidgen sorry when, in 1955, hurricane Ione reduced Charlie’s Droke to a rubble of hundred-year-old pick-up sticks.
Jarvis the Ghost Man recounts tales of tokens, ominous apparitions of folks not truly there — not truly here…
Stop me if I’ve told this tale before.
While attending MUN, I had a boarding mistress — Her Pappy could cast out spirits — who walked unperturbed among preternatural beings — ghosts and spirits, occasional hobgoblins … and tokens.
One morning when I came to breakfast it was obvious that Missis was crooked with her husband who sat humbly — as if recently chastised — pecking at his toast like a chooky-hen.
I lifted questioning eyebrows.
“Guess what he did on the road to Kelligrews last night?” she asked.
I kept my eyebrows raised.
“I told him there was a token of Uncle Festus standing in the road. Did he heed me? No sir. The frigger ran right over him.”
Reason enough for marital discord, I s’pose, eh b’ys?
“A Smell of Death” is the title of one of Mr. Jarvis’ yarns: “I have heard eerie stories about someone catching a whiff of their long-departed grandfather’s pipe tobacco.”
Apparently, the scent of lavender often accompanies visitors from the Other Side — or from This Side … although not seen by most of us.
My same boarding mistress told me about when she was a young girl and used to sleep with her widowed granny for company — a common practice during dark and stormy nights.
“In the middle of the night Granny’s bed started to shake and bang on the floor and all the while Granny slept like the dead. A woman in a flowing white dress appeared at the foot of the bed and stared straight at me…and the lovely smell of lavender filled the bedroom.”
Since hearing that story and others like it, I can’t abide the smell of lavender. Forget lavender, for frig sake I’m uneasy if I sniff lilacs at the midnight hour.
Here’s another reason why my bowels still sometimes clench bar tight.
As you know, in a previous life I was an English teacher. A student whose mother, years earlier, had hanged herself in the basement, told me this, perhaps hoping I might have an explanation: “Every year on the day Mom died, I smell her perfume in the basement.”
I had no explanation. I didn’t feel it was an appropriate time to quote Shakespeare: “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of…”
No, I’m not mentioning the Old Hag.
I will mention my favourite line from “Haunted Ground.” It appears in parenthesis in “The Boulevard’s Black and White Ghost.”
According to the story, young boys intending to go trouting in Quidi Vidi Lake, used to dig worms in nearby Mount Carmel Cemetery.
Why would they risk God’s wrath, or encounters with demons, or — p’raps — eternal damnation, for a few worms?
The answer is a gem-dandy one:
(graveyard worms were the best)
Thank you for reading.
— Harold Walters lives Happily Ever After in Dunville, in the only Canadian province with its own time zone. How cool is that? Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org