Have you ever noticed that just about every horror movie you see or story you read starts off with a bad decision that snowballs until it turns into a big ball of shit that eventually hits a fan at some point? That’s my life summed up. You would think that after watching so many horror movies and making so many of those crucial bad decisions I would know when I was about to fuck up and not do it. You would be wrong. This one didn’t even seem like that big of a deal, honestly. Hell, I thought it would be a great idea; there’s no way I could have known that thing was…you know what? I’m getting ahead of myself here. Let’s start from the beginning:
My friend John owns something like 200 acres in rural east Tennessee. It’s mostly pasture land with one of those classic red barns that’s mostly just a giant storage room now, a big four bedroom ranch style house that John and his family live in, and an old abandoned house out in the field. The land has been in his family for over a hundred years. He had gotten the land and everything on it from his parents before they moved to Florida. It was a nice piece of land with an excellent view and some interesting history.
We were having a drink on his back porch enjoying that view when the subject of the old house came up. John’s oldest boy was about to graduate high school and we were brainstorming on how to best build him an apartment in the barn so he could still be close to home but have his own space.
“Hell, it would almost be easier to just go out there and fix up that old house. It looks pretty solid still. It probably wouldn’t take much to turn it into a cool little bachelor pad,” I said, motioning toward the little white house with my glass.
“Nope.” John replied a little too quickly.
“Damn. Like that?” I asked, raising an eyebrow, “Just ‘nope’? What’s up with that house?”
“Granny was in that back room when the cancer took her. Few months later, Granddad passed away in his office. Said he died of a broken heart. Whatever the hell that means.” he finished his drink and sat the glass down a little harder than necessary, “look, I’m not saying that house is haunted but it’s been empty for damn near forty years. Me and my cousins used to dare each other to go out there and spend the night. None of us lasted more than twenty minutes before getting scared and running out of there. The place just don’t feel right.”
“So you’re telling me,” I started, lighting a cigarette, “that you’ve had a goddamned haunted house in your back yard this whole time and this is the first you’re telling me about it? Seriously? I got a couple flashlights in the car. I’m just sayin’.”
John looked at me without saying a word and shook his head, “Why the hell do you think I haven’t said anything about it til now? I’ve got no desire to go in there,” he paused and let out a heavy sigh, “If I tell you no, are you going to bust my balls about it every time I see you like you did with that damned cave?”
“ I mean,” I said with a shrug, “probably. Besides, who the hell has a cave on their property and doesn’t check it out? That was awesome and you know it. Come on man! Let’s have another drink, I’ll go get the flashlights, and we can go poke around. If you get the heebie jeebies, we can leave.”
“Okay, yeah. The cave was pretty great, even if that…whatever it was about ruined my favorite boots. ” he looked down at his scuffed work boots and shook his head, “fuck it dude, let’s do it.”
“That’s what the fuck I’m talking about brotha man! I’ll go get the flashlights and another pack of smokes out of the car. Do you have keys or do I need to grab the crowbar, too?”
“I’ve got keys no need for breaking and entering today. I’ll get them, you get the lights and we’ll go. It’s gonna be dark before too long and flashlight or no, I’m not trying to be out there after dark.”
The house looked good for having been empty since the late seventies. They had always kept up the area around it; nobody wanted to do anything with the old house but they didn’t want nature to take it back, either. Inside it was dusty and smelled like an attic. Most of the furniture had been taken out long ago; leaving a few chairs and end tables here and there. It didn’t feel like any abandoned place I had ever been in, though. It was more like looking at a house to rent than exploring a house that had been empty as long as I’ve been alive.
Despite the dust, it was a really nice little house. John’s grandparents were fairly well off and the interior of the house showed it. We walked through the living room with its fireplace that managed to still look inviting after all this time, into the kitchen with the butcher block countertops, and then down the hall. This is where I could tell John was starting to get nervous; his movements were a little stiffer and when he spoke his words were dripping with tension. The front of the house was fine but his grandparents had died in two of the three rooms down this hall. Haunted or not, the air felt heavy.
“Hey man,” I said just above a whisper, “if you don’t want to go back here we don’t have to.” Truth be told I was feeling kind of like a dick at this point. My excitement at the prospect of checking out a creepy old house got in the way of realizing that I jus t asked John to go look at where his grandparents kicked the bucket. Looking back, it was definitely a dick move on my part.
“No. We’re here. We might as well check it all out,” he said. I could tell by the sound of his voice that he felt like he had something to prove. More to himself than to me, I’m sure.
He opened the first door and our flashlight beams moved over the smooth tile, his came to rest on the tub. It was one of those big claw-foot things with a shower curtain that completely encircled it. At this point I almost wanted to move in down here. The whole room was done up in white marble and chrome and looked like it had just been cleaned. If you looked past the dust, that is.
“I have pictures of me and Brandon in that tub when we were little. Damn thing was like a swimming pool for us,” he said before continuing down the hall, “this was their bedroom,” he shined his light on the door at the end of the hall. “That’s where…”
“Yeah bro, I know. Look man, we don’t have to go-“
His only reply was to swing the door open slowly and step inside. I followed close behind him. The room was empty and dark. Thick curtains on the windows kept the light from breaking through.
“Their bed was over in that corner,” he motioned with his light, “to catch the cross breeze from the windows. That big chest of drawers I’ve got in my room was here,” he pointed to a space near the door.” That’s about all I remember. I wasn’t allowed back here much, especially when Granny took sick.”
The silence hung in the air for a moment before John perked up, “Come on, let’s go check out the office. You’ll love it.”
He led the way back down the hall to the door across from the bathroom. This room was also empty save for a desk that seemed to be built directly into the wall under a small window, “Most mornings, Granddad would sit here at this desk with his first cup of coffee and watch the sun come up. This is also where Granddad came to write. He’d lock himself away in here and wouldn’t come out unless he absolutely had to. He was published you know? He wrote a couple westerns. Never really made any money on it, but he sure was proud of it.”
“That’s really cool,” I said running my fingers over the glass-smooth desktop, leaving streaks in the dust, “you got copies of them? I can dig a good western from time to time.”
“Somewhere on one of the bookshelves, yeah. Remind me when we get back to the house and I’ll see if I can find ‘em.”
John was right. I loved this room. The dark wood paneling on the walls and this built in desk gave the room a different vibe than the rest of the house. It was more like a study than an office; it looked like something out of the movies, where old guys would gather for brandy and cigars. It was just a bit smaller. I was admiring the paneling when my flashlight beam found the second door in the room.
“What’s in there?”
“Just a closet, go ahead and check it out.”
He didn’t have to tell me twice. I walked over and opened the door. It was a small storage closet done in the same dark wood and it was empty except for what looked like a small suitcase one the floor. Maybe it was full of old manuscripts, or photo albums, hell it could have been full of royalties from those westerns.
“Bro, there’s a little suitcase in here. Want to check it out? Never know what could be in it.”
“Grab it and bring it with us. I’m ready to get the fuck out of here, man.”
“Yeah, me too,” I said over my shoulder while reaching for the handle, “I think it’s about time for another drink anyway,” The excitement about the aspect of checking out a spooky old house had faded and was replaced with the feeling that we were somewhere that we didn’t belong. I no longer wanted to have anything to do with this house. I wasn’t about to admit that to him, though.
The leather of the strap was strangely cold in my hand and the little case was heavier than it had any business being. I lifted it up and looked it over; the brown and gray tweed fabric looked almost new, no sign of moths or mice chewing on it at all and the whole damned case was as cold as the handle. I should have thought that was weird but I was too busy wondering what could be in it. I wasn’t hoping to get rich or anything, this was John’s find, after all. I just hoped that there was a cool story in the case. Boy, was there ever.
The walk back to the house was a silent one. I could tell that I wasn’t the only one who had started to feel the wrongness of the old house but neither of us wanted to admit it. The sun was just about to disappear behind the trees when we stepped into the dining room and I could finally set the case down on the table. John grabbed the whiskey and tossed ice in a couple glasses. It was definitely time for a drink.
“What do you think is in it?” I asked finally breaking the silence, “my money is on either brick samples or gold bars. That son of a bitch is heavy.”
“Honestly, I’m hoping for photo albums or something. I don’t reckon it would be anything too valuable. We won’t know ‘til we open it, though.”
“Go ahead man, it’s your family. I just happened to spot it. The suspense is killing me,” I slid the case across the table to him and sipped my drink, “absolutely killing me.”
He laughed and set his drink down on the table, pulled the case over to him, and muttered something about “cold” under his breath before sliding the zipper around the case. He paused for dramatic effect, a grin spreading across his face, and then slowly opened the lid.
“Well I’ll be damned,” he said sliding the case over to me, “we were both wrong.”
I opened it up and saw a small portable typewriter in great condition. It was a deep maroon color and vaguely made me think of what would happen if a muscle car and a cash register had a baby. The thing was beautiful but it damned sure wasn’t what either of us were expecting.
“Is this the one he wrote the westerns on?” I asked, running my fingers over the keys.
“Nah, he wrote those on an old black Royal. Dad’s got it down in Florida. This must’ve been his backup or something. It’s pretty nice though. I’m surprised it sat down there all these years. You know how to work one of those things?”
“Not really but I bet my good pal Google could teach you how real quick,” I was already reaching for my phone, “long as you’ve got paper and all that.”
John laughed, “Last time I wrote something longer than a text message, I was in high school. You’d get more use out of it than me.”
“Are you sure, man? I mean this is-“
“I’m positive,” he cut me off, “this thing would end up getting moved from place to place here until Janet told me to tote it out to the barn to get it out of the way. If you’ll use it, you can have it.”
If I would have said no that’s’ where the story would have ended. I could have thought of a handful of reasons why I didn’t need an antique typewriter but that’s not what happened. It was just too damned cool to pass up. I don’t know which decision was worse, carrying the case out of the old house or bringing it back to my place. Either way, mistakes were definitely made that night.
After taking the typewriter out of the case, finding the little plate with all the information on it, doing some Google-Fu, and making a couple of trips to the local office supply shop I had a working typewriter. I also had nothing to do with it. So I decided to sit down and type my mom a letter. When I started typing I noticed that it was cold and not just the metal. The keys are thick white plastic and they were cold too. I figured that it was just that I don’t keep it very warm in my house and there’s always a fan on in the office but it didn’t warm up. I typed two pages and even the metal ledge below the spacebar where my thumb was resting remained cold to the touch. I thought it was pretty weird but I’m no stranger to weird shit so I grabbed an envelope and set about getting the letter ready to drop in the mail box.
That night I had a dream that I was sitting in the old empty house. A brass lamp spilled light over the oak desk and my hands were resting on the little maroon typewriter. I was looking out the window over the sprawling fields, the sun was setting behind the trees in a weird time lapse instead of rising but it should have been beautiful all the same. This one was grey with only hints of the fiery oranges and pinks that should have been vibrant against the brown grass and barren trees.
I looked down when I heard the sound of the carriage of the typewriter resetting. I didn’t realize that I had been tapping at the keys but I definitely was. In fact, I was typing a suicide note. I can’t remember it verbatim but I do remember it saying something about all the joy leaving the world with Hannah. I finished typing the note, folded it up, and set it on the desk. Then I slipped the typewriter back into its case and placed it in the back corner of the closet and lifted the pistol from the top shelf.
I woke up in a cold sweat struggling to catch my breath, “fuck me,” I muttered, reaching for my phone and smokes on the night stand, “here we go again.” It was five in the morning on a Saturday and I had a funny feeling that I wouldn’t be going back to sleep any time soon.
I had no idea what John’s grandparents names were but I was pretty sure that Granny and Granddad were not the names they were given at birth. In fact, I would be willing to bet that Granny’s name was Hannah. It would be another two or three hours before John was awake enough to want to talk to anyone and I honestly don’t like having weird conversations before ten. So I had some time to kill. Maybe I was wrong. Maybe it was just that I had a few too many drinks and ate too much spicy food before bed. It could totally just be a dream but I had my doubts.
I decided that I would make a pot of coffee, smoke a bowl, and do some gaming. Being alone in the house meant that I could partake of the devil’s lettuce without hiding out in my tool shed. So, I settled into my chair, packed my favorite one hitter, grabbed my controller, and prepared to rid the world of some bad guys. I was a bowl and a couple of kill streaks into the morning when I heard someone moving around in the other room. “Babe?” I called, before I remembered that she and our son were visiting her parents for the weekend. I sighed heavily and muttered, “Fuck my life,” before getting up, grabbing my fire poker and walking down the hall.
I was psyching myself up the whole way down the hallway. The noise was coming from behind the closed door of my office. There were a ton of little collectible things, my laptop, everything I’d written in the past ten years or so, and a bunch of personal information in there. Why couldn’t they be burgling my kitchen or something? I raised the poker with my right hand ready to completely fuck up someone’s day and wrapped my left around the door handle and turned it slowly. I wanted to be as quiet as possible, throw the door open, and get the element of surprise. After a couple deep breaths I was as ready for this bullshit as I was going to get. I burst through the door, poker held high.
You guessed it. No one was there; the house was, for all intents and purposes, empty. This was less relieving than you’d think it would be. I was trying to convince myself that I was just really stoned and was doing a damn fine job of it, too. That is, until I noticed that the typewriter was out of its case, sitting on my desk. I knew I had put it away after using it because that’s where my laptop usually sits but there it was just sitting there in the middle of my desk. Have you ever felt like an inanimate object was staring you down? That’s how I felt. That damned typewriter was giving me the evil eye and I knew it. My laptop was in its case in the chair in front of the typewriter. That’s exactly where it doesn’t belong. I had had a few beers after I got home but not enough to make me leave a fragile and important thing in a chair. I was nigh certain that there was some fuckery afoot.
“No. Not today. No way. Nuh-uh,” I said before putting the world’s rudest typewriter back in its case and zipping it up, “I ain’t the one!” I yelled to the empty room as I walked back to the den, poker still in tow, to continue my digital killing spree. This time, I turned on some tunes to drown out any more potential interruptions. It was entirely too early for this bullshit.
Around noon I finally texted John, Hey broham, weird question.
It didn’t take long for my phone to chirp, Okay. Shoot.
He’s known me long enough to be used to me asking him weird shit. He’s usually a good sport about it, too. What was your Granny’s name?
A minute or so later, Why?
I asked you first, man.
The reply came back almost instantly, Hannah and Granddad’s name was Hobert, Bert for short. Now tell me what your sudden interest in my family tree is. We’re not doing another séance. Don’t even ask.
Surprise, surprise. That was the answer I was expecting but it damn sure wasn’t the one I wanted. I wanted to believe that I just had a nightmare and forgot to put the typewriter up. I couldn’t do that anymore. John really fucked up my afternoon and my buzz.
No way. I swore off séances and you know it. I’m gonna come by and explain in a few. Wanna burn?
I’ll be in the barn.
Pond session here I come!
I grabbed all the necessary items and headed out the door. Before stepping outside I yelled back into the house, “Don’t fuck anything up while I’m gone, okay? I’ll be back in a couple hours or so.” Sometimes you have to let them know you’re not scared or at least try to make the believe it. I was pretty spooked, if I’m being honest, but I wasn’t about to let ol’ Bert know that. My foot and eyelids were heavy on the way out of town. This was not how I wanted to spend my weekend. It was supposed to be a relaxing weekend. Maybe I’d get some work done or just kill a bunch of aliens. Being wrapped up in some paranormal family secret bullshit was NOT on my agenda. You know what they say about plans making gods laugh, though. I rolled down the windows and cranked up the stereo.
It wasn’t long before me and John were sitting in wooden lawn chairs on the dock of his pond passing a pipe back and forth talking about wives, kids, school functions, work, and avoiding the reason I was there in general until finally he turned to me, “Alright, man, what’s the deal?”
I grunted out “mm-hmm” around the cigarette I was lighting and nodded. “This is going to sound crazy but I had a dream last night…”
I told John all about the dream and since he didn’t look quite pale enough, I told him about the typewriter staring at me this morning. That pushed him over the edge, I think. You ever watch somebody try to process something that heavy while under the inluence of top shelf pot? It’s kind of funny, in a sadistic way. You gotta get your laughs when you can though, right? My inability to suppress a stupid grin made It take a little harder to assure John that I was not, in fact, fucking with him.
He pointed to my cigarette pack, “I’m gonna need one of those after that.”
“No, sir! You start smoking again and Janet finds out it was my fault, she’ll have my balls in a blender and then I’ll have my ol’ lady all up my…” from the look on his face I could tell he was not in the mood for my shit, “sorry man,” I said handing my pack and lighter over to him.
He lit up, coughed a little and handed my smokes back, he was all business at this point, “So, what are you going to do?”
“Shit man, I don’t know. I figure I’ll break out the sage, sweet grass, and then fan.I’ll give the typewriter a good smudging. Maybe put it in a salt circle. Worst case scenario, I’ll call Uncle and see what he says about it.”
John stood up and stretched, “I reckon I should call dad and have a heart to heart.”
I nodded and stood up, brushing nonexistent dust off my jeans, “I guess I’ll be hitting the trail then. Sorry to come fuck your day up,” I fished what was left of the bag I had brought with me out of my pocket, “Here, something tells me you’re going to need this later. I’ll just make a stop on the way home.” He considered it for a moment before taking the sack and stuffing it into his pocket.
He thanked me and we did one of those super manly handshake hug things and I went on my way. I made a couple stops on the way home, and sat in my driveway staring at the front door. Inside that house was the ghost of a very sad old man trapped in the typewriter that he probably used to write his suicide note. I had to proceed with extreme caution. I imagined things could get dicey in a hurry and on top of that, this was my best friend’s grandpa, not just some flea market ashtray ghost. He was also old school. He would expect respect and honestly probably deserved it. I took a deep breath. Respect and courtesy were the order of the day.
I walked through my front door and it was a fucking meat locker in there. I could see my breath and hear the typewriter clicking away in the office, “Goddamn it, Bert!” I bellowed, slamming the door behind me. The typewriter fell silent. “I know I wasn’t super clear but turning my house into a freezer when it’s fifty five degrees outside kind of falls under the fucking things up while I’m gone category,” I said in a tone I use when lecturing my second-grader. I guess respect and courtesy went out the window for a second there.
“Hey, sorry about that, Bert. I get it, okay? I can imagine you were heartbroken, but you can see her on the other side if you just cro-“the office door slammed. “Motherfucker,” I muttered under my breath. “Alright man, if that’s the way you want it!”
This was not going to fucking cut it. No sir. Not today. Some spirits just can’t be reasoned with. I stormed out the back door to my shed. This was more than just a place to store the Christmas tree and get stoned when my family was home. No. This is where I kept my nifty little cedar chest full of hard to explain items.
I was still cussing Bert out under my breath when I opened the chest and the mingled smell of cedar and sage filled my nostrils; there’s something about that smell that always seems to calm my nerves and anything calming was much needed at this point. I took out a smudge stick made of sweetgrass and white sage, a fan made of buzzard’s wing feathers, and a leather pouch of salt about the size of a baseball. This was not how I wanted to spend my afternoon but hey, shit happens, right?
If I didn’t get this sorted out quick I wouldn’t have to worry about Janet smelling smoke on John and putting my balls in a blender. If my wife found out that I had brought another ghost home because I couldn’t turn down some nifty looking antique thing she’d have my ass. This would be the bone ashtray incident all over again but worse. I had less time in my schedule for a fight with Wanda than I did for this ghost fuckery.
I took a deep breath and walked to the back door. The handle was cold as ice and I could already hear the typewriter in there clicking away. I took a moment to wonder what ol’ Bert was in there writing and then to consider whether or not my tongue would stick to the door handle thendecided that there was only one way to find out. I stepped inside.
“Hey, Bert, sorry about losing my cool, I just wasn’t expecting you to have made yourself so comfortable so fast. I’m going to come back there and we’re going to have a little chat,” I was practicing using my calmest most apologetic tone, just in case, and I don’t think he was buying it. Hell, I don’t know if he even heard me. Nothing in the house changed: it was cold as fuck and the typewriter sounded like some kind of alien machine gun.
The office door was open when I got to it and the air inside was like the dead of winter. There was ice forming around the corners of the window. There’s no way I was going in there without a jacket, I would catch my death of cold! The last thing I needed was to get sick on top of all this shit. After grabbing a hoodie and winter hat, I walked into the office slowly, making my way toward the typewriter and the neat stack of paper set beside it. There had to be seventy-five pages there. This guy cranked out damn near a hundred pages in an afternoon. Even the dead work harder than me. Jesus. “Uh, howdy Bert, uh, Hobert, or uh, Mr. Wilcox,” I stumbled over my words. It wasn’t just the cold. This man’s sadness was creeping into my bones. Part of me just wanted to sit down in that chair and watch him write until I froze to death but I knew I couldn’t do that. I still had plans this weekend and if I croaked and left a ghost in the house, I’d be in really deep shit. No time to die now. “I’ve heard a lot about you, sir. John and me have been friends for as long as I can remember. They always talked about what a good man you were and…” I trailed off. The typing had stopped leaving cold silence in its wake. “Any objection to me checking out what you’ve got going on here?” I pointed to the stack of paper on the desk and took a step closer to the desk.
The typewriter came to life once again, Go ahead.
“Oh Jesus Christ, this is what we’re doing here. This day just keeps getting better,” I thought as I picked up the a sheet of paper and it didn’t take long to recognize it. This wasn’t the first draft of a spaghetti western. It was that fucking suicide note from the dream, “I’m going to go out on a limb here and assume that the rest of the stack is the same thing,” I said looking down at the typewriter.
Could be. Not sure.
It was. I looked through the stack and it was the same bleak message over and over again.
There is nothing left in this life for me. I do love you all but you must understand that when Hannah left this world she took all the joy in it with her. The sunrise ha no color now and all of life feels cold. My will is in the top drawer of the dresser. Please, find it in your hearts to forgive me.
-Bert Wilcox III
I put the papers back in their neat stack on the desk and set to work, “I just want you to know that I’m trying to help. I can’t imagine the amount of pain you have been feeling all these years,” I circled the typewriter in salt. “No one blames you for what you did. Hell, apparently John doesn’t even know. Don’t worry, if he finds out I give you my word it won’t be from me.” I was just waiting to be thrown across the room or something equally as bad. We had established a pattern here, after all.
The typewriter tapped again Thank you. Talk about pleasant surprises.
I lit the braided sage and sweet grass. “You’re welcome. I really hope this helps, sir. I want you to be able to rest easy, to see your Hannah again.” I took the fan in my right hand using it to direct the smoke over the keyboard and carriage of the typewriter and into the air while humming a prayer song Uncle taught me as a boy. My mind wondered as the smoke flowed over the keys and into the tiny metal arms, the melody of the song was as natural to me as walking. This was getting way too common. Maybe I should stop bringing home antiques and poking around in abandoned places; I should start making better choices, for sure
I’m not sure how long I was there, praying, smudging, and talking to Bert. The air in the room eventually warmed up and the ice melted from the window. Smudging the rest of the house was something that I felt was a necessity at this point if only for my peace of mind. So that’s what I did. I was proud of myself. I had picked up a haunted object, it infected my house, I had helped Bert cross over, saved my own ass, and I still had a day to kill before my family returned home.
I rolled a celebratory joint, lit a couple scented candles and started scrolling through movies looking for something to watch, I was just thinking that nothing could ruin this evening when my phone went off. It was a text from John.
We need to talk. OMW.
Sure, I felt like a dick for dragging John into that house but I can’t think of a more sadistic thing to text someone. I don’t care if it’s your wife, a business partner, your parents, or your friend that you inadvertently drug into some weird ghost shit “we need to talk,” is never a good text to get. Add the “on my way,” to it and it just gets worse. Can we, as a society, agree that this is terrible and stop doing it?
I didn’t even answer the text. I knew John, he was already in his truck pulling out of the driveway when he sent that text and he wouldn’t look at his phone again until he pulled in. I assumed that John had talked to his dad and now I didn’t need to worry about keeping a secret anymore. Which would make filling him in on the events of the afternoon that much easier. Who knows, maybe John would be in the mood for some reefer and a B movie or two. I’ve had prettier movie dates, but John did have an appreciation for cinema. With any luck, I could turn this evening around for the both of us.
John’s one of those friends that doesn’t need to knock before he comes in but usually does anyway. Tonight, he took me by surprise. He was standing in my den before I realized he was even in the house. John greeted me but he sounded somber and a little tired. He had had a long day and it was all over his face. My stupid joke about his text that I had thought up died on my tongue; his demeanor said he didn’t have time for small talk in any form let alone my smart ass comments. I motioned to the other recliner, “You look like hell, man. Sit down and spill it.”
“Granddad killed himself,” he paused briefly, swallowed hard, then went on, his voice was monotone, ” I reckon you had gathered that, though. What you probably didn’t know is, that typewriter is one that Granny got him for Christmas the year before she got real bad off. She got it so he could do some writing on the deck or at the table without carrying that other one around,” he looked up at me for a minute and returned his gaze to his boots before he continued, “Dad found him. They hadn’t talked in a couple days and Granddad wasn’t picking up the phone. He got worried and went out to check on him and well,” he spread his hands out and shrugged.
“Fuck me, that’s terrible, “was all I could muster in way of a response.
“They kept it quiet as possible for obvious reasons. I reckon they didn’t lie to us; he died of a broken heart even if that old .45 is what finished it. Dad’s brother Tom still has that pistol. Somebody had to take it; they couldn’t bear selling it and Dad damn sure wasn’t about to have it in the house,” he looked up and some hope crept into his voice, “did you figure anything out?”
“Yeah man, actually I had just finished up a little bit before you texted me. I prayed and smudged and we talked a bit. He moved on to be with Hannah. All in a day’s work, I guess.”
“You talked a bit?” John’s voice was a mixture of surprise and disbelief.
“Yeah, I told him I’d keep his secret and that he’d be better off on the other side, giving up all the sadness here. He thanked me and left. I talked out loud and he typed answers. Like the world’s classiest Ouija board. If you want, I’ll get the paper out of the ty-“
“Nah, that’s alright. I’m just glad he wasn’t too stubborn about sticking around.”
“Not at all, he was real cordial about the whole thing once I stopped yelling at him and he stopped making the house so cold.”
“Once you st-. No, you know what, I don’t need to know.” He shook his head and after a second he started to chuckle, “I could just see you in here, having a screaming match with a typewriter.”
“You laugh but that’s pretty much how it happened. I wonder how long it had been since he’d heard someone yell ‘goddamn it Bert’ when they walked in the door.”
The relief he felt was visible. It was like a big heavy sack of ghost shit was lifted off his shoulders. The guy looked like he was ready to go to the funeral of his favorite dog when he walked in the door but now he was his old self again, he still looked like shit though., “I can’t tell you how much I appreciate that, brother.”
“Not a problem, man.” I waved it off like it hadn’t been that big of a deal, “Glad I could help. Hell, I wasn’t doing anything else this weekend anyhow. You down for a movie or two or do you need to get back?”
“Ah, I better be heading back to the house. Janet is going to want to know why I up and left like I did and honestly, I kind of want to be there with her tonight,” he said, standing up.
“Totally understand that, man,” I said standing up to walk him out, “next time Wanda and the boy leave me unsupervised you’ll have to come over and we’ll have a few and watch shitty slasher flicks.”
He agreed, and headed out to his truck. I figured it would be a few days before I heard from John again. That’s the way it usually happened when we went through some crazy shit like this together. Well, that’s the way it happened when I dragged him into weird shit like this. I get it though; sometimes this shit takes time to process. I’d assume it only gets harder when family is involved.
I was wrong, though. Before I got back to my chair, John was at my door again with two paperback books in his hand, “Almost forgot, here ya go. Just get them back to me when you get done with them.”
Well, my plans changed again. I thanked him and told him I was going to start on them tonight. I was more excited about Bert’s westerns than I was anything streaming online. After restoring my buzz, I grabbed a glass of sweet tea, and kicked back to start on Rustlers of the High Prairie. It took about a chapter and I was hooked. It was a short book, like so many westerns are, and I ended up finishing it that night. I decided to put the other one, Blood on the Sawdust, away until the next day. I needed a shower and some sleep. John wasn’t the only one that had had one hell of a day.
I was asleep shortly after I had gotten into bed; relocating ghosts was exhausting. I slept like the dead until sometime around six or seven Sunday morning. Early morning light was spilling through my window and the scent of coffee filled the house. It wasn’t like Wanda to come home this early but I reasoned that either she was home or I had done some of the best sleepwalking in history. I got up and threw on an undershirt and pajama pants and walked into the kitchen to pour myself a cup of wake up juice. I was just about to call out to my wife when I heard the distinct “taka taka taka” of the old typewriter in my office.
“No. No. Fucking. No!” I rushed out of the kitchen and down the hall, empty coffee cup in hand, “come one man, I thought we were better than this,” I said walking into the office.
Sitting beside my laptop on the desk was a coiled rattlesnake, its tail shaking like the world’s deadliest maraca and it’s head shifting from side to side as it tasted the air for prey. From the way its eyes snapped to me as soon as I walked in the door, I knew that I was the prey. I’m kidding. It was the typewriter with a sheet of paper in it. This time, though, it wasn’t s a suicide note.
I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your help. I haven’t seen the colors of the sunrise in so long. Hope you enjoy Sawdust as much I enjoyed writing it.
See you around,
I took a few minutes to assess the situation on my way to the back to the kitchen. It wasn’t freezing cold, I wasn’t getting bummed out just standing in there, and no doors were slammed. If Bert was still here, he was in much better…spirits. I took my first sip of the soul-healing bean water he had brewed and decided that there are worse things than ghosts who get up early and know how to make a fine cup of coffee.
“Thank ya, Bert,” I hollered down the hall on my back to the bedroom. I didn’t hear anything from the office so I assumed he was gone. Either way, I knew I needed to get this life giving elixir of the gods in me because I had shit to do before Wanda and the kiddo got home. I was more than ready to return to my much more normal brand of chaos.
It has been about six months and Bert still makes coffee a couple times a week but I haven’t gotten a message from him since the ghostly thank you note. It didn’t take long for my wonderful and forgiving wife to catch on to the fact that something was a little fishy. It wasn’t a talk I wanted to have at six in the morning on a Sunday but at least we had a good cup of Joe to sip while I explained why a ghost was making said coffee at sunrise in our kitchen. Honestly, it didn’t take her long to warm up to the idea once I assured her that Bert wasn’t going to go slamming doors and throwing things around or trying to possess anybody. Really, how mad can you get about surprise coffee?
Here’s the weird thing about that though, there’s always a cup missing out of the pot. We never find dirty coffee cups or wet spots on the carpet. No freshly washed cups in the sink, either. There’s no evidence that someone else has had a cup and yet there is a cup missing. Bert doesn’t strike me as the type of madman who would make less than a full pot of java. Maybe there’s some kind of transdimensional mug thing going on that we’re not yet privy to; maybe I’m wrong and he makes an odd amount and that’s why it’s so damned good. Either way, we’re fine with it.
I gave it a couple weeks and took the books back to John. We sat in his den and shot the shit for awhile and things were back to normal. I’ve promised Janet that I wouldn’t drag him into any weird shit for at least a couple months. He’s not to upset about it all, really. He got some answers and he and his dad are closer for it. The wife and I have agreed that John probably doesn’t need to know that his grandpa is hanging out in my office just yet. I’ll have to let him know at some point, I guess.
My only worry is that I’ll tell him about it and his stance on séances will change. Those things can get away from you real quick and I’ll be damned if I explain to Janet that something went wrong while her husband and I were trying to commune with the dead. I mean, she’s a good sport and all but that only goes so far. One would assume that the “good sport” thing stops about the time that I call and tell her that John has been possessed by some kind of otherworldly entity. I don’t even want to think about how much more expensive my insurance would be if someone got possessed in my house. I said I swore off séances and I meant it. I think.
The typewriter, by the way, ended up getting its own spot on my desk. I use it mostly to address envelopes and to type the occasional note when I’m feeling particularly fancy. Maybe one of these days I’ll sit down and actually write on it. Blood on the Sawdust was a hell of a book, just like Bert said. Who knows, maybe he’ll give me some notes on the sequel.