Michael Clark Gives us an Old Fashioned GHOST STORY in a New Fashioned Way
THE PATIENCE OF A DEAD MAN
Time Means Nothing to the Dead He just spent his last dollar on a run-down house, but someone’s been waiting a long time for this day to come.
Tim Russell bet everything on a handyman’s dream; a quaint but dilapidated farmhouse in New Hampshire. Newly single after a messy divorce, he plans to live in the house as he restores it for resale. To his horror, as soon as the papers are signed and his work starts, ghosts begin to appear — a bonewhite little boy; a woman covered in flies. Tim can’t afford to leave and lose it all, so he turns to his real estate agent Holly Burns to help him decide whether or not he has any shot at fixing this haunting problem. Can they solve the mystery before he loses his investment…or perhaps even his life?
NOVEMBER 29TH, 1965
The sun was low in the sky on another perfect New Hampshire day. Henry Smith had just washed and brushed his favorite horse just inside the old red barn. The workday was over until something caught his eye…something out beyond the pond, way out in the field. He walked toward the front of the house and stood there for a few seconds, scanning the tree line where he thought he might have seen her.
It had looked to Henry like the woman they would see from time to time at the corner of the property, cutting across the field into the woods. The closest neighbors were more than a mile away. Henry knew them, and this woman did not look familiar.
The truth was there was no explanation why the woman made frequent appearances way out here for the past few years. All of the neighbors had their own meadows full of wild grapes and blueberries, not to mention pumpkins. Why come here? Then he got to thinking: It was time to select the annual Christmas tree. Why not kill two birds with one stone? He went back to the barn, grabbed the hatchet and set off down the front lawn past the stone wall and headed toward the far left corner of the field. One hundred yards later, he turned left into the forest.
He had known about the overgrown grove since they bought the place, but he was still enamored by it. If this grove had been tended to over the years, I’d have my tree already. I’d just chop it down, and after a relatively short drag back to the house, I’d be done.
The grove started about thirty yards into the wild forest, fully on Smith property. The Christmas trees gone wild had become towering spruce and of course, too far gone for holiday use. They were all at least forty feet tall, more or less, and grew in perfect symmetrical rows. In and around the grove in odd spots however, were random wild spruce that could pass for Christmas trees if you looked hard enough.
Henry made his way through the first few yards of the wild forest, and as always, all at once, the grove opened up in front of his eyes. He was fond of this place. It was hidden, and then it was in your face. And if you were here, it was yours and yours alone for the moment, like being lost in the hallways of an empty mansion. He angled his path to cut through the many rows, moving diagonally and to the right, deeper into the woods. Where’d she go?
He passed more rows than planned, and before he knew it, he could see the man-made symmetry coming to an end at the border of the congested wild forest. More and more rogue trees had claimed odd spots here-- a near-even mixture of man and nature. The forest floor here wasn’t just spruce needles like the rest of the grove; leaves from all sorts of trees had drifted in over the years, leaving piles of natural mulch.
The briars were thick, and behind them, undisturbed forest. Nestled inside the briars and brush were two high mounds of leaves that had collected for decades. They seemed artificially high as if they covered something. At first, Henry thought it might be a section of stone wall, but the stone wall in this forest also happened to be the property line, and he was sure he was still a ways from that.
As he closed in, he realized the two piles were each nearly waist-high. A section of gray stone peered out from under twisting vines that had caught years of falling leaves, revealing something several shades lighter than anything naturally occurring.
Gravestones, he recognized. Thirty-one years living here and I didn’t know… He looked down at his hatchet, wishing it was a pair of pruning shears. The briars proved well prepared to protect their longheld secret, but Henry’s curiosity was powerful. He forged ahead, hacking and flattening the bases of the sharp plants so that getting back out wouldn’t be the same battle it was going in.
As soon as he broke through the last of the thorns, he put down the hatchet, dropped to his knees and began to clear the dead leaves and ivy. The stones were crooked from years of heaving frosts but remained steady as he worked. There was a large one on the left and a smaller one on the right.
There was so much moss they were illegible. Concentrating on the left one, Henry scraped gently at the space he estimated the epitaph would be. After three or four moments of gentle effort, he had cleared the top two engraved lines. The first, in smaller letters, read: “Here lies.” The second line, where the person’s name should appear, was taller than the first--but he couldn’t quite make out the inscription.
Then, a twig snapped. Henry looked around, attempting to focus in the dark; it must be her; time to meet the stranger. He looked back, down the near-perfect aisle of spruce. It was all shadows and night had finally fallen. He squinted and took off his glasses, trying to catch a better glance.
She stood there in the dark--the mystery woman in the long dress. All he could make out was her silhouette; her pale white hands were holding what might be a bouquet, and her hair was pinned up, worn away from her neck. It was as unkempt as the woods behind her, strands and bunches pushing out in odd directions.
And there was a smell.
There are many unpleasant odors on a farm, but Henry recognized this as the smell of something unmistakably dead. Like the time a mouse died inside the wall of their bedroom. It was decay, and it was coming from her.