the ghost

 

Bethany’s first encounter with the ghost

She wasn’t sure what awakened her, but she could sense a presence in the room. She felt the hair on her neck stand on end as she lay on the couch holding her breath and listening. There was no sound, except for her heart ponding in her ears. As she strained to see in the darkness, she could discern an indistinct form gliding down the stairway. It appeared to be a man holding a candle in his hand. She let out a gasp and sat up on the couch. He was an older gentleman, with reddish hair and beard, dressed in turn-of-the century style clothing. The specter appeared to be equally alarmed at seeing them too. All three were frozen in time for a moment as if in a tableau vivant, then, the man slowly began to fade and disappear.

She shot up from the couch, turned on the lamp and stood. Jude went over to the staircase, sniffed the carpeted step and then walked back and curled up at her feet. Could I have been dreaming? She was cold and shivering. She rubbed the goose bumps on her arms nervously as she contemplated the possibilities. Jude yawned up at her, apparently satisfied there was no threat. It was just a dream she assured herself and forced herself to lie back down. She waited until she felt calm enough to turn off the lamp.

It wasn’t easy for her to control her racing thoughts, let alone relax enough to get back to sleep. At one point, she turned on the lamp to check the time on the grandfather clock—it was half-past three. She got up, rummaged around and found a baseball bat in the corner near the fireplace. No sense in taking any chances. She returned to the couch, turned off the lamp and with the baseball bat clutched to her chest, soon fell back to sleep.

The next time it happened she was prepared. This time she heard a distinct scraping noise coming from the direction of the hallway. She carefully slid off the couch bat in hand and silently made her way toward the front door. She could hear Jude panting behind her, nose on her right calf, clinging to her as if attached by a leash. Then a hand came out of the darkness and clawed at her face. She screamed and lashed out with the bat, flailing blindly in the darkness.

A great roar filled her ears as the dark form toppled back into the foyer. Panic gripped her and she groped madly along the wall until her hand found another light switch and snapped it on. On the floor of the foyer lay Griff, propped up on one arm and staring at her with glassy eyes. He was rubbing his right shoulder.

“Beth?” He tried to make sense of the spectacle of the blonde-haired girl, back-lit by the hall light, standing over him, baseball bat in hand.

“Griff?” She dropped the bat and ran to him. “I’m so sorry.”

“S’fine,” he replied, floundering around on the floor.

“I feel so bad—I could have killed you.”

“Naw, you couldn’t—you swing that bat like a klutz.”

She held out a hand to help him up and he glumly managed to get to his feet. She helped him over to the nearby sofa chair.

“Lucky for you, I grew up in the country and never played baseball.”

“Yeah, lucky me,” he hissed, as he tried pulling his coat off his sore shoulder. He was having no luck, so he stood up and tried pulling harder.

“Let me help you with that. I’m so sorry—I thought you were an intruder. ” She gently lifted the coat off him.

“An intruder—what made you think that?”

“I saw an old man on the stairs earlier—at least I think I did. Maybe I was dreaming. Anyway, when I heard a noise again in the hallway, I thought it was him.”

He stood dumbly staring at her glassy eyed and then burst out into hysterical laughter. “You tried to kill George?”

“Who the heck’s George?”

“S’okay, don’ worry ‘bout it. My fault. Lost my door key—always do that.” He wavered unsteadily on his feet.

She realized not only was he slurring his words, he was stinking drunk.

“Need to sleep,” he muttered and started to curl up on the sofa chair.

“Wait, you can’t sleep down here—it’s freezing. Let me help you up to your bed.”

“Sorry babe, don’ feel like foolin’ round—just want to sleep.” He turned over with his back towards her.

“How dare you! What do you think I am—one of your cheap dates?”

“Gotta sleep now,” he murmured, putting a cushion over his head.

She was so incensed she had to struggle against the urge to plant a kick directly into his backside—which offered a very tempting target at that moment. Instead, she threw both hands in the air and uttered, “argh!” grabbed her jacket and stormed out of the house.

All the way back to her apartment, she was suppressing the urge to swear. Such a frustrating night! First, the dream, and then Griff. It was four thirty by the time she got home, stomped up the stairs and slammed the door in a fury. Samantha looked up dreamily and leapt off her window perch, rubbing up against her. She bent down and swept her into her arms. “Sorry, Sam, I should’ve spent the evening with you—it would have been much more pleasant, I’m sure.” She headed off to bed.

Bethany agrees to live in the carriage house and finds out more about the Ghost

She awakened with a start. She lay there, heart pounding, unsure of where she was. Then Jude turned over and licked her chin and she remembered. The doorbell sounded. She wondered if it were the bell in her dream. She leaped to her feet, almost falling back down, but put out a hand to grab the sofa back and steady herself while her body recovered. She could make out the profile of a woman. She motioned for Jude to wait and then, opened the door so suddenly it startled the visitor. “Can I help you?”

The woman was in her early fifties and beautiful. Her long gray hair was luxuriant, swept into a loose chignon that perfectly complemented her violet eyes. Her chalk-striped navy business suit was elegantly tailored and she was carrying a thin, black leather attaché case. Upon first opening the door, Bethany felt intimidated, but when the woman turned and saw her, she exuded the warmest smile Bethany ever saw. She felt instantly accepted as if she had just been wrapped in an embrace.

“Hello. You must be Bethany.” The voice was so kind it almost took her breath away. “I’m Roz, Griff’s assistant. We spoke on the phone.”

“Oh, right! Pleased to meet you,” she stammered. “Won’t you come in?”

The woman followed her into the living room where Jude had been obediently waiting and as soon as he spotted her, he made a beeline for her yipping and bounding like a pup. Bethany tried to intercept him, but to no avail. He dodged beneath her out-stretched arms and placed both paws on the front of the woman’s suit, trying to lick her face.

“Jude, no!” Bethany cried in vain, but instead of pushing him off, the woman crouched down and hugged him, stroking his head and eventually letting him rest his chin on her lap.

“Guess you’re friends, eh?”

Roz smiled up at her. “Jude is my little boy, but I’m afraid I spoil him—don’t I pup?” She gave him a playful tug at his ears and he licked her cheek. She got up and sat on the couch where Bethany joined her. Jude was now content to stretch out at Roz’s feet with his chin on her foot. She placed her attaché case on the coffee table and snapped the locks open.

“Griff tried phoning all morning, but I guess you were out with your other clients. He had to fly to New York, but we’ve drawn up the agreement and cut you a check for three month’s salary in advance. He asked me to meet you here at five and get you to sign the documents, but the traffic was horrendous and I’m not used to the rush hour commute.”

Well, at least he made an effort this time to act responsibly, she thought. She looked at Jude and made another of her mental notes to train him not to jump up on visitors.

“His bark’s worse than his bite, you know,” remarked Roz.

“Oh, I know he’s just rambunctious,“ she said, patting his head, “but he still needs to be trained.”

The woman laughed. “I was talking about Griff—but I guess the comment still applies.”

Bethany flushed a little and Roz took note and smiled inwardly. “Here are two sets of keys to the carriage house—all the locks have been changed and the maid service has been through and tidied it all up.”

“There was no need…” she started to protest, but Roz raised a hand. “Nonsense. I’m sure Griff hasn’t been in there in months, not that he’d lift a finger to clean it.”

“Griff allows you to make those decisions?”

Roz looked at her sympathetically. “He’s a very busy man, Bethany, and doesn’t always have the time to consider all the things he should. Anyway, that’s where I come in.”

“Then you’ve worked for Griff for a long time?”

“Ten years this February. Griff took over the family business when his Dad passed away.”

“I see. I’m sorry—I didn’t mean to pry.”

“You weren’t prying. It’s only common sense to know about the person you’re working for. Lytton Gifts and Cards is one of the largest companies in Canada. It’s a huge responsibility for Griff to handle.”

“I can imagine how it must be a burden to employ so many people and have them depend on you.”

“Lytton Gifts and Cards is like a monster that can devour you and make so many demands on your time. I know it all too well, and Griff has also paid a steep price. He’s also had some difficult patches the past few years—his mom passed away soon after his dad—and now this business with Mandy.”

Roz looked out the window at the snow and blinked away a stray tear. Bethany saw the older woman was obviously quite attached to Griff, probably stepping into the void left by his mother. After a few moments, Roz composed herself and turned back to face Bethany. “You know the one commodity we prize at Lytton Gifts and Cards? —Loyalty. I know it sounds trite, but you’d be surprised how often people disappoint and ruin not only a business relationship, but a personal one as well. We’re like a big family here and when people let us down it affects everyone.”

Bethany wasn’t sure if Roz intended this remark for her or not. Suddenly, Roz’s face brightened, “But when I spoke to you on the phone, I knew you were the answer to prayer.” She patted Bethany’s hand and smiled kindly at her. “I just know we’re going to be friends.”

“I feel the same way,” she smiled back.

“You seem to be fitting right in—Griff told me you even met George.”

“Oh, I suppose he’s the family ghost,” she laughed. “Actually, it’s more like he bumped into Jude and me. I still find it hard to believe I wasn’t dreaming.”

“Have you seen his portrait yet?”

“His portrait?”

“George was the man who built this house and lived in it until he died.”

“Oh, I see.” Bethany didn’t really see the point at all, but she didn’t really know what to think or say.

“Well, come on. Let’s have a visit with the old guy.” Roz grabbed Bethany’s hand and led her up the staircase. They stood together on the carpeted landing in silence staring up at a framed picture of the very man Bethany had seen on the stairs. Beneath the ornate frame was an engraved brass plaque that read: George Bowden. 1854-1934.

It seemed so surreal, looking at the face of a man who once inhabited the house and evidently still did. The dying rays of the sun through the leaded window cast a rainbow of red and green hues on the wall.

“It’s lovely isn’t it?” Roz commented. “According to Elizabeth, Griff’s mother, George Bowden poured his heart and soul into this house. After it was completed in 1891, he moved in here with his wife and spent the rest of his life living in seclusion in the house he loved.”

“That’s sad,” Bethany observed, “but it probably explains why he’s still here.”

“Elizabeth saw him all the time. She loved the house probably as much as George did—as a matter of fact, she thought he was watching over the house and only appeared to those who had the same love for the place as he did.” After saying this, Roz looked directly at her, gauging her response.

“I was wondering, why me, but now I see. From the first time I drove up here, I fell in love with this house and its beauty.”

“Mandy hated the house—referred to it as ‘the museum’ and made Griff buy the condo in Manhattan and the house in Turks and Caicos. She was hardly ever home and when she was, she didn’t like spending time here. She always felt the house was judging her.”

She gave a short, embarrassed laugh, as if trying to soften her remarks. “I never was a fan of Mandy’s. The only thing she ever did, of which I approved, was to get Jude. Strangely enough, she was really good with him—when she was here.”

A fleeting look of disgust crossed her features and then was gone. It was as if she stumbled across something foul, quickly removed it, and now continued on again. She smiled at Bethany as if to reassure her, and then grasped her arm, guiding her back down the stairs to the living room.

When they sat back down, Roz remarked, “There are only a few papers requiring your signature—I’ll only take a few more minutes of your time.”

“I don’t mind—I’m enjoying our visit and talking about the history of the house.”

Roz looked at her quizzically. “You really do like it here, don’t you? It’s as if George designed the house with you in mind.”

“I really do love this place. If I owned it, I wouldn’t change a thing.”

Did you hear that, George? Roz sung out to the house.

They both broke out laughing.

“Yes, I think you will fit in,” Roz said in a detached way that seemed to hint at a deeper meaning.

Then, a change came over Roz, as if a coin had fallen into place, setting in motion a whole new poetry of gesture. Suddenly, she was all business, briskly shuffling and arranging papers on the coffee table in the order in which she wanted Bethany to sign them. After each signature of Bethany’s, Roz added her own flourish. When the process was complete, Roz handed her several documents neatly folded in three as copies of the transaction.

“Griff told me to arrange movers for you. Here’s their card—feel free to phone and make arrangements whenever you’re ready.” She got up and held out her hand to Bethany.

“I don’t think movers will be necessary,” Bethany laughed. “I live in a furnished apartment and all my possessions can easily be brought over in my van. I’ll get my friend, Carly to help.”

Roz gave her a warm hug—not a polite hug, but a real hug, such as her mother would give. “I’m so glad we’ve found each other and if you need anything at all, don’t hesitate to phone.”

Bethany nodded and lowered her head so Roz couldn’t see the tears in her eyes. She didn’t know why she reacted the way she did, but Roz was so kind she made her want to cry. Somehow Roz understood and as she was leaving, touched the side of Bethany’s face with her hand. “Don’t worry. Everything will work out fine.” Then she was gone.

Bethany went back into the living room accompanied by Jude, his nose pressed against the side of her knee all the way. “Are you just being a typical Aussie, boy—or are you afraid I’ll leave you too?”

His eyes said it all, so she crouched down and hugged him until he licked her ear.  “I guess your master will be late home tonight, eh?” She decided to stay and spend the evening with Jude and go home about ten.

The Ghost is an excerpt from Epiphany by John J Geddes Reply w/ #AmazonCart for a free sample http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00H6VBUS2/ref=cm_sw_r_tw_dp_oJ8Hub16S9FWE via @amazon

 

© 2016, John J Geddes. All rights reserved.

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