FOOTPRINT OF A GHOST

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Chapter 10

There was a brief respite in the visits from those bereaved souls on 44th street that seemed either incapable or unwilling to stop themselves from manifesting and psychically goosing me in my sleep or nagging at my dreams... except for the dog with the glowing eyes.

It seemed that he was in the house somehow, or at least, his essence and found its way in: his specter- considering that I wasn’t even certain he was a real thing, flesh and blood, temporal and not another chimera. A few times I would jolt from my sleep to that creeping feeling one gets that they aren’t alone, and I would think that I could discern a shadow camouflaged in the darkness, amongst the other shadows mingling at the far end of the brief hall that led to and from my room, past my parent’s door. And although it creeped me out to think that the cur was there, I did not sense that meant me harm. Oddly, I began to feel that he was the reason that the other revenants weren’t lurking, that he was keeping them away.

My father would return home from the hospital with my mother on his arm and explain to me that my baby sister, at least that’s what they thought she was going to be, had died, even before she was ever born. Considering how haunted I had begun to realize that that house on 44th street was, I wondered if her spirt would be trapped there. I knew for certain, as I have already stated that it was not a place that I wanted to die and be stuck in for... eternity I guess, or until somebody like me, whom for whatever reason seemed to have the ability to suss out lingering spooks and free them. And I sorta felt that the animate dead were sorta trying to do just that, make me dead like them and keep me there for some reason.

My father would also reveal to me that the man next door, who had called the ambulance for my mother and looked like Mr. Magoo, was a child molester- at least his twin brother had been anyway.

“Science has proven that twins are pretty much the same.” he would tell me. “Even when they are separated at birth and adopted to other families and live apart from one another all their lives, they have pretty much the same personalities. Do you understand what I’m saying?”

“Not exactly.” I said.

The simmering tension between my father and the man next door had just about escalated to a boil since my father had attached one side of his henhouse to the man’s fence even though the man had basically just done my family a favor. So, it’s not altogether surprising that my father was smack talking the old Magoo looking dude.

“He will stick his dick in your butt.”

I recall my head jerking back and my eyes widening at that. I had never heard or even imagined such a thing. “Why would he do that?” I said.

“Because he’s like his twin brother!” he said. “And his brother liked to stick his flopping Johnson in the beeehinds of little boys like you.”

That sounded pretty bad. I have to admit. I didn’t want any part of it.

“So you just keep your distance from him.”

“Okay, no problem.” I said enthusiastically, and meant it. I did not want a man’s flopping Johnson in my butt.

However, as I would learn later, my father’s information about pederasty was not entirely accurate, or for that matter, his info regarding twin bra scruffy Magoo whose paraphilia was pedophilia and had apparently cost him his life. He was found beaten to death, by an unknown assailant, and left sitting in a chair in his living room, naked from the waist down, with a wadded up pair of little girl panties in his throat and one of those old-school plastic baby dolls split open between the legs and shoved down over his manliness.

West Texas, especially back in those days, was a really bad place for a grown man to get caught diddling a little girl.

And the most horrifying thing, for my family and me anyway, was that it had happened in the very house we were living in. The Magoo boys, as it turned out, had owned the property at one time as well as a couple of other houses on the street. When his child molesting twin, got translated into buzzard’s luck, the surviving Magoo sold it to the current owner and continued to live in the house next door... and molest children, I’m guessing.

This explained to me, in part anyway, why the blankets and sheets were being yanked off me sometimes when I slept and my legs were being scratched up. It didn’t explain to me why the activity had stopped when the black dog started coming around. It made me think more that the black dog was some sort of protector or guardian, not necessarily sort of a witch dog so much as a watchdog. Time would tell.

My mother was subdued when my father brought her home from the emergency room. She was pale and sad. He was somber and sad as well.

“You’re alright.” he would say to her in his most consoling manner. “We can do it again. As soon as you are up for it.”

Not a suggestion my mother seemed open to at that moment, in the aftermath of the loss. But he was doing the best he could. My father had many failures; always trying his best was not one of them.

Late that night or the next, I would hear him ask her, in a kind voice, of course, “What were you doing up there?”

“I thought I heard something...” she would say. “Rats at first and then it began to sound like...” her voice trailed off. It seemed difficult or strained somehow for her to finish her sentence.

“What?” my father asked, still trying to be as gentle with her as he could and considerate of what she’d been through, but eager for answer “What did it sound like?”

“Pop Goes the Weasel...” she said quietly.

“Pop Goes the Weasel?” he asked, bewildered. “All around the mulberry bush...” she said, “the monkey chased the weasel...”

“Yeah... yeah...” he said... “I know what it is.”

“I heard it.” she said. “That is why I went up there because I heard it from down in the kitchen, but the reason I fell...” she faltered again for a second. “I felt like there was someone up there with me.”

“In the attic?” my father said. “Someone up there with you?”

Even though I was eavesdropping... and from a distance... I could tell that it was difficult for my mother to continue to recall what she’d experienced up there in that attic above the house on 44th St.

“I was being careful;” she said, “making certain that I stepped just on the solid wood planks in the attic floor and I knew I was alone, but then, all of a sudden it just seemed like something was behind me.”

“In the attic?” my father repeated. “There was... something behind you?”

“In one of the corners,” she said, “there were toys and stuff.”

“But how did that make you fall?" he said. “Toys and stuff in one of the corners?”

“You know those stuffed monkeys with a pair of cymbals in it paws,” she said, “there was one sitting on a box or trunk or something and it was facing toward me exactly... like it was looking at me... staring at me... and when I shined my flashlight on it...”

“It clanged its cymbals together!” I heard my father say.

“No...” my mother answered. “A Jack-in-the-box next to it popped out of its box and I jumped back and my foot came down off the wooden joist and I went through the ceiling.”

“A jack-in-the-box?” I heard my father say.

“There is something wrong here.” I heard my mother say. “In this house.”

“You’re starting to sound like our son now.” my father said.

“But he’s right,” she answered, “the majority of the time.”

“I’m going up there.” I heard my father say.

“Right now?” my mother asked. “No, no wait until morning, at least.”

But my father rolled out. “A jack-in-the-box doesn’t just jump out without somebody winding it up or something.” He said. I could hear his feet hit the floor and the sounds of him shuffling around in their bedroom for his shoes.

“Where’s the flashlight?” he asked.

That’s when the girl appeared.

I was facing the door and looking down the darkened hallway toward my parent’s bedroom when I heard her.

“It’s so dark...” she said. “I’m so alone. Why have you left me all alone here?”

I am almost jumped off the bed. She had materialized only twelve or so inches from my head.

“Please talk to me... Please don’t leave me all alone here. It’s cold... it’s dark. Where am I? Why am I here... alone... alone... alone...”

I tossed the covers back and rolled out.

“Please talk to me... Please, somebody...”

My father whipped around with the flashlight. “What are you doing?” he said.

“I want to go with you to the attic.” I couldn’t stand listening to the girl anymore. I felt sorry for her but her continual insistence that I talk to her, listen to her actually, only made me feel more helpless. I didn’t understand what was going on with her. I suspected that she was a victim of Scruffy Magoo but that was just an unproven theory at that point.

“Were you eavesdropping on me and your mother?”

“Well...” I said. “I couldn’t help it.”

A shadow moved just then, or seemed to ever so slightly at the end of the hall. It was a shadow familiar to me. And I thought I saw the glint of an eye.

“Shine the light over there!” I said and pointed.

“Why?” my father said.

“I thought I saw something.” I said, “There!” and pointed.

He lifted his hand instead and flipped the switch on the wall so that the light flashed on in the hallway. There was nothing in there. “You’re imagining things!” he said.

He then reached up and took hold of the string that hung from the bottom of the rectangular wooden hatch in the ceiling and tugged on it until the ladder unfolded that provided access to the attic.

“You stay down here.” he said and put his right foot on the first rung.

“I want to go up there with you!” I said.

“I know you do.” he said. “But I don’t want you too.”

“But you may need my expert help.” I said.

“Expert help?” he said. “Exactly what are you an expert on?”

“Toys.” I said. “Momma said there were a bunch of toys in one of the corners. You may need me to identify some of them.”

“I know what toys are.” my father said with a straight face.

“But they have changed a lot since you were a kid. There are actually toys with wheels on them now nowadays and moving parts.”

“Right.” he said. “Back when dinosaurs roamed, we just had rocks and sticks to play with and bones. Nevertheless, you need to stay down here.”

Of course, I didn’t. I don’t know whether he actually thought I would or not. But once he’d clomped up every rung of that rickety wooden ladder and vanished into the darkness beyond the open hatch, and the light from his flashlight was finally ingurgitated into the cryptic gloom up there, I gave him at least a couple of minutes before I quietly climbed up after him.

What I saw was really strange and in a way I just wish that I had obeyed.

My father had made it all the way across the attic to the corner where the toys were stacked in boxes and bags or just piled. He was standing with his back to me. I couldn’t tell if he was shining his flashlight on a mirror or if some of the toys were reflective but there was this sort of glow around him, a halo sort of from a light source in front of him.

“I should’ve known...” I heard him say, sort of like he was talking to himself but sort of not. “I did know, in the back of my mind...”

There are a lot of things... memories... that are kind of fuzzy around the edges- that I kind of see through now when I look back- like the girl, real but not exactly. But the way my father sounded when he said that: “I should’ve known it was you.” It is not one of those semi translucent recollections. It is clear in my mind to this day.

“I don’t know how you did it” he said “or how you got up here...”

I was only inches away from him. He was so caught up and focused like a laser beam on... what I assumed was the collection of old toys, that he was unaware that I was behind him.

There was doll, either standing on its own or propped up on top of an old cardboard box in front of my father. It was really old, not busted up and scuffed and stuff but from a different time period, I think maybe the 1940’s. It was a little man in cowboy attire, a red flannel shirt with a crosshatched pattern and sort suede pants with bucking broncos on each shin. He had a yellow bandana around his neck and little cowboy books and he was very tan and had blue eyes and his hair was dark brown and slicked back. It was like the little tan cowboy was looking up, attentively at my father.

“How did you get in here, Hank?” my father asked the doll. The doll did not answer.

“Huh?!” my father said. “How did you get in here?”

I must admit, the whole thing freaked me out.

There was the ghost of girl about my age, wearing only panties downstairs, and a box of toys in the attic and my father was having a conversation with one of the dolls. There was something really wrong with this house.

Later in life, once I had become an adult and acclimated to my strange proclivity toward the supernatural I would read about houses that were destined to be haunted from day one because of weird stuff like- the blood of a carpenter had been spilled on the virgin concrete when the foundation was poured or a defrocked priest gave an unholy blessing... or there was just something evil in the wood. There is a house in San Diego, California that was built on the site of a gallows that is rumored to be haunted by one of the men hanged there. The Bell Witch Cave legend quickens local lore with strange critters like a dog with a rabbit’s head and other bizarre critters that befuddle and spook the bejeezus out of folks near the Red River. And there is always the multitude of spirits destined to inhabit the infamous Winchester House in San Jose, California even before it was constructed because of all the lives that were taken by the Winchester repeating rifle.

“We’ve gotta go back outta here!” I said to my father. He was so bewitched by the cowboy doll that he didn’t seem to be cognizant that I was standing next him.

“But its Henry...” he said from somewhere in his reverie, “from when I was a kid.”

“No Dad,” I said. “It’s an ugly doll from like... 1940.”

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