FOOTPRINT OF A GHOST

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Chapter 12

Of course, the house on 44th Street would become a crime scene. The local PD would cordon off the back yard with a phalanx of officers and saw horses and rope or ribbon if I remember correctly.

I don’t recall the color of the rope or ribbon. It was like one of those scenes on the cops shows that were still broadcast in black and white. Yellow and black crime scene tape had not been invented yet, I don’t think.

For all intents and purposes, we would be evicted from the house on 44th Street. The cops were not only interested in the back yard where the girl had been buried... alive... some two decades prior but also the inside of the house, especially the attic where my father had come across the dust covered, antique toys. Oddly, the tan cowboy doll with blue eyes was never recovered. We were ordered to vacate because of the police investigation and offered no monetary remuneration.

Either, fortunately or unfortunately, when my face was splashed across the evening news and local newspapers, enough financial assistance would flutter in from some of the churches in the community and other well-wishers that we would be able to relocate.

My parents would in fact be able use the money to put a down payment on a house several miles outside the city limits where we would live for a number of years. I would actually awaken one morning, early in the predawn, for no apparent reason, in 1966 and look out my window up into a perfectly clear sky to witness the Leonid meteor shower. Of course it was years later before I would realize what I had serendipitously witnessed.

“And it is not the first time this cherub faced boy in the second grade has been responsible for solving a murder mystery that was more than twenty years in the telling...” the clean cut reporter in the sports a jacket and dark rimmed glasses would say into his microphone that resemble a large, metal ice-cream cone. “Only a few months prior to moving to West Texas with his mother and father, John Thomas would be the lead junior detective in unraveling a twisted tale that had bewildered members of his own family and a rural community for more than half a century...”

Then footage of me looking up at the camera was intercut into the reporter’s narrative as I was hustled away to the family Ford.

The girl in the grave’s first and middle names was Maggie, or Margaret, and May like in the song and oddly enough Stewart like the rock star who would sing it decades later. She was 11 years old at the time she went missing, although by all accounts she looked more like she was nine. Her remains were mummified because her grave had been well sealed from the elements for many years before the pine box that she’d been buried in would rot enough for her body to be effected. Medical examiners were actually able to determine that she was not “intact”.

She had disappeared on her way home from the playground of an elementary school that was a couple of miles from where she would ultimately be sexually assaulted and interred. Though she was penetrated, no evidence of semen was detected... of course it was a really long time ago when forensic science was still sort of cumbersome and ham-handed.

The pleas from the family were pasted across the front pages of all the newspapers within a hundred mile radius as well as broadcast on an endless loop out the radio and local television stations.

The parents of the girls Maggie May had been to the playground with were interviewed, if not interrogated. One of the fathers was even a suspect briefly. And one of the girl’s teenage brothers was given especially close scrutiny and almost arrested. Unfortunately for that kid, a scintillating but short lived, semi-fiction semi-fact book had recently scandalized the country about another teenaged boy in the 1870’s no less, Jesse Pomeroy, who had been a sexual sadist and serial killer. The cornea of his right eye was covered with a milky white membrane, which by all accounts gave him an unsettling appearance. He was the youngest person ever to be convicted of first-degree murder in the state of Massachusetts.

The boy accused of killing Margaret May Stewart had a similar deformity his left eye and had seen heckling the girls by the school crossing guard on the day Maggie May went missing. The teenaged kid would never be arrested, but neither would he ever be formally and publicly dismissed by the authorities as a suspect in the case. He would forever live with the stigma of the accusation and would become so pissed off and frustrated early on by the whole thing that he would kill Maggie May’s dog, a jet black black mutt with a really long snout and very white teeth. He would run it down in the street in his daddy’s Pontiac Chieftain, as the story goes, as the dog was making its way back to the schoolyard in search of his young mistress, and for years thereafter tales and local lore would abide about the inky black hound that skulked though the streets and alleys at night whimpering and whining as it searched for its lost keeper.

The Scruffmeister MaGoo would disappear suddenly and without a trace. The police had a lot of questions for him that they thought that maybe he might have answers for seeing as how his brother had been a known pedophile and the body of a dead girl had just been found in a grave in the backyard of a property that had once belonged to them. It made me antsy, that the Scruffmeister was on the loose. I did not seem like he was the forgiving type... the “live and let live” type.

I recalled the stories again that I had been told by the teacher and counsellor at my previous elementary school, Apolonia Frost, about how spirits must linger where they die, in some places. And I knew that this one was one of those places. Not that I wanted to die anywhere. I was too young to die. I had hardly lived yet. My voice had not even cracked yet. I had no hair on my chin yet. I had never kissed a girl yet. I certainly didn’t want to die in this accursed house on 44th street or because of it.

Unfortunately, that night I awoke to that seeming inevitability.

Weird it would be that the same set of keys would be used in the front door of a house year after years. Or maybe not. Whatever the case, the Malignant Magoo let himself in to the house on that evil corner that night and took me out. I remember only- struggling against cushioned restraint, like I was bound in pillows or darkness itself, falling forward or being dragged against gravity upward or consciousness.

“What is happening to me?” I said. “Where am I? I am so alone?”

I heard a sound that seemed like drops of rain maybe the size of footballs falling from the sky and landing on something above me. A roof? No. “A coffin?” I thought.

I could be a morbid lad at times but why not. It may as well have been a coffin. It was the pine box I was being buried in. The evil malignancy, his majestic scruffiness himself had gone completely mad batshit crazy was burying me alive. I thought it was a dream at first... just another one of my night terrors so I screamed. Why not? It certainly seemed like the appropriate thing to do under the circumstances.

“Die! You little water hose stealing...” And then he screamed.... “Ahhh! Ahhhh!!!!! Ahhhhhhh!!!” And I could hear what I could only make out to be a growl... but something more primal... more base... more primitive... a dire wolf maybe... a Pleistocene wolf maybe... a saber toothed wolf... “Ahhh! Ahhhh!!!!! Ahhhhhhh!!!”

I could hear the screams from above me. “Ahhh....” and then nothing... and then silence... and then...Thud... thud... thud... the sound of a shovel.

It was my father... exhuming me. He had been awakened by the sound of the man abducting me from the safety of my... youthful slumber and followed him.

The Scruffmeister, or Gil D. Rais as he was born, I would never learn what the D stands for, had been hiding out at a property a couple of blocks away at Pleasant and 46th that he still owned under a another name, Fritz Harman. He had dug my grave and prepared my pine box and finally abducted me one night to execute his plan and fulfill his final fantasy. I don’t think he thought he could get away with it or even planned to. I don’t think however, or could ever have dreamed in his wildest imagination, that he expected to be gutted by a ghost dog.

My father would track him down, literally with a flashlight, going from street to street, alley to alley and yard to yard to yard crying out my name. The police would arrive only minutes behind him because so many folks had been awakened and called law enforcement as a result of my father’s frantic search that woke them from their sleep.

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