Supernatural Fiction posted June 14, 2015


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some families have skeletons in their closets

Uncle Jack's Ghost

by mfowler


' "Revenge his foul and most unnatural murder." And with that, Hamlet was launched on a pathway to destruction by the ghost of his father.' Mr Tregloan has rendered my Year 10 class silent. His first lesson about Hamlet has us wanting more.

'Yes, Bruce. What would you like to ask?'

'Do you believe in ghosts, Sir? I do.' Bruce is an enthusiast if not an A student.

'They're poppycock,' says the English teacher. 'Shakespeare uses the ghost as literary device to create the revenge sequence. Understand, Bruce?'

'Not exactly, Sir. So, why is there a ghost in the play?'

<><><> 

At lunchtime, Bruce's ghost comments are the subject of humour among our gang.

'Oh, leave him alone,' I say. 'If you believe in ghosts they must be true. If you don't, nothing will convince you. That's what I read somewhere.'  

'Yeah,' says Bruce. 'Ghosts might exist. Something's got to happen when you die. My old man doesn't believe in heaven and all that god stuff, so I say, why not ghosts?'

'Boys, stop it, I'm eating,' says Grace. 'Besides this is little old Adelaide. No ghost in its right mind would live in Dumpsville like this.'

The ghost talk goes on despite scepticism among us. Suddenly, Archie brings the speculation to a halt. 'You know, there's a ghost at Norwood Primary, don't ya? My cousin told me; it's for real.'

'Oooh, that's awful. We all went there...no, that can't be right.' Bruce is mesmerised despite his doubt.

'Yeah. Happened eighteen years ago. Old Jack Brown, the school groundsman, hanged himself in a classroom. A little kid from the school went missing a few weeks earlier. They reckon it could have been him who did it. They never found the kid. When the old bloke killed himself, people worked it out, I guess.'

Grace has stopped eating. 'And there's a ghost in the school, now, 1958? Come off it, Archie. We went there for seven years and it's the first I've heard of it. No-one would go there if it was properly haunted.'

The ghost story is building momentum.

'Story goes that he's buried somewhere near the school. He comes back on the night of his death every year on March, 29th.'

'Oh, Archie. You talk a load of bull. I'm going. We've got Chem with old Chadwick next.' I'm sick of the story already.

The bell cuts short the conversation and we wander back to class.

<><><> 

Dragnet is on the box.

I ask, 'Mum, where are those albums of your Uncle Jack's?'

'Ssh, dear,' says Mum. 'They're about to catch the killer.'

After the dramatic music, Dad says, 'What d'ya want to see that for, Gerry? Your mother's uncle's been dead since the war.'

I lie. 'We're looking at migration before and after the war in History. Came to live with us from England, didn't he? I thought his stuff might give me some ideas.'

'It's a little sensitive, Dear,' says Mum. 'I don't think it will help Gerry to get involved in all that palaver.'

Dad raises an eyebrow. 'It's time Gerry knew about his great Uncle Jack. What's past is past. I don't want him hearing about it second hand.'

But, I had.

'You know he was the groundsman at Norwood Primary for ten years before he...passed away. He was very good at it too. Right proud of how clean he kept the place. And, he loved the kids. Said that job was all that kept him going.' My stomach turns as I remember what Archie was saying.

We go to the shed where boxes of old family stuff are kept in a locked cupboard. 'Your Uncle Jack died in 1940. Gerry, he wasn't sick. It was suicide. He was never a happy man. Was depressed the whole time he was living with us. But, nobody expected him to kill himself. Poor bloke. You can look through this stuff but I don't want you upsetting your mother, son. She was fond of her uncle.'

I'd known something was unusual about his death. When Uncle Jack ever came up in conversation, Mum always switched the subject. Now I can see why. The ghost Archie was talking about has to be my uncle's. And then there was the missing kid from school.

Dad leaves me to dig through the albums. Uncle Jack was a dark, handsome man. There's a picture of him at Brighton Beach in England with his wife and a small child. I can't believe he killed himself. He looks so happy.

<><><> 
 
As I'm leaving for school the next morning Mum says, 'I hope you put Uncle Jack's things away properly.'

'Yes.'

'Did you find what you needed?'

'I found some stuff about his trip out. A postcard from Aden. And there's the funeral card for Aunty Flo in 1928. I can see why he came. No-one left behind.'

'Yes, Gerry. I hope that's all you need.'

'There's one other thing. I found a picture dated May, 1926. It shows Uncle Jack, Aunty Flo and a little boy. But, it's the only one of a child. Who was that?'

My mother never cries, not in front of me anyhow. I see tears welling in her eyes. It's not like she's hurt; it's like that sadness I've seen people hold back at funerals.

'I'm sorry. Gotta go.'

She wipes a tear away.

'It's alright, son. No-one ever talked about little Johnny, not after he was taken. He disappeared during that holiday to Brighton. He wandered off while his parents were waiting in line for a turn on the merry-go-round.'
My head hurts. I'm thinking about the kid from the school.

'You don't...'

'I want to, Gerry. You're old enough to know. The search lasted days. Headlines all over the country, but nothing was ever found of him. Only six, poor pet.'

'That's...that's awful.'

'It killed his mother. She was never well after that. Uncle Jack blamed himself for both Johnny's and Flo's loss. That's why we brought him out here to live with us. Thought the change of scene might help, but he never got past it.' Her eyes are still puffy and red, but she looks relieved for having said it.

'I'm late, Mum. Thanks for telling me.' I'm not so sure about that. The story doesn't leave my head all day.

<><><> 

'It's 29th of March, this Saturday,' says Archie.

'Yeah, we're goin' to "The Blob" at the flicks, right ?' says Bruce.

'That sounds good,' I add.

'Sorry, Gerry. We didn't tell you. You didn't sound too convinced the other day so we thought you wouldn't come. "The Blob" is our diversion. We're actually going ghost hunting. Old Jack is supposed to show up every year on that date, so here's our chance to find out if he's real.'

I've been at sixes and sevens ever since Mum told me what happened to Johnny.

'I don't know. You're not supposed to trespass...'

Grace teases. 'Don't tell me you're chicken, Gerry. I always thought you had guts.'

I like Grace and her challenge clinches my decision. 'What time?'

 
<><><> 

I can't help thinking about ghosts for the rest of the week. Why would Uncle Jack, if it's him, stay around the old school? Then again, I don't even believe in ghosts.

'Now, Gerry, if the film gets too scary, come home,' says Mum.

'I'll be alright...Mum...I've got another question about Uncle Jack.'

'You'll be late and your friends...'

'It's easy. Where is he buried?' She blushes, sits down.

'He's not buried. We cremated him like he wished.'

This revelation answers the question about him appearing at the school. 'Do we have his ashes?'

'Mmm...I'll tell you this one last thing. You mustn't breathe a word of it, hear me?'

'Yes, Mum.'

'He was happy at that school. Your father and I decided to spread his ashes there. Seemed the least we could do for the poor man.'

'But that's not...'

'Legal. Maybe. Your father took the urn there one night and sprinkled them behind his shed. Now, that's it. Not a word, hear?'

This news changes everything.

 
<><><> 

We can't believe that the same loose planks on the fence are still there from our schooldays. 'No talking,' whispers Archie as we sneak through. 'We'll hide in the bushes behind the main block. We can set up and wait there. Got the snacks, Bruce?'

Bruce gives the thumbs up and we take positions. Two hours pass.

'This is lame,' hisses Grace. 'I reckon "The Blob" would have been scarier than this.'

'Ssh!'

'I told you there were no such things as ghosts.'  But, I'm not sure.

A light flickers in the end classroom, and then another in the hallway. 'There's someone in there,' squeals Bruce. 'I saw a shadow or something.'

'Let's go,' I suggest.

'No way. Let's look. We'll sneak up to the window.' Grace leads the way.

'See that?' Archie's gripping my arm.

A faint light emerges from the classroom and shadows loom high on the far wall of the room. My guts are turning and breathing feels shallow.

'I'm going,' says Archie. He disappears. Within seconds I realise that they've all gone.

'I'm coming, I'm coming.' My legs are like lead. The shadow moves and the light goes out. I feel warmth where I've wet my jeans.

I begin to crawl. The air around me feels cooler, calmer. I think someone's there, but I feel safe enough.

'Unc..Uncle Jack?'

I sense a cool touch on my hand. It tugs gently, gently, and I follow. Twenty yards away, I realise I've been led to the groundsman's shed, a ramshackle, corrugated iron hut that's been there as long as I can remember. The door is ajar.

'Here, Uncle Jack?'

A small light glows inside though there's no bulb or lantern about. I fossick around, no idea why I'm here.

'I'm sorry, I don't know what you want.'

The light shifts to a place in the wall by the floor. I see a tiny piece of paper sticking out from where the iron sheets meet. I pry it loose and find a yellowing page with writing on it.

The light extinguishes. I feel Uncle Jack's ghost pass by.

 
<><><> 

Dot,
I'm sorry. You and Jim have been good to me. You knew I was doing it hard after Johnny, and then Flo dying near killed me. Your home, this job, well, they've been a godsend. I love having kids around. You know that, but when Robbie Blewett went missing at the school, it was like Johnny all over again. I heard the whispers back then. They're doing it again. You know I wouldn't hurt a hair on any child's head, not Johnny, not anyone's. I'm too tired to fight on. I'm sorry, love.
Uncle Jack

Showing my mother the letter is the hardest choice I've ever made. But, Uncle Jack found me, or at least, I found him. It must have been his wish for Mum to see it.

'I found it hidden in the lining of a suitcase,' I lied. 'I didn't know if I should show you. But, something made me.'

'Darling, you did the right thing. We always thought we knew why, but this confirms it. There were rumours he did something wrong, but I always knew he was a good man. Thank you, son. After all this stirring up of memories, you've put my mind at rest.'

 
<><><>
 
'So it was little kids looking for ghosts,' says Bruce after I tell the gang my version of Saturday night.

'No more ghost hunts. Horror movies for me.' Grace laughs.

'Told you there were no such thing as ghosts,' I say as we head for class.
                                                                                                       
<><><> 

Tonight, I wake in a cold sweat. Outside, it's dark as tar. I see a pin-prick of light slowly expanding and drawing closer.

A tiny face emerges in the light. I shake my head, disbelieving. A child stares with soulful eyes. My neck tightens and my teeth chatter.

He reaches out, appearing to touch the window with his palm. His tiny hand is bloodied. I call out, 'Who..are you?' The vision fades. A red drizzle slips down the glass outside
.

I know there's more to do.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 


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