An Esse Diem Halloween Story (1)

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Two years ago, I had a dream — actually, it as more like a hallucination. I have these strange story-like visions that I feel like I am actually participating in when I get too warm while sleeping. I woke up quite hot and delirious, wearing too heavy clothes under too many blankets.

I also woke up with a story I couldn’t forget.

They say dreams are the mind’s efforts at consolidating and making sense of the unprocessed fragments of our lives. There are things, strange things, we encounter and never fully absorb. The brain is troubled, and starts assembling the fragments. This story is, I believe, built from brain fragments about a local drug scourge, deep concern for child welfare, conflicts over organized religion, periods of personal loneliness, uprooting my home, and much more. I don’t want to over-analyze it, but it’s been two years and I’ve had some time to think.

One thing I do know is that brain fragments don’t exactly make great writing. This is not a story that will be snatched up by Random House. For some reason, though, it’s a story I can’t forget about a man I imagined. His name is Webb Thomas. Webb, shall we say, has some issues.

I have a minor issue in that I’ve never been able to name this story to my full satisfaction. If you have any thoughts on that, please share.

In celebration of Halloween, I bring you Webb’s story in 7 parts. I’d love to know what you think. (Exactly 100 words from this story first appeared in the annual Advent Ghosts 100 Word Storytelling put on by Loren Eaton at I Saw Lightning Fall. See other entries there. Many thanks to West Virginia writer S.D. Smith who brought this unusual writing tradition to my attention.)

An Esse Diem Halloween Story

Long toes hooked over the edge of the porch, their skin almost white in the cold morning air.  The cup of coffee was cold now, too, but Webb Thomas sipped it and rocked.  He reflected on how ridiculous it was to be uncovered in the bitter air, but he liked the intensity.

Forty-five years ago, he was born on a cold morning like this, and now he was spending his birthday freezing outside on a farm in Mason County, West Virginia.   He took another sip of cold coffee, and looked out at the bright line of the rising sun.  He thought about his wife, pictured her sleeping soundly upstairs in their bed.  Something turned foul on his tongue and he spit out the rancid brown liquid.  He could feel a churning in his head as hard memories cut into his peaceful moment.

Community members of a local church had all but corralled him and forced him to come to the fellowship supper years ago.  He had compassion for church people, but he knew exactly what they were up to when they tried to draw him into the flock.  He was an unknown quantity and they wanted him managed.

Why did Sera have to be there?


Esse-a-Go-Go: The Ghost Story

These are the draft post titles of the stories I considered but did not write during this project:

  • The Fisher Price Village Story
  • The Elephants Story
  • The Sledding Story
  • The Rail Road Tracks Story

These are all good stories that I may tell one day, but I realized what is one of the very best kinds of stories? GHOST. How could I have missed that one?

Several years ago, I was working for a Charleston small business with offices out of an old house. We threw a pretty great holiday party if I may say so myself, but the celebratory prep was marked with an odd series of events.  Each year as we spent about four weeks slowly getting ready for the party, we noticed things started disappearing.

The most memorable item that went missing was a huge handle of Jack Daniels whiskey. Now you might think, that’s easy, someone just swiped that…but that didn’t seem to  be logical. We were all people who liked to have a good time, but none of us were hard drinkers and most of us never even touched whiskey.  We were all very polite, ethical, engaged professionals who could afford our own party supplies as needed, and it just did not fit that one of us had taken such a large and obvious item out of the office.

Other incidents would crop up in that month before Christmas as well. Things that had been left on desk tops in the evening were gone in the morning, such as staplers and tape dispensers.  Holiday decorations, reams of paper, and even unopened food such as coffee and chips became unaccounted for.  It was never enough to accuse anyone of nefarious behavior, but it was just enough of a pattern to get one’s attention and to raise curiosities.

One year a colleague said, “You guys will laugh at me, but I heard once that our missing items might be connected to the presence of a ghost.”

No one laughed, we just leaned in for more detail.

“Some people believe that the spirits of the dead return to the place of their departure from Earth to try to get the attention of the living. They have unfinished business. If you pay attention to them, they may go away.”

We all did laugh then, but in a way that clearly said, Dammit. I think I might believe that.

We were divided on an appropriate way to “pay attention” to the spirits. Some people wanted to light candles and invite a conversation, others were content to just acknowledge that there might be something to it all, and to show a little respect for the wandering soul.

After Christmas, the owner of the house shared a new detail about the presence we affectionately and somewhat fearfully called, “Our ghost.”

In conversation in Charleston, she’d discovered that there had been another house on an adjacent lot years ago. A young girl had died in a house fire there around Christmas time.  Almost as if our collective awareness of this child’s death was the antidote to her attention-seeking, once we knew of her death the pattern ceased.

To my knowledge, Christmas comes and goes uninterrupted in the old house today. Long before this incident, I determined that I do believe in ghosts, at least as I define them. I think there was a presence in our office space that came, and that left. I like to think our refusal to dismiss her energy helped her on her way to a peaceful place.

Image credits: Child – Ghosts: Haunted Houses. Graves, Elizabeth Gaucher