Read an Excerpt
An Inspiring True Ghost Story
By Linda Alice Dewey
Hampton Roads Publishing Company, Inc.Copyright © 2006 Linda Alice Dewey
All rights reserved.
For a moment, I didn't feel a thing. I opened my eyes and looked up to see the other farmhands gaping down at me.
"His neck's broke!"
"Looks like it."
I got up and brushed myself off. "I'm all right," I said, but they ignored me. "Look, I'm fine," I reassured them, but they stared at the ground. I looked, too.
At first, I didn't realize it was me—the head twisted at a forty-five-degree angle, eyes wide open and mouth ready to cry out. But the clothes were mine, and I shaved each day with the help of a reflecting glass, so I knew what I looked like.
With horror, I lowered my gaze to the arms, legs, and trunk I stood in now, separate from the body on the ground yet still intact. I didn't understand.
Another hand ran up. "He dead, Bill?"
How could I be dead when I still existed?
"I'm not dead," I said to them. "Look!" I thrust out my arms and waved them around.
"What do we do?" asked Jake.
"Gotta take him into town, I guess," said Bill. "Call the boss."
Jake ran off toward the farmhouse.
Crusty hadn't said a word till now. He looked at the gruesome body on the ground. "Wasn't my fault. I loaded the hay up like always. Wind must've made that bale swing like it did."
"Aw, they all swing, Crusty," said Bill.
"Yeah? Then how'd he miss it?"
"Wasn't looking, I reckon."
Truth was, I hadn't been looking. A mouse scurrying along the loft floor ran over my shoe. Kicked at it I did, reaching for the bale's rope at the same moment. Lost my balance is all I can figure.
The hands stood around as Boss Delvecchio approached, then explained what happened as he bent to listen to my heart and feel for signs of life.
"That's what we said."
Dead. There is my body lying in front of me, but here is my body I'm standing in.
I stood directly in front of the boss. "Look at me, for God's sake! I'm okay."
"Better hitch the wagon and take him to the undertaker," Boss said, obviously not to me.
Kneeling, I touched the body on the ground. It felt like sponge. The slightest pressure and my hand sank into it yet remained visible, an unpleasant pressure all around it. Wrenching my hand out, I searched the face, ugly and grotesque. Repulsed, I pulled away and moved off as they brought the wagon around and loaded it up.
As the horses began to move, I hopped into the back and rode along, looked beside me at the distorted remains again, then down at myself. I had no use for the loathsome carnage next to me. Wasn't me any longer, that I could see. The body I was in suited me now as well as that one had before. Felt a little lighter, actually—no aches or pains, although I must say I felt tired. It would be natural to feel tired going through all this, I told myself.
Boss and the help deposited my remains at the rear of the funeral home. Bodies are always delivered at the rear in an effort to protect clients from the more unsavory aspects of the process. Boss went around to the front—where the living enter—and into the office, where the real business takes place.
The undertaker, a Mr. Murphy I believe his name was, asked many questions. "Last name?"
"Burke," said Boss.
A pause. "Don't think he had one," mumbled Boss.
Murphy looked up. "Didn't have one, or you don't know if he had one?"
"Don't know," admitted Boss.
"Mr. Delvecchio, with all due respect, we need complete death records. Once we fill out this certificate, it gets filed with the county. Having complete information is most important."
Boss nodded. Now, may I say that one of the best things about working at this particular farm had been his lack of curiosity about his workers' past. For all Boss knew, I had given him a fake name. He hadn't cared at the time. But he was in trouble now.
I hadn't wanted anyone snooping into my past, finding out I had left my children and all. Nothing wrong in what I'd done; I just didn't want to talk about it. Made me uncomfortable.
Murphy continued asking questions, but Boss didn't know anything—date and place of birth, mother's maiden name. Nothing. The undertaker put down his pencil and looked at him. "You do know how he died, don't you?"
Boss described it fully.
"You were there and saw it happen?"
"Well, no," he admitted, then brightened, "but three of my hands did!"
Murphy nodded, then said, "I don't suppose you know about next of kin."
"Well, Mr. Delvecchio, whom do we notify?"
Boss was silent. I had worked at his farm for the past four summers and had never once been asked about my family.
Murphy sat forward, leaning his forearms on the desk. "What shall we do with the body, with no one to notify and make decisions?"
Boss looked down at the hat in his hand. I never liked Boss, but I liked the working conditions on his farm. He didn't bother me, and I didn't bother him. But I didn't trust him, either. Now I knew why. He did what befitted him with no thought for anyone else.
"We can store it for a day," said Mr. Murphy, "but after that, we bury."
"You'll have to put the word out. Advertise. If no family comes forward, it'll be the community cemetery with a small service. Do you know his religious preference?"
"He never went to church that I know of," said Boss, finally able to say something true about me, "but he's Irish, so there's a fifty/fifty chance he's Catholic!"
"Catholic it is, then." Murphy made a final note and slapped the book shut. "Next, will you be taking care of payment, Mr. Delvecchio?"
I thought Boss should pay, since I was on the job when I died. He had other ideas, though, and I knew right then that he'd take the money from my personal effects. I didn't know what he would do with the rest—a sizable sum it was, too, me working all those years with few expenses. But he would make me pay for my own funeral, that was for sure.
"I'm good for it."
Upon hearing that, Mr. Murphy slowed up a bit. "Ah, it is possible, Mr. Delvecchio," he ventured, smiling for the first time, "to raise the quality of the proceedings. Perhaps a nice hardwood casket or a visitation this evening?"
Boss would have none of that, and they concluded business.
I felt torn at this point on what to do. Should I follow Boss back to the farm and see what he did with my possessions, or stay and see what Mr. Murphy did with the body? Both belonged to me in life, after all. More attached to the body, I decided to stay.
Murphy opened a ledger and continued to write after Boss left. Soon, a rather officious man who must have been the coroner blew through the swinging doors from the front of the funeral parlor. "Lyle," he said, tipping his hat to the undertaker. Taking a form down from a shelf, he asked, "What do we have?"
"Fellows from Delvecchio's farm say he fell from the hayloft." He rose from behind his desk and led the way to the back of the building through another set of swinging doors and into a room lined with shelves. My dirty, ugly corpse lay on one of two immense marble tables in the room's center.
"Cause of death"—the visitor glanced at the body—"broken neck." He signed the document, left a carbon behind and walked out the door.
Murphy approached the cadaver. "Broke your neck, did you, you old fool?" he said when the door closed, speaking directly to my body. "Couldn't keep your head on straight, could you?" He chuckled to himself.
I didn't laugh. Neither did my corpse.
Since there would be no family to see me, he wasted no time bathing or cleaning up the body but slung it into a pine box without ceremony, pushing my limbs so they'd fit. The way he treated it appalled me. "Serves you right for ogling girls the way you did."
I never ogled any girls. Stayed away from all of them.
"Turning your neck this way and that. Got carried away, didn't you?" He laughed aloud at his joke. "So many beauties to see, pretty soon your neck can't take any more." He laughed even harder.
The man was beginning to irritate me.
"Then you see one that really knocks your socks off, try to get a good look and break your neck!" He shut the lid on the casket and walked off, roaring. "Damned women'll get you one way or another." His voice faded as he passed through the swinging doors.
Angry, I grabbed a pencil and threw it at the doors. He poked his head back in, saw the pencil roll on the floor and picked it up. Sobered, he set it on the counter, looked on every side of the room one last time and left.
Knew I was there, didn't he?
I strode over to pick up the pencil, but this time my fingers passed right through it. Now why, I wondered, could I do it a moment ago, but now I can't?
Tired. So tired was I after the events of this day, I needed to rest. Deciding the table was better than the floor, I lay down and wondered how I could be on it without falling into it. I rolled onto my side and passed my hand back and forth through the table. Now I was really tired and closed my eyes.
Dead, I thought. I'm dead.
* * *
The rising sun told me it was morning. I hadn't actually slept, but the rest helped, and I felt more energized.
Mr. Murphy entered in full black undertaker's regalia. Horse and hearse waited outside. He and another man loaded my casket. Once again, I rode beside my corpse.
We were on our way to my funeral, but was I really dead? When people died, they stopped existing. At least that's what I had always believed.
Which brought me to the thought of my dear Susanna and how I had mourned at her grave, believing her body lay beneath. And Katy before her. And Mrs. Harris. And Mummy. I had thought them all dead and gone. But what if they were around like I was now?
The thought of Susanna being here excited me. Why shouldn't she be? She had to be somewhere, didn't she? If I existed after death, wouldn't she? Wouldn't everyone? I guessed we did. After the funeral, I would search for her. And then I would find Mrs. Harris and Mummy and Katy. Happy thoughts these, after all this shock and confusion, and I concluded the ride in a more cheerful state than I had been in since Susanna's death.
Before I knew it, the undertaker and his helper opened the back doors and unloaded the casket. I jumped out.
The grave already dug, the gravediggers waited a distance away, itching to get on with their work. A few people stood at the burial site—Boss, a priest in black, and some hired hands in work clothes, for they would return to the tasks they had left. That was it. A pitiful showing, especially since none of them really cared about me. They'd shown up out of a sense of duty. At least there was that.
The priest made a few remarks. Since he didn't know me, he couldn't say much about me personally. None of them really knew me, for that matter. "He was a good worker," was about as far as they could go. "Never bothered anyone," was another good one. The priest concluded with the Twenty-Third Psalm and the "ashes to ashes" verse, then made the sign of the cross and blessed it all in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.
Ah, now there was a word. It occurred to me for the first time that I might just be what was known as a ghost and not a holy one, either. If I were a ghost, what would that mean? That Susanna and my mother were not here after all? Were there even such things as ghosts? If so, were others here? Did everyone become ghosts or only a lucky few? How long did we stay this way? Forever?
As the group near my grave dispersed, I looked around the place. I had noticed—without really thinking about it—a few other people at nearby graves, some standing, most sitting. I had thought them to be mourners but now I could see that these were not like the others. They seemed lighter, not as dense as those leaving my grave and the gravediggers over there.
These people had gone through death! Don't ask me how I knew, I just did. It was as if a second subtle layer of existence covered the mortal realm. I didn't think of them as dead, since they still existed, just no longer in the Physical Layer.
I began to explore, looking at one grave, then another. There were certainly more gravestones here than their visitors, which meant that everyone wasn't here. Where were the rest?
Seeking answers, I approached a woman seated in front of a grave. "Excuse me," I said.
She didn't move.
She looked up slowly, and I beheld a fatigue beyond anything imaginable.
Turning away, I moved on. "Morning," I said to a man lying on his stomach by a grave up the hill.
"Morning," he mumbled into his arm. He rolled onto his back and looked up at me. "You're the new one, then." He looked tired, too.
Come to think of it, I felt tired again. "May I sit here?" I looked at the headstone. "Esther Fielding, 1849–1900." Not his grave at all.
I nodded. "Where is she?"
"Right here, you numbskull!"
I walked on. A young woman sat with her ankles crossed on a grave over by the cemetery gate.
I tried again. "Morning."
"Good morning," she said, smiling. She patted the earth next to her. "Have a seat."
I obliged, grateful for someone to talk with.
"New, ain't ya?"
"What do you mean?"
"How did you die?"
"Oh." She chewed on something. Funny, I hadn't thought about food since the fall yesterday.
"I fell, too. Horse fall."
"Oh." Then, "That's too bad."
"Nah, it was good."
"How could it be good?"
"Got me outta there. I hated working."
"What type of work did you do?" I asked, more to keep the conversation going than out of real interest.
"I was a Lady of the Evening."
"You know. A prostitute."
Until that moment, I hadn't even thought of her as a woman. Uneasy, I began to rise.
"Don't leave," she said. "I'm not a whore now."
I relaxed and sat back down. "No, I don't s'pose you are."
We sat for a while as the sun arched west at a pace I could watch. Amazing how quickly the time passed.
I indicated the unattended graves. "Where are all the others?" "They went."
"Anybody still here usually leaves after a while."
"Anyone that doesn't cross." She looked at me. "You don't know nothing, do you?"
I shook my head. "Not about being dead."
"When you die, they come and get you—most of the time. Sometimes they don't."
"Oh." Then, after a while, "Why not?"
"Now if I knew all the answers, would I still be here?" she asked, annoyed. "Look, if they didn't come and get you, they didn't come and get you!"
I got up and walked off to see what they had done with my grave. Filled in it was, a mound of dirt covering the top. I had missed seeing the last of the box, but then, it wasn't me in there anyway.
Twilight had descended, so I decided to lie on this plot of land belonging to my "body" and camp for the night.
I could get more answers tomorrow.
* * *
Before I knew it, the sun was high in the sky again. My neighbors were in the same spots as yesterday. One old man sat leaning against a tombstone. I walked over to him with the hope of learning more about existence in this Second Layer.
"Morning," I said.
"Well," he grunted, "at least you didn't say 'good.'"
"Didn't say 'good'?"
He raised his voice. "Didn't say: 'good morning.'" He looked up at the sky. "'What's so good about it?' I would have asked. Nothing good about anything, far as I can see." He shifted his back against the gravestone, scratching it back and forth.
"You been here long?"
"A while." He sat silent for a moment. "Saw them bring you in yesterday."
"Pathetic small showing, I will say."
"Well, I'm not from here."
He squinted up at me. "Then why are you buried here?"
"They didn't know where else to send me."
"Ah, now that's a problem, isn't it? And you too dumb to tell them."
"No, I never told them."
He leaned toward me, "And you didn't tell them afterward either, I'll wager." It had been a question. He waited for the answer.
"I was dead. How could I have told them?"
"There are ways; there are ways." He leaned back again.
I sat down.
"Watch it!" he yelled.
I jumped up.
"This is my plot. Mine! And I won't be sharing the only thing I own on earth with some stupid sonofabitch who doesn't know his ass from his hole in the ground, and doesn't care enough about the living he left behind to let them know where he is."
"Wait a minute," I said, equally angry. This man had judged me when he didn't even know me. "I told you. I was dead. How could I let them know?"
"Oh, for God's sake," he said, exasperated. "If you're desperate enough, you'll find a way." He turned away.
I walked back to my grave and sat down. If I were desperate enough. When I'd been angry, I could throw that pencil. Maybe there was a way to let them know where I was after all!
Excerpted from Aaron's Crossing by Linda Alice Dewey. Copyright © 2006 Linda Alice Dewey. Excerpted by permission of Hampton Roads Publishing Company, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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