A Family Ghost
A business associate of Mr. Scott, I had, of late, become a frequent visitor to his home and was with the family on a Halloween night that I’ll never forget.
The leaves were as crisp as rice paper and the wind as cold as tin on a roof. The two teenage girls were in their rooms on the second floor, preparing for the night’s festivities. I sat by the fire with Mr. Scott, carving a pumpkin and enjoying the spiced cider, caramel apples, and chocolate confections that Mrs. Scott was renown for throughout the county.
Mr. Scott and I had exchanged spooky tales throughout the evening, and each tale seemed more frightening than the last. Mrs. Scott seemed not to mind the fearsome path of our discussion. Far from it. As the pleasantly plump woman stood before the hearth, she occasionally added a quip or two as she jabbed the poker into the burning logs to stoke up a raging fire. Despite her efforts, an autumn chill crept through the windowpanes of the old Colonial home, and, every now and then, the wind would give out a haunting call that made the old wood that composed the dwelling creak.
Before long, Mr. Scott was deep in his cups and dozing in his chair, and Mrs. Scott had returned to the kitchen. I stood with match and candle, ready to haul my pumpkin to the front porch where its terrifying visage would delight the townspeople on their way to the festival. I slipped the candle inside, lit it, and transformed my pumpkin into a terrifying jack-o-lantern, then I sat it on the pedestal that Mrs. Scott had sat out for it earlier. I stood back to admire the flickering light flaring from the sharp-toothed visage , let my imagination roam to dark, unspeakable places, when a scream pierced the air.
I dashed into the foyer. Mr. Scott remained asleep in the chair, but a second scream awoke him He scrambled toward me. Mrs. Scott, eyes wide, pounded from the kitchen to join us in the foyer.
“What’s going on?” she said.
“I don’t know,” I said, my hand on the banister. “I think the scream came from upstairs.”
Another scream rent the air. Alarmed, we bounded up the stairs to find the girls’ bedroom door locked. “Open this door at once,” yelled Mr. Scott as he pounded on the wood panel.
The door finally opened and the three of us rushed in.
The youngest girl, Eileen, was on the floor, her white Princess lace in a big puff all about her, legs and face nearly hidden in an assault of crinoline. Elizabeth, the dark-haired daughter, was dressed like Cleopatra and bore a serpentine headpiece. The fair young lady was shaking so badly that a December wind might have crossed her soul.
Mrs. Scott wrapped her arms around the girl while Mr. Scott helped Eileen to her feet. The moment Eileen opened her eyes, one word ripped from her shivering lips: “Monk.”
You’d think that Mr. Scott had just seen a ghost, for he went as white as ice milk and stood on unsteady legs as Elizabeth, who still gripped her mother’s arm, spoke.
“It was the monk, Papa. We were playing a game when we heard someone tapping on the bedroom door, and thinking it was you or Mama, Eileen opened it–”
“Only a monk stood there,” Eileen piped in. “He was tall, his black hood draped over his face. He wore a skull ring, which was alive. The skull glared at us–its red eyes glowed like hot coals.” She laid her head against her father’s chest. “Oh, Papa, it scared me so. It was so terrifying that I fainted.”
“I saw the ring too,” Elizabeth said. “It was just as Eileen described it. I ran to the doorway and saw the monk float down the hall to the linen closet. I rushed to the closet, closed the door, and locked it in with my spare key.”
Silence reigned for a long while, every face set in fear. Then I turned to Elizabeth. “Why would you be in the habit of keeping a spare key to the linen closet?”
Elizabeth, red-eyed, said nothing as she clung to her father, but the outgoing Eileen, blond curls bouncing around her heart-shaped face, could be counted on to provide further details.
“She’s afraid of the closet. She thinks there’s a ghost in there. She saw something two weeks ago. So Mama and Papa gave her the key so that she could lock it in if she ever saw it again.”
“What a clever idea.” I smiled, trying to lighten the atmosphere. “Now, let’s see if you did, in fact, catch the specter. If so, we’ll dispatch the nasty fellow posthaste.”
I snatched the key from the girl’s trembling hand, then marched down the hall. The others entered the hall, but remained at a distance. I paused before a door and pointed to it. “This one?” I looked at them.
The girls nodded, inching closer, Mr. and Mrs. Scott not far behind them.
I jammed the key in the lock.
“No!” cried Elizabeth. “Please, don’t–”
I merely smiled. “Now it will be quite alright. I’m sure you’ll see that the nasty fellow is gone.” I slowly turned the key–everyone scarcely breathing as the door opened.
But, alas, there was nothing out of the ordinary within, least of all a ghostly monk. The only creepy thing I espied in the thick shadows was a rather large cobweb which housed a startled spider. A hooded figure, or anything remotely resembling it, however, was not to be found.
I held out an arm. “Come have a look. There’s nothing there. It was merely Halloween jitters. I bet you girls have been telling spooky stories and playing Halloween games tonight.”
“We’ve done no such thing,” cried Elizabeth.
Mrs. Shock, seeming unappeased by my revelation, took her daughters into her arms and held them tight. Mr. Scott nervously rubbed a palm with his knuckles as he paced the worn pine floor, and I wondered if he’d also gotten worked up from the spooky stories we’d shared earlier.
“Come,” he said. “Let’s go downstairs. There’s something that I must tell you.”
I eagerly followed the family to the keeping room where they’d gathered around the oval table, the center of which had been decorated with a fragrant bouquet of autumn leaves, yellow chrysanthemums, and strings of cranberries. Mr. Scott stood at the head of the table. Mrs. Scott sat at the opposite end, Elizabeth and Eileen on either side of her. I took a chair to Mr. Scott’s right.
We waited for Mr. Scott to speak his piece, but he seemed reluctant to breach the subject that was so heavy on his mind. And so we waited in silence, straining to absorb some warming rays from the hearth. When a log snapped, giving off sparks, Elizabeth cried out.
“It was just a log in the fire,” her mother assured her, placing a hand on hers. Then her eyes found her husband’s, beseeching him.
Finally, he spoke. “We can’t go out tonight.”
“Whyever not?” said Elizabeth.
“But the festival, Papa–” said Eileen.
“Papa, you know that we’ve been waiting for this evening for months,” Elizabeth added. “Mama has worked so hard on our costumes, and–”
“We must stay put!” he thundered, pounding the table with a fist and rattling the vase of flowers.
Silence fell heavy again.
Then, Mr. Scott. took a deep breath, slowly lowered himself into his seat and began. “I know that monk well, you see. He has visited my family for centuries, and he only appears on the day that there will be a grim tragedy in the family.”
The frowns of disappointment fell from the girls’ faces to be replaced by fear.
Elizabeth dashed to her mother’s side. “Mamma, I’m scared.” She sat halfway on her mother’s lap.
“So Am I,” said Eileen, coming to Mrs. Scott’s other side.
Solemn faced, she held the two in her arms, briefly closed her eyes.
I suppressed a groan. I thought it a travesty that Mr. Scott should scare the girls so.
“Do you mean…” I began, but couldn’t bring myself to finish the question.
“At least one of us will die tonight!” Mr. Scott’s eyes were wild with fear.
“Has the monk’s visitation always resulted in death?” I was fascinated by the tale.
Mr. Scott nodded. “I wish it wasn’t so, but alas, his visits portend certain death on the very day of the sighting. The death usually occurs before midnight.”
The clock struck the hour, heightening the pervasive sense of doom that filled the atmosphere. Mrs. Scott’s grip tightened on the girls.
“But Elizabeth saw the specter two weeks ago–” I began.
“It wasn’t a monk,” said Elizabeth. “But the Captain.”
“The Captain?” I said.
“A ghost,” said Mr. Scott, “of the ship captain who once owned this house. Many have seen him. He’s entirely harmless, probably doesn’t know he’s dead or refuses to give up his lease on life. The monk, however, is quite a different matter.”
“I see. Fascinating. But perhaps the monk’s foreboding pertains to none of you, but to a distant relative in England.” I said, hoping to ease the girls’ fear.
“To my knowledge, sir, I have no living relatives in England. We four are the last of the Scotts. The monk has killed the rest of my family. And that’s why my family and I must stay here tonight. Together. Perhaps, if we do, we can overcome this thing.”
“Yes,” said Mrs. Scott. “Surely if we remain together and have faith in the Lord, nothing bad can befall us. ”
“Come now, children, lets hold hands,” said Mr. Scott. “Eileen, take Mama’s. I want us to form a circle and pray. Maybe our prayers will ward off this terrible evil.”
As the girls reclaimed their chairs and joined hands, I thought this all a bunch of hokey superstition. Though I complied with Mr. Scott’s wishes and joined in their circle of prayer, inwardly I was disgusted that this monk sighting would deprive the girls of an evening of fun at the festival. The monk certainly appeared to be real to Mr. Scott and to his wife, who raised her head after the round of prayers and stared into the raging hearth flames, her knuckles as white as bone china as she clasped her daughters’ hands.
“I take it that you too have had experience with the monk,” I gazed at her.
She stared hard at me, fear in her dark eyes. “I saw the monk when George’s father died in a hunting accident. It was quite terrifying, to say the least, and I don’t wish to speak about it”
Mr. Scott nodded. “I saw the monk that day too. I’ve seen it many times and hoped I’d never see it again. The last time I saw it, I was strolling with my cousin, Ellen, in the garden. We were accompanied by my brother and sister. Ellen was showing us her prize roses. When all of the sudden the monk rose in a mist from the ground. As we watched, he stretched out his long, bony arm and touched Ellen’s chest with that terrible ring. Everyone saw it except for poor Ellen. She never felt its touch either. For the remainder of the day, she’d seemed perfectly fine–in her usual good health and spirits, but by nightfall, for no apparent reason, she suddenly died. The maid found her the next morning. She’d died in her sleep.”
“But it never touched any of you today,” I said.
“Not that we’re aware of,” said Mrs. Scott.
“What do you think it is?” I asked. “Is it an apparition of what was once a living person?”
“Something much more terrifying and powerful than an ordinary ghost,” Mr. Scott declared. “I believe that it’s an evil spirit, which, for some mysterious reason, attached itself to my family ages ago, perhaps through a curse.”
“Well then, perhaps it’s on a mission of revenge,” I said.
“George’s ancestor, Sir Scott of Harden, stole land from the church and assisted Henry the 8th in executing monks–”
“Now, Ellen–” said Mr. Scott, waving his hand in annoyance.
“He did,” she cried. “Eighteen Cathusian monks to be exact, some of them hanged, some starved to death, and some drawn and quartered. And now, we’re cursed because of it.”
“I don’t believe that that’s the reason for the monk’s visits,” said Mr. Scott.
“Then what do you think the monk is?” I dared.
“I believe he’s the Grim Reaper. There’s always a stone found after one of my family members dies.”
“According to legend, the Grim Reaper has a chariot of stones and leaves one behind each time he claims a victim.”
“I never knew that.” I took a handkerchief from my pocket and swiped the beads of sweat that had formed on my brow.
“Papa, how long must we sit here like this?” Eileen asked, squirming in her seat.
“Until after midnight,” he said.
“But that’s hours away.”
“Yes, and here we’ll remain.” His gaze shifted to me. He studied me thoughtfully. “You, of course, should go, dear man. You look tired. Why you’re as white as a ghost. There’s no reason why you should miss the festivities over a matter that doesn’t concern you.”
“Dear God, I couldn’t possibly leave you to your fate. I assure you that I’m hale and hearty, never felt better. And I could not make merry while a friend is in such a state. I will remain with you until this dreadful thing has passed and offer you my assistance.”
“If that is your wish, sir, then you are welcome to stay.”
“That is my wish, sir,” I said. I took some candles from the mantel, lit them, and sat them in a path along the center of the table while everyone watched on. “White light. I’ve always heard that it wards off evil spirits.”
Mr. Scott nodded absently. “Then let us pray.”
More prayers were recited. Of course, I doubted that such prayers would be answered, but the act seemed to calm nerves. I still wholly believed that the girls had merely been carried away by the Halloween atmosphere, had perhaps slipped downstairs earlier and heard our exchange of ghost stories. And, no doubt, they already knew something about the family’s ghostly monk.
If they had seen a ghost, very likely, it was the Captain.
Whatever the cause of their hysteria, the whole situation was, nevertheless, entertaining, and I was determined to stay to the end.
And yet, despite my skepticism, even I jumped when a visitor cranked the doorbell.
Mrs. Scott rose, but Mr. Scott grabbed her hand. “Don’t go to the door! It could be someone who intends to bring death to this home.”
She nodded blankly and sank back into her chair. Her expression was so grim that it appeared as if she’d resolved herself to the inevitably that death would visit her home tonight. Already she grieved the anticipated loss.
The bell sounded again. And I thought that, surely, the woman’s terror grew each time the mysterious visitor cranked the bloody bell. I could bear it no longer.
“Let me answer the door,” I said. “If it is the monk, he can’t hurt me. And I wouldn’t mind getting a look at the fellow for myself. Think of the stories that I could tell when I return to London in the spring. If it’s not the monk, I’ll send the visitor on his merry way.”
The bell rang again, and shortly afterward, nerves giving way at last, Mr. Scott reluctantly agreed to let me see who it was. I returned to the keeping room a moment later.
“It’ s a message for you. The courier said it’s urgent.” I handed Mr. Scott a sealed missive.
Frowning, he opened it immediately and read it out loud.
“I regret to inform you that May Alexander Scott is in poor health. Furthermore, sir, she’s not expected to live into winter. As you are her only living heir, she hopes that you will help her settle her worldly matters before she returns to her maker. Please reply at once.”
As he laid the missive on the table, Mrs. Scott gave a long sigh of relief. “Then you do have a living relative.”
Mr. Scott squinted as if trying to see something distant, then clutched his head with his hands. “I don’t recall having an Aunt May. Long ago, my parents had mentioned an estranged daughter, but I’d thought that she died years ago. They’d said she had tuberculosis.”
“Nevertheless, you have a living relative, and she’s on her deathbed,” Mrs. Scott said, waving the letter. “Thus the reason for the monk’s visit.”
Shaking his head with disbelief, Mr. Scott appeared to be deep in thought, chasing some fragmented memories of a mysterious aunt who couldn’t have come into his life at a better time.
“Maybe a child of my mother’s brother William…no…perhaps the offspring of my great uncle James…”
“Oh, what does it matter?” Mrs. Scott said with a toothy grin. “The important thing is that it’s over. It’s past. We’re safe. Clearly the monk’s appearance foretells May’s death.”
“Of course. You’re right,” he said, joy growing on his face. He leaped to his feet to take his wife in his arms. The girls gave a cheer and danced in joy. Each of them were eager to cast aside all thoughts of the horrible specter and return to their night of Halloween fun.
Their joy was infectious. “I think that, if we hurry, we can still make it to the festival,” I said.
The girls gave a wild cheer, and Mrs. Scott added, “Yes. We should make it. Get your capes, girls. It’s chilly outside.”
A few minutes later, we gathered in the foyer, Mrs. Scott in her shawl and hat, and carrying a big basket of chocolates and other baked goods to share with neighbors at the gathering, Mr. Scott in his jacket and cap, and the girls in their wool capes and scarves.
I donned my hat and jacket and was the last one out the door, and as I reached in to pull the inner door closed, I paused and nearly gasped, ingesting the ungodly taste of my own Halloween terror. For a bit of a black sleeve had slipped out from beneath my white shirt and coat, nearly giving me away. I quickly tucked it back in, gave a long sigh of relief, and followed the family out onto the porch. I wore a triumphant smile that was bigger and brighter than the jack-o-lantern I’d carved.
Yes, it would be interesting, indeed, to see how this night played out. Anticipation was always the best part of such matters. And this would be the first time that I’d ever claimed four Scotts on a single night.
© 2004 Bobette Bryan
This fictional account has a basis in fact. I’d read several true accounts about ghostly monks, which inspired me to write this story. In my paranormal research, I came upon many stories of families who were haunted by a spectral monk who bears a foreboding of death similar to that of a banshee. Some families are even haunted by nuns. What these apparitions are is anyone’s guess, but they’re certainly the type of ghost that you don’t want to meet.