Terry Adcock, “Tea, Ghosts, and a Bit of Gossip”

October’s Final Days, First Runner-Up, Fiction

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“I’ve always wondered whether ghosts were real.” Granny sipped a steaming cup of sweet tea as she gazed at the apparition hovering ever so slightly above the sofa cushions. “My grandmother was a believer. The stories she told us children would curl your hair!”

The apparition nodded and glanced at the Tambour clock sitting on the mantle. It was nearly midnight. Granny noticed the apparition checking the time and smiled.

Before the apparition disappeared, Granny said, “For years, I refused to accept that our house was haunted, but obviously, I was wrong.” Granny shrugged her thin shoulders. “You’re the reason our family could never sell this old house. Grandmother always said she felt like a prisoner. My parents took over, but they couldn’t unload the place either. I suppose I’m destined to live out my days here as well. All because you died and refused to leave.”

The apparition said, “I’ll never leave, besides where would I go? They say a spirit can’t rest after a violent death. No, I’ll always haunt this place. And if it gets torn down, I’ll haunt whatever they put up next.”

“Grandmother said you fell down the stairs and broke your neck. So, actually, you don’t have to keep haunting the place because it was an accident.”

“Do you really believe that old story? It was no accident. I was murdered by my cheating husband, the rotten scoundrel! In those days, we didn’t have furr . . . for . . .”

“Forensics,” Granny said, supplying the word.

“Yes, that’s it. Back then, I suppose a good wallop upside the head looked much like a broken neck from a fall.”

“Grandmother said you drank too much. Probably missed a step and fell.”

The apparition appeared agitated. “Your old grandmother couldn’t tell a straight story if her life depended on it. Your mother was just like her.”

“Why pick on Mother? What did she ever do to you?” Granny said indignantly.

“And you’re as bad as they were,” the apparition continued. “You scared your children half to death with those old stories, and now you make your poor grand-children listen to that same claptrap like it’s gospel, but there’s no truth in it.”

The minute hand advanced another couple of notches as midnight drew nearer. They caught each other looking at the clock. Granny set her cup down firmly and sat up all prim and proper; clearly miffed at hearing her family disparaged.

“I merely passed on the stories as they were told to me. Besides, scaring the bejeezus out of children makes them want to behave or else bad things might happen. It kept me and my sisters in line.”

“Wouldn’t you like to know the real story?”

“Of course, but first tell me, is the “legend” really true? They say your spirit must return to the turret next to the widow’s walk each night before the clock strikes midnight else the demons will drag you straight to hell. Is it true?”

“You finally got something right, old girl! I’ve never been late, not in a hundred years, and not for all eternity. I’ll always be here,” said the apparition.

Two minutes to midnight.

“Before you go, what really happened that night? Did your husband truly kill you, as you claim?”

“I suspected he was seeing the parson’s wife and that night I caught them together!”

Granny absently poured more tea. “Oh my! What happened next?” Granny couldn’t let the apparition leave now; she just had to know.

“They were up in the tower doing the “naughty deed” as we used to say. They played me for a fool, but I fixed them good!” said the apparition with feeling.

The second hand on the clock swept along ticking off the final seconds. Granny heard the gears click into place as the old clock prepared to chime the critical hour.

“Lord a’mighty! What did you do? Tell me quickly!”

“I stabbed them with a carving knife. They wanted to be together so badly, now they’re stuck with each other for forever.” The apparition cackled with glee.

“But how did your husband manage to kill you.”

“Just before he died, he gave me one last mighty whack that broke my neck and I fell down the stairs. Old Sheriff Coots couldn’t tell the difference between a broken neck and a stubbed toe. He assumed I tripped and fell to my death.”

“Bless your heart! But, you said a violent death won’t let a spirit rest. What happened to your husband and his mistress? All these years, why haven’t I heard them haunting this old place like you?”

“I keep them locked up in the turret tower with me. They treated me badly, and I’m going to enjoy tormenting those two until the end of time!” The apparition laughed, but it sounded more like a screech owl.

Just then the clock struck twelve; the familiar low melodic sound filled the room.

“Oh no! What have you done? You kept me talking for too long! I’ve got to get back to the tower. . .”

Suddenly, the apparition disappeared in a puff of smoke. As the last chime marked the midnight hour, all was quiet, even peaceful.

Granny heard soft footsteps coming down the stairs. Her husband shuffled into the parlor rubbing the sleep from his eyes.

“I thought I heard you talking to someone down here. Who’s calling at this hour?”

“I was talking to myself. Go back to bed,” Granny said. “We’re meeting the realtors tomorrow, and I just wanted to ensure there were no ghosts lurking about and cluttering up the place. I don’t want anything to prevent us from selling this old dump. Not this time.”

Her husband scratched the stubble on his jaw. “I keep telling you there are no such things as haunted houses, so quit worrying. Tell me, you don’t really believe in ghosts, do you?”

“Ghosts?” Granny smiled. “What ghosts?”

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