The Singing Ghost

Written 2003

 

            Where to begin?  Several years ago my great uncle died, willing to me the ownership of a massive estate in Denmark – of all places.  I didn’t even know I had a great uncle.  Anyway, having no binding responsibilities in the states – ya, I’ve accomplished a lot in my time – I packed up my stuff and moved to my new home; the Castle of Elsinore.

            There were no mysteries about my uncle’s death, he died naturally.  It had been a month between his passing and when I put in at the manor,  so my arrival came as a relief to the employees there who expected me to administrate the manor.  The staff was quite minimal for such a large establishment; 2 gardeners, 1 carpenter, 3 servants, and a cook.  They each excitedly gave me tours of their respective turfs, informing me of their duties and of the lore of the property.

            After many weeks, I was finally becoming accustomed to a daily routine.  I knew the workers by now and was telling them either to do things a certain way or use their best judgment.  Things were running fairly smoothly.  I was getting used to my surroundings, exploring passages of the castle, taking walks alone through the wide expanse of the land at the high time of the day, composing music in the afternoon, and reading books in the mammoth library in the evening.  Cha – me reading…  At any rate, my guard had dropped and was acquiring a familiarity with the spirit of my new environment.

            I had made my room in one of the highest chambers in the castle, and I remember that after about 6 weeks I was being awakened a few nights in a row by commotion in the immense lobby; talking, whispers, singing, muffled laughs…  The noise was coming down the hall to my room from one of the lobby’s balconies.  Because I’m a heavy sleeper and its a bit of a walk to the balcony, I hadn’t gotten up to investigate.  I figured that a couple in the crew had become familiar enough with me that they thought it was safe to get cozy with each other in a physical relationship and fool around in the middle of the night.  At this point I didn’t completely understand my roll and authority as master, so I was letting it slip.

            Early one gray morning Mr. Mott, one of the gardeners, came to me and said, “We have a problem.”  He took me around outside to the south side of the castle and pointed me to a patch of earth next to the wall where the ground was uneven and the grass was dying.  We squatted down next to the section.  The surrounding soil was dry, but the dirt beneath the expiring sod looked greasy.  “What do you think, a busted water pipe?”  He said, “I don’t think so, I don’t know of any water works that come out on this side.  This is pretty close to the mansion.  If it gets worse it could damage the foundation.”  “Have you ever had anything like this happen before?”  “No sir,” he replied.  We went inside to check the floor of the room adjacent to the site, which was the lobby.  I called the rest of the servants to come with us.  The huge stone floor tiles next to the wall were looking dingy and had a sweaty film on them.  “Well, great.  Uh, alright, Dabberdon, (the carpenter) you go research the castle’s water system, and one of you wipe up the floor here…  I’m going for my walk now and I’ll think about this.”

            It was early spring and there were low dark clouds out that day.  For some reason, I chose to walk to the north east woods.  The winter had been very dry; in fact there use to be a brook that ran near the cemetery in the woods towards the castle, but it had dried up due to the lack of moisture.   That fact ruled out the possibility that the decaying area was being formed by runoff.  It must have been caused by a broken waterline, or God forbid, a sewage leak.

            At dinner that night, Dabberdon reported that he could find no blueprints that supported any leak theory.  “Nothing??”  “No sir,” he said.  “Huh!”  I told them my thoughts about the dry winter and they all agreed that it wasn’t weather related.  Everyone was befuddled and concerned about it.  We all went to bed with the matter in our thoughts.

            Once again just as I was dozing off, I heard people downstairs singing and goofing off.  I looked at my clock - 11:34p.m..  I tried to ignore the noises, but this time they kept me awake for a long time.  After a while I let off a sigh of frustration and said to myself, “That’s it.”  I walked barefoot down the hall in drowsy stomp and when I knew I was close enough to the balcony to make an effective entrance, I started to yell, “KNOCK IT OFF, I’M TRYING TO SLEEP!”  As I was finishing my exclamation, I had reached the marble railing and was starting to look down.  The noises below stopped and one lady looked up from the lobby floor at me.  I fell mute.  I had never seen anybody so pale as she.  The black and white pattern in the tiled floor seemed to pass right through her.  The girl was dressed in an ash-white dress, and even her once red hair appeared to be green.  I felt a cold sweat as she glared up at me, and the hairs on my neck stood up.  I grabbed the railing and opened my dry mouth, shallowly demanding, “Who are you?”  The woman suddenly fell to her back and began to choke silently – at least what looked like choking – eyes big, gasping for air with her tongue half out.  She waved her arms and legs around in the air in such an unnatural way, like slow motion.  Her body then seemed to slide across and pass through the floor, disappearing near the south wall at the dingy wet spot in the tiles.

            I stood paralyzed, staring down at the empty room.  …That ghastly face.  Finally I broke free of horror’s grip and started yelling, desperately calling out everyone’s name.  Eventually the 7 of them came running out from different directions.  “What!  What is it m’lord?!”  “I, I, I just saw a ghost!”

            To be sure, there was no rest till near sunrise.  The staff, strangely, was not as stirred up as I was.  We went down to the galley, and they all calmly took turns at counseling me.  After a while, I got sick of them patronizing me and asked, “Why are you all acting so cool!?”  “We’ve had run-ins with wraiths before,” said Chamonique (a maid).  I told them that I had been hearing noises at night, but that I thought it was a couple of them.  “You mean none of you’ve been messing around in the lobby at night??”  “No sir,” they all answered.  Throughout the night, the staff of Elsinore educated me about the history of the estate, the mansion, and ties to the supernatural.  They each had ancestry associated with long past Kingdoms of Denmark, and 2 of them who said they had experience with poltergeists convinced me that they could be dealt with.  “I thought every problem concerning wraiths had been settled,” noted Chamonique.  “Its been quiet for several years up till now.”  “Maybe something’s recently changed,” remarked Madelyn (the other maid).  “You said you heard sounds the past few nights?”  “Yes,” I answered.  “Then we may have a chance to reckon with this matter early on,” said Chamonique.  We planned to pursuit the ghost if it returned to see what needed to be done.

            Early in the morning after finally arriving at a sufficient level of peace, I went back to bed; and with the light of the sun revealing every hidden thing, I was convinced it was safe to go back to sleep.  I didn’t wake until 2 in the afternoon.  Mr. Mott, Dabberdon and I checked on the wasting area outside and it was getting worse.  The ground in the middle of the spot was sinking.  Mr. Mott marked off the area around the depression, and I went inside with Dabberdon to see if the structure of the building was any worse.  A layer of water vapor was still accumulating on the floor tiles in the lobby around the south wall.  Mr. Dabberdon volunteered to go into town and rent a backhoe.  I ate breakfast and went out on my walk.  All of us went about our daily business with a degree of normality, except for the disturbing effect of the ghost affair on our minds; especially mine.  Dabberdon didn’t get back with the backhoe until after dark, so we wouldn’t be able to do any work till tomorrow.  We all parted for the evening after a late dinner, but I knew I wasn’t going to get to sleep until far past midnight.  I was far too unsettled to rest.  I spent the next few hours watching television in a study on the second floor.

            Several times after thinking I heard something, I muted the TV and sat up in my chair, listening for any sounds.  Every time, it was quiet.  Later when my attention was sufficiently diverted between a book and the TV, I again heard someone singing downstairs.  The clench of fear froze and shriveled my soul, again I felt my hair stand on end, and a rush of adrenaline surged my body.  The clock on the mantle read 11:34 p.m..  I dropped my book, jumped out of my chair and ran to the nearest balcony of the lobby on the second floor.  There it was!  A powdery white nymph-like apparition, singing. 

            “Did you ever see the grass in the morning

            All bedecked with jewels rare?

            Did you ever see a handsome lassie,

            Diamonds sparkling in her hair?

            Did you ever see a copper kettle

            Mended with an ould tin can?

            Did you ever see a handsome damsel

            Married off to an ugly man?”

 

            Then she laughed rambunctiously, the sound of which echoed off the tall walls shattering the stillness in the large room.  I stood at the railing staring down at it, judging its appearance.  At first the girl seemed to be very attractive, but with a more thorough assessment she wasn’t very healthy looking at all.  Her flesh was more discolored than rotten; it was so pallid and looked so cold, as though she had been in freezing water.  Her eye sockets and lips were dark.  She folded her hands elegantly and slowly paced across the lobby as she sung.  One by one, each of the staff appeared in different entrances to the lobby.  They all stopped short of entering out of amazement.  The spirit didn’t seem to notice our presence.  I slowly detached myself from the balcony and quietly made my way to the stairway.  When I reached the floor, I looked back and saw that the ghost was still in the room.  I glanced at Mr. Mott, and he nodded in its direction.

            I cautiously stepped towards it and presumptuously said, “Excuse me…”  Immediately she stopped and glared at me with big furious eyes.  I froze shocked.  She turned her face away and began to hum.  I inched closer to her and asked, “What do you want?”

            “Good morrow, fox.

            Good morrow, sir.

            Pray what is that you’re eat-in’?”

She looked back wildly at me and bobbed her head –

            “A fine fat goose I stole from you,

            And will you come and taste it?”

She started laughing again.  Confused, I looked back at Chamonique.  She shrugged her shoulders and shook her head.  “What’s your name?” I asked.  The spirit closed her eyes, pointed her nose into the air and sung out, “Opheli-lia-la-la-laa.”  “Why are you here?” I asked.  “HA!  I know not.” she angrily returned.  “None ask to be born, yet all would their loved back from the dead.  If fate could give answer, rife would I demand.  Oh, muddy death.”

            The ghost turned away and began another song.  I stepped over to where the rest of the staff had gathered.  “What do you think?”  “She’s mad!  I don’t think you’ll get anything sensible from it.” said Mr. Mott.  I answered, “Great.  That’s all I need; a mad ghost.  What do we do?”  Chamonique suggested, “Ask her what she wants.”  “Why do I have to ask her?  You’re the one who knows everything.”  “You’re the master.” she said.  “Thanks a lot.  Did you understand her when I asked her name?”  Dabberbon answered, “Ophelia?”  “Pray you, mark.” said the ghost from the middle of the room.  I approached the ghost and asked, “Ophelia?”  “Nay, pray you, mark.” it commanded.

            “May his door have no latch, may his roof have no thatch,

            May a ghost ever haunt him at dead of the night;

            That the flies and the fleas may the wretch ever tease

            The monster that murdered Nell Flaherty’s drake.”

 

            “Lady, what do you want?”  Infuriated, the specter raged, “REMEMBRANCE!  THOUGHTFULLNESS!  PEEEACE!  My father…”  Just then, the ghost’s threatening posture broke, and she gently turned away from us toward the deteriorating tiles in the floor.

            “And will ‘a not come again?

            And will ‘a not come again?

            No, no, he is dead.

            Go to thy deathbed.

            He never will come again.”

            Just as before in what was like slow motion, the spirit’s arms and legs flailed about in waving motions as she fell to her back.  Her face contorted as she appeared to struggle for air.  Her mouth was wide open and tongue was half out as the image gradually passed through the wet tiles.  We all stood spellbound, gazing into the bare floor.  After a moment in silence someone remembered to breathe, then we all caught our breath.  “What does this mean?” asked one of them.  “That’s the same spot she disappeared last night,” I said.  “Do you think what’s making the sinkhole outside and the water on the floor here might be what stirred up the ghost?”  “We have to find out what’s down there,” said Madelyn.  “Well, we can’t do anything till its light out,” Mr. Mott told us.  I answered, “Ya.”

            In the morning Dabberdon started up the backhoe and positioned it next to the sinkhole which had gotten bigger over the night.  It was partially flush to the mansion wall which had everyone concerned about the soundness of our ancient palace.  We stood around in the cold for about 45 minutes watching the progress of the digging, until some got too chilled and went inside.  The cook started breakfast at a quarter after 8.  Mr. Mott took over for Dabberdon after 3 hours on the machine.  The backhoe had to be moved several times to reach different angles.  By 1 p.m. the hole was 20 feet wide and 15 feet deep.  The further down the hole got, the wetter the dirt was.  The other gardener was operating the backhoe and was being extremely careful while pulling the dirt away from the now exposed foundation.  At 1:12 somebody yelled out “Something is happening!”  Dabberdon told the gardener to stop the machine while the group came running back to the site and peered down.  The soggy mud in the center of the hole was disappearing!  We began to hear what sounded like flowing water.  More clumps of mud were vanishing into a small growing black void at the bottom of the ditch we had made next to the castle.  The assembly began to step away from the slowly growing pit.  Dabberdon yelled at the gardener, “Get the vehicle away from the hole!”  The gardener hopped around in his seat, started the backhoe and quickly moved it to a safe distance.  We stood hunched around the gully, cautiously viewing the bizarre event.  Eventually tiny glints of reflected sunlight could be seen in the widening abyss, and the movement of water could be clearly heard.

            After several tense moments, the bottom of the hole had opened about 4 feet wide revealing a rapidly flowing stream of water.  By now we could see from the direction the stream was flowing that it was coming from beneath the mansion.  The water had torn away the material that the foundation was made of.  I sighed and we all stood up strait.  “A water line must have broken somewhere beneath the castle.”  “No sir, there hasn’t been any drop in our water pressure,” said Dabberdon.  “I don’t think this is a leak.”  “Well they didn’t build this place right on top of the water table, did they??” I asked.  Stunned by the ignorance of my question, Dabberdon replied, “Of course not!”  I inquired, “How far down does the foundation go?”  He looked down at hole.  “8 feet.”  “What do you think this is?” I questioned.  After going over it in his mind Dabberdon suggested, “The water table shifted?”  “We never found out why the river dried up last year,” Mr. Mott volunteered.  “Maybe it decided to go underground.”  “Well, this is ridiculous!” I said.  “How much damage to the house do you think this is doing??”  “We won’t know until we take apart the area in the floor of the lobby that’s already been affected,” answered Dabberdon.

            Everyone’s hearts sunk as we faced what had to be done.  As we followed Dabberdon inside to the lobby, I knew the entire staff was reminiscing over their memories and of all the fantastic history that was at stake, dreading destroying part of a precious mansion that was more valuable to them than it was to me in an effort to restore it.  Mr. Mott brought in a sledge hammer from the garden shed.  The group assembled around the half circle of discolored tiles next to the south wall in the lobby as Mr. Mott and Dabberdon discussed how best to proceed.  Finally they agreed to start with one of the tiles in the center of the deteriorating area.  We all stood back as Dabberdon swung the sledge hammer around his head and brought crashing down onto the floor.  Everyone winced at the sound of that enormous ‘WHAM’ reverberating off the tall walls.  The stone tile that was hit disintegrated, tumbling down out of sight.  We heard a splash of water.  Dabberdon stepped away surprised at how brittle the tile had become.  The surrounding rim of tiles adjacent to the first began to slip, cascading into the darkness splashing into water.  Dabberdon leaped off the discolored tiles onto the white ones.  We waited a few seconds to be sure that no more tiles were going to fall, then Mr. Mott carefully crawled out on his hands and knees and looked into the hole.  He stared down for a moment, then pulled out a small flashlight from his shirt pocket and pointed it into the hole.  “Boss, you probably want to take a look at this.”  The crew pressed in around the opening in the floor as I crawled out and looked down.  The edge of one of the tiles crumbled beneath my hand and came smashing down onto an object below in the water.  Mr. Mott pulled me back, then we all stared down through the floor.  Mr. Mott’s light dimly illuminated a decomposing skeleton inside a long fragmented wooden box.  Chamonique said, “Ophelia.”  The crude coffin was surrounded by flowing water and broken stone tiles.  It had become lodged between the soil below and the foundation of the building.  I took Mr. Mott’s light and stuck my head down further into the floor to see how wide the chasm was.  Dabberdon took a look after I pushed away from the opening.  Gasping for air, I said, “Well, there’s your ghost.”

            We knew that we had to get the body out of there, so we spent the rest of the evening bringing up the coffin with ropes.  That night in the library with the help of some of the staff, we tried to look up where Ophelia came from.  After a lot of research, someone eventually found a document that told us what we wanted to know.  Madelyn read, “Ophelia was a lady who went mad after discovering that her lover murdered her father.  She fell out of a willow tree next to the river in the north east woods and drowned.”  “Oh, I know that very spot!  That willow tree is still there.” said Mr. Mott.  “You do?” asked the other gardener.  “Yes, you know the willow at the bend in the brook?”  “She drowned?” I asked.  “Drowned,” answered Madelyn.  “That explains the bizarre way she vanished the last 2 nights.  Remember how she looked like she couldn’t breathe before she disappeared?”  “Tragic,” said Chamonique.  Madelyn continued, “It says here that they buried her in the cemetery in the woods.”  “That’s the direction from which the river used to flow,” said Mr. Mott.  The other gardener surmised, “The river must have exhumed the grave site after going underground and transported the body…”  “…Beneath the castle,” I concluded.  “One thing I don’t understand,” asked Chamonique.  “You told us that the ghost was appearing at 11:34 p.m..” “Yes,” I answered.   “But why 11:34?  I thought everything happened at midnight,” asked Chamonique.  I looked at the display on the digital clock in the library, got up and set the time to 11:34.  After studying the shapes of the numbers, I turned the clock upside down and showed it to the rest of the crew.  In digital, 11:34 upside down spells ‘hell’.

            I had a team of geological surveyors come out to the estate the next day to determine what exactly nature had done to us.  They confirmed our idea that the brook had become an underground river, and that it indeed had disentombed the grave site in the woods.  I spent 1 million dollars to restore the damage to the castle’s foundation, and 2.4 million dollars for the creation of a subterranean tunnel to channel the underground river and keep it from doing any further damage.  We put Ophelia’s body back in the ground beneath the willow tree next to the brook.  A grave stone remains there to this day that reads: In Memoriam, The Fair Ophelia.

 

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