Saturday, October 31, 2009

The Mysterious Madame of the Manse

Well, I didn't get around to getting one of my ghost stories in good enough shape this year that I felt like sharing it with anyone (although, buoyed by reading a few ghost story collections, the best being the Dover edition of the Collected Stories of Oliver Onions, I've come up with about eight new ideas for stories, so maybe by next Halloween, I'll have something good to share with everyone. Meanwhile, if you love ghost stories, read Oliver Onions), but I do have a "real-life" ghost story to share today. Or, I should say, a "ghost story of sorts." Hope you enjoy it, and Happy Halloween.

The Mysterious Madame of the Manse

I have mentioned a couple of times since Bob and I moved into the manse that it is supposedly haunted. Of course, that means absolutely nothing. I'm convinced that if you happen to live in any house in America that is over 100 years old, you can guarantee people are going to tell you that it's haunted. This house most definitely is not haunted. We've lived here for two years, and it has never behaved like a haunted house.

You see, I've read enough (and even actually talked to people who've lived in purportedly haunted houses) to know that a truly haunted house repeats itself. Lights in the attic don't mysteriously turn themselves on once and then never do so again. No, the lights come on by themselves every night, or once a month, or on the anniversary of the night the poor maid hung herself from the rafters because the master of the house didn't love her. Doors that have been double-bolted and checked multiple times, do not come unlocked and leave themselves open once every fifty years. No, they do so with hair-raising frequency. Likewise rocking horses that rock all by themselves in lonely corners of the old nursery where the beloved 4-year-old child was murdered by a jealous older brother.

I'm not going to say that the previous residents of this house are lying when they claim it's haunted. Apparently, the wife and daughter both saw some figure, dressed in what looked like an old night shirt, ascend the stairs. They swear they were sober at the time. I've come to the conclusion that maybe, occasionally, a ghost will revisit some favorite or not-so-favorite spot from his or her life and accidentally allow one of us mortals to get a glimpse of an unfamiliar, gauzy figure, ascending stairs or reaching out for something or falling from a castle tower.

This thought conjures up for me a whole other parallel ghost world, in which ghost children sit around campfires telling "human stories." Here they recount the horror of being seen by a human child when they were creeping around the basement of their old house, looking to see if the old lucky horseshoe they buried in a hole in the wall 175 years ago is still there. (There goes my imagination, off digressing again. I’ve given it a snack-size packet of Skittles, so let’s hope it shuts up long enough for me to get through this tale.)

Since I don’t live in a haunted house, but I do live in one that has housed many different families over the past 100+ years, I have to console myself with the fact that perhaps a ghost will show up here one day and accidentally let me get a glimpse of it. I’ve explained in the past that I don’t want this to be some vengeful, headless or bloody sort of ghost, showing up with evil intent. After all, this is a manse. I’d like some kindly, wise, previous minister to show up and make me feel good. (I know, I know. Nineteenth-century ministers with their fire-and-brimstone attitudes were a very scary lot, but allow me to pretend.) If it can’t be a minister, perhaps it will be a minister’s wife, someone who looks at me with complete understanding, knowing how tough this job can sometimes be.

So, there I was about a week ago, sitting in my favorite over-stuffed chair in the library. I was reading Oliver Onions and was so engrossed that had a ghost floated by the doorway that leads out into the hall, or hovered in the pocket doorway that leads from the library into the living room, I probably wouldn’t have noticed. I did, however, notice an unfamiliar scent.

Even I couldn’t ignore this delicious-smelling perfume. But where was it coming from? I wasn’t wearing perfume. I hadn’t taken a bath. Bob had gone up to bed, and he is not the sort of man who douses himself with perfume before doing so. It had to be a ghost, didn’t it? It was my minister’s wife come to visit me, the old Madame of the Manse, perhaps here to impart some words of wisdom. Or maybe she'd come to calm me down for the upcoming, very stressful Advent and Christmas seasons, which are right around the corner. I looked up but saw nothing, no kindly woman dressed in 19th-century garb hovering near my chair or even sitting calmly on the living room couch. I didn’t hear anything, either. But I could still smell something that reminded me of the gardens we visited in Hawai’i.

I’m not one of those who tends to do too much investigative work when confronted with this sort of mystery. Half of me thinks it might be a ghost. The other half is worried that some human has managed to break into the house and is hiding out somewhere nearby (or that serial killer I mentioned in a blog post some time back is down in my basement with his latest victim, a prostitute who has a thing for strong perfume). Seeing no ghost, I decided the best place to be was upstairs with Bob, so I turned off the light and headed up.

The smell got stronger as I climbed the stairs and was quite overpowering by the time I reached the bedroom door, and then it finally dawned on me. Bob loves incense. He burns it almost every night before going to bed. Most of his incense has a very “incensy” sort of smell – undertones, even when it claims it’s “lilac” of musk or myrrh or sandalwood -- but this was some new incense he’d just got and it had none of that.

So, as usual, no ghost for me, but a funny story. (Bob thought it was quite funny.) Perhaps I need to start feeding my imagination some Skittles every evening before I settle down like that.


litlove said...

'Bob had gone up to bed, and he is not the sort of man who douses himself with perfume before doing so.' - LOL! Loved this bit. I can't quite get over the name Oliver Onions, too. That's going to play in my mind today, I can tell! Most amusing story, Emily!

Stefanie said...

Oh this was too funny! Sorry the smell turned out to be Bob's incense and not a ghost, but it still made for a good story. And I love the name Oliver Onions. I wonder if one should eat liver with Onions?

Rebecca H. said...

Funny! I'm not sure this is the best time to be reading your post, though; I'm up in my study all alone, and Hobgoblin is in bed, so I have to head downstairs to the bedroom all alone, and I'll be thinking about the ghostly figure those people saw heading up the stairs, and I'm a little freaked out! Even a ghost story with a realistic ending can be frightening.

Emily Barton said...

Litlove, I know. Oliver Onions sounds like he writes for MAD Magazine. He certainly doesn't sound like a brilliant ghost story writer.

Stef, well, maybe I should try a little pâté next time I sit down with some of Onions's stories (and aren't those last two words difficult to say together?)

Dorr, oooo, I hope you made it to bed safely. I'm sure you did, since you once slept in the room next to the staircase where the manse ghost supposedly tread (or should I say "floated"?).