Tuesday, May 20, 2014


Some people are bewitched by ghosts. Not in any traditional way. No spells. Few rituals. But it happens. They're confronted with ... well, a miracle, or what seems like a miracle. Life goes on. Bodies don't, but souls do. Though some souls aren't that nice. At least now they aren't. Death does that to people.....

Elizabeth Spring, aka Midnight Mary, drowned. She was on her way to the prom. Had a beau, a corsage, a frou-frou gown... the whole thing. Her date was Eddie. Two nice kids. Warm night. Clear. Big cheesy moon. Eddie wants to drive passed the lake. This is Tullytown in Bucks County, just north of Philadelphia. Tract house developments were still in the future. Suburbs were little country towns... old gray stone houses.... ice cream parlors called 'creameries.' ... maybe a Rexall drugstore. Like Peyton Place. No, really. This was nineteen thirty five. That's how it was. Even the crickets were fatter and they sang with the hop-toads. 

Now one side of the lake had a little beach. No hot dog stand. Nothing like that. Just a beach, the water and the fields. Looked real nice in the moonlight. Like something out of a story. Other side had a little rise, like a baby cliff. Deeper there too. Liz and Eddie wound up on that side, 'cause four other couples were already mushin' up over yonder. Nothing heavy. Gotta keep them dresses lookin' pretty. Miss Hall notices things like that.  So they parked and necked a little, swapped spit, played patty-hands. Five minutes. Ten minutes tops. That was all. Don't want to waste them two dollar and fifty cents a head tickets. Gonna have cream soda and lemonade. Cheese puffs and deviled eggs too.... little chicken salad sandwiches, coconut cake. Gonna be nice. Willy and The Jazz Boys playin'. They got pale blue dinner jackets. Principal Knoxley don't like that, but Coach Duffy gonna make him look the other way. Eddie's got a flask. His uncle brought it back from The Great War. Glass inside. Leather outside. Silver top. Got Jimmy Walker in it now. Red, I think. Boys do it every year. Juice up the punch. 'Put a little pepper in,' that's what they call it. Miss Hall watches like a hawk, but they get a few drops in.

Elizabeth says - Stop mashin' my boobie, you big, dumb nut! You're gonna crush the material. This is a Wanamaker's dress and you gotta know that. Your suit's rented so you don't care...... Eddie doesn't want to fight, so he puts the car in gear. Only she got him all nervous. Shifts into drive, instead of reverse. Two heartbeats later, it's over. They're in. From the edge of the little cliff to the water is about eight or nine feet. From the surface to the bottom another twenty five or so. Country lakes can be like that. Indentation fills up. Little valley gets wet... you got a lake....

Other kids on the opposite shore barely noticed. Lake's almost three blocks wide. That's five hundred yards. Little splash. Like a dive. That's all. Dark down there. Icy cold two. Smashed heads... you know steering wheels and dashboards weren't padded back then. Water rushing in. Car's not flat on the bottom. It's tilted. Twisted over on one side. Doors won't open. She's screamin'. Wanamaker dress all ruined now. Eddie tries to kick out the window. She keeps grabbing his neck. Car fills up real fast. Kids fight for the last bit of air up toward the roof. Coughing. Belching. Vomiting. Soon there's no air at all. Water don't care about no kids.

Now drowning's not the same as suffocating. It's a little more complicated. You know what it's like when you accidentally aspirate a mouthful of soda, or orange juice? It's like a hot, dead weight. Reflex kicks in and you 'cough up a lung' so to speak, but it's gone. You sit. You gasp. You wheeze. You sneeze. But it's over. And you live. They give you iced tea. They pat your shoulder and tell you to be careful... Well, drowning kids don't get that. They have to deal with a whole lot a mouthfuls. First they try to hold their breath. Head pounds. Chest cramps. Lungs burn. They breath out. For a split second they feel good. Then comes the fatal inhalation. Not air. Water. Imagine pouring heavy wet cement down your lungs. You see, drowning's not like going to sleep. It's torture. And it's not fast. Death waits for no one, except to prolong the agony. 

No one's ever seen Eddie's ghost. Guess he's somewhere else. But Liz is the belle of the ball, so to speak. Been in the papers for eighty years. Zak Bagins had her on his show. Don't know if she realized, though. Now she's got Topaz.... Poor, little, nine year old Topaz... And she's pulling her back toward the water.... Girl's crying... Not loud... Too scared for that. Ruby circles and whimpers. Tries to bite the ghost, but what can she bite? And the dead never tire. Ghosts never stop.

Topaz wants to scream, but she can't. She wants to run, but her legs won't do it. And the thing that is Elizabeth Spring keeps smiling, as fat, black, shiny, leeches fall from her lips

Then they reach the tiny lapping waves at the shore. Her feet are wet. Apparently nature doesn't care about nine year olds too.


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1 comment:

John L. Harmon said...

I love a big cheesy moon....