Tuesday, June 28, 2011

I have written probably about 25 variations of the story in this and the prior post, starting in around 1980. I eventually turned the first version (may be lost) into a radio play (definitely lost). The short variant below is one of my favorites.

A Lovely Ghost Story

Standing at the side of the road you can see the notch. That's what it is called, a place where the mountains come together, not with their usual curvy slope, but abruptly, in a "V." Almost like a mistake, except that God doesn't make mistakes, even surprisingly beautiful ones.

Opposite the notch is a big, open hay field. The narrow road twists through it and over a little bridge where my brother had a car accident as a teenager. In the back of the field there is a hill, small compared to the mountains, and at the top of that hill stands the house.Beside the simple farmhouse is an old barn, and there is a magnificent oak tree between these two structures.  It has been years since this was an operating farm, but somehow it was saved, unlike so many others, from being chopped up into a housing development.  It was probably purchased from the distant relatives of the old gent whose family always owned it by a weekend resident from New York City, some advertising executive with enough money to afford to keep it intact. As a kid I dreamed that person would be me, and I would live there someday, except that even then I didn't plan a
career on Madison Avenue and I'm not from New York City.  But I was inspired by the idyllic setting, the perfect backdrop for the lovely ghost story I had heard about that place.

My grandfather played the fiddle when he was a young man at summer dances in the barn at that grand old farm. Young people came to hear the music and to drink hard cider. The couple who lived there at the time had some marital difficulties, and the woman was known to be having an affair with another local man. The husband was aware of these rumors, and at one of the many dances, his jealousy got the best of him and he put strychnine in his rival's cider. The woman's lover drank the poison mixture and fell ill at the dance. The town doctor was present, and performed an operation on the man, right in the barn. He removed some of his stomach, and buried it under the oak tree beside the house. This man lived for many more years, and that night the dance went on, even merrier than before the incident. When the husband realized his plan had failed, he vanished, unnoticed, from the festivities. As the party broke up and the revelers left the barn, they stopped in their tracks, staring in horror at the oak tree. There, in one of its massive branches, hung the limp body of their host.
If you stand near the road in front of that farm on a hot summer night you can hear the sound of violins wafting toward you in the air. Prompted by the sweet music, turn from gazing at the notch and look toward the barn.  Then you will catch the faint sounds of young lovers laughing and dancing.  Suddenly you will notice the majestic oak tree. And there in the moonlight, hanging from a branch, will be the figure of a long-dead, jealous man, gently swinging in the breeze.

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