All Hallows Eve, it is so close. I have shivers.
Let me share them with you.
Here is my last ghost story for the season and a song to keep you company as you read.
After our mother remarried, we all moved to a new house. I was a surly, hateful, bitter teenager and, as a result, I spent all my free hours locked in my bedroom, reading fantasy novels and staring at the mountains beyond my window.
There were times, however, when my west-facing room became too hot, too stifling, and I had to escape. I would run from the house, down the back slope, through the field and marsh, to the source of the spring. Two giant, old, whispery cottonwoods, one standing-but-hunched, the other lying down, stretched along the earth, grew in the meadow beside the water. I would climb into the boughs of these trees and stay for hours, reading, watching songbirds and deer, field mice and hawks, butterflies and mosquitoes. I would perch until the sun faded from the sky and the glow worms pulsed from stalks of summer grass. In the winter, the meadow was quiet, blanketed in snow, the spring frozen except for where it bubbled up at the center. On those cold, silent days, I could nestle into the hollows of the cottonwood roots, pretending to be the only soul in the world.
My family rarely explored the stream, the marsh, and the spring where the cottonwoods grew. Had I not been such a sullen, reclusive child, I probably would have known there was something they were all avoiding in our big backyard.
There were two ghosts that roamed those waterways, one hateful, the other peaceful.
Chris and Noelle had complained of hauntings, of scary things, feelings of terror, cold spots, voices, and other such occurances ever since we’d moved into the house. I complained of whiny siblings. They were scared to go near the cottonwoods. I hung out there all the time. My mom felt things, too. I rolled my eyes. I figured I had an ally in my stepdad, Jim, and I probably did until he met one of the ghosts.
Late one afternoon, on almost-summer day, my family went walking through the back fields. When they returned, it was with a story. Chris, Noelle, and Alex were freaked out, the latter on the verge of tears. Mom was obviously discomfited and even Jim was rattled. It took awhile before I could get their chain of events to go in order, to form a coherant tale. From what I could tell, it went something like this:
They’d been walking near the stream that ran through the field during the wet months and were headed for the cottonwoods, not for any particular reason, it’s just where their meandering was taking them. The closer they got, however, the stranger they felt. There was anxiousness then terror in the air. Mom felt anger and hatred. The kids were scared. Their fear fed whatever was running along the stream and it reflected it right back, coming at them in garbled sounds and hissing voices. Even Jim felt it. They fled the area but despite their haste to return to safety, Jim distinctly heard someone, a man, whisper in his ear. The man said, “Hancock” and that was all.
Of course, I’d missed the whole thing, having been shut away in my room at the time.
It doesn’t end there, though.
Jim saw Hancock once more while looking out toward the back field. His vision shifted and he saw an older man, Native American, standing by the back fence with a young boy. The man wore a hat, maybe a John Bull or gaucho, and a brown vest. Jim knew the man was Hancock. He also understood that Hancock had been hung by the neck until dead.
When my mom began to ask some of the old timers about Hancock, one man, Native American, himself, said the name sounded familiar. As it happens, local legend has it that the two cottonwoods by the spring used to be hangin’ trees. Rustlers, horse thieves, and indians were strung from the branches, or so it’s told. Hancock may have been one of them. However, he was not vindictive; he was not the one who harassed my mom, Chris, Noelle, and Alex. He only made himself known to Jim, perhaps as one man of of the house to another?
No, the vengeful spirit flowed with the water. During spring runoff and summer rainstorms, the spirit was violent. It terrorized my family, scaring the kids and following my mom from home to work and back. It knocked things over, it yelled, it shot out bursts of fear so strong, its victims would be left rattled and scared. My mom worked across town in a plant nursery situated near some picturesque ponds, small bodies of water filled with ducks and muskrats and that were fed by the stream that ran through our back field. The angry creature would pester my mom when she’d be out feeding the chickens. Then she’d go to work and shortly after, the ghost would show up there, too, making a ruckus and being a nuisance, causing more trouble than it ever did at home.
The entity finally got so out of hand that Mom had to do something about it. After peace had been restored, however, it seemed Hancock was no longer needed because he has not been seen nor heard since.
Here’s what I suspect: While Hancock gave the impression of having been hanged, he didn’t seem angry. It was more like he was waiting. I think he may have been connected to the other ghost, the one who caused so much turmoil for my family. Maybe the other ghost was Hancock’s anger, having separated itself from him somehow. Maybe it was someone else who’d met their demise on the hangin’ tree. Whatever the case, Hancock stuck close to home; he kept to the field, to the cottonwoods, to our yard. He didn’t travel far and he didn’t threaten anyone. Maybe he’s the reason the other spirit couldn’t do much more than be a scary nuisance around the yard. Maybe he was watching out for my family.
We’ll never know. Both ghosts are gone, as is the field. It’s now a neighborhood. I don’t even know if the cottonwoods still live. I do know, however, that there will come a day when the field once again floods and those houses will have very wet basements. And perhaps an angry ghost.