My dearest Creepers, Autumn has always been my favorite season. There are those who wax rhapsodic about the glories of long Summer days, and thousands of young poets in the Spring of their lives who dash out line after line inspired by the season of growth and renewal. There are a hardy few who, mostly of the Teutonic or Nordic persuasion, who adore the severe and majestic beauty of Winter, with all its attendant merriness and the bustle of close quarters with their fellow man. But for me, there is nothing like the warm days and crisp nights of Fall, with leaves turning as the harvest is brought in. Days are glorious, the nights magical. The bite of winter is far away, and it’s easy to fool yourself into thinking it won’t be that bad, this year. And so I play the grasshopper, while the rest of the world plays the ant.
But I am always overcome with the nostalgia and festivities of my youth, and the strong connection that Autumn brings with the supernatural. It’s on nights like this that I sit inside in my overstuffed leather chair, the window open a crack so I can hear the rustling of leaves in the wind and smell the night smells. Fortified with a mulled cider toddy, mostly reading from my vast collection of Swedenborg and, some nights, from a curious collection of Books of Shadows mostly stolen from mausoleums found in cursed family cemeteries located in the necklace of ancient cities that ring the Eastern Seaboard. Providence, Savannah, Suffolk, Charleston, and, of course, New Orleans. Cities full of ancient sin and ancient secrets. Forbidden rites plied upon wailing and defenseless innocents; the indentured foreign man-servant, widowed and childless wet-nurses, and of course, upon the hapless slaves. Rites of the greatest horror, documented with clinical precision by minds deranged through sleepless nights, ceaseless drumming around fires, Latin and Creole spells, absinthe drank from the skulls of enemies, and ill-advised alchemical treatments grounded in mercury.
So tonight is my opportunity to relay a perfectly terrifying experience that happened, before my very eyes, nearly twenty years ago on a family trip to Nova Scotia. So refresh your drink, sit back, and prepare yourself for the horror of a tale I call The Spectre of the New Glasgow Marina.
This trip was in the summer of 1996. My first wife and I were having trouble in our marriage, troubles which I own completely due to my defects. We had young children, and we thought a family trip might be the very thing to help us reconnect and save the shambles of our relationship. In her youth, my wife had visited family in Canada, and we thought a trip far away, to the clean environs and fresh air of the sparkling North, would be salutary to our plan. We settled on a trip to Nova Scotia.
The drive up was not auspicious. I was chain-smoking unfiltered Gauloises Caporals and blasting hard rock on the radio, neither of which she thought healthy for the children. Even with the windows cracked. We bickered the whole way up, and the trip was more exhausting than either of us had imagined. There was some confusion regarding a ferry, and we arrived in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia, a day late. Luckily, the owner of the house we were renting was understanding, and reduced the price by the one day we missed.
New Glasgow was certainly an interesting town, with historic buildings, and excellent food. Our rented house was near the river, the Marina district. It was a beautiful old house, probably built in the middle of the 1800s, in a neighborhood of historic homes that practically begged you to open a bed and breakfast. We spent days at the beach 20 minutes away, which the locals called “The Merb”, getting surprisingly burnt and enjoying the water when the sun was at it’s highest. The days were long, and we pushed the stroller along the street, stopping often for my new favorite beer, Alexander Keith’s India Pale Ale, which was not particularly hoppy or bitter, and did the trick. We had many great seafood dinners, and got to enjoy smoked fish.
We were, however, having a little too much togetherness, so I said I was going out for a pack of smokes. Reuben was long since asleep, but Maria was petulant, and wanted me to read her a story. I promised her I would, as soon as I got back. She and my wife knew I wasn’t telling the truth, but it hadn’t dawned on me yet. Well, right after I got the smokes, I saw a bar, and dropped in for a drink. As is my wont. It went down pretty smooth. I got talking to an old Scotsman, one thing led to another, and I finally hit the road about midnight for my drive home. I didn’t want to wake the family up, so I parked on the street and went up to the house. The front door was thoughtfully unlocked, so I eased in and crept up the stairs to Maria’s room.
She was in bed, sound asleep, the covers up over her face. I kissed her head gently, and sat in an old wooden rocking chair to watch her softly breathing. I loved her so much, and it made me so sad to think about what was happening between me and her mother, and how I might not see her as often. Overcome by emotion, I sat for a few moments, my eyes welling up, and I thought about what a jerk I was, and how much I hated myself for being unreliable. There was a great collection of books around, which struck me as an extremely thoughtful gesture from the owner of the house. I resolved to at least live up to my promise of reading to her, even if she was asleep, and picked up one at random. I began to quietly murmur the words to her. Soon, she shifted in her sleep, and I imagined the smile that would come across her lips when she saw me.
Her arms stretched out from the covers as she yawned, and I marvelled at how big she had become so quickly. She said, “Oh, Daddy…” But her arms kept coming out, and, to my horror, the covers were pulled back to reveal a nightmare. Not my precious 2 year old, but a girl of maybe 6 that I didn’t recognize!
We both started in horror, and she screamed for help. I leapt up from the chair, which knocked against the wall. I heard stirring down the hall, and the tired and confused voices of her parents. Her father was yelling for her to go back to bed, while the mother said she was coming. I ran from the room, towards the stairs, but the door of the master bedroom began to open in that direction, so I ducked into the open door across the hall. The room had no carpet, and seemed like an office. The mother came by shushing, while the girl was screaming, “There was a man in my room! A man in my room!”
At this point, I was sh1tting my pants. Here I was, in yet another country, entirely civilized and probably with no tolerance for anything remotely smacking of a creep, and I was guilty as sin of breaking and entering. Nobody was going to buy a story of mistaken entering. The mother was shushing the girl, telling her it was just a dream, but she was insisting. “Look, the chair is still rocking!!”
The mother screamed, and I could hear the man getting out of bed and clumping down the hall. The way the bed was positioned, I would never be able to get down the stairs without being seen. I quietly went the other direction, towards other doors, and prayed for a window to leap out of. I opened the farthest door, and realized it was the attic. I eased the door shut, and went as quietly as possible up the stairs.
At that point, the father was yelling and screaming about the police and a gun, hopefully drowning out any noise I was making. I bumped into boxes, trying to be as quiet as possible, and saw the moon through a window. It cast a little light into this dark and musty garret. I slid the window open, which was mercifully quiet, and looked down to the driveway. A thirty foot drop to a brick driveway. I turned back, and went to the window across the way, floorboards creaking beneath my feet. I heard a scream from below, “It’s upstairs! There’s something upstairs!!” Adrenaline took me to the next window, which had a thick hedge of privet beneath it. Perfect for skewering myself on cut branches. In complete desperation, I marched to the final window, and tore it open. It made a loud squealing noise, like a rusty metal door, and the screams from below redoubled.
There were footsteps pounding down the hall, and I knew there were seconds left. This was the final window, and my final chance at freedom. There was a sloped roof that led down to the front porch roof, and a lawn below. I launched myself out, just as the lights in the attic flicked on. I turned back, and saw that it was all new boards and insulation, recently renovated, and heard the man bark questions and threats up the stairwell. I carefully lowered myself from the roof to the porch, crab-walked to the edge, and jumped down to the grass.
I got as close as I could to the house, and crept off into the night. I realized this house was the one next to ours, and I let myself inside quickly and locked the door behind me. My breathing slowed, and I saw my wife on the couch, stirring in her sleep. Quietly I slipped off my cowboy boots and headed up the stairs. Reuben and Maria were sound asleep in bed. I quickly changed into my pajamas without turning on the lights, and laid down.
Finally, when there were no sirens and it was clear that no authorities were going to be banging on my door, I drifted off to sleep.
The next morning, my wife came in and asked why I hadn’t gotten her up. I told her it was because she was sleeping so soundly. Because this was supposed to be a trip to reconnect, we made love, as the kids were still asleep. She complained about my beard, so I took the opportunity to shave for her.
When we left for the beach, there was quite a bustle next door. Carloads of people were coming up. My wife and kids didn’t notice, but it made me think of reasons to move on from this particular house to somewhere else. But then the guy who rented us the house had our name, so that seemed like something a guilty conscience would do. At the beach, I pulled my hair back into a pony tail, hoping that would make me look different enough. Both Reuben and Maria liked it, and kept tugging on it. So that was reason enough to keep it.
After dinner, we took a walk with our stroller to catch dinner. There seemed to be more people than before up on their porches, talking. We stopped in a diner and sat down. In the booth next to us, I eaves-dropped as my wife cut up the kids’ food and nagged them to eat. What I heard both relieved and amused me.
It turns out that the whole family, and half the town, believed that the house I had crept into was haunted. That a ghost had visited the little girl. She described me as an “old-timey man”, wearing old-fashioned clothes and sporting a beard like that worn a century ago. True, I had on a fedora and my trademark cowboy boots, plus a button-up shirt, but it was nothing particularly old-fashioned. In fact, my fashion sense was a little offended. The whole family, to include a sister I never saw, insisted they heard the rattling of chains, and spectral footsteps upon the stairs and up in the attic. There was the sound of a coffin opening, which I assume was one of the windows. The man and woman had gone upstairs to find all windows open, and the attic filled with a cold air that gave them goosebumps. Now that I recalled it, the attic was rather cool, and the night air in the 50’s. So it would be quite a drop in temperature from the warm air of the day that filled the house, especially with the windows open. They even said that there was a black cat and bats flapping around the attic. I don’t know about that for sure, but I’d like to think I would have noticed if they were there, even in my panicked state.
The hushed whispers said that the house had been the scene of a murder in the late 1800s. Something about a heartless and callous younger woman who married a rich old man, and killed him so she could take the money and marry her young lover. Other owners had seen the ghost of an old man, and sometimes doors would bang open and closed of their own accord. Late at night, there would be mysterious footsteps, which, when investigated, would prove to originate from someone not of this world. There would be the unexplained smell of lavender, and sometimes sulfur. There were whispers that this mysterious presence was the ghost of a man called “Old Grundy”. Whatever evil there was centered around the basement and attic, and the opinion was that the ghost was offended by the recent renovations, which had been necessitated by an undiscovered leak that had ruined the insulation after a big storm.
Luckily, the whole thing didn’t become any more of a circus, which might have drawn the attention of Mounties with fingerprint equipment and access to the Interpol database of miscreants. However, nothing pleased me more than packing the car on the final day, and seeing that beautiful town disappear into the rear view mirror of a car that carried away my family, our chattel, and the Spectre of the New Glasgow Marina.