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The Water Spirits – Norman A. Rubin
The trouble with that old house at the north of Portsmouth is that ghosts haunt its rooms; the building is a deserted, spooky manor that stands on an acre of bleak ground along the cliffs near the shores of the mighty Atlantic. It is a sturdy building with a rough stone foundation, timbered in oak and crowned on the roof with gray shale slates and a double chimney in the center. The two story house was built in the late eighteen hundreds and it stoutly braved the elements through storm and strife of the passing years.
The oak doors to the manor are now locked with heavy iron keys; its windows are closed with rusty shutters on equally rusty hinges. The building is closed to all except that leaded window on the upper story where the blow of the winds tore the rusty shutter from rotted hinges. But, on the nights of the full of the moon, ghosts could be seen in the glowing light coming from the stormy waters and making their way to the building. Salt water sheds from their shadowy forms causing puddles of an eerie sheen in the pale light.
Now the manor is an inheritance on my name from my dear grandfather who had passed away in the recent years way up yonder to heavenly grace. Captain Henry Dickson was his moniker known to all his kith and kin an upright and fine chap in his time, well spoken in the lingo of the sea, and equally well dressed in sea captain’s rigs. His fine portrait sill hangs above the hearth for all to see.
I was mighty surprised on the notice of inheritance and quite grateful. Yet from that day that I took possession of the building, I also inherited its haunting spirits that came from the deep of the ocean and that had roamed through the rooms from its earlier days..
At first, according the tale told, there was only one ghost, a water specter dripping wet that appeared at the manor. When on the stroke of twelve midnight on the full of moon a shadowy form of a dewy lady rose up from the sea and whisked eerily to the best bedroom of the house.
There she was a’ haunting away! The unexorcised lady appeared as promptly as before under the full moon at the stroke of the twelfth hour scaring the devil out of the occupants asleep in their beds. The specter roamed through the house and searched through the rooms with cavernous blue eyes and pointing with long aqueous long fingers dripping with tangles of slim strands of seaweed at all that met her gaze. After an hour so, her frightening form would leave the terrified aura and return to the sea. Off course the occupants of the manor swooned away at the hideous sight, but in the morning they had had an equal frightening sensation of being saturated with seawater and decked with tangles of seaweed.
The past owners of the edifice did their utmost to rid himself or herself of the ghost, but to no avail. Then even tried stopping the tall grandfather clock in the hallway as the swing of the pendulum at midnight, but the specter appeared just the same with the same terrifying effects.
It was not fitting for the inheritors of the property to remain in the house with such terrifying effects. One family after another that sojourned in the manor tried to live under its spell, but to no avail to their brave stance as they turned to jellied cowards and screamed and screamed in terror at the first sighting. And even those with a stiff upper lip were forced with the others by their fright to leave once and for all.
The history of the house had one family leaving the manor in the full of the moon in a state of dishabille and crying in the heat of terror as the ghost hovered over them and damped their nightdress. A bachelor tried to brave the sight and within a few months was driven mad. And the head of one family disregarded the sight as utter nonsense at the watery specter and he forced his family to do the same. But after a sojourn of year or so, they had found him hanging from one of the rafters in the library.
Well, the spectral lady appeared in the house when the ownership was passed on to my grandfather. He was an old sea dog upon retirement when he received the deed. He put his marker on the document, naming me heir to the property upon his demise, as I was the only kin known to him.
The news of his inheritance came in the cold of the winter months. “Hell, bells! Be damned with a bit of cold!” he cursed joyfully as at that time he was in need of a good lodging. Then in a short while, with bundles and baggage, he moved in to its comfort.
The old boy was quite a brave chap but he was not particularly fond of encountering ghosts roaming about the floors and the sight of the dewy lady did not daunt him. Yet, it happened to him on the thirteenth night in his stay at the manor when that quenching ghost paid him a visit on night on the full moon.
Off course, he paid her a compliment by pretending to faint upon the surprise of her ghostly appearance, as my grandfather was polite in correct manners. But etched in the mind of the old duffer that he wasn’t pleased in seeing her frightening disposition.
He would have liked to change into dry clothes as the damp cloth was clinging to his thin and bony frame causing him to shiver, but her ladyship would not leave him till her hour was up. Every way he turned the specter would follow him, with the result that everything she came in contact with got a ducking with slight spray of salted seawater. When he tried to take a swig of whiskey from a handy decanter, the taste would be off bitter salt. It infuriated my dear kin and he lifted up his hoary head and faced her with his rheumy gray eyes blazing in anger.
“Far be for me to be impolite to a woman, but hell bells you had been haunting this place for nigh on for a hundred years or more and enough is enough. I be hanged if you wouldn’t please me by stopping these damnable wet visits of yours. Go and float over the mighty Atlantic if you like that sort of thing, but I do say unto you, that it is quite annoying to come into a gentleman’s bedroom. Have you no shame on your sex seeing a man in his nightdress. Then having fun and games by spraying him with the salt of the sea as well as his possessions. Most disagreeable I would say!”
“Captain Henry Dickson, “moaned the ghost in a most scary tone, “you do not know to whom you are talking to?”
“Madam! I personally do not care who the devil you are, and I would be most pleased if you would remove your damp presence from here and let me have a dry night rest.”
The water spirit ignored the angry words of my grandfather and continued in her spiel, “You don’t know who I am! I must be compelled to haunt this fine place due to an unfortunate incident in the past. It is no pleasure for me,” she spooked quietly, “it is no pleasure to me to enter this manor and mildew I touch with my fingers. I never intended to be a nuisance by turning into water spray, but it is my doom.”
“ Do you know why I came in dewy form from the salty sea to haunt this house? Did they warn you of my ghostly presence?”
“No, and don’t care a might bit, “ my uncle chuckled softly, “Don’ care if ye be a water spout in the mighty Atlantic or dripping bucket in the well! And I repeat once again if you would skit and skedadle from these rooms I would be most joyful!”
“You are quite a humorous man for your age!” answered the insulted ghost.
My grandfather snapped back, “well my jocularity is much drier that yours will ever be!”
The water specter exploded in rage at the snappy remarks and within an instant turned into a frightening apparition that scared the devil out my kin. My grandfather saw in front his sight a huge hideous creature, with large saucer eyes, a gaping mouth that belched both water and smoke. Then in raging words the hellish denizen reduced him to shivering mortal; then in a loud eerie tone told him pay attention to the powers of darkness. And after her spelling words she returned to a haunting water ghost.
“Now my little man you will listen to my words!” moaned the specter once more. “I am the ghost of that lovely maiden whose portrait hangs over the mantle near the hearth in your parlor downstairs. I was the own daughter of your great, great grandfather, a Lord Henry Dickson, a member of the king’s entourage in the court of the realm.
“But how did you get into such a predicament?” asked my grandfather with a nervous tone to his voice.
“T’was not my fault. It was my wicked father’s fault! It was he who built this manor house and this haunted bedchamber, which you now reside. Everything he did in decorating the house was to spite me, as he never forgave me for the death of his wife on the birthing bed. When I was a grown maiden, he added to my misery by having the house painted and the furnishings in the color of pink and yellow, a combination of colors that I abhorred. He laughed viciously at my complaint and continued in this spiteful course of action.
“I couldn’t stand his laughing words as a retort to my begging words, that I could live in the garden, for all he cares. I ran to my room in a crying fit and all through the day the misery welled up in my mind. Then, without thought or reason, I left the house on the full of the moon, and jumped over the nearby cliffs into the sea!”
“That was a bit rash,” answered my grandfather with sympathetic words.
“So I had learned when I went about haunting!” moaned the ghost, ‘ but if I had known the consequences of my foolish act, I would never attempted it. But it was too late as I had been drowned for over a week. I was doomed to haunt the manor for all eternity at the full of the moon; and to make my watery presence known in the bedroom of my youth.
“Wal’ I’ll move to another room!”
“That you cannot do, for I shall reappear on the full of the moon to remind to all that live in this house of the misdeeds of the past.”
“Do you mean to stand in your shadowy feet and tell me that at every night on the full of the moon, I will be shaken out of my sleep with a salted spray? That you be ruining the taste of my whiskey with a tang of salt, curling up the white of my hairs, and soaking me to the skin,” my kin demanded harshly.
But before the old duffer could get an answer the clock stuck the hour of one and the apparition faded away. It was perhaps more of a trickle, but as a disappearance it was most complete to the relief of my granddad.
“Hells, Bells!” spout my kin angrily, wringing his hands. “I’ll be damned that on the next night of the full moon I will take kindly to the ghost’s wet company disturbing my sleep. On that night I will make myself comfortable in the bathtub – sure will!
So the heir of the manor house resolved, as his ancestors for several generations before him, decided that something must be done and quite quickly. He wasn’t aware of their efforts, which came to naught, but he was a stubborn old man and no ghost, dry of wet will disturb his sleep on the full of the moon and drive him from his home.
His first thought was to have the housekeeper to occupy the room on that night as the sight of her ugly puss would scare the devil our of the water spirit. But, the good woman, threatened notice, if she would be subjected to a ghost’s visit, so the idea was dropped. Nor was there any of his salted seaman friends willing to give up their comfort to occupy the haunted bedroom for one night; nor was there any man so poor in the state of New Hampshire willing to undertake such a courageous task to face the spirit.
Then an idea came in the head of my grandfather that he might evaporate the ghost. Then before the coming of the new moon he cleaned out all the fireplaces in the old house and filled them to the hilt with dried pine logs. And as added measure installed a pot bellied stove in that bedroom and packed it with coal.
The plan nearly worked on that night, as the dewy maiden learned suddenly of the damnations of hell fires as she stepped in that over heated house, especially in that over heated bedroom. Well, I said it nearly work, but for one thing that foiled the whole plan. My grandfather forgot to have an outlet to the coal smoke and it nearly choked to death in that smoke-filled room, and was forced to open a window, which of course letting in the bitter could air. Thus he was sprayed once more.
The old boy was not put out by his failure, as he thought of another was to rid him from that water spirit. A simple plan it was. On the next night of the full of full when it was so cold that thermometers froze when the reading reached way below the zero mark. But it didn’t bother my grandfather as he had experienced colder weather when he sailed the northern seas. Still he was decked out in furs under his oilskins fastened with buckles, sou’wester strapped firmly to the white of his hair, and fur-lined high boots shoed to his veined feet...
The old duffer was clad thus and hidden under sheets on the following night of the full moon. The clock chimed the hour of twelve midnight...
Suddenly there was a banging on the bedroom door before it burst open and a blast of cold air swept the room together with splash of salted sea water, and the water ghost with streams of water trickling from her garment was seen more in the old boy’s sight. But my grandfather was dry as ever with all the warm garments and boots.
“Good evening, glad to see you!” uttered my kin politely.
“You are quite a fascinating man to be asleep in all those clothes, “ returned the ghost. “Is it habit of your kind to do so upon retiring?”
“Certainly ma’am!” returned my kin most courteously.
“Now my dear lady will you go out with me to cliff’s edge facing the mighty sea?”
“You are quite devious. Are you trying to get rid of me?” questioned the ghost. “The waters of the sea won’t swallow me up, nor will it reduce me in size.”
“Nevertheless we will go out the churning Atlantic!” said my kin, starting up.
“But, my dear captain,’ answered the ghost, ‘it is fearfully cold out in the open night air. You will be frozen hard before you’ve been out a moment or two!”
“Don’t you worry about me!’ echoed my grandfather, “I am as warm as a proverbial toast. Come! I want to see the cliffs to the ocean where you fell.
And the water ghost followed my grandfather’s lead on the outside.
They had not gone far in their trek before the spirit showed signs of abject stress.
“You traipse rather slowly,’ she uttered plaintively.” I am nearly frozen. My knees are nearly frozen from the slow walk. Please hurry your steps!’
“I should like to oblige my dear lady,” returned my grandfather quite politely, “but my clothing is rather bulky and heavy on my aged body. I think I need a bit of rest as this old frame is feeling the weight. Let up sit for a minute or two on this snow bank and rest ourselves and talk thing over.”
“Please do not stop. I beg of you!” she cried out. “Let me carry on as feel myself growing rigid from the cold winds. If we stop here to rest, I fear that will be frozen stiff!”
“That my dear lady is why I brought you out here! A nasty trick on my part.” cackled my grandfather viciously and then seating himself on the snow-bank. Take your time my dear, but freeze to a stiff board, as I wish for you.”
“I cannot move my shadowy form,” cried the water spirit. ‘my damp shroud is starting to be a solid piece of ice! Please, let us return to the warmth of the house.”
Never my dear woman. I have asked you in good faith to leave the house, but you refused and gave me all that blah that you need to haunt for all to see your past torment. Not for me to hear all that malarkey! It cannot be. Now I have you at last.”
“For the last time let me implore you. I would bend my knees but I am frozen solid and quite stiff. I beg of you Captain Henry Dickson, pleaseeeeee!
Here the words froze on the water’s ghost’s lips when the time reached the final hour of one. There was a moment’s tremor throughout the ice-bound form. The full shone moon came out from a dark cloud and shone upon the ice statue of a beautiful woman, sculpted in clear transparent ice.
There stood the water ghost of the manor conquered by the cold a prisoner of winter of all time. Alongside was another figure decked with oilskins, fur-line boots and topped with a sou’wester, frozen upon snow-bank....
The old house still stands today, but empty of living souls. I wasn’t such a brave soul to move in with my family, but now and again I would check the building and its contents; even tried to put it on the market but with no willing buyers interested in the ghostly building. The inside of the edifice is still furnished with furniture of oak stout maple and mahogany and curtained with heavy dark curtains that whisk faintly in the draft of winds. The interior is a real spooky place decorated with equally gloomy portraits of dour ancestors adorning the walls together with the might of arms.
The sight of the deserted manor standing on rough ground and guarded by weather-beaten oaks is a grim sight at the dark of night. The old trees standing guard around the house is shaken and beaten by the winds, and the owls nesting in the branches give out a shriek of protest, now and then. When their sounds that had arisen with the shadows, and come out of the hiding places as the twilight summons, a frightened passerby on a nightly walk would look up and imagined seeing faint shadows coursing through the dust of that window. “Ghosts!” was the word uttered in terror, as quick legs scurried away.
It was not exactly true as imagined by the spooked wanderers! The ghosts of the water spirit and my grandfather never appeared when the last glimmering daylight died away, only on the rise of the new moon, and then only on the warmth of spring till the autumn months. When the strokes of the chimes of the standing grandfather’s clock heralded in the peal of twelve midnight, shadowy forms appeared coming from the cold waters making their way to the manor; the strokes could be still could be heard even today in the emptiness of the darkened house.
They whisked to that room on the upper floor. To those who heard the chimes from the house at midnight at the full of the moon could never understand the turning of the winding key to the clock by unseen hands. Frightened eyes bore witness to the sight of a wispy maiden in a white shroud and a shadowy figure in oilskins and topped with a sou’wester as they looked towards the moonlit room on the second story. And if they listened carefully they would of heard argumentative words. Yes, tis’ true to this very day....
Norman A. Rubin