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The Friendly Ghost
It wasn’t that Jack. Hadson liked the ghost. As he explained to me in the pub one evening after work, ghosts aren’t things one can come to terms with easily. So it was difficult for him to find any affection for it. On the few occasions he did talk to me about it, the word he used to describe his feelings was grateful, nothing stronger than that. And of course, he had good reason to be grateful!
You see, Jack’s ghost wasn’t one of the chain rattling variety, or the type that threw things. It was one of the footsteps and door opening kind. Mind you, it always closed the doors after it, or should I say ’she’ – for although it had never actually been seen, it somehow sounded and felt like an old lady.
Emily, for that’s what Jack called her, was not only accepted as one of the family – at least by Jack – she seemed to be part and parcel of the house itself. Jack’s home was one of those pleasant not too big family houses in Cheam, and a vintage model. It must have collected Emily in its early years, because she came with the house when Jack Hadson’s father in law gave the house to his daughter as a wedding present.
Being quite frequent in her visits, it wasn’t long before Jack and his new wife Susan were introduced to Emily. She always made her appearances in the evening. She was punctual and usually arrived at about the same time, as if she were arriving home from shopping, or some regular visit or task. She would first be heard at the outer door of the entrance porch. It would open and close. Then her neat little footsteps could be heard click clicking over the tiled floor to the front door proper. At this time of day it was never locked, and like the first door it would be opened and closed. Then, more quietly, she walked over the carpeted floor to the stairs. It was always the same. Emily would walk up the stairs and past the bedrooms, coming undecidedly to a halt at one of the doors.
As he was something of a philosophical man, after her first few visits Jack quickly adjusted to Emily’s presence. But prior to this adjustment there was much consternation, accompanied by a generous amount of running up and down the stairs, peering hesitantly in the darkened bedrooms, and some self questioning as to the state of their minds. Emily was a quiet unassuming sort of ghost though, and it was seen that she meant nobody any harm.
Well, let’s say that Jack Hadson saw it that way. I have never quite decided what it was with Susan. It could have been that she resented the presence of another woman in the house, being so newly wed. Perhaps it was nerves. Or it might have been something in the family, because her sister Jane was just as restless and twittery when Emily announced her presence at the doors.
Thinking about it, that’s probably what it was – an inherited nervous disposition – because I remember an incident with Jane one Christmas Eve. By that time the family had enlarged to include a small son, Billy, and a boxer dog, Sam. Jane was baby-sitting, looking after Billy and Sam while Susan and Jack went up to town to do some last minute shopping and have a meal together.
Jane was busy enjoying a quiet time reading a book. I say ‘busy’ because Jane had a way of making relaxation appear like hard work sometimes. Suddenly the dog disturbed her by giving a low growl and going to the door of the room. This was immediately followed by the porch door closing. Jane felt pleased because she was certain Jack and Susan were back earlier than they had thought. The idea of spending the evening with them pleased her. When Jane went to greet them however, there was nothing but an empty hall and the sound of Emily’s footsteps just beginning to mount the stairs. Emily alone was bad enough for Jane’s health, but she could have surmounted that problem if it hadn’t been for Sam. In the most peculiar fashion he went bounding up the stairs, his eyes wide and legs twitching in a way it would be difficult to demonstrate. As Sam got near the top of the stairs he began to moan and howl suggesting he was ill or in pain. When the poor dog reached the landing he stopped and looked desperately back at Jane standing open mouthed at the foot of the stairs, gave a mighty twitch and threw a most amazing fit, eyes rolling, tongue out and foam coming from its mouth between moans.
Seeing this Jane passed out. So I suppose it was just nerves with Susan too.
It was probably the same nervous tendency expressing in a different way that caused Billy’s asthma. It was something that developed in Billy over the years, and Jack Hadson had come to know just when the boy was going to have an attack. He said it was something to do with the weather . I can’t remember if it was the dampness, the still air or both. He always seemed to know when his boy was in for a bad night though. Working with him as I did over the years, I saw him proved right on many such evenings. And it was on just such a night that Emily showed her true colours.
It was a November evening with all the necessary weather conditions, including a little fog – and that was back when fog was deadly with chimney smoke and car fumes. Jack Hadson left work early in anticipation of a rotten night for Billy. I remember him swearing about the weather, and about whatever fate caused his son so much pain and struggle. And sure enough when he arrive home Billy had already started the first stages. Billy was their only child and it was obvious Jack loved him more than he was able to tell. Susan couldn’t cope with seeing Billy fighting for life, so it was always Jack who sat with him, nursing him through. In any case he could never rest until the lad was at ease again.
Jack knew the routine well, and just what to do as Billy struggled harder and harder to breath. But as the hours passed, the attack developed into the worst Jack had seen. Every effort to breathe Billy made, Jack felt in himself like some foreign object savaging his feelings. As Billy failed to respond to any of Jack’s efforts to ease the struggle, an old enenmy Jack knew well from other times engulfed him – helplessness. Eventually Jack phoned the doctor and waited impatiently.
He sat by the bedside, hating to see his boy literally fight for every breath. Yet he was unable to leave the bedside. He found he couldn’t stop himself compulsively looking at his watch every few moments. Long past the time Jack had set in his mind for the arrival of the doctor, he was still alone with Billy and the struggle. He stared at his son’s mauve face, with fears building inside him in an intensity of concern over whether Billy would survive the battle going on in his body. In his desperation he even prayed for help. He had never seen his boy like this before.
After many more insistent looks at his watch he heard a movement downstairs and footsteps. The doctor had visited frequently enough to know the way to the bedroom and Jack felt relief as he went to the bedroom door with a desire to get the doctor to Billy’s side as quickly as he could. He could see from the top of the stairs though that it wasn’t the doctor. It was Emily mounting quite determinedly step by step toward him.
He swore as anger flashed for moments; anger at his son’s asthma, anger and bitterness that a ghost arrived in the middle of his pain. The anger was still burning as he stood on the landing and Emily’s footsteps passed him into the room. Then Jack went back into the bedroom himself. He sat down and put his head in his hands, but something was missing. Something odd tugged at the fringe of his attention. He looked quickly around the room not understanding what was bothering him before it hit him – it was the boy. Fear washed away any traces of anger as he realised Billy had stopped the fight for breath! Frantically he bent over the quiet body of his son. Billy’s breathing was peaceful and regular. He was fast asleep. The attack had vanished.
That was how Jack Hadson came to be grateful to a ghost named Emily. Of course he never actually says it straight out. But whenever he tells the story it’s obvious he gives Emily full credit for Billy’s recovery that night. That’s my feeling too.
By the way, Jack Hadson moved from Cheam. So you wouldn’t find him by looking in the phone book. He and his family left. But I’m sure if you found the right house, Emily would still be there