Emma Gaskill's Haunting
by Kenneth Ely
Published with Permission
|Kenneth Ely, DC|
Uncle Ken and Aunt Sophia Macmillan still lived on Clark Street, so I popped in on them. Always willing to lend a hand at the drop of a hat, Uncle Ken and I went out to explore the rental possibilities while Aunt Sophia made lunch. He and I looked at two or three places, none of which had any possibility of living in and only one of which had any potential for a chiropractic practice.
When we returned to the house, Aunt Sophia announced, “Well, while you boys were out looking, I found you a place to rent!”
The fact that she could do this and turn out a roast beef and potatoes with gravy and green beans lunch at the same time amazed me.
After lunch, I was sent across the street to meet Hazel Gaskill, who walked with me over to H Street, one block to the north, to a little house she had for rent. It was small, had three tiny bedrooms, a living room, a dining room, a kitchen, and a bathroom added onto what had been a section of the open back porch. I decided I could both live in it and work out of it and I agreed to rent it on the spot.
Hazel related to me that it had once been the home of her late husband, Benny, and his mother, Emma. Emma had died and Benny had then bought the house on Clark Street and offered the house on H Street as one of his many rentals. When Benny became ill, eventually terminally, with penile cancer, he divided the Clark Street house into two separate living quarters that shared the kitchen and hired Hazel Randall, a nurse, to take care of him. When it became clear to Benny that his end was near, having no heirs and wishing to bless Hazel for the solicitous care she had given him over more than two years, Benny asked Hazel to marry him.
Hazel refused. Years previous, when she had been married to Mr. Randall, he had extracted from her the promise that, upon his death, she would never remarry. Her relationship with Mr. Randall had not been a particularly good one but a promise was a promise and Hazel was going to abide by it, nonetheless. However, Aunt Sophia, who had become well acquainted with Hazel during her two-year ministration to Benny, convinced Hazel that, as Mr. Randall had had no real love claims upon Hazel’s posthumous loyalty and, moreover, since Hazel had really come to love Benny, and that Benny wanted Hazel to have all his property and money which would go to the state if he died heirless and intestate, Hazel should marry him. So, Hazel broke her promise to Mr. Randall and married Benny, who died not long afterward, leaving her numerous rental properties – fishermen’s cots, most of them, but productive of profit, for Benny was shrewd for keeping his columns in the black – and a sum of money in an amount that no one ever convinced her to divulge.
The house on H Street, 365 it was, needed major repair by the time I agreed to rent it. Not only had the people who had rented it prior to me abused it but it had sagged on its posts to the point that the floors had waves, valleys, and cambers; the wallpaper was stretched to tearing; the plumbing leaked, and several windows had cracked. Hazel hired a crew to lift the house and put a foundation under it; she paid for insulation, which Uncle Ken and I put in, and she bought piles of paneling with which we paneled every room in the house but the kitchen.
By October, things were sufficiently mended that I could open my practice.
Over the next five years (I guess it was), I also got to know Hazel pretty well. She told me quite a few interesting stories about herself – a Hoffman, from San Juan Island – her family, and Benny, who was a character worth writing about but in another account. One of the things she told me was that Emma, Ben’s mother, had died in the 365 H Street house, in the east bedroom.
I guess it was near the end of my first five years there that Hazel offered me the house for $60K and I agreed to buy it. She carried the contract. Three years or so after our sales agreement was signed, Hazel’s health declined to the point that she had to move into assisted living but I saw her every now and again: I either went to visit her or an aid would drive her round to the office and I would come out to talk with her in the car. She was not in assisted living for more than a year, I think, before she worsened and died.
Some years passed. I continued to practice and to live in the house. The strange events came on so gradually, I did not notice that they were so strange; just unaccountable.
The first thing that I noticed from time to time was a strange smell. It was a sauerkraut smell, what I imagined fermenting skunk cabbage would smell like. The local hog farmers used to roam the woods, harvesting skunk cabbage to put into barrels to ferment, in the manner of silage, to feed their hogs. The smell did not occur often but when it did, there was no missing it. I could not account for it, though, as there was neither propane nor natural gas supplied to the place.
The smell continued at odd intervals and I gave up trying to figure out what was causing it. But eventually, I began to have trouble with my radio/CD player: it turned on by itself or, if I was playing it, it turned itself off. This I attributed to something internally wrong with the player and, when it quit altogether, I bought a new one – which behaved the same way, although it was not the same brand. The police station was across the street at that time, in the old post office building and the fire department was in the city hall. Both departments had ‘clickers’ by means of which they opened and closed the big garage doors to the fire truck bays and I gradually concluded that the clickers were on the same frequency as my CD player.
Gradually, too, I began to notice that, if I were sitting still at my desk or in my easy chair, one side of me would feel cold. This made sense in the winter for the house was old and the possibility of gaps in its structure was a reasonable expectation, although I could never find any; but to feel the cold in summer, well, that was strange.
Sometimes, I noticed that two of the odd phenomena occurred coincidentally, sometimes all three, but I could not account for it.
One day, however, I was talking to a friend, Capt. Ken Markusen, who was not only a friend but a patient and the father of my receptionist/secretary, about it and he said, “Ohh! I bet you have a ghost! Anyone ever die in this house that you know of?”
I told him, yes, Emma Gaskill had died in the house, according to Hazel.
“Well, there you are!” says he.
I asked him, since he seemed to be an authority, how I could get rid of her.
“I dunno. Just try telling her that there’s nothing for her here and that she should go to Jesus, go to God. Use her name, though, so she knows you mean her.”
I had nothing to lose by this line of endeavor so the next time I smelled the smell, or the CD player went on or off, or I felt the chill, I addressed Emma, by name, in the captain’s prescribed fashion. This approach seemed to sort Emma in the short run but she would always come back at a later date and bother me again, which eventually provoked me into saying things like, “Dam’ it Emma! Leave that stereo alone! And you stink, Emma! You stink! Go to God, Emma! Go to Jesus! Go find Benny! Benny’s with God! Get out of here!”
I had no idea whether Benny was with God or the devil and I cared little for where Emma actually went so long I was rid of her.
After maybe a year of my howling thus, Emma left. I told Capt. Markusen she was gone after sufficient time had passed for me to really believe she was. And for more than a year, I thought no more about her.
Then one day, in the spring it was, I was writing at my desk one afternoon when I smelled the smell.
“Oh, no!” I said, pushing my chair back. “Emma! Look, Emma, I don’t know why you’ve come back but kindly go away. There’s nothing and nobody here for you anymore, Emma. Go to Jesus. Good girl, Emma. Go to Jesus.”
I don’t know whether Emma was hugging me goodbye or whether she just stood in close but I sudden felt chilled on the right side of my face and body.
“Goodbye, Emma,” I said, getting up and walking to the waiting room.
As I moved, the chill went down. The smell vanished. And of Emma I was aware no more.
About three years ago, I sold the little house on H Street to a man who opened a parcel and mailbox service in it. His business was so successful that he needed to triple his floor space and, as it would interrupt his business to tear the house down, he simply built around and over it. Yes, the old Gaskill house was literally entombed in the new addition. Whether Emma was entombed with it, I cannot say for she did not follow me into my new office – mercifully.
As a footnote, I will add that, when I first moved into Ben Gaskill’s house, the old Methodist Church stood upon the corner of 4th and H Streets. It was no longer used as a church but as some sort of youth meeting place. Later, the Maurers bought it, upgraded the interior, and rented it out to retail shops. Sometime in the '80's, the church burned down – while I was away visiting my brother in California – and was such a huge conflagration, sending burning timbers all over the block when it collapsed, that it is a miracle that Ben’s house did not go up in flames with it. The Maurers built a new structure reminiscent of the old church. When I sold the house to the mailbox man, I moved into one of the suites in the new old church. I wish I had made that move years before I did, for I really like my present studio office and I never liked Benny’s house much, at all.
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Quod scripsi scripsi
Copyright Jan. 2017 © Kenneth Ely
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