Thursday, November 29, 2018

Chapter 13, Part 1

Part 1: Under a Blue Hunter Moon

Before there were any stories about the Eddy Street Massacre House, there was just a big, old, empty house that no one wanted.  By the early 1990’s, it had been unwanted for so long, and for so many reasons.   It was haunted.  People had died there.  Too, too many people.  Even the most brazen and ambitious local historians could not keep track of everyone who had met a tragic end on the property.  The absolute number of deaths had been an ongoing debate in official circles for a long time.  But, once upon a time, there was only one death that people actually really cared about.

The original owner, Dr. Oscar J. Craig, had died in the house.  But, he died of natural causes, and no one ever had any reason to suspect otherwise.  After all, Professor Oscar Craig, the first President of the University of Montana, was not a young man when he first began construction on his luxury dream home.  It was to be the finest home of its kind in Missoula, MT.  After a decade of endless delays, constant frustrations, and terrible accidents, the bedeviling mansion was finally complete.  However, poor, beleaguered Professor Craig only lived in the house a few short years before dying.  

When Dr. Craig died, everyone began to believe the house was not only haunted, but also very unlucky.  Therefore, despite its size, beauty, and proud legacy, nobody was willing to take it on at any price.   People with enough money to purchase and maintain it were far too often greeted by the sight of a ghostly form in the high turret window.  As the years wore on, the spectral shade that haunted the room where Craig had died was seen more and more often.  Word spread rapidly, and soon enough, no honest person would even consider crossing the threshold.  And, all the while, the house sat alone with only its ghosts to ruffle the tattered shades, gaze out its windows, and move time slowly towards its terminus. 

Years came and went, dragging on ceaselessly, and the house slowly changed.  Its grand facade took on a forbiddingly grey and unlit temper, which served to invite further corruption and sadness to inhabit its desolate corridors.  In misery, the mansion became infested with drunks, thieves, and other ne’er do wells.  They were the only ones who didn’t mind sharing a room with spirits who tapped, and shrieked, moved things about, and brazenly walked around as pitchy black shadows that were visible during both the day and night.  

Frightful stories bloomed around the Eddy Street Mansion like a garden patch of fetid roses.  One of the most disturbing was the story of an ill-turned vagrant, a woman, who was only ever known as Jane Doe.  One night in early 1916, a woman burst from the property, screaming that she had been set on fire.  To those who were present to hear, she babbled loudly in a language of ravenously garbled syllables.  But, one thing was clear in spite of her maddened ravings, Jane Doe believed that there was a demon in the house, and it had set her aflame.  She chanted words in backward circles, crying out in agony that the wicked, green-yellow flames were licking her bones clean.

The puzzled neighbors and onlookers scratched their heads, unsure what to do.  No one else could see any dastardly flames, especially not of a devilish, green variety.  All they could see was that the woman was out of her mind, and naked in the snow in the dead of night.  By the time police arrived on the scene, Jane Doe was scratching herself raw, rolling in a snow bank, and still screaming that the demon flames were burning her alive.  But, as soon as the officers pulled her from the snowy ground, she suddenly went silent, and refused to speak to them.  She just stood, blinking widely, blindly naked, stoically silent and, all the while, regarding them with suspicious, deranged eyes.  

When they began to question her, she looked at them blankly, and then began twisting and pulling at her hair so ferociously that a great wad of it tore loose from her scalp.  She held the bloody, blond wad of matted hair out with a smile, almost as if it were an offering to the officers.  This gesture of supplication was just too much for the bewildered policemen.  Not knowing what else to do, they handcuffed her, folded her frozen, redly-striated body in a wool blanket, and took her straight to jail.  It was too late that night for a doctor to come, so they left her raving in her cell.  For once the bars had slammed home, she had begun the unhinged litany once again.  

Unfortunately, no doctor was ever able to untangle her jumbled web of possessed lunacy, and uncover the truth of what had actually happened to her.  Long into the night, Jane Doe finally had gone silent.  After that, according to the other prisoners, there had (thankfully) been no other sounds.  The next morning, police had found her hanging from a makeshift noose tied to the bars of the window in her cell.  The noose had been made from the shredded remains of the woolen blanket she had been given the night before.  As the officers approached her lifeless body, the floor was sticky slick, and almost caused them to slip, and something crunched sickeningly underneath their heavy, black boots.  The cell was dim, even in the early daylight, and they had looked to each other in confusion.

Turning on their flashlights, they first saw the bed.  It was covered in blood, with the sickly, yellowed stump of a torn molar the only break in a sea of crimson.  It lay undisturbed on a bed whose threadbare white-and-navy striped sheet was still tucked tightly under the thin mattress.  Jane Doe’s face was a caved-in, bloody mask, barely recognizable as human.  Soon after, the coroner confirmed that she had smashed her face into the concrete floor so viciously that every bone in her face had been broken, and almost every tooth in her mouth was shattered.  Only one tooth had survived to be extracted intact.  It was the perilous molar found on the bed.  She had used it to rend the thick, navy blanket into thin, distressingly precise strips of fabric.  

Apparently, the coroner continued, Jane Doe had used the belabored pieces of ripped fabric to fashion her frail noose.  The coroner was shocked to his skin that any person could go through such an ordeal, and still remain conscious enough to improvise the implement of their death by inches over the course of hours.  And, beyond that, judging by the overlain pattern of ligature marks on her neck, he theorized that she had attempted the hanging three or four times before succeeding.  One thing was sure, he said with a sad shake of his tired, gray head, it had been a long, cruel, anguished death.  She had not so much died from the hanging as she had slowly choked to death.  It was perhaps, in his words, the most grueling, self-imposed end he had ever seen a person travail to accomplish.

The woman was never identified beyond her generic moniker, and her remains were quickly consigned to a public gravesite.  The mass grave lay beneath a blank marker at the very edge of the county cemetery.  At the time, it was the only place for the faceless, nameless persons who met mortality without ever having given the authorities sufficient motive to discover their true origins.  Jane Doe was quickly forgotten, but her story was harder to bury.  It rankled in the minds of those who knew it, and eventually became just another weird, unfortunate event; just another reason to avoid the house, and the dangerous secrets it held.  

The police had immediately tossed the house again, laying it bare of any living residents.  Then, the house quieted, and stayed quiet for a long time.  Even the ghost in the high turret windows went unseen for so long that people questioned whether he had ever been there at all.  Memories changed, and soon the ghost, the screaming woman, and the other unhappy events were just eerie stories that became more and more fantastic over time, and less and less true.  People still listened to the stories, adding their own embellishments from time to time, until the once real events became nothing more than tall tales to be told around a keg and a bonfire.  

Uncaring time marched on and, by 1921, the Eddy Street mansion had been abandoned for ten full years.  The homeless drunks and addicts, the loonies who had escaped their bin, and the hopeless shells of glassy-eyed drifters had long since taken it back over, polishing its steps with vomit, and filling its rooms with inert, unsober bodies.  However, the house itself was still young enough, and attractive enough, to catch the unlikely eye of Mrs. Erma Patricia Watson.  

Erma Watson had never heard the whispers about a dire haunting.  She was a stranger to Montana, and not one who was likely to linger about abandoned properties, taking in the foul air of oppressive tragedy.  Still, there was something fascinating about the old mansion.  And, certainly, she had no need to care that the place was filled to the rafters with wicked bankrupts, that it had been plundered to its cellars, robbed to its bare stilts, and was littered with all manner of foul detritus; human, animal, and otherwise.  After all, these were all problems that could be easily solved with lots of money.  

Luckily, Erma P. Watson was married to Mr. Jonathan Andrew Watson, who was widely regarded as the richest man present in the state at that time.  After two years of traveling, Erma Watson needed a settled project, and desperately so.  For her, it had been a difficult transition from the fantastic rigors of life in New York City to Montana’s vastly depressing wilderness, which was filled with dazzling beauty, and little else.  However, her husband, Jonathan, loved the sense of ineffable peace that only the high mountain vistas, which seemed to end only a scant heartbeat shy of eternity, could provide.  It was something he had not found anywhere else and, once found, it was not something he was willing to let go.  

Month following month, they had traveled further and further into the unwashed hinterlands of Western Montana.  And, with each passing day, every barren, endless mile succeeded, Erma’s dismay grew more dense, became more crystalline in feature, so that it might be invisible and overlooked by others, but was a hard and heavy weight that she secretly carried in her heart.  Where others only saw raw beauty filled with possibilities, Erma could only see waves upon waves of mountain ranges irretrievably separating her from any notion of a civilized life.  

Day by day, her husband’s wandering feet brought them closer and closer to the edge of the map, and she despaired that Jonathan would only find happiness at the very ends of the earth.  A place where skyscrapers and feather beds would be an even further gone memory, if such a thing were possible.  A life of woolly discomfort lived out in largish burlap tents loomed impossibly close, and she felt powerless to escape such a wretched and unexpected fate.  But, of course, Erma never shared these fears with her husband. 

Firstly, she had been brought up to believe it would be terribly bad form, and would lie ill of the proper duties of a wife.  But, mostly, Erma was frightened that if she shared this picture of life, this awful and lonely destiny, Jonathan would callously sweep aside her fears, and rush headlong to bring her quaking vision into inescapable reality.  Then, her life could only continue as it had come to be, with Jonathan growing happier every day while she painted on her false smile and hid her misery.  Erma knew she would do it, she would do it forever, if necessary.  It was her job, and what she had been raised to do, but she dreaded it.  

Only the fact that she loved Jonathan more than the moon, the stars, and the sky above kept her from fleeing back to New York on the soonest available train.  Still, if there was any way to avoid a destiny lived out on the desolate edge of the known world, she was determined to find it.  But, as day by day passed with no fresh answers to her prayers, Erma began to accept that her best days were behind her.  New York City was behind her.  Only a vulgar, rustic hell awaited her at the end of their long journey.  So, on yet another day, another beautiful, but cheerless day, Erma gazed out the window of their chauffeured limousine, and pretended to join in her husband’s mirth and jovial, high spirits.  

Mr. Jonathan Watson, third son of an immensely wealthy railroad tycoon, was falling in love with Montana, she could see it.  It was written all over him.  The boredom that had always hung about him, the unshakable gloom that had worried her so in younger days, was gone and, for that, Erma was glad.  Truly, she wanted him to be happy, dizzily happy, if possible.  But, did it have to come at the price of a constant, inexhaustible pull towards a life she did not want? It seemed unavoidably so.  Because, for all that Erma wished it, she could not want this bemountained destiny that he hungered for.  

She could not want what she saw before her each day, not even for Jonathan, whom she loved with every hopeless piece of her soul.  Even more exhausting was the knowledge that this was a battle that she was not going to win, could never win.  And, even if she could, how would she ever find the heart to fight it?  If this is what Jonathan had decided their life would be, she could only do her best to try and find some happiness amongst the ruins of her dreams of a perfect life.  A perfect life lived in the epicenter of civilization, not a million miles away from it.  So, with despairing eyes, Erma took in another day of touring available properties.  This time, it was in a town called Missoula.  

For the Watsons, Missoula was nothing more than another stop along the trail of their ambling westward adventure.  They had no specific intention of buying anything.  And, for Erma, it was just another day in some mercy-forsaken town that made her wish to be anywhere else than where she was.  Getting up that chilly October morning, there was no reason to think Missoula would be any different from the other dozen or so other Montana towns they had visited.  Beautiful, yes.  They were all beautiful.  Beautiful, lovely, sometimes even devastatingly so, and also completely devoid of anything that could ever replace what she had left behind.

When Erma Watson first laid eyes upon the Eddy Street mansion, it made a poor impression.  There were hobos on the steps, and black holes where expensive stained-glass windows had once been.  Cockeyed hanging shutters, peeling paint, and a chimney missing half its bricks completed the portrait of neglect.  A cold chill ran down her spine.  Instantly, she hated it.  The house stood impassively, stalwartly dissolving, shaken to unfragile ashes by indifference and constant misuse.  Its visage seemed to invoke something unearthly, something cold and foreign.  

Erma could not specifically define her foreboding, but later she contented herself that it had to be because she was unused to seeing such blatant and unresolved poverty displayed before her.  Puddles of excrement, crumpled piles of trash, and empty liquor bottles still wrapped in brown paper bags littered the front porch.  Erma turned her head away in disgust, nauseous at the sight.  Maybe it had been beautiful once, as the bland broker who accompanied them garrulously claimed.  The man never shut up, especially about this Eddy Street property, but Erma didn’t even like to look at it.  

However, before she could overrule her senses, and demand that the driver move on, and quickly, she looked to Jonathan expecting his demeanor to mimic her own.  Shockingly, and to her horror, he wore an expression she had never seen before.  It was a mix of stunned amazement and anxious hunger, boiled down into a blanket mien of fraught desire.  Most worrisome, her husband did not appear able take his eyes from the place.  Erma spoke his name, quietly, gently.  He did not hear.  Then, she was forced to practically shout in the small space, which awakened him immediately.  He said nothing, just looked at her.

Shocked disdain colored his handsome features, as if she were the one who had suddenly lost all sense of comportment.  Then, he returned his rapt gaze to the house.  The broker’s face split into an obscenely pleased smile.  While Erma’s first thought was that the atrocious site ought to be condemned, Jonathan was strangely agog, his tender mouth uncharacteristically agape.  This turn pleased Erma not in the slightest, but there was nothing she could do.  Soon enough, they were off to a better block; but, from then on, Jonathan only wanted to talk about the derelict Eddy Street mansion.  He was verily obsessed with it, and all the promise it held.  

Some weeks passed, and Erma finally began to see the house Jonathan’s way.  By then, they had gone to visit so often that she felt she might as well already live there, even though they had yet to cross the threshold.  With all the no-accounts skulking about, it was far too dangerous for them to do more than look out from the safety of their limo, and speculate about what could be.  After three months spent in a modest hotel, but the best Missoula had to offer, Erma finally relented, and agreed to make the mansion her new home.  

All in all, it wasn’t so bad, or so she told herself.  The town was beautiful, if not a little barren and isolated.  There were worse places and, in the last two years, she had seen far too many of them.  She decided to try to see the best in things.  Besides, it was hard to deny her heart, and Jonathan was her heart.  Over the course of their prolonged stay, Erma had even come to like the house more.  As she came to learn its history (for the chatty broker considered himself something of an an amateur historian, and definitely an expert on the mansion), its tangible aura of anti-cathartic woe, its trenchant sadness, slowly began to make more sense.   

One night, while braiding her hair into a single long plait before bed, Erma had a flash of understanding.  Perhaps, it was all meant to be.  Maybe she and Jonathan were the ones who were meant to save the mansion from utter ruin.  It was hard to deny that it had the potential to be a wonderful, enviable home.  And, Erma knew that only a truly exceptionally home could make her forget about her life in New York.  There would never be anything under Montana’s broadly deep blue sky that could ever compete with the Manhattan she had left behind, but if Montana is where Jonathan believed that he could be happy, then she would set the wishes of her own heart aside, and try to fill the void as best she could.  

Surely, Erma convinced herself, even such a charmingly backwards hamlet in the middle of  nowhere could offer something, something...It simply had to.  The past couple years had been especially difficult for them.  More so than any of the other places they had visited, the fact that they were not actually from Montana had been a particular issue.  It was as if it was simply not acceptable to be from someplace as grand and far away as New York City.  The few members of the haughty, but ragged mountain gentry with whom they did spend time never saw fit to let them forget it either.  

For Erma, it was frustration without end.  These people didn’t even know what money and power were all about.  How could they? They were pleased to orbit their lives around cattle and snow and sunsets, never dreaming, or even caring, that the world held so much more.  In Erma’s mind, these friends were nothing more than a bunch of moneyed peasants, dirty-handed sorts who made their paltry fortunes digging rocks from out of the earth.  Meanwhile, her husband, Mr. Jonathan Andrew Watson, was heir to the P & W Railroad fortune, while she herself also came from a very good and wealthy family.

Still, she knew that they needed friends in order to settle down and build a real life.  And, if all there was to choose from was a bunch of jumped-up, gold-mining paupers, then so be it.  Erma knew that she still needed to make a good impression and try to fit in, for Jonathan’s sake, if nothing else.  Perhaps, she thought, restoring such an important piece of Missoula’s history could turn things around.  Montanans might not like transplants, but with the right investment of time and money, certainly the steel-jawed, mountain aristocracy would come around.  After all, there was not much in the world that money could not buy.  

As she began to accept the plans as reality, Erma’s mind swirled with images of what she could do for the house, how beautiful it could be.  Fancy dinner parties and holiday gatherings danced in her head.  She smiled, imagining how impressed her new friends would be.  She could show them what having real money meant.  Perhaps, and she found herself smiling at the idea, it would not be so bad after all.  Erma prided herself on being a good wife and, as the best of wives, she would learn to love the restored mansion, and their new life in it.  

She would write her friends in New York, send them invitations for a new adventure.  Surely, they would turn up out of curiosity, if nothing else.  It was plumb boring in Montana, but she’d neglect to mention that.  Perhaps, they’d be too distracted by the spectacular views to notice.  Her mind whirled, and a stubborn determination set in.  Eventually, she would find ways to fill the mansion’s grim hallways with laughter and mirth.  She would decorate it with the most expensive furnishings that could be brought in by mail-order.  And, of course, she would bring her own special dash of unabashed aplomb to the sad state of the unloved manse.  Yes, they would be happy.  Or, as happy as clams taken out of the sand could ever be, Erma told herself.  

Before signing the papers, Erma and Jonathan never thought to ask questions beyond what they had already been told.  Questions were for lawyers, as was paperwork.  But, the Watson’s lawyers never thought to ask about ghosts.  Dubiously, the close-lipped sons and grandsons of the old-time Copper Kings, their supposed friends, also never bothered to mention that it was haunted.  However, they all found it to be a great jest, and laughed heartily in private, taking bets as to how long Erma and Jonathan would last in the decrepit old house.  It was the same with the City official who gleefully came calling to collect their cash, and hand over the keys to their new hereafter.  

Once Jonathan felt that he and Erma were in accord (for he did suspect what was in her heart, even though he would not condescend to say so), he had not hesitated to plunk down the cash to buy the Eddy Street mansion.  He hurried to do it, as if he were competing against a dozen other motivated buyers, instead of being the only interested party, ever.  He did not bother to negotiate.  Such behavior was beneath him, or so he had been brought up to believe.  The price was the price, and Jonathan counted himself lucky to hand over what amounted to a lifetime’s wages for a house that no one wanted.  A house most people would not live in, even if they were paid a king’s ransom to do so.  

For a brief moment in time, it appeared that the old mansion had escaped its own tragic and inimitable destiny.  For that moment, the house might not have become a filthy and disreputable needle mill, and (eventually) the site of the most heinous killing spree in Montana history.  Suddenly, and without notice, the resources with which to manifest a happy ending had appeared.  But, it was not going to be easy.  First, there was a great deal of work to be done.  The restoration process was going to be long and arduous.  Not only did all of the resident hobos, beggars, and drunks have to be removed, but the house would have to be stripped back to chaste lumber in order to be re-built better and grander than ever.

The Watsons were not about to spend all that time in a smallish hotel room, even if it was the best in town.  Once Jonathan’s regrettable ‘Missoula or Bust’ mentality had been satisfied, Erma insisted that they head back to New York for a while.  Jonathan was too pleased to not  relent, even though he hated all the hustle and bustle, the endless social obligations, and worst of all, time spent with his overbearing father and brothers.  They were the ones who ran the business, invested the enormous earnings, and fed their ever-growing, green-eyed empire.  

His father and brothers were titans of industry, but Jonathan never had a mind for business.  He had been born a poet; just a quiet, blue-eyed, artistic soul.  In a room full of wolves, he was the black sheep.  ‘Useless’ was the term his family used most often, whether or not he was in the room.  Only his mother seemed able to love him in spite of his gentle nature, his bashful inadequacies.  And, when she died, he had no more reason to stay in a place he hated.  Enduring it all again was too much for Jonathan to handle.  After a few weeks, he proposed the one thing that could tempt his beloved Erma away from everything New York City had to offer.  After all, Jonathan knew his wife well enough to know that she would not turn down a year-long cruise around the world on a luxury liner.  And, in this, he was not at all wrong.  Within a week, the Watsons were packed and on their way.  

Back in Missoula, work on the Eddy Street mansion had begun, and it continued at a breakneck pace.  Unfortunately, none of the problems that plagued the original construction site had changed, even if the passing of years had dimmed their memories.  The site was still haunted by strange accidents, ghostly sightings, and bizarre turns of bad luck, just as it had been before.  Some of these stories drifted to Erma and Jonathan, but such troubles were more than a world away.  It was too hard to focus on bad news when they were touring India’s sun-kissed coastline, sunning themselves along the French Riviera, or deep-sea fishing in Alaska’s cold, blue-green waters.  

Besides, delays and problems were only natural for such a large project.  Workers who quit, died, or fell ill were quickly replaced, and the work continued unabated.  Mostly, the Watsons heard facts and numbers, projections and postponements.  Not accidentally, the stories they did not hear were the ones from the people who worked the site.  The foreman, a no-nonsense bear of a man, was not about to jeopardize the heftiest paycheck of his career by passing on a bunch of superstitious nonsense to the new owners.

It was not that he had no reason to believe what his people said.  He worked the longest hours, and had seen and heard as much or more than anyone else.  Sometimes, the cold fear he encountered at the site kept him up until the wee hours.  It would not be until he saw the sun break the horizon that he felt comforted enough to sleep.  And, by then, it would be time to return to work.  But, no matter, a job was a job, and the money he was making on Eddy Street would support his family for years to come.  If the Watsons were foolish enough to live in a house everyone knew was haunted, then that was their business. 

After three years of travel, three years of delays and setbacks that they never saw or felt, word came that the house was complete.  It was 1924, and time for them to move in.  Later that year, the Watsons moved themselves and their gargantuan mounds of luggage into the Eddy Street mansion.  After that, they seemed to live the happiest of lives for the next thirty years.  They loved each other, their children, and their fine, beautiful home.  Over the years, their family expanded to include seven children.  Erma and Jonathan became pillars of the community.  They supported the arts, were seated members of various important boards, and financed many charitable efforts to support those in need in their adopted town.

As was only natural, their children also grew to be models of success.  With the backing of their parents, they pursued various careers in education, business, and the military.  Everything seemed to be as perfect as life could be.  Money, family, health, happiness, and success were the hallmarks of the Watson family.  And, not one of them could have wished for anything more, which is what made what happened next utterly confounding to everyone in the community.  On October 11, 1953, twenty-nine years to the day since they had moved in, the Watsons left the Eddy Street mansion, and Missoula, forever.

In the season of a full Hunter moon, the elder Watsons were seen leaving the house early one morning.  It was an especially early hour, even for Erma and Jonathan, who were known as the neighborhood early birds.  The bright lights of a yellow cab had awakened their sleepy neighbors who watched the proceedings with tired, befuddled interest.  The Watsons carried only one hastily-packed suitcase apiece.  Without looking back, they climbed into the back of the cab, and left.  Despite their beneficent history with the growing city of Missoula, that was the last anyone ever saw, or heard of them.  Mr. and Mrs. Watson never again returned letters or calls from their old friends and neighbors.  

They simply vanished into their old world of wealth and privilege without a single word of explanation to anyone.  Even their limousine was left behind, parked in the garage for more than two decades until it was secretly hauled out by one of the grandchildren they barely knew, and sold to a collector.  Until the morning they left, no one had ever seen them go anywhere without their latest limousine and driver.  And, certainly, no one had ever seen them in anything as pedestrian as a bumblebee yellow cab.  

But, that is how they left for New York.  If not for their grown children, no one would have ever known what became of them.  They did not return for holidays, or for the births of their grandchildren.  And, while several of their grown children decided to stay in Missoula, none of them ever lived in the house again.  It simply became another piece of property in the family’s vast holdings.

Monday, April 30, 2018

Chapter 12: The Tour Bus

October, 2010*

“Welcome to Missoula, Montana! My name is Ben Watson, and I’m your guide today for Haunted Missoula Tours.  I have a lot of information to share with you about the locations we will be visiting today, so let’s get going.  First, though, a little bit about me.  I was born in Missoula, and I’ve lived here my whole life.  Right now, I’m a sophomore at UM studying for my English Lit degree.  My parents are both professors there, so I guess you could say it’s in the blood.

“Anyway, I grew up in a house not a half-mile from here, so I feel like I have a lot of personal history with this property.  When I was a kid, we used to dare each other to run up, and look in the windows.  The joke was that a ghost might look back at you.  Except, it wasn’t really a joke.  Most kids I knew didn’t have the guts to do it, but I did it.  I did it a few times.  Sometimes nothing happened, but then there were the times when I really did see something scary.

“And what I saw, it saw me too.  That was the creepiest part. I can’t really describe what it was.  All I know is that it was some kind of paranormal being.  Scared the shit out me, to be honest.  But, I haven’t seen that thing in years.  And, I’m by this place all the time.  Really, I’m just grateful to not have seen that awful thing again, whatever it was. 

“Anyway, I didn’t mean to scare you.  But, this is a scary place.  Maybe that thing is gone now. It probably is.  At least, I hope so.  I’m a ghost fanatic, you have to be to do this job, but whatever it was scared the crap out of me.  Still, I gotta say that even with the occasional scary encounter, this job sure beats the hell out of jerking lattes!  Mostly, even when they’re visible, the ghosts don’t interact, and they seem pretty harmless.  

“Still, most people in town just hate this place like no other, and pretty much avoid it at all costs.  I imagine that’s gotta be hard to do, especially since we’re so near the University, which is the busiest place in town.  And, the little fact that the Eddy Street Massacre House is really what put Missoula on the map.  I mean, you can’t escape it.  And, it’s all anyone ever really talks about, except the snow, and skiing, maybe.  

“But, even after everything I’ve seen, I just can’t help it.  I love this place.  I’m a ghost junkie; and if you’re a ghost junkie, this is the best place to be.  And, I especially love all the ghost stories that come out of this place.  Maybe that’s because cause I’m a Lit major.  Who knows, ya know? But, it’s true that a lot people treat this place just like it’s a part fairy tale; like, it couldn’t be real, right?  But, as you can see right in front of you, this place is very real, and so are the ghosts who haunt it.  At least, that’s my opinion...

“Anyway, before we start the walking tour, I’ll tell you one of the ghost stories which you may not have already heard.  I mean, there really is no way to prove which ghost might be which, so the ghost in the window might be a different ghost than from the man I’m going tell you about.   I mean, there’s really just no way to know, but most people think it is this man’s ghost.  One reason they think it’s a specific ghost, or a ghost who was once a person, is that while most ghosts seem to change, sometimes even right in front of you, this one doesn’t.  This particular ghost happens to be one of the types of ghosts who seem to stay stable over time.  

“So, the story I’m going to share is about the ghost who stares down from the high turret bedroom window.  This ghost, the ghost of a man, always looks down at the same spot.  Actually, it is not far at all from where we have parked the bus today.  Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, he doesn’t seem to be there today.  Although, I’ll tell you, that that can change at any time.  But, back to the story, there is only one confirmed death in that room.  The man who died there was named Oscar J. Craig.  You might never have heard of him, but he was the first President of the University of Montana.  A local legend, Professor Craig died of natural causes, or so it is believed.  But, maybe, just maybe, he was another victim of the house.

“Anyway, today, we all know that the Eddy Street Massacre House is one of the most haunted houses in America, maybe even the world.  But, it did not start out that way.  It started out as a dream - Professor Oscar Craig’s dream, to be specific.  And, even though now it is just a sad ruin, it was once very beautiful.  Construction on 228 Eddy Street began in 1898.  It was the first real luxury home to be built in this section of town.  Back then, this area was practically deserted.  Even the University of Montana, which is just a few blocks from here, was just a single building, five teachers, and a name that was more an idea at the time.

“Dr. Oscar J. Craig was a brilliant and driven man.  He was also very rich and powerful.  While we know a lot about his work on campus, honestly, with regards to his personal life, we don’t know much at all.  What we do know is that he was born in 1846 in Jefferson County, Indiana; and that, as a young man, he served as a private the Civil War, where he did see action.  After the war, he returned home and, a few years later, began a teaching career at Purdue University.  

“After many years of teaching, it seems that Professor Craig was ready for a new challenge.  At some point, he was offered the opportunity to come to Montana, and he jumped at the chance.  That’s about all we know, for sure.  Well, that’s not true, we also know that Professor Craig did not come from money, so chances are he did not travel very much before joining the military.  In contrast, the woman he married, Narcissa, came from a very wealthy family back in New Orleans.  The couple never had any children.  But, they always had a dog, a schnauzer, who was always named Eddy.  Not a coincidence, just so you know.

“Anyway, as I said, the only clues we have about his life, and who he was, remain tied to this house.  From what we know, construction of this home began as a passion project, but ended up becoming a dangerous obsession.  Several workers lost their lives building him his dream home, but Craig would not be deterred from building the grandest and most beautiful house the Missoula Valley had ever seen, no matter what it cost.  

“From the beginning, construction was riddled with problems, so much so that it had to be begun not once, but twice! It also wasn’t long before rumors began to circulate that the site was haunted.  It was said that as soon as a new wall went up, the scratching would start.  There were even claims that the scratching would follow certain workers, but not others.  Other people who worked on the house claimed that shadow spirits chased them up and down through empty corridors.  Chilling, I know, right?

“So, as you can imagine, this caused all kinds of problems with the site.  Workers quit without notice, and refused to return.  It seems that a lot of people just couldn’t take the stress of working with ghosts in the walls.  I guess that’s understandable but, anyway, most of the workers stayed on.  Times were hard back then, especially in winter, and a good paycheck was tough to come by, haunted property or not.  

“Once it was finally completed, Dr. Craig and his wife did not live in it for very long at all.  Soon after moving in,  Professor Craig began to complain of ill health.  And, within a year, he had retired from the University.  At the time, he had been President of UM for 13 years.  But, within two years of retiring, and living in the house full-time, he was dead.  Narcissa subsequently fled the house, saying she wanted nothing more to do with the property, or the town.  Famously, she left Missoula right after her husband’s death.  She pretty much went straight from the funeral to the train station. 

“And, while her departure was quick, even more surprising was the fact that she left everything behind.  All she took was a single suitcase, and she never came back; not for anything, even though there was a lot of valuable stuff left in the house.  228 Eddy Street then sat abandoned for several years before finally being sold at auction.  By then, the house had been vandalized so many times that nothing was left of all the luxurious embellishments and fancy antiques.  It really was a sad fate for such a beautiful home that had taken almost ten years to complete.

“Yep, you heard that right - ten years! I mean, even in 1900, people got houses built faster than that; especially when you’re talking about people like the Craigs, who could afford to just throw money at the project, no matter how many problems came up.  But, still, all that money couldn’t stop the whole works from burning to the ground in June of 1903.  It happened just as the Craigs were preparing to move in, and start their new life.

“While the cause of the fire was never officially determined, it did claim the lives of two people, and the house itself was a total loss.  It also took with it most of Narcissa Craig’s prized antiques collection.  Now, if you know anything about antiques, then you probably know that her collection was famous, because it pretty much included every expensive antique in the Western Hemisphere.  

“Also, ironically, and in a way, it was Narcissa’s collection that was the most likely cause of the fire.  You see, one of the people who died in the fire was a photographer who had been hired to photograph Narcissa’s antiques while the house was just newly finished  At the same time, a roofer was finishing some work while the photographer took pictures in the house below.  I guess it was assumed that the roofer’s work would not interfere with the photographer.  I mean, the house is pretty massive, so that makes sense.  

“Anyway, what most people think happened is that there was an accident with the photographer’s flash powder.  In case you don’t know what flash powder is, it is what was used to light the flash in old-fashioned cameras.  I don’t if anyone here has ever seen one of those things in action, but lighting flash powder is basically like lighting a torch.  But, dangerous or not, it is how people used to light photographs.  I mean, I guess if someone didn’t know what they were doing, then the stray sparks could start a fire.  

“It pretty much makes sense, but it’s unusual.  I mean, generally speaking, a few sparks won’t burn down a giant house.  But, still, nothing that happens with this house is normal.  Once the fire started, it was completely voracious.  By all reports, the whole house was consumed within a few minutes.  People who saw it said that it wasn’t just a fire, it was a complete inferno; like a volcano or something had just exploded inside the house.  

“The poor roofer never stood a chance.  He fell to his death, and was completely consumed by the flames, which reached over fifty feet high.  Nothing was ever found of him but an ashen jawbone.  Actually, the only way we know it was him was through his dental records.  His name was Gary Bennett, and he left behind a wife and two kids.  The photographer was not so lucky.  No trace was ever found of him.  We only even know that he was there because one of the steel legs of his tripod somehow survived the fire.

“Despite this tragedy, Professor Craig was undeterred.  He even began to take matters into his own hands.  I mean, literally.  On evenings and weekends, the President of the University, and one of the richest men in town, was often seen hammering away at these very walls in front of you.  If the haunting or the ghost stories bothered him, he didn’t show it.  And, he certainly didn’t talk about it.  Even so, the construction process continued to be riddled with every type of problem.  And, worse, eight more lives were lost before it was finished.

“Anyway, enough about all that, I know you are all eager to experience this terrifying property for yourselves.  So, grab your cameras because it is time to experience the true heart of Haunted Missoula: the Eddy Street Massacre House!  You never know, it could be someone here today that ends up getting the picture that finally proves the paranormal does exist! All right, now everyone off the bus.  Please also remember to take all your valuables with you.  Haunted Missoula Tours cannot be held responsible for any lost or missing items...”

Aside from silence, this was the only sound, the only heartbeat in the now rundown, defunct neighborhood.  It had been this way for a very long time when the tours began to run.  And, once the noise started up again, it was only a matter of time before it descended into screams.

* Hunter Moon, The Old Farmer’s Almanac 

Friday, October 6, 2017

Chapter 11

Chapter 11: Synopsis-ish

If you don’t like ghost stories, read no further.  This story is filled to the brim with ghosts, ghosts and more ghosts.  There are tales about every make and model of spook, from the innocuous to the downright dangerous.  It is even composed in the asphyxiated language of ghosts, which is a language of memories and lies.  By necessity, the story is equal parts reconstruction and imagination, just like the ghosts themselves.  

Unfortunately, the world of the paranormal is just as imperfect a place as the real world.  Ghosts are great liars, so don’t be fooled by their pretty words.  When dealing with ghosts, it is best to trust your senses and keep to a few simple rules.  The most important rule is to never trust a ghost.  People always want to do this, and it is always a mistake.  Especially if the ghost was deeply loved in life, it can be easy for a person to imperil their own soul while still not learning anything of value.  

No one knows this better than Katharine Anderson.  She lost her whole family in the Eddy Street Massacre, and has been obsessed with the event ever since.  Dreams, premonitions and psychic forebodings all told her that her daughter, Anna, was lost between the worlds of the living and the dead.  After the massacre, Katharine devoted her life to finding ways to contact her lost daughter.  

Unluckily for her, the best way was destroyed right along with Anna.  It was a relic from the old world, which had been passed down through her family.  Katharine was descended from an ancient and noble family, but she never knew it.  Her mother hid the truth about her heritage, and about the fact that they possessed the vessel of a red genie: the last red genie.  Katharine never knew what she had.   Then she accidentally unleashed him on one otherwise perfectly normal night.  

She soon learned that through the red genie all things she wanted were possible.  When she wished for true love, the genie brought her a man named Alexander Anderson.  She instantly loved him, and he felt the same.  He was close-lipped about himself, but his Army friends called him the Green Beret Barber.  It was many years before she knew why.  And decades passed before she knew that he possessed a genie of his own: a black genie.  

By that time, it was too late to re-think their life together; he had already become The Green Beret Barber of Orange Street.  He ran his office, Red Baron Real Estate, out of a modest lease on Orange Street, and he was very rich; probably the richest man in town.  No one called him The Green Beret Barber to his face anymore, not even in jest.  In Missoula, he was as well-known for his quick temper as he was for his money.

Together, he and Katharine built a beautiful home in the Missoula Valley.  The town they both loved was guarded by high peaks on all sides, and a river ran through it.  Years earlier, Alexander had fallen in love with the natural beauty and stupendous views available in Missoula, MT.  Without thinking twice, he had decided that it was the best place for him and his new bride.  

The world they shared was savory, glutted and exceptional in every way.  Each day was an elitist montage of fun, favors, shopping and planning for their next luxurious adventure.  It seemed like it would never end until, suddenly, it did.  In a flash of horror and brutality, their wonderful life was gone as though it had never existed at all.  The only thing left was memories, both good and terrible.  After many years, Katharine found her purpose in writing the story of what happened.  It was her final, grasping effort to understand the violent lunacy of it all.  

Anna Anderson is an illusion: a literary invention created by her mother.  Simply put, she is the shade of a character who once was.  Like all shades, Anna doesn’t actually understand that she is dead.  Shades are the only ghosts who exist exclusively in the invisible periphery.  This fog and mist makes them blind to other ghosts and the living.  Truth is, her eyes were forever closed on the world before the first sunrise emblazoned the new millennium in a riot of hopeful pastels.  

Anna never owned a cell phone, or texted, or thought to live her life virtually.  Her escape (along with her best friend, Elizabeth), was the world of the paranormal.  Now, as a shade, her world of escape has collapsed down to a precious, once-remembered reality.  In death, Anna is the worst type of shade: a lost shade.  She sees nothing but what she wants to.  Her mother, on the other hand, sees only that her girl has not changed much at all.  

Of all the deaths that occurred on that terrible night, it was Anna’s death that was the hardest for Katharine to take.  Anna was her only daughter and her husband, Alexander Anderson, killed their daughter, and all her friends.  Then, the bastard turned the gun on himself.  His death accomplished nothing.  It only left a gaping void.  For the next ten years, she spun her wheels using lesser spells to contact the dead.  

She even convinced herself that she would do better with this than others.  After all; none of them had kept a red genie, or met a black genie.  This convenient deception did not last very long.  The facts were hard to ignore.  Her innate talents made no difference.  The commonplace spells and arcane methods she employed were pitifully lacking.  Scrying and Ouija boards and seances left her with nothing but wispy, desperately imprecise results.  

Finally, Katharine was forced to face the truth.  She could choose to commit to a terrible solution that would surely work, or she could abandon her quest entirely.  It was then that she turned to the dusty, old lamp.  She knew that the black genie would not let her down.  He was the last genie left in the world, which made him the only true conduit for speaking to the dead.  Her plan worked quickly.  Once unleashed, Anna’s shade curiously drew near to him, and was softly irradiated by his pale green aura.  

Unfortunately, even with all his power, the black genie cannot summon Anna.  He can only try to attract her.  The black genie does not own her like he does almost every other ghost in the Eddy Street Massacre House.  For Anna, her existence is ever like a lucid dream.  The genie warned her mother that she must be careful not to break the illusion.  Ghosts cannot hear the truth from the living.  The conversations between mother and daughter happen in jumps and whispers that split disjointedly, and sway far afield from time or reason.

Anna’s shade is unusual.  She presents as being lithe and real, full of color.  Anna is a perennial image of her living self, and very unlike her father’s ghost.  Such is the fate of a casualty of the black genie, but it is not the fate of his prisoners.  Her father is almost unrecognizable in death.  Gone is the strong, powerful presence he once possessed.  He is now mute and bound, hovering about the periphery like a long, brown stain on the wall.  

Oftentimes, Katharine cannot help but wonder if that is how it will be for her, too.  After all; she has done the same as he.  Even at the time, she could not pretend to be ignorant of the consequences.  When the red genie was destroyed, her soul was restored.  Then, she chose to barter it away once again.  What she did not know is how long the black genie had been set on destroying the red genie.  True; the black genie wanted Katharine for his own clandestine purposes, but there was another reason, too.

All genies hate each other.  When there were many genies, they chased one another across the world with frightful results.  The reasons for constant pursuit and destruction were simple; there have only ever been two ways that a genie might attain freedom.  The first was a joke among the powerful specters.  It required that a human being forego the promises of true love and unimaginable wealth in order to set his genie free.  To genies, it was a ridiculous notion, both laughable and tragic.  As if any new master had ever, in the history of the world, done such a thing.  

The second method was a secret.  Only a few genies who had ever existed knew about it.  However, the black genie knew, and had known for a long time.  At the beginning of the twentieth century, he had been the oldest and most powerful of the handful of genies who remained.  

Only one genie would ever be able to use the secret method because, once used, the door would forever again be closed.  Katharine Anderson is the key to the black genie’s hopes for freedom.  She is the daughter of a famous family known not only for their wealth and power, but also their scandalous ties to magic.  The black genie has chased her family, and other, similar families, for many centuries hoping to find the one who could help him attain freedom.  

Over time, he grasped fool after fool, wasting time and energy: only to find out that they were the wrong ones.  After their deaths, they became just more useless faces among his insubstantial minions, their ancient magic trinkets amounting to little more than sand and ash.  But, the black genie knows it will be different this time.  Katharine is no fraud.  She possesses what he wants, even though she has no knowledge of what she has or what to do with it.  

Like many objets d’ magic, its portentous powers are hidden in plain sight behind a peculiarly pedestrian facade.  For her own safety, Katharine’s family never told her who she really was, or the powers contained in the seemingly worthless antiques she inherited.  Unfortunately for the black genie, he cannot kill Katharine to get what he wants.  Genies can lie, scheme, connive and manipulate events to bring about their master’s death, but they cannot use their own power to kill a master.  

Still, this is little more than an inconvenience.  The black genie has waited for millennia to be free.  A few more decades make little difference to him.  So, in the meantime, he is content to aid Katharine in her efforts to write the real story of what happened the night of the massacre.  After all, the black genie had a huge role in the events that night.  Besides, secretly, he has always wanted to be famous.   As the written word caught on and became enduringly popular and widespread, it irked him to no end that there were no stories about him or his close brethren.  

The black genie always suspected that he was too old and powerful to be completely unknown forever.  In his mind, the most famous stories about genies made it seem like only one faceless, nameless genie had ever existed.  It was the same intolerable ignorance he had encountered in every new master for centuries: until Katharine came along.  Meanwhile, lots of angels and devils had their own inspired stories compiled in voluminous texts. It was just plain unfair as far as the black genie was concerned.

While Katharine was solely intent on reconstructing her daughter’s column, How To Deal With a Haunting, and the true story of the events that led to the massacre, the black genie continued to exert his influence.  He did not care about the blog, or the story of The Green Beret Barber; he never did.  But, he does care about the Internet.  As the story moved along, the black genie came to see it as his chance to set the record straight, and finally right an old wrong. 

Ironically, and unknown to each of the characters, the disparate stories of the people, the ghosts and the genies all lead to the same place.  Each of the three genies who had managed to survive into the 1990’s had their own role in the massacre.  With the other two genies gone, the black genie is the only one left with the knowledge to recreate the story in its entirety.  He also knows that once is freed, the story will be the only remaining testament of a world where genies existed.  

The black genie has taken for granted that this is how it will be, but he is wrong.  He does not know that he will have to contend with another supernatural being before he is free to spread his dark corruption throughout the world.  This being is far older and more powerful than any genie.  In fact, it is this being who put the black genie in the lamp in the first place, a thousand years before the world was young.

The unctuous black genie does not know how close his nemesis is.  In a way, the enemy never left.  The genie has not thought of this other being for a long time.  After so many centuries of silence, he just assumed his nemesis had been destroyed.  Finally killed, and good riddance, in the genie’s mind.  But, his enemy was not destroyed.  This older, far more charismatic being is chained down.  He is being held in a cage not very dissimilar from the vessel that holds the genie.  

In the end, these two powerful, supernatural beings will battle for Katharine’s ghost, and possession of the world’s most powerful magical object.  It is something that only she can unlock.  It is the essence of her family’s storied lineage, the knowledge locked within her, that is the key.  Her living body is not what matters most.  Her ghost will do for each of their purposes.  Whoever wins this magical war will have the power to decide the fate of the world, and whether it be angels or demons who swallow forever’s woes.

To be continued...