I figured that would get your attention. I know some of you really like a good ghost story, and this one is a doozy.
You know how so many ghost stories are about evil spirits, and malevolent creatures. Not really my cup of tea. I keep asking myself, why does everyone always envision evil in the afterlife? But this story has just the best collection of ghostly stuff. You will totally love it. There is a golem, and a dead body, and water spirits, and almost best of all, a ghost train!
Allow me to explain. It begins with the Hancocks, a farming family in the rural environs of a small town in the plains, the flatland, of Illinois. I’ve been out there. Boy, is it flat. Miles of that flatness. Well, the Hancocks, the last of them, is selling out, lock, stock and barrel, at auction. Mr. Dunning, a hard-nosed businessman of a farmer, has spent his time and money gobbling up failed farms and their equipment. At the Hancock auction, Mr. Dunning offers to buy Hancock’s land, which contains the family cemetery, containing several generations of Hancocks. The last remaining Hancock agrees, as long as Mr. Dunning maintains the cemetery, and permits no further burials in it. Dunning agrees to the deal, all is sold, and Hancock disappears, went wandering, and is never heard from again.
Mr. Hancock had a brother, dearly loved, who was killed in the war. I am fuzzy as to which war. His vehicle is blown up, and there are no remains to return to the family, but they do receive a box which contains his medals. They obtain a black obelisk, which they erect in the center of the cemetery and bury the box in front of it.
Years later, the cemetery forgotten and abandoned, young Ian and friend ride their bikes out to see it, a kind of teen boy rite of passage in the area. Ian sees the obelisk glowing red, and hears a humming, or thrumming, and he touches the stone and is overcome with a …. I don’t know what. He is overcome. Being the son of a military man, the father is stationed elsewhere and Ian soon after has to leave the town.
Fast forward to Ian as an adult, come back to the one town he felt was a little like home, hired to help the town rise out of its doldrums and try to rejuvenate it by attracting businesses to the place.
I know, you are asking about when the ghosts and golem will appear. I am getting to that. Have a little patience. First we have to talk about the abandoned train trestle, which the kids jump from in rites of courage, etc. Occasionally, the hidden rocks in the river claim a jumper. And now we come to our first ghosts. (I know. You’re saying, “It’s about time, woman. Get on with it.) These are wispy spirits of the dead in the river, the accidental deaths, the kids who hit a rock, the suicides, and a few murders.
And these spirits haunt and taunt Minister Jackstone, a former town drunk, now on the wagon, with a congregation that loves firearms. He wears a couple of antique guns on his hips because he has made a deal with the river. He will try to keep their memories alive if they stop haunting him. At times when they come back, he goes back to the bottle.
And now the ghost train. I sooooooo loved this ghost train. It has a conductor with a pocket watch that tracks the hours of the universe, and goes all wonky when earthly activities are awry. It has imps piling in the coal to make it hotter than hot so that the train can make a specific curve that will bring it into this dimension, where it arrives at the old depot, no longer used as a depot, but is a warehouse. The night watchman feels the ghost train, sees the oncoming headlight of the huge monster, sees it stop, then leave the station. What is left behind is a box, coffin sized. The sheriff is called, and the box is found to contain a body. It turns out to be the body of the last Hancock. The local mortician takes it to prepare it for burial, but where to bury him is the question. Ian feels he should be buried out in the family plot, the sheriff thinks the public cemetery in town should be the place.
There is where the golem enters the picture. He is a sewn together creature, with a bad leg, and secretly comes to town. The next morning after the arrival of the body, the body is found on the front steps of the local B&B. How it got there out of the mortician’s locked basement work area is a mystery. The body is taken back to the mortuary, and the following day is found in the old movie house, no longer in use. The following day it is found up top on an abandoned smoke stack.
There is so much more wonderfulness to this story, but really, I hate making a spoiler out of it, so I will stop here, because I have given you the ghosts, the golem and the ghost train as promised. If you like ghost stories, paranormal, that kind of thing, do read this. You won’t be sorry.
OK, field notes. The golem is not strictly a golem. A true golem is made of clay, or earth, and a spell put on it by its maker which brings it alive and if must do the bidding of its maker. It is old Jewish lore. This figure in our story is more a self-created Frankensteinish creature, having sewn himself together to accomplish this one mission.
The ghost train comes back two more times. For a reason.
The book was first published in 2008, and the e-version I have is riddled with editing problems –typos, missing words, homophones, stuff like that. Enough to be slightly annoying but not enough to make it unreadable. I would assume that a current version will have been thoroughly cleaned up by now.
I believe there is now a sequel, but for me, this was so perfect in and of itself that stretching it out any further would totally ruin it for me, no sequel for me.
Loved it. Go read it.