Sleeping with Ghosts

Stay awake or you’ll become one of them

It was a dark and stormy night, and here I was on a deserted path leading to a deserted house on a deserted hill. The lantern I carried was of little use since the wind was howling and the lightning was flashing and the thunder was crashing. I began to doubt my sanity for having gotten into an argument with Clyde Barston. He had said that the old mansion was haunted, and I had said “With what?”
    “Ghosts, of course,” he had said. “It is well known that the old mansion is full of ghosts that roam freely during storms.”
    At any rate, Clyde had challenged me to spend a night in the old mansion during a thunderstorm. I must have been out of my mind to accept this dare, but being macho has its price.
    “Don’t fall asleep,” he had said, “or you will become one of them.”
    “Yeah, right. There ain’t no such thing as a ghost,” I had replied.
    As I neared the front of the old mansion, a gust of wind blew out my lantern, depriving me of what little light I had. It would be futile to try to relight it since my matches had gotten wet. However, the almost constant lightning flashes helped me find my way.
    On the porch, I stepped across broken floorboards and fallen tree branches.
    The front door was ajar, and as I pushed it open it made just the creaking noise I would have expected. I brushed into a large cobweb … Or was it the ectoplasm ghosts are supposed to be made of? I almost laughed at the idea but thought better of it. There is no such thing as ghosts. Is there?
    Dripping wet, I surveyed the room by lightning. It was large with shuttered windows, most broken and hanging askew. A large, still-hanging chandelier was covered with cobwebs that almost reached the floor. Sofas and chairs had their own cobwebs. One chair near where I stood was relatively free of spider leavings, so I planned to make it my base for the long night to follow. I laid raincoat and hat on a nearby table, along with my useless lantern.
    As I eased into the sofa-chair, I saw in a lightning flash a mirrored door directly in front of me. Swinging open, it gave me a view of the entire room, as in strobe flashes, showing each chair in turn.
    “Interesting,” I thought. “At least I can be entertained until I fall asleep.”
    I remembered that Clyde had warned that I must not fall asleep lest I become one of them.
    “Damn you, Clyde Barston. It wasn’t enough that you conned me into doing this stupid caper. You also want me to suffer from sleep deprivation.” I thought. “I’ll show you that I can do this dumb stunt and still get a decent night’s sleep.”
    The sofa chair that I had chosen was deep and soft, reminding me of resting in the arms of Morpheus, the god of sleep.
    But sleep didn’t come quickly. I had no sooner sat than I heard fluttering. The lightning had lulled, depriving me of light to see what made the noise. Then a new flash revealed a large bat that had given up its nightly foray to escape the fury of the storm. He had come in through a broken window and attached himself upside down to a tattered drapery over the mirrored door.
    “Well,” I thought, “at least I won’t be by myself in this musty smelling, God-forsaken place.”
    Not being afraid of bats, I again snuggled down into the chair to wait for morning, which I hoped would bring the end of this terrible storm.
    As I dozed, I was jarred awake by knocking near the front door.
    “I’ll bet Clyde has sneaked up in the dark to try to scare me.” I thought. “I’ll play it cool and not make a sound, and if he comes in I’ll give him the fright of his life.”
    The knocking continued until I concluded it must be a shutter rattling in the wind. I looked toward the window and saw during a lightning flash a small tree about four inches in diameter, just reaching the top of the window. One of its branches was scratching the glass during the incessant wind.
    “I don’t believe in ghosts.” I told myself. “I don’t believe in ghosts.” I said aloud, but I didn’t sound very convincing. I would sleep away this terrible night and awaken to a new day full of sunshine …
    A crash wakened me. The storm had returned with renewed fury. It was pitch dark between flashes of lightning and the thunder roared. I felt paralyzed from sleeping in the chair, unable to change positions. Beyond the window I saw with a start that the small tree was a foot in diameter and much taller than the window.
    How long had I slept? I glanced at the mirrored door just as it started a swing. As it moved, I could see the first chair covered with cobwebs. I tried to scream but couldn’t when I saw in the mirror that the chair contained a human skeleton. As the door swung wider, I realized with terror that each chair contained a human skeleton.
    On the table that held my raincoat and hat with the lantern now was nothing but tattered shreds and a pile of rust.
    How long had I slept? As the door slowly swung to my own chair the mirror revealed the answer.
    I had become one of them.
    “Damn you, Clyde Barston!”

Local historian, amateur archaeologist and World War II Flying Fortress bomber pilot Richard R. Johnson of Deale is the author of Twenty-Five Milk Runs as well as this story.