THE UBER GHOST- A TRUE STORY
Updated: May 11
The Uber Ghost- A True Story
The Pick Up:
I've been driving for Uber for three months. It’s been a positive experience; thoroughly enjoying all of the interesting people riding along with me. Some of the places that I've driven to have been appealing and intriguing. The pleasure comes from driving in Central New York during autumn, when there is a bright and awesome splash of color from all around the countryside. It stimulates the old eyes with bright palettes of red, gold and yellow popping up around every bend in the road, bringing smiles and complete contentment to my days.
It's Sunday, October 15th. A beautiful fall day in full swing and I had just completed my seventh hour on the road, with 14 trips behind me. I was feeling on top of the world, which is rare for me these days, as arthritis is usually hard at work stabbing my lower back and knees with hot unbearable pain. Old Art decided to take leave from his torture of me. I was glad he was absent- at least for the time being.
It was 6:20pm. I parked up on Onondaga Hill, waiting for my next Uber call. The sun was setting in the west, sending long shadows out across the city; like elongated fingers reaching across the treetops for something unseen. The temperature on my dashboard plunged from 70 to 62 within just five minutes. I pulled on my Syracuse University sweatshirt and just sat there waiting for the shadows to turn into the chill of evening dusk. I was watching it get dark when the app chimed in, signaling an Uber call. The ride to the pickup location was "10 minutes" and the rider's name was "Benjamin".
The location was near Tipperary Hill, an old Irish section of Syracuse. I pulled up to an old, well maintained, brick colonial just west of St. Michael's Cemetery, and there, on the front steps, showered in dim light from a lantern type fixture, stood an elderly man. He was wearing what looked like a long black wool coat and baggy dark pants. The first notable sign that gave away his old age was his sunken cheeks and the wispy white hair at his temples. The old man swiftly approached my car, which surprised me a little; I was envious. I wish I could move that quick. With my bad knees, that would be impossible.
I rolled down the passenger side window.
A pleasant Irish voice rang out, "Are you Thomas?"
"Yes, your name?"
He opened the back passenger door and dropped into the seat. I was busy with the app mounted on my dashboard. "Benjamin, it looks like you're going to McGraw, NY. Is that correct?"
"Yes, sir. 2314 Wellington Road."
"Got it. It's a fifty-minute trip. Hope you enjoy the ride."
I don't see a lot of my passengers. They often sit in the back seat and depending where they position themselves, I can only get a glimpse at part of their faces in my rearview mirror- if I'm lucky. Peeking into the mirror, I was chilled by what I saw. The man behind me looked almost.....dead. His cheeks were sunken hallows and pasty white. The whites of his eyes floated in sockets that resembled two dark caverns. His dress was also very peculiar. Under his wool coat, I could see a white shirt with a vest. His upturned shirt collar appeared stiff, a tie wound around the base of it, making him look like he stepped out from the 1800s. I was trying so hard at that point to lighten my mood some, as I was unsure if I was feeling nervous or frightened or both. Old Benjamin hadn't yet answered my hopes that he would enjoy the ride, so I tried to small talk myself out of my unease. "You take Uber a lot?"
He paused and then coldly said, "You're my first Uber ride. I hope I enjoy it."
I swallowed hard. Putting my eyes back on the road, I pulled away from the curb. As I drove to the next turn in the road, I realized that his voice no longer sounded pleasant. It would be a long fifty minutes.
A foreboding darkness had fallen onto the land all around us. A soft glow of the dashboard lights barely lit up the car's interior. The rearview mirror would only reveal the whites of my passenger's eyes, hanging there in the shadows, watching me.
The tires hummed on the surface of the highway, enhancing the edginess brought on by the sudden lack of conversation between me and Benjamin. My gut churned as we drove further from the city and into the night. I had a powerful urge to politely ask that Benjamin get out of my car and call for another ride but something kept my foot on the gas. We passed a road sign that read "Cortland/McGraw 29".
I heard movement from the backseat, then breath on the back of my neck. It was an icy exhale. A dead breath. Seconds later, he spoke into my ear. "Do you know what dead is like Thomas?"
I was afraid to answer. I filled my lungs with air, grateful that I could still perform that task. I gripped the wheel, hoping to God that he was even there to listen and to hear my silent prayer. To avoid the question, I had to turn my attention to other subjects. My lip started to quiver. My mouth was dry.
"I- I really, really need to pull over and... check my oil. Engine's been running hot. Can’t break down out here."
Benjamin whispered in my ear, "You can pull over... but you won't be able to get out."
Okay, I thought. Pull over quickly, stop, grab the phone, get out and hobble for your life! I didn't hesitate. I put my plan into action. The car slid as I hit some gravel on the side of the road, but the brakes quickly grabbed, sending me hard but snuggly up against the seat belt strap. I put the car into park and pulled the keys from the ignition. In the next instant, I unclipped the seat belt, swiped the phone off the magnet mount and pulled the door handle to open it. The problem is; it didn't open. I hit the door unlock button. Click, click. Still, the door remained locked. I pushed with my shoulder. No luck.
The old dead man giggled. "Thomas, I informed you that you wouldn't be able to get out. Just sit here and listen to me."
I turned sideways in my seat, with my back to the door. I turned and faced Benjamin. I was shaking and scared that I would soon join the man from wherever he came. "Why are you doing this? Who are you!?"
"I'm about to tell you. First, I'll ask you again. Do you know what it's like to be dead?"
I stared at the face that appeared to become paler and more translucent. My whole body was locked up in petrified fear; even my jaw was slow in moving to get the words out. "How would I know? I've never been dead."
The ghost leaned forward and put its boney fingers up onto the top of my seat. He glared at me. "You haven't got long, Thomas. You'll know soon enough. Let me explain."
A mournful sadness quickly took hold of his face. He dropped his head, his chin close to chest. "Dead for a hundred and twenty-five years and I’ve only talked to three people."
Benjamin looked at me with the saddest eyes I think I have ever seen. "You are the third, probably the last."
I eased up a bit with genuine curiosity. "Why am I the last?" "Because my energy is fading. Soon I will be just a shadow and then I'll be gone. Gone to where I don't know. But I'll be gone. Thomas, do you know what gone is like?"
I shook my head. Suddenly, I felt very sad for Benjamin. The ghost continued. "The shadow world is void of light or hope. What happens after the shadow existence is still a mystery to me, but being gone causes me much anguish, misery and fear. I can't dead like this."
I was confused. "There are worse things than being dead?"
Benjamin scratched his skull with his skeletal fingers and smiled. " Yes! Dead is now my life. I wish I could remain dead for eternity, but it doesn't work that way, unfortunately. Being gone is worse than dead."
I shifted a little more comfortably in my seat. Happy that I had returned to a more relaxed state. "What can I do for you, Benjamin?"
The ghost nodded his head. "Instead of sitting here in the dark on this country road, you could drive and get me to my destination. As we drive, I can explain. I’ll tell you what you can do for me."
This ride brought to me the most amazing moments of my life. Benjamin explained the nature of being a ghost and how I could help him.
"For over a century, I existed with the memories of when I was alive. I arrived in America from Ireland in 1852 and settled with my dear family here in Syracuse on Tipperary Hill. I worked as a tailor for my whole life until my death in 1893. A bullet to my stomach ended my life. It was a robbery. The thief took my gold pocket watch. Time went on for him. Time ended for me. He escaped being arrested for the crime. I come back to the neighborhood at least three times a week. I have searched everywhere for that gold watch, but I can't find it. Haunting the family of James Stirling, the man who ended my life, was useless."
"What happened to James?"
"He died in a motor car accident." Benjamin chuckled a bit. "Before he hit the tree, he recognized someone walking on the side of the road."
"Who was that?"
Benjamin smiled, but he was quick to dispel any misunderstanding. "I had no intention of ending his life. I would never take credit for his demise. I only wanted to talk to him and to ask him, 'why'? He deprived my family of me. All over a watch?"
"You never had that talk with him?"
"No, not while he was alive."
"You talked to him in death?"
"Yes." Benjamin sighed sadly. "He shot me and took my watch and sold it to put food on his table- for his wife and three children."
I was stunned. "That's a sad story.... but you said you haunted his family. Why?"
"I haunted them, hoping I could communicate to them and to explain that I forgave James for what he did, not thinking they would ever believe that he killed me." Benjamin sighed again. "I failed. I couldn't get through to them. They never fully understood James or me."
The turn off to McGraw was approaching. I had ten minutes left with Benjamin. "Only a few more miles to go. What can I do for you?"
"You know, it’s pretty silly for a ghost to take an Uber ride. I can travel much faster as a ghost, but I need you, Thomas. You listen and you believe in the spirit world. If you doubted me, you wouldn’t have possessed the ability to see this apparition of me. You can help with two things. Number one: Keep my memory alive. Keep my spirit alive by writing about me and who I was in life; helping me to avoid the world of shadows. I and my whole family existed for a reason and a purpose. I want to live on in life, even if only in a book. That book and the story it tells will live on for many generations. You can do this. You're a writer. Please, don't let me down. Number two: Contact the family of James and tell them what I told you. It's important that they know the truth about their ancestor. James deserves recognition for his good deeds in life, as well as his unfortunate mistakes. My stolen watch ended up saving a poor family, and James was only desperate to protect the ones he loved. Will you help me, Thomas?"
I drove Benjamin down a narrow country dirt road. Next to it was an old abandoned, boarded up farm house. I was driving slowly and was almost past the house when Benjamin spoke up. "Stop. This is it."
Benjamin explained that this was his family's property after his death. The Murphy family had lived on the property for seventy-eight years before leaving it in 1971. It’s where Benjamin felt the most comfortable. He would take great joy in watching his grandchildren and great grandchildren grow into adults and at night he would wander beneath the stars. When I dropped him off, the stars were shining brightly. He smiled and waved.
"Good night, Thomas."
It Was A Dream:
Driving back to Syracuse, I convinced myself that this experience could only be a dream. Then, I woke up. I stared at the ceiling, thinking about how detailed and vivid my visions had been and how it had stirred up such powerful emotions.
On October 21st, while taking a break from Uber, I stopped at a yard sale on Avery Ave in the Tipperary Hill area. Several items were displayed on a table. There were many of the usual: books, lamps, a toaster, cameras and jewelry. What caught my eye was an item that sat in a jewelry case behind glass. It was labeled:
"RARE 1886 TWO-TONE CHECKERBOARD AURORA SOLID 14K GOLD HUNTING CASE POCKET WATCH," The price was certainly beyond my reach: "$1,000."
I looked more closely at the intricate swirling design on its cover. It was certainly a work of beautiful craftsmanship. The owner sat nearby and noticed my interest in the watch. "Beautiful, isn't it? A neighbor of mine owned it years ago and when he died, his son gave it to me as a way of saying thanks for mowing his yard when his dad was sick. I'm selling it to help to cover some medical expenses. My wife died of cancer six months ago."
I was mesmerized, thought of James Stirling and his family, and asked the owner if I could hold it.
When I turned this beautiful timepiece over, I was shocked. On the bottom, etched into the case, was a scroll of beautiful black lettering spelling out a name: "Benjamin".
Coincidence? Maybe. But after doing some local research, I found that there was a man who lived in the Tipperary Hill section of the city in the late 1800s and he was a tailor by the name of Benjamin Murphy.
I think I may have to keep my promise that I made to the man in my dream.
The two-story wood frame house was owned by my friend Janet Fellows. It was now my temporary home until I could find something affordable for my cat, Pixie, and I. It’s hard to find friends like Janet. Friends since childhood. She was there for me when I desperately needed a place to stay. The early morning sun streamed in through the blinds, leaving soft patterns of light on the Livingroom wall. “Thomas, I read your Facebook post about that Uber ghost dream of yours. I wish you could have afforded that watch. That’s amazing!” Janet plopped down on the couch next to me. She sipped her coffee from her “Keep Calm” cup and smacked her lips. “Wonderful stuff!”
I was staring at my laptop computer screen. “Yes, it is amazing. I’m reading about Benjamin Murphy right now. He’s on ancestry.com.”
“It says here ‘that someone shot him dead and robbed him of his possessions’, but they never caught the killer’”.
Janet raised an eyebrow. “Come on, Thomas. You’re a writer. You made up that dream; cut me some slack.”
I shook my head at her. “No, honest. So help me God. I dreamt of Benjamin Murphy, just as I wrote in that post.”
Janet sipped her coffee while looking down into the cup. “This needs some brandy.”
The leaves were swirling down after a hard rain. Their colors were carpeting the roads and lawns as I drove along in my car. I passed the house on Avery Ave. where the yard sale took place nine days ago and had to pull over. Thoughts of that watch and that dream scratched at my brain like a frenzied animal. I couldn’t stop the itch. I exited the car and walked up the stone steps to the front porch. A Jack-o’-lantern grinned at me from its perch on a round table top; waiting to flash its evil smirk on the trick or treaters one night from now. I knocked once, and the door opened up, startling me. The elderly man, who was well into his late eighties, the one I recognized from the yard sale, stood before me. His frown greeted me.
“Can I help you?”
His voice wasn’t friendly at all. “Hello, sir. I was at your yard sale last week. We spoke. I was looking at the gold pocket watch.”
The frown turned up into a smile. He nodded. “Yes, I remember you. Sorry, folks who come to my door these days are trying to sell me something I don’t need or it’s some politician. Don’t need them either or what they’re trying to sell.”
I smiled. “I understand.”
A chilly wind blew across the porch, sending a few leaves scattering up against my pant leg. “I was wondering if you sold the watch.”
What the hell was I doing here, asking about an unaffordable gold watch? I should have more control over my impulsive behaviors. The man shook his head. “Sorry, young man. Sold it for cash to a man from Tully. It was quite unusual. Who walks around with over one thousand dollars in bills on them these days? He lingered a bit before buying it, but after the purchase, he left. Not even a goodbye. He was a quiet old chap. Said very little.”
I pulled the collar of my jacket up to protect my neck from the chilly breeze that was increasing in intensity. I wasn’t sure how long I should stand here talking to this man on his porch or how much I should reveal to him about Benjamin, besides my arthritic knees were aching from the colder weather, making it more difficult to stand in one place, but I needed more information about the watch. Satisfaction wouldn’t come unless I gave it more of an effort.
“Sir, I confess. I’m a writer and that watch you sold has quite a story behind it and if you’d allow me, I’d like to ask you some more questions about the history behind it and how it came into your possession.”
Putting my hands into my jacket pockets, I pulled the coat tighter around me and shivered; hoping he would take the hint and invite me into his home. The frown was back. “Look, I understand and appreciate your interest in my watch, but I don’t invite strangers into my home. Thanks for stopping bye.”
The door began to close. “Wait!” I held up my hand. “Can I call you on the phone? I don’t need to come into your home. This is important to me.”
He paused, peering at me through the small opening in the door space. He observed me as if I were now a bill collector or a serial killer. “Your name?”
“Thomas, Thomas Riddell. You can call me Tom.”
“My name’s Carl.” His head disappeared from view. When it returned, he handed me a yellow sticky note and a pen. “Write your number down. If I’m not busy, I might call you in a couple of days.”
The morning of Halloween was brisk, with a few flakes falling from a cloudy gray sky. I stuck my phone to the magnet mount on my dash and thumbed up the Uber app, waiting for a ride request. Rush hour had ended, so it was going to be slow for at least the next several hours. I sat there waiting, my mind preoccupied with other matters, which included my chat with Carl last night and, of course, Benjamin, the man of my dreams. Carl seemed elusive, maybe a little too suspicious of me. Or could it be dementia? Whatever the case, who could blame him for his reaction to me showing up at his door? After all, I was the crazy one, trying to connect an old gold watch with a silly dream I had. Suddenly the Uber app chimed. I had a ride request, but I disabled it and swiped it from the screen. An idea popped into my head. I opened up Google Earth and typed in “2314 Wellington Road, McGraw, New York.” I moved it to street view and looked around the property. “Oh, my God! It looks a lot like what I saw in my dream!” I put the car in drive, leaving behind a little tire rubber in Janet’s driveway. Time to find a ghost!
Big fat snowflakes fell, cascading over my windshield, giving my wipers a wintry workout. A dusting of white blanketed the farm fields as farmers hurried along on their tractors; trying to finish their chores after the fall harvest. The GPS showed I was only two minutes away from my destination as my heart pounded faster and my fingers tightly gripped the wheel. My body was preparing itself for flight or fight. Or fright! Dreaming of a ghost was a lot easier on the nerves than meeting one in person. Whoosh-Whoosh. The wipers moved in a hypnotic beat, nearly putting me in a trance, as I was now within sight of 2314 Wellington Road. I tried unsuccessfully to swallow away the lump in my throat as I saw the old farmhouse; looking exactly as it did in my dream. My foot came off the gas and I tapped the brakes, slowing the car down to within a few feet of the overgrown, weedy driveway. I stopped and cautiously moved my head around to look at the property. No dead man wandering around, but the temperature on my dashboard suddenly dropped from 34 to 23 degrees during the first thirty seconds of my arrival. I heard it mentioned on one of the TV ghost hunting shows; temperature drops were a sure sign of a spirit close by, so what was I supposed to do now? With such a dramatic change in temperature, my windows were quickly fogging up.
As I adjusted the defrosters, a loud tap tap came from the passenger front window. I froze. I was now in full-blown panic attack mode. There would be no flight for me. I could feel my testicles shrivel up. The tapping on my window was now becoming more urgent. Whoever or whatever, it stayed put, and right now, I couldn’t speak to save my life. Cocooned in the frosty cabin of my car, I stared at the icy passenger window, wondering what I would see on the other side once the defrosters melted away that thin veil of frost. I wondered if I should roll down the window and face it. My finger found the roll down button and as I pressed it, the window lowered and a man’s voice rang out.
“What are you doing here?”
It wasn’t a pleasant greeting. A grizzled man puffing clouds of warm breath from his mouth stood there in the window, wearing a fur lined denim coat with a gray scarf wrapped around his neck. I stared back, unsure of what I would tell him, but I was exceedingly happy he wasn’t a ghost. His head was through the window now, displaying an agitated scowl.
“Look, mister. I have little time here. Why are you parked here?”
“Do you know who used to live here?”
“Sure, I do. Who are you? Are you another one of those ghost hunters?”
I realized I was now making ghostly connections to my dream. This was real. “I’m not a ghost hunter-”
“Well, you can’t be here. It’s private property and I’m the caretaker of this place. We’ve had enough kooks around here, so please leave.”
He leaned back out of the window, still scowling at me. He tucked his scarf in more snuggly around his neck and walked away. “Wait! I need to talk to you,” I urged.
He stopped, his shoulders slumped, and he turned around to face me, clearly getting more annoyed. “What is the matter with you? It’s cold out here.”
“Can’t we meet in town? I’ll buy you a cup of coffee. I really need to talk to you.”
He sighed, nodded and pointed. “Down the road is a diner. Charlie’s Diner. I’ll meet you there in about fifteen minutes.”
I raised the window back up and cranked up the heat. The dashboard showed that it was now 20 degrees outside of my car; a fourteen degree drop since I had pulled up to the Murphy property. Something was happening here. I was on the precipice of uncovering a truth. Is it possible to bring back the spirit of a man who hasn’t lived for over a century?
The diner was clearly one that had probably been in operation since at least the 1930s or 1940s. The lingering aroma of bacon and eggs welcomed me as I stepped inside. Seated at a far-end booth, the man was sipping out of a coffee mug. He raised a hand to get my attention. I slid over on the red vinyl bench seat across from him and nodded and smiled. “Guess I should introduce myself. I’m Tom. Tom Riddell.”
I reached across the table to offer my hand, but he didn’t raise his to shake mine; he remained silent as he took another drink of coffee, his blue eyes staring at me, sizing me up. I wanted to leave at that point. I realized he wasn’t interested in who I was, but something stopped me. He sat the cup back down and cleared his throat.
“I don’t mean to be impolite, but I’ve heard it all before. Stories about the property being haunted. People looking and listening around the house. The town is tired of it and I am too. I’ve got a job to do and a farm to run. I don’t want to hear stories about ghosts and other stuff. If there’s something else you have to say, start talking.”
While scratching the back of my head, a waitress appeared. “Can I get you something, honey?”
“Um, yeah,” I hesitated. “How about a hot chocolate with whip cream?”
“Sure. Larry, you ready for a free refill?”
Finally, a name to go with the face. “No, don’t think I’ll be sticking around for another cup. Thanks anyway, Francis.”
Francis turned to me and smiled. “I’ll be right back with your hot chocolate.”
I nodded as she sped away. Looking back at Larry, I said, “I hope you understand that I’m not here to cause you or anyone else trouble or to trespass on your property. I’m not a ghost hunter. I’m a writer looking for information about a family. I would-”
“Stop. Writing for who? Are you a reporter?”
I was still irritating him. “No, I’m writing for myself. I freelance my stories, if others are interested.”
Larry’s eyes narrowed and his forehead creased even deeper, showing a greater distrust in me than when I walked in. “Who’s the man you’re writing about? The one who you believe lived on the property.”
“His name is Benjamin Murphy. He was a tailor back in the late 1800s. He was robbed and murdered over a gold pocket watch, and I want to write his story. In fact, I need to write his story. Do you know anything about him or his family?”
Larry leaned across the table, his voice was barely above a whisper, but singed with anger. “What I know is he and his family wouldn’t want you meddling around in ancient affairs. After you drink your chocolate, leave town.”
Larry quickly drank the last of his coffee and stormed away from the table. At that precise moment, something strange happened. The overhead lights in the diner blinked on and off and the jukebox began playing ragtime piano tunes. I could hear Francis giggling at the oddity as I watched Larry exit the diner and enter his truck through the window. As the jukebox played The Entertainer, a lively and cheery piano rift from 1902, I watched in amusement as Larry banged his fists on the steering wheel of his truck. Apparently, his battery was dead. Francis sauntered over with hot chocolate in hand, staring out the window with me.
“Here’s your hot chocolate, dear.”
She placed the steaming cup down in front of me and shook her head. “That Larry is going to have himself a coronary if he isn’t careful.”
I nodded and took a sip out of the cup. “You know him well?”
“I know him enough. He gets himself worked up over so many insignificant things. There are rumors about ghosts on the property he watches.”
She seemed amused at the idea. I acted as though I didn’t know what she was talking about. “Ghosts? Where?”
“At the old Murphy homestead.” Francis sat down, still looking out the window at him; where he was still having a fit. “A few ghost hunting groups have showed up in town lately, claiming they’ve gotten strong readings on the property.”
I was interested. “Readings?”
“Yeah, they claimed they had several quick temperature drops of over fifteen degrees in less than ten seconds. And this little story caught everyone’s attention. A Teenager in town had just gotten his license and drove past the Murphy house back in August and claimed a man ran up to his car and punched his driver side window, smashing it to smithereens, but the kid said the man ‘disappeared into thin air’. The kid caught hell from his parents when he got home. They had just bought the car for him on his birthday and they didn’t believe the poor kid’s story. Friends of mine say he’s still pretty shook up over what happened.”
I couldn’t help but think, was it Benjamin who smashed the window? “The kid ever say what the man looked like?”
Francis gestured towards a customer who came through the diner door. She turned back to me. “No. Kid won’t talk to anyone about it. Hey, enjoy your hot chocolate.”
Francis walked away to greet the customer. I sat there more curious than ever, swirling the hot contents of my cup around, wondering what to do next. Larry had exited his truck and was angrily trudging back into the diner. He burst through the door and headed my way. His face was cherry red, probably from the cold, and his temper was simmering. His voice was insistent.
“Hey, I need to use your phone. Mine went dead.” I bristled with irritation at his demand, but I was puzzled.
“Your truck battery and your phone battery went dead at the same time?”
Larry didn’t seem the least bit curious, and snapped at me with a sarcastic tone. “It’s Halloween, you idiot. What do you expect?”
I reluctantly handed him my phone. “Here. Mine has a full charge.”
He turned and walked a few steps away to gain some privacy while making his call. I overheard a few words. “Jumper cables” and “Crazy things”. A minute later, he turned back to me and handed me the phone. “Thanks.”
He walked away again, but I couldn’t let him leave without speaking up. “Larry, you mentioned ‘crazy things’ on your phone call. Is it the cell phone and truck battery going dead at the same time that makes it crazy? What’s happening here? Can’t you just talk to me?”
He ignored me and took a few steps towards the door and hesitated before turning around. He glared at me, as if he was trying to decide how he should react to me, and then he sat down across from me. Gravity was pulling at the features of his face, making him look more careworn than when I first met him. He nodded grimly.
“Okay, I’ve got a little time before my brother arrives. I’ll talk to you. I’ll tell you what I know. There’s a kind of unknown energy at the Murphy homestead. It seems electrical in nature, and I’ll be damned if I can’t find out what’s causing it. But it sometimes follows me around, like the crazy things that just happened here. The lights, the jukebox and my truck and cell phone. It makes no sense.” He paused, rubbing a rough and weathered hand over his forehead.
“I’m sounding like those goofy ghost hunting freaks.”
Here was my opening. “Maybe they’re not so goofy. You wouldn’t talk about him earlier, but what do you know about Benjamin Murphy or his family? Maybe a connection between them and these mysterious energy drains?”
Larry sighed and hung his head, appearing defeated. He chuckled. He looked exhausted when he raised his head. “Many stories about Benjamin on local internet sites than there is corn in my field. During these times, you don’t know what to believe. We live in an upside-down world and everyone has their own truth. There’s a hundred ‘truths’ out there; and they’re all different. So, I’m supposed to choose one of them? I deal in logic, not fairytales and ghost stories.”
I leaned forward to help in making a point. “Let’s go with logic- it can’t explain what happened here today and I’m only asking what you know about the Murphy family? From your knowledge and experiences working on their property.”
Larry leaned back and stared at me for several long seconds, as if trying to gauge me again. “This thing that you’re writing about Benjamin Murphy is it going into a book?”
He let out a long breath; a sign that the wall might come down between us. “Okay, going to be honest with you. I have worked hard in my life and I still do. I’ve got a reputation in this town of sometimes being a hardass, but that’s just me and I will not change. Some of us old timers care deeply about this place and have worked the fields for decades to bring some economic stability to our families and to McGraw. When outsiders like you and these ghost nuts come rolling in here, you threaten our community with ridiculous stories that turn us into a laughingstock for others to prey upon. We all know Roswell, New Mexico and those alien UFO stories. Perfect example. I want to help you. Mostly I want these strange occurrences to stop and if there’s even a slim chance in Hell that these things are paranormal and connected to a ghostly Benjamin Murphy, and telling you what I know somehow gets my life back to normal, I’m in. But I’m not sure I want my name mentioned in your book. Can you give me that guarantee?”
“We might work around that, sure. What can you tell me? What do you know about Benjamin Murphy?”
“You’re not recording our conversation, are you?’
“No, I can assure you I am not recording you.”
“Okay.” Larry leaned forward and kept his voice low. “The Murphy family kept a diary regarding Benjamin and his life right after he died. In that diary, there was mention that Benjamin also kept a diary before his death, but no one ever found his diary. Do you know why I’m practically whispering this to you?”
I whispered, “Why?”
“Because I have Benjamin Murphy’s diary.”
Just as Larry began to tell his story, his brother came and jump started the old truck. I followed Larry back to the Murphy property and pulled into the driveway. Kids were now walking along the roadway dressed in their spooky best. I saw the Mummy, Dracula and one teenager walking along with blood all over the front of him and a butcher knife protruding out of his belly. They all eyed us and chuckled and the one with the knife stuck in him mocked and hollered, “I’m Ben Murphy!”
They continued walking down the road with a few snickering and glancing back over their shoulders. I got out of my car and walked up to Larry, who was glaring at the trick or treaters. “Damn kids, no respect for this town and certainly no respect for the dead, either. And stupid too. Ben didn’t die from a knife.”
The man before me now seemed like a battered old guy who just wanted to get something off his chest but was afraid who to talk to. After all, he didn’t want internet fame because he was old school and he seemed to warm up to me probably because I was closer to his age and maybe he had the idea that I might understand better than some of the younger kids, like the ones who were now passing us on the road. He led me up some rotted old front porch steps and into the home that my dream ghost said he frequented.
A strong musty odor greeted me as I walked into what must have been the living room. Stepping over two overly filled garbage bags, I followed Larry into a small dining room. Larry flicked on a cobweb covered light fixture above our heads, providing a semblance of comfort and contentment; sentiments that were lost and abandoned several decades ago. I looked at the forlorn and tired man who stood next to me and I couldn’t fathom for the life of me what this self-proclaimed caretaker of this property was doing here. The peeling gray paint and these dirty and cluttered rooms looked anything but cared for. I didn’t want to offend him by asking the obvious questions and I didn’t want to lose the chance of maybe seeing and reading the diaries. I didn’t want to divert from the trust that was developing between Larry and I.
Larry seemed to read my thoughts; after a long sigh and a nod, he explained. “Yeah, I admit, I haven’t done such a great job of tidying this old house up, and few would understand, and some would even think that my noodle had slipped out of my damn skull, but there’s something going on in this place that stops me even if I pick up a broom.”
For someone who seemed to shun the ghost hunter stories, I sensed Larry was about to tell me a tale that would rival the best of them. Strangely, I felt that there were other ears in this house who would also listen to what Larry might be ready to say.
“Larry, what stops you from cleaning?”
He looked to the floor, smiled, chuckled, and shook his head. “This may sound ridiculous to you but every time I make an honest attempt at doing my job around here, I get these urges to go in that room back there,” He motions with a nod of his head to a room behind him, off from the kitchen. “And to keep reading those gosh darn diaries. I’m telling you, it drives me crazy. Don’t know what gets into my head!”
I was entertaining a thought at that moment, and I was almost certain that Benjamin was the one sneaking into his brain. I remembered the conversation I had with Ben from my dream. He simply wanted his story told and his efforts with me to comply with his wishes and to pay attention to him were extreme. After Larry spoke of these urges he was having, I was sure of it. Benjamin had taken residence in Larry’s consciousness, just as he had done with me. Only Larry didn’t need to be dreaming. He was clearly wide awake. I asked Larry to continue with his story.
He said, “Do you know what’s hell bent insane? I hate reading! I’ve maybe read three or four books in my entire life, and that was way back in high school. It’s something I just don’t do, mostly because a farmer’s life just doesn’t allow for it. But those books back there? They literally pulled me into them. I’m literally shackled to them and I don’t just want to read them. For some ungodly or unholy reason, I need to read them.”
Larry’s newfound trust in me and his uninhibited honesty in telling his story sent prickles of shivers down my spine. To quell the building anxiety that was slithering around inside of me, I took an old McDonalds bag and swiped at and cleared most of the cobwebs that hung ominously above our heads around the light. I suppose it would have been helpful to Larry, at that moment, to assure him he wasn’t alone in experiencing the bizarre and I could have told him about the details of my dream and what truthfully brought me to McGraw on this Halloween, but I also didn’t want him to dismiss me as some kind of nut, which he obviously had done with the ghost hunting groups, so I kept that tale to myself, for the time being.
“When did you start reading them and has anyone else read them?”
“I came here to the Murphy place almost six months ago and found the books buried in that back room under another pile of old books. Those volumes of books are so old and battered from being in this place for so long that I wondered how the best way was to dispose of them and I decided to burn them all in a bonfire in the back yard. I tossed them all into a cardboard box and it was then that I noticed the words ‘Murphy Diaries’ stenciled on the covers. I found Benjamin’s diary in an old safe that I broke into. The Murphy’s talked of not being able to find Ben’s diary in their written entries, but someone in the family must have known of its existence and kept it a secret because someone locked it away in the safe, not wanting Ben’s writings to see the light of day. I’m the only one living that I know of that knows about and have read the diaries. You and I are now the only ones that even know they exist.”
I was getting so excited that it was hard to contain myself. That ghost in my dream was real, and I was on the verge of actually meeting Benjamin; not in a whispery voice presented in a misty, ghostly dreamy image, but in tangible form- words on a page, his story, just as he wanted it.
“Can I see it? Can I read it?” The words squeaked, exiting my mouth. I hoped Larry didn’t pick up on my nervous excitement.
“Sure,” he said, seeming to be relieved.
He moved past me into the back room. He re-emerged with a leather-bound black book in his hands. It was the size of a family bible. He handed it to me. “I’m glad you’re going to read it, Thomas. It’ll take some of the burden off my shoulders.”
“Why a burden?” I asked. Larry seemed to shrink within himself at my question.
“Well, I don’t subscribe to believing in ghosts, but I have to admit, with all the talk around these parts about him, it has kind of spooked me a little. You’ll understand once you get to reading about him. Some things he talks about, gives me the creeps.”
The black leather covered diary felt cool in my hands. Maybe a bit too cool was how I was internalizing it. The name “Benjamin Murphy” stood out in gold stenciled printing. The letters looked like they had just been printed on the cover. Nothing had faded in the one hundred and twenty-plus years since Ben had last made an entry. I wanted to open the cover and read a few lines from it, but Larry still stood before me and I wanted to ask him another question that was eating at me before I decided how I was going to pursue reading about Ben’s life.
“Larry, at the diner you mentioned about the ‘strange occurrences’, like the electrical problems with the jukebox and your truck. That kind of thing happening here too?”
Larry rubbed the back of his neck with his hand, as if he was deciding how much he wanted to divulge. “Yep. Every now and then.”
The look in his eyes and a nervous tick of his cheek confirmed to me he’d rather not talk about it. He kept looking down at the diary in my hands. “You can take that home with you. I have to get back to the farm. My daughter’s coming over later with the grandkids. Got some cleaning to do and a few bags of candy to break open for them tonight.”
Larry turned and strolled towards the front door. I reluctantly followed. The floorboards creaked under foot, as my mind wandered back to what Benjamin said to me in my dream. “Being gone is worse than dead.” Even though I held Benjamin’s diary; and the seeds of the story I would write in my hands- leaving the house where the ghosts weren’t given a chance to speak to me unsettled me. Listening to dead people talk to me wasn’t high on my list of what I wanted to do on Halloween. Or at least it wasn’t before Benjamin visited me in my sleep.
Larry was muttering something in front of me, but I couldn’t hear the words. I was preoccupied with looking around the old house and wondering: Who locked Benjamin’s words away in a safe and why? And what would I learn about Benjamin from his diary that I didn’t already know? I was also struggling with whether I should tell Larry my story or keep it to myself. During those moments when I walked through the remnants and the musty abandoned dwelling of the Murphy family, I decided Larry didn’t need to know. He seemed more emotionally on edge than when I first met him. He guarded himself in a way, that maybe kept him from falling over the edge and I certainly didn’t want to be the one to push him, or hasten his exit from this life, where he no longer would be able to enjoy his family and his grandkids.
I gingerly stepped down the broken front steps and walked to the driveway. Larry stood there smiling and facing me with his hand out. “It was nice to meet you, Thomas, even if I was cautious of you in the beginning.”
I shook the farmer’s firm hand and returned the smile. “Nice to meet you too, Larry.” I held the diary up. “When should I return this to you?”
Larry shook his head. “No need for it. As I said, his words took me away from my chores around here. I’m obligated to fix this place up. That there diary is a distraction, and it’s too much of a bother for me. Just glad to be rid of it. It’s yours to enjoy now.” He winked and smiled. “Well, gotta get ready for the grandkids.”
He turned and hurried to his truck. I was parked behind him. Feelings of relief washed over me when my old car started up and I was extra relieved when I heard Larry’s truck rumble to life. I gave Larry a toot on the horn and headed home.
(Will be continued...)