Written for my children, and children everywhere … of all ages.
‘Twas the first and thirtieth of October,
That occurred this story so strange and sober.
In his bed, not asleep, a young boy lay
On that Hallowed Eve, for his mind was at play.
His siblings around him were all long adrift
In that sea where one’s thoughts tend to wander and shift.
And in the next room his mom and his dad
Were getting some rest from the day that they’d had.
And in through the windows the clouds and full moon
Teamed up to make shadows like goblins and goons
And witches and creatures of horrible fright
Who only came out on a Hallowed Eve Night.
Then the night’s breezes, they blew and they blew,
Till the windows and curtains, all open they threw.
Thus came a chill o’er the children within,
And each pulled his blanket right up to his chin.
A full bank of clouds moved in front of the moon;
The room grew dark; the boy realized soon
That a chill settled in, from his head to his toes.
So he ‘rose from his bed, for the windows to close.
When all of a sudden, to his great surprise,
In climbed a young boy, right ‘fore his eyes.
“Excuse me,” he said, “this is my annual chance,
To be yet alive, and exit Death’s trance.”
You mean,” asked the boy, remarkably calm,
“You’re a spirit, a ghost, attaché from beyond?”
“Essentially right, though you’ve nothing to fear.
Please be still and listen to the reason I’m here
“I’ve a task this one night to be ‘mongst the living:
There’s a message, a story, for me to be giving.
All I ask is that you hear and receive it.
After that, it’s for you to dispose or believe it.
“Please hear me out, just let me start.
I’ll tell you a story that may break your heart.
See, there’s no way I’ll assume Heaven’s Glory,
Till somebody finds the end to my story.
“I’m stuck here between my death and my life;
It all has to do with an old whittling knife.
I’m just ten years old, the same as are you;
‘Though my last birthday was in ‘twenty-two.” (i.e. 1922)
Then the guest, he paused, and looked at his host,
He who was poised, and looked back at the ghost.
The living boy nodded in tacit approval.
He would not be asking for this guest’s removal.
He began: “I lived a youth full of bliss
Ten years in this town with my mom dad and sis
In a quaint little house at the edge of town.
It wasn’t fancy, but it was our own.
“To support the war effort dad worked the mines;
I seldom saw him not covered in grimes.
Then in ‘eighteen, in came the flu;
I seem to remember a sister named Sue.
“Mom brought in work, she cut and she sewed,
Earning some cash for the debts that we owed.
Oft’ my live sister was seen or heard,
With me picking fruit in the old orchard.
“Things got much better when the war ended,
‘Though it took a while till broke hearts were mended.
Dad left the mines and worked in a store.
He so much enjoyed those clean shirts that he wore.
“He then had some time to put Life in his life;
To do what he wanted: dote on his wife
And his two children that she bore.
‘Though they never said it, they wanted some more.
“He worked with my reading, worked on my writing,
And taught me how to walk ‘way from fighting.
And how to ‘preciate some fine things in life.
What I ‘member most was that old whittling knife.
“Dad had got it from his own dad,
At a young age and a time so sad,
When he’d left forever – the story was told –
To go and work building the new railroad.
“Dad taught me the safety, taught me the care;
How to oil the stone and always beware:
‘Whittlin’s mostly for your relaxation
Whilst playing around with your imagination.’
“And by the time my birthdays reached ten
I’d whittled all sorts of neat things for them.
And ‘though they weren’t great works of art,
I could see that my parents were proud from the heart.
“And then didst come that October so cold;
The wind was merciless, endless and bold.
We fired the stove up day after day
To stave off the cold; ‘twas the only way.
“Chilled to our bones came the thirty-first;
It seemed that then the wind was the worst.
Nearly overcome were we by our plight;
Dad chose to fire the stove through the night.
“We fell asleep slowly, with tumultuous dreams,
For all ‘round the house the devil’s breath screamed.
And then ‘round midnight it came down the flue
And into hot embers a new life it blew.
“It blew so hard it opened the stove’s front door
And that is whence the flames did pour.
It was then that I felt my small world shake;
Dad had us outside ‘fore I was awake.
“I watched in amazement. I watched our house burn.
Oh what a sadness! A terrible turn.
It was good, I remembered, that dad saved my life.
And then I remembered that old whittling knife.
“Without further thought I rushed in through the door
To my own place where my treasures were stored.
When I reached my room I heard a ‘crack’;
The roof was collapsing – my head was whacked.
“I was pinned underneath heavy oak timbers;
My face pushed into a floor of hot cinders.
I heard my dad’s voice; he’d come after me.
He lifted me up — … but it was not to be.
“The walls caved in, and exposed to the weather
And fire around us, we died together.”
The ghost stopped here, to catch his breath.
The host wiped a tear, saddened by death.
The lonely ghost then slumped right down to the floor,
Still donning those flannel pajamas he wore
On that fateful night, so long ago,
With burn marks and rips, all riddled with holes.
“I cannot enjoy all of heav’n’s pleasure,
Without knowing for sure the fate of that treasure.
It must be safe or I won’t go on
To be with my father in the Great Beyond.
“So always since then
I’ve been caught in between
The Heaven and Earth: Forever Halloween.
And once each year, on the Hallowed thirty-first,
My spirit takes form, and I visit the earth.
“I visit young boys in my old home town
To see if that knife has ever been found.
And insure its eternal safe use and care
As if my devoted dad were still here.”
The live boy shifted – looked away from the spirit.
“I’ve something to say; I think you should hear it.
‘Twas years ago that this land was cleared
Of a burned-out old wreck to build our house here.”
He quivered and shuttered, and wept as he talked;
While toward his bureau, ‘cross the bedroom he walked.
“ ‘Twas my uncles and dad who performed that work;
They rescued some odds and ends from the dirt.”
When he reached the bureau, he breathed a few sighs,
And cleared out some wetness from his nose and eyes.
“They found many things; several they saved.
Among them are two, later to me they gave.”
He pulled out a drawer, and reached therein deep
Where his few precious things he did within keep.
“It’s with some regret that to you these are shown:
An old whittling knife and well-worn whetstone.
“Now that your story by me has been heard,
I must confess: I believe every word.
You’re welcome to have this knife and this stone.
They surely are yours, as your story has shown.”
He held them out plainly for his guest to see,
And them take away into e-ter-ni-ty.
The guest’s eyes were wide with surprise and delight:
“I can’t take these along on a heaven-bound flight.
“All I ask is a promise, from you to me:
That always cared for, this knife shall be.
That you love your parents, respect and kiss them.
You’ll never know how much you may miss them.”
The living boy nodded, accepting the vow.
The ghost then said: “I’ll be leaving now.
I thank you for the great evening I’ve had.
I can finally go and be with by dad.”
He went to the window; waved a silent good-night –
Then slowly, slowly, faded from sight.
The wind ceased its blowing, and then the full moon
Resumed its glowing – Casting light in the room.
The boy closed the windows, and then shook his head –
Replaced the items, and went back to bed.
His mind ceased its playing, so soundly he slept.
To this very day, that promise he’s kept.
Joe Girard © 1994, 2017