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Ghostly Reminders of the Out of BoundsBernard Powell Salem-News.com CROSSROADS
An action that repeats itself, between astral planes, perhaps...
(SALEM, Ore.) - Frances and Emma Johnson were an elderly couple that lived in a quaint country style home in a rural neighborhood in the town where I grew up. They were considered to be pretty mean and unfriendly towards children as far as the neighborhood kids were concerned, whenever we were playing and the ball would go into the Johnson’s yard you might as well consider it gone. Let me explain.
Once, my friend Richard climbed the fence and ran across the back yard to retrieve a tennis ball that we had been playing with, and he was pelted with chestnuts that old lady Emma Johnson had gathered from the tree on her property.
She kept a large bowl of these chestnuts near her back door for this very purpose, she would come out onto her back porch and fire off a seemingly never ending barrage of chestnuts at any kid who dared to venture onto her property.
It was customary when a new kid moved into the neighborhood and was playing with the regulars, to make him go to the Johnson’s front door and ring their doorbell, asking if he could go into their back yard to retrieve the ball.
Of course he would quickly see that this was a grave mistake, Emma would throw open her front door screaming at him to get his delinquent back-side off of her porch and not to set foot inside her fence again.
“I just wanted to know if it was ok to go into your back yard to get our ball,” he would plea coyly only to be met with more of the same type of response: “Anything on my property belongs to me!” Emma would bark; “Stay the hell out of my yard, or you’ll be sorry!”
The other kids would all laugh and run across the street and so was the established relationship between the Johnson’s and every new kid in the neighborhood. It was also like a rite of passage to jump their fence and try to retrieve the ball, since it seemed to always end up in their backyard, and save the day.
The neighborhood kids weren’t the only people who Emma seemed to take every opportunity to fight with, her husband was seldom seen with a smile on his face, and the two of them arguing was a common sound on Saturday mornings when the local kids would be meeting up in the empty lot across the street from their home.
The Johnson’s bickered incessantly. In the driveway when they returned from the grocery store, coming out the front door on Sunday mornings on their way to church, out of the car and back into the house after returning from church... it was endless! We all wondered how old man Johnson did it. We jokingly used to say that he probably couldn’t wait to die; it would be a much-needed break from her!
Well, one winter morning old man Johnson suffered a heart attack and died in his front yard while shoveling snow from his porch, down the walkway to the driveway. It was strange for the neighborhood kids knowing he was gone, and out of some type of respect we stopped jumping the Johnson’s fence for a period of time, like there was some kind of an unspoken peace treaty in effect.
Mrs. Johnson never eased up though; she was still as hard on us as ever, but not long, about 8 month after Mr. Johnson had passed, so did Emma. Some people said she died of loneliness, others that she just missed having someone to yell at.
The house stood empty, a creepy testament to the horrible woman who had lived there. The grass and bushes that Emma took so much pride in while she was alive were all overgrown and overtaken by weeds and wild shrubs, the lawn was brown and dusty and the screen door on the front porch was not completely closed so it kind of swung and swayed with the breeze, making a creaking sound as it moved back and forth on windy days.
It was a dark night on Halloween that year, when a group of the neighborhood kids had been out trick or treating and had gathered in the empty lot to look over their loot and compare bags.
They were so engrossed in trying to see what each other had gotten and who had the most candy that they almost didn’t notice what was happening in the background. It seemed so… natural, so commonplace.
“WAIT! Does anyone else hear that?” One of the kids yelled out over the voices of the others. They all looked at one another as a sinking feeling went through the group.
Was that the sound of voices? Were those voices coming out of the Old Johnson house? Those were not just any voices... they all turned their attention to the house across the street, it sounded like the voices of Emma and Frances Johnson, and it sounded like they were arguing inside the house that stood in total darkness!
They all heard it, historically when the couple was alive Halloween was a night unlike all others, the Johnson’s reputation was such that no one even rang their bell or went to their house on Halloween. The house had always remained with the lights off. There was definitely something going on across the street at the old house, but no one wanted to go check it out...
The next day, to their surprise when the kids gathered outside, there were dozens of balls scattered throughout the front yard of the old house. Tennis balls, baseballs, playground balls, footballs, basketballs and soccer balls thrown all about the yard and driveway.
It looked like the old lady had never thrown any of them away. Had someone broken in there last night? Is that what they had heard? Must have been... I mean, what else could it have been? Mr. and Mrs. Johnson arguing from beyond the grave? Of course not! How silly of them to think so even for a moment...
The kids got together and gathered the all balls out of the front yard, yet somehow they still felt unwelcome… as if they were not supposed to be there. Even with the Johnson’s gone it felt as if there was an unseen presence watching. Feeling the discomfort they just collected as many balls as they could carry out of the yard and spent the rest of the afternoon playing and having a great time.
Then the inevitable happened... someone kicked the ball and it soared overhead, it went back, back, back, over the fence and bounced up the driveway and into the backyard of the old house.
Enjoying his newfound sense of liberty, one of the kids decided he was going to go ahead and walk through the front gate, up the driveway and into the back yard to get the ball back. After all, what was stopping him? The other kids cheered him on, semi tauntingly. As he opened the front gate he could feel an enormous amount of pressure, it seemed as if he could feel the eyes of everyone on his back, watching him enter the yard and waiting for him to retreat in fear.
The grass was pretty high in the backyard, high enough that he could not easily spot the ball. He had to walk into the yard a bit more than he was comfortable with, out of the sight of his friends waiting at the gate. He tried to remain calm on the surface as he walked through, he didn’t want to appear as if he was trying to hurry out of the yard.
As he walked he spotted the ball over near the wooden stockade fence, just under the chestnut tree. As He bent over to pick the ball up BAM! He heard the sound of something hitting the fence. He shifted his gaze and he saw a chestnut bounce off the fence and into the deep overgrowth.
He stood up sharply and turned towards the house, just as he did the screen door slammed shut and a strong wind blew toward him through the yard. He ran back towards the driveway and through the front gate...
“What happened back there?” one of the kids asked... “Man, if the ball goes over there again,” he answered, “someone else is going to have to go get it.”
Bernard Powell is a local author and independent publisher; a devout student of religion, mysticism and the language of occult symbolism. He has had a life-long interest in all branches of the paranormal; and is also the founding member of a Salem-based paranormal research society called OPHIR (Occult & Paranormal House of Investigational Research).
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