(The Hermit’s Ghostly Dilemma)) A short suspense story out of Minnesota)) Josh O’Hara lived a solitary life in the thick of a northern wooded area in Minnesota, near the town-let called Webster. He lived there most all his life, and when his father and mother passed on, he remained there. The family was somewhat known in Webster as the Hermit family, respectfully. I had met him once hunting for deer. I crossed his property. He lived in a little shack of a house, three rooms is all, and a tank of natural gas outside his hut, in the back, used for heating, and other things. I saw the opened door, as I come upon the shack, and then looking in, into the shack, I heard a voice in a nearby room, and asked:
“Is all well and fine in there?”
The voice called out, thanking me for my concern, and told me: he was physically well, but mentally he was having dreadful nightmares. In addition, he heard voices, saw shapes of faces in the middle of the night, overnight. He was having a hard time sleeping. He said there were legions of shapes all around his house each night. It was hard to fathom and to be frank I wasn’t sure what to say.
“Three months had gone by since I had my first nightmare,” he cried and whimpered in distress, adding, “…just thinking about it happening again, thinking about going through it another night is worse than going through it, living it.” Furthermore, he explained, he was dreaming the dead were coming for him, as well as seeing them wide awake waiting for him.
We sat down, around his small table, and I sat back on his wobbly wooden chair, and tried to comfort him. But I couldn’t remain the night, some thirty-miles away was my motel room, and some colleagues, that were to meet me, and we’d go out to a nearby bar and grill for a few drinks, conversation, and call it a night, so I explained to him. We were together a while longer, then I bid him farewell, and good luck, and suggested he pray a bit and surely all would be well by morning. He was more cheerful when I left, surely a lonely man caught in his own dilemma, alone in the woods with sounds that sounded like voices, and shadows that looked like shapes or ghosts. It all made sense to me, the mind can conjure up many illusions.
That night at the bar, I told my friends from St. Paul, Minnesota about the hermit I had met, and gave details on his delusions (so I thought); adding, “…he perhaps needs sleep more than anything else.” Well, all of us decided after the bar closed at 11:30 PM, to mosey on up to his shack. The moon was bright, with a few gray clouds overhead, seeping across it, and we had all most a full tank of gas, and I knew the way to the shack, it was not all that difficult to find, and as I said, we had some light out in this pitch dark countryside covered with towering trees and all.
(At this point and time, Josh O’Hara, was asleep, his bronze face sideways on his pillow, on his small iron looking bed, one the Army, I remembered, used back when I was in the Army in the ‘70s. We were very quiet, He, Josh woke up suddenly, looked at us, “Oh…!” he said, “you again…and you brought friends!” He wiped his eyes, as if to focus, then covering them again, saying, “they are out there waiting, I seen they walked by the window, in my nightmare, and just now—the window….” He pointed, and repeated. I think he was trying to weight what was reality and dream. He coved his face with his hands, and pouted.
“Stay here,” Josh cried, “when I see them again, I’ll tell you, point them out to you!”
We all pulled up chairs and sat around Josh’s table, drank coffee he had heated up on his gas stove, as he went back to his iron bed to rest, but couldn’t sleep, and got back up again, perhaps ten-minutes later, and lit a cigarette, after circling, pacing the floor and table, he sat with us as we played cards, poker for pennies, he didn’t play he just sat, perhaps he couldn’t concentrate I thought at the time. On his face I noticed relief though, and so we, he and my friends leaned back, and unnoticing, we all fell to sleep.
“Sins,” said Josh finely, waking us up, “I must tell you the whole story lest you find yourself in the thickness, without reason. I once loved a girl from town, her name was Susie Henderson. I loved her and so did that city slicker, John Weber. A crystal beauty, her skin shinned, we went to the same school, and when we were kids, we promised each other we’d wed someday, but Weber changed all that. The rich man from college came back to town, from the big city, and promised her everything, she had saved herself or him, not me, as we had once planned, and it was him at the end. I knew talking would not do any good, in saving her from heartache; he got her pregnant, and left her. She committed suicide, and I, I took it upon myself to even things up, I helped him with his suicide, I had him play Russian roulette, you know, the game where you pull the trigger of the gun, hoping it will stop at the empty chambers in the gun. Well he pulled the trigger, and the first pull was his last. Of course I had the shotgun aimed at him all the time. His parents were too late to save him, and the police simply accepted it as a grieving suicide case. But nothing is ever so easy is it, that was thirty-years ago. His father and mother died, and so did Susie’s, and most of their relatives on both sides, the last of the relatives, Weber’s brother, died three months ago. All died, all dead, all but me. And each night they try to smite me, but I wake up and time and shoo them away. This happens over, and over and over…night after night!”
Josh stopped for a moment, caught his breath, looked back out the window, and said “And so you see, I am in a ghostly dilemma. Can they really hurt me, I don’t know.”
We all listened to Josh attentively, listened to him gravely, his voice seemed afar, his eyes dreamy, his sprit almost broken, his mind confused, and all this new information changed things a bit. A strange story indeed it was, I thought. He was the recipient of murdering ghosts, wanting revenge, and I wasn’t sure of what to say, for the ghosts evidently wanted atonement for his misdeed. And perhaps, his family and Susie’s wanted to protect him, and all were fighting around his home, for it was the center of a three family dilemma—and familiar to all. A feud you could say, and he believed they wanted him dead to rest in peace, he was the last of the feuding you could say, the last link in a long and enduring chain of events.
Well, we watched for the evil ghosts, and none showed up, so in the morning we suggested he moved on back to town, or the cities, St. Paul, or Minneapolis, for we needed to move on, get on back home to go to work. It was Sunday morning, and Monday comes quick. None of us caught a deer but we had this story to tell of course.
Josh, was in his fifties, thanked me for my advise, as we left, but the following weekend, I went back up to his shack in the woods, to see how he was doing—; he was on my mind all week. I found his house was crushed to the ground, smashed to smithereens, and as I walked deeper in the forest I found him hanging, limped from a tree, his neck and head between two heavy branches of a tree, his feet not able to touch the ground, he was hung, dead—I thought what an odd occurrence.
Written 4-18-2007/Revised 12-2010