Of the many questions we seek answers to across the infernal expanse of the internet, surely there was never one more purpose-built than: “How do I get rid of a ghost?”
It was a problem I never expected to face nor one I was predisposed to artfully solve.
Nevertheless, the Fates tapped me with their unfeeling fingers to address certain affairs of extended family members who had discourteously moved on to their final reward after full and eventful lives, leaving me — always the last to leave a party — to clean up.
“The problem is,” said the property manager, “people don’t want to go there. Housekeeping doesn’t even like going in there.”
There were sounds, he said. Doors opening and closing by themselves. Water running at all hours.
This otherwise rational person was telling me the mountain cabin owned by my family for generations was no longer a viable vacation rental unit because it was haunted.
The unwelcome news came to me shortly after I inherited the equally unwelcome task of disposing of this once-treasured cabin and distributing whatever residue remained to far-flung entities that took little interest beyond getting paid.
It was necessary for me to visit the site and meet the manager and a broker and a building contractor, the last of whom I thought could address whatever was causing the alleged haunting by replacing floorboards and worn-out plumbing.
As it turned out, the contractor’s crew had already been called upon to perform repairs in the cabin over the years. He said they called the resident ghost “Uncle.”
That moniker was enough to launch my internet research.
A sampling of suggestions on the exorcism of dispossessed spirits ranged from the strategic sprinkling of sea salt across thresholds to the judicious placement of mirrors on facing walls. These seemed like half measures that would serve only to fuel the indignation of the departed ancestors I had to confront.
As so often happens in dramas of the unseen, help arrived unexpectedly from an acquaintance with experience in such matters.
“It’s actually a very simple thing,” she said, describing how to perform an exorcism of one’s vacation home, “but you have to take it seriously. Otherwise, there could be consequences.”
“One time I drove out this fire elemental from the basement of my friend’s parents’ house,” she said. “But it followed me home.”
“Well, it caused some problems, but now we know how to take care of it, so it’s fine.”
The cabin had been a favorite retreat for my parents, their siblings and in-laws and cousins and their children and grandkids. It was built in a lonely spot near an abandoned mine and a forgotten pioneer cemetery surrounded by dark alpine forest riven with trout streams, all features that somehow conspired to enhance the haunted quality of the place.
The manager had left an outside light on for me, but I had to move slowly down the wood paneled hallways feeling for light switches I was once too small to reach. As the lights came on in the empty cabin, I realized I had never been alone there in my life.
The place was full of ghosts.
There were the stacks of puzzles and board games piled neatly on end tables, ready for play. There were the towering shelves of books on how to fly-fish, bird watch, and correctly identify the constellations of the Northern Hemisphere. There was the upright piano where we had pounded out everything from Chopin to the Wabash Cannonball. There was all that dubious artwork still clinging to the walls, dozens of things collected from swap meets and county fairs, objects that at first seemed quaint and then turned ugly only to become beautiful at last.
I turned the lights on in the kitchen. Water was pouring out of the faucet. I pulled the handle down and the flow snapped off without a drip.
I opened the empty refrigerator out of habit, expecting to see the quart containers of ketchup and pickles and the leftover casseroles we consumed like locusts. How many mountains of pancakes were made in this kitchen, how many trout were fried, how many gallons of chili stewed and washed down with how many hundreds of beers?
I went to choose a bedroom for my overnight stay rather than the pullout couch where I’d spent most of my summer nights as a kid. When I returned to the kitchen, water was pouring out of the faucet.
It was time for the exorcism. I filled a glass with something expensive and offered a toast to the unseen quorum. “Uncles, cousins, parents — wherever you are — thank you for your kind attentions, but our revels now are ended. We are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded with a sleep.”
Not long after the cabin finally sold, back in my own home I awoke late one night to a strange sound. I slipped out of bed without disturbing my wife, crept past the door of our sleeping child and down the dark stairs stacked with laundry, Legos and unread mail, past the snoring watch dogs sprawled across the living room floor, and into the kitchen, where water was pouring out of the faucet.
Ted Olinger lives in Vaughn.
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