The Ghost of John
Have you seen the ghost of John?
Long white bones and the rest all gone
Ooh,ooh-ooh-oh, oh, oh
Wouldn’t it be chilly with no skin on?
Behind folklore and legend, lies truth. Sometimes it is pretty truth. Sometimes it is partial truth. Sometimes it is ugly truth. Many folk songs have ugly, disturbing truth hidden behind their seemingly innocuous facade.
Consider the nursery rhyme, “Rock-a-bye baby.”
It starts out nice enough:
“Rock-a-bye baby, in the treetop
When the wind blows, the cradle will rock”
And then it turns subtly sinister.
“If the bow breaks, the cradle will fall
and down will come baby, cradle and all”
Death. It finds its way into even the most innocent things. It’s woven into the very fabric of life; the one thing that every person on earth will experience at one point or another is DEATH.
I tell you this story, not because I want to, but because I have to. You see, some curiosities are better left unresolved. As the old adage goes, “Curiosity killed the cat.” Of course, the standard rebuttal is that “Satisfaction brought him back.” However, cats have nine lives, don’t they? We don’t.
Odd, how you can begin reading deeply into myth and legend, folklore, and it all begins to unravel itself. Curiosity of course killed our feline friend, and of course satisfaction brought him back, considering that folklore claims that he has nine lives. Folklore intersects and contradicts until it all begins to unravel at the seams. Or perhaps it knots and tangles itself up?
Behind folklore and legend, lies some sort of truth. It’s rather terrifying if you consider the implications of that. Something existed at some point to cause these stories. Why, in every part of the world, were there ancient stories of dragons? From whence sprang the terror of the bloodsucking vampire? If you read between the lines, it all begins to come undone. I fear that we may one day truly unravel these fictional tales, and find the fact behind them.
And I fear that the truth will be worse than the fiction.
I’m rambling. I apologize for that.
I’m thirty-seven years old. The events of which I’m about to tell happened twenty-seven years ago. They rendered me blind, until two years ago when I became the candidate for a corneal replacement surgery. The surgery was successful.
Oh, how I wish it hadn’t been. I’m in no direct hurry to complete this memoir, but nonetheless I don’t want to waste time; time has a rather nasty habit of running out faster than anticipated when you do. And I am on a schedule. My deadline by my count is this evening, around eleven o’clock. Or perhaps one o’clock tomorrow morning. These things don’t have a set of guidelines I can follow or read through. Eleven is the safe number to assume. Hope for the best, prepare for the worst. You may be wondering what is setting this deadline; I’ll get to that soon enough. For now I’m going to explain the circumstances behind me losing my vision for the better part of three decades.
When I lost my sight, I was only ten years old. The hospital said it was corneal burn trauma. They didn’t believe my story. The shrink assumed I had subconsciously made up my story as a coping mechanism, and simply blocked out the “true” accident.
I can say now just as I could twenty-seven years ago that it was not corneal burn trauma. I did not make this story up to cope with an accident that didn’t happen. This is the true story of how I lost my sight, and how I am going to die tonight at either eleven o’clock or one o’clock.
The first time I heard the song Ghost of John was about a week before Halloween, when I was nine. I loved it. The sense of melancholy, the hint of dread. For that week, the song was all I could think about. I hummed it constantly. Sang it under my breath often. I was a child who grew up reading everything horror from Poe to Lovecraft to Stephen King. The song spoke to me.
Halloween came and went, as it does, and I forgot about the song soon after. A year went by. I became ten, and acquired a vested interest in learning to pilot. I read books about it, I watched movies about it. It became my absolute dream to become a pilot. I tell you this not to illustrate the bitter irony in my losing my vision not long after that, but to explain just how obsessive I could become over one subject when it captured my interest.
Halloween drew nearer. My best friend, Ivan, and I would stay up late on weekends telling each other horror stories. Ivan had the first two Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark books and I had the third one and a collection of Edgar Allen Poe short tales, so there was almost always material to draw upon. Sometimes his Dad would set up his four-person tent and a couple of cots and a campfire and we would tell stories around it. Most times we were in my living room or his telling our stories to the light of the TV. Sometimes we watched horror movies, but they didn’t have the same magic as a good scary story.
I heard the song again a couple of weeks before that Halloween. Back to singing it. Ivan had moved in from Illinois in November of the previous year, so he hadn’t been privy to my previous obsession with the song. It wasn’t as bad this time around as it was the previous year, but I sang it often enough for him to notice. It turned out that he had heard it back in Pawnee as well. It was a common song.
We were sitting in his living room when he noticed me humming it.
“Are you humming Ghost of John?” he asked.
“I am,” I said, “it’s a great song. Creepy.”
Ivan smiled. “I thought I recognized that. It’s really creepy. But I bet the real Ghost of John is even creepier than the song.” I grinned a little and said, “I don’t think he’s real. But even if he were, he seems nice enough in the song. He’s not sad. It says so in the song.” Ivan eyeballed me for a second, and then quietly said “not being sad doesn’t mean you’re nice. I heard from my uncle that there’s a way to summon the ghost of John.” I gave a rather loud snort of laughter at that, and then asked “yeah, but didn’t this same uncle also say that Bigfoot and werewolves are real?”
Ivan, looking affronted, opened his mouth to reply but before he could make a sound the hallway light came on. We turned to look at it. Ivan’s Dad walked down the hallway and, looking annoyed, said “hey guys, it’s almost two in the morning. I think it’s time for you two to go to bed. Wouldn’t you agree?”
“Alright Dad,” “Goodnight Mr. T” in unison, and then I was laying on one couch and Ivan the other.
Here’s the part where I’m supposed to say that Ivan dropped right off to sleep while I tossed and turned for hours wondering if the Ghost of John really was real.