Final Words

Haunted HouseI signed my will at the weekend. They still call it a Last Will and Testament, conjuring up images of grieving relatives weeping at your bedside as you sigh your final breath and let go of this mortal coil to meet your maker.

But as I signed the document, my first thought was not of my grieving family but of a movie called the Cat and the Canary, starring Bob Hope and Paulette Goddard. I saw that movie on TV when I was a small boy and, although it is a comedy, it scared the living daylights out of me.

In the movie, the will is read at midnight and the entire estate goes to the beautiful, young Paulette Goddard. But there’s a catch for the heiress: because of a concern about a streak of insanity in the family’s blood, she must stay sane for thirty days or lose the fortune to another family member.

Everyone has to stay the night in the spooky mansion, haunted by many spirits. It’s an open invitation for greedy relatives to drive her, overnight, into a state of total insanity.

I doubt there will be such drama when my will is read, even if there is a streak of insanity in my family’s blood. But signing your will does make you think about death. We’re all going to die, but thankfully, most of us don’t know when the end will be. So maybe we should start living as if this is our last day.

Well, if I was living each day as if it were my last, I can tell you that it would be one heck of a lot different from what it is. For a start, I would be eating a bacon, egg and cheese roll for breakfast. With a beer. And not organic muesli with skimmed milk.

And another thing, I would be spending all my money on a beach holiday with my friends and loved ones, partying till I drop. And not getting on the New York subway at 7 am to spend twelve hours in the grasping clutches of corporate America.

What’s more, I would get a sleeve tattoo and always speak my mind, whether people liked what I said or not. So no. Living each day like it is your last does not work at all. Unless you’ve inherited someone’s fortune.

Maybe living like we know that life won’t last forever is a better way to think about it. Just stop worrying about all the meaningless trivia and enjoy it while we still can. Before we’re all declared insane for eating organic muesli and getting on the subway at 7 am.

But I do like the thought of my will being read at midnight in a haunted mansion.

The Boy Who Lived With Ghosts

FrontCover 2Chapter 1

I live in a haunted family, in a haunted house, on a haunted street. One day I will live in a place where there are no ghosts but right now they’re everywhere. Some people don’t believe in ghosts but that’s alright. Those people have orange nightlights glowing in their bedrooms after dark, reflecting little moons and stars on the ceiling, and cups of hot chocolate to make them sleepy before their blankets are tucked in cozily around them by their mums. I don’t think my mum believes in ghosts. If she did, she would not turn out all the lights when she puts me to bed at night.

I am almost five years old and I was born in our front bedroom with my twin sister Emily. It was on the Twelfth Night. That’s the night when the Three Wise Men visited the baby Jesus with their gifts. It was also my sister Margueretta’s fourth birthday. So we are three gifts for the baby Jesus. If I am a gift, I would like to be a lamb. Animals don’t go to Heaven but I am sure there is a lamb up there. I think there is also a donkey.

Margueretta hates me because I was born on her birthday and now she has to share it with me and Emily, so she locks me in the cellar in the dark. And there’s something scary down there in the corner that goes drip, drip, drip. If I die down there I will go to sit at God’s feet because Dad says God suffers all the little children to come unto him. And Jesus loves dead children the most because they will never grow up to become sinners.

God wears brown sandals and no socks but Jesus doesn’t wear anything on his feet and he washes God’s feet for him because there is a lot of sand in Heaven and it gets between God’s toes. Dad says Heaven is a warm place and you are never hungry in Heaven because you can have as much bread and jam as you want to eat. So you shouldn’t cry if a little boy dies, having been killed by his big sister who locks him in the cellar in the dark.

Nana says we will all go back to God one day so long as we are not sinners. Because if we are sinners, we will go to live with the Devil and we will scream and burn as we catch fire in a lake for all Eternity, which is a very long time. And Nana knows what a long time means because she is very old, which is also why she has hair that comes down to her knees. She ties it in braids on top of her head but I mustn’t see my Nana’s hair when it is down or that will mean I have been in her bedroom and a little boy should never go into his Nana’s bedroom or she will hit him on the back of his head with her hairbrush.

A True Story of Childhood Haunting – Available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle

The Boy Who Lived With Ghosts

The Boy Who Lived with Ghosts:  A True Story of Childhood Haunting87487370

The Boy Who Lived with Ghosts will be released in paperback on July 1st 2013 and a short while later in e-book format.

This is a funny but tragic tale of poverty, abuse, addiction, insanity and death.  It is the true story of a small boy haunted by many ghosts, told uniquely through his eyes.  The boy is relentlessly resourceful, living in a decaying house with a grandfather who thinks he is a train, an alcoholic father who has gone to see a man about a dog and a diminutive Scottish grandmother who has a deceptively powerful right punch.  He suffers physical abuse and the horror of being locked in the cellar by his sister while he continually tries to come to terms with the ghost of a man who hanged himself in the toilet.

His mother slowly slips into her own world of delusion and depression and the boy knows that he must find the cause of his mother’s madness before it is too late.  But the sound of a screaming girl in the attic convinces him that his house is haunted and confirms his belief that the spirit of the man who hanged himself in the toilet is intent on killing the family.

The boy grows through the story into an adolescent who is ready to take on the world and survive.  The ghosts, however, will be with him forever.

This is my story. I hope you will find time to read it, to share it and to be helped by the belief that we can all find humor and survival, even in the face of tragedy.

Till then,

John Mitchell

The Little Girl

96709672Most people would describe themselves as compassionate. But I realized something only very recently. When we show compassion, we can feel embarrassed, awkward or vulnerable. And the most damaging of these feelings is vulnerability. We worry that compassion exposes our weaknesses, allowing people to take advantage of us.

I was six years old when our church made a food collection for the poor of our parish. I searched our pantry that morning with my Mum and all we could come up with was a can of baked beans and a packet of crackers. We needed to keep the baked beans for our dinner and Mum was hoping to keep the crackers for a special occasion.

There was only one thing to do. We had to sacrifice the crackers.

Mum let me place the crackers by the altar in the church. I stood the packet beside a can of sweet corn. And I watched as a little girl with a ragged dress placed a single potato on the table. She turned and stared at me with wide, haunted eyes. Mum said not to stare back at her and I asked Mum if the little girl was one of the poor people of our parish and if she was poor, why was she making a donation? Mum told me not to ask so many questions.

Later that evening, there was a knock on our front door. It was the Reverend and he was carrying a cardboard box. Mum told me to wait in the kitchen while she prayed with the good Reverend, both on their knees in the living room, hands together in prayer. And as the Reverend left, he told me that God would always provide and to pray for my mother every day.

Mum said we would eat well that night. I had never tasted sweet corn. There was a single banana in the box and Mum sliced it up for me and my two sisters and sprinkled it with sugar so that we could each have a little taste. And she said we were blessed to get our packet of crackers back but we would still keep them for a special occasion.

But I only had one thought. All I could see in my mind was that little girl with her torn dress, placing a single potato by the altar, haunting me with those eyes. I hoped and I prayed that the little girl also received a box from the kind Reverend that night.

At six years old, I did not know I was poor. And I did not know that I lived in poverty and destitution. But I did know that there was someone else worse off than me.

And now I know that what I was feeling was compassion. Even more, I now know that compassion should not make you feel awkward or embarrassed. It must never make you feel vulnerable.

Compassion fills you with joy, it empowers you and it releases you from the bonds of self-pity. And far from compassion making people want to take advantage of you, it makes people want to know you, to be around you, to love you.

I still worry about the little girl in the ragged dress with the haunted eyes.

The Attic

Mum never explained what happened to my Dad. He went out one day to see a man about a dog and never came back. And that’s why we had to move into a council house on an estate up the road. It meant we would leave behind the haunted house on the haunted street. But most of all, it meant we would leave behind the dark cellar and the thing that lived in the corner with eyes that bulged out like my big green marbles.

The first night in our new house started well until Mum saw something crawling across my bed. And when she saw another one crawling up the wall, she said I would have to sleep downstairs on the sofa. The fumigator came the next day and after he had finished he said we would have to leave the house but we had nowhere else to go.

And that night, I was back in my bedroom and I asked Mum why there was a door on the ceiling above my bed. She told me it was the door to the attic. And she said there was nothing up there. I didn’t know how she could say that because she hadn’t been up into the attic.

Soon, I would know that she was wrong. At first, it sounded like a small dog howling in the distance. And then the sound grew until I realized it was a girl’s voice. And while I pressed the blanket over my ears, the sound turned into a piercing scream. The scream of a girl who was in fear for her life. And worst of all, the scream was coming from above my head. From behind that door on the ceiling.

Someone or something was screaming in the attic.

In the morning, I asked but no one else had heard the screaming. My big sister said it was obvious. A child had been locked in the attic and had slowly starved to death in the darkness. Now, each night, she screams for her mummy and pulls at the attic door.

Mum said to ignore her because she was just trying to frighten me. But I knew she could be right because soon enough the screams in the night started again as loud and as terrifying as before. I begged my Mum to let me sleep in another room but she said I had an overactive imagination and not to keep looking at the attic door because it would give me nightmares. She promised that she would go up there and show me that it was an empty space. But she never did.

And every dark night, I couldn’t stop myself from staring up at that door on the ceiling. Until one night, after I had stared at the attic door for long enough, I could see it slowly starting to move.

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