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I'm a writer and library worker who wears many hats. I believe a good book and a good piece of chocolate are the keys to a happy life.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Do You Belive in Ghosts?

Chapter 1: The Power of Words

When Uncle Patent died and left the manor to Jennings, no one was really surprised. No one but Jennings wanted anything to do with the whole business.

Jennings was the black sheep of the family. It all started with his name. This particular family had a strange affinity to the letter “P”. Over the generations last names had changed for marriages and such, but last names were only useful in signing for credit. Now, a first name and one’s profession, that really mattered; and since it mattered, all first names and careers began with “P”.

Jennings came from a very proud strand of this “P” family. His mother’s name was Patience, she was a painter in her spare time. His father, Paddle, was a plumber. He had two sisters, Petunia and Prudence, and one brother named Pending. They lived happily in a little pink house on Parkview Drive.

When five year old Pewter came to his mother and requested he be called “Jennings”, his brother and sisters laughed, his mother swooned and fainted dead away, and his father escorted him to the woodshed.

Afterwards, his mother cried a lot, nagging him with things like “Pewter is a perfectly proud name and you should be grateful!” Secretly he was very grateful: had he been a girl his name would have been Putrid.

His father yelled a lot, “You’re a pitiful product to come from such proud parentage!”

His siblings continued to laugh.

This went on for several weeks. His parents tried everything they could think of to convince their son that Jennings was a pitiful name and a disgrace to the whole family. Nothing worked.

Eventually it was decided that it would serve him right and he became Jennings. Though, for years afterwards most of the family couldn’t resist sneering every time they said it.

Jennings historically had a large bump of curiosity concerning Uncle Patent’s residence. Most of this curiosity stemmed from rumors. Jennings once heard that Patent had hung a “no-vacancy” sign on the iron gates of Practical Manor. The whispered belief was that the manor was already at full capacity; and that Uncle was the only one in residence still among the living.

Uncle Patent had inherited the residence from his former employer.

Patent was a Procurer of Antiquities. His employer had been older millionaire, with no family and a fascination with things morbid and magical.

This little tidbit, about the tastes of Uncle’s employer, had been an unknown to the rest of the family. They were all quite shocked when they came flocking to the old manor after Patent inherited. It was just a bit too uncomfortable for most of them to hang their hat on an iron maiden and their coat in an Egyptian sarcophagus.

Jennings’ only memory of this whole event, which took place when he was six, was a pleasant afternoon spent in a library. He passed the time looking at very sinful pictures illustrating death and burial rituals from around the world.

Jennings and a girl cousin made up stories of how each of the dearly departed in the book had become thus departed. They spun tails of treachery and treason. They role-played funeral processions and wondered what it would be like to have a mummified relative in their living room. It was a wonderful time for both of them.

After the visit, Jennings had inquired where his cousin, Poltergiest, lived so that he might visit her again. He had been informed smartly that there was no such person and to never speak of it again. After the whole name incident he thought it best to follow their advice. With some regret (she had such a wonderful imagination, after all) he tried to put the whole event to rest in the back of his mind.

It never really worked of course.

Jennings nursed that bump of curiosity about his Uncle’s home at every turn. While other children played Cowboys and Indians, Detectives, and Spacemen, Jennings dreamt of ghosts and acted out Salem witch trials. He pretended to go to the manor on holiday and meet fascinating historical figures. He drew sketches of what he thought the manor must look like and wrote his Uncle with questions like:

“Is it always cold there?”

“Is there a moat?”

“Do any of the walls bleed?”

“Do you have any dragon’s teeth I can use for show-and-tell next Tuesday?”

Uncle always wrote back that the world was full of mysteries and most of the answers would have to wait till he was older. It was a very disappointing response, to say the least. Still, Jennings was undaunted in his devotion to magic and mystery.

After attending college, Jennings even shocked his family further by becoming a children’s librarian. He ran the pre-teen’s “magic and mystery” story hour and sold the occasional ghost story to newspapers and magazines.

After all of this, it really was somewhat logical that Uncle would leave the manor to Jennings. So, where the news that Jennings was the new owner of “Practical Manor” came as no surprise; his plans for the place certainly did.

When Jennings announced that he intended to move in and renovate, some shook their heads in dismay. Most exclaimed loudly, “Have you lost your mind?!”

To this he simply replied: “No, only lent it to my dreams.”

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