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The Haunted House of Eastport

You never can tell who you might meet there

     Crumbs of Chris and Ruth’s famous homemade donuts flew out of his mouth.
     “You did what?” he said.
      The crumbs would have hit me squarely had I not anticipated his reaction and used my napkin as a shield.
     “I bought the Haunted House of Eastport,” I said. “Nobody wants it, so I got a great deal, and there’s room for all my animals. There’s even a house for Douglass, my dog, named for Frederick Douglass.”
     “That dog will not spend a night in that dog house. Why,” he added, “do you name your animals after dead people?”
     “Only dead people from Maryland. I’m very loyal to my state. Naming my great animals for them is my way of honoring the great people of Maryland.
     “Will you help me move in?” I added. “I close in mid October.”
     “Not specific enough? Nyet. Never. Not in your wildest dreams. Not gonna happen. Never steppin’ foot in that haunted house.”
     “You’re being ridiculous, and you’re a rotten friend.”
     “But my hair will still be brown when your blond hair goes white.”
      October 16 was a beautiful fall day, clear blue skies and cool enough to make moving boxes comfortable. Pulling up in the rental truck, I allowed myself one full minute to gaze at my new home with proprietary pride before letting loose the animals: two large rescue dogs, Frederick Douglass and Edgar Allan Poe; a medium-sized shaggy grey rescue that might be an Airedale terrier, Tubman; the two cats, Divine and Lady Day. The rescued lab rats, Rachel and Carson, remained caged.
     Before I could shout the command, canine and feline inhabitants bounded out of the cab, through the gate. Instead of running joyously sniffing the spacious grounds that were now theirs, one by one they stopped still. I put down the rats and grabbed the closest box to join the now-whimpering crew. Not the usual reaction these guys had to a new place, and Lord knows there have been a lot of new places. But this one is ours, I thought.
      Inside the gate, I stopped, the box still hoisted on my shoulder. Ahead of me sat the once-fabulous house. To the left was the still very beautiful doghouse, complete with gingerbread edging, perfectly sized for the English mastiff, Douglass. I walked toward it. 
      As usual, Douglass walked by my side. He had been a rescue, and I thought his owners might not have been very nice to him because he was such a coward.
      As we neared the doghouse, the dog turned and ran. I yelled after him, “Douglass!” 
      I felt an uprush of … companionship … as a light shimmered in the air. It was as if I were with someone I could converse with rather than alone with my canine and feline friends. A tall man wearing an old-fashioned grey suit and cravat stepped out of a tree. He was more than slightly transparent.
     “Is it Halloween already?” he said, stretching his arms and yawning.
      Another voice came from the porch. There, an equally transparent old woman in a long dress and apron smoked a pipe while she rocked in a rotting chair. 
      “Go back to sleep, Mr. Douglass,” she said. “It’s only mid October.”
      “Why are you awake, Ms. Tubman?”
      “Can’t sleep,” the woman replied, puffing transparent smoke out of her transparent pipe. “Coffee would be nice.”
       I looked back and forth between the two figures. There was only one thing to do.
     “I can make some coffee,” I said.
     “That would be very nice,” she said. “I can’t drink it, but I like to smell it.”
      I went into the kitchen, where I was confronted by reality. The room was empty. Everything that I owned was still in the truck.
     “I’m sorry,” I began, but the figures were fading.
      “Don’t you worry about it, Miss,” the woman said. “We’ll be back on Halloween. Coffee would be nice.”
      And she was gone. So was Frederick Douglass — not the dog.
I stood alone in the kitchen. Had I really almost just had coffee with Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman? I must be dreaming. In a test, I randomly called out a name from the past.
     “Julius Caesar!”
      No shimmering, no transparent toga-clad figure. Okay, not all dead people. Maybe Julius Caesar had just been dead too long? I tried Marie Antoinette. Nothing. While I considered, my Siamese cat wandered in and brushed my legs. I bent to pick her up, murmuring “It’s okay, Lady Day, it’s okay. We’re just moving.”
      This time I felt the presence before I saw the shimmering. What surprised me was that the voice didn’t speak but hummed a tune. What was it?
     “It’s ‘My Man’,” said Lady Day. “It was a big hit when I sang it.”
     “Billie Holiday?”
      Before there was an answer, the braver of the two large dogs, Edgar Allen Poe, nudged the back door open and pushed his nose into my hand.
      “Oh, Edgar Allen Poe,” I began, “you’re such a brave boy” … when the shimmering began again. Standing before me, dressed in gothic black and white, was the famously grim writer.
     “May I be of assistance?” he enquired.
     “Only if you can lift a box,” I answered.
     “Alas, no,” said the ghost, indicating his transparency.
      Between moving boxes, I spent the morning of my move-in day in conversation with ghosts — or, as I was corrected — “formerly alives.” Gradually, the animals accepted the other inhabitants. Frederick Douglass inspected the doghouse, but he came running back out.
      “That’s Roscoe’s house,” Harriet Tubman reported. “He won’t like to share.”
       After the ghosts departed, I began to unpack my kitchen. I had found the coffee maker and was making a pot when I heard a nervous knock at the door. I opened it and found my nay-saying friend on the doorstep.
      “I came to check on you,” he whispered, eyes darting. Before I could answer, my big friendly Persian cat, Divine, leaped into his arms.
     “No, Divine!” he yelled.
     “Don’t!” I warned him.
     Too late. In a shimmering, the actor, Divine — in full makeup, dress and wig —took shape on the staircase.
     “I didn’t do anything!” Divine claimed.
     My friend screamed, which made Divine scream. Turning to run out the door, he ran through the transparent apparition of Harriet Tubman.
      “Still can’t sleep?” I asked.
      “Always had trouble sleepin’,” the ghost replied. “Is that coffee?”
      “Right! I found the coffee! Would you like to come smell it?” 
      My living friend was hovering in the doorway, his eyes going back and forth between the two ghosts and me.
     “Do you want some?” I asked. “You can drink it. Poor Ms. Tubman can’t.”
      Over coffee, I related what I had learned from the formerly alives — That this home had been welcoming for generations. Almost everyone had a tale of being hosted here one time or another. The family had held progressive views. During the years prior to the Civil War, the house had been a stop on the Underground Railroad. Gradually, as people moved away, the house had fallen into disrepair and become the Haunted House of Eastport.
      “So, you see,” I explained, “it’s not haunted for a bad reason. Just the opposite. People were happy here.”
      On Halloween, I lit every window against the foggy night. The tall peaked roof stood stark against the sky. The trees in the yard, now leafless, swayed lightly in the wind. 
       I positioned myself on the veranda with my non-material friends, dispensing punch and cookies.
       Inside, the place was still chaos. Boxes were jumbled in rooms that I was definitely going to use right away. Other rooms remained empty while I thought about what to do with them. It was such a luxury to have so much space.
      Word seemed to have gone out that this was the place to be on All Hallow’s Eve. At the front gate, a line twisted down the block as trick-or-treaters lined up for candy and others waited in hopes of speaking with formerly alives. My living friend and Edgar Allen Poe, not the dog, greeted them. 
      He handed out candy to the kids; Edgar Allen Poe hailed the adults. 
      “Who would you like to meet tonight?” he asked. Sometimes a close formerly alive friend or relative was sought. Was he or she a Marylander? Poe asked. If not, the writer directed them to the veranda, to join in, excuse the pun, some Divine conversations.