Friday, October 05, 2012

Ghost Story #1 for Halloween: The Neighbor

            In 2002 I got my current job working front desk at a small motel in Monterey, California. I had been out of work for a year, so any job was welcome, and I came to enjoy the work. The hours are a pain in the ass. I work Shift 2 which starts at 3:00PM, and ends at 11:00PM. This gets me home around 11:30PM on a good night. The hours took a while to adjust to. Usually I’d come home and make a sandwich. Standing in the kitchen I would often see my neighbor, Dean, working at his workbench on the enclosed deck of his home.
            Dean was a retired Merchant Marine who taught marksmanship at the Moss Landing shooting range. Dean packed his own rounds (meaning he made his own bullets) using a special press. I would see him working away in his workshop-deck often. Dean was the kind of neighbor you dream of. He had three cats, he was quiet, and he was great with tools. He saved my butt on many home improvement fiascoes  So that February when I started my job it was nice to see a familiar face when I got home from work.

            Later that month I was doing emergency plumbing repair under my house. As I crawled out into the sunlight I heard the crunching of footsteps on Dean’s gravel-covered yard behind me. It was Dean coming around the back of his home. He greeted me with his usual charm. We talked about my latest plumbing adventure. Dean had undergone heart surgery a few months before, and I commented how great he looked. When I asked him if his heart was bothering him he said “No, not anymore.”

            We made some more small talk, and then we both had to get back to work. As I crawled back under the house I heard him crunch away. A few nights later I got home around midnight, and I was warming up some food on the stove. As a I waited I looked out of the kitchen window to see Dean working in his faded yellow bathrobe. He turned and waved at me, and then returned to his work. I filled my plate, and went off to the living room to eat.

            Two days later I’m getting into my truck to go to work, and I see two people come out of Dean’s house. The people, a man and woman, were well dressed, but Dean told me if I ever saw anyone strange around his place to call the sheriffs. Dean had a number of guns in a safe. So I went over to find out who they were. They told me they were just checking on Dean’s home. I asked if they meant they were feeding his cats they told me the cats were long gone. I asked them why Dean got rid of his cats…
     They told me Dean was dead.

     I was shocked. I said I didn't hear the ambulance. They told me he had died back in November of last year. I was incredulous. I told them I had seen Dean two nights ago, and we had just had a conversation face to face only a few days before that. I told them I was calling the police. Thankfully the neighbor from across the street, who had heard this exchange, came over to calm me down, and told me that Dean had indeed died four months before so I didn't have to call anyone.

            I apologized and left. I spent the rest of the day trying to figure out if I had somehow screwed up the days I’d seen Dean, but I decided I was solid. I still had the receipt from the hardware store for my plumbing repair. I never saw Dean again. Many nights I look out my kitchen window hoping to see him again. When I work in my yard I hope to hear his footsteps crunching on the gravel behind me. I think about all of the questions I could have asked him that day. I doubt he could have answered them, but still just to have had that chance. All we talked about was how plumbing was a pain in the ass, life isn’t easy, and how his heart had stopped bothering him.

            I tell people who've never seen a ghost the odds are they have, but they didn't know the person they saw was dead. I enjoy the irony of being knowledgeable about ghosts, and having one walk right up to me in the middle of a sunny day to say a few word without me having a clue. I miss Dean too. He was a great guy, and I know wherever he is now he’s doing well.  

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