The boy who believed in ghosts

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The scar was faded, so it surprised him when I asked how he got it? It stretched across his forehead like a cat had deliberately marked him. He rubbed it and said, “Caught it on a nail when I was a kid.” Something told me he was lying.
I’d known Jonah for a couple years, but it wasn’t until we went out for beers one rainy October night and I asked about it again that he decided to trust me with the truth. He told me I’d probably laugh; then the room went hush as if the mahogany bar itself wanted to hear what came next. “It happened when I was a kid, that part is true,” he began. After a long, pause, “Ah, you won’t believe me anyway, so there’s no harm in telling someone. I think I need to tell this story to at least one person or I’ll go mad.” He swigged back the last gulp of his beer, took a deep breath and said, “A ghost did it.” I didn’t laugh because I could see in his frightened eyes he was dead serious. In that instant, my friend Jonah looked 11 years old again.
They say every town has a haunted house. Well, ours had a haunted cave. It sat on a swath of land on the western ridge blocking the sunset. It was coyote territory now, but a hundred years ago it belonged to an old curmudgeon named Nathaniel Stone. A fitting last name for a man described as cold as a river in winter. Old man Stone had a farm up there and tucked neatly in the hillside was a deep, dark cave.
Kids from far and wide liked to explore that cave even though it sat on private property and there were “no trespassing” signs everywhere. Some even had bullet holes in them as if to drive home the warning.
As the story goes, Nathaniel got sick of chasing kids off his property, so he decided to end the problem himself. He took dynamite inside the cave and placed it every few hundred feet. The plan was to light the fuses and run out before all hell rained down. He figured if the cave collapsed his trespassing problem would be solved.
What he didn’t count on was how fast those fuses burn and how far a run he had to get out in time. Town elders say Stone was close enough to the entrance to see daylight when the explosion happened and then darkness. No one ever saw him again. The cave did close up as he hoped, leaving just a small opening no bigger than a basketball on the ridge.
The ghost story every kid in town grew up with said that if you went up there on the anniversary of Stone’s death, looked into that hole and called his name, he’d appear and pull you down into the cave. Every Halloween some kids would go up there in the black of night and try it. Usually, they chickened out before reaching the cave. I noticed Jonah was tearing apart his napkin nervously as he got to his part in this. “When I was 11 my friends, and I went up there on a dare. Everyone said they’d do it, but when we got close, nobody had the courage.” I interrupted, “Except you?” He looked up now, “Yeah, except me.”
He continued, “I got to the opening and called his name like the legend says. NATHANIEL STONE! I heard my friends giggling below and was about to lift my face away from the opening when I swear I heard someone call my name back. Not from behind me, not my friends. From inside that damn cave.” Jonah picked up his empty beer wishing there was more to drink. “I can’t tell you why but instead of running I leaned in, putting my face inside the darkness. I had to know if I was crazy or hearing things.”
Johah drew his finger across his forehead now looking dead at me. “A finger with a sharp, dirty nail touched me right here and ran across my skin cutting me. By the time I realized what was happening I jumped back and screamed, blood now streaming down my cheeks.” His friends asked him what happened, but he told them he scrapped it on a jagged rock.
“Are you sure that isn’t what happened Jonah? You were young it was dark”, I asked. “No. He or something was in there. I’ll tell you something else too,” he added. “I’ve had lots of cuts and they always heal, I never scar. Except for this. It won’t go away. Ever.” I told him whatever happened, at least it was long behind him.
We paid our bar tab and walked silently to the parking lot. As I turned to go, Jonah said, “It’s not. Behind me.” He looked so scared and lost at that moment. “Sometimes in the dark, I hear him call my name still. I can only rub this scar and answer back to the darkness. I’m sorry I didn’t believe.” I’m not sure what to believe. I only know that night, for the first time in a long time, I slept with the lights on.
John Gray is weekly columnist for the Troy Record and the Saratogian newspapers and news anchor at ABC 10 and FOX 23. He can be reached at johngray@fox23news.com.

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