I was 32 years old and I was tired of the city. The noise, the smell, the heat and the humidity were getting on my nerves. I could no longer tolerate living amidst the concrete and glass skyscrapers.
Highrise buildings are sometimes the only way to multiply effectively real estate within city limits. Centuries from now, historians might wonder what kind of people lived in those man-made caves built inside artificial mountains.
I went for a ride in the country. I saw an old house for sale, I made an offer and six weeks later I said goodbye to the city.
It was a large house built in 1925. There was a glassed-in verandah on two sides of the house, the kitchen, dining room, and living room were large, and there were four bedrooms. Furthermore the price was very reasonable.
It was an estate sale and the notary responsible for liquidating the assets told me that the previous landlord, Alberic McGrath, was too old to properly take care of the property before he passed away.
The exterior of the house was acceptable but inside it was in bad shape. The varnish on the doors and wood trims was peeling, the bathroom appliances were stained by the well’s hard water and the kitchen had only two cupboards and a tiny counter. Instead of a sink it had a tub like those that are found in coin washes. A few essential things had to be fixed before I moved in.
There was also a huge pantry with deep shelving on three sides. In the country, people make preserves and they must be stored somewhere.
In the two weeks before I moved, while I was taking care of repairs and upgrades, I realized my new neighbours thought I was strange. Why would somebody from the city want to live in the country? What a weird idea!
In the 1920s in North America people built verandahs around their houses for health reasons. With increased industrialization and urbanization, respiratory illnesses were on the rise. Home owners would move the beds of sick people living in the house on the verandah so they would breathe fresh air. Nowadays, properly upgraded, verandahs make quaint features for older houses.
I went to the village to buy some supplies for the repairs I was making. When I told the clerk at the hardware store that I had just bought Alberic McGrath’s house, he gave me a suspicious look and became awkwardly silent.
I felt that I would not win a popularity contest.
I also had to be very obstinate with the phone company to get them to install a private line instead of a party line. Despite all my efforts however they would not give me a second line for the fax and modem. “Nobody uses a computer in the country, sir,” the lady from the phone company told me curtly.
Anyway, I had other challenges to tackle because moving in to a new house requires taming a new environment. You need to find a place for everything. Sometimes it is easy: pots and pans in the kitchen, clothes in the closets, beds and dressers in the bedrooms, couch in the living room, most things have a natural place to go...
But there are all those things that we cannot find a place for. They must remain in boxes until we find the will and time to put them away or discard them. Since I had lots of room, I turned one of the bedrooms into storage for a dozen boxes and other odd objects.
One night, as I was reading in bed, I heard a faint chime or rather a tinkling, like two glasses coming together. I listened carefully without being able to deduce where that strange noise was coming from. There was just one clinking “ting!” then nothing.
In the following weeks, I heard the same sound several times. I checked the plumbing and the heating system but found nothing unusual.
I had started to go to a bar in a neighbouring village called Chick’s Bar Saloon. On Saturday nights there was a country band whose 78 year old guitar player named Harry Jones introduced me to Hank Williams’ music.
One night, Harry and I were talking during his break and I mentioned I had bought Alberic McGrath’s old house. Harry started laughing and said: “You bought the sorcerer’s house!”
He then told me that Alberic McGrath had a reputation as a warlock and everybody in the area feared him; they said he talked to crows and wild animals and that they would answer him. He apparently could make milk turn bad and crops rot in the fields. He was praying to the moon and stars at night. He gathered herbs and plants to make potions and ointments that he would keep in his large kitchen pantry where his body was found several days after he died.
“Is that true?” I asked.
– Who knows? What I do know is that he could hold his drinks! He liked his gin!
With this, Harry finished his whisky, excused himself and went back on stage.
On my way back home that night, I thought that this could explain why my neighbours were giving me the cold shoulder. For myself, I am not superstitious and I thought this legend was adding to the charm of my new house.
A few days later, when I heard the noise again, I said to myself: “There’s the ghost of Alberic McGrath having a drink somewhere in the house!”
I poured myself a glass of wine and drank to the former owner’s spirit.
The next time my girlfriend was over to spend the weekend with me, I told her jokingly what I had learned about the house and about the ghost that I heard every night.
“You shouldn’t joke about that,” she told me gravely. “I always felt strange coming here. Now I know why. Please take me home, I won’t be able to sleep in this house.”
I was not expecting this reaction from her. I tried to reason with her but she would not listen to me. Against my will, I drove her back to the city.
On my way back, I was swearing against Alberic McGrath who could make cow’s milk turn bad and sour lovers’ hearts.
The next day, being still upset by what happened the day before with my girlfriend, I decided to empty a few of the boxes stored in the spare bedroom.
While I was working, I heard the eerie tinkling right behind me. I quickly turned around and saw at the bottom of a box I had just opened a small digital clock programmed to ring once every hour. The sound had been propagating gloomily around the house through a nearby heating vent.
That was the ghost I had been hearing.
When Robert Noyce (1927-1990) patented the semiconductor in 1959 he probably did not think that one of the most popular application for his invention would be the manufacturing of digital watches and clocks by Japanese industrialists in the 1970. He most certainly would not have guessed that one of these clocks would one day be mistaken for a ghost.