Pay the Piper by Joseph J. O’Donnell

Author Joseph J. O'Donnell

Margaret and I had lived in our new home for approximately six months before we began to notice the strange occurrences that changed our lives. Prior to these happenings, we had busied ourselves by redecorating the interior and making repairs where necessary.

It was an old house, but we loved it’s classic Victorian character. There were areas of the house where it showed maintenance had been lacking. All in all there was nothing major to the structure that needed an overall. The heating system was something that needed updating, but the plumbing and electrical fixtures were up to building codes. We had additional electrical and telephone outlets installed for my computer and a cable television box put into the living room for our new large screen TV, but that was about all. This gave us time to putter around the house and add a few of those personal touches.

It was on a Saturday that I recall, when I first noticed that something as amiss. The previous night I had helped my wife tidy up the house so that we cold leave the house early the next day. We had planned to travel to a nearby town that had and abundance of antique stores.

Browsing in these stores was a passion that we both had, and we had planned this trip for several weeks. When I had awaken, I went downstairs to make a pot of coffee. Passing by the dining room I received a shock to see all the dinning room chairs placed neatly upside down on the top of the table. I had pushed the chairs neatly under the table, knowing that Margaret had retired to the upstairs before I did left me baffled and upset. When I entered the kitchen, I found the same setting at the kitchen table.

I immediately went upstairs and awoke my wife with the new of what i had found. She laughed at first but, after witnessing the sight first hand, grew worried.

“I didn’t do it!,” she exclaimed.

“I didn’t think you did!,” I reconciled, “I’m just stunned, that’s all.” We placed the chairs back down on the floor where they belonged and went into the kitchen, dumbstruck, and breakfast. Later that evening we returned home from our shopping trip and, low and behold, found that the chairs were placed back onto the table tops. Convinced that there must have been an intruder in the house we immediately called the police. Officer John Ryan arrived at the house within twenty minutes and took statements from both myself and my wife. I told him that we had made sure that the house was locked up at night before we retired for the evening, and anytime that we left the house.

“Did you find all the doors and windows locked you came back tonight?,” he asked.

“Yes,” I said, I made a check around the house while we were waiting for you.”

He winced slightly and advised, “You shouldn’t do that on your own. If anyone had broken in, they still may have been the house.”

“Your right, of course,” I said.

“Have you found that you were missing anything?,” the officer asked. “No! Everything seems to be here,” I replied.

“Strangest situation I’ve ever seen,” the officer said. “Looks like we have a couple pf pranksters here.”

“Not quite,” a voice said from behind him.

We all turned around to see a police Sargent standing in the doorway. None of us heard him enter, and my wife jumped a little at the first sound of his voice.

“Sorry to startle you folks, but I don’t think you have pranksters,” he said entering into the room. “Least ways, kids or regular folks, any way’s,” his thick southern accent highlighted my suspicious that he was native in this region, which was a good distance from the Mason-Dixon line.

“How can you be sure?,” I asked.

“Because its happened here before,” he replied. “Matter of fact of fact the former owners had a lot of the same trouble.”

“They never mentioned any of this to us,” I said, a little perturbed by not received any of this information when we purchased the house. “Do you think you would have bought the place, knowing that Yo had spooks?,” he asked.

“Spooks?,”I repeated at he suggestion.

“Yup, spooks,” he replied. “The former owners were going crazy with this, but I just guess they had enough, so they got up and moved out.”

“My wife and I exchanged looks of disbelief and I put a knot gathering in mu stomach.

“How could you say that we have spooks? That sounds pretty unbelievable to me.”

“That’s what I first thought,” the Sargent said, “but after a time I was left with no explanation. What you see here,” he said indicating the chairs, “is just the start of it.”

“What do you mean?,” I asked in dismay.

“It gets worse,” he explained.

“Worse?,” is the only word I can mumble.

“Yup, worse,” he re-iterated .

“How bad can it get?,” my wife asked.

“Well, when you start seeing tings flying about the room and doors banging shut on their own, is about the worse thing that the former owners told me about,” he said. “Cause, who knows what else might of happened?”

“Can’t you do anything about it?,” I asked.

“Such as, what?,” he retorted with a questioning look. “There’s not much I could do about it, and there’s no one I can really arrest, is there?”

Stumped, I saw where he was leading to. He was right, of course. There was nothing that the police could do.

“What do you recommend?,” I asked in a beleaguered voice.

“Call an exorcist, or something.” was his only reply.

“Where can I find one of those?,” I asked with a passing knowledge of what and exorcist was. I had seen a movie by that name and in all honesty, I couldn’t sleep right for a week after seeing it.”

“I’d contact a couple of local churches to see if they could recommend someone. Maybe your own church may have someone in mind,” he said.

My wife and I haven’t gone to church in awhile and, being new to the area, didn’t know if anyone locally to ask. The two police officers left after wishing us a good evening, and we felt like we were left on a sinking ship watching the crew row off in the last life boat.

“Now what?,” my wife said, turning to me with a worried look.

“Well, lets hit the yellow pages,” I suggested. We spent the next three hours making telephone calls. Most of the local padres thought we were a little crazy. Some curtly hung up the phone on us, and several more sounded a little amused. We finally got lucky with a local Baptist Church, and they recommended someone that they dealt with once before.

The next morning, sometime after breakfast, we heard the doorbell ring. When I answered the door, I was greeted by a tall, solemn faced woman. She was thin and wore a flowered print dress. Under one arm she carried a large satchel, and the other her purse.

“Yes?,” I asked in a friendly manner..

“I’m Ms. McCoy,” she answered with a dour look. After seeing my puzzled expression she continued, “Miss Susan McCoy. The pastor from the Baptist Church sent me.”

With realization, I burst out, “Oh yes, I’m sorry. I wasn’t expecting you so early.”

“That’s quite alright. You probably weren’t expecting me till it got dark,” she said with a slight tone of sarcasm.

“No, no,” I stammered, almost feeling that she could read my mind.

“Where are your manners John ?,” I heard my wife say from behind me.

“Do come in,” she said to Miss McCoy, who lightly brushed me aside as she entered the house. I immediately took a disliking to her.

“Tell me what you’ve experienced so far?,” she said sitting herself down on the sofa in our parlor. She apparently did not want to waste anytime and seemed to right down to business. We told her of our troubles and the conversation that we had with the police officers the night before.

“Typical reaction,” she remarked with a sniffle and a disapproving look. “Most people get uppity and believe someone is playing pranks on them. In a manner of speaking, they’re right. Trouble is, the people playing the pranks have long since been dead.” I could hardly believe my ears, but could only offer a mumble, “What do we do now?”

Miss McCoy dived into her satchel and produced several items, which she promptly turned over to my wife and I. They consisted of a purple candle, matches, and a piece of parchment with a handwritten incantation written on it. As she passed them to us she caught a disbelieving expression on my face and quipped, “You seem to have some doubts about my abilities.”

“I just wondered if you were the real thing,” I stammered, then realized the  pardo in connection with her name.

“You mean the ‘real McCoy’,” she shot back with a smile. “Don’t worry I am, and I hear that remark all the time.”

“Sorry,” was the only thing I could muster under the circumstances.

She clicked the snap on the satchel shut, and said, “The next time an event occurs I want you to light the candle. When it is lit, read the prayer. After reading the prayer, set ti on fire with the flame form the candle. That should do the trick.”

“Does this scare the spirits away,” I asked trying to keep a somber expression.

“Works like a charm every time,” she replied.

I read the inscription on the parchment, then caught the name of a local bar and grill on the matchbook cover. “Are these special matches?,” I said holding them up to that my wife could see them.

“Nope,” Miss McCoy said. “Most people just don’t have them in the house, seeing that most modern appliances today are electric. I just throw them in free of charge.”

“I see,” I said, outguessed again by Miss McCoy. “And how much does all this cost?”

“One hundred dollars,” she replied. “You can send me a check when you’re satisfied that your ‘spirits’ have left. Here’s my card with my address on it.”

She handed us a small card. On it she had handwritten her name and mailing address. “Thanks,” I replied.

“You should have a visit shortly,” she explained. “The events become more frequent after they first occur, so you won’t have to stay up all night to wait for anything to happen.”

My wife and I seemed to say ‘thanks’ again at the same time, when she suddenly rose up and bid us a good day. “I expect to see your check within ten days,” she said. There seemed to be no formal ‘goodbye’ from her as she walked to the front door and let herself out of the house. As she made her own way to our garden gate, she turned to use watching her departure from our front door and said, “Remember, ten days “. We half-heartedly waved to her, and shut the door.

“What and odd-ball.,” I said shaking my head. My wife also shrugged her shoulders in agreement.

“At least she didn’t ask for money up front,” she remarked. “I guess that it was her way of talking us that she was for real.”

“Either that, or she was just casing the house,” I said sarcastically.

“John, please,” Margaret said in admonishment.

“Alright, alright,” I said to hold any further lectures, “but have you read this ridiculous prayer though?”

I gave it Margaret, and she read it out loud: ‘Star light, star bright. Make this wish come true tonight. Let this wish hold true and tight. Chase away the spirits of mirth and fright’ I saw her expression turn almost as dour as that of Susan McCoy. “This sounds ridiculous,” she said. “I hope that she’s not having a good laugh on us.”

“She’s probably going to tell all the gals at her quilting-bee how she pulled a good one on those former Yankees living here,” I said.

Before Margaret could reply, we were suddenly startled by the sight of our dining room chairs moving around the table across from where we were standing. We both looked at each other in horrified disbelief. Not quite knowing what to do, we suddenly realized that we were holding the answer in our hands. As if acting on impulse, we ran to the dining room table and set the candle down on top of it. I struck a match from the book, and touched the flame it produced to the candles’ wick. It spurted for a moment and then produced a yellowish-purple flame. Margaret immediately held up the parchment and we promptly read the incantation together. After finishing the words, my wife held the paper by the candle’s flame. It immediately caught fire and with a ‘yipe’, Margaret dropped it into a candy dish on a nearby side board.

As we watched both the flame from the candle, and the now consumed parchment extinguished itself. All seemed to grow quiet, and we noticed that the chairs ceased to move at all.

“I guess she’s the real McCoy,” I quipped. Margaret could say nothing and she just stood there with her mouth agape.

“Now what?,” I said trying to get my wife’s attention.

“I don’t know,” she could only say.

It seemed that it was the rest of the day that we had just stood there waiting for something to happen. Nothing did, and we found ourselves beginning to relax. For the next few days the house took on an air of serenity and the two of us busied ourselves with the small daily chores of day today life.

As the week drew on, we began to express our doubts about the recent events. Our doubts grew stronger and we both began to feel that in some way we were both duped. Before long, we both drew a conclusion that we were presently the talk of the community, and our feelings became one of resentment towards Susan McCoy.

“I don’t think I’m going to send that woman her money,” I finally said aloud. “I think we were made fools of and I’m not going to add insult to injury and pay her as well.”

“I agree,” my wife said, also showing an expression that we were set up by a rural sting operation.

Finally the day came when Susan McCoy was supposed to have been paid. We showed no more concern over our decision not to relinquish any money to her, and let the day pass with no more talk of the payment that was due. We stayed up late watching television in the parlor. We turned out the lights and watched a late night talk show.

Just after midnight, Margaret asked if I would like a cup of tea and a pieced of pie. I stayed on the sofa as she turned the lamp on next to her and rose to go to the kitchen and put a kettle of water on. As I sat engrossed in the television, I was shaken by a startled cry from my wife.

“What is it?,” I said as I ran into the kitchen. I stopped short as I stood witness to the sight that had transfixed both Margaret and myself to what lay before us.

Standing there, just out of eyesight of the doorway leading back to the parlor, was an apparition next to the kitchen table. It looked like an old woman, yet it was foggy in nature, and had a greenish glow to it. She seemed to sense that we were standing there, and raised a finger to her lips and made a hushing sound, as if to silence any sound that we wish to make. She then proceeded to place the kitchen chairs on the table, upside down, in a neat and orderly fashion. Then she just seemed to vanish.

“What was that?,” I said, finally finding my voice.

“I think it was a ghost,” Margaret said at last, “what will we do?”

“I think I’m going to call Susan McCoy,” I said with no further doubts about out recent benefactors credentials. I immediately found her telephone number and hastily called her on the phone.

“Miss McCoy!,” I nearly shouted into the mouthpiece as I heard her answer the phone at the other end.

“Yes?,” she said, then at once recognized who she was talking to. You didn’t sent the check, did you?”

“No, and I’m sorry,” I stammered. “We were starting to have doubts and we decided not to pay.”

“And now?,” she said haughtily.

“We saw the ghost,” I said aloud, “and she stood there in our kitchen then put the chairs on the table again.”

“I see,” she just said.

“But why is it back?,” I said accusingly. “I thought you said your little chant would work.”

“Oh it did,” she confirmed, “but you know what they say happens when you don’t pay the exorcist?”

“No, what?,” I asked.

“You got repossessed,” she said with a cackling laugh then hung up the telephone.