Effect and Cause
by Grove Koger
We called ourselves the Club.
In the beginning we had toyed around with other, more descriptive names: the Strange Club, the Ghosts, even the Irrational Society. I rather liked that last one.
But in the end we were just the Club, and we told our friends that we talked about stocks and bonds and the like. It was easier, after all, and more circumspect. And that latter point was the important one.
You see, we were all in respected positions. Two of us were lawyers, one a reference librarian, one a doctor, one an accountant, and one an associate professor of psychology at Boise Junior College. There was a writer, too: not a freelance but a Statesman staffer with a beat and a pretty good pension to look forward to if he kept his nose clean. In other words, we all had reputations to uphold.
If the public had known that we spent our spare time talking about hauntings, lake monsters, flying saucers and the like, we probably would have been reduced to a lower standard of living. Back then, you didn’t want to stand out too much, especially in a conservative little community like Boise. But talking about money — Boiseans understood that.
Another time I may tell you how the Club came to be, but right now I want to describe one particular meeting.
It was the last Thursday of the month, as usual, a fine autumn evening, and one of us had treated the others to a good dinner at the Toll House. The restaurant lay on the west edge of town in those days, tucked up under the hills, and only the faint wail of a siren reminded us that there was a town at all.
We were five men and two women. The reporter had shown up just in time for dessert, and after that we had retired to a back room with brandy, Scotch, a bucket of ice and a supply of branch water and seltzer. One of us affected a cigar, and him we put by an open window. The rest of the evening would belong to the professor, a Tennessee transplant I’ll call Jones. Here’s what she had to tell us.
It seems that Jones had followed up on a chance mention of a haunting in a house that had been in the news. A week before, a photographer named DeWitt Parry — fairly prominent by local standards — had lured two high school girls into his North End house after school. He had started out by giving them beer — what innocent days those were! — and moved on to taking some risqué photos. But finally, at some point, he pulled a straight razor out of a drawer and began to threaten them. Ultimately, however, it was his own throat that he cut.
The girls were underage and few details of their questioning had emerged. But the one that had — the one that stuck in everyone’s mind — was that the photographer had paced about the locked bedroom the entire time opening and closing the razor. Opening and closing, over and over.
“I know,” continued Jones, “from my friend on the force that Parry had been investigated a few years ago on pornography charges, although the case never made it to court. Old Boise family, models of legal age and all that. So you can see where things were heading that afternoon. The man must have cracked and then uncracked? We’ll never know, but thank God he had enough self-awareness at the end to kill himself and not the girls. He must have realized there was no going back.”
“The house Parry lived in had been built in 1928, right before the Depression hit, and the odd thing was that it apparently was haunted from the very beginning. From day one.
And it was somewhat unlucky. The first owner went bankrupt and couldn’t pay the builder. The builder went bankrupt and his men never got paid. There have been nearly two dozen owners since then, according to the records. No more catastrophes that I’ve been able to identify, but people don’t stay. Yet it’s really a fine house,” she said wistfully, her accent suddenly prominent. “I’d like to live there myself.”
Here, I noticed, the reporter leaned forward and started to say something, then closed his mouth.
“My friend,” continued Jones, “tells me that day-to-day police records for those first decades haven’t been preserved, but he knows that the house is notorious for generating reports of prowlers. Apparently no prowler has ever been found, though.
“Of course people in the neighborhood have known about the ghost for years. Word gets around. Once I got them to open up, there was quite a bit of uniformity to their stories. Almost every case involved a man pacing through the house at night and wringing his hands. Or trying to wash them or scrub them. I can guess that the story of Pontius Pilate washing his hands has colored the accounts.
“And that’s it. Aside from the ‘startle factor,’ there doesn’t seem to have been anything else to be afraid of. No banging doors or scooting chairs like that shop on 9th Street. But maybe there is more. People have never been happy there; whether they connect it with the ghost or not, they move on. Parry is the exception — or was. He had lived there twenty years.”
“Maybe it didn’t bother him,” said one of the lawyers. “Maybe they hit it off.”
“But how did people account for the ghost in the first place?” the accountant asked. “There’s always an explanation.”
“Yes, there is,” Jones admitted. “In fact, there are several. The builder started drinking and fell down the stairs and broke his neck. But that was in his own house.
“Someone else said that the judge who lived there in the early forties killed himself, and that his ghost is paying for the innocent people he convicted. But that was well after the first reports of the ghost, and it’s not clear that the judge really committed suicide. Or that he was even that bad.
“No, there’s really nothing I’ve been able to pin down. There are explanations, but none of them fit.” She paused. “But that doesn’t mean I don’t have a theory.”
Now we were getting down to it.
“It’s odd that we — we, of all people — believe that unexplained events occur in explainable ways. A therefore B. Cause proceeds on to effect. But those are only words, after all. We attach words to events and patterns of behavior and think we’ve explained them. I do it all the time myself; it’s my job.
“Well, I think that Parry’s ghost haunted the house — I don’t know how else to say this — backwards. If there’s such a thing as a soul, surely it exists forever. Maybe time doesn’t just move forward in that world. And so maybe Parry wasn’t bothered by the ghost because it was himself.”
The other lawyer had an objection. “Or maybe the ghost drove Parry to do what he did. Either give beer to little girls and take dirty pictures, or maybe just kill himself. Or both. And why not?”
“I have another theory,” Jones went on. “And surely some of you have thought of it by now.”
She looked around the room. “The ghost that people saw for years wasn’t wringing its hands or trying to wash them. It was opening and closing the razor. That wouldn’t have occurred to anyone until last week, because the event didn’t occur until last week!”
She paused. The crickets were singing vigorously outside the windows now, and a faint clatter of dishes reached us from the kitchen.
“Of course it’ll be interesting to see whether the hauntings continue, although I’m not sure what that might prove. Maybe I’ll have a sequel for you next year, or in five years. Maybe I’ll even buy the house. As I said, it’s a fine one, and it reminds me of the house I grew up in. Whoever inherits it will probably be anxious to sell.”
“I don’t think so.” It was the journalist, and we all turned to look at him.
“I was late this evening because I was filing a story. Apparently vandals set fire to Parry’s house last night. Maybe the girls’ parents? In any case they did a poor job of it. Or maybe it was a careful job. Anyway, it smoldered all day — that was the fire chief’s guess — and only blazed up a few hours ago. By now, the house is completely gone.”
Copyright © 2014 by Grove Koger