Tuesday, May 20, 2008

A Ghost Story Extraordinaire

Mr. Hancock’s Signature

By Brian S. Wheeler

Xlibris Corporation

978-1-4363-1858-7

310 Pages

 

When was the last time you read a great ghost story—for instance, one like The Legend of Sleepy Hollow? For me, a great ghost story is not full of ugly, murderous ghosts, it is a literary tale of delight and wonder, one that keeps you on the edge of your seat as the storyteller shares his words of how those in the afterlife may sometimes make the life of we who are left behind just a little different—and sometimes in necessary ways to right the wrongs committed in the past. I am very pleased to introduce Brian S. Wheeler’s Mr. Hancock’s Signature—a ghost story extraordinaire!

 

In a little town in Monteray County, a young man named Stephen Hancock rocked on his porch as one by one every piece of furniture was being sold at auction. He was the last of a family who had lived long on their land, farming and providing for their needs. They rarely left home, choosing to bury their own right in the front yard where they could keep the small plot free from weeds and filled with flowers. Now people roamed through the flowers, sat on the tombstones, waiting to find that treasure that had lived in their neighbor’s home. If they thought about Stephen that day, it was only to pray that they never would see the end of their family’s line and also lose their homes. But Stephen just did not have the skills and heart to carry on the farm. His brother had been the one who had loved the land, but he had gone to war and when they sent home a casket, the only thing inside was an American flag.

 

Stephen’s father was still alive at that time and his father sent him into town to find a stone that would do honor to the son who had given his life for his country. Stephen roamed through row after row of stones, trying to find the perfect one. All afternoon he searched, until finally, in desperation, he was taken into an old shed, so dark that they had to use a flashlight. And then that light disappeared, seemingly lost as it hit something that refused to reflect the light. That’s when Stephen found the obelisk, its blackness was so deep, that he couldn’t look away. Where did it come from? The salesman couldn’t recall ever seeing it before... Later, Stephen and his father planted the empty box at its feet.

 

And it was there at the obelisk that Stephen said goodbye to his family and left the only home place he had ever known. It was also the place where Ian Washington, a young boy out for a bit of mischief, heard Stephen as he spoke to his dead brother, even though an empty casket was buried.  And it was there that Ian saw a bright light and heard a humming sound that would stay with him through his life. He later wondered whether it was fate that brought him back to that little country town to become its city engineer.

 

For it was not too long after his arrival in town that the ghost train made it first visit back to the old train station. And when the sounds of the whistle from invisible steam coming from the invisible train disappeared, there was a coffin left alongside the old tracks. And surely it was fate that when the security guard found that coffin, the only city official he could find to sign off on its burial was, Ian Washington, the new engineer.

 

When that coffin was opened, there was nobody living in town who could identify the man who had died and been brought there—that is, until Mr. Drumming, who was one of the oldest and most prosperous farmers, was contacted and it was discovered that the body was that of Stephen Hancock. Indeed it had been Mr. Drumming who had purchased the land that had been the Hancock farm, for a lower price than it was worth, plus a promise.

 

Ian Washington could not share the secret that he had eavesdropped on the last prayers of Stephen Hancock, but he also couldn’t forget his declaration that there would be nobody to bury him when it was his time. Ian Washington knew he was meant to ensure a proper burial, but there was no room in the little family cemetery that was now completely encircled by rows of corn. And Mr. Drumming was not interested in working with Ian to provide additional land.

 

And so the body was taken to a funeral home. There William Compton cared for him just as he would for anybody and promised to keep him there to wait for final burial as soon as a location could be found. But by the next day, the body had disappeared.  It was found later that day and returned—only tobe again stolen that night. There were some who said they caught sight of something that looked like a man dragging a dead body. At least one knew it was a golem of a man.

 

Jack Johnstone had seen that golem, just as he saw the others—those that lived in the depths of the river. As a young boy, he had been one of those children who challenged the river by jumping from the train tracks into its depth. And it was Jack who had one day convinced his young friend that it would be easy and would gain him a good reputation in town. The young friend instead became one of those who never came up to the surface but stayed there, waiting. It was then that Jack had begun to see them, as they taunted and followed him as he left.

 

Jack Johnstone had become the town drunk and during those hours under its influence, he would start talking about what he saw. Soon he had a following and it became a church, a strange church indeed, where all the men carried guns and Jack Johnstone carried Fire and Brimstone, two ancient pistols that he laid across the Bible each Sunday.

 

And as Mr. Hancock’s body was moved from place to place, it was Ian Washington and Jack Johnstone who joined together with the now-haunted funeral director and other town people to help ensure that the dead walking in Monteray would finally be able to go home. But would they succeed? And would the engineer of the Ghost Train wait?

 

This tale is riveting, yet brilliantly written in a voice that tantalizingly tells of a small country town where the dead walked, until neighbors stopped fighting and drew together to help those who could no longer help themselves. You’ll be sorry if you miss this one!

 

G. A. Bixler

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