Dexter A. Prowley’s Ghosts of Abana, Chapter Three: Ghosts of Vengeance

[Need an overview of Ghosts of Abana? Check out the Foreword!]

Love and revenge are powerful motivations in this life, and it is unreasonable to expect the souls of the living to be able to transcend these passions. Thus, ghosts seeking revenge are at least as common as those attached to this plane by romantic ties. (Of course, there is significant overlap between romantic relationships and a desire for revenge, but for the purposes of this volume, the primary motive of the ghost for appearing among the living was considered.) In every clime where humans live, there exist stories of ghosts who cannot find peace until some wrong has been addressed.

Ghosts use a variety of methods to exact the revenge they seek. They may point a finger at their killer to ensure that justice is done, or the spirit may take justice into their own hands, using their afterlife to torment someone who made their life miserable. In some cases, the target of their rage is a single individual, and the ghost’s wrath expires with their target.

Vengeful ghosts are among the most frightening of all supernatural manifestations. They are brought back to our world by sheer anger and bitterness, and the experience of that emotion can be overwhelming for both spirit and viewer alike.

In this installment, we will focus on some of the more notable vengeance-minded spirits I have encountered in my searches.

The Ghost of Archer McCourt

Identity: Archer McCourt, deputy mayor and mayoral candidate in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Died 1953.

Location: Has been spotted in a variety of locations, but generally tends to be in places where the media and government intercept each other.

Demeanor: A coating of mischievous trouble-making over a core of anger and bitterness.

Encounter potential:      * (increased for media members covering local government)

Harm potential:              *** (for politicians only; he will harm no one else)

Educational potential:   ****

Archer McCourt was a deputy mayor to “Big Jim” Donaldson, and both the populace and the political machine had all but declared him to be Donaldson’s successor. He cut a dashing, charismatic figure in his trademark black trench coat, and he was almost universally liked.

According to gossip, he was perhaps too well liked by Abana’s female citizenry. In the late 1940s, stories of McCourt’s latest conquests were popular topics of conversation, and he was linked to everyone from singing star Lina Carmen to the wife of the Superintendent of Police (who, according to rumor, met his wife during his years with the vice squad). In fact, some wags claimed that the reason the Mayor kept McCourt so close was to keep an eye on him in case he drew Mrs. Donaldson’s attention.

McCourt’s ladykilling was his undoing. In 1948, noted banker Edmund Dowd hired a detective to investigate rumors that his wife was having an affair with McCourt. While those rumors were false, Dowd did turn up photographic evidence of McCourt’s philandering with another man’s wife (for more information on Dowd, see the “Ghosts of Love” chapter). After Dowd’s untimely death, the rather disreputable private investigator that took the photos made them public, and McCourt was disgraced and forced from office.

Refusing to admit defeat, McCourt ran for mayor in 1952 as an independent against the machine’s handpicked candidate, Daniel FitzSimmons. FitzSimmons had not only had been McCourt’s chief rival in City Hall, but was also a man whom McCourt had cuckolded on several occasions.

FitzSimmons won the election handily, and McCourt was forced into obscurity. He disappeared from Abana’s social circuit for several months, and did not re-emerge until FitzSimmons’ inauguration. He was drunk and disheveled, his black trench coat battered and stained. Stumbling through Viceroy Plaza, he interrupted FitzSimmons’ inauguration with his drunken shouting until he inadvertently stumbled and fell down an open manhole to his death.

McCourt, though, was too bitter about his fall from grace to pass easily into the next world. His spirit has remained an active presence in Abana (and possibly parts beyond, as we shall see), dedicated to bringing other politicians down to his level.

McCourt is probably the widest-ranging spirit in all of Abana. While most ghosts are content to remain at a specific location they inhabited in their lifetime, McCourt travels wherever his quest for vengeance takes him. When District Attorney Clete Ekins was being investigated for accepting bribes, critical financial documents mysteriously turned up on the desk of a reporter for the Abana Clarion. More than one witness reported seeing a mysterious figure in a dark trench coat around the Clarion building the day the papers appeared.

McCourt has also been known to interrupt mayoral press conferences, debates, and similar events. When, during one debate, Mayor Robinson Lear was being questioned by his opponent about his alleged tax dodging, his microphone kept mysteriously cutting out, preventing him from delivering any coherent response. Many City Hall reporters swear they heard eerie, disembodied laughter each time the microphone shut down.

The numerous reported appearances of McCourt have passed into legend. A news photo of Assistant Treasurer Ralph Jackson being arrested on embezzlement charges has a misty figure in black on the left edge of the picture. During the squeaky clean administration of Laszlo Wronska (who will be discussed in more detail in the forthcoming “Ghosts of History” chapter), a morose, bored looking figure was often seen pacing in front of City Hall in the wee hours of the morning, apparently looking for something to do. And for years, City Hall lights mysteriously dimmed on the anniversary of the execution by electrocution of Alderman Benny “The Grouper” Gullett.

Everyone associated with City Hall knows about the ghost of Archer McCourt. The press corps tends to regard him as a guardian angel who looks out for them and points them to the villainy they need to expose. City Hall employees, on the other hand, view him as a kind of gremlin, disrupting the system whenever he can. At various times, everything from blocked plumbing to computer snafus to press leaks about which motel the mayor and his mistress were frequenting has been blamed on McCourt’s meddling.

Perhaps the most startling McCourt spotting comes from outside Abana. On the day President Richard Nixon resigned, a Washington Post staffer swears he saw a debonair figure in a dark trench coat talking with Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein and laughing at the top of his lungs.

It is questionable if exposure to McCourt’s spectre is desirable, since his appearance has spelled doom for so many politicians. However, the ghost hunter who manages to communicate with McCourt long enough to plumb the depths of his vengeance and learn just how many more careers he must claim before his spirit can rest will become a instant legend of parapsychology.

The Ghosts of Dorcas Fields

Identity: Several people, including: Paul Wadinsky, community activist; Cam Mellen, milkman; and Mary Kay Hennessee, romance novelist.

Location: Dorcas Fields , 4550 W. Sturmbridge Way (occasionally it is necessary to enter the cemetery by climbing over a deteriorating wall on Creighton, between Sturmbridge and Edison).

Demeanor: Somewhat aimless, but easily riled

Encounter potential:                ****

Harm potential:                         **

Educational potential:              ***

Dorcas Fields is a cemetery in west central Abana. Many of the first settlers of Abana are buried there, and the last body was interred in 1957. The cemetery was kept in good repair for the next decade, but with no new money coming in and the old money running out, the cemetery fell into disrepair. Maintenance and security personnel were gradually let go, and the tombstones cracked and became overgrown.

Eventually, the cemetery was left entirely to the elements–and to the individuals who are attracted to such locales. One corner of the cemetery became a popular gang meeting place, another became hiding grounds for thieves and pickpockets, and still another became the base of a small occult group.

In the summer of 1978, many of the individuals who frequented the cemetery decided to disinter the rightful occupants–the occultists did it as part of their strange ceremonies, while the others seemed to have done it more out of curiosity than anything else.

Before long, over a dozen bodies had been disinterred, and the cemetery had become the most unholy resting place one could imagine. At that point, the spirits of those buried at Dorcas Fields decided they had enough. They struck back.

In their initial stages, the hauntings were random and somewhat unsophisticated. The ghost of Mary Kay Hennessee, who had been a romance novelist in life, wandered around the cemetery moaning softly. Unfortunately, this did not scare the gang members and thieves, and the occultists were rather enthralled. Cam Mellen, who had been a milkman, tried to startle the invaders with loud crashes, in much the same way he had awakened Abanites in the early morning by clattering milk jugs on their porch. Some of the invaders jumped upon hearing the racket he created, but none were scared away.

Other scattered efforts were equally ineffective. Soon, the hauntings took on a resigned tone, as if the ghosts knew they would have to put up with the interlopers but still felt they had to make a show of protest.

This all changed with the arrival of the ghost of Paul Wadinsky, the legendary organizer from the early days of Abana’s unions. He brought the ghosts together in a concerted effort and their hauntings became more effective.

Once Wadinsky hit upon the right concept, the gang members and thieves were relatively easy to scatter. The ghosts drew upon their unearthly powers to create red and blue flashing lights, accompanied by amplified voices saying “Hey! Get out of there!” This strategy proved doubly effective when their pseudo-police activity finally drew the real police to the cemetery, making the criminal element much more scarce.

The occultists were more difficult to deal with, as they tended to view any spiritual manifestation as an increased incentive to frequent the grounds. In one disastrous misfire, Wadinsky induced the spirits to physically lift and rotate one of the occultists, with disastrous results. The individual, who they had chosen solely for her light weight, became revered as one specially selected by the existing spirits.

Finally, though, Wadinsky fell back on what he knew best–he took his cause to the streets, so to speak. Nightly, he led those whose graves had been defiled in a protest march, featuring slogans such as “Hey hey, ho ho, grave desecrators have got to go!” and “What do we want? To rest in peace! When do we want it? NOW!” The occultists, thoroughly annoyed by the protests, soon found a more peaceful place to practice their dark arts.

Ideally, this would have been the end of the Dorcas Fields hauntings. However, the ghosts, having crossed over to our side, apparently found it difficult to cross back. Passers-by reported seeing ghosts wandering aimlessly around the cemetery, looking bored. Some accounts from individuals of limited reliability say that the ghosts have even taunted those who come nearby, daring them to enter the cemetery so they will have someone to chase away.

Encountering the ghosts of Dorcas Fields is remarkably easy. As is often the case, the ghosts prefer to appear on misty nights when the moon is full. A simple walk through the cemetery on such a night will likely bring at least one sighting. If this should fail, simply kick a tombstone or two, and a crowd of restless ghosts looking for a cause will come running.

The Ghost with the Bloody Hook

Identity: Hank Swanson, butcher. Died 1961

Location: West Carleton Road.

Demeanor: Carries an air of quiet menace, especially toward teenagers. There are suspicions that, beneath it all, he is actually quite gentle, but this has never been confirmed.

Encounter potential:             ** (increased if you are a surly teenager)

Harm potential:                      **

Educational potential:           ***

Almost everyone has heard the legendary story of the killer who has a bloody hook where his hand used to be. In the most common version of this story, a couple sitting in their car is frightened by a radio report that the killer is at large, and they are overcome by a sudden urgency to return to the safety of their homes. After squealing away from the isolated forest spot where they had parked, they make it home only to find a bloody hook hanging from the driver’s side door handle.

What few people realize is that this story has at least some basis in fact, and these facts trace themselves back to Abana. What’s more, the end of the story is still being played out on Abana’s streets.

Hank Swanson was a butcher who lost a hand in a terrible slicing accident. Since being a butcher was the only thing he knew, he continued in his profession even after he lost his hand. He discovered that equipping the end of his arm with a hook let him get a solid grip on a chunk of meat, allowing him to cut with his remaining hand.

So while Hank Swanson did indeed have a bloody hook, he was far from insane and the only creatures he harmed were cows, chicken, pigs, and sheep.

Still, Hank became a local legend. He did not have a car, and habitually walked home along Carleton Road, often after dark. Even those who knew Hank to be a friendly, peaceful man report being frightened when they saw the lumbering, powerful, hook-handed figure shuffling through the night.

Hank noticed the looks children and others gave them, and he ignored them. However, older children are often more cruel, and their treatment was more difficult to ignore. They took to jeering at Hank as they drove by, or throwing bottles out the window, or pulling their cars onto the shoulder, revving the engine, and spitting gravel at Hank as they sped off.

Hank grew to resent the teenagers, but his docile personality kept him from doing much in retaliation. Occasionally he would wave his hook menacingly at them in an attempt to frighten them, but this did little to help his cause as it played to their image of him.

One rainy night, Hank was walking home, getting soaked, and grumbling to himself. When a red Ford pulled over and the teenaged driver poked his head out and offered Hank a ride home, Hank swallowed his dislike of teens and accepted. Just as Hank approached the car, though, the teen gunned the engine and drove away.

The driver and his friends laughed for the next fifteen minutes as they drove home. They pictured how Hank must have looked, standing forlorn by the side of the road as they left him in their dust.

Their laughter soon stopped, though, when they arrived at their destination, exited their car and saw a bloody hook hanging on the door handle.

The rest of Hank Swanson lay in the road, five miles back. He had been dragged for nearly two miles before the hook finally separated itself from the rest of his body. The coroner was not able to determine if death arrived while he was being dragged, or when a series of cars hit him as he rolled in the street after the hook detached.

Hank Swanson was dead, but his legend was just beginning. The story of the butcher with the bloody hook was told over and over, and soon people took “butcher” to mean something other than its professional definition. Thus the story of a killer with a bloody hook was born.

Like the legend, the spirit of Hank Swanson still lives on, trying to eke some revenge on the teens he blames for his death. On rainy nights, many drivers have reported seeing a large, hunched man shambling by the roadside. Some people have offered to give him a ride, and he gratefully climbs in the car. He asks the driver to take him to 7350 W. Carleton, then says nothing else.

Drivers who take Hank to that address discover there is no house there–only a cemetery. When they turn to ask Hank if they got the address right, they find he has mysteriously vanished, often leaving a bloody hook on the back seat of the car.

To meet Hank Swanson, drive along Carleton road (east of the cemetery) on a rainy night. Your chances are greatly increased if you are, or are accompanied by, a teenager who enjoys mocking others. Be cautious if you meet Hank–though there are no records of him attacking anyone, he clearly dislikes the people to whom he appears, and one never knows the lengths he will go to in order to shake them up.

The Haunting of Elmer Clemmons

Identity: The Widow Clemmons. Died 1951.

Location: Clemmons homestead, 1743 S. Oak Hill Road (now the Department of Consumer Studies, O’Brien Technical College)

Demeanor: Dejected, rueful. Generally too lost in sorrow to engage observers.

Encounter potential:    none

Harm potential:             none—all the harm this ghost is going to do has been done.

Educational potential:   ****

In most of the stories included in this compendium, I include spirits that an amateur ghost hunter might have a good opportunity of encountering. The ghost of the Widow Clemmons is an exception–unless you were Elmer Clemmons, you had virtually no chance of encountering her spirit. Now that Elmer has departed this world, the Widow Clemmons seems to be gone for good as well. However, I include this account here because the haunting was of a singularly intense character.

Elmer Clemmons was, by all accounts, a decent man. He worked hard, had no visible vices, and doted on his mother. This was especially remarkable, most observers say, because his mother was relentlessly cruel to him. Reportedly, the nicest thing she ever said to him was “At least you don’t smell as bad as you did last week.”

A friend once asked Elmer why he took such good care of a woman who seemed to hate him. Elmer would just shrug and say, “It’s part of being a good son.”

The Widow Clemmons dominion over her son seemed to end one autumn afternoon when, according to his account, the rubberized grips on her wheelchair slipped off as Elmer was taking her for a walk down Oak Hill Road. The Widow Clemmons started rolling downhill, with Elmer chasing after her. By the time he approached her, she had finished descending one slope and was climbing another. Gravity then pulled her back toward a startled Elmer, and she hit him with a surprising amount of force. Elmer fell back, startled and slightly hurt, while the Widow Clemmons bounced into the busy road. There, she met her demise.

Attendees at the Widow’s funeral unanimously stated that they hoped the woman’s passing would bring Elmer some relief and peace. At the funeral, though, he was inconsolable. He could only say that it was all his fault, and he must have been a terrible son.

This was the first sign that the Widow Clemmons would not be relaxing her grip on her son any time soon. Indeed, it seems as though her spirit was with him almost immediately after her death, continuing the torment she had inflicted on him in life. Elmer spoke of her in the present tense, relating the verbal abuses that she heaped upon him from beyond the grave.

As time passed, the Widow’s ghost became more physical. On many occasions, Elmer showed up to work with mysterious scratches and bruises on his arm. His co-workers asked him what had happened, but Elmer would just duck his head and say “Nothing.” Eventually, one co-worker thought Elmer responded by saying “Mother.”

Neighbors reported hearing shouting and objects being broken in Elmer’s house. They usually could not hear the words being screamed, but when they could, the words were almost always “Bad son.”

Eventually, Elmer’s cousin Dabney forced the truth out of him. Concerned about the scratches as well as the reported shouting, Dabney pressed Elmer until Elmer finally admitted that “Mother will not leave me alone.”

Dabney grew concerned over the abuse from which Elmer was still suffering. He was also intrigued at the possibility of seeing a real life haunting, and he moved in with Elmer to witness the ghostly activities.

In his time with Elmer, Dabney never saw any direct hauntings. However, he certainly saw their after-effects. He would watch Elmer for hours, and nothing would happen, but as soon as Dabney would leave Elmer’s side, he would hear yelling or a horrendous crash, then return to find Elmer sitting dazed on the floor with pieces of broken china or vases scattered around him.

Perhaps the most chilling encounter occurred in the middle of one winter night. Dabney was awakened by shouting, and he swears he heard two distinct voices coming from Elmer’s room. He dashed in to find Elmer huddled on his bed literally pulling his hair out. Above him, written in marker on the wall, were the words “BAD SON YOUR LIFE IS MINE.”

The Widow Clemmons did not take long to make good on her threat. After three months of increasing chaos, Dabney was startled one night to find the house peaceful and quiet. At first he luxuriated in the silence, but then he grew worried, and he went to check on Elmer.

He found a horrific sight. Elmer lay on the floor in a pool of blood. His throat had been cut. Clutched in one hand was a picture of his mother, the protective glass shattered. A bloody shard of that glass lay near Elmer’s other hand. Evidently, the Widow Clemmons had found a way to physically attack her son, and the resultant struggle cost Elmer his life.

After Elmer’s death, the tumult and haunting ceased. Having exacted her vengeance, the Widow Clemmons escaped to the land of the dead, and she has not reappeared since.

Though contacting the Widow Clemmons would undoubtedly be very difficult, it may not be impossible. A gifted medium, with the help of several sensitive individuals, may be able to bring her back to this side of the veil. If you make the attempt to contact the Widow, be extremely cautious–as should be clear from her actions, the spirit of the Widow Clemmons is clearly deranged.

Conclusion

Humans seem to have an innate, if not always accurate, sense of justice. Our desire to right the wrongs we believe we have suffered is perhaps our most powerful impulse. Until we find justice, we seem to believe, we will not find peace.

I leave it to the reader to decide whether any of the ghosts detailed above found the peace they desired. I cannot help but mention, though, that in my widespread experience, ghosts who find the particular vengeance they sought and then contentedly vanish are far more common in the realm of fiction than in our reality.

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