Friday, October 28, 2011

The Ghost and the Girl

This story is based on the ghost stories of Ireland, the land of the Banshee, changelings and other supernatural spectres you wouldn’t expect to come from the same place as leprechauns and tin whistles. The main plot is from “The Fate of Frank M’Kenna” by William Carleton, but I have lengthened it and changed small details. One thing I really wanted to convey was the idea that it’s not the ghosts of our dearly departed who need to move on: It’s us. We keep the dead on earth because we can’t let them go. We try to keep them alive for our own selfish reasons and deny them the reward they deserve. I’m not saying we should just erase your dead friends and family from our minds, but, as this story shows, by dwelling on death, we risk missing out on life.

M’Kenna had two sons. The oldest, Tom, was a good boy, clever, hard-working, obedient, and the greatest pride of his father’s life. The youngest, Frank, was willful, defiant, independent and the greatest shame of his father’s life. He refused to go to church, shirked his chores and did pretty much whatever he wanted regardless of his father’s words. Finally, one winter’s morning, Frank had planned to go hunting hares in the woods with a few friends. This, for Frank’s father, was the last straw. “If you don’t come with me and your brother to church, then I hope you never come back again!”

He didn’t mean it, really, it was said in anger, but it still hurt Frank’s feelings. “Whether I come back or not,” he said, “I am going. Now!” And he took up his walking stick and made his way to the forest. Frank’s father instantly regretted what he had said, but he let the boy go and he and Tom went to church.

Frank and his friends spent most of the day pursuing a particularly tricky hare who kept leading them deeper and deeper into the woods. As time wore on, it began to snow. Soon it turned into a blizzard. A terrible snowstorm, the worst seen in years. Frank’s friends wanted to go home at once to avoid getting lost in the woods. But Frank, still seething from what his father had said, was determined to catch that hare after all the trouble it had put them through. His friends tried very hard to convince him, but in the end, they had to give up and run home, leaving Frank alone in the storm.

Frank didn’t come home the next morning, and his father and Tom organized a search of the woods. It was difficult as the ground was covered in a good foot and a half of snow, but the people of the village searched high and low through those woods only to find no trace of Frank. They set out again the next day and the day after that, as the weather got warmer and the snow began to dissipate. On the fourth day after his departure from his father’s house, Frank was found. The snow had melted to reveal his body, lying curled on the cold earth, frozen to death.

There was a house very near where the body was found, owned by a man named Daly, and his own front door was taken off its hinges and used to carry Frank’s body back to town. The funeral procession was a sad one, M’Kenna and Tom sobbing the loudest and begging God and Frank to forgive them their harsh words toward the boy. The body was dressed in Frank’s finest clothes (except for the trousers; they couldn’t find his Sunday trousers, so they had to make do with another pair) and laid to rest in the earth.

It happened that Daly had a daughter of about fourteen who lived in the small house with him and who had, without her father’s knowledge, seen the young man’s corpse being carried away. The night after the funeral, Rose, for that was the girl’s name, woke her father with a terrible scream. When Daly went to see what was the matter, Rose swore that she had seen Frank M’Kenna standing in her room. Daly searched the house and saw no trace of the boy and assured his daughter that Frank was gone to his rest. Rose agreed and went back to sleep.

But the very next night, Frank appeared again. Another scream, another search of the house, another return to sleep for father and daughter. This happened every night for many days. Soon, Rose learned not to scream and instead simply covered her head in the bed sheets, only to find Frank gone when she looked out again. The nights wore on and Rose actually got used to Frank’s visits. So much so that, about a fortnight after his first appearance, she actually dared to speak to him.

“Why are you here?” she asked. “Why are you haunting this house?”

“This house was my C√≥iste Bodhar[1],” said the ghost of Frank M’Kenna. “The door bore me to my final rest. I have business on earth that I must complete before I can move on.”

“What is it?”

“My Sunday trousers. It might seem like a small thing, but it is important to me. My friends took them before my body was dressed for my funeral and have since been fighting over who gets to keep them. None of them may keep them. If I was not buried in them, they must be given to charity.”

The next day, Rose told the villagers what Frank’s ghost had told her. Indeed, she was correct. Frank’s friends had been fighting over the trousers, but, after Rose’s testimony, they were promptly donated to the local parrish. The people were astounded by this news of Frank’s visitation. And all the rest of that day, it was all anyone talked or thought about. And that night, Frank appeared to Rose again, and she told him that his wishes had been fulfilled.

“Thank you, Rose,” said Frank. “Now perhaps I can go to my rest.”

But, curiously enough, he did not. That night he and Rose went on talking for a while before he vanished. She told everyone of their conversation and, once again, the ghost of Frank M’Kenna was all anyone was thinking about all that day. He appeared again and again in this way and he and Rose talked on all sorts of interesting subjects. God, Heaven, angels and so on. Rose learned more about the life after this one than any living human being has ever known. And every day she hungered for her meetings with Frank and every night she reveled in them.

It is said that we often hurt the ones we love and that’s precisely what Rose was doing. After many, many visits and many, many talks, Frank felt bold enough to ask Rose for a request.

“Of course, Frank,” she said, for she was quite fond of him by this time. “Anything you like.”

“You must forget about me.”


“I told you when we met that I had business with the living that needed to be finished before I could move on, and that was true. But now something else is keeping me bound to this plane.”

“What’s that?”

“You. You keep me here. Every day you wait for me to appear. You long for the wisdom from beyond the grave which I grant you. And when a living soul clings too tightly to the memory of one who is deceased, it prevents that spirit from moving on.”

“But, seeing you is the most wonderful thing that’s ever happened to me.”

“You are very young, Rose. Too young to dwell on death. There is so much wonder in this world, and we only get to know it for a short while. Let me go, Rose. Live your own life.”

A tear rolled down Rose’s cheek. “I’ll miss you, Frank.”

“Don’t be sad, Rose. We’ll see each other again. But hopefully not for a very long time.”

Rose smiled in spite of her sadness. She lowered her head and closed her eyes and whispered “goodbye.” When she looked up again Frank was gone.

That was the last time Rose ever saw Frank. She stopped looking forward to his visits and occupied herself with other pursuits. Frank left this world for good and all, but Rose didn’t quite keep her promise: She never forgot Frank entirely. And let’s hope none of us ever forget the wisdom he passed on: There is so much wonder in this world, and we only get to know it for a short while. 

So know it well.


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[1]  Pronounced “KOE-shta-BOW-er,” meaning  “Death Coach.”

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