It was Samhain, the eve of the Celtic New Year -- the night when the veil between worlds was parted. The night when the spirits could commune with earthly mortals. As a child, he had often heard the tales told around the fireside but as he grew older he dismissed them as harmless ghost stories.
As the fog rolled slowly over the dark, empty, expansive square it blanketed everything and clung with damp tenacity. He walked a diagonal path with assured steps, toward home, coat buttoned all the way up, both hands buried deep in the pockets, hat pulled down tightly on his head. The echo of his footsteps, muffled by the slowly thickening mist, could still be heard and made for an oddly comforting companion as he went along. He was late and knew some explaining would have to be done. He also knew that Mary would understand and be forgiving as always.
The quietness was made all the more complete as the mist got denser. It was four in the morning, the time when the body's defenses are at their lowest ebb. The card game had not gone well, but then that was nothing new. He was lucky in other areas, but not cards. The two glasses of strong whiskey he had savored earlier came to his aid now and formed a warm envelope against the early morning chill. 'Thank God for the illicit distillers,' he mused, laughing softly. He would have to quit playing cards he resolved, for the umpteenth time.
As he walked along peering into the darkness ahead, he suddenly felt as if he was slowing down, as if he was pushing against an invisible force. 'That can't be,' he reasoned, and stopped walking.
Usually, not a fearful man, now, a chill ran down his spine and he suddenly felt afraid. As he looked ahead once more he could see a form taking shape, human in appearance. Averting his eyes, he changed direction and tried to walk faster. But no matter how hard he tried, he made no headway. It felt like he was frozen to the spot. Daring to look ahead again, he saw that the form was still in front of him. In desperation, he tried again to move, but was unable to. No matter which way he turned, the form, now distinctly human, was always in front of him. In a hoarse whisper, he called out,
Shocked by the tremor in his usually firm voice he waited. There was no answer. At that moment he made the sign of the cross and, although not a very religious man, said a prayer.
He felt icy cold now and sweated with abject fear. He looked around trying to get his bearings but the mist had grown denser and he could see little more than arm's length. A looming darkness descended, slowly forming a cocoon around his trembling body, cloaking him with invisible completeness. In a choked whisper he asked,
"What do you want with me?"
His mind racing, he shut his eyes and waited for an answer. For what seemed an eternity, he stood immobile. When he dared, he slowly opened his eyes and discovered that the fog and the specter had gone. Glancing around, he gasped when he saw that he was inches away from the open mouth of the old water well. As he looked, he saw that the wooden cover was missing. Relief soon replaced his fear and he nervously continued on his way toward home, his footsteps faltering.
When he arrived home the house was quiet. Mary, his wife, was asleep. Shaken, and still trying to make sense of what had happened, he began to prepare for bed. When he looked in the mirror, he was further shocked to see that his hair had turned white! Later that morning, he was roused from a fitful sleep by someone shaking him. As he turned over, his eyes focused and he saw Mary standing at the bedside with her hand covering her mouth.
"God save us, Jack Brennan! What happened? You look like you’ve seen a ghost!"
He touched his head with trembling fingers and asked, his voice quavering,
"Is it still white? I hoped it was all just a horrible dream."
He never drank liquor or played cards again after the night of that otherworldly encounter.
Jack said many years later that the fright he got on the square that foggy, dark morning was the best thing ever happened to him. When asked to explain what he meant he replied,
“It made me think about the direction my life was going. After I stopped drinking and gambling my life took a favorable turn, I was able to think more clearly and focus on the important things. If I hadn’t had that encounter I would have carried on as I was doing and probably end up with a lot of regrets. Now, I tell my children often, whatever they do in life, don’t die with regrets.”
For my grandfather, Jack Brennan.
From "Don't Die with Regrets: Ireland and the Lessons my Father Taught Me."
For Sale at: http://www.amazon.com/dp/0615975860
Also for Sale:
The Journey: A Nomad Reflects.