There was a time when Johnny Beaumont thought he’d never see a dead person. It was a perfectly rational thing to think – to think you’d never see a dead person. At least to never see a dead person…alive.
He’d always look the other way when he felt it – the crunch. At least, that’s what he decided to call it. The crunch.
Johnny felt like that was a good name for it. His body always hurt in different ways whenever he felt the presence of those who should not be there.
It started years ago, though Johnny will never tell you that.
He lived down along the river, where all of those fancy TV shows come to tell you where the spirits are.
Johnny never believed them. Called them a bunch of phooey. A name his Dad gave all the nonsense of the ghost hunter business back when he was alive. “A bunch of phooey, that’s what it is,” is what he would say. And Johnny agreed.
Then Johnny got older, the age where you shouldn’t live with your folks anymore. So he decided to go and find a place for himself.
Johnny settled on a place about six blocks from home. He figured he could get some privacy while still checking on his folks with that kind of distance. And that’s what he did, for six years. Until the fire.
One day, Johnny came home from work at the hardware store, turned onto his street and found the whole block on fire. His mom and dad’s house. Burning. His neighbors, the McGillicutties. In flames. Every friend, relative, acquaintance and stranger that he ever thought he knew. All of their homes, gone.
Johnny stood there and just watched the whole block burn.
He stood there when the fire trucks whirred past him.
He stood there when all of the police cars – Johnny would say every police car in the whole town of Admont – came. (Came for what at that point, he wasn’t sure.)
And he stood there after the fires were out. When the coroners came and identified what they could, and told Johnny his folks weren’t gonna be around no more. He stood through that, too.
Some time passed over that. Between the fire and when Johnny first felt the crunch.
He was walking home from work one day, along the river. A path he’d taken dozens and dozens of times before. Except this time instead of staying along the path, Johnny decided to check out one of the many abandoned homes along the way.
This was a different place than his folks’ old block. This one has seen rain and the water and then more water till they called it a flood. It had been a rough couple of years for the town of Admont.
He walked up to the first one he saw – an old Victorian house with a sagging roof that made it look like one of those old cartoon houses. The kind that might start singing. Only this one had more of a howl.
He walked up the rail to the top porch, not quite knowing why he was exploring – Johnny was not the exploring type.
He walked inside, holding his elbow from an increasing pain that came as he walked deeper and deeper into the house – a tingling feeling going down through his fingers. The place felt empty and abandoned – yet full of a kind of energy that Johnny just could not explain.
He ran. He didn’t like that tingling feeling in his fingers and the elbow pain and didn’t need to stay long enough to figure out why it was there.
A couple of weeks later, Johnny found himself walking along the same path. He saw the house as he approached, this time deciding that he was definitely NOT going inside.
Although this time when he walked past the house, a heavy feeling pressed up against his lungs. He felt like it was harder to breath than just a few seconds before, although nothing had changed along the path besides the fact that he was walking past the same house. He ran as fast as he could to home that day.
Only one day passed the next time Johnny would walk past the house. He had slept on it all night and realized something…or someone…was calling him to the house.
He turned to stare the house down. The old house seemed reborn. No longer drooping in the middle. The roof looking fresh. Staring at Johnny. Daring to make him call himself crazy. Only Johnny knew he wasn’t crazy. He walked inside.
Now already he had felt the deep breaths, the compressed lungs. As he walked past the threshold and then deeper into the house, a pain pinched his left shoulder. Then deeper still, a mild headache nagging in the side corner. Then stronger pains. All of these feelings Johnny knew were unnatural. He just knew.
But a house doesn’t make you have pain, he thought to himself. Walking through a yard doesn’t make it tough to breathe.
The nagging pain in the left side of his head starts to migrate from the left, to the middle, to the right over a span of about five seconds, giving him a dizzy vertigo feeling.
Johnny holds his head in pain as it rotates around and then turns to look a big familiar man in the face. It’s his dad. His dead dad.
He reaches to touch him and the figure that was his dad disappears, his fingers tingling as he reaches for air where he thought his deceased parent was just moments ago.
The tingling shifts back up the arm to the chest that made Johnny tingle earlier. He turns to the mirror and sees his dad in the reflection. Confused, he looks closer, “Hello, son. How can I help you?” His dad calls out.
Johnny, realizing after all of the terrible loss, that he’s been given the chance to see his dad again, “Hey, pop. I missed you. And I love you.”
Johnny’s dad smiles, and then disappears. Then the house where Johnny’s standing disappears, as well.
Johnny, realizing he’s seen his first ghost, looks up and says, “Thanks. I was stuck before that.” Then Johnny closes his eyes and he, too, disappears.
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