Dave Micus, Plum Island Sound

January 19th, 2004

The Fishing Shack
By Dave Micus

Sportsmen, for some reason, seem to like ghost stories. It might be a throwback to the superstitions and myths of our hunting and gathering ancestors, or it might just bring back fond childhood memories of those scary stories told around the campfire. Fishing writer John Geirach writes of an old rod he purchased that, unbeknownst to him, came complete with the former owner's ghost. If John neglected to store the rod properly, or forgot to dry out the old silk line to prevent its rotting, he would awaken the next day to find the rod out of its case and the line wound loosely around a chair, drying as it should. Creepy, yes, but if you have to have a ghost, one that does chores is the kind to have.

Hunter Jim Fergus tells a bleaker tale of camping at Nebraska's Fort Robinson. It was here in 1879 that 149 Cheyenne men, women and children were slaughtered by the U.S. Cavalry while trying to escape in the night. Fergus claims that during the night of his stay he could hear the muffled sounds of running feet and whispers in a language he didn't understand. Even his dog, Sweetz, seemed to hear it too.

These stories are easy to discount; not enough sleep, too much alcohol, an overactive imagination. I have my own ghost story which you can believe or not, and there's no hard feelings if you don't, as all of the reasons above for not believing a ghost story apply. You see, I once owned a haunted house.

In retrospect, I don't know why we bought it. It was on the water, but the negatives definitely outweighed the positives, and it needed "everything from a new roof right down to a new foundation" as the building inspector pointed out. Plus it was only 800 square feet and we were a family of four. But we really didn't look at the house, just out the window at the water view. We conferred with our boys, who were five and three, and they agreed we should buy it. The three year old also volunteered, "and I'm not afraid of the man who lives here," which was odd, but we didn't ask him to elaborate.

The house was nearly 100 years old when we bought it. House is a misnomer; it turned out to have been a fishing shack, consisting of one main room, with three other rooms added on. To say it was shoddy construction gives shoddy construction a bad name. I heard that the owners of these shacks would wait until there was a big storm and then gather the debris that washed up and build additions to their houses. And while that sounds unlikely, our house was empirical evidence that is was a distinct possibility.

When we moved in strange things began to occur. Nothing malevolent, but simple things, like being awakened by knocking on the walls at 3:30 in the morning, or the volume on the stereo suddenly increasing, though no one was near the amp. We would shrug it off, because it's easier not to believe. But then I came home late to find every light in the house on and the wife, looking quite terrified, wrapped in a blanket on the living room couch.

"What's wrong?" I asked.

"I heard someone in acute respiratory distress, unable to breathe. I heard it plain as day." The bride is a registered nurse, and we knew the former occupant died of emphysema, and after that incident we both stopped drinking anything past 8pm to curtail those late night trips to the bathroom. We just didn't want to confront something we couldn't deny.

I met the late owner's son when he was touring old haunts, pardon the pun, with his wife on their 50th anniversary. He explained to me that his dad bought the fishing shack on December 7, 1941, the day the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. His dad and his dad's cronies used the shack as a retreat, fishing all day and playing poker and drinking all night. I suspect that he's the one that loved the house so much he couldn't leave it, and who could blame him? Fishing all day, drinking all night-heaven would be a disappointment.

Soon after I awoke because I sensed that someone was on our bed. I thought it was my youngest son, who would occasionally awaken in the middle of the night and make his way to our room, so I was careful as I rolled over so as not to knock him out of the bed and onto the floor. I opened my eyes and there he was, a kindly looking old man sitting on the edge of the bed, dressed in the green pants and shirt, Dickeys, that was the uniform of that generation. He didn't look at me, but continued gazing out of the window at the water, probably for feeding striped bass. And then he just seemed to vaporize.

When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro, suggests Hunter Thompson, and now I had to do something, as I couldn't have a poltergeist joining me in bed, at least not one that wasn't a succubus. I knew someone at work who claimed to be a psychic (but I had my doubts as he had never won the lottery), and I asked his advice. He told me what you'd expect, that the former owner was attached to this house and didn't want to leave, and sometimes spirits just can't let go, but then he shared information that came as a pleasant surprise. To rid a house of spirits, he advised, I only had to sand all of the floors. He assured me that this would release the hold that the house had on the ghost.

We were in the process of renovating anyway and had planned to sand the floors, so we moved that chore up in the construction schedule. I couldn't see how this could help, but my only other option was an exorcism, and the neighbors really frown on that sort of thing. The paranormal activity ceased once we had the floors refinished, lending a little more credibility to my friend's psychic claims (though he still hasn't won the lottery).

That was twelve years ago. Two years ago we had the fishing shack torn down and a new house built in its place. The new house is bigger, more solidly constructed, and has no skeletons in its closets. As a writer, I know it would be a nice literary touch to end this story on a nostalgic note and say that I kind of miss the fishing shack and the ghost that lived there.

But I really don't. ~ Dave

About Dave:

Dave Micus lives in Ipswich, Massachusetts. He is an avid striped bass fly fisherman, writer and instructor. He writes a fly fishing column for the Port City Planet newspaper of Newburyport, MA (home of Plum Island and Joppa Flats) and teaches a fly fishing course at Boston University.


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