Lights Out

by Joe McCarter (In His Father's Voice)

Way back when I was a school kid 'bout the only thing for entertainment around the community was lyceum. It was held in the old log schoolhouse about once a month or so, always on Friday nights. Now and then it could be a little more often, dependin' on who might be around to give a talk.

There was talks and arguments on ever'thing from why the South lost the war, to how many angels could sit on the head of a pin. Whoever was teachin' school was generally the leader and usually took a part in the debatin’. The only problem was findin' enough new people with new ideas to make the meetings interestin'.

Lookin' back on it, I guess it's surprisin' how many people did come along seein' as how the Corral community wasn't really on the main line or anything. But ever' now and then some feller'd come by who was some kinda expert on this or that and would be asked to talk at lyceum, and the topics covered was really surprisin'.

I remember one time, I couldn't of been much over nine or ten, a long-whiskered ol' feller gave a talk on the haunted houses of old England. Now I can't remember whether this ol' guy had ever really been to England or not, but he gave quite a talk and the meeting had been well attended. The crowd was quieter than usual and was sure payin' attention.

Now most of these ol' boys in the audience, and for that matter their wives either, wasn't scared of too may things. Nothin’ about their lives was easy and it was pretty hard to get the most of 'em worked up much, but ghosts and ghost stories were different and made ever'one a little jumpy.

There was a lotta talk after the meetin' and you could see most ever'body had took the spook some and were a little anxious about goin' out in the dark to get in their sleds and head home. It's the middle part of the winter, and it'd been a long one with lots of snow and cold weather, both.

There was a bunch of us school boys interested in the ghost stories, and we got to talkin' about how much fun it would be if we had some haunted houses around. This all sorta worked up to maybe we could help things along a little, and outta this a couple of the McGowan boys and me and Card come up with a plan. We'd arrange for a ghost to be in the schoolhouse at the next lyceum.

We first made a lotta complicated plans about costumes and ever'thing, but it finally all boiled down to just puttin' out the lights and dressin' one kid up in a sheet. Gettin' all this done turned out to be fairly simple. In fact, the way things turned out, we really never needed the kid in the sheet, but this is gettin' ahead of the story.

Blowin' out the lights was the first concern, and since there were four kerosene lamps hangin’ down from the ceilin', we figgered we had to be able to get up in the loft to get this done. The only way to get up there was by usin' a ladder on the inside of the schoolroom that led to a trap door in the ceiling. We knew that we couldn't use this, but figgered it'd work for the kid in the sheet to come down once the lights was out.

We came up with the idea of borin' holes through the ceiling boards right over where the lamp chimneys were, and figgered we could roll up sheets of paper into tubes and stick 'em through the holes to blow down the lamp's chimneys. But first, we needed an easy way to get up in the schoolhouse loft at night. We daren't use the schoolhouse door, even if it was unlocked. We figgered the best way would be to make a small door on the gable end away from the road.

The gable ends were framed and boarded up, not logs like the rest of the building, and there was a lean-to woodshed attached to the backside of the building that we could use as a work place to make the door. In fact, enough snow had slid off the shed that we didn't even need a ladder to get up on the lean-to.

Card and me gathered up what tools we was to provide and cached them on the porch the evenin' before we was to meet the McGowans at the schoolhouse. We laid awake until ever'body was asleep good and got up and dressed and took off.

It was pretty dark as the moon wasn't up yet and the four of us didn't make a lotta headway the first night, although we did git part of the door cut out. We was too scared to use the lantern outside as we figgered somebody’d see the light. But we hid our tools and made ready to come back a second night. The next lyceum was still better'n a week away, so we wasn't pressed for time.

In fact we needed three more nights to get ever'thing the way we wanted it, and the last night we was there turned out to be the best yet. We was working inside with the lantern on, gettin' the holes just big enough to get our paper tubes down through, when we heard a rig comin' down the road.

We hurried up and blew out the lantern, but it was a too late. They'd seen the light since there were plenty of cracks between the gable boards that the light could shine through.

Now's when the luck came in. The rig turned out to be Arthur Hobdey and his sister Alice. They're the youngest two of the family that are the spookiest in the whole community. They'd been up the crik visitin' somebody and had stayed late, we guessed.

Arthur is about 18 or 19 and has a way of talkin' that can't be mistook. It sure is his voice we hear sayin', "Cristh, Alieth did ya thee that light?" We couldn't hear what Alice said, and Arthur calmed down some and it was hard to make out just what they were sayin', but we could tell for sure it was about how safe it would be to go on by.

About this time we get the idea of strikin' a match and lettin' it go right out and it sure worked cause we could hear Arthur plain as day, "Oh Cristh in Heaven, Alieth, there it isth again." Alice answers somethin' back which we can't make out, but it's plain by her voice she's plenty scared too.

Well, lightin' a match ever' few minutes was sure fun just to get Arthur's reaction, but we got to figgerin' that maybe we better quit, or he'd go get somebody else who might not be as spooky and our plans would be finished. So we sat and waited.

Pretty soon we hear Arthur say, "But God, Alieth, we've got to go by." Seems as tho' Arthur gets her convinced cause pretty soon we hear 'im cussin' the team and larrupin’ 'em up, and they come by really flyin'. There's enough moon now so that by lookin' through the cracks you can make out Arthur standin' up and usin' a buggy whip ever' jump with his ol' ponies on the dead run.

Well, Arthur don't lose any time tellin' the whole community there's ghosts in the schoolhouse, that he and Alice had both seen 'em and that, by God, somethin' would hafta be done.

The Monday after our fun with Arthur, the teacher Miss Daughtery tells me that she wants to see me after school. I figger the fat's in the fire for sure now, and I don't have much time to get my story together and no time at all to tell the other guys.

She began by tellin' me that she'd knew for some time that somethin' had been goin' on around the schoolhouse at night, and she knew that I was one kid who was in on it. She said that I'd always told her the truth before, and she wanted the truth now.

Well, I figgered that she'd get most of it out of me, one way or the other, and I'd 'bout as well tell her most of what we'd been up to. She listened pretty good and finally, when I was through, asked if we really intended to hurt anybody or anything. I told her that that wasn't the idea at all and that it was just s'posed to be a little fun at the next lyceum meetin'.

She was always one of my favorite teacher's, and she finally said as long as nobody was gonna get hurt or anything that our talk was just between her and me. She also told me she knew the other kids who were in on it, and if things did go wrong there'd be real trouble. But as it was, maybe a good laugh would help get the long winter over with. I sure did feel better after she let me go, and as far as I know she never told anyone what was up.

I met Card and the McGowans waitin' for me right outside the schoolhouse. They'd been pretty worried that ever'thing was over and were glad to hear what I had to say. So all we had to do was wait 'til Friday night.

When it finally come, the four of us met at the school early because we had to be in the loft and quieted down before anybody showed up. Each of us got one of the paper tubes we'd made and laid down above each lamp and just waited.

Miss Daughtery showed up first and filled the lamps with kerosene and lit them. She never let on like she knew we were hidin' right above, and we were all bein' real still.

People started showin' up pretty soon and, since it was a warm night for the last part of March, they visited some outside. It seemed ever'body had heard about Alice and Arthur's ghost, and there was concern as a lot of people were takin' it pretty serious. Arthur and Alice finally showed up, and you could hear 'em both talkin' about their scary ride home. For a while we was wonderin' if anybody was gonna come inside.

Finally, the school teacher from Soldier who's givin' the main talk shows up, and ever'body comes in. Miss Daughtery welcomes ever'body and introduces the speaker. We'd decided the best time to blow the lights would be just as the speaker was finishin' up and the clappin' was startin'. The noise would help George McGowan, who had the sheet on, to get over to the ladder and start down it.

The timing on the lights was real close. Ever'thing worked real well 'cept that nobody got to see George. What we hadn't figgered on was how quick the twenty or so folks could get out the door. There was a big mud puddle from the snow thawin' in front of the door, and nobody bothered goin' 'round it. Lookin' back it's a wonder that somebody didn't get hurt. Arthur was out about the first and was yellin', "I told ya so, I told ya so. I knowed there was ghosts in the schoolhouse".

The other three of us went out our door in the gable and joined the crowd and was all innocent actin', but it didn't work out too well. By then some of 'em had figgered out what was goin' on, and we had some ears pulled and it looked like for a while that it was gonna be pretty rough. Lucky for us some of the people got to laughin' and pretty soon ever'body started laughin' 'cept Arthur.

The four of us felt pretty good about it all and, lookin' back, it was one of the few times in my school days that I got away with anything.

Back to Dad's Stories