A Halloween story from Archie Neil Chisholm


Since it’s near Halloween, I thought you’d be interested in some of the local bochdan -- ‘bochdan’ is our Gaelic word for ghosts. Most people think that ghosts are people who are dead. But sometimes live people are ghosts, and they bring news of things that haven’t even happened yet. That is called a forerunner. I’d wager you have some stories of your own about forerunners -- similar ghost stories are everywhere, every nationality, every part of history, by-passing the power poles and all the gimmicks of communication we think are so sophisticated.

Seeing that most of you have the same colour of hair as I do (white), I know you remember when the only way to get around was by horse and most houses didn’t have telephones. So think back to then when I’m telling you this one.

Cassie was neighbour of mine down at Margaree Forks, she lived across from Golden Grove just over by Tom MacDonald’s. A lovely farm, and good solid people.

She had just stepped outside to empty the dish pan from cleaning up after supper. It was a bitter cold evening with a cutting wind and not a night for people wanting to stir too far from the stove. Glancing down the steep lane, she saw that somebody was approaching the house. There was a full moon and she could see it was her cousin Angus from Inverness who was coming up with a horse and wood sled. As he came closer, she heard the sound of the horses’s hooves, and its snorting and heavy breathing, and saw Angus pulling in the reins. It was strange, though, how their dog Bruno who was in the woodshed did not bark his head off, as he usually did when anyone came by. There was a long box on the back of the sled, and the black covering fluttered in the breeze even though it was tied down. She shouted a cheery hello and stepped inside to tell her husband Roddy to put on his boots and come help Angus put the horse in the barn. Roddy was kneeling near the stove mumbling his rosary in Gaelic, as he did every night, and he was none too pleased to be interrupted. But Cassie got him up off his knees and gave him his coat. He went out only to return a minute later, perplexed. “There’s no one out there,” he said, He accused her of taking a nip of the moonshine. Nothing more was said.

The next night, about the same time, and with same routines, she saw Angus again, very plainly -- she didn’t recognize the black horse, but she knew Angus as well as she knew herself. She was frightened, I can tell you. What was going on? But she hesitated to tell Roddy. What if she was wrong a second time? But she was sure, it was her cousin -- she saw him brushing snow off the box on the wagon. But when Roddy went out, grumbling, there was no one there, just a empty winter night.

The third night, it was the same, she saw him through the pantry window, and this time, she decided to say nothing. She watched Angus come up to door and then there was a loud rapping. Into the house walked Angus, and Cassie could see it was him, in flesh and blood, and Roddy was talking to him, and he had gone deadly pale. He has just been given the message: their son had died suddenly in a coal mine accident in Port Hood just hours ago and a telegram had arrived at the station. There was a wake at their house and the son’s body was brought up the lane on the wood sled, in a coffin draped in black.

From story teller Archie Neil Chisholm of Margaree Forks to an international group of Elder Hostel seniors visiting the Gaelic College at St. Ann’s, Cape Breton. Fall 1991. From a collection of his stories by Mary Anne Ducharme.

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