The General.

The General was actually a photograph portrait I found in our dirt cellar after digging it out some. The house was built somewhere around 1882 and showed some wear and tear. Nowhere did it show more age than in that old cellar. Over a hundred years of ashes had been shoveled out of the furnace and tossed to the right, eventually all but closing off about a third of the cellar. For an adventurous ten-year-old this was a challenge, especially after finding a few old treasures from a bygone era. It was dirty, damp work digging all that out. Ashes mixed with native clay made for tough digging, but I would fill buckets and take the stuff outside through a window. After about a week of clean up, and the discovery of some old metal toys and old tools I hit the jackpot. I found "The General". He was in a dark corner covered in dirt and clay and cobwebs and spiders. It was wet and musty in there and I was a surprised 10 year old at this discovery so I took him to the part of the cellar that was lit by that one hanging light bulb.  He was wearing what looked to be a Confederate Uniform with a wide brimmed hat and had a big mustache and goatee.

I felt pretty bad for him, seeing him like that and took him past the big coal furnace and up the ladder to the house where I carefully cleaned the very ornate frame.  It took a long time as I was very careful, wanting to preserve this amazing find. Then I slowly cleaned off the picture itself. After that I cleaned off MYSELF as I was covered with all the same stuff that was on that portrait. Using an old tooth brush I cleaned the ornate curly cues of the beautiful frame, taking my time so I wouldn’t damage some of the delicate cut outs.

It took quite a while to get him in shape for hanging but eventually the General was proudly displayed on the biggest wall in my room. My room wasn't technically a room. I had my stuff in a hallway at the top of the stairs, just wide enough for bed and dresser.  I loved that old portrait and there was an odd and surprising benefit to having him hanging there.

My room was always a little scary to me. The stairs were beside my bed, on the other side of a short wall, over which I could look at the stairs through the railing.  I was constantly hearing people slowly walking up and down on them.  Loud long creaks would wake me up at night or make me too fearful to go to sleep. I would gape wide-eyed down the stairs and nobody was there.  I had gotten used to that and to my window at the top of the steps shaking at night. That window had once slammed for no apparent reason hard and wildly quickly down on my fingers. But there was one thing that had bothered me more than almost any other frightening experience or vision in that house for as long as we'd lived here. Tapping on the wall above my head. This happened every night and I'd hear it sometimes softly and sometimes not so softly. It came in threes, over and over again. Sometimes other people in the house heard it and thought I was doing it.  My sister accused me of doing it a few times up until the day she heard it when I wasn’t home. She apologized for accusing me of that, looking very troubled.

Many times at night and even during the day I'd see someone walking past the foot of my bed to the room beside mine. I often blocked it out, imagining it was my older brother who slept in that room, even when he wasn't home. Sometimes I'd hear a soft voice there and sometimes I even heard the voices through the wall to my sister's room. My sister talked about seeing and hearing things in her room as well. Sometimes at night, though it wasn't permitted I'd get up, get dressed and go outside to the picnic table among the lilac bushes, I was terrified in the night outside but calmed there as well, being safer outside than inside, enjoying the smells and the sounds of the night. Sometimes I'd look toward my bedroom window upstairs and see someone looking out at me. Sometimes the curtain would pull to one side sending a thrill and a touch of horror up my spine. I sometimes would stay on that picnic table til the light started creeping over the mountain to announce sunrise.

Hanging the General on that wall for some reason stopped the tapping. While he was there, for whatever reason, the knocking and the window shaking stopped. The skinny little version of me was amazed and relieved by the changes brought on by the General. The walking on the stairs still went on but voices and shadows slowed noticeably.  The figures passing by the foot of my bed stopped as well although they continued in the other bedrooms. As odd as it sounds, I felt very much protected by that portrait. I even said, "Good night General" to the picture sometimes and became very attached to it. It became a very prized possession for a 10 year old skinny country boy.

I grew more confident and slept a lot better just having him up there. Was it mental? Was it spiritual? I didn't figure it mattered much. All I knew was that I could sleep now and that I loved that old portrait. Because the knocking had stopped I was a lot more comfortable in that house, though after my little sister was born, when she could talk, she began to complain about an old lady on the stairs who wasn't there - or was she? I still heard the footsteps on the stairs at night.

In other parts of the house there was still activity. Living room, dining room, and kitchen. The basement was absolutely frightening. There was a very steep stairway to the cellar, almost a ladder. You opened a long trap door to get to those stairs and leaned it back so it wouldn’t slam shut on you. My Mother openly spoke of seeing someone at the base of the stairway, standing on the dirt floor.  The stairway was behind a door between the living and dining rooms, which occasionally opened and closed on its own. I personally witnessed the doorknob turning and jiggling when nobody else was there. As a matter of fact one night, through the heating grate in the bathroom I heard my Mother's voice in the hallway at the cellar steps saying, "In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost what is your business here?" I was very shaken hearing her say this. When I asked her about it the next morning she said, "Just never you mind.”

Mom was that person people went to for help with these unusual situations. She was that lady who knew about this subject. Oddly the requests for information or help came with a disclaimer. "Don't tell anybody I asked about this." I don't think the lessening of activity was noticeable in the rest of the house but in my room and in the vicinity of the portrait things were much calmer and much more pleasant. Honestly in more cases than not, whatever was there appeared to be looking out for the family living here. Other things were there, as evidenced by some more ominous activity but even that seemed to be protective of the family. Being a kid I didn’t really have a lot of insight on this but that was how it seemed to me.

I remember being in my room on a Saturday night, listening to the radio and reading a western when I heard a woman scream loudly. This scream was answered by an unknown but strangely familiar gravelly angry woman’s voice. I jumped up and off my bed scrambling down the stairs and running to the living room where the sounds had come from. Mom was there with a friend and neighbor, touching her head, as the neighbor was visibly shaken, crying and speaking with a quivering voice.

"What happened?” I asked, frightened and wildly intrigued. Mom said it was nothing and to go back to bed but the neighbor lady said, "No! You be careful Jeffy! I was sitting here on your Dad's chair and someone pulled my hair so hard it dragged my head back! A lady screamed at me and said, 'It's not for you Anne!' ". Her head had some blood beading where her hair was pulled back. Mom just said, "Jeffrey Scott! Bed!" I was glad to get back to my "protected area" and the calming influence of the General. I lay there shaking, eyes wide and unable to sleep. The walking on the steps came halfway up the stairs and stopped there. There was nothing in my room but I could have sworn I heard a woman softly humming and the creak of wood as if someone was sitting on the steps.

Never in my years had I felt so protected. Not those days in Eden Hill where I saw the Hat Man, or the more sinister thing in the woods that even the older relatives warned us about. The shadows and touches and pushes. The scratches and pinches and gruff voices that I’d experienced in this house all seemed a lifetime away under the General’s watchful glance.

I remembered banking off the furnace for the night on a cold December evening and feeling someone on the ladder behind me coming up. The ladder heaved with the weight of more than a skinny kid. I felt a slight push on my back and cold breath on my neck as I scrambled faster up to the main house, slamming the trap door shut behind me as I rushed through the door to the dining room. I went quickly through the house and up the steps to my room, a hard shove on my back making me fall forward up the stairs. Almost in a panic, I jumped up and scrambled clumsily up the last couple steps to the safety of the General’s presence. Whatever that was that came up the cellar stairs stopped and wouldn’t come into my room. It sat, creaking heavily on the turn of the stairway, breathing heavily and occasionally grunting deeply. That night, even if it hadn’t been so cold out, I wouldn’t have gone out to the safety of the picnic table or the lilac bushes because I’d have had to pass the thing waiting on the stairs.

The next morning I got up, stopped in the bathroom and went scrambling down the stairs for my morning rush at the refrigerator only to hit a dark shadowy haze halfway down. I couldn’t stop in time and went right through it, feeling both an electric shock and as if I was actually trying to run through tar. I panicked, calling out my mother’s name from inside that thick haze, somehow knowing my voice wasn’t penetrating the fog.  I struggled, gasping to breathe in the blackness and in my panic, when my Mother came out to the kitchen, looking startled up at me in my struggle. She got immediately furious, muttering words I was incoherent to and making a sign with her hands. After a few seconds the fog disappeared with a loud pop. I half fell and half ran down the stairs to Mom, getting a comforting hug.  I didn’t know what was going on but I learned something about my Mother that day. Not only was this non-churchgoing lady very spiritual, but she also had some amazing skills, and to my ten-year-old mind powers that I could not understand. I did know that I felt very safe in her embrace. She muttered, “Son of a bitch.” And a few words I recognized as Bible verses. She said that fog wouldn’t be back and told me not to worry. That was easier said than done to this undersized kid, but I did feel safer that night going back to my room.

The activity in our house eased for a short while and I began to feel more comfortable in my home. I went back to the cellar to fire the furnace and I even resumed my digging and exploring in the dark part of the cellar, finding some rusted tools, and old work bench and even some old coins. The next treasure was a stash of old newspapers in an old metal box wrapped in plastic. Most of these were stuck together but some were clear enough to read. The rest of the family loved reading these just as I did and the papers made for some fun Saturday nights.

Unfortunately not long after we began reading those old papers the activity spiked. I was safe in my room but outside of the General’s influence things got pretty wild. The activity was so obvious that everyone in the house and the neighbors talked about it openly. A case in point was the 8:05 front door episodes that lasted two weeks.

The first night this happened I was in the dining room talking to my Mother when the front door slammed open so hard it bounced off the wall.  We were both startled but thought perhaps it was wind or maybe it hadn’t been closed all the way. These suppositions were dispelled the next night when around the same time, the front door slammed open again. It left a mark on the wall where the doorknob hit. Mom was waiting the next night, and I was waiting with her. She had a watch handy and timed this third episode at 8:05 PM.

The third night we were waiting again, this time inviting my Dad to watch. The door slammed open at 8:05 PM, hitting the wall this time hard enough to sink the doorknob into the plaster, jamming the door open there. I climbed up on my tall Father, panicking. All I could think was that this stuff had to stop soon. Mom checked the time, wrote it down and walked to the door, muttering under her breath. I left my Dad and ran up the stairs to the safe zone under the watchful eyes of my portrait.

This activity went on for two weeks, straining the family and entertaining the neighbors, who thrilled and wondered at this anomaly. The last night the anomaly happened the inside door didn’t slam open. The screen door slammed open against the side of the house so hard it tore the screws free of the top hinge, leaving the screen door hanging and stretching the spring closure. Mom looked at me and the others in the room with a satisfied look on her face. She smiled a little grimly at me and said, “It’s over.”





One day a year after the screen door incident I left for school and when I came home the General was missing from his place of honor on my wall. I panicked and gasped out with horrified tears to Mom that he was gone! "Mom where is the General?" She saw how upset I was and tried to calm me down. I could tell she wasn't happy about him being gone either and that she felt very bad for me. Mom told me my brother had sold the General to an antique dealer as the frame was worth a great deal of money.  “No! It’s not fair! The General is mine! I found him and I cleaned him up and I saved him! Get him back! Mom we have to get him back!” She didn't appear to understand at the time why I was so upset but knew how I had prized that special portrait. I was shaking and terribly worried about the thing from the basement and the shadows and voices and especially the tapping coming back. Those three-tap rhythms that went on all night. That night I lay down on my pillow and there it was, the tapping in threes. I groaned in fear knowing in my heart that I would be seeing the window shaking again as well. That night at about three in the morning I heard the window shaking and opened my eyes to see the shadow person walking across the foot of my bed, going to the bedroom next door. The curtain to my brother’s room moved to one side as whoever, whatever that was entered. The male voice that I hadn't heard in such a long time was audible again. It wasn't permitted for me to do so but I got up and went to the back yard to sit on the picnic table among the lilac bushes, enjoying the night and the smells and occasionally looking to my window upstairs. Sometimes I thought I saw someone looking out at me. Sometimes I saw the curtain pulling off to one side and stared hard hoping to and hoping not to see what or who was looking out at me.  I stayed there til the light started creeping over the mountain to announce sunrise.

The activity and my nighttime ritual of going to the picnic table continued until I moved out of the house many years later. I never replaced that beautiful portrait or covered that wall again because when I tried the tapping got louder and harder, sometimes shaking whatever picture I hanged there.

Was the presence of the General protective? Did he appreciate the affection and the sympathy of a skinny kid who thought he deserved better than to be buried in an old dirt cellar, forgotten and alone? Stranger things have happened. Come to think of it he wore a flat brimmed hat not unlike my other protector and lifelong companion. Was the portrait haunted? Was it cursed? was it charmed? All I knew was it was sorely missed.

My friend John Zaffis would have a better take on it, as he's quite the collector of haunted objects.