HEADS UP PENNY!
All ghosts are not alike.
Some seek revenge and some think twice
about their state and what's left behind.
All ghosts are not alike.
It all happened so quickly that for weeks after, Penny's mother would wake up in the night and call out her name - as if expecting Penny to still be in her little bed on the other side of the wall.
2. As one would expect, Penny's short life of 5+ years was a constricted one, with little novelty outside of her family and her immediate neighbors. But she had managed one major stirring - a crush on Arthur, the 7 year old boy 2 doors down. Arthur knew about Penny and that crush, but still it was a surprise to see her visiting him - after her death!
She was sitting in his bedroom rocking chair when he came in. He slid into the room, and threw his baseball mitt on the bed all in one move. Then he saw her. He jerked to attention - every bone in his body rigid. His hair standing even more straight up on all sides.
"Penny is that you?"
"Yes Arthur. Did you win today?"
"No...uh... we lost to the Tomahawks, 5 to 2.... Penny, I thought you died."
"Yes but I'm not ready yet. I'm stubborn. So I'm waiting for someone to go further with me - Grandma or someone I like.
"You can do that?"
"Guess so. So I wanted to see what you were doing." She rocked back and forth. "Your house is really nice. So much bigger than ours."
Arthur had to think about all this. He sat down. On the one hand, this was very unusual. She was a ghost! On the other he really didn't mind. Little Penny was OK! She was so friendly. Why not, he decided. She could stick around if she wanted to. That was all fine with Arthur. But he decided there would be one rule if Penny was going to stay at his house. She would have to leave at night when he went to bed and was sleeping.
They talked it over and Penny said that she didn't mind that rule at all. She didn't need a drop of sleep, and she liked to use the time to explore Arthur's house, a Victorian House with lots of angles. She specially liked the attic and the roof parts. When night came she would be up in the attic looking around, or on the roof gazing at the moon and stars in the sky. She loved that best.
As the days and nights went by, Arthur discovered that Penny had 'magical ' properties. She could go through walls or closed doors, become invisible, and fly. He once asked her to teach him how to fly, but she said, "I don't know myself how I do it."
But Arthur wasn't one who didn't explore possibilities. "Let's have fun" he'd say. Then they'd work together to play a prank on the adults or the other kids. She liked playing with Arthur. He was always so much fun to be around.
Once, playing baseball, Arthur was on first base. Teammate Eddie was at bat. He hit a grounder to the short stop. Penny hovering nearby, stuck out her foot. The shortstop tripped going for the ball and it rolled through the infield and didn't stop rolling until the left fielder grabbed it and held up the runners. Arthur was safe on second. Penny turned to him and gave him the thumbs up sign and a smile. He smacked his hands and laughed. The short stop turned to the second baseman and said, "What'd I trip on?" as he studied the ground.
Once - late at night, Arthur was feeling peckish - needed a snack that was in the refrigerator and forbidden to him at this late hour. His parents were drinking a glass of wine in the living room and watching TV. Penny snuck into the kitchen to pilfer a cupcake. Arthur's parents heard the refrigerator door close. Arthur's father yelled toward the kitchen, "Arthur is that you?" Arthur yelled back from his bedroom upstairs, "No, I’m in bed dad." Arthur's dad turned to his mom and said casually, "All these Victorians are haunted."
Once - Arthur, his parents, (and Penny), were visiting Dot's Playhouse, the city toy house for all children. Arthur and Penny separated. He wanted to see the boy's toys. She wanted to see the girl's toys. All through the visit, welcoming choirs sang outside, standing on bleachers in the frosty air.
Arthur loved the trains, the model cars, the free, hot, fresh-baked cookies, the science toys, the everything! Penny loved the model toy house, the puppet theater, the free, hot, fresh-baked cookies, the storyteller, the stuffed animals, the everything!
Finally, "It 's time to go," said Arthur's dad. But before leaving, the family stopped on the way to the bus, to hear some carols sung by the choir. Everyone was watching and listening. Arthur saw more than the others. On the second row, at the end of the bleachers, floating in mid air, Penny was singing along - off key - and loudly! Arthur giggled but couldn't turn away. Snowflakes started to fall and each one seemed to float right through her.
One night, one week later, Arthur was with his parents in the living room. He was watching TV while his mom and dad were reading. All 3 heard a bump in the night coming from the attic. Dad was determined to investigate. He led the way up the stairs with an old flickering flashlight in his hand. Mom followed. Then came Arthur, who was nervous that his parents would find Penny up there. Dad slowly opened the creaking door to the attic, and entered. He swept the area with his light. He saw nothing out of the ordinary, so he moved forward and began to look around all the dusty trunks and boxes and old furniture stored up there. He didn't seem to find anything to be afraid of, so Mom and Arthur tentatively began to search too. Arthur spied a clue that no one else saw. There was a penny left on the sill of the low, A-shaped window toward the front of the house. And it had no dust on it. Everything else in the attic did! His parents were on the other side of the attic talking. Dad said, "The wet weather must be shifting the house. That must be it. C'mon everyone, back downstairs." Dad ushered them back down the stairs and he closed the door tight behind them.
Later, with everyone in bed and all the house lights out except the single hall night light, Arthur got out of bed, put on his slippers, and tiptoed up to the attic. S-l-o-w-l-y he opened the attic door that creaked lowly.
"Penny. Penny, are you here?" he whispered. "I saw the fresh penny on the window sill and thought that you put it there for a message for me." Gradually Arthur's eyes adjusted to the moon lit attic and he saw Penny pacing by the front window.
"Here I am Arthur. Yes it was me. I hoped you would come back tonight.
I didn't want to wait till tomorrow to talk to you."
"What's up. Why are you pacing back and forth and making all those noises?" "I'm worried. Every night that I'm up here I see that woman across the street sitting on her porch. She doesn't seem to sleep at all. Who is that down there?"
Arthur looked out the window. Penny pointed to an old woman in a rocker in the small house across the street.. They both watched as she sat seemingly frozen in her chair.
"That's Mrs. Porter. Dad says she’s a big mope - doesn't want to go to church, or weed her yard, or do anything since she moved here. He says her niece gave her the house. She hasn't lived there long at all. She looks like an owl with those big round brown glasses." Arthur folded his fingers into circles and put them up to his eyes like they were glasses, and blinked madly. Penny laughed.
"I see her there every night. She just stays on that chair on her porch. And its cold out there. Arthur I'm worried about her.
"But you don't even know her."
"I know but I want to go over there and look around. Is that OK?"
"Well, be careful if you do."
"Nothing can hurt me."
"Oh that's right."
They both turned back toward the window and watched the owl lady sit and stare.
Later, after Arthur had gone back to his room and slipped back into bed, he heard a noise of someone bounding down the stairs. His father yelled from the master bedroom, "Arthur, are you in bed?"
"Yes dad, "answered Arthur in serious tones, as if to say 'I am trying to sleep and how dare you wake me up'. Then he chuckled to himself, snuck to the window, and looked out to see if he could catch Penny crossing the street. At the same time his dad, in bed, was shaking his head, and muttering to himself something about ' ALL Victorians are haunted."
"Go to sleep dear," said Arthur's mom.
Meanwhile Penny had bounced down the stairs NOISILY, slipped through the big front door, crossed the street, and approached the owl lady's front porch. But she wasn't there. She must have gone inside, thought Penny.
The little house was the smallest on the block. It looked like a one-story English cottage. It was white during the day but light green at night. It had a nice garden around it and a picket fence around that. But everything was overgrown and under pruned, with flowers, grass, and weeds overflowing.
Penny followed the stone walkway towards the house, and stepped up on the porch. It creaked. There on the left of the door was the lady's rocking chair with a cushion on the seat and a heavy grey blanket over one arm. It looked smaller than she thought it would be. On the front door was a wreath of stripped thin wood stems tied up with blue ribbons.
Penny slipped through the door and entered the cozy living room. Everything was dark except for a glass display cabinet centered on the left wall. It was filled with bowls, and vases, and painted plates. On either side of the cabinet were dark wood antique chairs, and in front of the cabinet was a 2-seater couch with a busy pattern that looked old-fashioned.
On the right of the room was a long narrow high table. At one end was a little pint-size, decorated Christmas tree, and at its base were a few small, daintily wrapped presents. Penny thought the tree seemed somehow sad tucked away in the dark like it was.
The floor was bare except for a big square French rug with a flower pattern. The room looked very neat and tidy like a dollhouse.
Just then a grandfather clock chimed two times - 2 o'clock. It seemed to come from the hallway. Penny went through the living room, and under a round arch doorway that led to the hall. It ran right and left. To the right at the end of the hall, passed a closed door, was the grandfather clock on a table. To the left and down the hall, were two more closed doors. At the end of the hall was an open door with a light on. Penny went down the hall to look into the open room.
Mrs. Porter was there in her bed in a dressing gown. She was reading. There was a single small lamp to her left. It was on a table with a portable radio that was playing classical piano music. Penny slipped into the room and went closer to inspect things. She thought Mrs. Porter had a sharp, narrow nose and very thin lips on a long oval face. Her salt and pepper colored hair was pinned up behind 2 big ears that looked very red next to her pale white skin.
Mrs. Porter sighed, put down her book, then put her glasses next to it on the night stand. There was also a glass of water, box of tissues, and an aspirin bottle there.
She folded her hands in front of her and just stared across the room. At first Penny thought she was looking at her, but soon Penny could see that Mrs. Porter was looking through her, not at her.
Penny began to explore some more. She wanted to look around the room. To the left of the big bed was a tall wood dresser. On top was a collection of framed photos - 2 rows of them. She stood on tiptoes to look at them. They were all of the same boy - baby pictures, first school pictures, pictures of him playing, pictures of him and Mrs. Porter - in each one he was older than the last. The oldest one was about teen age.
She began to turn to see if there were any other pictures of this boy in the room. Suddenly she saw a flash of light, out of the sides of her eyes, like something flying past. Penny quickly turned to the right. There in another doorway was a boy staring back at her. It was the boy in the pictures! He was as still as a statue - watching Penny with small, blue eyes.
"Who are you?" he asked.
Penny looked at Mrs. Porter to see if she heard the boy too. She didn't flinch at all. So Penny , while watching Mrs. Porter, replied softly, "I'm Penny."
Still Mrs. Porter did not move or hear anything. "I live across the street. I'm living with Arthur now."
The boy moved toward her, "This is my mom. I'm her son. My name is Joseph, Jo."
"Why are you here?" asked Penny.
"I'm worried about my mom."
"Me too. You know that big Victorian House across the street?
"That's where I stay now. I've been watching your Mom and worrying too - from Arthur's attic and sometimes his roof. She seems so sad."
"I know you now." Recognition of who Penny was crossed Jo's face. "Look I want to show you something." Jo squeezed through the narrow space between the bed and the wall to a hatbox on the floor. He opened it up and pulled a sheet of paper from near the top. It was a newspaper clipping that had been cut out and taped to a stiff, white, sheet of paper. "Mom looks at this a lot." He handed it to Penny. She took it and looked at the picture and read what she could. It was a newspaper article about her - telling how lightning had struck and killed her. "Mom was very sad about you dying too.... I'll read it to you...
Later, while Mrs. Porter had gone back outside and the front door had closed, Penny asked Jo what they could do to help make his mom less sad. "I want to tell her not to worry," said Jo.
After thinking for awhile, Penny came up with an idea. "I know. Leave her a message. That's what I did with Arthur last night," said Penny.
"She reads her Bible there a lot. She used to read Bible stories to me when I was a kid," offered Jo.
"Leave a penny...."
"Oh I get it. That's it. That's it - 'Penny'! We can leave a message."
"I know, my photo in her Bible. We'll put it where she'll see it the next time she picks it up.... and we'll leave a message.... or mark a passage in the Bible, so she'll know not to worry about me. I've heard of stuff like that happening before."
And that's what the two of them did. Jo took the school photo that he kept in his wallet, and tucked it into his mom's Bible. They found that she was reading the book of Psalms. So they looked for a passage on that page. He found one that seemed just right. Penny had chosen it. She closed her eyes, circled her finger in the air and then came down on the page. It landed on Psalm 122; Verse 1.
"What does it say Jo". What does it say?"
"I was happy when they said to me
let's go to the Lord's house."
The next night, Mrs. Porter picked up her Bible and turned the page. The photo of Jo fell out. She picked it up and recognized it immediately. She saw that a passage was marked, and not by her. She read the passage. And like lightning the message hit her loud and clear.
She cried for awhile. There was a release of something somewhere. And then she slept for a long time.
When she woke up the next morning she was different. Something had snapped back. She dressed up and went across the street to Penny's mom's house, with a small Italian Crème Cake in a white box in her hands. She introduced herself, and they visited over tea and cake, talking about their shared losses. Over time the two moms became good, faithful, supportive, long-term, friends.
But even before Mrs. Porter had opened her Bible and the photo of Jo had fallen out; Jo and Penny, hand in hand, had gone across together - gone to where people who have died go to.
"Do you believe in Heaven?" asked Penny.
"I'm beginning to" replied Jo.
Oh, and one more bit of unfinished business. Before Penny left, she went back to Arthur's house and his room. He was sleeping and it was late. She didn't wake him, instead she left another message. This time she took her favorite photo of her and Arthur, pictured together on the steps of his house, and placed it next to his pillow. Then she left.
When Arthur woke up the next morning, he saw the photo. He knew right away that it was from Penny and that she had gone permanently.
He twisted the dials on his toy safe to his secret combination, gingerly added the photo to his other precious things, and closed the door.
c. Tom Hendricks 2006
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