By way of introduction I thought I should mention that Ben is not my first significant ghost. In fact the reason that I knew what Ben was when he contacted me and the reason I wasn't afraid of him is that years earlier I had conversed with a sweet, troubled disembodied young man.
This happened quite a few years ago now, back in the early 1990s I was visiting my friend, Kay, at her home in Palo Alto. After dinner Kay's daughter Ann retired to her separate apartment attached to the back of the house. A couple hours later she came in and announced, "There is something out there and I'm not staying there until it's gone."
Kay and I went out and looked around. We couldn't hear or see anything. Back in the house Ann was still upset. She said she knew something was there and was not going to step one toe into the apartment until she knew the intruder was gone.
I think it was Kay who suggested a Ouija board. But we didn't have one. I said I had heard that you could use automatic writing like a Ouija board. And, as a matter of fact, in my short-lived effort to become a surrealist poet I had practiced automatic writing.
Not comforted, Ann declared that her mother and I were both crazy and she marched out of the room. She returned shortly to observe the proceedings. But she stayed on the other side of the room from us.
I wrote down questions and waited for answers. "Is someone there?" "Yes." "Who are you?" "David."
It was slow at first and there was a lot of scribbling and random words that didn't make sense to me. I finally got the story that his name was David and he was a soldier. He was being trained to go overseas and fight in the trenches. He said that he had a friend. I forget the friend's name. But the two of them realized they could not go to France. They had learned something about the types of wounds that were being inflicted in trench warfare and were horrified. They were especially appalled by the facial injuries that were becoming all too common. They agreed that they were not only terrified of suffering such injuries themselves but they could never bring themselves to inflict such gruesome injuries on anyone else.
They knew their lives would be worthless if they tried to desert. Even if they succeeded in evading arrest, there would be no jobs for them and their fiancees would have nothing to do with them.
They made a suicide pact. They went out to a forest or field some distance from the camp and took their hand guns. They agreed that on the count of three they would shoot each other.
David's friend fired and David didn't He didn't explain why. Maybe it was something as simple as confusion over whether he should pull the trigger on three or after three. In any case David died and his friend didn't. His friend was charged with murder and court martialed and disgraced. David was tortured with guilt. He wanted to tell someone it wasn't his friend's fault and that he wasn't really a murderer.
I suggested to him that his friend was long since dead by now and probably anybody else who remembered the incident. His friend would undoubtedly be eager to forgive him. I had no idea what else to say.
I finally asked him if there was anything we could do for him. He said he would like a glass of wine. This seemed as bizarre to me as Ann assured us it was.
As I was preparing to leave I noticed that the room was getting chilly and I started to put on my sweater. Kay and Ann both looked puzzled and assured me the temperature was still quite warm. Suddenly I felt something cold directly on my upper back and shoulders and neck. It was like a weightless snow man had jumped on and was riding me piggy back. It wasn't scary. In fact it made me laugh. I finally guessed what was going on and said, "Come on, David, stop it." I guess he stopped because the room, from my point of view, and my body , returned to their earlier temperatures.
A few weeks later I talked to Kay long distance. She told me she had gone to the library and learned that there had in fact been an army training camp located a few miles from where her house is now. The camp was training soldiers to be sent to France during WWI and had only existed for about 18 months.
I searched through all the military records I could find and news articles and obituaries but never found anything about a young man named David being murdered.
Kay said that Ann insisted on sleeping in the house that night. But before she went to bed she left a glass of wine on the table in the apartment. Kay said they never heard from David again.
Recently I told my story about David to Julia Assante. She asked what became of him. Did he cross over? Did he need to be rescued? I had no idea. I asked if she could help him. She suggested I do it myself, since I was evidently capable of communicating with him. Another thought that had never occurred to me.
I asked Ben to help. He got David to come and talk to me. David remembered me. And the wine. He said he is still there in the house. He wasn't very coherent. I asked why he was still there and he said he was afraid of "the DARK--BURNING. Ben told him it isn't like that. He said all David's family is over there waiting for him. And his dog. David seemed surprised that "Patches" would be there. He was almost persuaded but he said he couldn't go anywhere until he told his friend Anthony he was sorry for leaving him alone. We told him Anthony was probably already on the other side. David wouldn't budge. Finally Ben went and got Anthony. Anthony was much more energetic than David. Much more coherent and confident. He said his name was Anthony Robert Longton. Anthony said he had crossed over easily because, even though he had committed murder, his family and close friends understood that he had not done it out of malice toward David. People prayed for him and Father Brewster told him his sins were forgiven and he would be greeted with love.
I asked him if he would tell that to David. He was eager. He said he had been looking for David.
Ben sort of presented them to each other.
David said, "Anthony, I'm so sorry."
Anthony said, "David, I love you so much. I want you to come to the BIG PLACE with me."
David said, "Is it heaven?"
Anthony said, "It's better than heaven. We don't play harps!"
David couldn't help laughing a little.
There's quite bit more. David took some persuading. Anthony had to assure him he wasn't angry with him and that nobody would despise him and that there were important reasons for everything they had done. He reminded David that in all the time they had been friends he had never lied to him. Finally he reminded him of the blood oath they had sworn when they were boys. Something like "Together forever, near or far, where I go you go you go I go." Then they did their secret handshake.
Finally David agreed that he wanted Anthony to take him home. Then Ben told me they were gone.
It took me half a box of Kleenex to get through that experience. And the other half to tell it.