The Ghost in the Wishing Well

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Young Adult  |  House: Booksie Classic
A story about a ghost who reads Shakespeare

Submitted: September 02, 2008

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Submitted: September 02, 2008



The Ghost in the Wishing Well



Claude bounded up the crest of the hill and peered into the murky depths of the wishing well, her eyes searching the darkness for any sign of movement.

She saw nothing.

Cocking her head she listened for any sound: the trickling or dripping of water or the gust of wind whistling through the damp air. She had been told that a ghost lived at the bottom of the wishing well who could sometimes be heard reciting Shakespeare.

Several moments of strained listening passed.

She heard nothing.

Claude tucked her straight black hair behind her ears and leaned as far into the well as she dared and called out.

"Hello Mr Ghost, are you there?" Her voice echoed down into the well searching for a listening ear.

There was no reply.

Claude stepped back onto firm ground to assess the situation, glancing back at the steep hill she had just climbed to reach the well. She did not want this to be a wasted journey so if there was a ghost in the wishing well Claude wanted to meet him, for she was a was a very determined little lady.

Studying the well closely she contemplated lowering herself down to the bottom on the bucket that hung from an old rope but she quickly decided that it was surely much too dark down there not to mention dirty and she didn't want to get her dress mucky.

She considered putting a note in the bucket asking the ghost to reveal himself, though she dismissed this idea too concluding that even if a ghost can read, how would he do so in the dark?

She frowned at the wishing well for several minutes calculating and eliminating idea after idea when, from nowhere, a simple thought struck her. How do I meet a ghost in a wishing well? Make a wish of course! Claude always liked simple ideas; complication was a trait for boys and grown ups.

She reached into the pocket of her dress and fished out a coin. It was a shiny new pound, which she had been planning to spend on a treat for the way home.

"Oh well," she said out loud, "meeting a ghost is much more exciting than any treat." She stretched up and over the wall of the well to carry out her simple plan. "I wish for the ghost who lives at the bottom of this wishing well to reveal himself." She spoke loudly and clearly then with a flick of her thumb tossed the coin in the air. It spun momentarily in front of her face then plummeted downward into the well's gloomy depths. Claude listened intently for the expected splash as the coin found the bottom.

She heard nothing.

Several impatient minutes passed. How deep could this well possibly be? Did I miss the splash? As the minutes ticked by and nothing happened Claude grew bored and irritable. There was obviously no ghost in this wishing well and not only had she wasted time and effort climbing the steep hill, but she had also thrown away all her money. She turned her back on the wall in a huff and walked off stomping her feet, which always made her feel better when things didn't go her way.

She was barely two metres from the well when she heard a voice drift after her. She spun on her heels and listened.

"Underneath the grave of the sycamore, so early did I see your son? Many a morning hath he there been, seen with tears augmenting the fresh morning dew."

The ghost!

Claude ran back to the well and flung her body at the wall, almost tumbling over in her haste.

"Hello there Mr Ghost," she called excitedly. The voice from below made a start; surprised that it was being spoken to.

"Um...hello there back," it replied.

"Why are you down there?" asked Claude. She was always very direct with her questions and often forgot such formalities as introductions.

"Erm...I'm the Ghost in the Wishing Well, you see," replied the ghost in the wishing well.

"I know that," Claude sighed, wearily, "can you come up here; I'd like to meet you?"

"Well, I say. What an interesting idea, but you see, if I come up there I'd no longer be the Ghost in the Wishing Well, I'd be the Ghost on the Wishing Well and I'm afraid that just wouldn't do."

"Oh please, just for a little while, you can go back down later and I promise I won't tell." There was a small pause as the ghost considered the girl’s request.

"You promise you won't tell?" he asked.

"Oh yes, I promise. I'm good at keeping promises and secrets too." This was very true, Claude never made promises lightly and had not broken one yet nor did she intend to.

"Well okay then, just for a little while, but you mustn’t tell, mind. Will you lower my bucket?"

Claude made a little jump of joy and began turning the large wooden handle, which slowly lowered the bucket into the darkness.

"Here it comes I hope it's not to far down."

"Not at all, I can see it already."

A few moments later the bucket was back at the top of the well and sitting on top it, rubbing his eyes in the sunlight, was the elusive ghost. He was an old man with a long white beard and dressed in ragged torn clothes. His whole body was translucent including the tatty, dog-eared book that he held in his hands. The ghost stared at Claude with a warm smile and she returned his stare triumphantly. She had never met a ghost before and here was one now sitting in a bucket in front of her. He looked the way Claude expected a ghost to look, shimmering in the light as the rays passed through his ethereal body. She was glad he was a friendly ghost.

"Hello," she said at last.

"Hello young lady," he answered.

"My name is Claude," said Claude.

"It's my pleasure to meet you, Claude." The old man didn't offer his name. Claude wondered if ghosts had names.

"What are you reading?" she asked pointing at the book that the ghost kept close to his chest. He held it up proudly, obviously his most prized possession. Claude guessed it might be his only possession though she refrained from saying so.

"Why it's Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare," he said gazing affectionately at the ragged pages.

"Is it good?" inquired Claude. The ghost was aghast.

"Good! Is it good? By Jove, have you not read it, dear?" Claude shook her head. She didn't read many books. "My dear Claude, it is one of the greatest stories ever told."

"Really what's it about?"

"It is a love story, dear. It is the tragic tale of two star-crossed lovers."

Claude snorted.

"Pah! How can a story about love be the greatest story ever told?" The ghost frowned and shook his head.

"I presume you have never been in love?"

"I most certainly have not. I’ll never fall in love, boys are almost as stupid as grown ups."

"As stupid as grown ups? Surely you will be a grown up one day too?" Claude folded her arms in defiance.

"Not me. I'll leave growing up for grown ups."

"Oh well then, I guess I'll be going then."

"No, no, don't go. Why do you want to leave already?"

"Well I was a grown up once too, before I became a ghost. Does that make me stupid?"

"Well of course not," laughed Claude, "You used to be a grown up but now you're a ghost which is much better. I might become a ghost too instead of growing up. Is it much fun?"

The ghost began laughing, a deep hearty laugh as if he had never found anything so amusing. Claude was scared he might fall from his bucket if he kept laughing like that.

"Oh little girl, you have much to learn. Being a ghost is not much fun at all. Would you really like to live at the bottom of a well for the rest of your days, listening to other people's wishes? It's not much fun at all. I'd give anything to get to heaven."

"Why can't you get to heaven?" The ghost suddenly took on a pained expression as though Claude had physically struck him. She instantly regretted the question.

"I'm not allowed; I did a terrible, terrible thing." The ghost looked utterly miserable and close to tears. Claude didn't want to find out if ghosts could cry but she was curious about the 'terrible thing' and before she could stop herself she asked:

"What terrible thing did you do?" The ghosts lifted his heavy eyes; his face had become older and weary, tired with years of grief, a face that brought a lump to Claude's throat.

"It is to do with love," said the ghost, his hand moving to his heart where the pain was strongest. "Love is the most powerful force in the universe, Claude. It can be the most beautiful and wondrous thing, which can make people deliriously happy, yet it can also turn sour and cause destruction and untold pain. But you wouldn't understand. You don't care about love do you?" The ghost closed his eyes unable to look at Claude, the girl who shunned love. Claude kicked her feet sheepishly.

"It's silly," she mumbled under her breath.

"Silly is it?" exclaimed the ghost, "petulant child, you know nothing. You have never experienced love and yet you dismiss it so quickly. Return me to my well; you’re making me more miserable than I already am."

Claude was ashamed of her self.

"No, please, I'm sorry," she begged, "don't go, please. I didn't mean to upset you. Will you tell me what happened? Tell me why can't you get to heaven?" The ghost rubbed his thick beard and considered the girl.

"Very well but you have to try to understand what love actually is. What it means to people, how it feels."

"I’ll try I promise, please tell me."

"Very well," the ghost said again beginning his story, "when I was alive I had a wonderful life. More than anyone could ask for. Why was it so perfect? Because I was in love. I was married for forty years to my beautiful wife Emily. Forty years of utterly blissful joy." At this point the ghost began to cry. Claude offered her handkerchief, which the ghost took gratefully and dabbed at his eyes. Ghosts could cry after all.

"I loved Emily dearly," he continued between sobs, "she was my soul mate, my life partner, she was the reason I existed. I loved her with every part of my being and I still do, despite my present state. She was everything to me, but then she got sick." Claude felt her stomach turn; she didn't think she was going to like this story.

"The sickness took over Emily and doctors said she was going to die, but we refused to believe it. We travelled to doctors all over the world convinced we would find one that would be able to help us. We looked all over Scotland, then England, all over Europe then on to America and Asia searching for someone, anyone who could help my Emily but every single doctor said the same thing. 'Your wife is going to die.'" The ghost broke down, the memory of the pain too much to bear, he sobbed into the handkerchief. Emily used the moment to discreetly wipe a tear from her own eye.

"I'm sorry Mr Ghost that is a terrible thing." The ghost shook his head.

"Please do not pity me, I don't deserve any pity. I watched my beautiful Emily get sicker and sicker. It drove me insane. I felt so helpless; there was nothing I could do to stop her dying. Eventually she became too weak to travel and we were force to stop searching for a cure. We moved into a house not far from this well where I watched my Emily die.

“In her last few days she asked me to read to her. Her favourite story was Romeo and Juliet, the greatest love story ever told, she said. It reminded her of us; a tragic tale of star cross'd lovers. At least we had our forty years together unlike the lovers in the book.

I read to her as best I could and as she laid dying in her bed I spoke quicker and clearer trying to finish the story before she was gone but I wasn't fast enough. She died before the end, before the last act." Claude gasped, tears pouring freely down her cheeks. The ghost looked at her, his eyes filled with a deep sadness beyond anything Claude could imagine. "My dear girl, when love is taken from you a pain settles in your heart. A pain so unbearable, so savage, that it consumes you. I left the house that evening and came up to this well. All I wanted was to be with my Emily, to finish reading her the story. I was tormented with pain and I missed her so terribly so I leaped into the well where my spirit has remained ever since."

"You killed yourself, that's why you can't get into heaven?" Claude had never heard anything so sad and so terrible in all her life.

"That's right. I couldn't live without Emily so I took my own life to be with her, how foolish I was. Now I am stuck here until I make amends. I must spend an eternity without my love as punishment." He stared down at the tatty book he held in his hands, the same book he read to his wife those many years ago. He stroked the cover affectionately as though it were his wife's face he was seeing. Claude felt utter sympathy and sorrow. Se wanted to help the poor ghost, but how?

"There must be a way for you to be with your wife again, Mr Ghost?" He smiled gratefully but shook his head. "But you said you had to make amends for what you did, so surely there is a way?"

"I doubt it, how can I make amends for something so terrible. I'm a ghost stuck in a wishing well, what can I possibly do? It’s not like I can grant anyone their wishes." They both sighed in unison.

Claude thought hard. How could she help the ghost? She didn't think what he did was so terrible just very sad for he only wanted to be with his wife, the woman he loved so much. Claude didn't really understand how love worked; maybe she needed to find out more before she could help the ghost.

"Em...Mr Ghost, maybe you could teach me," she said sheepishly. The ghost was puzzled.

"Teach you? Teach you what?"

"About love."

"About love? I thought you said love was silly?"

"I guess I don't really know but maybe if you teach me, and I understand what love is, I might be able to help you."

"Well maybe, but how can I teach you? Love is something you must experience for yourself."

"You could read me that story. You said it was the greatest love story ever told. That’s a good a place as any to start and it might even make you feel better to finish reading the story to someone." The ghost sat in stunned silence. "Well what do you think?"

"My dear sweet girl," he said smiling, “I think that is a most delightful idea. I'd love to read the story to you, but do you really want to understand what love is?" Claude thought for a moment. It was a fair question, did she really want to learn or did she just feel sorry for the ghost. She had always found the notion of love a silly thing grown-ups did but she felt different now, curious. She wanted to feel what the ghost had felt for his wife. She wanted to understand.

"Yes Mr Ghost, I really do. Will you read me the story?" A smile spread across the ghost's face and the years of misery behind his eyes softened to a dull ache.

"I would be honoured dear Claude. Please sit down and get comfortable." Claude sat on the lush grass with her back against the well. The sun was gloriously warm on her face and she shut her eyes as the ghost began to read.

"Two households both alike in dignity, in fair Verona where we lay our scene. From ancient grudge break to new mutiny where civil hands unclean, from forth the fatal loins of these two foes, a pair of star cross'd lovers take their life."

The ghost was an excellent storyteller having had years of practice at the bottom of his well. He quickened the pace of his voice at the exciting parts and softened almost to a whisper at the tender moments. He read well into the afternoon and Claude lay on the ground staring absently up at the blue summer sky savouring every word of what was indeed the greatest love story ever told. Toward the last act the ghost faltered and Claude looked up at him concerned.

"I've never been able to read past this part,” he sobbed, “It was where Emily died."

"I know it's hard but it might help you and I'm enjoying it so much. Please go on." The ghost nodded firmly.

"Of course, of course, forgive me." And with that he read on. Claude closed her eyes again picturing every scene in her head as the story began to climax. As the ghost read the final words of the tragic tale fresh tears fell from Claude's eyes and she could hear the poignant sorrow in the ghost’s voice as Romeo and Juliet took their own lives. Claude lay still for several moments letting the tears trace lines down her face. Eventually she wiped her eyes and turned to the ghost only to find that he had vanished.

She leapt to her feet and peered into the well, "Mr Ghost, Mr Ghost, where did you go?"

She heard nothing.

"Please Mr Ghost come back, I want to thank you, please come back."

There came no reply.

As she stepped back from the well she noticed something inside the bucket where the ghost had previously been sitting. It was a small dog-eared book. It was old and filthy and looked like it had been there for many, many years. She picked it up and read the faint writing one the front cover. 'Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare.'

She smiled and put it the book in her pocket.

"You won't be needing it anymore will you?" she whispered, then, turning on her heels, she skipped away from the wishing well feeling more than a little grown up.

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