A Ghost, A Lamp, and A Priest

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Religion and Spirituality  |  House: Booksie Classic

I leaned forward, the seriousness of my face brought into the light of the lantern I had placed on the table. “Benjamin, do you feel abandoned and forgotten?”
“Every day,”
“I have something to tell you,” I said. I waited for his response. When none came, I went on. “You did not believe a lie when you were alive. You were living in the strongest truth.”

A Ghost, A Lamp, and A Priest

Ria Daisy

2015

I have nightmares all the time.  

I’ve had them since I was a little boy.

I’m now 65 years old.

I still have them more often than not.

They’re usually horribly rendered versions of things I’ve actually seen. For example, the most recent one was based in a memory dating back to the time I was still a young doctor; before I became a priest. At that time, doctors used to go to each patients house individually. This little girl’s name was Anne Elise; the patient in my dream. In the nightmare, I was in her bedroom at the time of her death. All the details from the actual day were the same in my nightmare except two things were very different.

One: Anne Elise’s soul did not shine, then excel upward into a beam of light as pure and innocent souls like hers do. Hers instead spiraled downward.

Two: I caught a glimpse of another soul in the room, lurking in the corner, bright and intrusive.

Anne Elise enters my nightmares often as she was my last patient. The nightmares usually end in the same way; the poor girl’s soul doesn’t return to Heaven, but in fact, is sucked into the devil’s grasp. I’d never seen the second soul in the room before however until the most recent version of the dream.

These days, I have quite a different job than that of a doctor. As I mentioned before, I am a priest, but I have a very specific job. I’ve never met anyone else assigned to it as I am. Since an early age, God has given me a gift to see things in the spiritual realm; the part of our lives that is lived outside what is visible. I understand; that sounds spooky and very unbelievable. Believe what you want, but I make it a living. I do a lot of exorcisms and things of that sort.

It was frightening once I first discovered it, and it still can be from time to time. But the flip side of this grace is that it makes things like the Mass and the sacraments so much more beautiful. No one can see the graces that God flows into his people while praying nor do they get to experience physically seeing their sins washing off of them and the demons retreating in fear after a confession. It truly is quite amazing. As these are my favorite parts of my vocation, they’re not the main ones. I also get to seek out “haunted” places, and try to see what’s going on and what can be done.  

Yes, ghosts are real.

But they’re not the spooky, awful things books and movies make them out to be. Usually. Most of the time, they’re not hostile at all; they’re just sad and lonely. They want to return home, but instead, they’ve chosen to wander Earth. Typically, they do not realize they’re still attached to something here, and my job is to figure out why they’re still here and how we can fix it.

***

I got called in by the archbishop of New Orleans one October. He pulled me quietly into his office. I took of my black Fedora and long black coat. New Orleans wasn’t cold like up North where I was used to nippy weather already arriving this time of year.

“It’s good to finally meet you, Fr. Caine,” he greeted with a warm smile.

“Thank you,” I nodded. “What is it that you needed to see me for, Archbishop?”

“Well, Father, I called you in because we needed someone of your expertise,” he explained, rounding his desk, pulling open a drawer, and fingering through some files and papers. “Louisiana plantations are common places for ghost stories to occur as you are probably well aware of.” He straightened himself up from bending forward and presented to me a file. “I have heard about you for a long time; you’re a popular name in the Catholic community.” That has been a fact for many years that I’m not comfortable with. “I was hoping you could help us out with a particular problem.”

“Yes, Archbishop, anything,” I responded.

“There’s been stories of a local haunting for many decades,” the archbishop explained to me. “It’s been a tourist attraction for several years now.” Inwardly, I sighed; I hate it when those kinds of things happen. A trapped, weary soul becomes a way for those still alive to make money off of their restlessness; it’s sad, really. “On a more recent tour to it, a name was scribed onto the wall. Someone brought in a photograph for me to have a look.” He opened up the file, so I stepped forward to get a good look at it.

Dr. Albert Caine

I observed it silently, trying to figure out what sort of medium was used to write the name. The wall was a light blue, washed out by the flash of the camera. The words appeared to be etched into the wall as if a knife was used to rip through it. The glossy photo paper shined, glistening under the light. I put my hand forward, requesting to take it from the archbishop for a moment.

“Do you know what it could mean?” the archbishop asked. “Maybe, why someone wrote your name on that wall?” I held the picture in my hand, staring hard at it. I’ve never lived in Louisiana, not even when I was a doctor. I’d always been stationed in New York. I stood there observing it without a word for a moment, trying to think. “Could it be a prank?” I looked up from my thoughts to see the New Orleans Archbishop with a puzzled, concerned expression on his visage.

“I can go down there and take a look,” I offered, glancing at the picture. He gave me the address, and I was off. It was the evening, so I decided the next day would be better to go investigate. Driving home, I tried to think of who could have done this and maybe even why. Apparently, whoever it was knew me several decades ago when I was still a doctor, and maybe didn’t even know I was a priest now.

***

I arrived at the plantation with only my trusty suitcase in tow. I’d packed and prepared for whatever I may encounter; whether it be a ghost, a demon, or nothing. I didn’t have high hopes of finding anything, but I was ready if necessary. I put on my game face, parked the car, and got to searching. Tours had stopped since the whole phenomenon had occurred, so I was alone. While at a coffee stand in the morning however, I had seen a story of the whole incident in the local newspaper.

For a long time now, I’ve been in an ongoing conversation with the Lord. When I’m unsure, I talk to him. When I’m scared, I talk to him. When I’m relieved, I talk to him. When I’m still, I listen. In those hours of slowly walking through the grand, empty plantation, I discussed things with him like my confusion of the whole situation. He is always there to comfort me in my mind, even when I don’t feel the comfort; I know he’s there all the time. I see him often.

Do you know what I found in that huge, shadowy plantation?

Nothing.

Absolutely nothing out of the ordinary.

I was able to see with my own eyes my name clawed violently into the wall of the house; cut out in a sort of outraged way. Other than that, I found no souls hiding in there.

As the sun drew nearer to the horizon, it poured sunlight through the mossy oaks. I soaked in the gorgeous lawn, deciding it’d be the last place I would check before abandoning the whole thing together. By one of the larger oak trees was one single swing that had been attached to tree’s branch by an aging rope for who knows how long. Though there was no breeze, it seemed to sway back and forth ever so slightly; as if someone had been playing on it a few minutes prior.

Leisurely, I strolled down to this oak. The insects that lived there cried out in evening songs, and other than the sounds of my crunching, approaching footsteps, there were no sounds to indicate that anyone was there but me.

As I took my steps closer and closer to the oak, my eye caught a shimmering light at the base of the tree. I kept my gaze on it, watching it as I closed the distance between it and myself. The light was soft and glowing, competing against the bright golden lights of the evening sun. Once close enough, I was able to make out a shape; it was the soul of a young boy. He appeared to be around fourteen. Poor kid.

I detached my stare from him, looking out into the yard, and placed myself on the swing. It was my first rest of the day. It felt good to sit and take the weight off of my feet. I didn’t look at the boy nor did I acknowledge him. You have to understand; these spirits aren’t used to interacting with people anymore. They’re also not used to being seen or known. I take this all into account when I come across a lost soul.

The boy noticed me; I knew because from my peripherals I could see him slowly rising up from resting as to not make a sound. His light flickered a little bit from his movement as a candles light reacts to the air around it.

“Do not be afraid, young man,” I said to him, still casting my gaze forward. “I know you’re here.” He froze, his light retreating into himself, away from me. He didn’t speak to me which is what I expected. “I know you’re standing to my left. I know you’re here. And I’m not afraid of you.” I turned my head to look directly at him. I could make out only his stature and outline; the sun washed out all details of his face which is usually visible on a ghost.

“I know that people don’t normally talk to you because no one has ever really seen you before,” I told him. “Not since you’ve died.” I waited for his response, his reply or anything to indicate what he was feeling or thinking.  

“You’re a priest,” he finally whispered, like he’d forgotten what volume was appropriate for conversation.

‘I know you were expecting a doctor,’ I thought to myself. The sun slipped down lower, beneath the thick collection of trees now. The boy’s light was now able to rest in the shadows.

“How did you know I was here?” he asked in his young voice, raspy from nonuse.

“God allows me to see things no one else can,” I replied.

We were quiet for a long time. I only just stared at him, letting him get used to the fact that he was seen. He still hadn’t moved from the position he’d frozen in. We sat there quietly until sunset; it was almost completely dark when I stood up.

“Will you stay with me?” he requested as if afraid of losing me. I blinked, my eyes never leaving him.

“If I stay, will you talk with me?” I asked him.

“Yes,” he answered simply.

“I need a light,” I informed him. “Won’t you follow me inside?” When he didn’t answer, I started making my way back to the plantation. I had to be careful in the night; there was no light for me to see. A soul’s light is different from that of a visible one, as it doesn’t illuminate what’s around itself; it doesn’t cast a shadow, it really only blinds out whatever’s behind it. I knew the boy was behind me when I heard his footsteps perusing mine. I entered the plantation, embraced by complete blackness.

“I’ll get you a lantern,” he offered and left my side. When he returned, he was carrying an old oil lamp. I took it from him gratefully. I ignored my hunger, doubting there was any food left within the house as no one had lived in it for a long time. I eased myself into a chair at the long dining room table.

“What’s your name, son?” I inquired.

“Benjamin,”

I nodded, crossing my arms with a contemplative sigh.

“I haven’t talked to anybody for what feels like… forever,”

“I’m so sorry,”

“You really can’t understand how lonesome it is out here,” he told me in a shivering voice. “How’d you know I’d be here?”

“I didn’t… Everyone knows about the name on the wall though. Did you do that?”

“Yes,”

“Well, I-“

“Father, can I ask you something?”

I nodded.

“Do you ever get mad at God?”

“Sometimes, yes,”

I don’t think he was expecting this answer. “You do?”

“Yes. Are you angry, Benjamin?”

“I don’t want to be,” he responded. “But yes, Father, I’m very angry. Why do you get angry at him?”

“The world is very unfair, so I wonder why that is a lot of the time,” I answered. “Why must there be young children who die to diseases and families who die of hunger? Those are the things I ask him often.” Benjamin listened silently; his soul sort of swayed in thought.

“Why did he leave me here?” Benjamin asked me. It was the question I felt most probably plagued his soul since his death. “All my life, I thought I loved God. And I thought he loved me. But ever since I’ve been stuck here… I’ve grown more and more furious.” The lights shortened a bit and grew sharpened edged. “I wasted my entire life believing a lie. And I hate that.”

I leaned forward, the seriousness of my face brought into the light of the lantern I had placed on the table.

“Benjamin, do you feel abandoned and forgotten?”

“Every day,”

“I have something to tell you,” I said. I waited for his response. When none came, I went on. “You did not believe a lie when you were alive. You were living in the strongest truth.”

“I don’t believe you,” he answered. “And besides, how would you know? You’re a priest; you have to believe it. Father, you have not existed for decades and decades on end, trapped in a place you don’t belong or don’t want to be. Every day here reminds me in a more real way how God has forgotten me and doesn’t care.”

“You’re right, Benjamin, I haven’t,” I agreed, gently. “There’s something you probably don’t know though. God really wants you back in his kingdom because he loves you. There’s something you’re holding onto that won’t allow him to get you there.”

“If you mean Heaven, I don’t want to go there anymore,” he admitted. “It’d be too painful now,”

“What do you mean?”

After a long pause, he said, “There’s someone there that I love a lot.” I sat and listened, still leaned in close to him. “And God loved her too, so he took her. Now I’m here, alone. Unloved.”

“Is there something you’re still holding on to, Benjamin?”

“Nothing,”

“Nothing?”

“I don’t want anything in this world anymore,” he told me. “The one I loved is gone like I said; she’s the only thing I miss, and the only thing I truly want.”

“Why is that?”

“She’s the only person that ever really loved me,”

“I’m sorry, Benjamin,”

“It’s okay,” he assured me, a bittersweet tone wafting through his statement. “She really was all I needed; she really fulfilled me. She’s the one who converted me to Christianity. She had a lot of faith, and she cared a lot about other people.”

“Did she think God loved her?”

“Absolutely with her whole heart,”

“Do you think she was living in a lie?”

“No,” he answered without thinking. “God really loves her; he’d be crazy not to.”

“Did she think God loved you?”

“She said so, but of course, she was wrong,”

“You think so?”

“She really couldn’t know that God would leave me here like he did,”

“I think that you are holding on to something, Benjamin”

“I told you, Father, there’s nothing here that I want anymore,”

“I think you’ve kept a hold of an old memory,”

He fell silent.

“What do you think?”

“I don’t know, maybe,”

“Would you like to tell me about your last day alive?”

After a hesitant thought, he replied, “I’ve never told anyone.”

“I know. Only tell me if you feel comfortable doing so,”

“I want to try,”

I listened attentively.

“I was the helping hand on a plantation. Even though slavery had long become illegal, the social ways had not changed much in the few decades to come. My mother was hired to work on the plantation when I was very young, and of course, I’d come along with her. Sometimes, I still miss my mama… but she died when I only nine. After she passed, the family who owned the plantation still let me stay. They were quite kind, and they treated me alright.

“One day, at fourteen years old, I got very sick. I was throwing up, and I had a very high fever. The family insisted I go lay down and rest; I guess they were expecting it to be just a minor cold. However, I went to go lay down, and I recall being very drowsy. It was the sleepiest feeling… By this point, the plantation owner’s daughter and I had become very close. She was the one who suggested I leave my work to go lay down actually.

“Well, slowly, I started drifting off to sleep; it was a cozy sort of slumber. Yet, as I started settling into it, I felt a tug. It was a beckoning kind of tug; at first it started gentle, but slowly, it gained more strength. I felt myself being lifted up and up and up… I realized I could look down and see my body. I thought, ‘Oh, Lord, I’m dying! I’m dying!’ I tried to wake up or sink back down. Then my next thoughts were a prayer, ‘Lord, I’ll surrender to you, I promise. Just let me see Anne Elise one last time. Oh, God, please!’”

In the middle of his story, I felt a sinking feeling in my stomach. I made no outward sign of it, but I recognized the name of the girl; Anne Elise. She had been my last patient, and the most current visitor in my world of nightmares. I tried to put it aside, to stay focused on Benjamin’s tale.

“I didn’t let myself get past the roof. At first, I felt relieved because I’d get to see her one last time. But, there was one drawback. My body was still on the bed motionless and dead.” There was a pang in Benjamin’s young voice; hollow and grieving. “It was the weirdest sensation. All I could do was stare at myself.” This seemed to be the end of his story. And I had finally connected the dots.

“The name on the wall…” I said after his story was over. “Why did you write that name?” Benjamin’s soul emitted a pulsing, contemplative light.

“There is one thing I didn’t mention that I still hold on to, Father,”

“What’s that?”

“Anne Elise’s last letter,” out of the bright light came a physical object; a yellow letter. The page crinkled, aging and worn out. “She wrote it while I was in the room with her; it was the same day she died.” I started thinking maybe this was somewhat of a coincidence; I had never lived in the South. Maybe this was a different Anne Elise, treated by a different Dr. Caine.

“Did she pass away here?” I inquired calmly.

“No,” he answered. “This is where we all lived together, but her family moved to New York after I passed away. I followed them.” Heart sinking, I realized this was all coming together. “Sometimes, I wonder if she knew I was always right beside her.”

“So, this letter here was her last one?” I pointed to the floating piece of paper.

“Yes… it was addressed to the doctor who was seeing her,” he explained. “She was sick a few months after me. I never left her in the room alone; I didn’t want her to feel lonely or scared.”

“Dr. Caine wasn’t able to cure her,” I said, watching that letter.

“No,” Benjamin said, a piece of regret stuck somewhere in his voice. “The day she died was also her last appointment. She penned this letter, and when he walked in, she stuffed it away before she was able to finish. The doctor walked in, grabbed her hand, started to talk to her, and soon, I watched her soul slowly disconnect from her body.” I swallowed hard; we’d both seen it. We’d both experienced that day together. It had haunted us both for so many years. “Her soul didn’t linger here a second once it did; her spirit was so beautiful. It was full of light and color; it went straight towards the sky, without any hesitation. And she was gone. Before I could say good-bye.”

We rested together, each facing the other. The light of his soul was dimmed now as a deep sorrow casted itself over him. A mourning that had taken root over forty years ago had cultivated itself inside him and taken over the care and love that used to reside within him.

“Benjamin,” I sighed, feeling a little low myself.

“Would you like to read the letter?”

I looked up at it as it was handed forward, hovering inches from me. In a normal situation, I’d say, ‘No, it was written for the doctor.’ But I was the doctor; it was address to me. Tentatively, I took it between my fingers, and I unfolded it.

Dear Dr. Albert Caine,

It has now been six months that you have been treating me. There are no amount of words to describe how deeply grateful I am that you have tried to cure me for so long. It is very obvious how much you truly care for each one of your patients. It is a source of solace to the ones you are healing. Thank you. Your gentleness and care make me feel unafraid of what may happen in the next few days.

I assume that by the time you read this, I will have already passed away. I have accepted a long time ago my fate, and that it is a reality that God’s will is to allow me to return home only after being here thirteen glorious years. I wanted to write you this letter as a way to let you know that I am okay. I understand that you have done all you can. But God has given me a strength to submit to his will which seems a little frightening now. But I know that his plan will always lead to love, so I do feel a certain peace.

And the letter stopped there. I let the last line sink into my heart, like a remedial medicine. Instead of the tears that I wanted to shed there, I had to scoot them aside for now. This was about Benjamin and his letting go.

“I can’t read, Father,” Benjamin confessed as I folded the grace filled words back up. “I really wish I could know what she said to him.”

“You’ve never read this?”

“I never learned to read. I wrote the name on the wall by copying what the letters looked like,”

“There is something I should tell you, Benjamin,” I sighed, placing my letter on the table beside the lamp. “I didn’t mention to you what my name was.” Benjamin’s soul flicked once in anticipation. “I was not always a priest. I have not always been called Father. Before I was a priest, my name was Dr. Albert Caine.”

“You’re Dr. Caine,” Benjamin realized. I straightened up, bringing my face away from the lantern.

“Yes, son, I am the doctor that treated Anne Elise,”

“Oh, no…” he started retreating away from me.

“I too watched Anne Elise die,”

“You…” he seemed to be trying to form a sentence.

“Benjamin, I am so very sorry that there was nothing I could do to save her,” I started apologizing. “I tried for so long to help her. Once she passed away, I couldn’t be a doctor anymore. The pain of losing her was just too much. I wish I could have saved her; I’m so sorry.”

“But you didn’t save her,” Benjamin said. “She’s gone now. Because of you.” With that statement, he sent an arrow of agony into my heart. Confusions from years ago that I thought had been healed were ripped open, and they stung as if fresh again. He was now stationed at the edge of the table, away from me.

“You’re right, Benjamin,” I said lowly, full of regret. “I didn’t save her. She is gone now.”

“How can you see something like that happen and think that God loves everybody?” he cried out, surrounded by thickets of pain. “If God loved you, he wouldn’t have made you watch her die! If he really loved Anne Elise like I did, he wouldn’t have kept her sick! She would have lived here, happy and healthy. Instead, he took her for himself. And I know he doesn’t love me because I’m still here.”

“Yes, Anne Elise’s death was a tragedy,” I uttered, mentally seeing her cold face sweetly resting. “And it caused her family so much sadness.” I glanced at the letter and smiled a little. “But in her letter, Benjamin, she wasn’t sad.”

“What?”

“Anne Elise said she was at peace with God’s will,”

Benjamin stayed silent.

“She said the Lord’s plan always results in love,”

“Why would she think that?”

“She wasn’t deterred by pain or suffering,” I explained. “Even through all of it, she kept her eyes on the Lord. She knew deeply that God loved her, and that dying wasn’t the end of her life nor was it a sign of God’s dislike towards her. She realized there was nothing to fear in death as life was really residing in it all along; a life of eternal love and peace and joy.”

“Did she say all that in her letter?”

“Not in those words, but her heart made this evident” When he didn’t say anything, I stood up and picked up the lantern, leaving the letter on the table. “She was a very wise little girl.”

“I know,”

“I know you don’t believe me, but in heaven is where you’re going to feel fulfilled, not here on Earth,”

“I haven’t felt fulfilled being here at all,”

“Then why stay?”

“I can’t face her,”

“Didn’t you say she always loved you more than anyone else?”

“Yes,”

“Then she will embrace you completely,”

“How do I get there? How do I leave here?”

“Like I said before, you have to let go,”

“Let go…”

“Let go of all those years of rejection, the memory of those last moments with her, the letter, my inability to keep her here,” with each addition to the list, I took a step forward, exposing Benjamin to the light of my lamp. “Let go of all that anger and pain you’ve grasped onto so desperately to chain those things in place. They’ve only been hurting you. Let them go.”

I was now surrounded by the light from Benjamin’s spirit. I couldn’t see anything else around me. I just stared deep into his core, witnessing his struggle to finally unclench and free all those wounds that had caused so much pain for so long.

“Once you’ve emptied yourself, let God’s love just pour in. Let his tender mercy seep into your being, heal those wounds, bind them. Your hearts will become one, and you will feel whole again. But only you can let him do so. Only you can let him in. Only you can empty yourself and accept God. He will not force himself onto you.”

A like a sigh that had been stifled since the beginning of time, Benjamin’s soul eased and flowed through the room. At a peaceful, methodical pace, Benjamin pulsed and glowed as if to the rhythm of a loving heartbeat. The light slowly started to disperse into small twinkling fragments like sparkling fireflies. Soon, Benjamin was gone, and I was left behind.

It was just me and God.

And the beautiful words of Anne Elise rested on the table. I allowed those words to break into my heart and take root. It was able to get through old, rocky soil of my heart, hardened by years of guilt and burden. I thanked God that Benjamin was able to let go. And that God used Benjamin and Anne Elise to help me do the same.

Yes, I still have nightmares.

But the words of Anne Elise never cease to chase them out.


Submitted: July 16, 2015

© Copyright 2022 Ria Daisy. All rights reserved.

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