Young Ben Franklin, Ghost Hunter
Publishing Date: 2/20/2014

                   


Benjamin Franklin looked up from the freshly-painted newspaper and asked his brother, James, “Did you read the story you printed on page 15?”

The paper in his hands was called The New England Courant. It was the first newspaper in their hometown of Boston, and his brother had founded it.

They sat alone in the newspaper’s humble office, the heavy windowpanes keeping out the dark. “What, the ship’s schedules for the week?” James asked petulantly, furiously scribbling notes with a feather pane. His long, almost delicate fingers were stained with ink from the well in the desk where he sat.

The two brothers were not close. Young Ben, barely 15, worked as a printer’s apprentice for the paper but despite being its founder and CEO, older brother James treated him like the janitor.

Still, Ben’s inquisitive mind had immediately pounced on the story printed in that day’s Courant. “No, the story below that, where it talks about Mrs. Whipple’s paranormal encounter?”

Ben eyes his brother curiously, but James merely wagged his hand in disinterest. “That? We only placed that there because Mr. Whipple spends a hefty amount on advertising each week! Utter trifle, that story.”

But Ben didn’t think so. He slipped the story into a pocket in his heavy, leather printer’s apron and excused himself. His shift was over and, as he stepped into the dimly lit streets of Colonial Boston, he slipped a pipe from one pocket and lit it before sliding the folded newsprint out of the other.

“Spirits Haunt Local Tavern,” blared the headline of the article that so interested young Benjamin. Fine, white smoke curled around his head in the light of the flickering streetlamp as he strained his eyes to read further: “Local governess Mrs. Victoria Whipple was frightened last night when she heard moaning in the back room of her grog shop, the Beef & Bull. But how could that be, Victoria wondered, when she’d closed up shop an hour earlier? Upon further inspection, a frightened and agitated Mrs. Whipple encountered the shadowy spectre of a man named Godfrey Saville, her barman. That is, until he was run down by a horse in front of Lester Square six months hence…”

Young Benjamin finished his pipe but lingered over the article, rereading it several times before sliding it back into his heavy apron pocket. His fingers rustled the fragile newsprint of several others articles as he pulled them out, one by one, scanning each headline:

“Guests complain about moans and groans at local tavern,” blared one headline, buried on page 14 of the Courant.

“Spooky spectre drives business away from the Beef & Bull tavern,” railed another.

Six headlines in all, all dating back to a few weeks after Godfrey Saville’s funeral. Benjamin Franklin nodded to himself knowingly, tamping out his pipe on the bottom of his boot heel and hanging his apron on a hook nailed into the back door of his brother’s paper.

The Beef & Bull would be closing soon; he had a few things to prepare before he paid a late night visit to Boston’s most haunted tavern. 

* * * * *

Ben Franklin placed the satchel on the top of the wall in the alley behind the Bear & Bull Tavern. His full head of dark, black hair was swept up in a ponytail to keep his eyes and ears open as his young legs straddled the alley wall before slipping, silently, into the street.

He reached up and grabbed the leather satchel, slinging it over his arm as he bent to the tavern’s back door. The knob was brass and the lock was old and rusty, corroded from years spent moldering in Boston’s salty air. He picked it easily, referring often to a small, leather bound journal he’d bought in a back alley weeks earlier calledThe Lockpicker’s Bible.

Once the door was open he paused, sliding the slim book inside his satchel and reaching for another. With his free hand, he grabbed a candleholder off the nearest, roughhewn table top. It was cheap tin with a curved handle you looped around your finger. Ben lit it with a matchbook kept handy in his breaches pocket, and then held it closer to his face.

The book was called Incantations for the Conduction of Curious Cases. He crept toward the bar, long deserted now and smelling faintly of vinegar and turpentine. The weak light cast a thin, orange glow upon the empty barstools and thick, brown glass bottles.

He found the spell he was looking for and began reading, “Fulsinata fulcrumorom, spartacanum bellarosum…” in a quiet, faltering voice. He had read up on the incantation plenty of times before, but sitting in his darkened parlor while the rest of the house slept was one thing; being in the presence of a potential spectre was quite another!

The moaning began almost immediately; a persistent and dangerous sound that seemed to ooze from the basement beneath the bar. It wasn’t alone: a thin trail of green fog wafted up from the basement storage area, reeking of death and decay.

Ben gagged but continued reading the incantation: “Fulsinata fulcrumorom, spartacanum bellarosum…”

Fulsinata fulcrumorom, spartacanum bellarosum…”

Fulsinata fulcrumorom, spartacanum bellarosum…”

With each whispered breath – Ben dare not shout the words that were an ancient Druid phrase for “Become your physical form” – any louder for fear of angering the ghost rather than imprisoning it.

The thin tendrils of green, smoky fog grew thicker as, at last, footsteps pounded on the thick basement steps.

Fulsinata fulcrumorom, spartacanum bellarosum…”

Pound.

Fulsinata fulcrumorom, spartacanum bellarosum…”

Thump.

Fulsinata fulcrumorom, spartacanum bellarosum…”

Pound. Thump.

Ben’s voice quavered, but never faltered, not even when the basement door flew open, swinging too far and shattering several bottles of whiskey. They smashed and thick brown liquid oozed to the floor, coating the mud-covered boots of one Godfrey Saville!

“Who dares mock me with thy words?” spoke Godfrey, voice dry and scratchy like the grinding of corn husks in the autumn mill.

“Still yourself, phantom!” barked Ben, voice low and firm despite the fact that his own feet were frozen in place on the other side of the bar.

Godfrey’s face was thin and gaunt, a pale version of the ruddy blacksmith who had spent most of his days at none other than the Bear & the Bull, knocking back pewter draughts of home brewed ale.

He still wore the cheap black suit he’d been buried in and, when he shifted to gaze more onerously at the young boy who had summoned him from below, young Ben could see the back cut out of it; an old mortuary tradition.

“Who be ya?” Godfrey asked, eyes white with no pupils yet still seeing.

“I’m your savior, old man,” Ben said confidently. “I’ve given you new life, so that you might go on firm feet and seek vengeance against those who have wronged you.”

“But how?” asked Godfrey, a cock of his head revealing the tight tendons on his scrawny neck. “I am but a spectre now, doomed to—”

“How do you think you walked up those steps, Master Seville?” barked Ben, impatient now; the clock was ticking. “How do you think you stand on that floor without floating away? I have given you your limbs, old man, so you may seek vengeance and find peace, further to haunt this establishment no more.”

As if for proof, Godfrey held a large, calloused hand in front of his face; though pale, it was flesh and blood and ghostly no more. For proof, Godfrey slammed it on the bar, pounding sawdust from the very wood. His eyes, opaque as milk, glassy as fresh cream, nonetheless glimmered as he grinned, ear to scruffy ear. He reached behind him, grabbing one of the broken bottles and emptying it into his gaping maw.

“Godfrey,” Ben reminded the ghost turned flesh. “My spell has bought you one hour, best not to waste it in the pursuit of old habits.”

Godfrey ignored the young man until the bottle was dry, then passed a ragged sleeve across his mottled gray lips. In moments his boots dragged across the floor, heading for the tavern’s front door.

As if expecting to pass through it, Godfrey bumped his nose into the heavy paned glass, only to curse and kick it open instead. His heavy boots clamored on the front stoop until stepping into the muddy streets.

Young Ben Franklin waited, dragging one last newspaper story from his pocket. The headline read, “Foul play suspected in local blacksmith’s death, insufficient evidence cited in bringing charges.”

Further down, young Franklin read the following line: “Reportedly angered by an outstanding bar tab the length of one’s own arm, Mr. Frances Dormand Whipple the Third and his wife, Victoria Whipple, were questioned repeatedly by local authorities. But with each spouse alibying the other for the night of the suspected murder, and no physical evidence to connect either two to the crime, charges were never filed and…”

Young Ben smiled, inching around the bar and wiping off a pewter mug. He poured himself a warm beer and waited, wondering what the Whipples might be thinking as a ghost made flesh came seeking vengeance for the wrong that created his spectral vengeance in the first place…

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COMMENTS
Olivia Wednesday, September 05, 2012

:D I really enjoyed that one! Would love to see more of young ghost-redeeming Ben Franklin. Hope there are many adventures yet to come! Was this based on research of Mr. Franklin's interest in the o

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