Back in the early nineties the magazine USA WEEKEND asked its readers for their own stories of the supernatural for a Halloween issue. To their surprise and delight, they received more than five hundred entries and eventually released an anthology of the one hundred best entries.
The anthology was published in 1992 under the title I NEVER BELIEVED IN GHOSTS UNTIL. . .100 REAL LIFE ENCOUNTERS.
The following, which I’ve paraphrased, was submitted by a lady from Texas, who was then in her seventies. It’s a story about an uncle she never knew, for he died some six years before she was born. She called the story “The Doughboy of World War I”; I call it “The Anniversary Walk.”
Her uncle’s name was Bill. He was one of a family of three brothers and three sisters, and he was closest to his sister Truth, who was two years older than him. She taught him to ride a horse bareback and standing up; in the family band he played clarinet alongside her violin. Truth was also a sleepwalker, and Bill always heard her and followed her on these excursions, making sure that she didn’t hurt herself and that she got back to her room safely.
Bill lied about his age when he enlisted in the Army. In 1917, at the age of seventeen, he sailed for France.
The family was interested in spiritualism, and frequently made use of a Ouija board. The day after Bill left for the war, his mother and Truth got out the board, and they used it every day for the next six months. They always asked the same question: “Is Bill well?”
For six months, the answer from the board was “Yes.”
Then one night the two women had the same dream: a Western Union messenger knocked at the door and delivered a telegram, one of the heartbreaking ones edged in black that once brought news of a death in battle: “Regret to inform you. . .”
That day, the question for the Ouija board changed: “Is Bill dead?” And the answer was “Yes.” The telegram arrived a week later; Bill had been killed in battle on October 31, 1917.
Twenty years later, on the night of October 31, the niece who gave the story to USA WEEKEND, then a fourteen-year-old, visiting the old family home, was awakened by the sound of footsteps outside her door. When she looked out she saw her aunt Truth sleepwalking, but she was not alone. She was accompanied by a slender, handsome young man in the uniform of a soldier from World War I, who carried a clarinet.
When she asked her grandmother about it the next morning, she was brusquely told that it was Truth and Bill on the “anniversary walk.” It was twenty years to the day since Bill’s death.
The “anniversary walk” continued even after the family home was sold and moved to another location. A newspaper office was built on the home’s original site, and the paper’s editor reported that every October 31st he would see a doughboy walk through the building, occasionally playing George M. Cohan’s great First World War era song “Over There” on the clarinet he always carried.
The lady reports that, as far as anyone knows, Bill’s ghost was last seen at Halloween 1987. The newspaper editor died shortly after that date in a car accident. More importantly, Bill’s beloved older sister, Truth, died the last week in December that year, at the age of eighty-nine.
Seems he was only waiting for her. . .over there.