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Writer's Corner- New Brunswick

The Haunting of Mariner's old barn
We couldn't believe our good luck — finding an abandoned organ

By: Barry L. Hatt

   Halloween has always been a time of excitement. The fact that it began as a pagan festival doesn't mean a thing to the children. To them it is the excitement of getting dressed up in a costume, restricted only by their imagination, and, of course, the candy. An old barn can be a magical and spooky place - as Barry Hatt discovered as a child.
   It was the same back in the 1960s in L'Etang. The major difference was that L'Etang only had 12 or 13 houses on the road, and, seven or eight on the Lime Kiln Road.
   "To put this in the proper perspective you have to realize that the Lime Kiln Road was a winding, old dirt road and that the homes were separated in the most part by long distances. An added bonus was the fact that there were no street lights to get in the way of good Halloween fun.
    Back then there weren't any Nintendo machines or other such machinery to bide the time of a growing 'youth. Summer vacation was a time of exploration and imagination. Every nook and cranny of L'Etang was explored. The coves and beaches became battlegrounds with the sling of David and Goliath fame or landing places of villainous pirates.
    The forests became Sherwood where Robin Hood and his band of Merry men protected the poor and weak of heart. Cowboys and Indians could turn up almost anywhere.
   Abandoned buildings became haunted houses and were open to exploration and excitement. This is where Mariner McConnell's barn came into play. The house had burnt down in the early 1950s, leaving an Old barn and a couple of old sheds on the property.
   Wayne, Eugene and I were usually hanging around together, and often getting into mischief together.
    During our explorations we felt that we had better check out the barn, which was getting old and rickety. Entry was gained through a loose board.
   Old barns have an identity of their own and Mariner's was no different. The sunlight filtered through the cracks in the old, dry barn boards, leaving the dust suspended in the still air. A few pieces of abandoned machinery were stuck in cobwebbed corners. The empty loft was like an untended sore. But there in the corner was the object that made our foray worthwhile, an old organ. There weren't any electric ones back then. Organs were huge, with push bellows on the floor and buttons for tone on the front face.
    With one guy on the bellows and someone working the keys we got some awful noise out of that thing. Then the light bulb went on in someone's head. I'd like to take credit for it, but my memory doesn't allow me that absolute certainty. One of us came up with the idea that it would be a good trick to scare the life out of someone on Halloween. (I'm not sure that "life" was the word we used.)
   Then like all good ideas, someone took it a bit further. Why not make up a story that someone had died in the fire and that their ghost was seen in the barn? A few weeks before Halloween we carefully circulated the story. We didn't over do it to make people suspicious, but carefully planted seeds of the ghost with our classmates at school, especially the younger ones.
   We had no idea how the ruse would work but knew that we had to go ahead with the plan. Halloween seemed to come slow that year but finally the day arrived.
   It was no, problem to tell mom that I was going out trick or treating with Eugene and Wayne. We made an early trip to the barn where we found some old chains to rattle. We had to wait about a half hour before darkness arrived and then we heard people coming down the road. Because it was dark and eerie, which it was at the best of times, there was a whole crew of people to give moral support to each other.
   On cue, we started pumping that old organ. Mournful noises came forth from the bowels of it. The chains were shaken forcefully, and one of us let loose with a blood curdling scream. Then we stopped to listen.
   First, there was complete silence. Then someone asked in an anxious voice, "What was that?" Then one of the girls screamed and mass hysteria took over.
   The ensuing stampede down the lane was music to our ears. Of course we helped them on their way with more mournful sounds.
   We had a great laugh over what we had accomplished and felt even better that we had made a plan and carried it out. We waited for awhile and then went out to do some trick or treating or of our own. After all, there was still the candy.
   This story was first published in the October 27 issue of the Telegraph Journal, Weekend Reader. Barry Hatt lives in Dumfries.

THE END

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