Monday, February 6, 2012

The House On Devil's Hill

My friend Ann posted something about a house she lives in where the whole neighborhood has had trouble over the years with what many believe to be ghosts or something like it. Personally, I've always said that people are haunted—not houses. But—I could be wrong.

This is a very strange house that my parents bought when I was three years old. The whole family had so many strange and frightening experiences in it that my parents sold the house less than fours years later. Much of it may be chalked up to childhood imaginings. But other things defy explanation.

No sooner than we had moved in, my big sister started coming down with the most incredibly painful migraine headaches imaginable, and they would lasts for days. She never had them before. I started seeing shadows moving in the basement that didn't look human. My sister later started seeing them too. My dad was the youth leader at church and we sometimes would have parties at the house for Thanksgiving or Halloween etc., and the guests would often see strange and frightening things too. Then the dreams started.

I think I was the first. I had terrible nightmares of demons and evil looking clowns. Eventually I began to think the devil lived in my closet and I demanded that it be shut before going to bed. An evil clown lived under the bed though, and I could only dive under the blankets to hide from him. A child's imagination? Probably so. But that didn't make it seem any less real. One night my parents heard me screaming and came running to the bedroom only to find that the door refused to open. It had no lock on it that I recall, and I wouldn't have locked it anyway. In fact, I wouldn't go to sleep unless the door was kept open a crack. Of course I had a nightlight too. My sister to this day insists that when my dad got to the door, it was hot to the touch. It had somehow gotten shut and jammed tight. He had a heck of a time opening it. That same night my mother decided to switch beds and let me sleep with dad. She had a nightmare that night where the devil had her by the neck and was choking the life out of her and woke-up gasping. My dad, level headed guy that he was, refused to believe there was anything satanic going on. Then he had a dream of a terrific car wreck where a young couple were killed. He didn't know who they were, but the next day he saw their picture in the paper and that they had died in a car wreck just as he had dreamed it.

The house is surrounded on three sides by a steep drop-off with a creek at the bottom. This brought an enormous amount of snakes into the yard every year, many of them copperheads and cottonmouths. We killed seventeen in one year, and all of us had very close encounters with them, so much so that it became very unnerving just to walk out the door.

Then something, or someone, killed my dog. I found him in his house one morning with blood all underneath him where he lay as if it were seeping out from his belly. He was just a few years old.

My sister got an Ouija board one year for Christmas. My parents thought it was harmless fun. Then it started giving us messages that could not be explained. It began to give my sister information about things she could not possibly have known about. A few years ago I read the following in the autobiography of Christian author G. K. Chesterton:

My brother and I used to play with planchette, or what the Americans call the Ouija board; but we were among the few, I imagine, who played in a mere spirit of play. Nevertheless I would not altogether rule out the suggestion of some that we were playing with fire; or even with hell-fire. In the words that were written for us there was nothing ostensibly degrading, but any amount that was deceiving. I saw quite enough of the thing to be able to testify, with complete certainty, that something happens which is not in the ordinary sense natural, or produced by the normal and conscious human will. Whether it is produced by some subconscious but still human force, or by some powers, good, bad or indifferent, which are external to humanity, I would not myself attempt to decide. The only thing I will say with complete confidence, about that mystic and invisible power, is that it tells lies. The lies may be larks or they may be lures to the imperiled soul or they may be a thousand other things; but whatever they are, they are not truths about the other world; or for that matter about this world.

Well this certainly mirrored my sister's experiences.

No sooner than we moved to this place my parents started having marital problems too and very nearly divorced. It seemed that this house brought us nothing but trouble. Down the street a quarter mile was a turn onto Devil's Hole Road which ran beyond the hills in back of our house and served as a back-road to a little nearby town. The road is called something else now. We never knew why it was originally given the name it had. Our Catholic neighbors across the street said that the house we lived in was once the location of another house that had burned down, and the rumor was that some devil worshipers lived there long before us.

Well, who knows if that's true or not? I don't believe there are just a whole lot of devil worshipers in the world. But I'll tell you this much. Call it the work of the devil or bad mojo, but my parent's soon got fed-up with the house and our bad luck there. They had intended to stay there for life but decided a change of scenery was in order and we moved away. No sooner than we had moved, our luck began to change. There were no more nightmares. My sister's migraines completely went away. Everything just seemed better and back to normal. And forty-five years later my sister will still not go near the house on Devil's hill.

Just Call Me A Jury Duty Revisionist

As you might have guessed from my title, I had jury duty recently. In some ways I may be lucky in that I'll be fifty-three next month and this was my first time to serve. A lot of people my age have had it two or three times by now. Actually, I feel not a little special that my state considers me mentally, ethically, and morally fit for the job. More likely there's a glitch in their selection process. Speaking of which, I'd like to suggest a couple of changes to this procedure.

For many of us, if not most, jury duty is a pain we could do without. It takes you away from work, and that doesn't make your employer at all happy because he still has to pay you half your wages even though you've done nothing for him. This only continues for a month or so however. After this he no longer has to pay you anything, so if you're on a trial that lasts for two or three months, you're on your own financially after the first month. My state also gives you the whopping sum of five dollars per day plus gas mileage for serving. I imagine the amount varies from state to state, but I doubt that any of them pay anything close to a living wage for serving jury duty. You can generally expect five or ten bucks tops. Basically they're paying for daily coffee and donuts along with the trip to the courthouse and back.

If you're self-employed like yours truly, you have no income from an employer while serving. Actually I'm overstating the case to some degree. A lot of your time is spent in the jury break room while waiting for a trial to come up. If there's no trial on any particular day, or if you're not selected to be on one of the trials, you get to leave by ten or eleven o'clock. This means you might be able to work a lot of afternoons, and of course there's the weekend too. I never actually had to be a juror at any trials, but I don't think the trials generally last for more than a couple of hours most days, so you probably still have time to get some work in during the afternoons.

“Wait,” you say; “you didn't serve on any trials?” As you've undoubtedly heard, not everyone gets picked to be on a jury. For instance, you may have something in your background that one of the lawyers thinks may bias your opinion unfavorably toward his client, so he may elect to dismiss you during jury selection. This could in fact happen every time you come up for jury selection, in which case you could spend your entire term of jury duty sitting in the break room every day. You may think this is a waste of the tax payer's money. It gets worse.

The week I was chosen to serve, there were only three jury trials scheduled for that entire week. As often happens though, two of the defendants decided to plead out on their way to the courthouse. Apparently most criminals are too chicken to go through a trial and risk serving longer sentences if convicted, but it's not until the last minute that they realize their spines are made of pudding. So now the hundred or so people chosen for jury duty during my term only had one case between us for the whole week. By Wednesday night, most of us were told not to come back, and our time of service was complete. At least three days were wasted. What bothers me though is not serving jury duty, but the fact that there are many people who would gladly serve it in my place, especially if we paid them more.

I was talking to the guy next to me while waiting for a trial, and he mentioned that his neighbor, a retired man, said that he wished he could serve instead of him just so he could have something to do. Apparently retirement isn't all that much fun for some people. I wonder how many of the old guys I see sitting around shooting the bull at McDonalds and Hardees in the mornings would be just as happy to do it in a jury break room? Or how about disabled people? A man without arms, for instance, might find working difficult, but not having arms never stopped anyone from being a juror. There are many disabled people who get around well enough to sit on a jury and who would gladly do it just to get out of the house and have something to do with their time. And what if we paid these people a little more to serve? Most are on a fixed income. What if we paid them even ten dollars per day instead of five? Twenty would be much better though. And let's go a step further and say that they're exempt from paying taxes on money from jury duty and that it has no effect on the amount of social security they draw. Most of the time they'd only be at the courthouse for two or three hours in the morning anyway, so twenty dollars per day for sitting around a few hours in the morning (something they'd be doing at home or McDonalds anyway) isn't all that bad really. A hundred dollars per week would look awfully good to a retired person living on nothing but social security. I think retirees and the disabled would clamor for the opportunity to serve jury duty day in and day out under these conditions. Why can't we make jury duty voluntary? And why can't you serve as often as you want providing there's a demand for you to do so? We could still make jury duty compulsory for some people if there weren't enough volunteers to do the job, but it would surely take most of us working people out of the system.

But where do we come up with the money to pay these people you ask? Well let's do some math. In my county we currently pay five dollars per day and there are roughly a hundred people called during any given week to serve. That's five hundred dollars per week and $25,000 per annum. If we upped the pay to twenty dollars per day that would still only be $100,000 per annum. So we would only need an extra $75,000 per year, and mine is a large county with a lot of crime. Most counties would need less people serving jury duty than mine. $75,000 is not much money at all for most counties to come up with. We'll spend more money than that paving a single street. But I can think of another way to pay these jurors.

Even though my county is large, from what I understand, having three jury trials in a single week is a typical work week for the judges here. Obviously most trials don't involve a jury, so it's not like the judges don't have other trials to get through. However, judges are usually done with trials by noon most days, and some days they have no trials at all. Of course there's some time spent reading through various court documents before a trial begins, but that doesn't take terribly long. We're paying them a very substantial yearly salary to do absolutely nothing a good deal of the time. Most judges I know spend more time on the golf links than in a courthouse. How about we start paying judges by the hour? Or would it be too much to ask our county employees to actually work for a living?

"Lagrima" Done Right

I uploaded this tune to YouTube last week but decided the sound wasn't very good and that my playing was also a tad fast, so I redid the piece yesterday. This is the best I know how to perform this piece of music. It may not satisfy everybody. Everyone thinks their own way is the best way of playing music, but this is as close to perfect as I know how to do it, and I'm darn happy with it.