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Behind Life's Curtain
The Strange Journey of John Simms

When Mother and her twin brother Ange were growing up in Little Rock, Arkansas they had a friend named John Simms. He was born about the same time and lived nearby. As boys, Ange and John had the usual "secret" whistle used to signal one another. The three went all the way through school together. Shortly after high school graduation, at age 19 John was killed in a single car accident, possibly because of an epileptic seizure. Mother and Ange attended the funeral and said goodbye to their friend, then moved on with their lives. Decades passed without either of them giving him a thought.

One night around 1969 Mother was working at her desk when she had the feeling that if she looked up at the window she would see John standing there. Twenty years dead and now she couldn't get him out of her mind. She closed the blinds and continued to work, but then she could hear the whistle, or at least she imagined that she could or would. The entire situation had become so unnerving that she stopped working and decided to go to bed.

Usually she walked through the house turning off lights as she went, but the creepiness had really gotten to her so she turned on the light in the room ahead before turning off the light behind her. Finally in bed she read until she was sleepy, turned the book over and laid it on the covers, turned out the light and drifted off.

She had one of her rare vivid dreams. In it the phone rang. She "woke up" and moved aside the book she had left beside her. She lifted the receiver and a young man said, "Hello. This is John Simms." At which point she woke up for real and had trouble getting back to sleep.

The next day she got a call from her twin brother who lived in Pittsburg. During the course of an othewise average conversation, my uncle said, "By the way, I had the strangest feeling that John Simms was in the house last night." Both twins had simultaneous impressions with several states between them.

From that point on John Simms was in the house pretty much full time. Mostly he hung out in Mother's room, standing near the hutch that contained a shelf of small ships he had helped her collect during childhood. Of course, he was occupying a space over a hot air vent that was blasting out heat yet the space around it was ice cold if he was present. To the right of the vent was a small table with a china music box which played Swanee River, but only if one used tweezers to pull up the pin that was stuck inside the rim. Once when Mother had returned from a trip out of town she got just inside the room, then we heard her yelling to us to come quick. The music box was playing.

I didn't understand what the problem was. I knew the box would play if wound up and someone pulled the pin up. That wasn't it. The box had started playing by itself before Mother had gotten more than two steps into the room. The lid was in place and the pin was down.

John was something of a prankster. I would put down something small -- a soup spoon, a hairbrush -- and then it would be gone. At dinner I immediately suspected that one of my younger siblings had taken my spoon, but both denied it and there was no evidence. And my spoon vanished when I was eating alone. My hairbrush disappeared when I set it down on my dressing table. I finally figured out that the only solution was to acknowledge John's cleverness. "Very funny, John," I would shout out "now put it back. Right now!" In time my friends got used to me yelling, "You put that back!" I never saw an object disappear or reappear. The spoon was either there or it was not.

John's spirit was a strong contrast to that of my great grandmother. He didn't completely chase her off, but her visits to the cottage grew less frequent. Mother said he walked with her from the garage each night and she took comfort in his presence. A visiting psychic took the liberty to send John away, infuriating Mother. She only invited the psychic in to establish John's presence to an outsider, but not to have him removed. Fortunately, John was not compelled to obey the psychic's command that he cross over. John was not haunting the house, was not trapped or bound. He was there to comfort and care for his old friend, my mother. He was back as soon as the psychic left the house.

My uncle was also experiencing visits from his childhood friend. In November 1972 I spent Thanksgiving with my uncle and aunt in Pittsburg. Being now of age to drink Ange offered me a glass of whiskey and we talked about all sorts of things. We were probably only about two glasses into this when I asked him if John had been by lately. "Not in the last couple of weeks," he was saying, just as his wife was coming into the room, "but he was on the stairs about a month ago."

"I kind of miss him," I said, "since I've been to college."

"Who are you talking about?" my aunt asked, not recalling any visitors.

"John Simms," my uncle answered. "An old friend of mine." She looked puzzled. "Don't worry, honey. You haven't met him. He's been dead for over 20 years." My aunt locked the liquor cabinet. I guess she figured we were over our limit.

I never really knew what became of John. In time I moved away from Aiken, and a few years later Mother moved out of the cottage. John seems to have moved on as well.

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