In the days leading up to the March 1st release of my collection In Search Of and Others, I’ll be sharing some of my idiosyncratic questions on the so-called “paranormal”…and their idiosyncratic answers.
Okay, okay, I admit it: I used to steal books from my sister’s room when I was a kid. She was eight years older than me, and she got all the good ones. Alive. Gnomes. And a bunch of thin yellowed paperbacks about weird shit afoot in the world.
(It’s interesting how she seems so normal now. Or at least she’s better at hiding her weirdness than I am. Husband, two kids, responsible job educating people about infectious diseases — it’s a pretty clever ruse, when you think about it.)
Anyway, she had one book I read with a lot of those anomalous anecdotes that people like Charles Fort used to compile. One of them mentioned the Chase tomb in Barbados where the coffins would shift around between burials. Another mentioned a pair of young women who disappeared from their group on a field trip.
The one, though, that permanently twisted my mind was Lord Dufferin’s tale. Here’s how it goes.
Lord Dufferin goes out to visit a friend in the Irish countryside. In the middle of the night, he rises from his chamber needing to get a drink or take a piss or something, and he walks down a long windowed gallery on the second floor of the estate. It’s a full moon and the grass stretches away into the distance as a silvery-green carpet.
He pauses to gaze down at it and sees a strange turtle-like figure trundling across the lawn. It’s taking halting steps with a box tottering on its back, and Lord Dufferin realizes slowly that the box is a coffin. He squints and leans closer to the glass.
Right as he does, the figure stops and looks right up at him. It’s a man, twisted and hunched and disfigured, leering as though the coffin is for him. Dufferin jumps away from the window and hurries back to his room for what is probably a fitful sleep.
The next morning at breakfast, Dufferin asks his host, “Hey, you wouldn’t happen to have a deformed dwarven man-servant, would you? Likes to walk around at night with coffins on his back?”
The host replies, “Uh…nooooo.”
Then I like to imagine Dufferin laughing it off before things got awkward. “My good fellow, you should get one posthaste. They’re all the rage in London.”
Years later, Dufferin (now ambassador to France) awaits an elevator in Paris. The doors creak open and he sees that the operator is the same man with the coffin. He’s wearing a uniform now but he’s no less twisted in body and mind, and Dufferin stumbles back as everybody else boards the elevator.
Moments later, the cable snaps and everyone inside dies. They never find the body of the operator.
For some reason, that story affected me more than almost all the others. Maybe it was the visual imagery, the looming windows and the moonlight. Maybe it was the personal nature of it, the idea that something weird was targeting Lord Dufferin. Probably both.
Of course, the neckbeards on Wikipedia claim that it’s all an urban legend he embellished from the original.
All I know is that I once saw an actual hunchbacked man while working at the Census HQ in Suitland and I pretended to be checking my cell phone so he could take the elevator all on his own. If anything happened to him, it’s none of my business.