A Ghost Story :
I was an American male on the loose in Belgium in the late 80’s. The tiny village I lived in was called Cambron-Casteau and was only a few kilometers north of the French Frontier. The town was truly nondescript and an ancient abbey remained the only interesting feature it possessed. The abbey’s remains stood on fifty acres of land just beyond the town with a great house, a tower, forests, lakes and catacombs! The latter caught my attention as soon as I learned of them. I investigated the tunnels both historically and physically. Originally, it seems monks in the late 1500’s connected the abbey to the church in nearby town of Lens with underground tunnels, and may even have gone as far as Mons. This is no small feat as Mons rests twenty kilometers from the abbey and Cambron-Casteau. It then appears that Hitler could not leave something like an underground tunnel alone and had it walled up during Belgium’s occupation because too many of his soldiers got lost trying to chase out the resistance fighters. There was evidence of this down some of the underground corridors where a newer wall ended all forward advances or a room was filled floor to ceiling with a pile of rocks. Despite the diminished area of the tunnels they still held my attention and I soon knew every available inch. When I was not in the catacombs I was walking through the abbey’s forests or around the lakes till the late afternoons. It was on one of these lazy Sunday walks that my life changed… forever.
Call me paranoid if you wish, but the late 80’s in Europe was no time for an American to walk around alone. It seems the Nazi Party was not quite as dead as we had been lead to believe and chance encounters with young skinheads became a very real possibility and a very real danger as well. For this reason, I took to carrying a certain semi-automatic friend of mine under my coat on my left side to give a would-be assailant .45 reasons to rethink his position. I will not discuss my occupation at the time, or why I could get away with this, suffice to say that I could, and leave it at that.
I was walking around the largest of the abbey’s lakes late on a Sunday afternoon when I saw a woman about two hundred meters from me near one of the entrances to the tunnels. I could tell she wore a dress, but she had some kind of cloak over it hiding any details of the garment. I did noticed her figure, but few other details. There was no obvious evidence that she was in distress or needed assistance, it was just a feeling I got as I walked toward her, and she moved toward the catacomb door. Reflexively I adjusted the comforting chunk of finely milled steel under my left arm, reassuring myself it was still there even though I knew it was. By the time I reached the door to the tunnels she had disappeared inside with only one glance back at me as I approached. The late afternoon sun was casting many long shadows and I was too far away to see her face clearly, save for her eyes. Her eyes simultaneously bothered me and drew me to her. Loose stones crunched underfoot as I left the paved trail for the gravel road to the catacomb entrance. I did not notice at the time, but she had made no noise on the gravel. My approach to the door had been from the side and I did not actually see her open the door to go in. When I reached the door I had to grasp and engage the metallic thumb latch and swing the door wide on rusty hinges. It never entered my conscious mind that I hadn’t heard the hinges when she went in, but my subconscious was pulling double duty trying to keep me alive by taking over my right arm and moving my hand to the butt of the heavy Colt 1911A1 in my shoulder rig. I had been in these tunnels often enough to know where I was. The entryway beyond the door had two exits. The one on my right led to the greatest area of tunnels. The exit in front of me was little more than a rubble-covered stairway that branched to two separate short passageways that both dead-ended. As I paused for my eyes to adjust I heard a faint indeterminate sound from the direction in front of me. My eyes had not yet righted themselves, but I moved forward anyway… I knew these tunnels… she may need me!
As I moved my eyes cleared and I noticed a feint glow like a match up a tunnel that I knew stopped at some of the Fuhrer’s masonry. When I rounded the last bend I saw her. She had her back to me and she starred at the wall. Her hair was long and straight and the deepest raven black. Her curves were not the kind to get lost in a crowd either. As I stood there memorizing every inch of her she began to turn to me. Her face was a mask of death! There were no eyes in the sockets of her dried skull as she looked at me. There was no skin on the bones of her hands as she raised them toward me. What happened next I pieced together later. My instinctual reaction was to bring up the gun in a perfect weaver stance and dump the entire clip into… it. I also started to back away at the same time and fell. This must have been what I had done, for when I came to my senses I was laying on my back in the pitch dark. I fished a Zippo out of my pocket and surveyed the area. I found no woman, no blood, no appreciable time had passed according to my watch, no rational reason that I could see before and now it was dark, and no real desire to stay in the tunnels one second longer. I quit the catacombs before anyone came to investigate the shots and hurried home. At home I discovered some unnerving facts. I had cut my head when I fell. When I washed the blood out of my hair, I found the most startling gray streak over both of my temples that had not been there mere hours earlier. I really wanted this to just be some kind of horrible dream, but the more time passed; the more I began to remember. This seemed totally opposite to a normal dream that one would usually forget by the end of the morning coffee. This dream was getting more vivid as time passed.
I remembered a sharp pain in my gut and coughing or… no… choking! Yes, that was it… Choking! I was gasping for air! I could not breathe and my poor, sweet little girl, the child I clutched in my arms, dead… My husband… my husband had been taken away and must surely be dead also. My…
I nearly fell. What was I thinking? I did not have a child, much less a husband?! Then I saw her. She was standing right next to me… in my own house! She was not the skeleton she had been, her smooth skin was the palest white and now looked as it must have… in life. A little shorter than me, jet black hair, even in death she was beautiful. She was pulling her hand back as if she had been touching my shoulder.
I understand now. The SS must have caught her and other resistance fighters in the tunnels when they walled them up. All she wants is a decent burial. This is not too much to ask. I’m leaving now with a pick and a shovel to do the right thing. The labyrinth beyond the walls is unmapped. I do not know where she died. I only hope she stays around long enough to lead me back out of the tunnels when my work for her is done. If she does not, however, I leave this testament to any who come looking for me that they may at least have a clue as to where my body may lay…