A Bottle of Elixir

By Dwayne MacInnes

I remember as a child, when visiting Grandma and Grandpa O'Brien's, there was this old bottle that sat over the mantle piece of their fireplace. It was made of clear glass in the shape of many bottles of supposed medicinal purpose from an earlier part of the 20th century. It was a quarter full of some brownish liquid. It had a cork stopper which prevented the liquid from escaping. The simple paper label on the bottle proclaimed the liquid as "Dr. Harrison's Elixir".

This was an odd item to be found in my grandparent's home. Especially since Grandma O' was a devout teetotaler and alcohol was forbidden in the house. Whenever I asked about it, grandma would mention that it was a reminder to Grandpa O' of his past. Grandpa O' was just as elusive when I queried him. He responded to my questions that it "had changed his life forever".

So, there the story stood for decades, a mysterious bottle sitting on a fireplace's mantle full of unanswered questions. However, I noticed that not once in all those years did the contents of the bottle change. It was always a quarter full.

It was about a year after Grandma O's passing that my grandpa caught me unawares one day by saying, "Jimmy, my boy, do you want to hear the story about that bottle of elixir?"

I of course nodded my head. I was sure the story was not all that great. But the fact of it remaining a tantalizing mystery all these years only added to its aura. I sat down on the couch as grandpa reclined in his chair. He looked up at the bottle and pointed at it as he began speaking.

"There was a time in my life when I was out of control," he said as his eyes took on a glassy look. "I was a slave to anything that would get me drunk."

He glanced over at me and smiled, "Now this was before I met your grandmother. She would not tolerate any drinking as you well know. But over the years in trying to mask my drinking problem I turned to elixirs. It was easy to say I had a scratchy throat or some pain in my shoulder.

"It is well known, that elixirs were just a gimmick to help a man sneak a drink. That bottle there represents my favorite choice, Dr. Harrison's Elixir. It had a nice smooth quality and tasted a bit like cherry brandy. Well, to be truthful it probably was just cherry brandy," Grandpa O' chuckled to himself. "Sometimes I miss that taste, but my love of your grandmother was one of the two reasons why I never went back to drinking."

I was now leaning forward on the couch trying to catch every word that grandpa spoke. He looked over at me again and smiled.

"I will now tell you the second reason why I gave up alcohol. It was back in the forties and I used to stay out late visiting all the bars in town. Now for me to get home to my place outside of town, I had to pass by the cemetery on Rosehill. You know by the old Picken's place, right?"

I nodded my head. The old Picken's place had been this old abandoned mansion on top of Rosehill. It was abandoned even when my grandparents were children and it -- of course -- was said to be haunted. I suppose it didn't help that it was directly across the street from the Rosehill Memorial Cemetery.

"So, I was stumbling home one fall night. The wind was blowing the leaves around my feet and the full moon lit my path down the broken road. I had my coat pulled close to my body to help keep in the heat. I would occasionally take a slug from that bottle to help fortify me against the elements and then I would shove it back into my coat pocket. My sole purpose was to get home and to bed.

"That was when I heard a large crack emanating from the cemetery. I figured it was a tree branch breaking but as I turned I saw this coffin sticking out of the ground. It was standing upwards as if the caretakers left it there leaning against the headstone.

"The wind blew the lid open to reveal that it was in fact empty. I was about to turn and continue my trek home when suddenly the coffin 'hopped' towards me. In surprise, I stumbled backwards and fell on to my rear. What I saw could not be real. I have seen many things in my drunken state including a pink elephant or two but never a hopping casket.

"With a bang, bang, bang the death box hopped towards me. I jumped up to my feet and ran. The box continued to follow with its bang, bang, bang. I unconsciously ran through the old gate leading to the Picken's place. I figured that I would be able to secure myself inside the house. The casket never gave up its pursuit. I would look over my shoulder and see the box hopping after me. Its lid flapping as if the welcome me into its interior.

"Soon I had pushed myself through the old door, its rusty hinges protesting against being open. I quickly shut the door and secured it with the old chain-lock. I could still hear the bang, bang, bang of the casket hopping up the walkway. I looked across the musty and abandoned room for anything to reinforce the door. However, before I could find anything the front door exploded in a cloud of splinters. The coffin was in the doorway, again its lid opened to reveal its empty interior.

"With a scream that would put any of those horror movie girls to shame, I bolted up the old rotted staircase. Occasionally, my foot would break through the steps, but I was moving so fast that I am almost certain I was flying. When I reached the top of the landing I looked down and watched as the death box hopped up the stairs with a bang, bang, bang. It was destroying those steps that remained intact after my ascent.

"I was completely frightened and my mind raced through a cloud of horror and alcohol for a way to escape or stop this supernatural monstrosity. I grabbed the newel post and tossed it at the coffin. It bounced harmlessly off the lid not even leaving a dent on the wooden surface.

"I ran down the hallway and into a large room. I again quickly shut the door. However, there was nothing to secure it. I frantically, looked around the room for anything that I could use to stop the box. However, it continued its hopping with a bang, bang, bang, down the hall towards me. All I found was some rocks on the floor that kids over the years had thrown through the windows. The moonlight filtered in through the broken windows and a quick glance out them revealed a sheer drop of over twenty feet to a stone strewn ground below.

"With another crash the unholy sarcophagus had exploded through the door. In a frantic state I began to throw the rocks at the box as it now slowly slid towards me. The lid creeping open as it relentlessly approached. I retreated back to the window and continued to throw rocks. They only bounced harmlessly off the casket.

"As the box was a mere five feet away I ran out of rocks. I was now faced with the choice of jumping out the window or being consumed by the casket. I unconsciously retrieved the bottle from my coat. The box was now almost upon me. In desperation I threw the bottle at the death box it flew past the lid and landed inside the casket. Suddenly it stopped.

"I must have fainted because when I came to in the morning I was on the floor of the old bedroom. There were rocks all on the opposite side of the room and my bottle of elixir on the floor where the coffin was before I past out. However, there was no sign of that evil death box.

"The first person I ran into when I left the Picken's place was your grandmother coming home from church. I can tell you honestly that I have never let a drop of alcohol past my lips since that night."

I was a little shocked by my grandpa's story. It was too much to believe. He must have noticed the look on my face because he got up from his chair and walked over to the fireplace. He grabbed the bottle of elixir and looked at it for a minute.

"But, how did your bottle stop the coffin from getting you?" I finally asked.

Grandpa tossed the bottle to me and I caught it. "Read the label," he stated.

The label simply said, "Dr. Harrisons' Elixir: a Coff Re-med-die." The words were written phonetically. In finer print below, with a folksy type of grammar, it proclaimed: "Gar-un-teed to stop you a coffin."

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Here is Dwayne's annual Halloween story. We hope you enjoy it!

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This page contains a single entry by Douglas Gogerty published on October 30, 2011 8:02 AM.

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