“Did you know that GW accepts gifts of real estate?”
For most of the drive, those ten words turned over and over in Will’s head like a dime in a dryer. His boss, John, used that sentence as an ice breaker with clients, going so far as to put it on mugs for the Planned Giving staff. With as much life as John gave the line, an equal amount was drained from Will every time he heard it.
Gary wanted a Slim Jim.
“But you already ate the mini-donuts, Cheetos, Teddy Grahams and half an apple,” Will grumbled to his traveling companion. “Just wait a few more minutes – we’re almost there.”
Will and Gary Bondi were colleagues at GW, and while they shared a last name, they were not brothers. Will was always quick to point that out.
However, they shared a cubicle and came to be known as the Bondi Boys.
They worked together like a cat and a Roomba. Will was the Roomba.
And here they were, three hours from the office and about two hours from civilization, in search of their strangest planned gift to date. Not that a house as a gift was strange, but the manner in which this particular house was being given certainly was.
Yesterday when John called the boys into his office, Will hoped for one of two things: he was getting promoted or Gary was getting canned. So when John said they were going to be landing a gift together, Will thought John was kidding. In his “boss humor” kind of way.
He also thought John was kidding when he explained how Will and Gary would go about securing this gift. “You have to spend the night in the house,” the boss man said.
“For real?” asked Gary, excitedly.
Will was less enthused; the idea of staying the night in a house alone with Gary frightened him.
“Yes, but there’s just one thing you should know,” said John, a flashlight pointed up at his face. “Supposedly the place is haunted.”
Gary had been doing his best Ray Parker Jr. impression all afternoon following the meeting.
“Who ya gonna call?” he crooned in their shared cubicle. “I ain’t ‘fraid of no ghosts.”
He was still singing now, in between bites.
Will was ready for the night to be over.
“Arriving at destination on the right,” said the GPS.
Will slowed at the mailbox and turned into the driveway. It was nearly dusk and the shadows had already swallowed what lay at the end of the worn dirt path, so Will turned on the car’s headlights.
And there it was. A post-war split-level set back in the woods.
“If there’s something weird and don’t look good,” Gary quietly sang to himself.
Will stopped the car in front of the garage, turned off the engine and popped the trunk. Gary was already on the front step by the time Will had begun pulling their gear from the back.
“You’re gonna need a key,” said Will dryly, jangling the key ring John had given them a few hours earlier.There were 10 or 12 keys on the ring, but Will couldn’t imagine why such a small house needed so many. “You can at least help me with the bags.”
When he looked up, Gary wasn’t in sight.
Typical, he thought.
Will took a moment to survey the property – the pictures he’d seen didn’t properly convey how creepy the place was. If not for the headlights of the car, the entire place would have been shrouded in darkness. The surrounding trees loomed over the house like ominous spectators.
Grabbing his duffle, Will made his way to the bone-white front door, trying not to think on how dark and empty the house made him feel. He was thumbing through the keys when he heard a noise from inside.
“Gary?” he called out.
Had Will actually heard something, or was his usually inactive imagination playing tricks on him?
He went back to the keys, looking for the one marked for the front door, when he heard it again. This time, he was sure it came from inside the house.
A dark figure appeared suddenly in the front window, startling Will.
“Dude, this place is awesome,” Gary said through the glass with a grin before disappearing again. The front door swung open a second later. “Enterrrrr at your ownnnn riiiiiiiisk,” Gary moaned from the darkness.
“Come on Gary, quit goofing and grab you stuff,” Will huffed.
“There’s no Gary hear, just us ghoooooosts,” Gary continued before losing himself to a fit of giggles. He trotted back out to the car to grab his duffle of clothing and another full of food.
“How did you get in?” Will asked, still standing in the doorway. “I thought I had the only set of keys.”
“Front door was unlocked,” Gary shrugged as he slipped by Will and back into the darkness of the house.
Will stumbled over one of Gary’s duffles while looking for the light switch, just managing to catch himself before face-planting on the hardwood floors.
“Beware!” someone said.
“That better not have been my food bag,” said Gary.
It was a dark and stormy night.
Thunderheads had rolled in and the storm was already rattling the shutters as the duo sat down to eat the dinners they’d brought.
Will had wanted to walk through the property right away, but Gary had insisted on eating first.
“Nothing good happens on an empty stomach,” he chirped.
As Gary dug into his roast beef grinder with gusto, Will picked at his turkey club, preoccupied by the unlocked front door and the conversation with their boss that had followed.
“That’s odd,” John said over the phone when they called to check in. The place was supposed to have been locked up before the keys had been sent to their office earlier in the week. “Check out the rest of the house to be sure, we want to make sure everything’s tip-top.”
“You got it boss.”
A file folder lay open on the table; included inside were notes on the house and its history. It had been built in 1952 by Bernard Jacobson, a grad of the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences who had attended GW after WWII thanks to the G.I. Bill. Jacobson, a widower, had passed away in his sleep some twenty years earlier without a will, and his only daughter, Jessa, inherited the estate.
That’s when things got…odd.
Jessa lived across the country but couldn’t bear to sell her father’s home, so she’d tried renting it for years, but none of the tenants stayed very long. There were no walls stuffed with asbestos or flooded basements or black mold, just complaints about restless nights and misplaced objects and unexplained happenings.
Jessa finally decided that the house could be better used for something other than an unreliable rental.
He loved GW, it’s what he would’ve wanted, Bernard Jacobson’s daughter had said in a letter.
Will and Gary’s boss had done his homework though, and everything checked out in the university’s rigorous review process. The gift would help fund a scholarship for student veterans. Only one strange stipulation remained.
Why did they have to stay the night? Will still didn’t know. Did Bernard Jacobson’s daughter know something that they didn’t? He wasn’t sure if it mattered.
Will looked at his watch—just ten more hours until sunrise.
Then the storm knocked out the power.
“This house has good bones,” Gary said, not fully sure what that meant, but he had a feeling that it was true.
“Do you even know what that means?” Will prodded.
Gary shrugged. “Top-of-the-line skeletons in the closet?”
It took them longer than expected to work their way through most of the house. The place ran deep, back further into the woods than it seemed when they were out front. Other than a few locked doors on the second floor (remedied by the ring of keys Will kept in his pocket) and a few bruised shins (even with flashlights it was hard to see everything in the dark) their exploration was uneventful.
Most of the rooms were empty other than the occasional floor lamp, paint cans, or cleaning supplies. The table and chairs in the kitchen were the only furniture in the whole place.
“Good thing we brought these babies,” Gary said tossing Will one of the sleeping bags. They both started to unroll them in the first floor room that might have been the dining room.
“What’re you doing?” Will asked. “There are three bedrooms upstairs.”
“Easy access,” Gary replied, gesturing at the kitchen with his chin. “You?”
“Sleepwalking,” Will sighed. “Sleeping, walking, and stairs—never a great combo.”
The hardwood floors were more comfortable than expected. Will closed his eyes and tried to clear his mind of everything, especially the man sleeping next to him. As if reading his mind, Gary turned on his side towards Will, propping his head up on his elbow.
“So, like who are you crushing on?” Gary asked in his best Valley Girl.
“What? It’s a slumber party! Lighten up you—”
They both startled.
There had definitely been a loud thump and it had definitely come from one of the rooms directly above them. They looked at each other briefly, neither sure what to do.
“I ain’t ‘fraid no ghosts,” Gary said half-heartedly.
“Oh for pete’s sake.”
“What?! John said the house was haunted!”
It was hard to tell what Gary would take to heart. Despite what he’d read in the notes, Will was sure that John had only been teasing them. The house was old and probably just settling. Still, the responsible thing to do would be to check out the noise.
“Let’s split up,” Will suggested. “We’ll cover more ground that way.”
Gary stared at him, chewing nervously on a Twizzler.
“That’s a terrible idea. Didn’t you ever watch Scooby-Doo?”
“Fine, we’ll check it out together, realize it’s nothing, then go quietly to bed,” Will said unzipping himself from his mummy bag. He grabbed two flashlights out of his duffle and tossed one to Gary.
“The Bondi Boys are on the case!” Gary exclaimed, pumping a fist in the air.
“Don’t call us that,” Will grumbled.
The Bondi Boys followed their flashlights beams slowly up the stairs, each creaking step loud enough to wake the dead. At the top of the staircase, they paused, quietly surveying the long hallway.
“It sounded like it came from the bedroom at the end of the hallway,” said Will.
“Of course it did,” said Gary.
They moved slowly down the hall, listening for any more noises. Gary occasionally spun around, sweeping the beam of his flashlight behind them—each time, striking the same ready-for-action pose, and each time, confronting only empty hallway.
The pair stood apprehensively outside the bedroom door at the end of the hall.
The doorknob was cold when Will slowly grasped it. He looked at Gary, signaling that he was ready to go. Gary took a bite of his candy bar to confirm that he too was ready.
They barreled through the doorway swinging their flashlights back-and-forth across the room. After a few moments, they stopped and gathered themselves.
“You scream like a girl,” Gary quipped.
“That was you.”
“When in Rome,” Gary shrugged.
The room was almost empty other than the window curtains, a standing mirror propped against the back wall, and a book laying open in the middle of the room. Gary walked over and picked it up—it was a copy of one of GW’s yearbooks, The Cherry Tree, from 1950.
“You’ve really got to expand your reading list,” Gary said holding the book out to Will.
“That’s not mine,” Will said slowly. “You didn’t bring it?”
“Negatory—the only thing I steal from the office are donuts. And pens. And paper clips…”
“Well how did it get here? It definitely wasn’t here during the walkthrough earlier.”
As if on cue, lightning flashed outside the window, accompanied by a crash of thunder. The door slammed shut behind them and the house lights flickered on for just a second—just long enough for the Bondi Boys to see a third figure standing behind their reflections in the old mirror.
“Correction,” Gary gulped, “I definitely am afraid of ghosts.”
“You saw that, right?” Gary asked nervously. “Will, you saw…him…right?”
Gary and Will’s reflections once again stood by themselves in the mirror’s reflections. A quick survey of the room revealed that no one else was inside.
Will wasn’t sure what he had seen. Sure, it looked like a man in his 70s, mustachioed, slightly round, wearing horn-rimmed glasses, about six-feet tall, dressed in a blazer, polo, and khakis had been standing behind them. And sure he had a slightly…translucent look to him, but light refraction causes all kinds of weird phenomena, right? Swamp gas? A bit of undigested cheese?
“Holy cow,” Gary said, shaking Will out of his stupor. “It’s him. Look it’s him. Maybe minus an extra 40 years and pounds, but that’s definitely him.”
Gary was pointing at a black-and-white portrait on the page The Cherry Tree was open to.
What Will saw was a man in his 20s, wearing horn-rimmed glasses and a well-kempt mustache. Will hated to admit it, but Gary was right, they were the same man, separated by some 40 or 50 years. He read the name underneath the portrait: Bernard Jacobson.
That’s when Will decided that running was a good option. He grabbed Gary by his collar, jarring the yearbook loose from his hands in the process, and made a few quick steps towards the store. The doorknob was even colder this time, so cold it almost hurt to touch, but Will took a firm grip, quickly turned the knob, and wrenched the door open. At least, that’s what he tried to do.
The doorknob didn’t budge despite Will’s best efforts and their escape remained blocked. Will Bondi was not one to panic, but if there was a time, this was it.
“Will?” Gary whispered behind him.
When Will turned around to tell his coworker to help him with the door, he froze. The Cherry Tree, which had slipped from Gary’s hands when Will grabbed him, was floating in the middle of the room. He froze, one hand still on the doorknob.
Neither Will nor Gary could tell you how long they stood there staring at the floating yearbook, but neither would forget when a man in his 70s, mustachioed, slightly round, wearing horn-rimmed glasses, about six-feet tall, dressed in a blazer, polo, and khakis appeared slowly, his spectral hands grasping the book.
Gary dropped his Butterfinger.
The ghost of Bernard Jacobson looked at the open pages of The Cherry Tree, then down at himself, then back up at the boys. His eyes were very kind looking for a haunting spirit.
“Looks like I’ve seen better days,” he said with a grin.
“No, no—you look great,” Gary stammered. The ghost responded with a quick bow. Will remained still and silent.
“Mr. Jacobson?” Gary asked.
“Please, call me Bernie.”
“Oh my god—Weekend at Bernie’s!” Gary exclaimed.
The rest of his body still, Will slowly shifted his gaze over to Gary, trying to make him explode by just glaring. You don’t compare a ghost to a cult 80s comedy, do you? That seemed to be against some rules.
“I noticed you boys are wearing my favorite colors,” the ghost said, gesturing at their clothing.
Will looked looked himself over. He hadn’t realized that they were both decked out in GW buff and blue. Gary was wearing a faded GW Baseball cap and a Colonials Football shirt that read “Undefeated” on the back. Will had on a long-sleeve t-shirt with “George Washington” emblazoned on the front.
“Did you know that GW accepts gifts of real estate?” Gary asked the specter tentatively.
The ghostly figure smiled, adjusted his glasses, and nodded.
“I do now,” he said.
That’s when Will passed out.
It must have been close to dawn when Will’s eyes fluttered open. It was still dark and it took a few moments for his vision to adjust, but he could tell that he was lying on his sleeping bag back downstairs. Gary was sitting up next to him, flipping through a book. When he saw Will was up, he snapped off the flashlight and stuffed the book into his duffle quickly.
“Well hello there restless wonder,” Gary said cheerfully. “Bad dreams?”
“What?” Will asked, confused.
“Dude, you’ve been tossing and turning all night, mumbling and thrashing in your sleeping bag—probably a good thing we decided to sleep downstairs.”
“What?” Will asked again.
“You kept me up most of the night, so I’m pretty beat. You’re going to have to drive again—might not be safe for me to be behind the wheel right now.”
“What were you reading?”
“Graphic novel,” Gary said dismissively while checking his phone. “Welp, looks like dawn is just a few minutes away. Let’s pack up and hit the road?”
Will was confused—had it all been a dream? It must’ve been. Ghosts don’t exist, right? Surely, Gary would’ve said something, but he was acting normal. Well, normal for Gary. He was whistling happily while cleaning up the ring of snack wrappers encircling their sleeping area.
What a bizarre dream, he thought to himself while packing up his gear. I’m ready to get out of here.
They packed the car in less than half an hour and Will was already feeling better as he slid into the driver’s seat. He started the car and eased it down the driveway.
Gary had his head out the window, flapping his arms like a maniac back towards the house. Will didn’t bother to look back, he just eased the car onto the main road and began the drive back to Washington, D.C.—if he had, he would’ve seen a solitary figure waving to them from the front door, slowly fading away as the first rays of sun touched the house.
The Bondi Boys will be back in their next mystery, The Mystery of the Enchanted Amulet.
This story is a piece of fiction, but what isn’t fictitious is GW’s desire to work with you to make a lasting impact on students and faculty through gifts of all kinds, including gifts of real estate. Giving to GW isn’t as scary as you think—visit campaign.gwu.edu or contact us today to learn how you can help support students, enhance academics, and break new ground.