Stories from my little corner of the world, the South. Some are from the present, some from the past...but all are from my heart.

They reflect my thoughts and views, my musing about the world, and each carries with it a bit of my heart
and soul.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Ashes Rising...A Ghost Story

 Ashes Rising...A Ghost Story

I pulled into the yard and turned off the car. Dread, who had been my passenger for the last five miles of the ride home, crawled into my lap for a better seat.

I sat silent and still, trying to steady my breathing which was now short and shallow. The dogs trotted up to the car door expectantly, awaiting my exit. Dread wouldn’t move out of my lap, I was immobilized.

Taking a deep breath, I shook free. Our dogs, Hominy the one-eyed mixed breed bird dog and Moon, an English/Pit bull mix wagged and pranced around my feet, showering me with love. It was as if they sensed I needed their support. I petted both their heads and started towards the steps.

Dread was still with me, hanging on my back with a chokehold. I found Fear lurking at the back door. I looked around for the dogs; they had abandoned me at the bottom of the steps. Their sweet furry faces seemed to convey concern.

Surely, you aren’t going in there, they seemed to say.

I patted the side of my leg and whistled to them.

They wagged their tails, but neither moved an inch. I called their names, “Here Moon…come on Hominy, let’s go inside for a Milk Bone!” The forced gaiety in my voice didn’t convince any of us.
Not even the promise of their favorite treat could coax them inside. The smell of Fear was stronger than the lure of food.

The refusal of our dogs to come inside was the clincher. Even with all the odd and frightening things we’d experienced in the past ten months, those dogs reacting the way they did to the house was the most disturbing.

After several instances of the dogs rushing to the back door to be let out, barking at nothing,  and then Moon the last time he was in the house, looking back and growling at something behind us that we couldn’t see, we knew we weren’t alone anymore.

Opening the back door I tried to keep Fear and Dread outside, but they shoved their way in. There was no way they were going to miss the show they knew was coming.

As if on cue, within minutes of my entry, I heard the bumping noise in the bedroom. IT knew I was home and offered a welcome.

I laid my things on the dining table and went into the kitchen to start supper. I needed a cool drink of water for my parched throat. The trick was to not drink too much, or I’d have to go to the bathroom which meant going through the bedroom.

I avoided being alone in the bedroom at all cost these days.

I took out pots and pan, turned on the radio to drown out the noise, and busied myself to keep from thinking. This show of bravado seemed to make Dread take a seat and Fear to back out of the kitchen.

Think about work, sing with the radio, don’t let it get to you…all of these thoughts ran through my head. The clock said 4:45, it would be at least another hour or more before my husband was home.

A loud THUD came from the bedroom, followed by the metal clatter of clothes hangers spilling on the floor. The evening show was beginning.

  Fear jumped at the chance to grab me and breathe its icy breath on my neck, sending goose bumps down my spine. The hairs on my arm raised and sweat started to bead up on my brow. Dread was lounging at the dining table, sporting a smirk of a smile as it glanced knowingly at the doorway.

Didn’t I want to go investigate that noise? Hmmm, what could it be? Why there was no one in the house but me and my friends Fear and Dread and…

I had no intentions of going in there; I knew what was going to happen next. The same scenario had started to repeat itself over and over the past couple of weeks.

First, the loud thud in the closet- then, the clothes hangers falling- then, a scratching, scraping sound that lasted a about five minutes-then, silence.

I turned off the radio. The silence was stifling, except for my heart thumping wildly in my chest, my ear, my temples, my eyeballs. My breathing was hard and labored like I had bounded up two flights of stairs.

I heard the maniacal laughter of my friends, Fear and Dread, ricocheting in my head.

I felt cornered, breathing was difficult, and finally, I decided I’d had enough. Grabbing my purse from the table, I dashed out the back door.

Outside,  I rushed to the far corner of the yard. The dogs came bounding from the front of the house, happy to see me safe. They flung themselves at my feet and offered up their soft underbellies for scratching. They knew I felt scared and upset and offered up their own vulnerability to me as a way of comfort.

See, they said, it doesn’t matter that your house is haunted; you’ll always have us and our unconditional love.

It was more than I could stand. I plopped down between them and let my emotions run amok. I was overwhelmed with all of this; it was hard to lose the refuge of our home to something we couldn’t even see.

Our house, our haven from the world had become a prison. I dreaded entering within its walls.
Hominy, always in protective mother mode, cuddled close to my chest and offered solace. She licked at my tears and nuzzled my cheek.

I cried harder.

Moon, always the puppy even now at a year old, whimpered softly at my distress. He nudged his wide forehead under my fingertips and coaxed me to stroke him.

I glanced around thinking that our neighbors, if they could see me, must surely think I had lost my mind. If my husband had not been seeing and hearing the same thing I had, I would have agreed with them.

Finally, the tears slowed and I found myself wrapped in a warm blanket of doggie love.

This was how Wayne found the three of us, nearly forty minutes later. My tears were all gone, but my puffy eyes told the tale. The dogs had drifted off to sleep, in their simple minds it was all settled, I would just stay outside with them and everything would be perfect.

He rounded the corner of the house, just dropped off by his ride from work, and stopped in his tracks when he spied us. The dogs jumped to their feet and welcomed him home.

He knew the minute he saw me. “It happened again?” he asked.

I nodded, unable to speak without the threat of rising tears.

“OK, well we just have to start looking for another place to live. We can’t go on like this, it’s not good for either of us.”

We moved about a month later. The activity in the house was reaching a fevered pitch, happening every night now, sometimes several episodes. Besides the noises, there were the icy cold spots, the feeling of dread and being watched, objects falling from mantles or dressers, and windows and doors slamming shut.

The house, our first together as a married couple, had been rented the year before with great expectations. The giddiness of being newlyweds seemed to keep IT at bay for the first couple of months.

Then, the subtle unexplained noises started. From there it grew so that over the period of six months we were certain there was no longer just the two of us in our little honeymoon house. Our cozy two had become a terrifying three.

On the last day we as were moving out, one of our neighbors came to tell us goodbye. She was a sweet elderly lady who had befriended us one day after I introduced myself and asked to borrow a cup of sugar. The town we were living in was very rural and small. Borrowing from a neighbor was completely acceptable.

When Mrs. Beal came to the front door, on our last day in the house, she stopped at the bottom of the steps. I heard her calling my name and went out to greet her. She offered up a sweet potato pie and said she just wanted to say bye and she would miss us. I suggested she come inside, there were still dining table chairs to sit on, but she refused.

She had never come inside our house the whole year and a half we lived there. I realized that now and suddenly something else occurred to me.

No one in that little town had ever stepped a foot inside our door. Some had come to the porch to visit but never inside. A couple of the younger men and sat on the front porch with my husband to talk and play guitar...but no one had ever come inside. Why was that? In a small southern town that was not the norm, it was downright odd.

Had they all known something and failed to tell us?

I decided to ask Mrs. Beal for the truth. She blushed and looked down when I posed the question. When she looked back up at me, she seemed ashamed.

“Yep, Honey, most folks here knowed this place was haunted. But it didn’t seem to bother y’all none, at least not till just lately. Me and the husband figured that’s why y’all are movin’ to Valdosta.”
I sat down on the top step, bewildered!

 I was from a small town originally, I knew how clannish southern rural towns could be, but I still couldn’t believe that everybody knew this house’s secret and nobody bothered to tell us.

“Well, do you know the story about this house, because I want to know Mrs. Beal? I think I deserve that much, don’t you?”

She nodded and sighed. Then she told me a sad tale of an old gentleman who had rented the house for many years from our present landlord. He had little family and was on bad terms with his only son. She described a grouchy old curmudgeon that didn’t seem to have a kind word for anyone and kept to himself.

He minded his own business and didn’t visit or interact with folks, except when he absolutely had to. Even with the distance he kept, people around town noticed after about four days that no one had seen him out on his porch in the rocker or up at the general store.

Someone called the landlord, Mr. Jones, who went to the house and knocked, to no avail. His old truck was in the yard so if he was gone, someone would have had to come and pick him up.

Mr. Jones called the son, who lived somewhere out west, and was told that he hadn’t talked to his father in several years. He had no idea where he might be, and said that he didn’t really care. They had nothing to say to each other anymore. He authorized the landlord to use his master key to go inside.

Mr. Jones called the sheriff’s office to let them know what he was going to do. They sent a deputy around to the house so there as a witness, just so the old grouch couldn’t claim anyone had done anything to his property.

When they opened the door, the sickly sweet smell of human decay welcomed them. It quickly led them to the closet where they found the old man on the floor. The cause of death was later ruled as a heart attack. He had apparently been stricken and grasped at the hanging clothes to break his fall, pulling down several empty hangers with him. I imagined he hadn’t died right away, but had scrabbled about on the floor of the closet alone, struggling to get up.

When she finished her story, I was too stunned to move. Now everything we had heard made sense.

We moved away from there and rarely spoke of what we experienced. It seemed too hard to explain. Most people wouldn’t have believed us, so why invite ridicule?

At a party once when someone asked if anyone knew a good ghost story, we cautiously trotted out our experience. Everyone listened, hanging on our every word, and finally clapped at the end. When we assured them it was no story, but what we actually experienced all talking stopped.

 At first there was dead silence, then nervous laughter. Surely, we were joking, someone asked?
We glanced at each other, realizing that although people might say they want a ghost story, they didn’t necessarily want a real one. The fear of the unknown was far more frightening than anything Hollywood could conjure.

There is an interesting ending to this story. About six years after we moved away, I got a call one day from my mother saying she had some news to share. I had finally told her about what we encountered while there and she made a point to notice if there was anyone living in the house when she passed through the little town.

The house would be rented now and then, but the occupants never stayed very long. Finally, after a year, it was empty and no one ever moved back in.

When Momma called that night, she said,  “You will never guess what happened last night! Go ahead, just guess.”

I was clueless and said so. She gave me a hint. “It had to do with that little haunted house y’all lived in.”

Hmmm, I don’t know, did someone else move back in it?”

She burst out, “No, this is something really creepy!”

I wasn’t sure I wanted to know, at least part of me didn’t, but there was another part that was dying to find out. I felt like when I was a kid watching a horror movie from behind my cupped fingers. They were always spread just wide enough to let the scary movie through, filling my mind with dread and my heart with fear.

“OK, tell me, I haven’t got a clue.”

“It burned to the ground last night! They had a big thunderstorm and lightning struck it. It raged like an inferno until there was nothing left but mostly just ashes and the bricks from the chimney! Can you believe that?”

I sat speechless at first, but my mind processed what she'd told me. I managed to talk a bit longer and then hung up.

I was stunned by what I'd heard, but it made sense to me, in a way, perfect sense. I knew he was finally released. God had taken matters into his own hands with a lightning bolt.

The house had burned to the ground, nothing but ashes…ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

The troubled, restless spirit was finally set free. No more lonely haunting, no more anguished reliving of the last moments of his life, no more lying there alone without so much as another friendly face to comfort him as he waited for death to come for him.

No more falling down, over and over and over again.

After all these years, he was finally set free.

Rose Steedley Williams

Note---And yes, indeedy, this story is true.