The Haunted House

Every neighborhood has got to have it’s ‘haunted house’ or the creepy old house that all the kids skirt gingerly around.  Our neighborhood wasn’t that much different.  In the farmer’s field back behind the loop of houses that comprised “the ‘hood” was a small grove of trees; within this grove stood a small single story house which was supposed to be haunted. None of us kids dared venture into that grove – we didn’t dare even venture into the field, for the farmer who owned it took a dim view of trespassers, and was reputed to have a shotgun ready, loaded with rock salt, for anyone who did set foot on his land. Many a time we heard the rumors, usually from a friend of a friend who knew a friend who’d heard about a friend getting his backside liberally seasoned with a load of high speed salt – something which we, as children, took as gospel truth.

But eventually as we got older, we ventured into that taboo territory late one summer afternoon, that forbidden bit of land. At first venturing on treks around its periphery, then circling the little grove like a flock of nervous hens – keep an ever present vigilant eye for our nemesis, the always angry farmer – we descended into the shade of the overhanging trees. The house – a mere shanty, squatted like a forlorn mushroom, its blank windows staring at us intruders as we investigated the numerous items littering the yard – or what had once been a yard. Vines grew on natural trellises of former, dead vines; the sagging porch greeted us like a smile. A table stood in the front yard; on it were stacked pane upon pane of ancient auto glass. Being boys, we could not help but try to break a few, but these were the old “safety glass” – two sheets bound together by a thick film of plastic. You could shatter them, but they remained whole, their broken facets bending in the shadowy light. After poking around the yard for awhile, us boys finally managed the courage to approach the front porch.

The house was clad in white painted boards. The paint, weathered and peeling like old dead skin, exposed the gray bones of the wood underneath. The door, gaping one-third open, creaked as we pushed on it; frightened by the sound, we opened it only a little further and ventured in.

Inside we found . . . a home. You could feel a sadness that hushed our voices, and kept us nervously looking over our shoulders all the time. There were ancient portraits on the grime covered furniture – pictures of a woman and a girl. The wood planked floors, covered with years of dirt, still had patches of old carpet, indistinguishable from the wood they covered by the darkened patina of age. We wandered around the living room of the two room house, venturing only so far into the back bedrooms to stick our heads in. A bed was in one of them; in the other, a cradle. Both had chest of drawers, covered in filth. The kitchen was part of the living room, the stove’s white enamel stained with runnels of dirt.

I remember picking up one of the pictures and looking at it with interest. It was obviously old, black and white, in a cheap frame. A thin sad looking woman – young, you could see that – with long dark hair stared past the speckles of dirt at me. In her arms was a child, a toddler, perhaps, or a young baby. You couldn’t really be sure; the child was bundled in white cloth of some type, perhaps a blanket, with only the head sticking out. The child wasn’t looking into the camera, but the woman was.

“They say she died here,” the teenager, who had accompanied us, whispered. “She was killed, and her baby, too. That’s why it’s haunted. That’s why Farmer B won’t let anyone come in here. He wants to keep it just the way it was. She was his daughter.”

Looking around, I knew this wasn’t the ‘way it was’. I could imagine it being much cleaner, a young woman cooking at the stove. A young baby squalling in the corner. And the baby had to have come from somewhere. There were mysteries aplenty in here; stories sensed, as if hiding just behind the corner, beneath a dusty chair. And a sense of tragedy seemed to permeate the place, like an almost palpable presence in the air. It was easy to imagine this place being haunted, especially given its rumored history. We crept around like cockroaches, investigating, but not too deeply, our nerves humming like the cicadas whining outside. I was glad that it was day. I could not imagine venturing here at night.

We eventually left the place – it didn’t take us but about a half hour to explore what we dared to look at. For some reason we treated the place with respect – putting things back exactly where they had come from, not digging into the drawers or cabinets. We didn’t even dare open the drawer on the small vanity that stood in the living room. I remember seeing the table, its top covered in crumbs of dirt – and thinking of the meals that must have been served there. Creeping out as silently was we’d come in – hushed, not speaking a word – we left that grove of trees and house behind, and never returned. We had seen enough. And even more: we had felt too much of the sadness, sensed the aura of tragedy. It was as thick as the Southern humidity within that small house, like a damp hand touching our minds.

 

Now as an adult I know what I knew then: we could never be completely sure what happened in that house, how it became abandoned, why the mysterious farmer had left it . . . the way he had left it. With the furniture in place, bedsheets still on the bed. Pictures left on the bureau. That a woman and a baby had lived there – that much was evident. Was the woman the farmer’s daughter? Had she come to some terrible fate, one perhaps shared with the baby? Was that the reason the farmer was so protective of his land – so bitter and angry at life?

 

I’ll never know. The farmer – he’s long dead now, I’m sure. The house has probably been bulldozed, the field filled with a suburban neighborhood – though I must say that the last time I saw it about ten years ago the field was still a field. But I don’t know if the house got is there, and even if it is, I doubt the items are still in it. I hope not. I hope they got saved, that someplace, somewhere, that image of the woman with her baby still appears – a reminder of a life that once was, and perhaps . . . still is.

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