Third Time's a Charm

This will be the last story for a while for a variety of reasons. I will be traveling out of the country starting this Friday. I’ll have no internet connection for most of the time. Yes, I expect withdrawal symptoms. My birthday occurs during that time (Dec 11). Feel free to send me birthday wishes. I’ll be back just before Christmas, but have things I have to do. What, you think I live for this blog? After Christmas I will be traveling again until the beginning of January. Also, the quiver of stories is getting low. I still have some and a few I’m still working on. I’ve been spending a lot of time on my novel. I just added a new chapter. That thing has become such a timesuck.

I’ve got articles and books I need to read on how to write a short story. There are some online courses and local college courses I thought about taking. But, all hubris aside, I like how I write. I don’t want to change that. Only enhance it.

And an article I read said that writers should read a lot to keep their minds fresh with ideas. So when am I supposed to find time for that? I plan an operation in March that will leave me bedridden for several weeks. Maybe I can catch up on my life then. Who ever thought I’d be looking forward to being an invalid?

In the meantime, happy Christmas, New Year and/or whatever celebrations you have this time of year. I find it interesting that all religions have some sort of holiday around the winter solstice.

I mentioned here before that I got a professional review of Do This One Thing. Following the reviewer’s comments resulted in losing a good bulk of the story, but I understood. I was confusing two stories as one. However, the review said I had “hit a homerun” in my description setting the place. I hated to lose that homerun, but it didn’t factor into the story I wanted to tell. I have decided to toss out some of his notions. Even though it is primarily a ghost story, it doesn’t hurt to set the scene of who is telling it. Does the interplay of Peter Falk and Fred Savage detract from the pleasure of The Princess Bride? Does the first half of The Wizard of Oz movie cause problems with the second half? Scene setting is important. With this in mind, I resurrected my original and took the parts I liked and tacked it onto the severely cut version. The resulting story probably suits no one but me. I don’t care. I like it. And the title always seemed kind of clunky to me, so I changed that also. I decided to use a word that my granddaddy would use. The new title is a better clue to what the story is about.

As an aside, I got a professional appraisal of another story. I asked him to take a look at It Went Down Like This. His review opened with: “This is a wonderfully entertaining story. The voice is a fun, familiar noir-style narration and the plot plays out at a mostly smooth and steady pace.” He goes on with some suggestions. I’m still working on them. That’s the kind of review I like. If you haven’t read the story yet, it’s in the archives. Go take a look. I have it on good authority it’s ‘wonderfully entertaining’.

The Haint

I remember sitting on Granddaddy’s porch when I was a child listening to the adults talking. I remember in particular a Saturday evening in summer in the mid nineteen-sixties. Granddaddy’s house sat on the top of a low hill, the highest land in the area. From his front porch we could see the entire community for a half mile or more in every direction. It was twilight, what Grandma always called the gloaming. The heat of the day had dissipated, and we were outside to catch any cool breezes that might float by. The front lawn twinkled with constellations of lightning bugs providing us with our own private light show. It was a large lawn, stretching about a hundred yards down to the main highway. Granddaddy always called his lawn the avenue. His avenue was dotted with cedars, catalpas and large hardwoods.

            A couple of my cousins and I were on the steps that evening. Mama and Daddy and my cousins’ parents had gone to the city to dinner and Grandma always watched us for them. So, we sat on the porch, watching the sky turn purple, the insect light show, munching on popcorn Grandma had just popped, and experiencing the joy of being a family. As sometimes happens in these types of gatherings the conversation turned to ghost stories.  

            Granddaddy said he remembered one from when he was a young man. Grandma said, “Good Lord, don’t tell that story again, honey. You dreamed it.”

“Dang if I did,” Granddaddy declared. “I know what I saw.”
“What?” we all wanted to know. He had us then. We were spellbound.

            I pulled off my straw hat and mopped my face with my damp bandana. Squinting, I looked up. The bright August sun appeared to be nearly directly overhead. Near enough to take our lunch break, anyway.

            “Time,” I said loud enough for both Sam and Lonnie to hear. They were both within a few yards, chopping cotton like me. We were in the big field north of the Bass Woods. Off to the south, just beyond the hedgerow was Sam’s house. We could have gone there to eat, but we saw no sense in walking all that way. Closer by was Miss Alice’s home, the old Garris place. While a simple two-story farmhouse, it boasted details that made it stand out among its peers. Things like delicate curlicues on the porch columns, fresh painted clapboards and shutters, a clipped privet hedge surrounding the front yard. Old Miss Garris didn’t get around much anymore, but she made sure her home reflected the style she had always embodied. It was near sixty years after the Great War and a couple after what they were calling a World War, but Miss Garris was still the lady of the manor, ready to serve tea on the verandah. Surely, she wouldn’t mind the three of us stopping to eat lunch under the shade of one of her elms. I figured I should ask before we drew water from her well, just to be polite.

            Lonnie, my wife’s Uncle Lonnie, trudged over to sit under the shade of a tree at the edge of the yard. At 40, he was getting too old to work in the fields all day. My cousin Sam and I, both in our 20s, each did twice the work of Lonnie, but he needed to feel useful. Sam sat beside Lonnie.

            “Let me pay our respects to Miss Alice before we pump the water,” I said to them as I headed up the back-porch steps. 

Getting no reply to several raps on the door, I was unsure if I should look in. Miss Garris was a little hard of hearing and I didn’t want to alarm her. Or if she was on the chamber pot, it would be embarrassing. But she was very old and might have fallen and need some help. I knew a colored girl comes in about once a week to help with cleaning but wasn’t sure when that was.

Lonnie and Sam were near enough that I could talk to them from the porch without shouting.

“When’s the last time you saw Miss Garris?” I asked them.

“She won’t at church on Sunday,” Sam said. “Somebody said she was feeling poorly.” For some reason I suddenly felt a shiver run down my spine.

“Reckon we ought to go in and look,” I said. There are no locked doors in our

neighborhood. We all trust each other. I opened the door a crack and spoke into it.

“Miss Garris. Can you hear me? You all right?” After a few minutes with no answer, I pushed the door open wider. As soon as I got the door open, I ran back into the yard and threw up. She was definitely dead and after several days in the August heat she was smelling. As I wiped my mouth on my sleeve, I heard Lonnie and Sam muttering to each other. 

Dammit, I thought. I’m sorry old Miss Garris died, but it would also make us lose a day of work.

“I guess one of us needs to go fetch either the doc or Sheriff Stephenson,” I said, rejoining them under the elm. 

“Why break off work? Let’s finish the field and then go get the doc. The old lady ain’t going nowhere.” Sam’s comment was practical if cold hearted.

“Naw, that ain’t right,” I told him. “That old lady deserves more respect than that. Plus, I don’t think I could work knowing a dead body was just a few yards away.” Lonnie nodded his agreement. He and Sam gathered our tools to take back to my barn. I headed off to Gumberry. It was only a mile or so through the woods and there was a telephone at the general store.

            They had her funeral the very next day. The preacher told me she had been dead at least three days and was far gone. He said he didn’t know if they would ever get the smell out of the house. They even had the funeral out by the graveside instead of inside the church. Prim old lady that she was, I know she’d have been embarrassed by all the mess.

***

            That night was hotter than ever. Mollie and I didn’t have any covers on the bed and all the windows were open. We even had the front door propped open to catch any breeze it could. Mollie had insisted that I install screens in the windows and a screen door at the front of our cabin so we could open it up at night without letting in mosquitos and other varmints. On nights like this I was happy I had listened to her. 

From where I was lying in bed, I could look through the door and down the long lane to the main road. I could see low-lying mist down by the end of the lane. It just drifted back and forth with whatever breeze caught it. After a bit it seemed the mist was drifting toward the house. As I watched it, it seemed to get thicker. Suddenly it took form and I could see it was a woman in a white dress standing outside the house. I froze in terror. I saw her put her hand on the doorjamb, lift her skirt and step into the house, walking through the screen door as if it weren’t there. I immediately recognized it as old Miss Garris.

            She stood there looking at me a minute. Then she walked over to the bed and reached down and touched my hand. Her hand was so cold. I wanted to scream but I couldn’t move or make no sound. She said, “Lloyd, they didn’t find my will. It’s in the Bible in my study. You need to tell them. Do this and you won’t ever see me again. You don’t do it, I’ll be back. I’ll haint you.” She disappeared suddenly, and it released me. I set to squalling.

            Mollie said I liked to have scared her out of ten year’s growth. She said I was yelling and wrenching around; raving about ghosts. She soothed me, saying I just dreamed it.

“There ain’t no such thing as ghosts, sugar,” she murmured to me, stroking my brow as she held me. Even drenched with sweat in the hot August night, I still shivered in fear.

“But it was so real.”

“Dreams usually are, honey. Just go back to sleep. I’m here and won’t let nothing happen. You’ll see. In the morning, it’ll all be gone.”

            “But she said she’d come back and haint me,” I whimpered.

            “Shh, honey. Mollie’s here. Go to sleep.”

***

The next day, I went to the general store, and Doc Moore happened to be there. I told him a lie. I said Miss Garris told me before she died that her will was stuck in a Bible in her study. I knew he wouldn’t believe me if I said her ghost told me. It turned out there was a second will in a Bible in her study. And like she promised, I’ve never seen her again. And I want to keep it that way.

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