Italo Calvino said: The more enlightened our houses are, the more their walls ooze ghosts.
Image credit: “love don’t live here anymore…” – © 2009 Robb North – made available under Attribution 2.0 Generic
I came upon the old house in the field almost by surprise. I was hiking through an empty cotton field, letting my bare feet sink into the soft rows of hot, dry soil to the dampness underneath just as I did as a child with my cousins. We loved playing in the hot cotton fields before the little sprouts of cotton came up and cracked the soft rows of furrowed soil in a million different directions. I loved those times playing at my aunt’s farm in the fields. There was so much to do and see and a million possibilities for make believe adventures. I was just remembering the big wooden cotton trailers we used to climb around in and the old small shacks that housed large farming implements when I came within a foot of the red brick wall ahead of me before seeing it.
I felt a chill come out of the empty front door and realized the same chill was drifting down from the open windows on either side of the door. In 102 degree heat, feeling any kind of chill was just plain spooky. The fact that it was oozing out of this old abandoned red brick house struck a shiver down my spine. I had been in dozens of these types of houses as a child, some abandoned, some not. My cousins and I weren’t supposed to ever go near one of these abandoned houses, but we felt if we were careful and didn’t get hurt, what difference did it make? Ok, I felt that way and since I was the only girl among a group of boys, if I went into spooky places, they followed along. No girl was ever going to do more than they were! It wouldn’t be fitting at all! It’s funny, but as a wee girl growing up, I bounded into houses like this with no fear at all. I was girl, I was invincible, I was…stupid sometimes, but we sure did have a lot of fun! Now, standing in front of this old house in the heat with chilled air coming from inside it, I must admit my heart trembled. What was this feeling of caution and trepidation? Was it because I had lost my childish sense of adventure or was there another cause?
Taking a deep breath and saying a little prayer, I stepped over the threshold into the house. The entire house creaked…not the floor but the whole house! Dust and cobwebs floated down from the ceiling, or what passed as a ceiling. There were huge gaping holes in the ceiling where the years had worn their way through. Sunbeams shone through the holes and dust motes were clearly visible. At least I thought they were dust motes! As I stared at the floating motes I suddenly perceived a shape forming. It was a woman in a long, old-fashioned dress, her hair in a prairie bun and a bitter slash of a mouth. Where her eyes should be I only saw dark spots with pinpoints of light. Lord! Was I having a sunstroke or just losing my mind? I closed my eyes, took a deep breath and slowly re-opened my eyes. She was still there and had been joined by a little boy in old overalls full of patches. He was grinning. Good grief! I really was losing my mind! I’ve always been accused of having an overactive imagination, but this was right round the bend.
I’ve often wished, going through old houses and buildings that the walls could talk and tell their stories. Had I conjured these shapes of people from that deep secret desire? I was feeling a little lightheaded, but was afraid to close my eyes again. Ok, I was terrified of closing my eyes and something awful happening to me. I opened my eyes wider and pulled out my water bottle. Maybe if I drank some water, my flights of insanity would abate. As I took a deep swallow of water, the air became more chilled. I slowly looked up and the shapes were staring at the water longingly, desperately and they were moving closer! That’s when I noticed the frost on the walls and the floor forming. I backed up. The shapes came closer. I started to scream, threw the water bottle at the shapes and tried to turn around and run back out the door…
“Honey, are you okay? I’ve been looking all over for you! You look awfully pale.” My husband was kneeling beside me. I was all tangled up in myself. My legs looked like pretzels and felt like jelly. I started to sit up, but Alan said to stay put while I drank some water. “What in the world happened? You look like you’ve seen a ghost! I was looking everywhere for you when Buddy came running back, having a fit. I’ve never seen him so agitated! He led me over here to this old stack of wood and bricks. Must have been a house at some point, but not much of it is left.” I sank back on the hot, soft Texas dirt of a cotton field, staring at the house that once was. I’ve always wondered, did I have a sunstroke or did I really see ghosts in the house that was no more? I guess I’ll never know…
I was given the photo above as inspiration and decided to write a little short story with it. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I enjoyed writing it.