Grant, Tom Shipman and I, having been friends all the way through
school and having birthdays that fell during the same month, had
just turned eighteen a few weeks ago. Being avid fishermen and
boy explorers extraordinaire, had tired of the usual excitement
we suffered from our frequent and often uneventful fishing trips
to a river about ten miles from our homes. It wasnt that
we caught nothing or didnt have fun; no, it was something
else entirely. Something that seemed to draw us away from what
we wanted to do and almost forced us to do what we didnt.
see, there was this really old house along the way that, looking
back, probably hadnt been occupied in years, but to our
young and foolish eyes, this was a haunted house if ever there
was such a thing. It was an ordinary two story house with a large
walk around porch. The windows had mostly been broken but one
or two remained, so that when you walked by after dark and the
moon was in just the right position, light reflected from it and
gave the illusion that there was someone or even worse, something
inside with a light moving from room to room. This always caused
much discussion between us as to the origin of this phenomenon
and as it turned out, was the start of our troubles.
dog days of an unusually hot summer had fallen upon us and with
its steady and continuing heat, everything had become a chore.
Fishing at the river was postponed and substituted by days spent
at the local swimming pool until even that was too much to deal
with. Our parents were suffering too. Not so much from the heat,
but by having us constantly underfoot. Go find something
to do, we were told, go out and enjoy your vacation,
they said, until finally we hit upon a solution to our sluggishness.
decided that we would do our exploring after dark, when the temperatures
were down slightly and the hot sun didnt beat down on us
so ruthlessly. Permission was easily obtained from our parents
and plans were hastily made for us to embark on our new adventure
within the next couple of days.
dont care what else we do, Jim said, but I think
we need to explore that old house by the river.
you kidding? Tom replied. We havent even been
in there in the daylight and now you want to do it in the dark?
come on you big chicken, its something new for us to do.
Its kind of spooky, dont ya think?
it is, and thats what makes it fun. After all, well
all be together when we go in. Youre not scared are you?
of course Im not, he said, as he tossed his long hair
over his shoulder. Im not scared of nothing.
right, its settled. The old house is first on our list to
explore. I said, as I looked at my friends and saw them
nod their heads in agreement.
rest of those two days passed quickly as we gathered our supplies
and robbed the pantries in our moms kitchens for snacks
to eat on our excursion the next night. We did have some fun though,
as we worked, telling Tom that if we did meet a ghost; it would
be his job to defend us. To say that he was thrilled by that prospect
would be a gross understatement and as it turned out, very prophetic.
day of our planned trip dawned and it was hot. It was so hot that
all we could do was lie under a large old oak tree in Toms
yard and wish that a breeze would come by every now and again,
just to offer us the slightest chance of something cooler than
the air was, as it washed across our sweaty skin.
time do you want to meet tonight? Jim asked, swatting at
an annoying fly that was trying to use his eye as a watering hole,
maybe just before the moon comes up?
me. I said, I just want to make sure that we have
time to start a campfire to keep these damn bugs away when were
trying to sleep.
let mama hear you say damn or shell have you in the kitchen
with a bar of soap in you mouth quicker you can say boo.
Tom muttered under his breath.
shmam. I said and shot him a look guaranteed to stop any
further comment about my vocabulary. Anyway, its too
damn hot to argue about anything.
old mongrel dog, Willie, wandered over and circled our small group,
then decided to drop down beside Jim and rest his weary bones.
A large crow landed on one of the lower branches of our shade
tree and sat there, his head cocking from one side to the other;
his large, liquid black eyes seemingly looking at each of us in
turn. He sat for a moment longer then spread his wings, crapped
and flew away.
was that all about? Jim asked, why do you suppose
he did that?
he had to take a crap, same as everybody else. I replied
and slapped him on his leg playfully. Ok, guys, lets get
ready to go.
three of us, backpacks piled high, along with Willy the dog running
in between our legs as we walked, set out on our last great hurrah
of the summer.
were in high spirits as we traveled the well worn path to the
river and looking forward to whatever might be in store for us.
moon rose like a glowing orange beacon, then turning blood red
as it cleared the horizon. The familiar trees and rocks that marked
our trail were there and yet, as we followed them, they seemed
to be somehow different. The sky was clear but there was a cloying,
close feeling, a difference about that night that I couldnt
perceive at the time; a subliminal feeling, a feeling that made
the hair stand up on the back of my neck, I couldnt explain
it, but it was there. The night just felt somehow-different.
we drew nearer to our intended destination, the moon was over
our shoulders, casting our four shadows boldly against the front
of the old house, leaving no doubt that it had visitors approaching.
If it felt any apprehension, it showed nothing. It was just there.
An old, abandoned, put by the wayside house, forgotten by almost
everyone. It was just there; silently waiting.
made it to the dirt pathway to the house and dropped our packs
to the ground, their weight finally taking its toll on our backs.
Each of us had a refreshing drink from our canteens and then we
sat and stared at the old house, each lost in our own thoughts,
our hearts still beating hard in our chests from our hike.
that was a pisser, wasnt it? I said.
was? Jim asked, as he snapped his fingers together to summon
Willie to his side.
hike here. Did you notice anything
different about the trail?
Tom replied, I was following you. What do you mean?
I saw something different, Jim said, scratching Willie behind
his ear, whats the big deal? Its just the moons
a strange color tonight. Whats that to us?
dunno, but somethings not right. I can feel it, cant
you? I asked, as my eyes wandered once again to the old
the packs on the ground, we gathered our flashlights and started
up the old walkway to the house. What concrete that was left was
cracked and broken, the rubble crunching under our feet. Willie
ran ahead but looked back over his shoulder every few feet to
check on our progress.
the base of the steps, we shined our lights up the four stairs
to the porch and saw that the boards were split and the nails
that had fastened them to the risers were almost all pulled out.
I put my foot on the first step and pressed hard. We heard a sharp
cracking sound and I quickly pulled my foot back.
was that? Tom asked his eyes big as saucers.
steps rotten and it broke, I said, thats
all it was. No big deal.
my light in front of me I cautiously put my entire weight on the
end of the first step and when nothing further gave way, I walked
up the rest until I was on the porch.
on up, guys, I told them, just be careful and stay
to the edge.
jumped ahead of them and walked down the length of the porch,
sniffed the air carefully, then returned and sat next to my feet.
The front door loomed large as I walked across the four feet of
porch to it. The other guys had joined me and watched as I put
my hand on the doorknob and turned.
happened. It wouldnt budge. I kicked the bottom of the door
and shook the handle, but still nothing happened.
me try. Jim said, stepping in front of me and grabbed the
knob. He pushed down on the handle hard and the door opened with
a loud groan.
you do that? I asked, I tried that and it didnt
he said, but you go in first.
all turned our lights towards the door and I pushed it open and
then stepped inside. The light from the moon shining in the openings
where the windows had once been, cast a ruby glare over the floor
and remaining intact walls. The floor was covered with a thick
layer of filth.
leaves and old newspaper pages littered the entire room, and the
walls had been smeared with something dark and fowl smelling.
There were two old pictures still hanging on the wall closest
to the stairway and as I shined my light on them, discovered that
they were photographs of an old man and woman with a young woman
do you suppose they are? Tom asked, stepping closer to examine
knows? I replied, probably someone that lived here
a long time ago. Theyre long gone by now.
left the front room and walked thru a short hallway into the kitchen.
The table was missing two legs and leaned against the wall at
a precarious angle. Broken dishes and old knives and forks lay
scattered around the floor. The cabinets had fallen off the walls
and lay on the counter, their doors sprung open. The sink had
been ripped out and old, rusty water pipes were exposed to view.
The refrigerator had been turned on its side, the door opened
and its last contents spewed in a dried pile beside it.
the middle of the floor was a large square opening covered by
a heavy door fastened by two rusty hinges and a hasp at the front.
I asked Jim to help me and together we lifted the door and let
it fall backwards with a loud bang. I shined my light into the
opening and saw steps leading down into the cellar.
not going down there. Tom said shaking his head and looking
at Jim, are you?
right now, Im not. Jim replied, I might later
if we dont find anything interesting up here.
on, I said walking back into the living room. Lets
check out the rest of the downstairs.
to the left of the living room and down another short hallway
was a small bedroom with no door. Inside was an old cot that had
rotted material still dangling from the wooden frame. A chest
of drawers was against one wall while on the other wall was a
full length mirror with a large crack running across it diagonally.
The glass was stained to a dull smoky hue and the gilded wood
frame was chipped and peeling.
closet door stood open and at first glance, except for a few rusty
wire clothes hangers on a wooden rod, was empty.
a minute. Tom said, I see something on the top shelf.
It looks like some kind of box.
you reach it? Jim asked, his light sweeping the interior
of the closet.
I got it, he said, shine your light over here and
well see whats in it.
took the cover off the top of the small wooden box and looked
inside. I heard him suck in his breath as he pulled out a string
of amber colored glass beads with a small wooden cross on the
a rosary, I said, someone must have been a Catholic.
a rosary? Jim asked, is it a religious thing or something?
I think they used it when they said their prayers. Im not
else is in the box, Tom? I asked, as I looked closer at
the beads in my hand.
like a few pennies and a small piece of cloth. He said,
as he poured out the contents into his hand, wait, theres
something wrapped up inside the cloth.
all turned our lights on the small floral patterned cloth in Toms
hand as he unfolded the material and a shiny ring with a small
black stone fell into his palm.
you look at that? Jim exclaimed, as he picked up the ring
and held it to his light, I think its made out of
silver. I dont what that stone is though, never seen one
have, I said, my mom has one like it. I think she
calls it a blood stone.
was a sudden strong gust of wind that came through the broken
windows and as we moved the lights away from the ring, a beam
of moonlight hit the stone and turned it blood red and it pulsed
like it had a heartbeat. Jim dropped the ring and grabbed his
hand like it had been burned.
what was that? he asked. Did you see that?
thing Mama didnt hear that. Tom wined, if she
the fuck up! I exclaimed, damn what your mama says,
were here and she isnt.
realized that I had just crossed the line with Tom and was immediately
sorry. I could see the hurt in his eyes. I was his best friend
and had just cut him down in front of his friend. He puckered
his lips and expelled a stream of hot breath in my direction,
then turned his face and wiped his eyes. I placed my hand on his
shoulder and squeezed.
Im sorry, I didn
He shrugged off my hand
and turned to Jim, his eyes feverish.
saw it. He said, as he clasped his hands together in front
of his face, I saw it and it
, it glowed.
picked up the ring from the floor and held it between his fingers;
his eyes locked on the black stone and then he slowly closed his
fist around it and put it in his pocket.
shook his head and with the back of his hand, wiped the hair out
of his eyes, then looked at me. I shrugged my shoulders in an
apparent secret agreement with him, and let the moment pass. I
didnt know what to say or do.
downstairs, except for the basement having been explored, we set
our sights on the second story of the house. We gathered at the
foot of the stairs and shined our lights upwards. The wall paper
had peeled off in thick strips, its flakey paste lying on the
steps like a light snow. The handrail seemed stout when I shook
it, but I was unsure and I turned to warn the others. Tom placed
his hand across my chest and held me in place as he passed my
position and bounded up five steps.
its easy, no problem. Come on guys, last one up sucks monkey
and I looked at each other, and then back to Tom, shocked on one
hand but laughing on the other.
dicks? I laughed and grabbed Jims arm for support, whats
he know about monkey dicks? Hes never said that in his life.
was laughing and started to answer my question but was interrupted
by a loud splintering of wood. Tom had stepped on the next step
and it couldnt hold his weight. We both watched, spellbound,
as he tried to grab the handrail, missed and disappeared from
our view in a cloud of dust and old plaster.
heard his body drop to the floor like a sack of concrete and he
cried out sharply in pain.
damn, it hurts.
attempted to reach him by lying across the steps and trying too
distributing his weight evenly. He managed to get his head just
above where the stair tread had broken and looked down.
hurt bad and I dont think we cant get him out this
was a wall of old plaster below the stairwell and not having any
tools, I kicked hard against the wall. It splintered and I was
able to pull the rest of the rotted wall out of the way with my
lay on his side facing me; his face drained of blood and his eyes
clenched shut against the pain. He was holding his leg and was
surrounded by the debris from the broken stairs and sheetrock.
you move your leg? I asked, as I crawled towards him, throwing
the debris out of the way.
but it hurts when I move it.
just try and relax and Ill have you outta there in a jiffy.
reached between two studs and grabbed his upper arm, then got
my other hand on him and slowly started to pull him towards me.
He groaned loudly and bit down on his lower lip to keep from crying
out. Jim came down and joined me and together we eased him into
the living room.
soon as we had him flat on the floor, I quickly discovered what
had happened to his leg. A nail from the broken steps had driven
itself deep into the muscle of his calf when he fell. Jim distracted
him briefly and I quickly pulled it out.
shit, that hurt like a motherfucker, he said and then laughed
hysterically, if my Mama heard me say that
scathing look, even in his pain, silenced him immediately.
came over and licked his face and then sat down beside him and
nail, while small in size, had buried itself to the head and I
noticed the same thing I had seen on the floor around us. A thick
layer of dust covered everything in the house; the nail in his
leg was no different. A small drop of blood oozed from the wound
and I used the water from my canteen to wash it as best as I could.
no point in trying to go back upstairs, Jim mentioned offhandedly,
I had a quick look and theres nothing up there.
leaves the basement to explore, I said, I have a feeling
that were going to hit pay dirt down there.
about me? What am I supposed to do while you both go down there?
Tom asked, sitting up with help from Jim.
hoping that youll come with us, I said, as I offered
my hand to help him stand, come on Tom, you can do it.
too much effort Tom was on his feet again. He took several small
steps, favoring his injured leg and in a few minutes was walking
with just a slight limp.
as a fiddle, He said, whats the plan for the
walked back into the kitchen and quickly stopped dead in our tracks.
The heavy trapdoor was closed! We looked at one another, shaking
our heads in disbelief and then back to the floor.
the hells going on around here? Jim asked, I know
we opened that a while ago and we sure as hell didnt hear
dont know, I replied, but were sure going
to find out, arent we?
looked at my friends and Jim nodded his head eagerly. Tom stood
there with an odd, strained look on his face, his hands thrust
into his front pockets. His right hand fidgeted in his pocket
and he withdrew the small piece of cloth containing the ring.
this has something to do with it, he said, unfolding the
cloth and picking up the ring, after all, until we found
this ring, it was just an old house. Now it seems to be much more
come on Tom, how stupid does that sound? Jim asked, what
could that ring have to do with this door being closed again?
dunno, but I think it does.
remembered something at that moment and asked Jim to return to
the living room and bring back one of the photographs on the wall.
He gave me a strange look, but left to get it.
me see the ring again, Tom, I asked holding out my hand.
Tom looked hard at the ring and then slowly handed it to me.
returned and handed me the photograph. I took the picture out
of the frame and asked Tom to hold my light. I discounted the
two older people in the picture but looked closely at the young
woman. There on her left forefinger, was the ring I now held in
belonged to her, I whispered, and look at this, her
skirt is the same material that the ring was wrapped in when we
turned the photo over and saw faint writing in an obvious womans
hand. Looking at it hard and turning the light across it from
an angle, I made out what was there.
and Paw Mathews / Cynthia Younger 1908
Hell, shed have to be what, in her eighties? Jim exclaimed,
Shes probably dead by now.
youre probably right, I said and then paused, wait
a second, Jim; please get the other photograph off the wall for
nagged at the back of my brain and when Jim handed me the other
picture, it came to me. I pulled the frame off this one as well
and turned it over to the back. There was the same inscription
as before, except this time it was dated 1928. I looked at the
front and saw that the older couple had aged more than in the
first photograph. The young woman, however, didnt look any
older than the first picture. The fact that she still wore the
ring on the same hand and had on the same shirt in both photographs,
twenty years apart, just added to the mystery.
placed the two photographs on the counter and handed the ring
back to Tom. Motioning to Jim, we again lifted the heavy trap
door and let it fall to the floor behind us. The dust flew in
all directions, Jim and Tom both sneezed and I had to rub my eyes
to clear my vision.
who wants to go first? I asked but already knew the answer.
it was your idea. They both said.
lets go. I said, as I started down the old wooden
steps into the basement.
the floor, I shined my light against the earthen walls and saw
a few old shelves that still held a few glass mason jars with
a thick coating of dust. I walked further into the cellar and
discovered that there was a metal door built into the back wall.
The frame had rusted away to almost nothing but the door itself
here, guys and look at this.
Jim said and then he saw what my light had illuminated, shit;
whats a door doing there?
guess is as good as mine at this point, but I think we need to
going to open it? He asked, as he turned his light back
towards Tom, checking on his progress.
was crouched at the top of the steps, his head as far forward
into the cellar as he could get without falling in, his front
paws tapping impatiently on the first step.
didnt have much luck with the front door, did I? Go ahead
and try it.
let me do it, Tom said, as he limped towards us, but
will one of you please get Willie? Hes going to bust his
balls if hes not with us.
and I exchanged glances again and then looked at Tom. In spite
of his pronounced limp, he seemed larger and more self confident
that before and his eyes had a subtle glow that our lights seemed
to draw out of him.
went to fetch Willie and I stood aside, as Tom limped to the door
and placed his hand on the old handle, pushing down hard.
both heard it click as the tumbler pulled back into its recess
and the door started to swing open.
had jumped from Jims arms and ran to the door, barking fiercely,
his tail between his legs.
Willie, settle down boy, Tom said, stooping briefly to rub
his fuzzy head, its ok.
pulled the door towards him and without the slightest sound, it
opened. I stepped beside Tom and shined my light into the opening,
only to discover that the beam didnt penetrate but a few
feet in front of us.
shine your light in here. I ordered. As he hastened to obey,
I felt a movement by my leg and looked down to see Willie, his
hackles up and his lips drawn back from his teeth, snarling.
snapped my head back to the dark entrance and saw nothing but
blackness ahead. The light would not enter the room.
beautiful, Tom murmured, so very beautiful.
and I fell back a few steps and looked hard at Tom. He was pointing
his finger into the darkness, his face alight with a smile.
you see her? he asked, shes just like her photograph.
and I both looked into the darkness as hard as we could, but I
was the first to find my voice.
the fuck are you talking about? I shouted. Theres
nothing there. Nothing but darkness.
stepped in from of me and I saw his hand slide along the wall
to my right. In a house that had been deserted for many years,
with no electricity, the light blinded us momentarily when it
blazed into existence.
backed up a foot or two but still held his aggressive stance.
Jim and I held our positions but Tom walked into the room and
turned towards us, spreading his arms wide.
is her room, he said, I can feel her presence and
shes still here.
who? I asked, what the fu..
girl on the wall, he stated, like I had not an ounce of
gray matter between my ears, the one in the living room.
stepped into the room and felt an immediate cold blast of air
wash over my body. I looked to my right and saw a bed neatly made
up, the covers fresh looking and clean. There were curtains hanging,
tied back, where a window should have been, and at the foot of
the bed, a cedar chest. Off to the left of the bed, on a two tiered
stand, was a small porcelain bowl with a pitcher filled with water
sitting in the middle and below that, one tier down, a larger
bowl filled with old, dried flowers that smelled slightly of lavender.
was a small chest of drawers against the far wall, with all its
drawers tightly closed. On the top of the chest were two books
lying on top of one another, with their covers face down and next
to them, was a small, faux silver tray with a few pieces of cheap,
costume jewelry. A mother of pearl hair brush and comb with several
strands of light blond hair caught in the tines of the brush,
sat at the end of the chest.
looked around the room and noticed that there were no mirrors
on the wall or on the chest of drawers. I walked further into
the room and saw a door off to the side that was partly open.
tapped lightly on the door and hearing no answer, pushed it open.
It was a bathroom that contained only an old claw footed tub with
two galvanized buckets filled with fresh water, beside it. There
was a wooden shelf above the tub that held two clean, folded towels
and a washcloth with a small cake of soap lying on it. I touched
the soap and was amazed to discover that it was damp and then
looking inside the tub I saw water droplets clinging to its sides.
going on here? I wondered aloud, as I looked around the
here. I saw her when we opened the door and shes beautiful.
if shes here, where is she? Jim asked, standing in
the doorway and looking into each room.
walked back into the bedroom and stood by the bed. Willie eased
over to him and surprised us by jumping up on the bed. He turned
around a couple of times on the blanket and then settled down
to rest, his brown eyes fastened on Tom.
dont see her right now, Tom said, but I tell
you, I did earlier.
right, I said and scratched Willies head, where exactly
was she when you first saw her?
here, where were standing now, Tom replied, and
then she walked back towards the bathroom.
Tom, if shes not in here and shes not in the bathroom,
where the hell is she then.
dont know! Tom cried, but I swear that I saw
her, just as plain as Im here looking at you.
heard the sound of water being poured and rushed to the bathroom
door. There was nothing there but the tub and the two full buckets
of water. I looked in the tub and was startled to see that it
turned around to see if they had seen it too and saw the shock
appear on their faces as Jim pointed past me and his mouth fell
open. Toms eyes were as large as saucers and his face broke
into a large smile.
told you she was here. He said, as he stepped forward.
turned around and felt the blood drain from my face as I realized
that five feet in front of me, was the young woman from the photograph.
She was dressed in exactly the same clothes and looked the same
age as the last photo of her that we had looked at upstairs.
stood beside the tub looking at us with cold, dark eyes. Her arms
were held stiffly at her sides and I glanced down and immediately
saw that the ring was not on her finger as it had been in the
are you? I managed to croak out, my speech sounding like
a young boy whose voice is changing.
didnt answer me but instead, raised her hand and pointed
her forefinger directly at Tom.
have something that doesnt belong to you, and I want it
stood there, speechless, the smile fading from his face. His eyes
showed hurt and confusion and he looked at Jim and me for support.
dont understand, he whispered, what do I have
that you want?
must want the ring, Tom, I said, give it back to her.
I found it. Its
, its mine.
moved and stood directly in front of Tom, her face just inches
away from his own.
want it back, she hissed, now!
recoiled like he had been slapped and dropped to his knees. He
placed his hands over his face and moaned loudly. She placed her
hand on his head and then knelt beside him, her face softening
must have that ring and it must be freely given back by the one
that possesses it. She said, it was removed from my
finger against my wishes and I must have it back.
are you? I asked quietly.
stood and slowly turned towards me and when her eyes met mine,
it was if she was able to see deep inside me and learn all my
secrets. I felt my breath catch in my throat as I realized that
I was staring at a woman that had been born over a century before
and still looked as young as the three of us standing with her.
name is Cynthia Young, she said, I was born in December
of 1858 and lived here in this house until my parents died and
my aunt and uncle came here to care for me.
That is you in the photographs upstairs, isnt it?
do you explain the fact that you dont appear to age in those
cant explain what I dont know. Ive always been
like this. She said, as she shrugged her shoulders, I
reached the age of twenty-one and from that day forward, never
a curse to never grow old. I watched my aunt and uncle age day
by day until they too died. I was left alone then, to fend for
myself. I had no money and having never been allowed to leave
this house, didnt know what to do.
couldnt you leave the house? Jim asked from his position
wouldnt let me leave. They were afraid of what the people
in town might say, so I had to remain here with them, always.
seems rather cruel. I said. Didnt you ever try
and leave after they died?
once, but I didnt like what I saw, she replied, I
came back here and turned this into a boarding house. At first,
I only allowed women to stay here with me but soon discovered
that I couldnt make it work. There just werent enough
single, unattached females so I let a man or two stay over the
next few years.
bet that was fun. Jim whispered, as he nudged Tom in the
turned quickly towards Jim and fixed him with an icy stare that
brought goose bumps to my body.
dont have any conception of fun yet, she said, youre
just a boy and youd be well advised to curb your tongue
in the future.
opened his mouth to give her a smart ass comment but seeing the
look on her face, it died in his throat. He looked at me and I
slowly shook my head and shrugged my shoulders, my expression
men that boarded here at first were gentlemen to a fault. They
had the utmost respect for me and my belongings. It wasnt
until much later, after World War l that the caliber of men declined.
had never allowed spirits to be consumed in this house; I wasnt
brought up that way. But those men had little regard for my wishes;
they had survived the war and were hard living men. There was
plenty of work in this area and at one time, there were five men
living under this roof.
did all the cleaning and cooking myself but occasionally, one
or two of the men would help me drag out the carpets and beat
them until I was satisfied that they were as clean as they would
never noticed your
none of them ever stayed more than a few months, most of them
only a few weeks. Usually just long enough to make enough money
to buy their whisky and an occasional visit to the local whorehouse
to satisfy their needs, then moving on to greener pastures.
was a whorehouse here in town? Tom asked wondering why he
had never heard of this before.
she said turning her attention once again to him, but that
was a long time ago.
I let a young girl that had been run out of town for supposedly
cheating a man there, stay with me for a while. She told me stories
of life inside that house. The rapes, the diseases that ran rampant,
the beatings that those women had to endure because of the mens,
shall we say, shortcomings.
was hard then for everyone and if you had no skills, there wasnt
much choice with what you could do with your life. Some chose
that life, I didnt.
walked past the three of us, returned to the small bedroom and
sat on the bed. We followed, spellbound.
the next war, World War ll, it became even worse for me. The army
needed places to have their young officers stay while waiting
on orders to go overseas. They offered me more money that I had
ever seen before to allow them the use of this house.
readily accepted their offer, but wish to God now, that I had
never done so.
happened? Jim asked completely mesmerized by her story.
first, nothing happened. It was just like before except that there
were eight men staying here at any one time. Some stayed a day
or two and others as long as two weeks before they were sent away.
said men, didnt I? They werent men; they were just
boys, such as you three. They were young boys, away from their
homes and families for the first time and facing a very uncertain
future. My heart went out to them and several times my intentions
were completely misunderstood.
though I looked as I do now, I was in my nineties at the time.
They mistook my feelings about them for those of the young women
they had left behind.
rose from the bed and walked to the bowl and pitcher on the stand.
She poured water into the bowl and splashed water on her face.
I handed her a small towel that was hanging nearby and she carefully
dried herself, nodded her head at me in thanks and returned to
her place on the bed.
of them, she resumed, came back late one night after
he had been out drinking with his friends. I was sitting in the
living room reading, when he returned. He was stinking drunk and
when I politely enquired as to his evening, he sat beside me on
the couch and put his arm around me. I shrugged it off and asked
him to please behave himself.
breath stank of whisky and he kept trying to kiss me. I pushed
him away and stood up to go to my room. As I walked away, he grabbed
my arm and spun me around into his embrace. His arms were tight
around me and he wouldnt quit trying to kiss me.
had all I was going to take from that drunkard and I slapped his
face as hard as I could, to bring him back to his senses. It didnt
dropped his arms from around me and stood there with a stunned
look on his face that quickly turned to anger. I tried to reason
with him, to tell that he had too much to drink, but he wasnt
hearing anything I said; he was enraged beyond belief.
picked up the lamp on the end table and before I could react,
swung it at my head. I tried in vain to move away from his blow
but stood rooted to the spot. The lamp hit me, the pain blossoming
like an on coming train in my head, and then total darkness surrounded
three of us stood there with our mouths open in disbelief. The
realization of what had happened struck us at the same moment.
next thing I saw was my body lying on the floor of the living
room with the soldier standing above me. I watched, almost as
if I were dreaming, as he dropped to his knees and pulled my dress
above my waist, ripped off my underwear and then undid his pants.
screamed at him, begged him not to do what he was going to do,
but he couldnt or wouldnt hear me. I stood there and
watched dispassionately, as he had his way with me that night.
he had finished, he put himself back into his pants and then,
seeing my ring, ripped it off my finger and placed it in his pocket,
turned and walked up the stairs as if nothing had happened.
killed you? I asked, as my brain was still trying to understand
what I had just heard.
sat on the bed with no outward expression on her face as she had
related her tale to us, but suddenly placed her head in her hands
and began to cry softly. I took a step forward and tried to comfort
her, but when my hand tried to make contact with her I touched
nothing and felt a deep coldness immediately surround my hand.
my hand back, I looked at Tom and Jim and then back at Cynthia.
She had stopped crying and was looking at me; her formerly dark
eyes now light blue and slightly red from her cry.
cant I touch you? I tried and my hand went right through
you. I asked. I handed you a towel a few minutes ago
and you took it from me. How can that be?
can be touched by the living only if I choose to let them.
She explained, but I can touch anything I choose.
was just trying to help you. I said.
know you were and thank you, she replied, but you
see what has already happened to me in the past, I cant
go through that again.
never hurt you, Cynthia, I promise. Tom said standing beside
looked at him and a slight frown came over her face as she stood
up and turned to face him.
you are, she told him, by not giving my ring to me
freely, you are hurting me.
how? He asked.
not sure, but I feel that I must have that ring to be complete.
thats the case, why didnt you get the ring from that
cant leave this room, ever. My uncle built it for me years
ago. I was made to come down here if anyone from town came over
to see them.
a while I enjoyed being down here. I had everything I needed to
be comfortable. After they died, and this was a boarding house,
this was my room.
had to lift that heavy trapdoor by yourself?
she said smiling, I had some of the soldiers build that
for me during the war, just before I was
before it happened.
I had planned on making this into a store room but never got the
though, I was drawn here and then found that I couldnt leave,
except at certain times of the year.
bet one of those times is Halloween isnt it? Jim asked.
she smiled, Im afraid not. Actually its only
two days, my birthday
and my death day.
told us your birthday, whens the other?
28th, and if Im not mistaken, thats tonight.
She said, as she turned to Tom, seeing him check his watch, Thats
why I feel I must have my ring back now. I need the ring to be
it back to her Tom, its hers. Jim told him, now!
stood there, his eyes darting between us all as he made up his
mind, then reached slowly into his pocket, removing the small
bit of cloth and unfolded it. The ring seemed to glow, yet there
was no moonlight in this basement room. He held up the ring and
looked longingly at it and then sighed and offered it to her.
need you to put it back on my finger, she said, it
was removed and now must be returned.
walked to the side bed slowly as she held out her hand. He glanced
at Jim who smiled and nodded his head, encouraging him to continue.
a minute. I said placing my hand on Toms arm and turned
towards Cynthia, Somethings bothering me about this.
The man that killed you, what happened to him?
He left the house before any of the other men were up and was
never seen again. I heard that he was one of the many killed trying
to take an island from the Japanese in 1944.
didnt you tell me once that your dad was stationed at the
base that was here for a while during the war?
I did. He said that he was here for about two weeks and then was
sent to the Pacific Theater where he took command of a rifle company
and fought on several islands there, why?
you know the name of the man that killed you, Cynthia? My
eyes never leaving Toms face as I asked her the question.
of course I did. Why do you ask?
was his name?
name was Shipman. Richard Shipman.
mouth dropped open and he looked at each of us as he realized
what she had said.
wait just a moment here. Tom said, What makes you
think that it was my dad that did it?
youre the spitting image of him, she whispered, the
moment you entered this room, I saw you for what you are; his
son and my only chance to finally gain what I have hoped for all
my dad wouldnt do something like that!
could and as you can see, he did. She stated.
dont believe this crap, Tom moaned, not for
do you think it was possible for you to be the one to find that
box with my ring in it after so many others had been here searching
and never found it?
do you think I allowed myself to be seen by you but not by your
friends? Since I was killed, there have been no living beings
to ever see me. I can be in a room with the living and they have
no earthly idea Im there with them. I dont exist to
was the roasary in the box for? I asked.
was never mine, she said, Ive no idea where
it came from or why it was in there.
believe I can answer that for you. A voice behind us said
forcefully, And Ive waited far too many years to explain.
we turned to see Toms father standing at the door to her
room, a flashlight in his hand.
Tom exclaimed, What are you doing here?
come here every year on this night, he said softly, to
remember the most horrible thing I have ever done in my life.
I didnt know that your plans tonight included coming here
put it in the box with your ring, he said looking directly
at Cynthia, I cut a small piece of your dress to wrap the
ring in, to protect it. I took the roasary from my room mates
bedside table and placed it beside the ring. I think
was hoping that somehow, it would help with what I had done to
it help? She asked.
it didnt help at all.
turned to look at Cynthia and her dark eyes were riveted on Tom
father. She was fading in and out of view and the light in the
room pulsed slowly from bright white to a dull, glowing red.
Shipman walked into the room and stood in front of her, arms at
his sides. I urged Jim and Tom back against the wall and we watched
the event spellbound as it unfolded in front of us.
Richard, why did you kill me?
didnt mean to do that to you I swear I didnt, Cynthia.
I was drunk. When you slapped me, I had the choice to sober up
or not and I didnt choose that. I was being shipped overseas
to be nothing but cannon fodder for the enemy. I was young and
confused and in a position of power as an officer. You
me that night. I was hurt, disappointed and humiliated with your
reactions to my advances. I struck out at you in frustration but
I swear to you now, I didnt mean to kill you.
dropped to his knees in front of her and his hands were clasped
in front of his chest as he continued. Tears were streaming from
his eyes as he remembered.
wanted to have contact with a woman, intimate contact, before
I left. Oh, God, I just wanted to be held close and loved. I tried
at the bar but they wouldnt have anything to do with me.
I was too young and dumb or didnt have enough money for
those women, I guess.
buddies and I drank shot after shot of cheap, rut gut whiskey,
telling each other how brave wed be on the field of battle
when the enemy was encountered. They were lies, nothing but drunken
lies that we told each other that night to bolster our own fears
and concerns. Cynthia, we were scared to death. We were all afraid
sure you were Richard, as were others, but they didnt kill
a woman because she had refused their advances. Did they?
as far as I know they didnt. Please understand me though
Cynthia, Ive regretted what I did to you that night You
dont know the countless nights I spent with enemy bullets
whistling by my position, my head buried in the dirt wishing that
God would punish me for what I had done to you. Ive relived
it countless times, over and over, what if? What if?
received the Silver Star for valor on the battlefield, not because
I wanted to live Cynthia, but because I wanted to die. I didnt
care what was happening in front of me, the enemy was an obstacle
to overcome. My gun knew no difference. It barked, they died,
simple as that. It was no big deal. It was what I was trained
to do and I did it very well.
still doesnt explain what you did to me, or why.
told you. It was an accident. I didnt mean to do that to
you did Richard; you did kill me that night, accident or not.
forgive me Cynthia, what else can I do to appease you? He
me? Its a little too late for that isnt it Richard?
hung his head and stared at the floor. I started to say something
but was interrupted by Cynthias voice.
is only one thing that you can do to set this right Richard, and
I think you know what it is, dont you?
I think I do. He said, as he held his hand out, Give
me the ring Tom.
handed his father the ring and stepped back to stand between Jim
and I. We watched as Cynthia materialized completely in front
of Richard and held out her hand. He took a deep breath and slipped
the ring onto her finger.
light in the room flashed a brilliant white and then became dark.
For a moment, none of us could see anything but small spots of
light dancing across our eyes. We switched on our flashlights
and glanced around the room in amazement.
was the bedroom with the freshly made bed and nightstand. Gone
was the pitcher and bowl of water. Everything in the room was
floors were covered with a thick carpet of dust and the walls
were cracked and peeling. I walked to the bathroom and shined
my light inside. The tub was cracked in half and laying at opposite
ends of the room. Dust covered the floors here as well and the
walls were covered with a green mold that reached from floor to
the hell just happened? Tom asked. Where did everything
and I just shook our heads in bewilderment and looked at Toms
think your dad can explain what happened, cant you Mr. Shipman?
I think I have a good idea of what happened boys. He whispered,
When I put the ring that I stole from her so long ago back
on her finger, she was finally able to have what she had searched
for and wanted so badly.
Dad? Tom asked.
was finally able to leave this house and find peace in the next
world. Peace that I kept her from having all these years because
I was a coward and afraid to face what I had done to her.
you told her that you came here every year. Tom said, Why
didnt something happen then?
happened because I never entered this house. I would stand in
the front yard looking in the living room window and remember
what had happened in that room so long ago.
though, something made me step inside. I really didnt know
you would be here but when I saw the trap door open in the kitchen
and heard your voices below, I knew that it had to end tonight.
I couldnt take another day of living this lie, or of being
a respected member of the community. Im nothing more than
a common murderer, a criminal that needs to be punished for his
I want you boys to leave now and go to Jims house for the
rest of the night. He said, Ill be along in
a while. I want to talk to your mother before you come home tomorrow
and tell her what kind of man she really married.
Shipman, I said, do you really think anyone is going
to believe this when you tell them that we stood in this old house
and spoke to a woman thats over a century and a half old?
That she looked as young as the day she died and that you killed
her over forty years ago?
honestly dont know, but I have to try and make them believe
it. Dont you understand?
understand that youve suffered all these years with this
secret eating at you day and night. I said, You have
a conscience Mr. Shipman, and that separates you from the common
criminal. Youre a war hero that saved the lives of many
of his men by youre many acts of valor on the battlefield.
believe that youve been punished, Mr. Shipman, punished
day after day, year after year, all by yourself. I said,
as I looked at Tom and Jim.
think we should leave things as they are. After all, shes
at peace now and thats what counts, isnt it?
never going to tell anyone about this night, you can rest assured
about that and I dont think your son or Jim will ever mention
it either. Hell, we were here and saw and heard everything and
I still dont believe it happened.
Shipman looked at each of us in the eye and slowly exhaled. He
looked older than he had when he arrived and his back was stooped
somewhat but he still had the military bearing that he had always
boys, no, not boys anymore, men, remind me so much of the soldiers
that I commanded during the war. They went to the line with me
time after time and I brought as many of them as I could, home.
going the extra mile for me and I wont forget it, ever.
He said looking at his son. I just hope that I havent
lost your love and respect Tom, now that you know about me.
Dad, Tom said, as he hugged his father tightly, Ill
always love you, no matter what.
filled the senior Shipmans eyes and he shook our hands.
men go along now. He told us, Ill see you tomorrow.
three of us walked back up the steps and into the kitchen. I saw
the two photographs and picked them up and then walked into the
living room and hung them back on the wall. We stood back and
shined our lights on them for one last time, then turned and walked
out of the old house.