The Old House
by Georgepat
forum: The Old House
speculative fiction for the internet generation.

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The Old House


        Jim 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 wasn’t that we caught nothing or didn’t 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 didn’t.

        You see, there was this really old house along the way that, looking back, probably hadn’t 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.

        The 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.

        We decided that we would do our exploring after dark, when the temperatures were down slightly and the hot sun didn’t 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.

        “I don’t care what else we do,” Jim said, “but I think we need to explore that old house by the river.”

        “Are you kidding?” Tom replied. “We haven’t even been in there in the daylight and now you want to do it in the dark?”

        “Oh, come on you big chicken, it’s something new for us to do.” I said.

        “Yeah, but… It’s kind of spooky, don’t ya think?”

        “Yes, it is, and that’s what makes it fun. After all, we’ll all be together when we go in. You’re not scared are you?”

        No, of course I’m not,” he said, as he tossed his long hair over his shoulder. “I’m not scared of nothing.”

        “All right, it’s 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.

        The rest of those two days passed quickly as we gathered our supplies and robbed the pantries in our mom’s 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.

        The 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 Tom’s 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.

        “What 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?”

        “Suits me.” I said, “I just want to make sure that we have time to start a campfire to keep these damn bugs away when we’re trying to sleep.”

        “Don’t let mama hear you say damn or she’ll have you in the kitchen with a bar of soap in you mouth quicker you can say boo.” Tom muttered under his breath.

        Damn, shmam.” I said and shot him a look guaranteed to stop any further comment about my vocabulary. “Anyway, it’s too damn hot to argue about anything.”

        Tom’s 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.

        “What was that all about?” Jim asked, “why do you suppose he did that?”

        “Guess 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.”


        The 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.

        We 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.

        The 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 couldn’t perceive at the time; a subliminal feeling, a feeling that made the hair stand up on the back of my neck, I couldn’t explain it, but it was there. The night just felt somehow-different.

        As 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.

        We 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.

        “Man, that was a pisser, wasn’t it?” I said.

        “What was?” Jim asked, as he snapped his fingers together to summon Willie to his side.

        “The hike here. Did you notice anything…different about the trail?”

        “Nope.” Tom replied, “I was following you. What do you mean?”

        “Yeah, I saw something different,” Jim said, scratching Willie behind his ear, “what’s the big deal? It’s just the moon’s a strange color tonight. What’s that to us?”

        “I dunno, but something’s not right. I can feel it, can’t you?” I asked, as my eyes wandered once again to the old house.

        Leaving 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.

        At 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.

        “What was that?” Tom asked his eyes big as saucers.

        “The step’s rotten and it broke,” I said, “that’s all it was. No big deal.”

        Shining 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.

        “Come on up, guys,” I told them, “just be careful and stay to the edge.”

        Willie 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.

        Nothing happened. It wouldn’t budge. I kicked the bottom of the door and shook the handle, but still nothing happened.

        “Let 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.

        “How’d you do that?” I asked, “I tried that and it didn’t work.”

        “Dunno,” he said, “but you go in first.”


        We 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.

        Dirt, 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 between them.

        “Who do you suppose they are?” Tom asked, stepping closer to examine them.

        “Who knows?” I replied, “probably someone that lived here a long time ago. They’re long gone by now.”

        We 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.

        In 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.

        “I’m not going down there.” Tom said shaking his head and looking at Jim, “are you?”

        “Not right now, I’m not.” Jim replied, “I might later if we don’t find anything interesting up here.”

        “Come on,” I said walking back into the living room. “Let’s check out the rest of the downstairs.”

        Off 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.

        The closet door stood open and at first glance, except for a few rusty wire clothes hangers on a wooden rod, was empty.

        “Wait a minute.” Tom said, “I see something on the top shelf. It looks like some kind of box.”

        “Can you reach it?” Jim asked, his light sweeping the interior of the closet.

        “Yeah, I got it,” he said, “shine your light over here and we’ll see what’s in it.”

        He 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 end.

        “It’s a rosary,” I said, “someone must have been a Catholic.”

        “What’s a rosary?” Jim asked, “is it a religious thing or something?”

        “Yeah, I think they used it when they said their prayers. I’m not sure.”

        “What else is in the box, Tom?” I asked, as I looked closer at the beads in my hand.

        “Looks like a few pennies and a small piece of cloth.” He said, as he poured out the contents into his hand, “wait, there’s something wrapped up inside the cloth.”

        We all turned our lights on the small floral patterned cloth in Tom’s hand as he unfolded the material and a shiny ring with a small black stone fell into his palm.

        “Will you look at that?” Jim exclaimed, as he picked up the ring and held it to his light, “I think it’s made out of silver. I don’t what that stone is though, never seen one like that.”

        “I have,” I said, “my mom has one like it. I think she calls it a blood stone.”

        There 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.

        “Goddamn, what was that?” he asked. “Did you see that?”

        “Good thing Mama didn’t hear that.” Tom wined, “if she had, she’d ….”

        “Shut the fuck up!” I exclaimed, “damn what your mama says, we’re here and she isn’t.”

        I 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.

        "Tom, I’m sorry, I didn’…” He shrugged off my hand and turned to Jim, his eyes feverish.

        “I saw it.” He said, as he clasped his hands together in front of his face, “I saw it and it…, it glowed.”

        He picked up the ring from the floor and held it between his finger’s; his eyes locked on the black stone and then he slowly closed his fist around it and put it in his pocket.

        Jim 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 didn’t know what to say or do.

        The 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.

        “See, it’s easy, no problem. Come on guys, last one up sucks monkey dicks.”

        Jim and I looked at each other, and then back to Tom, shocked on one hand but laughing on the other.

        “Monkey dicks?” I laughed and grabbed Jims arm for support, “what’s he know about monkey dicks? He’s never said that in his life.”

        Jim 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 couldn’t 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.

        I heard his body drop to the floor like a sack of concrete and he cried out sharply in pain.

        “Oh, damn, it hurts.”


        Jim 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.

        “He’s hurt bad and I don’t think we can’t get him out this way.”

        There 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 hands.

        Tom 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.

        “Can you move your leg?” I asked, as I crawled towards him, throwing the debris out of the way.

        “Yes, but it hurts when I move it.”

        “Tom, just try and relax and I’ll have you outta there in a jiffy.”

        I 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.

        As 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.

        “Oh, shit, that hurt like a motherfucker,” he said and then laughed hysterically, “if my Mama heard me say that…”

        My scathing look, even in his pain, silenced him immediately.

        Willie came over and licked his face and then sat down beside him and whined gently.

        The 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.

        “There’s no point in trying to go back upstairs,” Jim mentioned offhandedly, “I had a quick look and there’s nothing up there.”

        “That leaves the basement to explore,” I said, “I have a feeling that we’re going to hit pay dirt down there.”

        “What about me? What am I supposed to do while you both go down there?” Tom asked, sitting up with help from Jim.

        “I’m hoping that you’ll come with us,” I said, as I offered my hand to help him stand, “come on Tom, you can do it.”

        Without 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.

        “Fit as a fiddle,” He said, “what’s the plan for the basement?”

        We 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.

        “What the hells going on around here?” Jim asked, “I know we opened that a while ago and we sure as hell didn’t hear it close.”

        “I don’t know,” I replied, “but we’re sure going to find out, aren’t we?”


        I 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.

        “Maybe 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 than that.”

        “Oh, come on Tom, how stupid does that sound? Jim asked, “what could that ring have to do with this door being closed again?”

        I dunno, but I think it does.”

        I 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.

        “Let 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.

        Jim 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 my hand.

        “It belonged to her,” I whispered, “and look at this, her skirt is the same material that the ring was wrapped in when we found it.”

        I turned the photo over and saw faint writing in an obvious woman’s hand. Looking at it hard and turning the light across it from an angle, I made out what was there.

        ‘Ma and Paw Mathews / Cynthia Younger 1908’

        “1908! Hell, she’d have to be what, in her eighties?” Jim exclaimed, “She’s probably dead by now.”

        “Yeah, you’re probably right,” I said and then paused, “wait a second, Jim; please get the other photograph off the wall for me.

        Something 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, didn’t 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.

        I 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.

        “Ok, who wants to go first?” I asked but already knew the answer.

        “Well, it was your idea.” They both said.

        “Ok, let’s go.” I said, as I started down the old wooden steps into the basement.

        Reaching 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 was strong.

        “Come here, guys and look at this.”

        “What?” Jim said and then he saw what my light had illuminated, “shit; what’s a door doing there?”

        “Your guess is as good as mine at this point, but I think we need to find out.”

        “You’re going to open it?” He asked, as he turned his light back towards Tom, checking on his progress.

        Willie 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.

        “I didn’t have much luck with the front door, did I? Go ahead and try it.”

        “Wait, let me do it,” Tom said, as he limped towards us, “but will one of you please get Willie? He’s going to bust his balls if he’s not with us.”

        Jim 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.

        Jim 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.

        We both heard it click as the tumbler pulled back into its recess and the door started to swing open.

        Willie had jumped from Jim’s arms and ran to the door, barking fiercely, his tail between his legs.

        “Damn Willie, settle down boy,” Tom said, stooping briefly to rub his fuzzy head, “it’s ok.”

        Tom 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 didn’t penetrate but a few feet in front of us.

        Jim, 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.

        I snapped my head back to the dark entrance and saw nothing but blackness ahead. The light would not enter the room.

        “She’s beautiful,” Tom murmured, “so very beautiful.”

        Jim 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.

        “Do you see her?” he asked, “she’s just like her photograph. She’s beautiful.”

        Jim and I both looked into the darkness as hard as we could, but I was the first to find my voice.

        “What the fuck are you talking about?” I shouted. “There’s nothing there. Nothing but darkness.”

        Tom 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.

        Willie 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.

        “This is her room,” he said, “I can feel her presence and she’s still here.”

        “She who?” I asked, “what the fu..”

        “The girl on the wall,” he stated, like I had not an ounce of gray matter between my ears, “the one in the living room.”

        I 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.

        There 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.

        I 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.

        I 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.

        “What’s going on here?” I wondered aloud, as I looked around the room again.

        “She’s here. I saw her when we opened the door and she’s beautiful.” Tom said.

        “Ok, if she’s here, where is she?” Jim asked, standing in the doorway and looking into each room.

        Tom 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.

        “I don’t see her right now,” Tom said, “but I tell you, I did earlier.”

        “Yeah, right,” I said and scratched Willies head, “where exactly was she when you first saw her?”

        “Right here, where we’re standing now,” Tom replied, “and then she walked back towards the bathroom.”

        “Look Tom, if she’s not in here and she’s not in the bathroom, where the hell is she then.”

        “I don’t know!” Tom cried, “but I swear that I saw her, just as plain as I’m here looking at you.”

        We 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 was full.

        I 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. Tom’s eyes were as large as saucers and his face broke into a large smile.

        “I told you she was here.” He said, as he stepped forward.

        I 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.

        She 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 picture.

        “Who are you?” I managed to croak out, my speech sounding like a young boy whose voice is changing.

        She didn’t answer me but instead, raised her hand and pointed her forefinger directly at Tom.

        “You have something that doesn’t belong to you, and I want it back.”

        Tom stood there, speechless, the smile fading from his face. His eyes showed hurt and confusion and he looked at Jim and me for support.

        “I don’t understand,” he whispered, “what do I have that you want?”

        “She must want the ring, Tom,” I said, “give it back to her.”

        “But I found it. It’s…, its mine.”

        She moved and stood directly in front of Tom, her face just inches away from his own.

        “I want it back,” she hissed, “now!”


        Tom 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 slightly.

        “I 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.”

        “Who are you?” I asked quietly.

        She 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.

        “My 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.”

        “1858? That is you in the photographs upstairs, isn’t it?” I asked.

        “Yes, it’s me.”

        “How do you explain the fact that you don’t appear to age in those two pictures?”

        “I can’t explain what I don’t know. I’ve always been like this.” She said, as she shrugged her shoulders, “I reached the age of twenty-one and from that day forward, never grew older.

        “It’s 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, didn’t know what to do.”

        “Why couldn’t you leave the house?” Jim asked from his position behind Tom.

        “They wouldn’t let me leave. They were afraid of what the people in town might say, so I had to remain here with them, always.”

        “That seems rather cruel.” I said. “Didn’t you ever try and leave after they died?”

        “Yes, once, but I didn’t 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 couldn’t make it work. There just weren’t enough single, unattached females so I let a man or two stay over the next few years.”

        “I bet that was fun.” Jim whispered, as he nudged Tom in the back.

        Cynthia turned quickly towards Jim and fixed him with an icy stare that brought goose bumps to my body.

        “You don’t have any conception of fun yet,” she said, “you’re just a boy and you’d be well advised to curb your tongue in the future.”

        Jim 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 betraying nothing.

        “The men that boarded here at first were gentlemen to a fault. They had the utmost respect for me and my belongings. It wasn’t until much later, after World War l that the caliber of men declined.

        “I had never allowed spirits to be consumed in this house; I wasn’t 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.

        “I 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 be.”

        “They never noticed your…problem?”

        “No, 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.”

        “There was a whorehouse here in town?” Tom asked wondering why he had never heard of this before.

        “Yes,” she said turning her attention once again to him, “but that was a long time ago.

        “Once, 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 men’s, shall we say, shortcomings.

        “Life was hard then for everyone and if you had no skills, there wasn’t much choice with what you could do with your life. Some chose that life, I didn’t.”

        She walked past the three of us, returned to the small bedroom and sat on the bed. We followed, spellbound.

        “During the next war, World War ll, it became even worse for me. The army needed places to have their young officer’s 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.

        “I readily accepted their offer, but wish to God now, that I had never done so.”

        “What happened? Jim asked completely mesmerized by her story.

        “At 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.

        “I said men, didn’t I? They weren’t 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.

        “Even 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.”

        She 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.

        “One 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.

        “His 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 wouldn’t quit trying to kiss me.

        “I’d 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 didn’t work.

        “He 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 wasn’t hearing anything I said; he was enraged beyond belief.

        “He 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 me.”

        The three of us stood there with our mouths open in disbelief. The realization of what had happened struck us at the same moment.

        “The 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.

        “I screamed at him, begged him not to do what he was going to do, but he couldn’t or wouldn’t hear me. I stood there and watched dispassionately, as he had his way with me that night.

        “When 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.”

        “He killed you?” I asked, as my brain was still trying to understand what I had just heard.

        She 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.


        Jerking 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.

        “Why can’t 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?”

        “I can be touched by the living only if I choose to let them.” She explained, “but I can touch anything I choose.”

        “I was just trying to help you.” I said.

        “I know you were and thank you,” she replied, “but you see what has already happened to me in the past, I can’t go through that again.”

        “We’d never hurt you, Cynthia, I promise.” Tom said standing beside me.

        She looked at him and a slight frown came over her face as she stood up and turned to face him.

        “But you are,” she told him, “by not giving my ring to me freely, you are hurting me.”

        “But how?” He asked.

        “I’m not sure, but I feel that I must have that ring to be complete.”

        “If that’s the case, why didn’t you get the ring from that closet yourself?”

        “I can’t 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.

        “After 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.”

        “You had to lift that heavy trapdoor by yourself?”

        “No,” 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 chance.

        “Afterwards though, I was drawn here and then found that I couldn’t leave, except at certain times of the year.”

        “I bet one of those times is Halloween isn’t it?” Jim asked.

        “No,” she smiled, “I’m afraid not. Actually it’s only two days, my birthday…and my death day.”

        “You told us your birthday, when’s the other?”

        “August 28th, and if I’m not mistaken, that’s tonight.” She said, as she turned to Tom, seeing him check his watch, “That’s why I feel I must have my ring back now. I need the ring to be complete.”

        “Give it back to her Tom, it’s hers.” Jim told him, “now!”

        Tom 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.

        “I need you to put it back on my finger,” she said, “it was removed and now must be returned.

        Tom 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.

        “Wait a minute.” I said placing my hand on Tom’s arm and turned towards Cynthia, “Something’s bothering me about this. The man that killed you, what happened to him?”

        “Nothing. 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.”

        “Tom, didn’t you tell me once that your dad was stationed at the base that was here for a while during the war?”

        “Yeah, 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?”

        “Did you know the name of the man that killed you, Cynthia?” My eyes never leaving Tom’s face as I asked her the question.

        “Yes, of course I did. Why do you ask?”

        “What was his name?”

        “His name was Shipman. Richard Shipman.”

        Tom’s mouth dropped open and he looked at each of us as he realized what she had said.

        “Now wait just a moment here.” Tom said, “What makes you think that it was my dad that did it?”

        “Because you’re 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 these years.”

        “But my dad wouldn’t do something like that!”

        “He could and as you can see, he did.” She stated.

        “I don’t believe this crap,” Tom moaned, “not for one second.”

        “Why 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?

        “Why 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 I’m there with them. I don’t exist to them.”

        “What was the roasary in the box for?” I asked.

        “It was never mine,” she said, “I’ve no idea where it came from or why it was in there.”

        “I believe I can answer that for you.” A voice behind us said forcefully, “And I’ve waited far too many years to explain.”

        Shocked, we turned to see Tom’s father standing at the door to her room, a flashlight in his hand.

        “Dad!” Tom exclaimed, “What are you doing here?”

        “I come here every year on this night,” he said softly, “to remember the most horrible thing I have ever done in my life. I didn’t know that your plans tonight included coming here too.

        “I 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 mate’s bedside table and placed it beside the ring. I think…, I was hoping that somehow, it would help with what I had done to you.”

        “Did it help?” She asked.

        “No, it didn’t help at all.”

        I 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.

        Richard 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.

        “Why Richard, why did you kill me?”

        “I didn’t mean to do that to you I swear I didn’t, Cynthia. I was drunk. When you slapped me, I had the choice to sober up or not and I didn’t 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…rebuffed 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 didn’t mean to kill you.”

        He 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.

        “I 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 wouldn’t have anything to do with me. I was too young and dumb or didn’t have enough money for those women, I guess.

        “My buddies and I drank shot after shot of cheap, rut gut whiskey, telling each other how brave we’d 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 to die.”

        “I’m sure you were Richard, as were others, but they didn’t kill a woman because she had refused their advances. Did they?”

        “No, as far as I know they didn’t. Please understand me though Cynthia, I’ve regretted what I did to you that night You don’t 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. I’ve relived it countless times, over and over, what if? What if?

        “I received the Silver Star for valor on the battlefield, not because I wanted to live Cynthia, but because I wanted to die. I didn’t 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.”

        “That still doesn’t explain what you did to me, or why.”

        “I told you. It was an accident. I didn’t mean to do that to you.”

        “But you did Richard; you did kill me that night, accident or not.”

        “Please…please forgive me Cynthia, what else can I do to appease you?” He begged.

        “Appease me? It’s a little too late for that isn’t it Richard?”

        Richard hung his head and stared at the floor. I started to say something but was interrupted by Cynthia’s voice.

        “There is only one thing that you can do to set this right Richard, and I think you know what it is, don’t you?”

        “Yes, I think I do.” He said, as he held his hand out, “Give me the ring Tom.”

        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.

        The 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.

        Gone was the bedroom with the freshly made bed and nightstand. Gone was the pitcher and bowl of water. Everything in the room was gone!

        The 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 ceiling.

        “What the hell just happened?” Tom asked. “Where did everything go?”

        Jim and I just shook our heads in bewilderment and looked at Tom’s father.

        “I think your dad can explain what happened, can’t you Mr. Shipman?” I said.

        “Yes, 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.”

        “What, Dad?” Tom asked.

        “She 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.”

        “But you told her that you came here every year. Tom said, “Why didn’t something happen then?”

        “Nothing 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.

        “Tonight though, something made me step inside. I really didn’t 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 couldn’t take another day of living this lie, or of being a respected member of the community. I’m nothing more than a common murderer, a criminal that needs to be punished for his crime.”

        “But, Dad.”

        “Tom, I want you boys to leave now and go to Jim’s house for the rest of the night.” He said, “I’ll 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.”

        “Mr. 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 that’s 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?”

        “I honestly don’t know, but I have to try and make them believe it. Don’t you understand?”

        “I understand that you’ve 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. You’re a war hero that saved the lives of many of his men by you’re many acts of valor on the battlefield.

        “I believe that you’ve been punished, Mr. Shipman, punished day after day, year after year, all by yourself.” I said, as I looked at Tom and Jim.

        “I think we should leave things as they are. After all, she’s at peace now and that’s what counts, isn’t it?

        “I’m never going to tell anyone about this night, you can rest assured about that and I don’t think your son or Jim will ever mention it either. Hell, we were here and saw and heard everything and I still don’t believe it happened.”

        Richard 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 projected.

        “You 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.

        “You’re going the extra mile for me and I won’t forget it, ever.” He said looking at his son. “I just hope that I haven’t lost your love and respect Tom, now that you know about me.”

        “Never Dad,” Tom said, as he hugged his father tightly, “I’ll always love you, no matter what.”

        Tears filled the senior Shipman’s eyes and he shook our hands.

        “You men go along now.” He told us, “I’ll see you tomorrow.”

        The 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.


The End



copyright 2005 Georgepat.


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