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May 2018 Writers Challenge

  • 02 May 2018 5:29 PM
    Message # 6130307
    Jim Keen (Administrator)


    Haunted houses or a beautiful derelict, abandoned houses are full of stories. Eerie or nostalgic, which way will you choose to go?

    Last modified: 02 May 2018 5:46 PM | Jim Keen (Administrator)
  • 08 May 2018 5:14 PM
    Reply # 6144334 on 6130307

    Grandfather’s Chest

    A beam of light shone through the false dormer window to illuminate the dusty old chest. It had always been a mystery to us kids when we would sneak up to attic to play. Grandpa had died when I was a toddler, and the chest had been locked ever after.

    I forced the lock with my pocketknife; the hinges squeaked as I raised the lid; a musty odor wafted out. On top a wooden tray held personal trinkets: straight razor, metal comb, cuff links, and such. Below it lay neatly folded clothes: wool shirts, overalls, long johns and ribbed undershirts. I dug around underneath until my fingers encountered a book.

    It was a wire-bound journal. The faded ink hen-scratches were hard to make out on the yellowed pages. The first entry was dated July 20, 1933. Slowly I read it.

    My life changed direction today. First off, I got fired, though the maintenance supervisor tried to dress it up a little. He said “the operations of the road patrol were temporary suspended” but we all knew it was for good. It wasn’t really a surprise because everyone seemed to be out of work nowadays, and I appreciated that he had driven his Model-A halfway across the county to tell us in person.

    We asked him what to do with the livestock. A yoke of oxen pulled the drag to smooth washboard roads, and a mule pulled a cart with the picks and shovels we used to fill in deep ruts and washouts. We worked a three-week route that took us over all of the county roads once a month; we camped along the way unless we were close to a crew member’s home or a farmer let us sleep in his barn.

    “What do you do with’em on your week off?” he asked.

    I spoke up, “Papa lets us put’em to pasture on his farm.”

    He replied, “Then do that for the time being.”

    “What about the tools?” somebody asked.

    He shrugged his shoulders. “Keep’em. They won’t be no use to the county without hands to use them. Boys, I’m real sorry about this, but I’m likely the next one to be let go.”

    But the real reason I started this journal is the next event. I dreaded breaking the news to Louise. We had been courting for over a year now; I saw her as often as I could on my weeks off. But her reaction to my news wasn’t anything like I expected. She got all excited and squeezed the breath right out of me.

    She said, “Now we can get married.”

    “Married?” I said. “I just lost my job and now I’m back living off Papa. How do you figure we can get married?”

    “Now you won’t be gone three weeks out of the month,” she answered. “And your Papa lives all alone in that big ole house. I bet he would welcome some help and company.”

    So that’s just what we did. The preacher married us in church and we spent the night in a hotel, but that was all the honeymoon we could afford. Papa did seem to perk up when Louise pitched in with cooking and housekeeping, and I helped plow the fields and milk the cows. I hadn’t noticed how age had started to wear him down. But it didn’t last long because money was tight and taxes were due – otherwise Papa could lose the farm.

    Heard they were building a corduroy log road over in the next county, so I hitched the mule to Papa’s buggy to ask for a job. The boss said he didn’t need any more laborers, but he did need oxen teams to pull the logs out of the woods. When I got home with the news, Louise insisted on coming with me. She said she could camp just a good as a man.

    So we hitched the mule to the cart and tied the oxen behind. Soon I was hauling logs and Louise was keeping the camp. I showed her how to set rabbit boxes and we fished on my day off. She dug wild onions and gathered poke salad to go with what she could buy from local farmers.

    The smell of her cooking attracted some of the single men working on the road, so she started cooking extra. They chipped in a little money to cover costs, and Louise bought potatoes, eggs and cornmeal. Soon there were twenty or thirty men around our campfire and Louise was taking in more money than she was spending. But this was our downfall.

    She went blackberrying with some other women and scared up a snake. They put a tourniquet around her leg and cut the bite marks to bleed out some of the poison. Her leg swelled twice its normal size and started to turn black. The doctor said we had done the best we could, and the poison would pass with time.

    His prediction seemed to bear out, but her ankle didn’t heal. Soon puss oozed out the wound, so she went to the hospital. They said the only way to save her life was to take the leg off, so that’s what they did. Then I put her in the mule cart and we headed home.

    After a couple of months, she was up and about on crutches. The taxes were caught up and we were eating good out of the garden. But with the winter came the flu, and it carried off Papa. Louise helped me build a wooden box, and after the preacher said his words, we buried Papa beside Mama out back of the house.

    The next year Louise died in childbirth, and I buried her next to Mama and Papa. My sister-in-law had just about weaned her latest child, so she offered to care for the boy. Now I am just like Papa was, just rattling around this big ole house, passing time until I see Louise again.

    NOTE TO READERS: I started this as a novel, but I am concerned that the story is too much like “The Notebook” by Sparks. However, I haven’t read the book, so I would appreciate the opinion of someone who has.

    This started as a dream while I was in a coma for 17 days. The drugs used to induce a coma often leave the patient with very vivid dreams that seem like the memories of actual events. Also, my heart had stopped several times, once for eight minutes, so I had minor brain damage. Two organs in the body can regenerate – liver and brain. But as my brain healed, old memories rose to the surface. One was the story of road patrols which most local governments used until the advent of automobiles.

    Maybe I had heard some old timers talk about the road patrols or I had read about it as a child, but I had no conscious memory of the subject before my heart attack. 

    The near bankruptcy of local governments during the Great Depression and the “Good Roads Movement” started by automobile drivers, led to the state taking over the maintenance of all public roads and the demise of county road patrols. But even today, private contractors still help clear the roads with snowplows.

    Last modified: 08 May 2018 5:23 PM | Michael Worthington
  • 09 May 2018 9:06 AM
    Reply # 6145214 on 6130307
    Sherri Hollister (Administrator)

    Michael, I loved this story. It has a similar flavor to parts of "The Notebook" but it isn't close enough to warrant concern. "The Notebook" is about the couple's lives, remembering it all after she is in a nursing home with dementia and unable to remember. I think you should write the novel. Fabulous story.

    Sherri

  • 10 May 2018 3:52 PM
    Reply # 6147928 on 6130307
    Eileen Lettick
    Jim Keen wrote:


    Haunted houses or a beautiful derelict, abandoned houses are full of stories. Eerie or nostalgic, which way will you choose to go?


  • 10 May 2018 3:55 PM
    Reply # 6147929 on 6130307
    Eileen Lettick

    Michael,

    The voice in this story is one I could certainly listen to throughout an entire novel. I loved this beginning. The description and characterization was superb. You may even consider entering it into the Flavors of Home Anthology competition.

  • 20 May 2018 2:25 PM
    Reply # 6245284 on 6130307
    Gloria A.Gould-Loftin

    The HOUSE

              The HOUSE stood high on the hill above Ashville, NC.  Generations of people had moved in and then passed on, or so we thought.

              Over the years the HOUSE deteriorated into a story to scare high school students away. Lights and moans made their way out of the HOUSE from time to time. Just the sounds of an old house, wind blowing through the broken windows and lightening flashing; or so we thought.

              Fifty years passed with the HOUSE being hidden by the woods.  Kudzu grew up the walls and pushed them into each other, till the house vanished from sight.

              As it happens, progress came to the woods and people sold their land to the highest bidder.  As they cut and plowed, they found the old house broken down.  They tried to tear the Kudzu down, but had no luck. Then they tried to burn it, to no avail.

              The men were uneasy around the old house. Strange noises came from the interior and a green mist seemed to float out on the breeze. The men thought they heard people calling for help, but when they finally penetrated the interior there was no one. Soon the foreman could not get any men to work on, or near the house; so that patch of land stood vacant with progress sprouting up all around it.

              New stories emerged about the old house, much like the ones told to high school students fifty years before.  They dared each other to spend the night outside it.  None stayed long. The HOUSE did not want them there so soon ghosts of lost souls were seen around it. 

              The HOUSE grew to be a legend passed down from one generation to the next.  A young couple just married bought the land the house was on and rebuilt.

              Soon noises and strange sightings sprung up all around them.  The green mist settled into every corner of their new home.  As time went by the woman in the house became pregnant and the haunting grew worse.

              On one occasion she heard a voice behind her “MINE!” is seemed to say.  When she turned around there was nothing there but the green mist.

              As her time grew near for the birth, she begged her husband to take her away.  She has grown fearful for the safety of her unborn child. He agreed to move as soon as the baby was born.

              The night she went into labor a raging storm prevented them from getting to the hospital. The husband tried to call an ambulance, but the phones as well as the electricity had gone out.  The couple had no recourse but to bring their child into the world in the house.

              The woman labored for a day and a night and then a girl was born to them. She was beautiful, with features of an older child and her eyes began to shine.  The voice again came again saying “MINE!”

              The couple grabbed the baby and tried to leave the house.  They door slammed shut trapping them in the nursery.  Shutters flapped in the rising wind and the windows refused to open. 

              The green mist swirled about them and the moans grew louder than they had before.  Ghosts started to surround them; young and old.  The HOUSE manifested as it was over 100 years before.

              You see the couple had died the day of the storm along with their baby girl.  The HOUSE       had claimed more victims.

              If someone asks you to spend the night in the HOUSE run don’t walk or the HOUSE will claim another victim!

             

             

             


  • 21 May 2018 8:49 AM
    Reply # 6246583 on 6130307
    Sherri Hollister (Administrator)

    Eerie but cool Gloria. A couple of typos and capitalizing house makes me think you are shouting it at me. There are places it should be shouted but others that the whisper is more chilling. Well done. 

  • 21 May 2018 4:30 PM
    Reply # 6248860 on 6130307

    Gloria -- Enjoyed your story. The green mist was a good visualization of evil. You could have had someone discover the bodies at the end instead of narrating the denouement. Good storytelling.

  • 27 May 2018 3:47 PM
    Reply # 6267487 on 6130307
    Sherri Hollister (Administrator)

    Parking the car on the street where we once lived, I stare at the house that was formerly our home. The shadows deepen behind the broken window panes, the wisteria like eyelashes shuttering soulless eyes. The image steals my breath and chills my bones. I hesitate unsure. Flashes of our life together burn against my eyelids as a close my eyes. Taking a deep breath, I exit the safety of the car. Exorcising the demons is something I’m compelled to do. I cannot move forward until I bury the past.

    There is nothing left of the old home, an empty derelict, a phantom of former hope. The promises it held when first we arrived, lay shattered like glass amid the weeds. Tears blur the faded paint and broken windows, memories of a bright sunny day when you brought me here, the house newly painted and awaiting a family to make it a home.  Mourning what should have been, what could have been, I pick my way through the brambles and briars that choke the path to the front door.

    A board slides down and crashes into the overgrown bushes starting a feral cat. The old Tom hisses and narrows its hazel eyes before turning away to prowl the town for easy prey. I watch as it struts across the street with his tail in the air, so like you when you stepped out for a night, or a week, or a lifetime. Your assurance in your self-worth taken at the expense of mine.

    The deep red siding, such a happy color faded now beyond recognition like an old woman’s dress diminished with time. The flapping wings of birds or bats in the porch rafters makes me shiver. I hesitate, allowing my eyes to adjust to the dim light. Vines and brush cover the house clouding the sunlight like rain clouds on a winter’s day. The chill that fills the air belies the season.

    The porch groans beneath my weight. Gray boards grooved and roughened by time. Weak and rotting, with gaping holes, I step carefully, trembling with fear and apprehension. The knob turns in my hands, cold, tarnished and coated in grime. I put my shoulder against the wood to push it open. The screech of rusty hinges, long in need of oil protests the invasion. Its paint peeling and flaking leaves a trail like snow across the dusty hardwood floor.

    The sun barely reaches into the gloom, leaving more shadows than light. I creep past skeletons of forgotten furniture in the old little-used parlor. Down the hall towards the bedrooms, the house mocks me with each step. I relive the promises and the betrayal as I peer into each room I painted and decorated with love.

    On the wall of our little girl’s room we painted a mural of love and faith. The once vibrant colors like promises, faded and stained, covered over with detritus from neglect.

    The floors creak as I wander from room to room wondering how it could all change so quickly? The rooms where we played, and laughed, and loved, the windows coated in grime and vines, choking out the light, suffocating the memories leaving only the fear and the pain. How could it all change so quickly?

    I stare into the cracked and tarnished mirror, my reflection, like a painting by Picasso, distorted. The girl I’d been slides sideways, making room for the woman I’ve become. Hazel eyes, clearer now, no longer those of lost soul, staring blankly at four walls, trapped by grief and circumstance in a house haunted by you. Your anger, your betrayal, your desertion still lingers like the stains on the carpet, but they are only memories. The smell of decay and neglect fill the house and chills my blood once so hot with passion.

    I remember your caresses, your gentle touch, the way you made me love you. I ache for the laughter of those days, the nights spent tangled up together. The memory perverted by the pain, you killed me with your lies, your hate, your abuse, like your hands around my throat, you destroyed my love, my passion, my soul. I gasp from the breaking of my heart once again. Reliving the destruction you wrought, the pain threatens to suffocate me and destroy me once more. Picking up a heavy ceramic vase, the decorative glaze filled with lines, I hurl it at the mirror, watching the image of the naïve girl explode into glittering shards.

    I run from the room we once shared, the floor protesting my flight as the floor joist weakened by disuse give way in my haste. I shove open the door swollen from damp and stumble out into the sunshine and fresh air. I burst from the darkness into the light, a phoenix rising from the ashes. Shaking off the gloom of regret, I square my shoulders. Reborn. I stand tall, cleansing the stench of destruction from my lungs as I take in the untainted air. Exorcing the ghosts from my past, I face the house, its memories, the pain and I rejoice for I am stronger. Because I survived. I survived.


  • 28 May 2018 6:02 PM
    Reply # 6270068 on 6130307

    Sherri,

    Wonderful imagery. I almost pictured myself in the house.

    Thanks for the story

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