A Short Story, in Honor of Halloween. Fiction or Non-Fiction?
Everyone always said that I was the quiet child. For that reason alone, it was not uncommon for me to be dubbed as the “teacher’s pet” of the classroom. I was well-behaved and I only spoke when spoken to. This was a highly appreciated trait by elementary educators, and being soft-spoken only became an issue when I was asked to read, out-loud, to the class. The teachers believed my demeanor was surely a result of good parenting, but I knew of a few other reason too. Reasons I would never speak of. After hearing my story, you may understand why.
I grew up in a small town in southern Indiana that most people have never even heard of. It was a town that primarily consisted of fields and a lot of bare, desolate, open space. This town had only one convenient store, which was marked by a single, red flashing light. It was the kind of town that people only passed through when traveling to larger towns; When traveling to towns marked by bigger dots on the map.
I spent my days after school playing with the neighborhood kids or with my siblings. We would ride our bikes, build forts in the woods, catch Gardner snakes to scare each other, and trap lightning bugs in jars. Basically, we spent our time doing many of the things that kids in the country usually do. The location did not matter to us back then though. Things were great and childhood was fun. Then one summer, our grandmother came to live with us from overseas. That was the summer that changed everything.
There she was; A petite, Asian woman, with slivers of silver hair, peaking through the edges of a matted brown wig that was failing to do its job. That was my grandmother, with her luggage in tow. A feisty, fire-cracker of a woman, with the advantageous deception that was her aging body to veil her. Nonetheless, she had arrived. And, that is when it all began.
Be Very Quiet
As the sun was setting one evening, I can remember riding my bicycle as fast as I could to get home before dark. Sunset was the time of day I feared the most. That is when I would hear her speak to them. Grandmother was hanging clothes on the clothesline to dry when I arrived. I parked my bike against the shed and began to walk toward her.
“Sssh,” she said. “You have to be very quiet so you don’t wake them.”
“Who, grandma?”, I asked.
“The people in the trees. They are asleep in the trees right now and we will anger them if we awaken them before dark,” she responded.
“Who is sleeping in the trees? I can’t see them grandma”, I said with a giggle.
“You are waking them up!, she exclaimed with a whisper. “Just hurry and go inside”, she said.
I started heading for the house when I heard her start talking again.
“Oh, it’s just me”, she said. “I’m just finishing up here, I’m sorry and I’ll be on my way now. Everything is fine”, she reassured them as she scurried, frantically, toward the house with her empty basket.
The next day I bombarded my mother with questions about what had happened. I wanted to know whether grandma was joking or being serious, and if she was serious, I wanted to know who she was speaking to in the trees.
“Oh, they are just spirits,” my mom said. “Your grandma can tell if they are bad or good and can speak to them. You don’t have to worry about it,” she concluded.
As the weeks passed, the stranger things got. It started with noises, like the sound of a door opening and closing. We shrugged it off until, one day, we heard the door open and close and a then a voice. It was my dad’s voice.
“Rose?”, he asked. And again, “Rose!”, he shouted.
“Yea, Jeff. I’m in the room folding clothes. Come in here,” she shouted back.
After a few minutes of silence she walked out to the living room to look for him. No one was there. The house was empty. She opened the door, stepped out into the driveway and discovered that his car was not there either.
“That’s weird”, she said with a bewildered look on her face. I could have sworn I heard your dad calling my name. I’m going to page him to see where he’s at”, she decided. “Maybe he’s playing jokes on me.”
Dad called back when he received the page and explained to my mother that he was still out-of-town working and that he, most definitely, had not been home since that morning.
“I must be hearing things”, she said with a confused look. Then she walked back to finish her household duties.
My dad had a two-hour commute to work back then, so it was not likely that he would make a special trip home just to prank her on his lunch break.
A Foggy Mist
Weeks had passed and then I saw it. I was standing outside of the bathroom door, waiting anxiously for whomever was using it, to finish. I couldn’t stand it anymore.
“Knock, Knock? I really need to go!,” I said.
“I’ll be done in a minute,” my dad replied.
As I waited, I looked up and noticed a cloudy, fog-type mist floating above me against the ceiling of the hallway. This cloud of foggy mist didn’t drift away and disperse, it just hovered above me. I had no idea where it was coming from. As I watched it in a curious state of awe, my brother came out of his room and opened up the bathroom door.
“What are you doing!?,” I yelled. “Dad’s in there!”
“No he is not, it’s empty”, he said.
I stepped in with him, took a look around, and learned that my brother was right. There was no one in the bathroom. It was empty. Maybe I was hearing things. Not only hearing them, but seeing them too.
“This house is no good. There are bad spirits here. It’s no good. I don’t like it!”, my grandmother hollered, defiantly, as she spoke to my mother. “You will see,” she exclaimed. “I have to get out of here.”
I had walked in on this conversation when coming in from playing outdoors, and continued to eavesdrop from the end of the hallway. I was curious to hear more, but my grandmother stormed off to pack a suitcase and left. She took off walking down the road. The long country road that basically, led to no where. My mom, so furious, did try to stop her either.
The house we lived in was very old and had been used as the town’s Doctor’s office several years ago. My grandmother said it was likely that many had died there, and that their were too many spirits in that house. She said that some of those spirits did not want us there. That is why she left.
I was at school when I first heard the news. A staff member came around to gather me and my siblings from class and lead us to the administrative office, where my other grandparents were waiting. This was quite a surprise as we loved seeing our grandparents, but they had concerned looks on their faces.
“Grandma! Grandpa!,” we exclaimed all at once. “What are you doing here?”
“Well, we are taking you all home with us”, my grandmother said as she ushered us to the car.
“Why? Why are we leaving school early and why aren’t we going home”, I asked.
“Well, she said. You kids no longer have a home, so you are coming to stay with me. There was a fire and your house burned down today”, she explained carefully.
We didn’t believe her. We giggled in disbelief and kept tormenting her for the truth. She decided to drive us by there on the way to her place. She parked across from our house. We could see it ourselves now. What once was our home had shape-shifted into jagged blocks of blackened bricks and smoking, hot, embers of wood. The fire-fighters were still there trying to keep the fire from spreading to any neighboring homes. As for our home, the home that we had that very morning before leaving for school, it was too late for that home. Our family dog was in the home and did not survive.
After everything had settled we went back to the pile of rubble to look around for anything that may have been able to with-stand the fire. Above the front door, we had a wooden cross that bared Jesus, nailed to the cross. It was there, in the rubble, unscathed. It is the only thing that did not burn. We still have that cross today.
The inspectors and fire-fighters never figured out why the house caught fire. My grandmother said that the bad spirits wanted us out of there. I guess they got what they wanted in the end, and I never forgot what else she said.
Stay quiet so the people in the trees don’t wake up. They will be very angry if you wake them.