I love ghost stories, stories about creepy old houses, stories that make you yell, "Don't open that door! Are you crazy!" So, I thought, what the heck. I'll write a short, shivery tale for the Halloween season. I hope you enjoy it!
By Jannine Gallant
Amy Whittaker sat cross-legged on the pink, wool rug, surrounded by stacks of photos and letters. Her great-aunt’s personal life strewn helter-skelter, an eighty-nine year accumulation of keepsakes to be sorted. With a sigh, she pushed a long strand of dark hair behind her ear and rubbed one throbbing temple. The sooner she finished the task, the sooner she could leave the dreary old house tucked into the shadow of the mountain and head back to her apartment filled with light and laughter. After spending a couple of nights in this mausoleum, she actually appreciated her noisy, messy roommates.
The clock on the mantle clicked and whirred before striking a single chime. Amy nearly jumped out of her skin. “Good God, I’m losing it,” she mumbled.
Maybe she should have left the endless boxes of crap for the realtor to look through before putting the house on the market. But mixed in with cast off doilies and knick-knacks was bits of family history, and she couldn’t hand it all over to a stranger, even if her brother called her a sentimental chump.
A huge yawn popped her jaw, and she rubbed gritty eyes. If she had half a brain, she’d give up for the night and go to bed. But she’d promised herself she’d finish sorting this final box first.
What she needed was a major injection of caffeine. Pushing to her feet, she stepped across the piles and headed toward the kitchen. A lose shutter slapped against the house with a rhythmic thump as she waited for the coffee to drip into the carafe. Her skin prickled, and she took a deep breath, trying to steady jangling nerves. It was just the wind. The local weather channel had predicted a storm rolling in after midnight.
The coffee maker gurgled and hissed. Grabbing a cup from the cupboard, she poured a stream of fragrant liquid and took a gulp. Warmth flowed through her, and she wrapped chilled fingers around the delicate porcelain. No insulated mugs for her great-aunt. She was strictly old school.
Aunt Margaret and her damn journals. Amy eyed the pile of notebooks stacked on the kitchen table. She’d wasted too many hours reading them. The old biddy had an opinion about everything, and some of her comments about the neighbors read like a Jerry Springer episode. Then there were the mentions of Farley. They began in the earliest journals, back when her aunt was barely in her teens, and continued to the very end.
Farley tried to lure me into the woods, but I was too scared to go… I nearly fainted when Farley appeared at my mother’s afternoon tea for her garden club wearing a bloodstained tunic. Thank heavens the women didn’t see him… My fiancé is dead, shot in some French town I’ve never heard of. If it weren’t for Farley, I’d lose my mind… Farley doesn’t approve of Mr. Hintz, though our friendship is innocent enough… The local children got more of a fright than they bargained for this Halloween. Damn, Farley! I’ll have some explaining to do to their parents…I’ve been feeling poorly for over a week now. Farley’s been visiting more often than usual…
Who in the world was Farley? Margaret Whittaker had never married. There was absolutely no gossip about a man in her life. None. Shouldn’t there have been someone in all those years? If it wasn’t for the journals, Amy would have gone on believing her great-aunt was the prim and proper, starched and pressed, retired librarian she portrayed to the community. Obviously there’d been more to the woman than she’d let on.
Amy spun on her sneakers, sloshing hot coffee over her hand. She dropped the cup, and it shattered on the checked linoleum. Heart pounding, she pressed her stinging fingers to her chest and backed up against the counter.
A flash of orange fur flew down the narrow back stairs. The cat stared at her through round golden eyes, blinked once, then minced around the puddle on the floor and plopped his butt down in front of the food bowl.
“Jesus, Max, give me a freaking heart attack, why don’t you!”
The cat twitched its tail and chomped dry food. Amy glared at the supercilious little beast. She had half a mind to dump him at the local animal shelter, but she’d promised her aunt…
The shutter slapped against the siding as a gust of wind shook the window panes. Amy shivered and ran her hands up and down her arms. It was cold in the house. Hopefully nothing was wrong with the furnace because there was no way in hell she was going into the basement to check. The place was full of dirt and cobwebs and probably mice. A shudder shook her.
Enough stalling. Grabbing a handful of paper towels, she cleaned up the mess of broken porcelain, and then took down a second cup. After filling it, she headed back to the parlor. She was nearing the bottom of the box. A fat scrapbook caught her attention, and she lifted it out from beneath a pair of embroidered pillow cases.
Not a photo album. The Whittaker Family History was inscribed across the front page in her aunt’s spidery handwriting. James Whittaker arrived in America in 1620 aboard the Reliance…She flipped pages chronicling the lives of her ancestors. Aunt Margaret had tried to interest her in genealogy, but history wasn’t Amy’s thing. As a nurse, she cared more about the living than the long dead.
A parchment scroll, rolled and tied with a ribbon, was tucked between the binder’s rings. She pulled it out and flattened it on the rug. At the very top was James Whittaker, at the bottom Amy and her brother, Matt. Her gaze scanned up the list of names and dates, zeroing in on a familiar one. Farley Whittaker born September 17, 1839 killed September 17, 1862 at Antietam. He’d died on his birthday. A chill slithered down her spine.
Was the Farley her aunt had repeatedly mentioned in her journal a relative descended from the Civil War hero? She didn’t remember a Farley at any of the boring family gatherings she’d been dragged to in years past. All her cousins, second cousins, and cousins once removed were older, and most of them male. They had no use for a skinny, tag-a-long girl in the hard-hitting football games they organized. Amy had usually been stuck in the kitchen with her aunts, drying dishes. The women had gossiped while they worked, and she was nearly positive the name Farley was never mentioned.
She shut the scrapbook and laid it in the keep pile. Enough. She could barley keep her eyes open. If she didn’t get some sleep, she’d be worthless tomorrow. Staggering to her feet, she walked around the room, turning off lamps. Extinguishing the last one plunged the room into darkness. Feeling her way along the furniture, she stepped into the hall and saw a light glowing from the kitchen doorway.
Didn’t I turn it off? With a shrug, she headed toward the back of the house. A floorboard creaked beneath her foot, and she moved a little faster. Old houses gave her the willies. She’d take a condo with modern conven—
A crash on the front porch sent her spinning around. The fine hair rose along her forearms. Maybe the cat… No, Max was inside. Halloween was only a few days away, and Aunt Margaret had mention neighborhood kids daring each other to run up on the front porch of the scary old house. If one of them had broken something… Straightening her shoulders, she marched toward the front door. Grabbing the handle, she twisted the lock and flung it open.
Dead leaves skittered across the porch in a gust of wind. The moon gleamed behind a haze of clouds, casting a feeble glow over the yard. Peering into the dark, Amy snapped on the outdoor light. Nothing. The bulb must be dead.
“Is anyone out there?”
Her words were swallowed up in the night. Heart thumping, she stepped through the doorway. Pattering feet scrambled from behind a broken planter, shattered on the porch floor. Eyes glowed green low to the ground. With a snarl, the raccoon raced down the steps.
Amy grabbed the railing for support as her pulse raced wildly. First the cat, and now a dammed raccoon… When she was certain her legs would support her, she turned and walked back into the house.
A man stood in the hallway, his broad shoulders silhouetted in the light cast through the kitchen doorway. His eyes were dark holes in a pale face. The front of his blue tunic was drenched in some dark liquid.
Amy swallowed, and then quietly shut the door behind her.
If you enjoyed my shivery tale, you can find buy links to my books on my website at www.janninegallant.com.