Friday, February 17, 2012
The Attic Door
Inevitably when I write a story small fragments from my life seep into the work. Sometimes the fiction grows more real in my memory than the original event. I suppose that is unavoidable considering the amount of time spent redrafting and polishing a story. In my mind, I live with the work of fiction far longer than thinking about actual memories.
In Shepherd’s Fall, Will Shepherd is disturbed to find the attic door in his old house repeatedly ajar, even after he has locked it. This is a small touch that adds uncertainty, and ups the creepiness of his situation, and its significance is later revealed in the novel.
However, this piece of fiction shares origins with one of my earliest and still favorite ghost stories.
Two of my uncles on my dad’s side of the family, Joe and Charlie would often tell this story when the family got to together for parties and reunions. I always loved when this story would come up, although Uncle Joe and Charlie told us many other stories that would have us howling with laughter, as they both are very gifted story tellers, this was their ghost story.
Apparently my dad’s family moved around and lived in many different homes over the years. In fact they lived in a former funeral home at one point, although this story took place in another location—an old home that had formerly been an inn.
When they moved into this particular home, there was one bedroom on the second floor that my grandmother told the children not to use. Since there were seven children in the family at the time, (my dad hadn’t been born yet,) this seemed like a strange instruction.
My uncles decided that it was silly to waste this space, (and being strong willed boys apparently ignored their mother’s instructions,) so they moved their beds in claiming it for their own.
That night as they lay there in their beds in their newly claimed moonlit room, the attic door swung open. I could always hear the hinges screeching at this point in the story and see the old wooden door swing open with nothing but darkness beyond.
At first they thought it was just wind, so they closed the door and returned to their beds. Then the door swung open again. It was an old building, so they assumed the latch didn’t catch.
This time they slammed the door shut and locked it. Trying several times to be certain the door was secure. When the door flew open the third time, they beat a hasty retreat.
The next morning they moved their beds out of that room and no one occupied it for the remainder of time the family lived in the house.
This was only the first of other strange occurrences in the house.
There were holes in the stairs that went to the second floor. My Grandmother would try to cover them up with oil cloth, but no matter what she used to fasten the material to the back of the stairs, it would come undone.
My uncles claimed these were bullet holes from a shooting that had taken place when the property served as an inn that had been a stagecoach stop. As a small boy I always pictured a Clint Eastwood style old west shoot out. Perhaps the dead gunlingers reenacted their final battle causing my Grandmother's attempts to block and hide the holes to fail.
On another occasion, my grandmother and aunt were in the kitchen shelling peas one night. The rest of the family was upstairs asleep, loud crashes exploded in the living room. When my grandmother and aunt investigated, they found the living room furniture overturned.
According to my uncles, the family didn’t stay too long after that.
Years later when I was about ten, a large group of my family members returned to visit the place. A young couple now owned the old house and they were renovating it. When asked, they said they hadn’t experienced anything strange.
Although I had heard these stories many times growing up, at the last family reunion where all my aunts and uncles were still alive, my Aunt Jane revealed another incident that even my Uncles Joe and Charlie had never heard.
On the day the family moved out of the house, Aunt Jane and my grandfather were in the basement packing some things. My grandfather had found a loose board, (although I always see this in my mind as a plank on the floor, it may have been in the wall. Unfortunately my Aunt is now gone so I have no way to be certain,) when he lifted the board, all the blood drained from his face. My Aunt didn’t get a look at what was inside, because he slammed the board back into place and hustled Aunt Jane out of the basement.
My Grandfather passed away a month before I was born, so I will never know what he had seen. But my family swears they lived in a true haunted house, and this story definitely influenced who I am as a writer.