Another Short Story – ONCE UPON A TIME

The inspiration for this tale came from the historical Edgewood Plantation near Charles City, Virginia. The lore is featured in my book Road Tales.

The Lore

Edgewood Plantation

Elizabeth “Lizzie” Rowland fell in love with a young man from a nearby estate. As soon as she heard the distinctive gait of her suitor’s horse, Lizzie would run to the window, watching for her true love’s approach. The couple hoped to marry but the onset of the Civil War put their pending nuptials on hold..To Lizzie’s dismay, her fiancé joined the Confederate Army and was called to battle before they could be married. She waited patiently, dreaming of the day he would return and restore normalcy to her life. Each day, Lizzie gazed from her window on the third floor. Listening. Yearning. Praying for the young man’s safety. At one point, she etched her name into the bedroom window glass, some say with a diamond ring. Sadly, the two lovers were never reunited.

Lizzie remained a spinster, dying at the age of forty-seven. Legend suggests she succumbed to grief brought on by a broken heart after never reconciling with the unknown fate of her fiancé.

Today Edgewood Plantation functions as a bed and breakfast. Frequent sightings of Lizzie’s forlorn ghost have made the B&B a favorite destination for paranormal enthusiasts. The current owners embrace the ghostly presence and encourage visitors to seek their own supernatural experiences. Reported encounters include seeing mists on the stairs and hearing footsteps in the corridor. But a lucky few have glimpsed Lizzie in the upstairs window – still waiting for her lover’s return.

The Story

ONCE UPON A TIME

by Debra S. Sanders

Farley is a small town on the south end of nowhere, tucked between what was and what could have been. Most folks find amusement in the form of fishing, an occasional movie at The Orpheum, or special events like the Fourth of July Parade. But kids on summer break don’t always think the way their parents do and prefer mischief to amusement. Such was the case when Fred Walker brought his prize Hereford bull, Solomon, to town.

Fred was on his way to the Double M Ranch so the bull could conduct his annual “servicing” of heifers when he decided to stop at the Lazy Susan Café. After filling a pail with sweet corn, he left Solomon in the livestock trailer and sauntered across the street. It took less than a minute for Lucy Johnson to arrive at his booth with coffee and a slice of apple pie – and even less time for Fred to forget all about Solomon.

Since his wife had passed two years earlier, Lucy made sure the handsome widower ate properly by frequently taking leftovers from the restaurant to his house. Of course, the town gossips claimed Fred’s appetite wasn’t the only thing Lucy satisfied.

Fred liked apple pie almost as much as he liked the cute little waitress who served it. He didn’t see no harm in taking a half hour to indulge his hankerin’ for something sweet. It wasn’t as if Solomon got paid by the hour. On this particular day, Fred asked for a scoop of ice cream to go with his pie. The weather was hot for the end of June. Looking at Lucy Johnson made it seem even hotter.

While ice cream melted across Fred’s pie, a group of local kids were examining their fireworks for the upcoming Fourth of July celebration. It was the biggest event of the year which meant testing the Black Cats beforehand to make sure they popped. No one wanted duds on the Fourth.

When Billy Simmons spied Solomon lounging in the back of the livestock trailer, he double-dog dared the Connor boys to stage a Spanish bullfight. using Solomon as “el Toro”. They drew straws to see who would be the lookout, who would open the trailer gate and chase Solomon out with a lit firecracker, and who would be the matador.

The plan would have gone flawlessly if Miss Beasley hadn’t come crawling up Main Street in her ’59 Oldsmobile. She slowed down when she saw the bull in the middle of the street. He was madder than a wet hornet because Billy threw a whole string of Black Cats through the window instead of just one. When they started poppin’ around Solomon’s hooves, he charged out of the trailer bellowing like a locomotive and almost trampled Joey Conner in the process.

It was no secret Miss Beasley had passed the day when she should be driving a vehicle but the old spinster brandished such a despicable disposition, no one had the nerve to tell her. So when she saw Solomon pawing the ground, the fight was on. Her hand came down on the horn about the same time her foot hit the accelerator.

Solomon wasn’t anxious to tangle with the front end of a ’59 Oldsmobile so he headed for the first thing that looked like a barn . . . the open door at Red’s Hardware. Now, there’s no way a twelve-hundred-pound bull is going to fit through a thirty-six-inch entrance. Solomon took the path of least resistance and lunged right through the front glass window. Ignoring the screams from customers, he disappeared down the tool aisle, huffing and panting like a demon from Hell.

It was about that time Fred Walker came outside to see what was causin’ all the ruckus. His eyes got real big as he looked at the empty trailer and then at Red’s broken window. Fred took off down the street, disappearing into the feed store. After scooping up sweet grain in an empty coffee can, he headed back to the scene of Solomon’s escape.

By this time, a crowd had gathered outside Red’s establishment. Fred pushed through the door and began shakin’ the can, calling Solomon’s name soft and low. Sounded almost like a lullaby. Hearing a snort a few aisles over, Fred moved in that direction. Sure ‘nuff, Solomon was in the middle of the garden department with a piece of hose coiled around his back hoof.

Fred poured a little sweet grain into his hand and extended it toward the bull. A long, gooey tongue lapped it up as Solomon nudged his owner affectionately. They exited through the back loading dock with the bull following Fred like a duckling after it’s mama.

It was an exciting day, alright. People talked about Solomon’s antics for over a year. Not much happened after that and life returned to the slow, routine pace folks around Farley seem to favor – until someone rented the Elkin’s place. The rundown house on the outskirts of town had been vacant for years, and over time had become the object of several ghost stories.

Old timers said a woman died there while waiting for her husband to return from the Civil War. She simply lost her will to live. Minutes before she passed, her husband stumbled through the door, still wearing bandages on his wounds. She was too far gone to escape death’s clutches but with her last breath, vowed they’d meet again. Distraught with grief and half dead himself, the poor fellow disappeared into the night and was never seen again.

No one wanted to live in the Elkins house after that. Folks said they heard things. Furniture moved by itself. One day a peddler was passing through town and mentioned seeing a woman staring out the window. Well, that started the rumors flyin’ and the next thing you know, people claimed the ghost of the Elkins woman was lookin’ for her husband. Parents used that story to make their children behave. The Elkins ghost will get you if you don’t go to bed. Those same children are now parents. They still believe the house is haunted.

When a community lives with a ghost story as long as Farley, it becomes part of their culture. They’re not eager to give it up. And if folks have to give up a myth, you can bet they’ll replace it with another.

Which is exactly what happened when a stranger bought the Elkins place.

A few weeks after curtains appeared in the windows, people claimed a witch had taken residence in the dilapidated structure. It wasn’t long until young men began knocking on the evil creature’s door, challenged by those less valiant.

Such was the case on a Saturday night when Bobby Greene eased past the rickety gate and made his way up the walk. It was late. His friends hid in the bushes, watching as he approached the porch. Bobby was determined to prove his manhood by peeking in the window where a single candle burned. With heart pounding against his ribs, he tiptoed toward the dusty window.

A voice slithered from the shadows with all the menace of a coiled snake. “I wondered how long it’d take for people to start pestering me.”

Bobby wanted to turn and run right then but his legs wouldn’t move. Mustering the last of his courage, he swiveled his head enough to make out the faint outline of an old woman rocking in a chair. He prayed she didn’t hex him with a magical incantation.

“I’m . . . I’m sorry to bother you, ma’am. We . . . I . . . just wondered who lived here.”

“What’s it to you? I don’t recall issuing an invitation to tea. It’s pretty late for Welcome Wagon.” The old woman rose to her feet, stepping into a pool of moonlight. Her wrinkled face and narrowed eyes left no doubt that his fears were valid . . . she was definitely a witch. “Why don’t you admit it? You’re here because your friends put you up to it.”

Bobby’s face turned ashen. “You’re right. It was a stupid thing to do. I apologize.” His feet finally responded to the command to move. Easing forward, he winced as the skirt of her long, black dress brushed against his leg. “I really am sorry.”

“Not so fast, young man. Anyone who ventures out here in the dead of night must be a damn fool or have something to prove. Now if you’re a fool, Bobby Greene, I’m gonna make you sorry you ever stepped foot on my property but if you’re as strong on the outside as you appear on the inside, I might have a way to sweeten that pittance you earn at McCrory’s Dry Goods. Do you know how to use a hammer and nail?”

Bobby mouth opened and closed. How did the old woman know his name? Or where he worked? “I reckon I’m pretty good with tools,” he muttered at last. “I helped my dad build a barn last year.”

“I don’t need a barn. I need this fence repaired so it doesn’t fall down.” Her eyes seemed to bore right through him. “Be here at one o’clock tomorrow. The sooner you get started the better.”

With those final words, she slinked into the shadows. A sudden chill followed her departure. The next sound he heard was the quiet swish of the front door as it closed.

Bobby sprinted down the walk, scaling the short gate with a leap instead of pausing to open it. There was no sign of the other boys when he reached the clump of bushes where they’d hidden. He walked home alone, angry his friends abandoned him in the face of death. The old woman could have killed him. Cut out his heart. Boiled him alive. Or even worse, turned him into a toad.

Instead, she offered him a job.

Climbing into bed that night, Bobby vowed never to return to the Elkins house. By morning however, he changed his mind.

Bobby wanted a truck in the worst way. It would take him a year working as a stocker to earn enough for a down payment. McCrory’s paid minimum wage and only offered twelve to fifteen hours a week. Perhaps working for the witch wasn’t such a bad thing.

When he arrived at the Elkins house, Bobby found a large rock anchoring an envelope to the front porch. Inside was a handwritten note instructing him to use the tools in the shed to repair the picket fence. The woman wrote that she expected the job to last a few weeks. He was to come and go without bothering her.

Bobby pulled out another sheet of paper. Wrapped inside were several large bills.

Few words were spoken between Bobby and the woman during his visits. Occasionally when he rummaged through the shed for more nails or lumber, a tall glass of lemonade and cookies would be on the porch when he returned. He figured it was her way of showing approval for his work.

One day, as he nailed a board in place, the front door opened. The woman’s withered figure hovered behind a dirty screen door.

“Bobby, come here.” He dutifully approached, pausing to wipe the sweat from his neck with a faded bandana. “I need help washing the windows and planting flowers.”

“Yes, ma’am. Can it wait until I’m done with the fence?”

“I don’t want your help,” she snapped. “Men don’t know nothin’ about such chores. Next time you come, bring that girl who works at the ice cream shop.”

“Which one?” He hoped it wasn’t Rachel Stoddard. She was the most popular girl in school and the mayor’s only daughter. There was no way she would dig in dirt with manicured nails.

“The quiet one who works in back.” When he frowned, the old woman added, “The girl with long brown hair. She doesn’t talk much.”

“You mean Laurie Evers? I barely know her. She keeps to herself.”

“Then get to know her and make sure she comes with you next time.”

“But . . .”

“Don’t argue, young man.” The door slammed before he could say another word.

On the way home that night, Bobby struggled with how to convince a girl he barely knew to work for the town’s witch. The task proved easier than he imagined.

Bobby’s part time job at the Elkin’s place had elevated him to a local celebrity. He was the only person in town allowed on the property. A group of women from the local church decided to invite the witch to bible study. She refused to open the door when they arrived and supposedly chased them off the porch with a broom when they persisted.

Laurie Evers discovered Bobby lurking at the back door of the Ice Cream Parlor when she was locking up for the night. She didn’t think Bobby Greene even knew her name much less where she worked so it was a surprise to find him waiting for her.

Bobby stammered through a quick explanation of why he was there. The more he talked, the more he realized Laurie would never agree to such an outrageous proposition. And who could blame her? He sounded like an idiot. A bewitched idiot.

To his surprise, Laurie accepted the job.

After Bobby left, she pondered her decision, still not certain why she agreed to such an odd proposal. Perhaps because Bobby looked so cute as he pleaded for her cooperation. Or maybe it was curiosity. Laurie had heard the rumors about a witch living in the Elkins house. She didn’t believe such nonsense but it would be fun to do something no one else had done besides Bobby . . . actually meet the woman.

On the other hand, such an encounter would undoubtedly attract lots of attention, just like it had for Bobby. She shunned the limelight, preferring to stay in the background, observing rather than being seen. This was one time when Laurie felt compelled to risk the consequences. She couldn’t shake the feeling that if she said no, regret would haunt her the rest of her life.

The next afternoon, Bobby met Laurie at the Elkins house. She wasn’t sure what to expect but it wasn’t even close to what she found when they arrived. A note had been left under a bag of potting soil detailing what plants to repot and where they were to be placed, as well as instructions for weeding the exterior gardens, a task that would take several weeks.

The days passed quickly after that. Lemonade and cookies appeared magically on the porch from time to time with Laurie and Bobby chatting over the refreshments. Bobby liked the way the sun glinted on Laurie’s soft brown hair, bringing out golden highlights that crowned her head in a halo. And the way her smile went all the way to her eyes each time he spoke. He liked it so much he found himself thinking about her even when they weren’t together.

One day, as he reached for a cookie, Bobby accidently bumped Laurie’s head. The next thing he knew, they were kissing and neither seemed eager to stop. He’d kissed other girls but never felt like this . . . like he’d been waiting his whole life for this one moment. When he opened his eyes and saw the glow on Laurie’s face, he knew she felt the same.

The next day, as they marched up the crumbling walk hand in hand, Bobby noticed the screen door blowing back and forth. “That’s odd. She usually keeps it latched.” He hopped onto the porch with Laurie close behind. The front door was open, too, but the old woman was nowhere in sight. Bobby called through the opening.  “Ma’am? Ma’am, are you home?”

Laurie pushed past him, peering into the shadows. “What if she’s ill? Or sick?”

“She’ll be mad if we go inside without permission.”

“She’ll be madder if we stand on this porch all day and she needs our help. She might have fallen.”

Bobby hesitated, then pulled open the screen door and stepped inside. He wasn’t prepared for what he saw. “Laurie . . . come here.”

She eased through the entrance and stopped. The foyer was in complete disarray. A thick layer of dust covered the floor, marred only by their footprints. Cobwebs hung from the chandelier, stretching to a dark corner.

“It doesn’t look like anyone has lived here in years.”

Bobby inched into the parlor, followed closely by Laurie. An envelope perched against a tall vase on the mantel. It wasn’t yellow and dusty like everything else so he retrieved it.

A single sheet of paper was inside. He unfolded it, reading the words aloud. “For everything there is a time.”

“I don’t understand.” Laurie took the note and read it.

“The rest of our money is in here, too.” He met Laurie’s gaze. “I guess she’s gone.”

Laurie wandered to an old desk near a window and picked up a photograph. She stared at it for several seconds before motioning Bobby to join her. “She’s right. For everything there is a time.”

He didn’t understand until she handed him the picture. Bobby looked at the image then back at Laurie. Then at the photograph. The man in the Civil War uniform looked just like him – and the woman standing next to him bore an uncanny resemblance to Laurie.

Turning it over, he read the faded scrawl across the back. “Robert and Laurel Elkins, Wedding Day, 1864”.

 

Now, I don’t know if that story is true. Bobby Greene told it to me right before he and his pretty little bride moved to Louisville, and he’s never been one to lie. The Elkins house burned down shortly after they left, which put a stop to the stories of ghosts and witches.  But I hear tell when the moon is bright and the sky is clear, a young Civil War soldier and his bride can be seen walking hand in hand past the old homestead ruins . . . but then again, it could be the shadows of days gone by.

copyright 2017 – Debra S. Sanders

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About Debra S. Sanders

Debra is an RV nomad, traveling full time with her husband, dog and cat. She writes, hikes, star gazes and explores myth, lore and curiosities from America's back roads. She also indulges in colorful sunsets and good wine.