Below is a “strange tale” appropriate for the season. It may or may not be non-fiction. That will remain my secret. Enjoy!
The air was unseasonably warm for the September day that we moved into our new home. The house, a spacious fixer upper ranch nestled on 5 flat acres, needed lots of love. The kind of love that brings a house stuck into the 1960s adorned with 7 layers of wallpaper on every single wall into the early 21st century with a classically traditional painting technique. The house was empty in both contents and life. We were excited about the blank slate that it seemed to provide.
The previous owner had died and her family had left it vacant for nearly three years. The cobwebs were extensive, the dust was thick, the repairs were evident and the land was overgrown and dense with grass taller than our kids. This seemingly lifeless house begged to be lived in again. Prior to moving in we talked with and eventually hired the middle aged farmer across the street to come and clear the back yard.
“Are you sure he asked?”
Confused but determined to create a safe backyard space for our children we inquired, “Is there a reason why we shouldn’t be?”
“You don’t know what is living back there”, he replied. “You might wake something up.”
My husband chimed in, “Well we live there now so whatever is living back there can find a new home.”
As the farmer walked away he warned, “This house has seen a lot of things, just be careful where you play.”
His comments and hesitation were intriguing and borderline alarming but we couldn’t give them attention. Closing was the follow day and we still had much to coordinate, mainly how to entertain our two children Jackie, 5 and Bobby, nearly 4, while we moved and unpacked. I never shared this with my husband but it felt as if something or someone was waiting for us and the farmer knew it. It is interesting how human expectations are such that when you purchse a home or property that the previous owner should automatically relinquish their entitlement. There should never be an overlap of shared ownership or inhabitants. It doesn’t always work that way as I was about to discover.
Move in day was under way with cleaning, shuffling boxes from room to room and the kids exploring – running throughout the house and listening to their voice echo in the emptiness of their bedrooms. Their laughter rebirthed life into the house. While I was soaking in their playfulness, I was not enjoying their need to be underfoot. I was desperately trying to make sense of the moving mayhem and encouraged them to play outside, to take advantage of the summer like weather. They made their way to the freshly cleared land in the backyard, picking flowers and sticks that they turned into princess crowns and mighty staffs.
The back of the house was walled with windows and glass doors all peering out into the acreage. I rejoiced in the opportunity to be able to multitask as any young mother would, but especially on moving day. Now I could keep an eye on the children playing AND unpack. I inhaled the quiet. It was blissful and at that moment I was grateful we had acquired this house.
A sharp shriek broke my bliss and the children tore into the house from the back door.
Their faces were filled with fear and they talked over each other. I managed to make out the words huge and chased.
Seeing my confusion, they grabbed my hand to bring me to the back window to show me what they were so desperately trying to describe. Not 30 feet away was a menacingly tall coyote searching for his family’s den that we had just destroyed the day before. He found the kids playing near it and chased them away onto the back patio. Their heaving breathing and quivering lips were beginning to subside under my protection.
Is this what the farmer was talking about? Is this what we had to worry about?
My husband reassured me when he joined us at the window that the coyote would soon give up the den and relocate his family. That coyote stood guard until nightfall and never wavered at his post, determined to stand his ground and prove that he also lived her.
Playing in the backyard wasn’t an option the following day. The children had already forgotten their brush with wildlife and grew restless to play outside again.
The kitchen sink window faced the front of the house which looked out onto the driveway and the front yard. The position of the driveway, the front sidewalk and the two hedgerows created a safe plot of land where they could play and still be seen by me inside the house. Off they went to play on the second unseasonably warm day of the weekend as I cleaned the dirty dishes at the sink. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed a young boy running past the kitchen window. I didn’t pay much attention to him at first until I saw him again and again. He couldn’t have been more than 7 or 8 and had longer dark brown hair. He was dressed in shorts and a sleeveless shirt to match the climate. His demeanor seemed playful and happy. I dried my hands and made my way outside to see if the kids had seen him or if they were playing with him. I found the kids playing under a tall bush towards the front of the yard, no where near the kitchen window. The kids hadn’t noticed anything other than a few garden snakes and the next door neighbor’s cat. They promised to tell me if the little boy came back. I was eager to meet him and thrilled about having built in friends. Over the next few days as we continued to unpack I would see that little boy several more times but never at the same time that the kids were outside or available. I was growing increasingly frustrated over the missed opportunities for a proper introduction. I was also getting annoyed that this little boy felt entitled to still play on our property. It was obvious that people lived here now and the house was no longer vacant. Why was he still using our house as his playground? And where were his parents?
Autumn settled in and the outdoors became less desireable to play in so Jackie and Bobby found themselves playing more and more inside. I hadn’t seen the little boy since the first week after we moved in and rarely thought about him. A brisk November weekend afternoon I came upon my 2 children chasing each other around the center of the house. The house lent itself to a perfect circular running track beginning in the hallway straightaway into the living room curving slightly into the dining room which fed into the kitchen then back again into the hallway only to start over again. Their giddy, nervous laughter caught my attention. It was the kind of laughter that you hear when someone is playfully chasing you. I stopped my chores in the kitchen to follow them around the handmade track to see what was exciting them so much. It seemed as if they both were being chased by someone. I assumed they were chasing each other until I noticed that they both were looking over their shoulder.
“What are you two doing?”, I asked.
“Playing with our friend”, they replied.
My son stopped midway through the chase, nearly out of breath – half from running and half from laughing so incredibly hard to inform me that they had met a new friend. “Where is your new friend?” I asked, confused.
“Behind us”, they said.
Intrigued by their “imagination”, I asked, “Does your friend have a name?”
“Mikey”, they both replied in unison.
No further questions were asked.
Other odd things had occurred over the first few months we lived there. Lights flickering, kitchen ceiling fans going full speed randomly especially after I had raised my voice to the children, all of the bedroom doors slamming at the same time with no open windows anywhere. My husband and I dismissed it and explained it all away to each other, but deep down I knew all of the occurrences revealed another part of the story of this house.
As the holidays approached, I volunteered to help out with a candle fundraiser for the kids school. I was in charge of sorting the product and had extra stored at my home. One of the parents called inquiring about additional product for her holiday gift giving. We exchanged pleasantries and talked briefly about our children who shared a teacher. She shared that she lived in the town her entire life, so did her mother and grandmother. I explained that we just moved in and were loving it community so far. She needed 5 more candles for a holiday party that Sunday. Because it was Friday night already I offered for her to come to the house to pick them up.
“Where do you live?,” she asked.
“1124 Rising Tide Avenue. Do you know where that is?”
Knowing she knew her way around town, I made the assumption that she could navigate easily and didn’t need any directions. If you grew up in my town you knew that street as it was the main one leading into town from neighboring one..
She didn’t respond right away and there was silence on the other end of the line. No sound, just silence. I thought she had hung up on me.
“Hello?”, I prompted.
Her voice crackled as came back on the line and offered an apology.
“Sorry, I am just stunned. That’s my grandmother’s house. We sold it back in September.”
We both were taken aback at the serendipity of the phone call.
I couldn’t believe that a candle fundraiser of all things had brought us together. Excitement boiled over inside me as I thought of all of the questions I could possibly get answered.
Would they know anything about the odd farmer? Did they know anything about a young boy who lived nearby? Would they have any insight as to odd happenings around the home such as coyotes or fans running at a Nascar type speed?
Asking in a somewhat desperate tone, “When I come pick up my order, can I bring my mom?”
“Of course”, I said, “‘You’re both welcome.”
Within 20 minutes, the previous owner’s daughter and granddaughter arrived to my home, eager to see all of the changes, nearly forgetting the original reason for the visit.
I led them around the house like a tour guide explaining the changes we made and why. I was seeking out an opportunity to covertly ask the former owner’s daughter questions. It felt too soon and I was sure that she may judge me for asking such odd questions just a few minutes into our acquaintance.
As we made our way back to the kitchen, the former owner’s daughter asked to speak to me privately.
“I am going to ask you a question and you can’t think I am crazy.” – she said.
While taken aback by how quickly our casual conversation progressed into a serious one, I was also intrigued by what she was going to ask me.
“Ok, hit me”, I replied.
After a long weighted pause she mustered the strength and courage to ask me, “Do you see a little boy running around the yard or in the front of the window at all?”
My heart pounded and I brought my hand to my mouth in disbelief. I hoped to disguise my shock and affirmation but she could read it in my eyes.
“From the look in your eyes I am going to guess that’s a yes”, she said.
Her reaction to my response sent chills through my very core. She started to wring her hands and rock from side to side – the way one does when they are nervously about to share a big secret.
“He is my baby brother.”
The puzzled look on my face must have begged for more information becuase she went on to offer, ”He was killed about 46 years ago in front of the house, playing at the end of the driveway – not in the front yard, like mom told him to. Hit by a passing car.” she continued.
A reminiscent look fell upon her face as she continued to share about her brother.
“He was only 7 when he died. Such a jokester” – she offered. “Loved to run and play and laugh. You know a typical kid. Oh my god, he would chase his twin brother Donald around until they both fell down laughing.”
“Can I ask you what he looked like?” I asked, suddenly thinking of that little boy I could never catch up to when we first moved in.
Her face lit up when she described him. “Oh he was a cutie! Had brown hair and you know he always gave mom a hard time about cutting it so she just stopped one day. It grew so long that we would call him a girl. He was a great kid, always playful, big heart – always happy and always running. He and Donald would do laps around the house to see who could run the fastest. Mom and I used to time them.”
“I’ll never forget him.”
I was stunned how the story of the house was all coming together. Could this be the little boy I saw when I first moved in?Could this be the little boy that was playing with my kids chasing them around their homemade race track?
Dazed, I then asked with much hesitation,
“What, was his name?”
“Ronald”, she replied, “but we called him Mikey.”