Can’t Go Home Again: The Final Chapter
This is the chilling final page of my haunted Halloween stories… I hope you’re not home alone! To get caught up, you can click the links and read Can’t Go Home Again and Can’t Go Home Again, Part II. If you can handle a creepy Halloween story, read on!
Her legs felt like Jell-O, but she pedaled on anyway. The tears stung her cheeks in the crisp, fall wind, so she decided to suck it up and stop crying. Now that she was out of the house, nothing that had happened seemed real. Had she dozed off in her chair and dreamed the whole thing? No, she knew that wasn’t the case, because her fingers were wrinkled and water-logged from spraying the fabric softener and water mixture on the old wallpaper, and she could still smell the musky glue. She shook her head and pedaled faster, going straight to David Huong’s service station first…she prayed to herself that Uncle Funny would be stretched out on that bench, like always.
As luck would have it, the bench was empty. Mr. Huong was pumping gas for cratchety Mr. Cherry, while the mean old geezer stood over him and looked on. She pedaled right past the service station and decided in that instant to go all the way down to Mrs. Newton’s, straight to Uncle Funny’s old camper trailer. She hated to see what kind of filth her crazy uncle lived in, but desperate times called for desperate measures.
As she sped through town and down Newton Hollow Road, her heart never slowed its terrified pitter-patter. She began to lose her breath, and decided she’d better slow down. The last thing she needed was to pass out and wreck her bike; she needed answers! Her heart was breaking at the thought of her beautiful, spacious, special home being haunted, and the idea that she may not be able to share the space with whatever this force was.
As she slowed her pace, she took some deep, cleansing breaths, and her heartbeat began to return somewhere near normal. She had covered a lot of ground in a short amount of time, and could see Mrs. Newton’s rooftoop on the horizon. She sped up again, anxious to get to Uncle Funny, the only person she knew of who might be able to help her. Even though he had taunted her, she had to hold out hope that he wouldn’t leave her to figure this all out on her own. There had to be some kind of reasonable answer for what had transpired…didn’t there?
She skidded into Mrs. Newton’s dirt driveway moments later, abandoning her bike as she ran up onto the front porch. She had a strong desire to just fly on back to the trailer, but it was archery season, and she couldn’t just go flailing through the pastures and woods without making sure one of the Newton boys wasn’t in a deer stand. She rapped on Mrs. Newton’s door with fervor, willing the sweet old woman to be home, when she heard a small voice call out, “Come on in!” Praise Jesus, she thought, as she turned the knob and rushed into Mrs. Newton’s kitchen.
“Please, Mrs. Newton, may I go back to Uncle Funny’s trailer? It’s imperative that I speak with him immediately”, she breathed, barely getting in the door.
“Well good afternoon to you, too, dear!” Mrs. Newton chuckled as she wiped her hands on a dirty old apron. She was making biscuits. “What’s the rush? Are you alright? You look like you’ve seen a ghost!”
She didn’t know what to say…should she talk to Mrs. Newton about this, or just play it off? The woman may think she was nuts. “Uh, I’m sorry, yes, good afternoon. No, I just need to ask him something…it’s kind of important,” she stammered, shifting from one foot to the other. “Is it ok if I ride my bike back there? Caleb and Christopher aren’t hunting, are they?”
“Well, now, you know I don’t mind, but your uncle isn’t back there. My boys went out to Crenshaw this week to hunt with their cousins. I saw Funny come home, then leave out again with his Army knapsack on his back, looked like he was on a mission,” she said softly, rolling the biscuit dough with an old, marble rolling pin. “He’s a peculiar ol’ feller, isn’t he?”
She felt her knees go weak. Uncle Funny could be anywhere, and she needed to talk to him right now. She walked over and sat down at Mrs. Newton’s kitchen table, without being invited. Her legs were wobbly again, partially from fear, and partially from pedaling so hard to get here. When she sat, all traces of energy left her body, and she put her head in her hands, elbows on the table. Momentarily, she heard another chair scoot out from the table, the soft whoosh of Mrs. Newton sitting, and then saw a steaming-hot cup of coffee being pushed toward her. “Here, dear, drink this. Then tell me what happened up there on 200 Liberty Lane. I’ve seen this frightened look before, so you can’t fool me.”
She burst into tears, and blubbered and sniffled while she spilled it all to sweet little Mrs. Newton, from the eery cold in the pasture, to the weird smell of smoke in the old cabin, and even the self-removing wallpaper in the living room. To hell with sounding crazy, she needed help. Through her tears and hiccups, she finished with “and who in the world is Little Miss, anyway?”, before dissolving into full-on sobs.
“Why, that would be your great-great-aunt, and my grandmother,” Mrs. Newton answered, still soft-spoken, but pale as a ghost.
She let that sink in, her sobs calming. “What? Your grandmother? You mean…we’re related?” She was astounded.
“Yes, dear, we are. I’m your Great Uncle Funny’s niece. I’m Charles Jr and Geneva’s daughter, and I was a Wilcox, too, before I married Grover Newton. Little Miss’s real name was Lilly Maude. She was a sister-in-law to your great-grandfather, William, who built that house you’re living in,” was her somber reply. “She was married to Charles Sr., who was William’s brother, and my grandfather.”
“How did I never know this?” She was flabbergasted, completely shocked, to learn that Mrs. Newton was a relative. Why had her parents never told her?
“Well, dear, most of the Wilcoxes disowned me when I married Grover, because the Wilcoxes and Newtons didn’t get along at all, after the fire in the hayfield that summer. It was a tragic day, yessir, but it wasn’t Mr. Newton’s fault, no matter how much Grandpa Wilcox wanted to believe it was.” She sipped her coffee and shook her head with sadness. “My grandmother, Little Miss, died in the fire, and my Grandpa was never the same after that. Neither was Uncle Funny,” she said, sadly. “I never knew my grandparents, but Funny told me the whole story.”
She sat and stared in disbelief as Mrs. Newton told her the entire tragic tale. Charles and Lillie Maude Wilcox, Funny’s aunt and uncle, lived on the Wilcox farm in a home similar to the old run down cabin that Funny had grown up in.
They had only one child, Charles Jr., “Charlie”, who was Mrs. Newton’s father. William, Charles, and Darrin, Funny’s father, all lived on the property, but only because William was kind enough to allow his brothers to build homes on his expansive farm, which was land given to him in a dowry from her great-grandmother’s parents. Charles and Darrin had left home at young ages, sown their wild oats, married, and then shown back up when times got hard, needing homes for their new families. The two worked on the farm for William in return for land to build on, taking care of livestock, harvesting corn and soybeans, and cutting summer hay. The 230-acre farm was a full-time job for all three of them, and they even hired help in the busy seasons, like David Newton, Mrs. Newton’s father-in-law, who was only 12 or 13 when the fire happened.
On the day of the fire, they had been cutting hay since sun-up, and it was a particularly dry summer with scorching temperatures. Funny, who was always a little mischievous, was around 6 at the time, and he was supposed to be helping cut and bale hay. Instead, he had been hiding behind a big tree, scratching sticks together, trying to make a spark. It had worked. First, a little patch of dried grass caught fire, but it spread quickly, and soon the whole field was ablaze. Lillie Maude had ridden up on her horse to bring them lunch just when the fire broke out. It quickly spread through the dry, un-cut portions of hay, and surrounded her and her horse in flames.
Lillie Maude’s horse spooked and reared up, and couldn’t find a way out. She couldn’t get control of the animal, and was a fierce rider at only 4’9″ tall. She would not let go or stop trying to make the horse find another way out. Lille Maude, a.k.a. “Little Miss”, and her horse had perished in the fire, and Charles was devastated. He had lost the love of his life, and he blamed David Newton. As it happened, when the fire broke out, David had been nearest the tree that Funny was hiding behind, and Charles had seen him there early on in the incident. Charles Sr. had an unhealthy sense of loyalty toward family, including Funny, and wouldn’t listen to David’s denials and accusations that his own nephew had started the fire. No Wilcox could have been so careless, according to Charles, and he went to his grave believing that David Newton, Mrs. Newton’s father-in-law, was an arsonist.
The next day, Charles, in his grief, had gathered an old pint jar of some of the remains of his wife and ordered David Newton and his father, Terrell, to bury the rest, and the remains of the horse, in that pasture…then to leave the property and never return. The father and son had used mules and heavy equipment to push the charred earth and trees into a pile out in the hay field, which had, over the years, created a dark cave under the brush. The ground underneath, holding the incinerated remains of the horse and its rider, had sunk in just enough, and the trees and brush had held on in a tangled mess.
Darrin, on the other hand, thought of his son as careless and worthless, and believed David Newton’s story about Funny loafing under the tree, trying to make a spark with sticks. Darrin’s wife had died while giving birth to Funny, and he resented the boy for taking her, and for having to raise him alone. Darrin never admitted it to Charles that Funny was the culprit, but Funny had taken a beating that night, and many nights thereafter, when Darrin was in the sauce and feeling remorse for what his young son had caused. Funny took every beating bravely, but vowed never to marry or have children, because in his mind, it could only bring grief and violence. That was why he was so strange, and why he remained a bachelor all of his life.
Everyone had always believed that the jar of Lillie Maude was in a cabinet under the shooting shed, as Charles was spotted on numerous occasions sitting on the old tractor-seat stool, cabinet open, drink in hand, crying and pining away for his deceased wife. Also, many had witnessed the cold, blue burst of air come out of that creepy cave in the ground throughout the years.
William, the oldest of the three Wilcox brothers, took Funny in when he was 12 and had grown tired of Darrin’s beatings. Darrin had become such a drunkard that he didn’t really notice or care, and eventually died one night there in the old cabin of a pickled liver. Funny believed that his Uncle William knew he was the fire-starter, even though he always said outwardly that David Newton was the culprit. Funny figured William took pity on him, knowing his actions were not intentional, even though he never admitted to knowing that Funny had done it. William was the most diplomatic and calm of the three brothers, but the relationship between the three of them was never the same after the fire. Charles eventually wandered off, a few years after losing Lillie Maude, and William took in young Charlie, as well. Charles was never seen or heard from again. Funny joined the Army when he was 17, and Charlie stayed and farmed until he married Mrs. Newton’s mother at the age of 20.
“You’ll have to get Funny to fill you in on anything else; that’s all he’s ever told me about any of it, and even then he was drunk as a loon,” said Mrs. Newton with finality. “He don’t drink much, on account of how his father was, but when he does, he opens up and tells me everything.”
She was fascinated, and in sheer disbelief. Her parents had always painted such a pretty picture of family, loyalty, and brothers helping each other on the huge farm. They had never shared any of this with her. The Wilcox legacy was something that her own father had always seemed so proud of, and the whole story was a real shock. Maybe her own father hadn’t known, either. The Wilcoxes seemed like a prideful bunch, who probably would’ve swept the “dirt” under the rug.
She thanked Mrs. Newton and hugged her close, feeling the newfound kinship with great emotion. “I’ll be by to visit more often, once all of this is cleared up,” she told the older woman. She needed to go home and process all of this…and get some rest. The sun had long set over the ridge, and the bike ride home in the dark would be tiresome, but she wanted to get some fresh air anyway.
She walked into the big house a little after 8:30, hurried past the paper-filled living room, and went straight upstairs to her own bed. She was too tired and confused to be scared anymore, so she stripped off her clothes, slipped into her gown, and crawled into bed. As she tried to fall asleep, she also attempted to process all that Mrs. Newton had told her. She thought about her kind great-grandfather, and how he’d taken in Funny and Charlie, even with a few kids of his own. She felt sorry for Funny, and realized that maybe she’d been too judgmental of him all these years. She also thought of the old cabinet in the shooting shed, the door hanging open when she walked past the other day. Soon, she fell into a fitful sleep.
Suddenly, she awoke to a loud thwack! It was coming from downstairs. Fear racked her whole body, and she sat straight up in the bed. All of the comments of others flooded her mind at once; all the warnings about hauntings. So, she had been warned. At this point, she didn’t care how many warnings had been issued; there was no way to prepare for the terror that had overcome her this night. She knew sleep wouldn’t come, and the hour or so she’d already gotten was for naught. Her heart ached and raced at the same time, and she feared that this would be the day she would die…if not by the hand of whatever this was, then by the stopping of her own heart.
THWACK! There it was again, and she knew for sure that she wasn’t dreaming. She had to face this, had to fight it, if necessary, and do what it took to keep and maintain this house…her home! She had to fight the fear.
She bravely got out from under the covers and raced down the stairs, hoping the speed would get her past the terror. She flipped on the light when she got to the bottom, then screamed at the sound of another loud THWACK!
“Who’s there?” She tried to sound fierce, but sounded more like a dying cat.
“HEEhehehe, it’s me, Little Miss. Just your crazy old Uncle Funny”. He was in the living room. THWACK!!
She raced in and turned on the overhead chandelier with a loud click of the switch. “WHAT are you DOING?”, she screamed at her great uncle. “Are you trying to kill me with fear?”
“Naw, girl, I’m trying to help you! I finally figured out where that damn jar of Lillie Maude is! It’s in this wall!” He raised a huge axe over his head and came down hard on the plaster wall for the fourth time. The old poplar-board wall under the plaster gave way, leaving a gaping hole. Funny reached in and pulled out a jar of ashes. “And here it is! She’s been tryna get out all these years, and you finally freed her! I think ‘at’s why she helped you get this ugly old wallpaper down! Heeehehheheeee!” His screeching laugh filled the room, and she stood there in shock and disbelief. Could this really be the case? Could the spirit of Lillie Maude Wilcox really be happy about her remains being freed from the wall? And, how did the ashes get there in the first place?
“Tell me what you know, right now, Uncle Funny! I need to know!!”
“I always thought she was in that old cabinet at the shootin’ shed. Went lookin’ for her there the other day, but it was empty. I even looked through the old cabin down yonder, and I confess, I knocked around in the chimney. When the insulation fell a bunch of soot fell, too. I think ‘at’s why it smelled like smoke, just old tar and coals.” He took a breath. “Today I went up to Charles and Little Miss’s old dump, but couldn’t find nothin’ there either. After I talked to my niece and she told me your story, I remembered Uncle Charles offerin’ to plaster up these poplar-board walls in here for your great-grandma Constance, after Lillie Maude died, and before he wandered off. Aunt Constance was always askin’ Uncle William to do it for ‘er, ’cause she wanted to put up wallpaper, like the Kennedy’s had on third street. High falutin’, she was. Then it all come together in ma head! That crazy ol’ coot Uncle Charles hid Aunt Lillie Maude in yer wall!” He whinnied and giggled all the more, even having to bend over and slap his knee. “He couldn’t let her go fer nuthin’! Always pinin’ away, chasin’ his sorrow with the drink, jus’ like my Daddy! Uncle William was the only sane one of the bunch, but then, his Constance outlived him by 20 years. She was a scary lookin’ ol’ thang, but she took good care of Uncle William!”
Suddenly, it all came together. The hole in the hay pasture with the cold, icy wind…the cabinet door in the shooting shed…the smell of smoke in the old cabin. Uncle Funny getting himself in that swing was still a mystery, but she’d have let that one be.
“Just tell me one more thing, Uncle Funny. Why do you call me Little Miss all the time?” She just had to know.
“Why, hell, girl, you always acted just like her. You used to ride that horse o’ yers out there to bring us vittles when we’s cuttin’ hay, back when you was a girl an’ I’s helping yer Daddy. Aunt Little Miss was sweet and kind, and always wantin’ to help. You are just like her, even though y’all wasn’t no blood kin.” His words brought tears to her eyes. “You look more like Aunt Constance, if ya wasn’t so dern-blasted short!” Short? At 5’8″? I guess to his 6’4″ frame, she did seem short. He snickered and giggled. “But I’d rather call you after Aunt Little Miss, anyway. I thought a a lot o’ that woman. Broke my heart when she passed.” He didn’t mention anything about the fire, or how it started. Just said it like the woman had died of old age.
She crossed the room and took the jar from his hand. “Let’s go sprinkle this in the hay field, right near that hole, what do you say?” She hoped that might bring it all to an end, or calm it all down, at the very least. Uncle Funny must’ve agreed, because he started marching toward the door.
When the pair returned to the house, well after midnight, all the curled sheets of wallpaper were gone, and the hole Uncle Funny had banged out had disappeared, plaster back in place. She had a clean slate! All the work had been done! She decided two things then and there, and the first was that a ghost who helped with renovations couldn’t be so bad….could it?
Secondly, she vowed to herself that she would not to take down the picture of her Great Grandmother Constance that hung in the dining room, at any cost….
I hope you’ve enjoyed my haunted Halloween stories! I will get back to my normal topics of hair, makeup and such after this. Thanks for joining in on some creepy fun with me!
October 28, 2015 @ 7:54 am
Well, what a job of tangling and untangling! I’m glad you left a few mysteries: how Uncle Funny got into the high swing, and who or what repaired the plastered wall.
It’s a fine basic plot, luxuriously decorated, and if you ever want to try to publish it more seriously than as a blog, you’ll need only to prune it a bit, both of words you don’t need and a few of that jumble of relatives. That’s my opinion, anyway. How very creative you are! And energetic. It’s one thing to think up a project, and quite another to carry it off.
October 28, 2015 @ 3:39 pm
Nah, just something fun I wanted to do for Halloween. Thanks for the critique, though! 🙂