Halloween Ghost Story Contest -- 2015
Adult Winners

Third Place

Our third place Adult winner is Travis Kennedy of Scarborough, Maine.

Carver Farm

Travis Kennedy

Do I believe in ghosts?

I ask myself that question a lot these days. For the past fifteen years or so, I would have given you the rote response of modern adults everywhere: of course not. But nowadays I hesitate. I have an answer, but it's a little more complicated than "yes or no." My opinion on the matter started to change not long after my first day on the job as a deputy sheriff in Aroostook County.

"Start with the seniors," Sheriff Belanger had said to me that first week in October. "Go knock on their doors and introduce yourself, and leave a card. You're a handsome young fella - most of them will drag you into their house to hear your life story. While you're there you can check their stoves for fire hazards and get a read on whether they're taking care of themselves. We're heading into Fall, there are always a couple of fires. And every winter we lose a few of the ones who shouldn't be on their own."

Stopping in on the seniors would prove to be a big part of my new job - the elderly are one of the most reliable commodities in Northern Maine, and they never lacked for need. Aroostook is the largest American county east of the Rocky Mountains. Densely forested and sparsely populated, It covers the top of Maine like a cap, earning it the popular nickname "The Crown of Maine;" but most Maine people just call it The County. The soil is rich and agricultural industries remain strong - their potatoes are considered among the best worldwide, and their lumberjacks churn out a constant stream of healthy timber - but most other opportunities to live and work here have bled steadily away for decades. Poverty and hunger are rampant; drug abuse is epidemic.

But the region's uncommon beauty, and the old-fashioned work ethic and community spirit draw the curious up north to see what it's all about from time to time.

Investors and politicians come on a junket or to shake hands during the Potato Blossom Festival, and leave the place especially proud of themselves. They get the sense that their brief stopover has earned them some kind of merit badge, some sense of ownership of the adorable, friendly, unsophisticated folk living at the Northern corner of America. County folk live under the unique circumstance of being economically depressed, while uncommonly bewitching - and yet for most of the year, the hotels remain half empty. As such, the people have built up something of a callus to those of us from away.

Needless to say, a freshly minted, twenty-something lawman from Portland would be met with healthy suspicion.

I reminded myself that it could be much worse. There are parts of rural Maine where a Sheriff's badge would put you in instant exile - and possibly danger. Aroostook County is different. It's still a place where police presence isn't automatically associated with something bad happening. It's not uncommon to see your police chief flipping pancakes at a hunters' breakfast, or a whole fleet of off-duty deputies giving up their Labor Day weekend to winterize houses for the elderly. Or you might find a sixty year old cop sitting at the communal table at Tim Horton's in full uniform early in the morning, shooting the breeze with the other old dodders.

At the same time, a struggling community is going to cut the occasional legal corner in order to get by; and County folk are no exception. It's easy to figure out when an otherwise decent farmer, for instance, might be supplementing his income with a little patch of marijuana in the densest corners of his crop field. But I wasn't here for those guys. I was here to protect the decent folk from the meth labs, and domestic violence, and vandalism and theft. And I hoped sincerely that in time, I'd prove it to them.

So on the advice of the Sheriff, I began my service to Aroostook County with a slow and steady charm offensive among the elderly. Aroostook is massive, and most of it is forest; the communities along Route One are like little oases of activity in the thick sea of trees that is the North Maine Woods. Outside of Route One the homes are sporadic, spread across wide open farmland or buried deep in the forest. I could drive around my territory for weeks and only visit a few seniors a day, without the helpful advice of my sheriff. He ran through a list of the chattiest ones; the ones who might greet me with a shotgun, depending on their mood that day; and the ones who are dangerously, stubbornly remaining "independent" long after it's no longer safe for them to do so.

Louise Carver was all three.


"You really ought to try to get in her house," Belanger said. "Louise is ninety-five, and has lived alone on Carver Farm way the hell outside Mapelton since her father died seventy years ago. She should have moved into assisted living long ago, but she's the most stubborn old bird I've ever seen. Says she wouldn't leave that house if God himself showed up to pack her bags. It's an old, drafty farmhouse a mile away from her closest neighbor, and she heats it with a wood stove older than I am. She's either going to burn the place down or freeze to death there eventually.

"Where's her family?" I asked.

"She's never been married," he said. "No family. I doubt she's ever left The County. "

"How does she get her food and medicine?" I imagined my grandmother, who was only eighty, living out in the boonies like that and felt an instant pang of sadness for Louise Carver.

"Meals on Wheels, God bless 'em" Belanger said. "Volunteers from the church check in on her and take her out to do errands once in a while. And now you."


"You," he said. "You're her local deputy, and we have a responsibility to that woman, knowing she's in something like mortal risk. We can't make her leave, and God help the man or woman who tries to. So you need to check in on her somewhat on the regular, especially as the weather gets cold. Make sure she's up on her prescriptions, check around the stove, glance in the fridge if you can get away with it. It's a pain in the ass of a drive to make in February, I won't lie to you. They don't plow that road but once, twice if we're lucky during a storm, and she's damn near at the end of it. But we'll keep going as long as she keeps breathing."

By the third day of my senior outreach program, I had heard more old wives' tales and eaten more ribbon candy than I could keep track of. I was stuffed full of shortbread cookies and tea as I steered toward Carver Farm. This time of year, as September rolls into October and the entire county prepares for the potato harvest followed by a brutal Northern Maine winter, the landscape turns over quickly.

The afternoon shadows cut thick lines across the hills and potato fields, creating a dramatic balance of golden light peaks and stark, black valleys. The fall foliage was past its season, and the fields were well into the process of being dug up; color seeped out of the land so quickly that before you knew it, that splashy countryside would vanish altogether and a bleakness sets in for a few weeks before the snow comes to bury it, ushering in a winter that is just as beautiful but for altogether different reasons.

I had saved Louise Carver for last, because I expected her to be a challenge; I also thought that if I showed up at the moment just before it was too late or too dark, she might let me in and out of the house quickly just to get rid of me. The Sheriff wasn't kidding; the road to Louise's home stretched for miles through a whole lot of nothing. At just the moment I was about to give up for the night and come back another day, I spotted the house. It sat all by itself at the top of a hill, slightly crooked and silhouetted black against the purple sky with its windows glowing orange. It looked like one of those haunted houses in the cartoons we grew up watching. I half expected a black cat to cross my path as I turned onto the long, dirt driveway.

She was on the porch already, shaking a bottle in front of the door and muttering to herself as I parked. She hadn't acknowledged me yet when I reached the bottom of the steps, and I was worried that maybe she hadn't noticed me. If I startle her, I thought, she could drop dead right there. But she knew I was there. It was just that visits from the Sheriffs had been such a longstanding interference by then that she didn't bother to even look up when she saw my pickup pull into the driveway below.

They live long in the County. Theories abound, from the clean air and water, to the hearty work ethic, to good old-fashioned Yankee stubbornness that routinely keeps County residents alive and feisty well into their nineties, and Louise Carver was no exception. She stood unassisted in black sneakers, planted firmly on the uneven planks of her front porch. Everything about her was a study in prideful efficiency; she was dressed plainly but clean in a pair of blue jeans and a heavy blue sweater that looked to be hand-knitted. She wore a pair of store-bought reading glasses and no jewelry whatsoever. Her age peeked through in places, however; there was a yellowing to her eyes and the old dentures in her mouth, and a long, micro-thin film of yellow hair grew along her upper lip and cheeks. Her hands were bony and wrinkled, and they shook a little while the rest of her stood still; but for a ninety-five year old living independently in a hundred and fifty year old rural farmhouse, Louise was surprisingly well- preserved. Now that I had a chance to appraise her closely under the porch light, I saw that she had been shaking vinegar out of a bottle just in front of the door. When she finally looked up, a brief flash of interest washed across her face.

"Well you're a new one," she said. "And just a baby!"

"Yes ma'am," I said, smiling. "I'm Ben Caswell. I'm the new Deputy with the Sheriff's office. Just moved up this way from Portland."

"Ah ha. Portland," Louise said with a hint of derision. "Well this will certainly be a change of pace for you." She said it with a finality that suggested she wanted to end the conversation already.

"Did the vinegar go bad?" I asked. Louise looked confused at first, and then glanced down at the bottle in her hand and shook her head slowly.

"No, I just pour a little out here every night." She said it like that was a thorough explanation, and I wondered if this was one of those rural wisdoms that my city slicker upbringing had robbed me of understanding: maybe it kept away coyotes?

"Gotcha," I said. "Well this is my new route, and I wanted to come and say hello."

"Yes, I see." Louise looked down at me dispassionately. "Hello, Deputy." She had been through this exercise before; she knew they sent me to inspect her home for hazards, and was not at all interested in letting me win that easy.

"Miss Carver," I said sheepishly, taking my hat in my hands," I was kind of hoping I could get your advice. I'm new here, as I mentioned, and I don't really know my way around." I was going full-blown adorable grandson, an act that had so far scored a one hundred percent success rate with Louise's Aroostook County contemporaries.

But she was immune. The old woman stepped off the porch and ignored me altogether. She began walking in a slow perimeter around the house, inspecting the foundation for God knows what. I didn't know what else to do, so I followed her. I noticed as we walked that the foundation of Carver House looked like no basement I'd ever seen before. The windows had been sealed with concrete from the outside, and in at least a dozen different spots someone had added patches of fresh cement in bulbous chunks.

"Looks like you've got this pretty well sealed," I said, and she grunted in begrudging agreement.

"Deputy," she said, "It's a little late for a house call, don't you think? Listen, if it's so important to you, come on in and you can see that I'm not about to suffocate on my afghan or whatever such nonsense." She shot a hand out and grabbed my arm firmly, and for a second I thought it might have been an act of aggression; but then I realized she was just grabbing me for support as she climbed the stairs back to her porch. "But there won't be any tea in it for you, because I hope to get this over with quickly."

I said that would be fine, and followed her in. The inside of the farmhouse wasn't much different from most of the other homes I'd visited over the past three days. It had the same stained wallpaper and old furniture, the same ancient wood stove in the living room, and the same eerie paintings of Jesus on the walls. I couldn't help but notice four cases of vinegar stacked on the kitchen floor.

We swept through the living room quickly, so I could see that she had cleaned her flue and was clear of fire hazards and carbon monoxide. The only signs of strangeness were around the basement; an open staircase led down to a door that was bolted and nailed shut several different ways. Planks of wood were nailed across it in a cross pattern. Above the staircase a simple wooden cross hung from a half-embedded nail. There was a small hammer hanging on a string from another nail driven firmly into the wall.

I might not have noticed the hammer, but Louise absentmindedly grabbed it as we walked by; and without even really looking at her target, she swung it fluidly toward the nail holding up the cross and drove it back into the door frame with two swift taps. It looked more like habit than home maintenance, as if she'd been tapping that nail back into place for so long she didn't even know she was doing it anymore.

How old are you, Deputy Caswell?" She asked.

"I'm twenty-seven, ma'am," I said, and I did my best to stand up straight and deepen my voice as if it made the number more impressive than it was. "But you don't have to call me Deputy. You can call me Ben."

"Okay Ben," she said, "In that case cut it with this ma'am business and we'll be Ben and Louise, deal?"

"Deal," I said. "You know, I can't help but notice there's a draft coming around these window frames. I'd be happy to come back and seal them up with plastic wrap for the winter. It should help you keep the heat in. How about next week?"

I could see her instinctively begin to tell me no, but then she hesitated, and considered the offer. "That's very kind of you Deputy. I'll think about it. Now if you don't mind, you can show yourself out." She turned her back to me and went into the bathroom. I headed for the door, hesitating for a moment when I heard a loud clank on some mysterious pipe in the basement below. Mice, I thought. Big ones. I left Louise's house and steered back toward Mapleton and relative civilization, feeling accomplished.

Although she never explicitly said yes, I showed up a week later with a roll of plastic wrap, scissors and tape. Louise rolled her eyes, but let me inside. And so our friendship began.


I visited her weekly; more than that, when I could. Most of my other seniors were friendlier, and more hospitable; but there was a quality to Louise, a deep and vulnerable loneliness, that drew me back there. My family was far away, and she didn't have any; I felt like we needed each other. As September faded into October she would tell me what it was like growing up on a farm in the County throughout the Twentieth Century, and lecture me on everything I was doing wrong when I came to fix things. I mostly just listened.

I got used to Louise's eccentricities. If I was at her house around sunset, I'd ignore her habitually shaking her vinegar on the front steps. More than once I saw her shake it down the basement steps too, ruling out my coyote theory. And I watched her wage a constant battle with that cross over the staircase. She would hammer it in, and within a day or two the ever-shifting weight of the old house popped it back out again.

The sounds, though, took more getting used to.

It's an old house, I know. Old houses make noises. But from time to time I would hear that clanking in the basement and know that it was too loud to be settling noises, or your garden variety field varmint; could it be rats? Or something bigger? And the gusts of wind that made their way through the living room were a mystery, too. Once in a while I'd feel a blast of cold air pass through, but it would be brief and over with before I could find the crack it came in through. As the nights got longer and colder, I hoped to find it before poor Louise caught pneumonia.

I was too late.

They said at the hospital that if I hadn't come to check on her, if I hadn't found her collapsed on the kitchen floor with a raging fever and her breath coming in jagged, tight wheezes, she most certainly would have died. I took her to the hospital, and she slept there almost around the clock for a week and a half, her body stubbornly fighting to defeat a bug that by all accounts should have killed her.

When she woke up she was manic, having being away from her house for so long. I tried to tell her it was all right; I'd driven by the house almost every day, and it was in fine shape. But she wouldn't hear it. She kept telling me I didn't understand, saying bizarre things like "It can't be left alone this long, it can't be trusted," that I could only attribute to the lingering fever scrambling her brain. She was in no condition to

leave, but - and this is the story of Louise Carver's life - they couldn't MAKE her stay. We convinced her to sleep in the hospital for the night, and got really close to keeping her for one more before she demanded to be released. When they caught her trying to sneak out after dinner, I drove her home.

I didn't remember whether the kitchen cabinets had been open when we left, but they were all wide open when we got back. Aside from that uncommon disarray - and the cross sitting on the floor, next to the nail that the door frame had long since spit out without Louise there to hammer it back in - the house seemed fine. Louise demanded that I hammer the cross back in immediately; I did as I was told, but I heard it pop back out onto the floor moments later. This house, I thought, is going to fall down any day. Louise walked around nervously; her gaze kept drifting down the basement steps as she steeped a tea bag.

Finally she moved into the living room and sat in her recliner. I started building a fire in her wood stove; the air in the house was aggressively sharp. I worried that that if I left her overnight alone, she would relapse and die; and I started to consider whether it was too far above and beyond the line of duty to crash on her couch. Louise finally composed herself enough to sip her tea, and she told me to take a seat. It was time for her to tell me the whole truth about Carver Farm.


"I was born in this house," she started, "in 1920, an only child. My grandfather started the farm in the eighteen-hundreds, potatoes mostly. But back then you grew what you ate, and a little of everything else, too. He was dead by the time I was born, my grandfather that is, and my mother and grandmother died too while I was young. It

was just me and my father. There were fewer of us back then; you could look in every direction for miles without seeing another homestead, and everyone seemed to speak a different language. My father had to learn Swedish and French just do business with the neighbors.

"He was a smart man, my father. He was a good farmer and a good dad. He was respected in the community. They were always trying to get him involved in the big political issues of the day, but he preferred to just till the soil and pray for rain, and he believed that if he put in his honest day's work everything would work out. Mostly, he was right. But then in 1928 the bad things happened." Her voiced trailed off and she looked over my shoulder into the distance, letting some private memory swallow up her attention.

"The bad things," I said. "Do you mean the stock market crash? The Great Depression?"

"Well that was surely a very bad thing," She said. "But it didn't make its way up here until years later. The price of potatoes dropped. They were hard times, but we did all right, considering. We always had enough to eat because we grew it ourselves. No, the bad things happened because the demon came."

"The demon?" In an instant, a whole new picture of Louise Carver came together in front of me. She wasn't a stubborn old farm girl - she was a lunatic. All of those eccentricities that I had considered quirky were in fact red flags that she was off her rocker.

"Yes, that's what I said," she said defensively. "You don't believe me already, I suspect, and that's all right." I didn't say anything. "But it's true," she said. "The demon came at harvest in 1928, when I was eight years old.

"It started with the crops. We had had a warm, wet summer and a dry, cool September. The conditions were good. But one at a time, the farmers started having problems with their crops. Large circles of crop in their fields were just dead all of a sudden in the morning, with no explanation. And they weren't just dead; they were black and dry, like they had been set on fire - and that was everyone's theory, at first. Each farm took a crop death until only a handful of us were still untouched, and the locals were sharpening their pitchforks to find the arsonist. But finally an inspector from the state came up and looked at the last string of burnouts, and he said they hadn't been set on fire at all. They dried up from the inside, like something had sucked every last drop of life out of them.

"So my father started sitting on the porch with his shotgun at night. We didn't have the first clue how someone was doing that to the plants, but if the rascal showed up at Carver Farm there would be no mystery how he ended up with a belly full of buckshot. I joined my dad sometimes, curled up under a blanket with my hot chocolate, telling each other stories. You know, as strange as it is, those are some of my favorite memories.

"Anyway. One night while we were sitting on the porch, we saw the shape of a man out in the field. In the moonlight he looked tall and gaunt, but like any other man. My father grabbed his gun, and started running out to the field toward him. I followed him at first, but he yelled at me to get back on the porch, so I did.

"As he got closer to the man and I could see both of them from a distance, I could tell that something was wrong. The man was shaped strangely. He was very tall; taller than any person I had ever seen. But he was thin, so thin! His arms and legs looked like long, black poles, blacker than the night. It didn't look like he had clothes on; he was just that color. As my father got closer, the man stood up straight and looked at him. My

dad slowed down, and then finally stopped. He was looking around the field, confused. He turned back up to the house and shouted to me.

"'Louise,' he shouted, 'do you see him? Where did he go?' I didn't understand what he was talking about. The man was right there, no more than fifty yards away! And he started to move toward my dad! I pointed and shouted in his direction, but my father couldn't see him. I became so afraid in that moment for my father, that I did the only thing I could think of; I started to run toward him, knowing he would come back in an instant. And he did. The next morning, our field was burned in a big circle, right where the man had been standing."

"Oh my God," I heard myself say.

"Well, you haven't heard the half of it." Louise said. She paused, and then let out a long sigh. "The animals were next. The potato harvest had ended, and it was well into October now. And it was cold, cold cold! Colder than it's been in the Fall ever since. We were burning wood like it was February. What's strange is, the temperature wasn't as cold as it is in winter; but there was something else to the air. It seemed like you just couldn't take the chill out of it no matter what you did.

"Animals started to drop dead in locked barns at night. Just like the crops, they were black and dry. A hideous sight, really. And like the crops, our instinct was to assume it was the worst of human nature at play. Someone was slaughtering everyone's chickens and pigs, and then even some cows and horses. Farmers from three towns came to meet right here in this house like a gang of vigilantes, wanting my father to lead them. He was mostly quiet; but old Reggie Nilssen was loud enough for everyone, because he said he saw the thief with his own eyes. Reggie was on his porch with his shotgun looking down the hill, he said, and in the moonlight he saw a skinny man

running across the fields, away from his barn. He ran after the man, but he lost sight of him. When he got back to his barn, all of his pigs were dead.

"I looked at my father then, expecting him to say the same thing had happened to us; but he didn't say anything at all. He was just listening really closely, and thinking. I started to pipe up about the man we saw in our field, but my father silenced me with a look. I didn't understand those things when I was little, how WHEN you say something can be just as important as WHAT you say. But he understood, my father. Anyway."

She put her teacup down and closed her eyes, and took a deep breath. She opened her eyes and looked up at the ceiling.

"It was the children, after that," she said, her voice shaking a little. "It started with Moses Parker, a nice boy about my age. By then we were all mostly staying inside on account of the cold and the animal killer, but Moses found himself outside after dark one night. And the next morning they found him. I never saw his body, of course, but I didn't have to; I knew what it looked like. It was stuffed under a tree on the Parker Farm, shriveled and black, the eyes looking dead ahead at nothing. Then Sara Glidden, a little girl even younger, vanished right out of her bedroom. The window was still locked from the inside. They found her in the center of town. And so did a boy in Brownfield, right out of his bedroom too. And then a teenager just a few miles up the road from here on the Potter Farm, before the Potters left town.

"The state police came in, but they couldn't solve it. It was a whole big event. We were terrified. The men formed their militia, and patrolled the area every night. But this is big, rural country. It wasn't exactly a neighborhood watch. The cold was taking its toll on the animals and the food stores, and it seemed like the night was darker than it had ever been. It crept into our houses and gave us chills. We were living in fear, hiding in our homes. This lasted into winter. A lot of people left; some never came back."

I exhaled and put my own teacup down, afraid that I might drop it. I realized that I hadn't moved - had barely breathed - since she said the word "children."

"How did it end?" I asked.

"It ended when the demon came to this house," Louise said. I felt that cold breeze whip through the room again, and pulled my jacket around my shoulders. "It was December. My father and I were sleeping right in this room every night, right by this very wood stove. We told each other stories." She said, and smiled the slightest bit. "But eventually, the demon came.

"I woke up shivering in the middle of the night. I thought that maybe the fire had just burned out. But when I opened my eyes, there it was. It was the dark man from the field, standing in the corner." She pointed to the far corner of the room. "I could see his shape in the light of the flames. He was so tall that his head was all the way to the ceiling, and so thin and so dark that I knew right away it couldn't be a man at all. His face was bone white and shriveled and hollow. His eyes were black sockets. They stared directly down at me, and I opened my mouth to scream but nothing came out. The demon moved out of the corner toward me. I looked over to where my father had been sleeping, but he wasn't there. I was alone.

"I put my hands over my head and closed my eyes. And then I heard my father's voice. It was coming from the kitchen, and it said "Louise, get up and run to the bathroom." It was shaky, but calm, and I trusted him so much that I wasn't afraid. As I ran to the bathroom I saw my father standing in the kitchen with that cross in his hand and the long shadow of the demon between us. I locked the door. Outside I heard a loud screeching from the living room, the most inhuman sound! I heard scuffling, and then screeching again. And then I heard feet on the stairs to the basement and the door

slam. I was sitting on the bathroom floor, crying, when I heard my father's voice outside the door telling me it was safe to come out."

I exhaled. Sane or not, Louise Carver was an amazing storyteller. Beneath our feet, as if on cue, we heard a gentle, rhythmic creaking. It's the house settling. It's the house settling, I told myself.

"He told me that the demon had chased him, and he held the cross up to defend himself, and the demon swiped at him but didn't get close enough to touch him. And then my father reached behind him and grabbed the only thing he could reach, the open vinegar bottle. He threw it at the demon and it hurt it, he said. That was the screeching sound."

"Why vinegar?" I asked.

"I don't know," Louise said. "But it worked. My father picked the vinegar back up, and he started shaking it on the demon. It tried to run away, but my father chased it down the basement steps and locked the door. That door has been locked for eighty seven years. And we never told a soul about it until now." The fire hissed and cracked. I heard a cupboard in the kitchen creak on its hinges.

"And that's why you splash vinegar on the door," I said.

"That's why," Louise said. "And on the front porch, every night, in case it gets that far. It reminds me that it's still down there, from time to time. I'll hear banging on the pipes, or wind whipping through the house even if it's still as a brick outside. That's why I can never move from this house, Ben. It will get out. I worry that I was in that hospital bed too long already. I can feel it."

Immediately I tried to rationalize the story into something logical, and something that terrified me less. She had been a little girl. Maybe a child killer really had come to Aroostook County; but a real life, flesh and blood monster, not a demon. And maybe he broke into her home and her father killed him, and swore her to secrecy. The rest of it - the animals, the crops, the cold - were just a mishmash of other memories from her childhood that had all blended into one over the decades. "I noticed the sounds in the basement," I said, "but this is an old farmhouse, Louise, and it's October. If you really haven't been in the basement that long, you probably have a whole army of mice down there."

She smiled, but it was a cold smile. "Deputy," she said, "you take a walk around the perimeter of this house and inspect that foundation. If you can find a hole big enough for a mouse to crawl through I'll eat my hat. I might not keep the place up so much as I used to, but that basement is sealed tighter than a bomb shelter."

I remembered the patches and seals along the outside of the foundation, the windows totally filled in. She was probably right. The creaking and cracking beneath us got louder. "But what about when," I started, and then tried a more delicate approach. "But you can't be here forever, Louise."

"No, I can't," she said. "And that's why I'm telling you. I have faith in you, Deputy Caswell. I don't know how, but I know you'll keep it locked away down there after I'm gone."

Before I could respond, a loud banging sound came up from the basement, over and over. It sounded like someone was hitting the pipes with a hammer. Then the lights flickered, and went off.


I was so startled that I leapt out of my chair and grabbed for my sidearm. Louise whispered for me to stay still, but my training told me otherwise. I started to move toward the kitchen, gun drawn, when I felt a small but surprisingly powerful pair of hands push me from behind, into the bathroom.

I heard a key turn in the lock and click. I grabbed the door handle, but she had been too fast for me. Louise Carver had locked me in her bathroom. I shouted at her to let me out right away, but she didn't answer. What was this? Was she kidnapping me? I banged on the door again, and started to hit the door handle with the butt of my gun; it wouldn't budge. I tried to open the window; it was painted shut. I could see the full, harvest moon glowing outside, but somehow none of the light seemed to make it into the bathroom. It was pitch black inside, so much that I could barely see my hands in front of my face.

"Stay there, Ben!" She yelled. "Don't try to come out!" And from the tone in her voice I realized that Louise wasn't trying to trap me. She was trying to protect me.

There was a loud bang, and the thudding of footsteps going down stairs. Another bang... and then nothing.

I waited.

And waited.

"Louise!" I yelled. "Louise, are you there?"

Finally, at least a minute later, I heard the key turning in the keyhole again. The door opened and Louise was there, pale and disheveled, her shaky hand holding the cross from above the basement door. I don't know why entirely but I hugged her then, and I felt her collapse into my arms. I helped her to her chair, where she slowly regained her composure.

"Ben," she said, "Will you be a dear and nail this cross above the basement door? Like you mean it, this time."


Louise Carver died two days later at The Aroostook Medical Center in Presque Isle.

Half of the farmers in Aroostook County turned out to pay their respects to the last of a legacy farm family, but none of them had any interest in buying the land. They had all been raised on the same superstitions Louise had; something about the Carver Farm repelled them. I got the house at a bargain, as you might expect.

If I want these people to trust me I need to set up roots, after all. It's less convenient living out here than in town, and I end up sleeping at the station sometimes when it snows. But never more than a couple nights in a row. The sheriff thinks I'm crazy buying this house, and he might just be right; but I can't bring myself to think of it going to auction. And of whoever buys it it wandering into the basement.

Now I'm not saying there's something down there. But I've finally gained enough perspective at the ripe old age of twenty eight to say I can't say for sure there isn't.

Above it all, I can't bring myself to let some poor fool who doesn't know better find out for sure on his own.

And that brings us back to the central question: do I believe in ghosts?

Well, yes and no. I think it's a little more complicated an answer than that.

I believe every word that Louise told me as she remembered it. The newspapers confirm that four children vanished in Autumn 1928 from farms across Southern Aroostook County, and the bodies were found in a hideous state. The cases were never solved. But I think that whatever trauma that Louise buried from her past became something else. See I think memories, if you don't care for them and visit with them from time to time, become ghosts. They hang around just outside the periphery of your vision; and over the years they get distorted, and grow bigger than life. But at the same, they fade and shift until they're hard to see clearly. And when they decide to come out of their hidey-holes and let us catch a glimpse of what they've become, they can fill us with a kind of full-body horror that we never knew was possible.

And the longer they're suppressed, they get all the more powerful. Eventually they become strong enough that they manifest themselves in the sounds you hear in the walls and the shadows you see darting across the floor. They close in on you; rattling windows, opening cupboards, refusing to let you forget them any longer until you finally confront them head on. Those ghosts lived in that house with Louise, and I want to believe that she took them with her when she died.

I tell myself that rationalization over and over again these days; especially at this time of year, when the sun drops below the horizon like a stone and the wind whistles through the cracks in the walls of this old farmhouse, sometimes even when it's still as a brick outside.

And when I hear the clanking in pipes below my feet, that have been sealed up since before my parents were born.

Most nights this time of year I step out onto the porch for a spell and look down the long driveway to the road that leads back to Mapleton. I hug my coat around my shoulders and sit on the porch, thinking about the last owner of this house. I hope that she finally shed the lifelong burden she was carrying, and found peaceful sleep.

I remind myself that Louise's memories are her own demons, not mine, as I sit on this cold and drafty porch.

And then I shake a few drops of vinegar in front of the door.

Continue to the 2nd place story

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