The Old Dairy Barn

For this month’s writing packet, my mentor asked that I try to write one of my childhood ghost experiences into a fiction piece. It was hard…

The subject matter happens to coincide nicely with this week’s writing prompt at The Lightening and The Lightening Bug.

***********

She stood on the porch gazing in the direction of the big barn, her eyes slightly squinted while she absently bit her lower lip. The girl was eight years old, she was petite with a head full of long brown hair. Her jeans were tucked into a pair of black Wellies caked with mud and her fingers worried hem of her sweatshirt. The barn she was looking at was one of four on her family’s farm.

They called it the Big Barn because it was truly enormous. It was three stories with a lower level that was the dairy of a farmer who worked the farm in the 50’s, but the girl didn’t know this. Now, the barn simply held hay, a chicken coop and the new brown and white calf they’d named Emil. The girl instantly loved him; Emil and his soft eyes framed in beautiful lashes so long they tickled when she reached out to touch them. Like butterfly kisses from a cow. The thought made her giggle.

The bottom floor of that barn had never been one of the places she enjoyed exploring. The other barns, and even the house, still held remnants of the prior owners. Broken farm equipment, wagon wheels, abandoned feed bins that she loved to discover. But the Big Barn’s abandoned dairy was dark. Even on the days when the sun shone bright and farm teemed with new life – chicks and piglets and foals – the air in the dairy was too still. The sunlight that entered through the high windows danced with dust motes before the gloom swallowed it all. The old stone walls and concrete alley echoed, amplifying any sound. The worst sounds came from the far end where the first floor had caved in to the dairy long ago. She never went there.

To her parents, it made sense that Emil’s pen should be in the old dairy and twice a day, and the girl was responsible for feeding him. He’d arrived on the farm needing to be weaned, so she happily mixed his powdered milk and dutifully taught him to drink from a bucket using her fingers. Staying with him until he’d licked the bucket clean, she’d fling her arms around his neck and hug him. He’d lick her face and frolic around the pen making her laugh. Is it possible, she wondered, to love a cow?

Going into the Big Barn each afternoon to feed Emil was something she loved to do. Her family was never home after school. Emil was her comfort. He made the gloom in the Big Barn tolerable while the sun came through the windows and the dust motes spun through the air. But then the days grew shorter and autumn turned the sky gray.

Now, she stood on the porch and stared at the barn, pulling at the hem of her sweatshirt and wondering how dark it was up there in the dairy. She was trying to work up some courage and map out the process so she’d get through it quickly. Then Emil’s faint hungry cry forced her Wellies off the porch. 

She made her plan while she walked. She’d prepare his food just outside the door where it was light, then run to the light switch, then cross to Emil’s pen, then back to the light switch, back into darkness and she’d run.

While she mixed the milk and prepared his grain, her eyes kept returning to the open door of the dairy. Inside the frame, the room was dim. Her muscles tightened and she fumbled the powdered milk. The barn, or something inside, didn’t to want her come in and she almost didn’t, but then Emil cried for her again. A soft hungry moo that she couldn’t bear to ignore.

She stood at the entrance judging the distance to the light switch. What was it, five maybe six running steps? Emil mooed once more, startling her into a run. The milk sloshed in the bucket and soaked her jeans by the time she reached the light. The dim bulb barely illuminated to the old dairy. The crumbling stones and concrete and weathered wood only seemed enhanced by that single naked light bulb dangling from the ceiling. If she had known what the inside of a mausoleum looked like, she might have been able to make the comparison. The silence and that feeling she wasn’t alone was hard to ignore; then she remembered her calf and turned. His eyes soothed her.

In his pen, she held the bucket so he didn’t spill the milk and as he settled into his meal she relaxed. Behind her, the sound of metal striking metal broke the silence. Her heart skipped and the hair on her arms rose in response when she turned to see who was there. She scanned the dairy, looking to the other end. The room was empty. She desperately tried to ignore the feeling of being watched but she knew it was real, so she turned back to Emil and willed him to eat faster. Her eyes fixed on the calf, but she wasn’t watching him, she’d entered that state of concentration that helped her see what her eyes couldn’t. She didn’t know how it worked and wasn’t old enough to question it, but she trusted her intuition. She knew when she concentrated like this, the ghosts grew stronger. The ghosts knew she could sense them.

This ghost in the dairy proved himself with another jarring clash of metal on metal. The sound of stanchions being moved into place. With the sound came the vision of the farmer moving through the afternoon milking. He was moving down the alley, securing his cows. He knew she was there but he was a farmer bound by the schedule of his cows. He’d deal with her when the last heifer was secure in the stall closest to Emil’s pen. 

She willed Emil to eat more quickly but a calf can’t be rushed. The ghost of the farmer got closer and his energy grew stronger, demanding to know who she was. Her mind filled with his gruff voice, “What are you doing in here?”

Meekly, she responded, “I’m just feeding Emil,” hoping to satisfy him.

“Get out of that pen!” he yelled. “Go on! Go home now!”

She startled at the force of him. His order was shouted but she knew that no one else would have heard it. Emil wasn’t showing any distress.  Momentarily, she tried to calm herself. It’s just your imagination, it’s just your imagination… 

“I said get away from that calf!”

Her fingers fumbled with the gate, trying to pull the latch open. The ghost farmer angrily marched toward her, ready to chase her or grab her by the shirt. Her hair stood on end and her pulse marched more quickly. Forgetting the latch, she climbed over the pen and hurled herself toward the door. He was bearing down on her, his boots landing with a hollow whomp on the alley floor.  She noted his bow-legged walk, his face pulled into an angry challenge and she ran.

She didn’t think about the turning the light off, she just sprinted, pushing her little body toward the view framed in by the dairy’s entrance. Out there the sky still held the late afternoon light. A black bird flew across the rectangle patch of sky she was desperately trying reach. She threw a glance over her shoulder, knowing she wouldn’t see him there but feeling his proximity anyway. He wasn’t shouting anymore. He was intent on chasing her from his barn and he was closing in. 

She threw her body forward, nearly stumbling when her Wellies landed on the gravel strewn path and she kept running until she realized that he was gone.

He couldn’t follow her from the barn. 

She stopped short, breathing heavily and hunched over with her hands on her knees. Gulping for air and relishing the freedom from his glare, she straightened and turned to look back.  The dairy, dimly lit by that single hanging bulb, was empty. Standing in the last light of day, she realized that she’d need to do it all again tomorrow.

The Lady’s Story

It’s been a while since I’ve had the opporunity to write something for that fantastic writer’s community known as The Lightening and The Lightening Bug. Surely, you’ve visited and read the varied and talented contributions of the writers who link up each Sunday, right?

The prompt this week suggested that we write about “Objects in the Mirror”  – you were supposed to write about something seen in a mirror. It could have been yourself, someone else, a ghost, a car, your evil twin from another universe – the looking glass, as Alice might have said, was wide open. Oddly enough, I was recently experimenting with a fiction piece about the ghost in my childhood farmhouse and used the very words, “looking glass” in my character’s inner dialogue.

Since we’ve entered that month devoted to pagan holidays, I decided to link up my tale about the Lady, my nearly constant childhood companion. If you recall, my stories were all true…this one is not. It is merely my imagination at work, attempting to explain who the Lady was and why she stayed with me for so many years. I removed drafts of my true ghost stories from Narragansett No. 7 because I’m working on the in my graduate program…I suppose that if anyone wants to see them again, I could post in honor of Halloween.

This story is nothing more than an experiment.

THE LADY’S STORY

How long have I been waiting in this silent house? I have no way of knowing. I wander from room to room searching for my daughter, worrying that she’ll never come home. Time seems to stand still, as if years have passed while I was sleeping but, I never recall going to sleep. Forever waiting and searching, my thoughts drift, returning me to the hours I spent pacing the length of the hall, waiting for my girl’s fever to break.  Throughout those nights, I crept into her room to check her, to make sure she was still breathing. There were times when I couldn’t help but lean over her tiny bed and nearly place my ear against her frail chest, listening for her wheezing exhalations.  How many times during those long nights had I hovered over her as she slept? Filled with helplessness and worry, I waited for her father to return with the doctor.

Now neither of them is here and I didn’t remember them leaving. So I wait, sure that he has taken her away for treatment. But how long ago had they departed and left me with no word of their whereabouts? I’ve become frightened that the influenza has infected my body; it’s the only explanation for this strange mixture confusion and isolation. Certainly, high fever is known to cause odd visions and perhaps the sense of timelessness I have been experiencing. Fever would explain the sense that I’ve slept for days when I come to in a room, one of my own, that suddenly appears foreign.

More than once, I have been sure that I heard voices and hurried to peer from the windows, hoping to see them below in the dooryard. I have scanned the windows of each barn, hoping to see the light of a lantern. So far, I haven’t seen any sign of life and the landscape looks peculiar – askew, as if something has changed and I can’t bear to look for too long. When I do, it seems as though the world has been reversed. An image sent back through a looking glass. Everything is off, as if the trees themselves are different.

Once, I stood before the window in my daughter’s room and forced myself study the world outside. I quickly backed away when the feverish hallucinations began to set in. I was studying the yard in the front of the house and the lane beyond when the very air seemed to quiver, much like the wavering air above a roaring fire. Most disturbing to me was what I saw in that quivering vision. For the briefest moment, I saw a great and brightly colored metal machine moving into the dooryard. The lane in front had transformed to a flat grey stretch as far as the eye could see. It was then that I began to grow dizzy and my body became weightless but, it wasn’t until my eyes moved to my new beautiful marble walk and the young maple tree that I nearly fainted with terror. Somehow, the great heavy lengths of white marble had been lifted and warped by the roots of a tree that could only have lived for years beyond my own existence.

To the right of the giant maple, the row of new lilacs had grown so large as to obscure the lower fields. I stepped away from window, feeling too light and afraid of becoming faint. I turned to fall into the chair at my daughter’s bedside and instead saw a room coated in dust. The plaster was crumbling and the furniture that remained was not our own.

I expected that weightless feeling to consume me and drag me to the floor but I did not faint. Instead I remained quite still and listened. Strange voices traveled up to my ears. Someone was speaking on the floor below. When had I last gone down the stairs to the first floor? I could not remember. When had I last gone outside and walked in my gardens? I grew alarmed and felt as though I was moving through a thick fog that wiped away recent memory.

In my state of distress, I nearly ran from the room that should have been my daughter’s and hurried toward the staircase of the center hall. I was sure that fever was affecting my thoughts and causing these disturbing visions. I was suddenly quite sure that the voices were those of my dear husband and daughter. With an air of determination, I stood at the top of the stairs and willed myself steady enough to descend. Certainly the familiar faces of my family would break this spell and make my world right again.

It was then, with my foot poised above the step, that I was startled by the little girl coming out of the parlor. On first sight, I saw my own girl and I began to open my mouth to call to her, but then she turned. This girl was not mine at all. She was dressed strangely, with her bare legs showing and odd shoes on her feet. Her hair was long and loose, obscuring her face while she stood at the bottom of the stairs inspecting a toy boat. Startled, I moved back and watched her climb the stairs and sit in the alcove. Shocked and unable to speak, I quietly moved toward her and the floor creaked under my foot. The girl jumped, startled by my noise and I began to speak…

Hello. Pleasure to Meet You..

The first time that I met Dave’s mother was nerve wracking. Isn’t it always nerve wracking to meet your new and potentially serious boyfriend’s family? We drove from Westchester to Canandaigua, NY after work on a Friday evening and, since it is relatively long drive, we arrived somewhere around midnight. Along the way, he informed me that, not only was his mother at the house, his aunt would be there as well.

We reached Canandaigua and wound our way around the lake in the dark before finally reaching the driveway to his family home. It was beautiful even in the dark. The gravel driveway looked more like a narrow road and as we descended into the woods toward the lake, the trees grew dense. We turned a corner and below us I could see the house lights cheerily shining through the darkness.

Canandaigua Lake by Matt Callow

Dave led me into the house and with all introductions made and conversations had, my nerves quickly dissipated. With some plans made for the following day, we all began preparing for bed. Dave and I had wondered if we were going to be sharing a room and were happy to be told that we’d be together. As we walked down the hallway with our bags, I walked smack into an old but familiar feeling. There was suddenly a very palpable heaviness in the air. I continued walking to the end of the hall and into the bedroom. Calmly, I noted the feeling and that it seemed to fade when I entered the bedroom. My hesitation to exit the room again caused me to be the last in line for the bathroom. The energy was strong when I re-entered the hallway. The only way that I can describe the sensation is that you feel enveloped in heavier air. Everything seems a bit slower even though your senses are intensified. For me, it grows in intensity until I begin to feel a bit like there is electricity around me. My hair stands up, my heart pounds and I get clammy.

My steps quickened and I jerked the bathroom door shut behind me, trying not to slam it. The energy stayed on the other side, but I now knew for sure that it was there and it was strong.

Let me remind you…this was the first time that I was meeting my new boyfriend’s mother and no-nonsense aunt. I had only been dating Dave for a few months and I never shared that I have had experiences with spirits in the past. I mean, who would? “Hi, pleasure to meet you. Oh, by the way I see dead people.” Nope. Not me. Besides, I hadn’t really had a strong experience like this since my family farmhouse in Salem, NY. Truthfully, I never expected to have such a powerful experience again, yet here I was sitting on the toilet in Dave’s mother’s bathroom realizing that there was a ghost in his house trying to reach out to me. I sat there trying to gather courage to open that door. I was 12 again, sitting there counting to ten and willing myself to just open it and run to the bedroom. I was telling myself that I would NOT see something when I opened the door. I would NOT walk through a cold spot that would take my breath away. I would NOT be touched. Deep breath…Go!

I pulled the door open quickly, trying to ready myself to confront what I might see with some semblance of bravery. I saw nothing, but the energy in the hallway was intense. I willed my feet to move forward and step into it. I walked very quickly through the cloying atmosphere in the short space of hallway between the bathroom and into the bedroom. I shut the door behind me with a sigh of relief and leapt onto the bed. I tried to appear completely normal and, thankfully, Dave didn’t seem to notice that I was jittery and kind of clammy. He was exhausted from the drive. I should have been, but the adrenaline coursing through my body overcame any exhaustion that I had felt when we first arrived.

The conversation I was having with myself was anything but calm. Breathe, act normal, breathe, act normal…it’s in the hallway and the door is shut. I can’t believe that I’m feeling this again after all of these years. What are the chances? There’s no denying it. I need a TV to watch so I can tune in on something else…oh God, there’s no TV in here!

Dave turned out the light on his side of the bed. I stalled with some manic chatting and left my light on. I was sleeping next to the door. The light was burning and finally Dave said, “Uh…are you going to turn that light off?” Breathe, “Sure.” I slowly pulled my hand out from beneath the covers and turned the switch. It was lights out and an inky darkness washed over us immediately. I moved as close to Dave as possible. Clearly, he was done with chatting and he grew quiet. Quiet enough for me to register that the energy was in the room now. Quiet enough for me to slowly admit that it was a ghost…quiet enough for me to know that the ghost was standing by the wall on my side of the bed and trying to make himself seen.

He was a little boy. I could feel him trying to form. I could feel the electricity making my hair stand on end. Goose bumps formed on my arms and I grew impossibly cold despite Dave’s warm body and the down comforter. I began hearing slight murmurs or whispers which made my heart feel like was going to skip right out of my chest. Terrified because I hadn’t felt something this strong since I was 12, I slid under the covers to avoid the touch I was certain was coming. My biggest fear has always been that one would touch me.

Dave rolled over and laughed, asking me what I was doing. I was curled into the fetal position, under the covers and pasted against the small of his back. At that point, I didn’t really care if he thought I was insane. Finally I said, “Do you know that you have a ghost in your house?” He paused, “Yes, how did you know that?” From under the covers I answered, “Because he’s here.” Since I’d let the cat out of the bag and all outward representation of calm was gone, I blurted out, “Please turn on the light. PLEASE. Turn on thelightbeforeHETOUCHESME!

Dave moved quickly and I faintly heard the light click on, but stayed under the covers. He assured me that no one was standing on the side of the bed and, eventually, I sat up and slowly turned to look at the wall behind me. The feeling was gone. The atmosphere felt light and comfortable. The boy was gone. I laid back, a bundle of nerves and just tried to slow my heart rate and shaking. Dave was astounded and asked me what I had seen. I described how I felt like we had slammed into the energy as soon as we reached the middle of the hallway earlier in the night. In fact, I had been so surprised by my visceral reaction to its sudden appearance that I had looked at Dave, wondering if he felt it too. I explained that its strength had increased over the past 1/2 hour and it was almost as if it was following me, curious about whom this new person was. Dave looked shocked when I told him that it was a little boy, even though I hadn’t physically seen him, I had a “picture” in my mind. He was a blonde boy, maybe 10 or 11 years old.

Dave told me that he had seen the boy when he was a teenager in that very bedroom. He heard him and saw him manifesting in a bright light that had illuminated the darkness. He told me that his aunt had seen the boy too, standing by the side of her bed and had initially mistaken him for his brother Pete…a blonde boy, who was 11 or so at the time. I was entirely freaked out. My experiences never been validated like that before. It was actually kind of exciting to know that what I had just experienced was on some level, real.

With the room clear and the atmosphere back to normal, I was suddenly exhausted. I agreed to let Dave turn out the light and slept as if I was glued to him.

To my horror, the first thing I heard Dave announce to his mother and aunt the next morning was, “Kelli saw the ghost last night.” ….Good morning, pleasure to meet you. By the way, I see dead people.”