Answering the challenge put out by Eric Douglas, here is my story.
Natalie rose early to a gray, dreary morning. Thick fog hung in the air. After the coffee perked through, she took her cup and stepped onto the old wooden porch. Leaves and tree branches littered her lawn. Spider webs were spun in the dying hostas and the grass was slowly turning brown. She looked over the yard to the woods and took a chill, as an uneasy feeling fell over her. She turned and went back inside. New house jitters, she thought.
Natalie bought the old house with high hopes of fixing it up. An old farm house left alone at the end of a hollow; uncared for and unkempt. Years of neglect had taken its toll. Yellowed wallpaper peeled from its walls and she discovered a rainbow of paint under light switch covers.
Natalie didn’t see old and worn. She saw a masterpiece, a blank canvas and she was eager to make it her own. Besides, she grew up not far from here. This was home.
She began in an upstairs room, ripping the brittle wallpaper when she heard Jake, her old hound barking.
“What is boy?” She said going down the stairs, ignoring the creaks.
Looking out the screen door, she saw a pudgy, silver-headed man sliding out of his truck.
“Mornin’ Ma’am.” He said neighborly. “I heard someone bought this old place. I’m Jed Matheny. Wanted to come out and welcome you.”
“Good Morning Jed. I’m Natalie and this is Jake. It’s nice to meet you.”
Looking up the house and shoving his hands into his overalls, Jed said, “Don’t know why anybody would want to buy this old place, lots of happenings here, yes indeed, lots of happenings.”
Natalie frowned at the old man, “Like what?”
“Well, stories mostly. I know some of ‘ems true too.”
“What kind of stories?”
“Well, the family that lived here the longest, the Casto’s, they had six children. Their youngest, Virginia, died right over there. Folks say she’s still here.”
“What happened to her? How’d she die?”
“She was carrying a lantern down that hill, there. She tripped and fell, and I reckon you can figure the rest out. The family was devastated; her mother never recovered. She died of a broken heart, right in the kitchen not long after.”
Natalie smirked, “I don’t believe in ghosts Mr. Matheny.”
“Most folks don’t, just giving you some history of the old place. I will say no one has ever stayed long after moving in.”
“I don’t scare easily Mr. Matheny. Now if you’d like to help me tear down some wallpaper, I’d love the help.”
Jed laughed at the suggestion. “Another time, Miss Natalie. I’ll let you get back to your work and I’ll come back to check on you now and then.”
Jed turned to the house one more time. Just as he was about to look away, he thought he saw a shadowy figure cross in front of an upstairs window. The eyes do play tricks.
“Alright Miss Natalie, have a good day and don’t work too hard. You let me know if you need anything.”
“I’ll do it. See ya later.” Natalie waved and waited until he was driving away before going back in the house.
She took another look around the yard and noticed an old swing hanging from an ancient maple rocking back and forth. It’s just the wind. Knowing not even the slightest breeze had moved around her or Jed as they chatted.
Natalie worked all day and half the night cleaning on her new project. She fell into bed exhausted well after dark. She slept solidly until Jake’s barks jarred her from her dream. She looked around, bleary eyed.
“What is it boy?” She asked the hound, stumbling down the hall.
She found Jake standing in the room she finished the week before. He was wagging his tail; then sat down as if someone were stroking his head. When she peeked around the corner into the room, it was empty except for pieces of the old wallpaper she had taken down. The wallpaper was resting in a corner, placed there as if it were going to be hung back up.
“That’s weird; I know I took this wallpaper downstairs, last week. How’d it get back up here?” She wondered.
It seemed as though something or someone wanted the room left the way it was.
While shopping in town later that day, Natalie ran into Jed Matheny.
“Hey Jed, can I ask you a question?”
“Sure thing Miss Natalie, what can I do for you?”
“You’re familiar with the old Casto place right? Which room was Virginia’s?”
“Uh, let me see. If memory serves, from the top of the steps, hers was the last room on the left.”
Natalie didn’t respond, but simply shook her head. Jed had just confirmed that her newly remodeled room was Virginia’s old bedroom. The wallpaper she had taken down, she figured, must’ve been hung by her mother.
“Everything alright up there, Miss Natalie?”
“Of course, everything’s fine. Look I gotta go. Come by soon, okay.”
“Will do, Miss Natalie, will do.”
That night, Natalie tossed in her bed. It was another bad dream. The weeping and screaming wouldn’t stop. Finally she sat up in bed, her eyes wide, panting. It took her a moment to realize she was awake, but she could still hear the cries and wails. Jake wasn’t at the foot of her bed, as usual.
She crept down the stairs a baseball bat firmly in her grasp. A dim light from the kitchen helped her see. When she got to the kitchen door, she saw Jake looking up at one of the empty kitchen chairs, his tail slowly swishing the floor. The mysterious cries had slowed to whimpers now. Natalie watched as Jake followed something around the kitchen and as the same chair moved, ever so slightly. She couldn’t believe it. All her life she had heard that kids and dogs could see ghosts. Maybe she was seeing one too. Was this Virginia’s mother?
Later the next day, Natalie finished packing her car. The movers had already left with her furniture. As she drove away from the old farm house that held such promise, she looked at it in her rearview mirror. For a moment, she thought sure she saw a happy, blond child skipping around the old maple tree and her mother wiping her hands on her apron watching from the porch.