“Sorry” – A Ghost Story
I’m not sure I believe in the supernatural or paranormal. Believe me, I want to, but—there’s usually a better explanation for why things happen. However, today is Halloween, so in the the spirit of things, here’s the closest I’ve come to living a real-life ghost story.
Real? Not real? I’ll let you be the judge.
Back When They Used Film
Sometimes it’s hard to imagine a time when people still used film to take pictures. Apart from the artistic aspect of photo development, it was kind of a pain, right? You had to buy the film, load it in the camera, hope your shots came out well, and then either pay to have them developed, or spend time in the dark room doing it yourself. And if your hand wasn’t perfectly steady, or you didn’t have the lighting right, or you picked the wrong F-stop. . .
Let’s just say I’m thankful for digital photography. In any case. . .
My last semester of High School, my best friend Heather took a photography class. Her assignments were due Monday mornings, so she often went out on Sundays. If I was free, I’d go with her, and we visited a lot of beautiful places in Northern Colorado in pursuit of her artistic vision.
Perhaps the last Sunday in February I couldn’t go, and when she came into school the following morning, she was uncommonly excited.
“Greg,” she said. “You’ve got to see this place I found! It’s this old abandoned house outside of town. There are all these huge old trees, and when I went inside, there are places you can see through the ceiling all the way up to the sky—“
“Whoah.” I stopped her. “You went inside?”
“Oh, I can’t wait to develop these pictures. And there are all of these out-buildings. We have to go back together. You’re going to love it.”
I smiled. “Sounds interesting, if not a bit—creepy.”
EXCLUSIVE FOR SUBSCRIBERS!
Sign up for my FREE monthly newsletter today, and get instant access to my FREE SUBSCRIBER EXCLUSIVE short story.
Revenge is better with a side of bacon. . .
“No, it’s not creepy just—beautiful.”
And after the photographs were developed, I had to agree with her. She’d captured the mystery of the place perfectly in black and white—rays of sun falling through the collapsed ceiling onto dusty, leaf-covered hardwood floors, and sprays of graffiti on cracked plaster over the fireplace. I was intrigued, and we agreed to go together the following weekend.
If Walls Could Talk
The following Sunday, she picked me up early in the afternoon, and drove first east, then north. In a few minutes, we’d left the city, and found ourselves on a narrow road, cutting through the endless, flat farmland that comprised most of the state east of town. Off to our left, the foothills rose triumphant, shining golden in the cool, clear March light.
Off to the right and up ahead, a wall of massive, gnarled cottonwood trees stretched their leafless arms to the sky, and broke the monotony of the plains. “Is that it?” I asked.
“Yes,” she said. As we came upon the trees, she slowed the car and parked beside an unmarked white mailbox. “Here we are!”
Heather was right. I loved the place at first sight. Just behind the wall of trees, it waited—neglected, abandoned, and forgotten—a tiny one-story bungalow, with its partially collapsed roof, and crumbling brick chimney. As we walked through the trees and up the short path to the front door, I noticed crocuses and tulips pushing their way up through the cold earth on either side. A pair of overgrown rose bushes flanked the front steps, and as I considered the house with it’s weathered front door (slight ajar), I turned my lips upward into a sad smile.
Someone had loved this place once. Someone had taken pride in it. Someone had cared enough to plant these things—to put a little more beauty into the world and their environment.
Clearly, that person was gone, but the results of the effort remained.
“Ready to go inside?” Heather asked.
“Yeah, alright,” I said.
Inside, it was just as she’d photographed. The sun fell through the hole in the ceiling, and the graffiti was spread across the cracked, crumbling walls. Directly opposite the front door was another door, firmly closed.
To the left, an open door led into a pristine little bedroom, painted a soft blue. As I stepped into this room, I thought again that someone must have loved this place very much. There was no graffiti here, and the walls were mostly intact. Windows on two walls let in abundant sunlight, and as I stepped back into the living room, I felt a great sense of peace.
If walls could talk, what would they tell me? Who lived here? What had this place seen? Who had loved it?
Who had abandoned it?
“What’s behind that door?” I asked, indicating the firmly-closed one opposite the entrance.
“The kitchen,” Heather said. “It doesn’t open though, we have to go around the side.”
She led me back out and around to a screened porch, the floor of which was covered in tattered old clothes. Beyond this, another door led into the kitchen—a disappointingly bare room. The cabinets had been torn from the walls, and rested on the checkered linoleum floor. The appliances were conspicuously absent, though I’d later realize they were scattered about the yard. The only real thing of note—and this was odd—was a collection of board games piled in a dusty corner: Trouble, Sorry, Chutes and Ladders.
“Well, this is—“ I started to say.
Heather and I froze, and looked to our left. The formerly firmly-closed door to the living room had cracked open, and the chill it evoked was palpable.
“Um,” Heather said. “That was—odd.”
“I’ll say. Is there—anything else to see?”
“Just that little hall,” she said, pointing to a back corner of the kitchen. “I didn’t go back there the first time.”
“Alright, well, let’s see.”
We walked together, but didn’t get far. At the end of the hall was the bathroom, but someone had nailed an enormous STOP sign across the door frame. Undaunted, we approached and peered over the top of the sign.
The terror we both felt in that moment sent us running for the door. Inside, rusty stains covered the walls and tub, and what were a pair of teenagers to think, other than we’d stumbled upon the scene of a horrific murder?
By the time we were safely back in Heather’s car, we regained our wits and started to laugh. Surely what we’d witnessed were just water stains left by years of rain flooding through the crumbling roof.
“What did you think?” Heather asked as we drove slowly back to town.
“Amazing. Creepy. Beautiful. Did you see the tulips coming up? I’d like to come back in about a month to see the garden.”
She laughed, “Of course you do. Alright, we’ll do it.”
As March stretched on, and the days finally became longer than the nights, winter reluctantly gave way to the spring. I developed something of an obsession with the derelict little bungalow. I told everyone about it—about the mystery of the place, the neglected beauty, and the hidden history I’d probably never know.
I don’t know why it was so important to me, but I came to view myself as its protector—its steward. I think it was just too sad to imagine it entirely forgotten.
On the first Sunday in April, Heather picked me up again, and she drove first east, then north. I was brimming with anticipation. I couldn’t wait to see the flowers in bloom, and maybe take another peek at the ghoulish bathroom.
We drove on, and I knew something was wrong. Up ahead we noticed a housing development we hadn’t passed the last time. “Do you think we missed it?” I asked.
Heather stopped the car and did a U-turn. “Yeah, I don’t know how, though.”
On the way back south, I spotted the unmarked mailbox where we’d parked before. Only—
There were no massive cottonwoods.
There was no house.
Heather pulled over, and we climbed out of the car, stunned. In the short time since our last visit, the trees had been felled, and at the end of the short path to the front steps we found a pit of rubble.
No roses. No tulips. Nothing but debris.
As we climbed onto the pile of broken lath and decaying bricks, I actually started to cry. This place had been here for at least a hundred years, I guessed. Now for it to be suddenly and completely gone? And after we’d only just met?
“How did this happen?” I demanded. “Why did this—“
Heather grabbed my hand. “I don’t know. It’s alright. I don’t know. I’m glad you were able to see it though, before—“
A glint of something blue atop the rubble caught our eyes. “What is that?” I asked.
We walked forward to the place the bathroom had been. There, resting atop the debris, perfect and clean and pristine. . .
A gift from the universe? A message from a ghost? An acknowledgment that, though I’d loved this place, now it was gone?
A blue Sorry card, from the board game. Unbent, unmarred.
“Sorry,” Heather said, and I could feel her bristle, even as I did.
“Me too,” I said. “Me too.”
Tell me your thoughts! Do you believe in the supernatural or paranormal? Have you ever seen a ghost? Do you prefer rational explanations to fantastical ones? Let me know in the comments below.
Thanks as always for reading,