Its October, the time of year when autumn winds and lengthening shadows usher in the spookiest night of the year, when imaginary specters and ghostly ghouls seem to be lurking behind every doorway and darkened corridor. Ouija boards are retrieved from back closets and attic trunks, and lighted pumpkins glow from inside darkened windowpanes. On doorsteps, trick-or-treaters suddenly appear.
Walking through the dry leaves and hearing the crunch beneath my shoes made me feel like a kid again. I yearned to feel that Halloween thrill that only a dark autumn night, a bag full of candy and a full moon could bring. Inspired by these thoughts, I took a long walk past our local, long forsaken, vacant and dilapidated old mansion. It was a huge house like the one George Bailey threw stones at in the film” It’s a Wonderful Life.” The kind of house that’s been there ever since you can remember, but if it were to just up and vanish one day no one would notice or even miss it.
It was a cool, invigorating, walk to my destination. And I wasn’t disappointed upon my arrival at the shadowy old house. There it was, just as it had always been, sitting back in the shadows between two small business complexes …the old house sat in the darkness, almost hiding from the moonlight that adding a twinkle of light to each of it’s many broken windows.
The tall oak trees and hedges had cushioned the sound of night time traffic, it was so still, I swear I could hear the old house creaking from it’s eroding framework, honeycombed with termites, dust spiders and dry rot.
If you looked hard enough you could recognize the faded outline of a once flourishing garden and in the center of the yard, as if it were waiting for someone to set it right, a tilted bird bath lay on the ground. The tattered remnants of a childhood tree house rested high in a garden pepper tree. Scrambling vines and determined wild flowers weaved their way over trellises and fence posts. Sprawling crabgrass followed a winding course along the crumbling stepping-stones. One lonely Italian cypress tree stood stately and grand at the foot of the door as if at attention, like a mighty bastion guarding over the musty estate, bowing only to the cold winter winds.
For just a moment, in my minds eye I could see the lady of the grand estate tending her garden, picking her snapdragons and watering her lively periwinkles. I could almost see her row of blooming tea roses lined up in bright perfusion along the walkway. And I could imagine the birdbath, upright and filled with sun warmed water and sparrows splashing happily inside.
Looking at the kitchen window, I could imagine chintz curtains hanging inside. I could almost see the window opened and a morning breeze catching the aroma of sizzling bacon and eggs frying in the skillet. I could almost hear the giggling laughter of happy kids playing high in that Pepper tree as they waited for the call to breakfast.
As I stood there, a cold winter wind came blowing in from over the northern hills and it chilled me to the bone and brought me back to reality and to the dilapidated house before me.
The old house and it’s rooms were quiet now, filled only with the sounds of creaking wood and decaying plaster. Finger marks and smudges on doorframes and scuffmarks on hardwood floors were the only reminders of the families that once lived there.
All those families have been gone now for many years….but it’s been said that on soft autumn nights, when the moon is full, the happy sounds of a family’s whispers and giggles can still be heard echoing through the vacant rooms. And I believe it might be true. For it’s said that a home that’s known a baby’s cry and held a family’s laughter will surely never die.
Haunted house … or just an old house full of memories? I wonder.