Three cousins discover more - and less - than they expected.
|A summertime visit to Grandma’s farm was something I looked forward to all winter. A couple of my cousins would come at the same time and there were always adventures. There was a litter or two of piglets to watch and young calves to run with through the pasture. In the huge old barn we would build forts in the haymow or spend afternoons playing with the ever-present batch of kittens. But what fascinated us most was The Door – and what might be hidden behind it.
Grandma’s was a two-story, rambling farmhouse with multiple bedrooms. At the top of the stairway, the U-shaped hallway was lined with four-paneled doors. They were always standing open – except for one. The first door on the right at the head of the stairs was not only closed, but also locked, as we discovered early on when we tried to explore it.
We immediately ran to the kitchen looking for Granny.
“Grams,” demanded my older cousin, Josh, “why is that door locked?”
With a puzzled frown, she looked up from the pan of green beans she was stringing. “What door?”
“The one at the top of the stairs!”
“Oh, that. That’s your Uncle Bill’s room.” She returned her attention to the beans.
We wandered out onto the front porch and flopped in the swing. “Who’s Uncle Bill?” I asked. “I’ve never heard of any Uncle Bill.”
Jimmy shrugged. “Me either. Have you, Josh?”
He frowned. “I’m not sure. I overheard Mom saying something to Dad about a brother named Bill; but she was talking real low and, when I came into the room, she just stopped.”
“What could be so awful that they wouldn’t even talk about him?” I wanted to know.
Josh shrugged. “Beats me. Come on, let’s go to the barn.”
One evening we had gone to bed, too excited to sleep. Grandma had given us permission to explore a cave in the woods behind the barn. All of our lives we had heard our uncles talk about their boyhood ventures to The Cave. For years we’d begged Grandma every summer to go see it for ourselves. She always said, ‘No.’
This time she’d said, “Well, I suppose you’re old enough.”
We could hardly wait for the morning so, long after the house was silent, we lay whispering about what we might find.
Jimmy, who slept closest to the wall, suddenly sat bolt upright. “What’s that?”
His voice sounded scared. In the moonlight coming through the curtained window, I could see his wide, terrified eyes.
“What’s what?” Josh asked, irritated by the interruption of his tale.
“Listen!” Jimmy whispered.
We all sat up, straining our ears to hear whatever had captured Jimmy’s attention.
Surrounding us like the night was the soft sound of someone strumming a guitar.
Josh slid out of bed and padded barefoot to the hall door, with me close behind. Jimmy knelt on the bed and awaited our discovery. Josh eased open the door and peered out the crack. Opening it wider, he leaned out into the hall.
Looking over his shoulder, I saw only the empty hallway bathed in the moonlight from two large windows over the stairs.
Josh closed the door, shrugged and returned to his bed.
Jimmy pressed his ear against the wall to the adjoining room. “It’s coming from in there,” he murmured.
Josh and I turned back toward the door with Jimmy close behind us. Easing it open, we crept to the right. The next room was the one barred by The Door.
Pressing our ears against the wood, we determined the music indeed came from inside that room. But from where? Taking turns peering through the keyhole, I saw nothing but the far wall with a full moon smiling through the window.
We returned to our room and the cave was nearly forgotten as we puzzled over the mysterious music until I finally fell into a restless sleep.
During the days that followed, we explored the shallow cave, played with the animals and continued our normal activities. But nights, we lay awake listening for the inexplicable sounds. Sometimes the guitar was accompanied by a soft voice crooning strange songs. A few I had heard my mother humming as she went about her daily tasks.
We could find no explanation until one night Josh announced, “I know! Someone has to have a radio playing and it’s just echoing through the house.” Having found no better solution, I accepted his verdict.
One night, however, we were all startled awake by a loud moaning, followed by thumping as if someone were banging on the dividing wall. Crashing of furniture and the sound of breaking glass soon followed.
“I’m going to get to the bottom of this!” Josh announced.
“But what can we do?” I asked. “We can’t get in there.”
“I’ll think of something.”
The next day, when Grandma went to the garden to gather vegetables for dinner, we followed Josh out to the back porch. He lifted a flowerpot from the porch railing, took a key from underneath and slipped it into his pocket.
We hurried upstairs and Josh slipped the key into the lock of the door. Soon it opened and we went inside.
The empty room’s right side was taken up with a made bed. On the wall above it, an old white sack in the shape of a guitar was tied with a cord and hung from a nail. The other walls contained a chest of drawers, a filled bookcase and a small washstand with bowl, pitcher and towel. Everything appeared as if the occupant was only out for a morning stroll.
Even Josh lost his bravado and stood staring around wide-eyed. We hustled to get out of there, relocked the door and returned the key to where we had found it.
“It’s gotta be a ghost!” Josh announced. “I’m asking Grandma if we can sleep in a room on the other side of the hall.”
Years later I learned that I really did have an Uncle Bill. He had apparently been somewhat of a loner, spending a lot of time in his room reading and playing the guitar. When he was in his teens, he suddenly contracted a strange illness that the doctors couldn’t identify. Suffering from uncontrollable chills and fever, he had eventually succumbed to the strange disease and died in that very bedroom.
My Grandmother apparently couldn’t accept the fact that her gentle son was gone and, for the rest of her life, had kept his room ready, awaiting his return.