The rest of Squalor is still being tweaked...so I thought I'd entertain you with another tale. A ghost story this time.
In the rural hills of West Virginia a truck pulled up to our house. Momma looked out the window with confusion. She grabbed her gun and checked the door. It was impossible for a truck to drive up to our house. There wasn't a drivable road for at least a mile.
We all looked at each other; us kids piled around the kitchen table. Momma came in and sat the shotgun on the table with shaking hands. I'd never seen this look on Momma's face before. It was a mixture of fear and bewilderment.
"Who was it Momma?"
"Dunno...no one's there."
"But we all heard a truck!"
"I know, but I'm tellin' ya there's no one on our property."
"What about the woods? Could they be in the woods, Momma?"
She locked eyes with me and I knew to shut up. "I want you to take your sisters and pile on the couch. We'll huddle under the blankets and drink some honey tea. Whatever it is will work itself out."
I did as I was told and Momma brought us the tea. Elsie didn't like tea, but she was only five, the baby of seven children. Momma sat next to the door trying to pretend everything was okay. But we all saw the shotgun resting against her hip, silent, but present. Papa was due home any time, so we weren't too worried.
Nothing happened for almost an hour. It was quiet and still outside. A hush seeping through the air. Even the owls knew something was amiss. We watched the clock and sipped our tea. Bethy, the third eldest, stoked the embers in the hearth. The fire blazed and we felt safe in its hallowed glow.
But as the clock struck the hour, the truck roared to life right at our porch. Momma lurched from her seat and flung open the door. Nothing. Absolutely nothing, but night existed beyond our front porch. Momma's whole body trembled and the shotgun slid down her side. She made a cross over her torso and locked the door.
Whatever was stalking us wasn't a truck.
Momma sat next to me and I wrapped the blanket around her. The eight of us sat crammed on the old couch, too scared to say a word. We listened to the deepening night and watched the fire die.
Another hour ticked by and sure enough the phantom truck was back. But this time the locked door flung open and a whoosh of cold air blew past us. Elsie screamed and buried her face into the couch. But the blast of air dissipated as suddenly as it had ambushed us.
Momma started to pray.
We waited, counting the minutes until Papa came home. I looked into the shadows wondering what else the night had in store for us. The clock ticked. It struck three and the truck exploded onto the front porch. It revved so hard that it shook our humble shack. The door banged against the wall. The cold air assaulted us as it filled the room.
But this time the wind calmed. It took shape in front of the fireplace.
It was a man dressed in faded blue jeans and a logger's jacket. Tears stung my eyes. I couldn't breathe. The man turned around with dark empty eyes and a hollow mouth. This time Momma screamed.
It was Papa.
We watched him fade before our eyes in suspended horror. Momma cried--we all did. We sobbed so intensely that we didn't notice when the next hour ticked by. It was Papa's truck on our porch. Papa's blast of death that froze us. And this time he was strong enough to step toward us. His blue eyes were damp with tears. And his mouth formed words we couldn't hear.
Momma leaped at him and shrieked, "You can't leave me! Do you hear me, Don! Don't leave me all alone." She sobbed at his already fading boots.
It went on all night. The little ones passed out on the couch, but Momma and I kept watch. We didn't want to miss Papa. Not even for a second. Just before dawn Momma gripped my hand and squeezed. "He's trying to come home baby."
The police came in the morning to tell us that Papa had come home sick, but the truck had stalled on the tracks down the hill. The train couldn't stop in time. I knew in my heart that Papa wasn't trying to come home. He'd never be home again. He had been saying goodbye.