short stories ~ literary fiction ~ social commentary
copyright © 1999 - 2013
I thought I’d tell a ghost story because it seems everyone does. Unlike everyone else’s, mine’s really, really true.
When I was ten years old, I was vacationing on my grandparent’s farm. My father was one of five boys. My grandmother was of sturdy stock, built wide and low to the ground. My grandfather didn’t know what to make of girls.
There I was, summer after summer. Age ten was my first solo visit, Mom finally feeling comfortable with me off the leash. I’d learned not to waste time and space packing any dresses or skirt sets for my two-month visits. Mom liked being a girl and it rubbed off on me. I owned pants, but mine zipped or buttoned back or side, not front.
Grandpa didn’t say as much, but he scrunched his face at my multicolored flower-print pants. I thought flowers were good, with so many growing wild on the farm.
Not wishing Grandpa indigestion, Mom and I went shopping, picking up a variety of plain t-shirts and unisex jeans. At ten years old, I still couldn’t be mistaken for a boy, even if I glued on a fake beard.
Grandpa didn’t say, well, he never said much, but I could tell he liked my farm attire.
Over the two months, uncles and cousins would stop in, sometimes staying a few days, sometimes just a few hours. All my cousins were boys. They didn’t know what to make of me either, so they talked over and around me.
Feeling I didn’t belong didn’t matter to me. I liked the farm. I liked the chickens, pigs and cows. I liked watching the crops, wheat, corn and oats, grow. Grandma and I spent a lot of time weeding the vegetable garden. I enjoyed the quiet, the fresh air and just sitting on the rise over the corn reading.
I liked exploring. Back home, I had limits. “Don’t go across the highway.” I wasn’t allowed to go to the park, sixteen blocks away, without a friend, preferably two or more. On the farm, I was allowed as far as my legs could take me.
On one trek, I discovered a broken-down barn deep in the woods on the other side of the stream, half-reclaimed by the earth. The door gave way easily, startling a pigeon or two. I entered. I blinked my sun-blind away, looking for anything of interest or value, treasures left behind by persons unknown. A loft stood perched fifteen feet above the floor. I didn’t trust the ladder.
“Who are you?”
I could have wet my pants.
Feet dangled from the loft, a face leaning over knees. A boy, about my age.
“Kacie. They call me Kay.”
Pushing off, the boy plopped on a pile of hay, bouncing to his feet in front of me. He laughed, as if I didn’t get the trick. “Robbie.” He bowed. “Robbie Mclean.”
“What are you doing here?” I asked.
“I like to come here. This is my sheep shed.”
“Looks like a barn to me.”
“‘Sides, this is my grandfather’s.”
Shrugging again, he pointed. “Wanna jump. In the hay?”
I looked up the distance. Still, I didn’t trust the ladder. “I could get hurt.”
“Nah. It’s fun!” He kicked the hay, moving in a circle, scurried up the ladder and jumped, repeatedly, for an hour.
“That’s dinner.” I looked toward the door as if I could see the bell ringing in the distance.
“See ya sometime, Kay!”
I waved over my shoulder on the way out.
Two cousins, Peter and Paul, teenagers, were over. All my cousins, though it was denied when I asked, were named for apostles. Dad, well, his name’s Mark.
“I met a neighbor today.” I edified the mashed potatoes, accustomed to stoic responses and averted glances. “Robbie Mclean? Back in the old barn.”
Grandma put her fork down, folding her hands over her mouth, resting her elbows on the table. Grandpa, Peter and Paul exchanged glances, as if drawing straws.
Peter, somehow, drew short. “Sheep shed.”
“Looked like a barn to me.”
He shrugged and for the first time, looked at me. “We closed that down back in ’45.”
“Huh? You’re not that old!”
“Are you gonna listen or what?”
“The sheep stampeded. Robbie Mclean was playing in the shed, jumping in the hay. He panicked, ran in front of the sheep.” Peter looked to Paul.
“It was horrible.” Paul looked to Grandpa.
Grandpa, for the first time ever, looked me in the eyes. “Lived on like that two full days and a night. Horrible.”
The three nodded.
Grandma retrieved her fork, as if dressage signaling the others.
I returned to the sheep shed many times after that. I found new hay on the floor but never Robbie Mclean. Grandpa let me sit in the cab of the thrasher. I held the control lever once. He laughed at me. I felt good, drawing a laugh from him. Cousins came and went, aware I’d experienced Robbie Mclean, sharing more little pieces of the story. Joyful, faces serious. The eyes gave them away.
Laughing eyes, happy about me, for me.
The last week of August, Grandpa saw me right out on the airstrip to catch my puddle-jumper, the first airplane on my journey home.
He took my hand, watching the sky. “Kay?”
“Robbie’s the boy lives the farm over.”
I blinked up at him, giving him the widest eyes I could. “You were joking with me!” I knew. It didn’t matter.
It made us family.