Shades of Gray: The Old House

The following is an excerpt of a short story from my book Shades of Gray: Strange Tales from the Old Dominion, now available exclusively on Amazon Kindle. Order it today for only $2.99.

The two story plantation home stood inconspicuously on the opposite side of the highway from Cold Harbor National Park. Its simple clap-board siding, hardly covering a third of the original brick and timber, was bleached by over a century of exposure to the sun’s rays. Mike, Greg, and Aurelia parked their dark blue Toyota Corolla next to a battered, beige pickup truck in the gravel parking lot along the side of the highway and made their way to the door.

A tall man wearing the uniform of a park ranger and sporting a carefully trimmed beard was there to receive them. Expecting guests, or perhaps having heard the heavy thunder of boots on the wooden stairs, he opened the door just as Mike reached for the handle. He greeted the three visitors with a reserved “hello” and eyed them suspiciously, looking over each one carefully before inviting them inside. “Did you pass anyone on the way in?” he asked. “I could lose my job if anyone knew you were here.”

“No,” Mike said as Greg, Aurelia, and he stepped into the foyer. “The highway was practically deserted.”

Aurelia, a well-built woman with dark brown hair tied up in a ponytail, held herself arrogantly as she followed Mike and Greg into the house. Like a bird of prey, her eyes scanned every visible corner of the room, but she was secretly apprehensive. With an uncanny ability to see what others could not, she sensed deep pain soaked into the wood and brick—it was almost overwhelming.

From the foyer, the group made their way into the front room, which was decorated with a Spartan sensibility. The furniture—even down to the sofa frame—was wood, and a television, a glass of water, and papers stacked on a TV tray were the only indications that someone lived there. The park ranger was visibly nervous. He reluctantly retreated into the room while herding Mike, Aurelia, and Greg like a tightly-knit tour group. He looked ready to shoo them back out the door at the slightest provocation.

“You explained on the phone that you were having some kind of experiences here,” Mike prompted. “Why don’t you start at the beginning? Would it help if we all sat down?” Mike and his two companions sat on the stiff sofa, but the park ranger remained standing.

The ranger paced in front of the television like he was guiding a tour for the first time, then took a few deep breaths and began to explain. “Up until a few years ago, this old house was abandoned,” he said, “but let me start at the beginning. It was used as a Union and Confederate hospital during and after the battle of Cold Harbor. The Civil War saw plenty of blood baths, but Cold Harbor was one of the worst. General Grant led his men into a slaughter. During the battle, the family that owned this house hid in the basement while the Union army brought their wounded inside and laid them out on the floor and on tables. The blood from the wounded seeped through the floorboards and dripped down onto the family. There’s no way of knowing how many men died in here.

“At any rate, sometime after the war the park service bought up the land around here—including this property—and tried to preserve the house as best they could, but kids would sneak in here all the time after dark because it was abandoned. They said that you could see lights inside and hear strange noises. Finally, the park service got fed up and rented it out to their employees. They figured that was the best way to stop the trespassing and vandalism. I’ve only been here for a couple of months, but I’m at my wits end.”

“What kind of things have you seen?” Greg asked.

The ranger sighed deeply and finally took a seat on a nearby bench. “It started the night I moved in,” he began. “I just got into bed and closed my eyes when I heard footsteps on the porch. I figured it was just some kids who were screwing around outside, so I grabbed my flashlight and went downstairs. The footsteps continued to get louder the closer I got to the front door, so I was sure I was going to catch whoever it was in the act. But, heck, when I opened the door, there wasn’t a soul out there. I thought it was strange because I had heard the footsteps so clearly, yet I never heard anyone running away. It was like they just stopped and disappeared.

“That was the first night. Something has happened at least once a week since then. Two nights ago I swear I woke up and I heard someone cryin’ down in the cellar. They were making a pitiful sound, so I just covered my ears and tried to go back to sleep. Other times I’ve heard loud bangs, like metal dropping on the floor, or I’ve seen something out of the corner of my eye. Mostly it’s just sounds, though. Sounds that seem to come from nowhere.

“Now I know it ain’t nothin’. No one else lives in this house but me, and no one has tried to trespass since I moved in. I can’t take it anymore, but I’m afraid to tell my supervisor. He thinks all these stories are nonsense, and he’s likely to recommend I go see a shrink, if he doesn’t just fire me.”

“Don’t worry,” Mike said in his most assuring tone, “if you have been hearing these things, and they are caused by a haunting, we will be able to tell you beyond a shadow of a doubt.”

The park ranger leaned forward, expectantly. “And if you do find out this place is actually haunted? What then?”

A curious grin crossed Aurelia’s face.

“Don’t worry,” Mike said. “We’ll take care of it.”

The park ranger showed Mike, Aurelia, and Greg around the rest of the house, and then retired to his office for the evening. Once the ranger was out of hearing range, Greg took Mike aside. “What do you mean, ‘we’ll take care of it’?” he demanded. “Take care of it how? There could be hundreds of ghosts here.”

“Actually, I think this is a residual haunting,” Mike replied. “I think the trauma of the battle was impressed onto the building, and now those sounds and feelings keep coming back—like the creaks and groans of the old timber this house is built from.” He looked over at Aurelia, hoping that she would confirm his thoughts.

Aurelia nodded. “I don’t sense any individual entities here, but it’s also very difficult to filter out all the background noise. It’s making me a little nauseous…” As if to emphasize the point, she pressed down on the sides of her black and green basque.

Irritated, Greg asked, “Remind me what a ‘residual haunting’ is one more time?”

“It’s a type of energy recording,” Mike explained. “Materials like stone, brick, wood, et cetera, can absorb energy from living things, especially during intense moments like a murder or assault or death, or even during moments that are particularly emotionally charged. The energy is stored in the house—in this case—and then released. You know how sometimes you go into a room, or into an old building alone when it’s quiet, and feel something? You’re feeling energy that’s been left behind. That’s the theory, anyway, only in this case the feelings are very, very intense.”

Greg was not entirely convinced.

Read the exciting conclusion to this story and more in Shades of Gray: Strange Tales from the Old Dominion, now available exclusively on Amazon Kindle. Order it today.

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