Old Haunted House …
The old haunted house sat far out in back of the property of Monroe Cleeves farm, ’bout a mile out of town. Us kids always wanted to go inside and explore, but we were more afraid of ol’ man Cleeves than we were of the old haunted house. Cleeves was a nasty old son of a gun and did not like people at all, ‘specially kids.
You see, Cleeves was an insanity case and a recluse. He was married once, many years ago. He and his wife had a passel of kids. Folks said that Cleeves was a decent sort of fellow, though a bit crazy when he drank. He lived in that old haunted house with his family. But, ‘parently his family disappeared one day when Cleeves was in town at the tavern with his buddies. When he went back to the tavern the next day at his normal time after supper, he told everyone that his wife took the kids and left him. He spent the whole evening cryin’ and a blubberin’ in his beer. The fellas were trying to cheer him up, sayin’ things like, “Maybe she’s just a visitin’ her folks cross the state line. Yeah! That’s it. She just fergot to leave you a note. She’ll be back.” But, Cleeves paid them no mind and long ’bout closin’ time he just walked out, not sayin’ anythin’ to anyone.
Cleeves abandoned the old house and moved into his old trailer he had parked up near the road. He never went back to the tavern nor anywhere in town. He had all his groceries and beer delivered to the trailer. The delivery guys just left the stuff in a box by the door and left as fast as they could. Once a month Cleeves would mail checks to pay for his stuff. He let the property go to seed, ‘cept round his trailer. There were indications that he did a lot of diggin’ round the trailer yard and he grew sunflowers, pumpkins, and some other vegetables. But, he musta done all that at night, for rarely was he ever seen by folks.
Now, there was a lot of kids living in the town and us boys formed sort of a club. We all had bikes and every day in good weather we’d ride just outside of town to the big ol’ dogwood tree next to the swamp. That was our meetin’ place where we made all our plans and such. That ol’ swamp was real spooky, with moss hangin’ from trees, weird animal sounds, and green waters that bubbled at times. Us older boys were always telling scary stories to the younger ones ’bout the swamp. The Halloween afore the old haunted house incident we was all sittin’ under the dogwood tree and I said there was a lot of monsters in the swamp. “Not uh!” all the younger boys said.
“Ya think not? I’ll show ya!” I went over to a hazelnut bush and cut off a branch that forked on the end. It was perfect for what I wanted to do. I know’d a path into the swamp and with my long stick I headed in. I found what I wanted and pinned its head down with the forked stick, grabbed it behind the head then took it back to the group. It was an old bull snake all of seven feet long. When I tossed that critter down in front of the kids, they all took off like lightning bolts. I laughed my head off! You see, bull snakes look and sound like rattlers, but they ain’t got rattlers, they mimic the sound by clicking their tongue in the back of the mouth. They don’t have poison, but have a vicious bite. They don’t bother ya none, lessen you threaten them. I watched it crawl back to its island down the path then went home, feelin’ right proud of myself.
Anyway, that next Halloween, Bret Jenkins (we called him Brat) put out a dare to all us. “Anyone who gets into the old haunted house on Cleeves farm Halloween night will get a five-dollar bill to spend at the candy store. But you have to go in after sunset or the deal is off.” Now, back then five dollars was a lot of money and would buy a hekka lot of candy. But, the thing was, going out there after dark would be a right scary thing to do and foolish at that. I mean, for years no one had been in there and it was considered haunted long before any of us kids was born. “Heck, you ain’t got no five dollars to give away, Brat,” I said. “You just trickin’ us to get in that house at the risk of bein’ stabbed to death with a pitchfork by Ol’ Cleeves.”
“Ya huh! I do have the money, done saved it up all year from my ‘lowance!
My name is Darren, but the kids called me Dare, because I was the daredevil of the group. Brat knew that the only kid who would explore the old haunted house was me, if’n I made a mind to, that is. Well, five dollars just might be worth it, I thought, so I took him up on it.
We all was a tight group that Halloween night when we snuck past the trailer and headed out to the old haunted house. Cleeves was no where in sight, so we was feelin’ brave. We got ’bout ten yards from the house, all shakin’ and quiverin’ as we stared at it. “Well, Dare, you gonna do it or not?” Brat gave me a little shove. “Sure, I ain’t scared!” I said as it felt like my legs were jello.
I walked up to the door and slowly opened it. It creaked like a dyin’ monster and just as loud. It was dark in there and real musty. Lots of cobwebs all over the place. All the furniture was still there and rats came scamperin’ out of the overstuffed sofa and chairs. I managed to avoid the creepy things and went to the back of the house where I might find the kitchen, which I did. I thought I might see some interestin’ stuff, but what I saw is burned in my mind forever.
Sittin’ there at the table were Mrs. Cleeves and her four kids, all lookin’ like they were at supper. I was frozen to the spot, for they were still dressed, but their skeleton faces stared from under their dusty, frizzy hair. I couldn’t move a muscle I was so scared. I heard a floor board creak behind me, which scared the beegees outa me and turned just in time to see Ol’ Cleeves throw his pitchfork. I ducked and the pitchfork went flyin’ right into the chest of Mrs. Cleeves’ skeleton. I crawled on my hands and knees faster than those creepy rats and got past Ol’ Cleeves and out the front door. All the other kids was gone! They must have seen Ol’ Cleeves a comin’.
I ran like a shot cannon ball, screaming all the way to my bike and flew home like a witch on her broom! I was so hysterical when I got home that my folks thought I was makin’ up a spooky Halloween story to scare them. They didn’t believe me! No one believed me, no matter how many times I told the story. I couldn’t forget it though and had nightmares every night.
Bout five years later, Ol’ Cleeves died. The delivery boys said he was not takin’ in his groceries and they were rotting. The sherriff finally went out there and found Ol’ Cleeves dead in bed. The trailer stank so bad it had to be demolished and burned, after they first removed Ol’ Cleeves, that is. The rest of the property was all cleared out. When the crew got to the old haunted house, they called the sheriff out, because they found five skeletons in the kitchen, one with a pitchfork stuck in its chest.
Ol’ Cleeves was read his rights, even though he was dead, it’s the law. He was tried posthumously and found to be insane and guilty of five murders. When Cleeves was put in the witness chair and the judge asked, “What have you got to say for yourself?” – Cleeves spoke not a word. He was buried in the County Jail Cemetery. The skeletons was buried in the church cemetery. The old haunted house is now only a bad memory.
I never did get my five-dollar bill, I’ll haveta look up my ol’ buddy, Brat. Tomorrow I get to go back home. They is lettin’ me out of the mental institution.
© 2017 Phyllis Doyle Burns