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I was nine years old, and I hated going there. Everyone knew it, but still Daddy would drop me off at the end of that long dirt driveway and leave me to walk alone to Grandmother's house.
I'd look back at that brown boat of a car, yearning to scramble back into its safety. Daddy would shake his head and silently point down the drive. I remember the last time; my shoulders slumped as I turned to face that house.
The house squatted at the end of the dusty drive, its whitewashed clapboard siding chipped and pock marked by the blistering sun. Before I pushed open the gate, I cast a longing backward glance at the inviting shadows beneath the trees beyond the road's embankment. The gravel crunched like insect carcasses beneath my Charlie Brown shoes as I walked, heaving my bag behind me and dreading each step. There was no denying my sequestered summer when I put my sole on that creaky first step. One stair, then two--each creaking as if in warning to flee. I could not, however, so I banged my suitcase up the stairs, and then hesitantly rapped my knuckles on the doorjamb.
Once settled in at Grandmother's house, I took up my normal chores as the oppressive summer heat suffocated, squeezed the air from my chest and sweat from my skin.
We sat for hours outside; Grandmother in her rocker and me snapping beans. I remember how the brittle planking of the porch floor creaked and groaned beneath the rockers of Grandmother's chair. She sat there, rocking, rocking while my little fingers grew tired from ripping the stems off the long green beans. I would look at my grandmother through sweat-blurred eyes. Grandmother always seemed dazed. Her glazed eyes constantly searched the treeline of the forest which sulked alongside her property line. Her thin lips worked against the curses she spewed beneath her breath.
"Ain't goin' back there..." she muttered.
"Go back where?"
The rocker stopped, the floorboards grew silent, but the sweltering heat refused to release its grip; I wheezed for air. Grandmother's face was pallid, and a sweaty sheen made her skin appear greasy when she turned her gray eyes upon me. They were haunted, the grey-blue irises resembled tattered ghosts. She hummed a moment, as if confused, before she answered. "The house in them woods..."
"But why not? I like the woods ... At least it's cooler beneath the trees."
"Never mind the heat, girl. That place is worse than cursed," she croaked. "Don't go in them woods past midnight..."
Even at nine years old, I thought my grandmother must be crazy. Something about that forest attracted me, pulled me toward it--I liked it, I wanted to go in there. That forest had a voice, and it whispered to me. One time, that last year I visited, my ball rolled uphill toward those trees as if pulled on an invisible string. I chased after it and stopped beneath a twisted oak.
"Leave that ball!" Grandmother shouted from the porch. Each time she caught me lingering near the trees she would shout until I scurried home.
That summer was the last I spent at Grandmother's house. My family moved states away when my father's job transferred his position. I should have been relieved to leave that crabby old woman behind, but some part of me missed the creaking boards and suffocating heat. Some part of me missed Grandmother and her obsession with those woods.
And, as I grew older, that obsession and its source became mine. By night, my dreams were filled with tree lines and hidden houses. By day, I haunted the libraries, absorbing every scrap of information I could find on the West Michigan area, researching every urban legend and rumored haunted house.
Nothing satisfied me, and I knew nothing short of returning would ever quell the compulsion within me.
Posted July 27, 2011
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Posted May 14, 2010
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