October Stories #1: A Spooky Prologue to an Incomplete Tale

I love a good ghost story. When people ask me if my house is haunted, I’m always just a little disappointed to say, “No, I don’t think so. Probably. Most of the time.”

Since it’s October, I’ve been thinking a lot about ghost stories. I actually think a lot about ghost stories a lot of the time. October just gives me a convenient excuse to let my weirdo flag fly. I think a lot of people think about ghost stories, because ghost stories are, at their hearts, human stories. Whether they’re psychological, tragic, uplifting, or frightening, ghost stories are fundamentally human. Most of us are curious about what will happen to us when we die, and ghost stories give us a tangible, palatable way to explore that curiosity.

I write a lot of ghost stories. Or, I should say, I start a lot of ghost stories. I seldom finish them. But I thought it would be kind of fun to share some of these abandoned pieces with you, for the month of October. Expect a post each week this month (four total), starting today, with what I thought might be the prologue to a ghostly murder mystery, inspired by my own longstanding (and admittedly strange) hobby of reading palms. A prologue is, so far, all it’s become. But I hope you enjoy it, fragment though it may be, and come back in the next few weeks for more.

*And a disclaimer – many of these are old, some of them are unedited, all of them are incomplete. Writing is messy work. But it sure is fun. And if you particularly like one of these, feel free to leave a comment! Maybe you’ll inspire me to get back to work on it. So with that in mind, into the ghostly ether we go!*

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In my dream, I’m trying my best to ignore the sounds of someone crying in the room outside the kitchen. My mother is at the stove, worrying over the kettle, and I’m putting two tea bags into a chipped mug I got out of the sink. I take the mug over, and she pours the water and walks away, and then I’m alone and waiting to be allowed in my own living room again. Customers don’t like children, I’ve been told, and I can’t read yet anyway.

I know this is a dream because I know what happens next, but I never see it. Before the preacher slings the hot tea in my mother’s face for what she’s told him, before he slams the door and says we’re both damned to Hell, before my mother comes back into the kitchen to wipe her red, burned cheeks with a dirty dish towel, and before she tells me that a fortuneteller’s life is no life for anyone, I will wake up. 

I’ll startle out of sleep and my hazy mind will muster whatever sense it has in the middle of the night to remember that my life is different, that I have built a better future, and that my mother has been dead for three years. I will remind myself that I haven’t read a single palm since the accident, and that it wasn’t my fault.

This I will tell myself over and over, “not my fault one, not my fault two,” counting my own reassurances the way that other people count sheep, until I fall back into an uncertain sleep and dream, again, of subtle lines in rough hands and the dangerous secrets they whisper to the few who can hear them. I will see my mother’s face, her wide green eyes sad and certain, resigned to the fate that I’ve read for her, my first and last paying customer. The lines will tell you everything, she reminds me, even if you’re not ready to listen. I’ll wake again and remind myself that I’m not listening. Not anymore. Not ever again. 

This life might be no life for anyone, but I don’t know if it will ever let me go.    

Found Friday #6: It’s not just a creek!

Back in 2016, when we were neck-deep in our search for a historic home and pretty stressed about it, I had a dream. I dreamed about an old farmhouse with a trail behind it. Just a quick dream. I woke up and didn’t think much about it. Searching for a home, especially a historic home, can be a grueling process, and I had lots of things on my mind, and weird dreams almost every night.

I also don’t normally put a lot of stock in dreams. But sometimes strange things happen.

See, in the woods behind my house, there’s a trail.

After we moved in, I asked some of our neighbors about it, and they called it “the mill race.” I didn’t know what that meant, though I knew we had a mill in town, and that the trail led about halfway to it. And then it occurred to me.

Beside the trail, there’s a little creek.

Or, at least, when we moved in, we thought it was only a creek. Turns out, it’s a race. And when neighbors told us about “the mill race,” they were talking about the creek, not the trail.

I did some digging and found this map, drawn by a noted local Loudoun County historian named Eugene Scheel.

Source: https://www.loudounhistory.org/history/aldie-mill/

So, as it turns out, we live along a head race. It starts at a small dam on the west end of the Village, and runs all the way to the mill on the east end.

Pretty cool, right? I certainly think so. It’s another piece of history I get to experience every day.

Next week, I’ll write about the mill and share its story, so if you’re interested, be sure to check back on Friday, October 9th.

Until then, happy hunting, history adventurers!