Sally’s Mill (A Short Story)

May 1, 2019

Here’s how I imagine it happened, back in 2001:

The weather outside was almost unbearable. An early heatwave loomed over the fields, and the storms that rolled through that afternoon left behind a swampy, balmy soup of thick air and hovering mosquitos. Bad as that was, the atmosphere inside the mill was worse. Thirty some bodies crammed into a dark, dusty space, all breathing and dancing and spilling drinks, jumping around to music so loud it shook your brains, yelling and singing, and just hot, frenetic chaos.  

“I’m going outside,” Jo Whitney said to no one in particular, because no one could hear her, anyway. At least, that’s how I imagine it. I’ve been told I have a good imagination.

People wondered later where she’d gone, and no one told the police about the party when they came around asking questions. A bunch of kids drinking alcohol in an abandoned, condemned building on the night before graduation? Not one of them said a word, and they wouldn’t have had anything to say, either, because Jo slipped out of the mill and into the night, and that was the last any of them – or anyone at all – ever saw of her.

May 2, 2019

Joanna Whitney’s was the tenth disappearance associated with Sally’s Mill. It wouldn’t be the last, and I think we’re on number thirteen now. Or so the rumors say. And still people go there. Kids party, the curious search, police patrol, and every few years, some unlucky soul goes missing. It’s not our town’s oldest tradition – that would be the Winter Hunt – but it is the most talked about. Well, that would probably also be the Winter Hunt, but Sally’s Mill is a pretty close second. There’s even a rhyme we say, when we’re young and more amused than afraid: “Stay away from the hill, and from old Sally’s Mill.”

It’s not much, I know.

May 5, 2019

As it turns out, my dad got caught up in it once, all the Sally’s Mill craziness, when he was about seventeen. He told me this story today, and I’m recording it here, in my second journal of the year, because I feel like someone should write this down, and because he never reads my journals and so he won’t know I told on him.

Here’s what he said:

It was a stormy night, heavy and damp and dark. Thunder rumbled through the trees, and on the horizon, lightning flashed bright and white against the black sky. My dad was at a party, and went outside to get cigarettes from his car. As he stood outside the door of the mill, smoking (gross, Dad!), he heard hounds and the call of hunting horns, howls and yelps, and people shouting, and the braying and steady gallop of horses. He heard them over the music from the party, and the rush of the wind. He said it sounded like they were only down the hill, so close by, but he didn’t see anyone. And as the sound moved closer and closer to him, he said it was like the air froze, and all he could think was, “What in the hell?” And then he ran inside, and he never told anyone. Not because he was scared. He never told anyone because he dropped his cigarette when he ran, and it started a small fire in the brush, and everyone had to run away and the police investigated and declared it an arson. The good news is, no one got hurt, and the fire didn’t do too much damage. The bad news is, my dad’s guilty of arson, I guess.

They say nothing good ever happens at Sally’s Mill. I guess they’re right, huh?

May 11, 2019

It shouldn’t be ninety degrees in early May, but here we are. Today is Saturday, but you couldn’t pay me to go outside in this. Today will be a reading day for me.

I feel bad for writing down what my dad told me. I think it’s sort of a silly story, but I wouldn’t want him to get in trouble for something that happened so long ago, especially when it was an accident and it didn’t hurt anybody. I’m thinking about tearing out that page.

May 12, 2019

I did some reading yesterday on fox hunting. I’m surprised it’s not obsolete. But I did learn that it never happens at night, so I don’t know what my dad heard. He was probably drunk. It was dark, and the weather was awful. He was just a kid who made a mistake, and I wonder if he made up the whole story just to justify what he did. It’s a horrible thing to think, isn’t it?

May 18, 2019

I just can’t help but wonder why people keep going to the mill. I guess people just can’t get enough of scary stories, but still: I wonder, I wonder, I wonder. My grandmother always told me she was proud of how curious I am. I’m starting to think it’s actually a curse. There are always more questions than answers, and every time you get an answer, it just leads to more questions. It’s enough to drive someone crazy. Not me, but someone.

May 20, 2019

Okay, so I’ve done some research. It’s interesting, actually. There’s nothing in the history of Sally’s Mill that makes it a haunted or a frightening or an unsafe place, other than the fact that it’s condemned, of course. It was built around 1810 by the Marsden family. They’re still around. Named for John Marsden’s wife, who lived long and happy, and tended by that same family or their relatives until it closed down for good in 1981. John and Sally had several children, kept a couple of houses in the state, and were involved in all sorts of local issues and events. The only thing I found that made me nervous is that there was a Civil War battle in the area, and some of the soldiers did hide in the mill at one point. They got caught, of course, and carted away as prisoners.

And then, I guess, there are the disappearances, but maybe that’s just coincidence? I should do some research on those, too, but I’ve got end of school exams and essays and such coming up, so I don’t know when I’ll have time.

May 25, 2019

There’s a party at Sally’s Mill tonight. Should I go? I’m not actually invited, but one of my friends is, and I’m sure I could tag along unnoticed.

May 25, 2019 (later)

I’m going. Even though it’s hotter than Hades right now and I’m not really invited, I’m going. But I’m going in smart. I’m bringing supplies: a flashlight, a whistle, a camera, a recorder, and just because I know it will be loud and miserably sweaty, some earplugs and my portable neck fan. I know I’ll look like a dork. I don’t care. People don’t really notice me, anyway.

I’m nervous, though, still. Maybe because I’m not a social creature, or maybe because of the disappearances, or my dad’s story. I’ll update tomorrow. If I come home, that is! (Oh, God, why did I even write that?)

May 26, 2019

What an absolute waste of time! A big, fat, annoying nothing. I stood inside, I stood outside. I waited. I saw nothing. There was nothing. Just the mill, and the hot weather, and a bunch of kids drinking warm beer. My head hurts. I dripped enough sweat last night to fill five buckets, and I came home with a bruise of my knee from falling down a set of rickety old stairs. And I ripped my favorite jeans.

Never again, Sally’s Mill. You and I – we’re not friends.

May 26, 2019 (later)

I spoke too soon. I feel awful. I can’t believe it.

Jackson Fletcher disappeared last night.

He never came home after the party. I did see him there, in a corner with his buddies, but I don’t remember if he left before me or not. I did see him go outside. Did I see him come back in? I’m not sure. I don’t know. I DON’T KNOW. Maybe he’s just at a friend’s house. Maybe he crashed his car and he’s in a ditch somewhere. That’s not better, is it?


And why him? Why him, of everyone there? Why not anyone else? Why not me?

May 30, 2019

I’ve considered ripping out all of these pages and burning them. I don’t know where I’d burn them, but I just don’t know if I ever want anyone to read them. I’m only a few pages into this journal, anyway, and I could scrap the whole thing.

Jackson Fletcher is still missing. I don’t think he’ll ever come home. I see it in my head. His mother saying goodbye to her son for the last time on Saturday evening, his face at the party, laughing and bobbing his head to the beat of the music, and not one of them knew. Not one of them knew it would be the last time, that he wouldn’t come home. It’s just horrible.

I looked back today on my entries about Jo Whitney, and I just…I can’t believe I wrote about it like that, like her life was a story. I can’t believe it happened again. I guess it just never seemed real.

I don’t know what I’ll do with this. I don’t know who I can tell – about this journal, my dad’s story, Jackson, the mill. Any of it. But if I don’t trash it, and you find it, and you read this one day, I’ll tell you, because now I know it’s true, what they say. I hope you stay away. I hope they tear the whole building down. I hope it burns. I hope it collapses. I hope it rots away and becomes just a distant, terrible memory. I hope you believe me.

Nothing good ever happens at Sally’s Mill.


Thank you for reading! This is the fifth of twelve stories I’ll write as part of my 2022 Short Story Challenge. Twelve months, twelve stories, and the theme this year is: Folklore

Here are the first four, if you’d like to read them:

The Winter Woman

The Lady in the Stars

Silly Superstitions

In Search

I hope you join me in the challenge! I think it’s going to be a very good year for stories. But just reading is good, too, and I’m glad you’re here.

The next story will be posted at the end of June.

Memorial Monday

It’s a holiday in the US today that both (informally) signals the beginning of summer and (more importantly) gives us time to remember those who’ve lost their lives fighting on behalf of our country. Graham and I will be spending today in – he’s got some work to do, and I’ve got a short story to write (which will be out tomorrow).

But, for those celebrating more formally, or for anyone enjoying this day, I wish you a good one, and time to reflect and remember.

May’s Short Story (and some other thoughts, too…)

I’m working on it! Or, I’m trying to. And it’ll be up on either Monday or Tuesday of next week.

I’m writing this on Thursday, May 26th. It’s cloudy outside, and a little breezy, and I’m watching cardinals chase each other around in the birch tree by my back window. Sometimes, it strikes me how this planet just keeps turning. It has to. There is no other choice. It turns, and we keep going.

I’d planned for my story to be finished and posted by the end of this week, but honestly, I’m just having trouble writing much of anything at this moment. Nothing feels right. My words sound hollow and empty. My heart hurts for a tragedy that both is and isn’t mine, and I’m angry and frustrated that my country has to mourn losses like this over and over. I’m not trying to get political, and I’m not trying to claim grief that doesn’t belong to me, and I’m certainly not trying to dump my feelings in anyone else’s lap. We were never meant to carry the burdens of the whole world.

Anyway, I can’t seem to write anything else right now, so I wrote this. I’ll be back next week, with a (hopefully) good story, and some happier thoughts. Until then, if you feel this way, too, wherever you are, know that you’re not alone. We carry the burdens of our world whether we’re meant to or not, but at least we can carry them together.

Too Darn Hot

That’s what it was this weekend. Even for the most playful and spirited of puppies.

(This is Honey, and she belongs to our friend.)

Not to whine, but it was way, way too much for me, and though we had fun – an art show, some live music, and time spent with friends and pups – I was exhausted, dried out, sweaty, and a little grumpy by Sunday evening. I am just not a hot weather person, y’all. And I hope (perhaps a fool’s hope) that the brief heatwave we had on Saturday and Sunday is not a sign of things to come for this summer. But I have a hunch it’s going to be exactly what we’re in for.

So, in the spirit of my last few posts, here’s a question: What are your favorite ways to stay cool and beat the heat? Because I’m certainly not very good at it, and I need all the help I can get.

What does community mean to you?

I know this is the second question I’ve posted this week, but it’s one I’ve been pondering lately.

Graham and I live in a tiny village. But that village is part of a county split between a busy, suburban east and a quiet, rural west. And that county is part of a state full of large metropolitan areas and even larger swaths of coastline, mountains, and small country towns.

By way of example, this is Virginia:

This is also Virginia:

And so is this:

In our village, we stay involved in civic and volunteer organizations, we support the businesses and the small school operating here, and we try to help our neighbors when they need it. We feel safe, and very happy. And in the next town over, we’ve got a whole second community – we play trivia every Thursday, we’re regulars at several businesses, and it’s pretty rare to walk down the sidewalk on any given day and not see someone we know. We feel connected here – to the people around us, to our local government, to the history that we’re becoming part of – and when we think about what community means to us, that’s it: connection.

Or perhaps it’s something a little deeper than that.

It’s feeling rooted, I think.

And I never thought I’d feel that way after I left my childhood home in southwest Virginia. I think many people worry about that, too, and I feel really lucky that I’ve found this place.

So, that’s community for me, then: people, place, connection, and roots. But I know that my world isn’t the world, and there are all kinds of ways to be part of a community.

Now, backing up.

I’ve been pondering all this of lately because I’ve been kicking around a new project idea, something that would explore where I came from, through the lens of where I am now, and with the wisdom and knowledge that I’ve gained as I’ve grown up (and continue to grow up…it’s a process, y’all). I’m not sure if I’m ready to write it at all, but I know that in order to write it well, I need more perspectives than just mine. I need to understand what people think of when they think of community. In order to really tell the story that I want to tell in a way that resonates, I think I need to know more about the people who will read it, where they come from and how they feel about community, and what their experiences have been in whatever places they’ve chosen to call home.

And so I put it to you, my wonderful readers, from so many different places, and with so many different passions and ideas:

What does community mean to you?

What are you reading lately?

One of my goals for 2022 is to read a fiction and nonfiction book every week. So, two books a week, essentially, trying to branch out into new topics and push myself to read new things. I’m a little ahead of the game right now at 56 books read. (Not a contest, but yay! That’s three more than I was able to read during all of last year.) But as you can imagine, I’m always on the lookout for my next read.

So tell me, what are you reading? What have you read lately? What should I read next? And if you’re looking for recommendations, too, feel free to leave me a comment! I’ve read lots of good stuff this year. 😊

Want (A Poem)

I want to be
wild –
to roar at the sky
and sing with the wind,
to bloom alongside the flowers
and reach like the trees.
I want to be
free –
to think in cycles
and centuries,
and dance with the darkest memories,
and shine like the brightest stars.
I want to
see –
to feel it all,
hold it all,
to cradle it
here in the palm of my hand,
and know that I know
so little,
and everything.

Drenched (A Poem)

Rain, rain, rain
through April to May –
could it be you’re here to stay?
It certainly feels that way.


Yes, friends, it’s yet another rainy day, and it’s set to be a rainy weekend. I like rainy weather – it’s good for book-reading and tea-sipping and nap-taking. But…it would be nice to see some blue skies for more than a few hours at a time between rain clouds. I shouldn’t complain, though. Everything is so lusciously, livingly green.

If the weather keeps this up, it’s going to be a very vibrant summer.

(Almost) Wordless Wednesday: A year without fox kits?

For the last two years at around this time, a family of foxes has taken up residence under our barn. I’ve written about them beforea few times, in fact.

Mama and babies, and we’ve had the privilege of watching the kits grow and play. And y’all, they grow up so fast!

We’ve not seen them this year, though we do regularly catch glimpses of an adult fox hunting in our back field, and over the weekend, Graham saw her poking around near our barn. So maybe they’re just moving in a little late.

We shall see! And in the meantime, I’m glad we have cute pictures and sweet memories.