Alone with Grannie Dorn

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Horror  |  House: Booksie Classic
The antebellum farmstead hides deadly secrets in the barren twisted branches of the gloomy orchard....

Submitted: October 07, 2018

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Submitted: October 07, 2018

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When there’s going to be a death in the family, ghosts are said to appear as a direful warning of impending doom.  For years mom pleaded with Grannie Dorn to move into town and live with us, but alas, my dearly beloved maternal grandmother was deeply attached to the old farmstead that had been in our family for seven generations, dating back nearly 175 years to the lost era of the antebellum South.  It didn’t matter to Grannie Dorn that Grampa Lem was dead and that she was all alone in the weather-worn antique house way out at the dreary end of Pine Marsh road.  For the life of me, I never could figure out how such a sweet old lady could endure being by herself amid the barren twisted branches of the dead orchard at that gloomy farm in the boondocks.  Yet, the tradition-steeped old homestead meant everything to her.  She had been born there.  Grannie had lived all her life within the rambling swampy acres of Dorn Peach Farm.

A stocky 8-bedroom affair with architectural elements of the seventeenth century colonial saltbox, the Dorn family home, like most houses which attain great age, had the reputation of being haunted.  Strange lights in the orchard at night, thumping noises in the attic, voices whispering in unoccupied rooms, doors that slam shut all by themselves - the old Dorn farmhouse had its share of restless unpredictable poltergeists and forlorn spirits of the dead.

Mom divided her time between our townhouse in the city and the distant outlying farm so that Grannie Dorn wouldn’t be alone all the time, but when mom got sick, she could no longer make the long drive out to the charnel woods of the remote countryside.  

Then, when mom finally died, all that was left of our immediate family was Grannie Dorn and myself.  I begged grannie to move into town and live with me, but her answer was always that I should move out into the country to live with her at the old farm.  I tried to explain that I couldn’t make the arduous drive to town everyday because the commute back and forth to work was too far - too large of an expenditure in gas and time.  I didn’t earn very much money and it was only because mom’s insurance policy paid off the mortgage on the townhouse that I was able to keep it.  

Why does it always seem that our most critical life decisions are made based on money?  Though I had fond childhood memories of playing among the vast orchard, the peach trees had been infected with blight about a decade ago and they all died.  There was no longer any source of income from the once beautiful and prosperous Dorn Peach Farm.  Now the old place was a dreary scene of past glory that had faded into obscurity - slowly decaying in the subtle rot of meager means.

I admired grannie for her unwavering devotion to the archaic family home and surely I understood her sentimental attachment to the place, but I still didn’t like the idea of her being out in those gloomy woods all by herself.  There wasn’t another residence for miles.  All the neighboring farms had fallen on hard times and sold out to the timber company nearly half a century before mom died.  The big commercial logging corporation owned thousands of acres surrounding Dorn Farm on all sides.  Like a medieval fable, there was a seemingly endless expanse of goblin-haunted planted pines in all directions.  The old farm was a lonely isolated place, especially at night.

As the long years passed despondently by, grannie’s health began to weaken.  Deteriorating heart function meant that blood wasn’t being pumped efficiently to her extremities.  Also, there were early signs of the onset of dementia.  

It was this mournful eventuality that finally forced Grannie Dorn to give up her foregone habitation and move into town to live what remained of her declining years with me.  However sorrowful the decision may have been, it was the most sensible option, considering practical purposes of being close to the hospital and her doctor’s offices.

It was a Friday when I was at last able to drive out to the old farm to gather Grannie Dorn and her few personal belongings that would fit in the economic space of the townhouse.  I was very excited, yet at the same time felt deep sadness in my heart because I knew how much grannie loved the hallowed ground of her long-gone forebears.  I was painfully aware that it was breaking her heart to have to leave the place where she had been born and lived all her life.  All her memories were at the faded plantation.  Even the family burial ground was out there at the old Burnt Mill cemetery.

An emotionally stressful life-altering affair, I should have known from the start there was a shadow lurking over the cloudy events of that fateful day.  I had planned to be out to the plantation while there was still light, but an unforeseen circumstance at work made me half an hour late leaving the downtown business district.  Grannie Dorn never went in for newfangled devices like cell phones, preferring instead her reliable old landline for simplicity of use whenever telecommunication was wanted.  I called her en route, but got no answer.  

Traffic was heavy on the turnpike so that the drive out of the city took longer than usual.  The sun was going down by the time I reached Highway 13.  Faint flashes of spectral green lightning on the eastern horizon were followed by distant rumbles of thunder.  A storm was approaching.  I called grannie again, but she still didn’t answer her phone.  In my worsening anxiety, I drummed my fingers on the steering wheel and hoped that I would make it out to the old farm before the rain started.

Another seven miles meant that the gloom of dusk was sinking down all around like a shroud of death as I turned off the asphalt onto the dusty dirt road that led for another four miles through the dreary shadows of encroaching twilight murk.  It was a melancholy drive.  On either side of me as my tires rumbled over the washboard surface of the logging road I felt the menacing glare of unseen watchers peering maliciously through the tall silent pines of the dark forest.  I turned on the radio in hope of distracting my mind from worry, but the ill-omened sound coming through the speakers turned my worry to dread.

Sensitive readers are cautioned to skip over this scene of the narrative due to its graphic content of a violently brutal nature.  

A terrifying news bulletin was being broadcast that Harvey Banes had escaped from the Thorn Hill mental hospital for the criminally insane.  The announcement hit me with a harsh jolt to my nerves.  I was faced with a haunting ghost from the morbid past.  All too awfully well did I remember Harvey Banes.  A lifetime resident of Four Horses, the convicted murderer had been a quiet churchgoing family man until one afternoon when he was permanently laid off from the paint chips reclamation factory.  He went home, yanked his heavy razor-sharp ax out of the chopping block in the backyard by the woodpile, then entered his house and hacked his wife and three young children to bloody mutilated chunks of gory flesh.  He then walked next door to a neighbor’s house where he continued the depraved butchery, after which he returned to his own house where he went down into the basement for his gun which he kept locked in a metal box that had originally been designed to store ammunition for military assaults.  

Hometown Harvey had made it to the end of the street after shooting to death 13 innocent victims in addition to those he had cruelly slaughtered with the ax before turning the snub-nose revolver on himself.  His aim at his own head was slightly off.  When police arrived on the scene, they found the deranged assailant lying flat on his back on the sidewalk, bleeding from an apparently fatal self-inflicted gunshot wound.  However, the bullet had lodged in his skull in a way to cause permanent brain damage, but not death.  

That had been nearly twenty rumor-shadowed years ago.  For all that time, Harvey Banes had been incarcerated in the maximum security wing of the psychiatric hospital where he languished in a state of total catatonia, his tongue motionless in mute silence, his dreary eyes staring blankly through the metal bars of his padded cell.

Children on the playground at the elementary school had ever since recited a grim rhyme - ‘when he knocks on your door, better run instead, else face a sight, you’ll surely dread, wake up in your grave with a bullet in your head, then you’ll know the bloody warning in red, when he tires of the ax, he’ll use a gun instead, Harvey Banes will shoot you dead, Harvey Banes will shoot you dead.

With a shudder of revulsion, I switched off the radio.  I was now very concerned for grannie’s safety and I muttered a little prayer of thanksgiving that I was finally getting her out of this godforsaken isolated place.  I was beginning to remember a line Ingmar Bergman had written for the surreal script of his visually shocking 1966 psychological thriller Persona when a peculiar image induced me to lean over the steering wheel and concentrate my gaze forward.

At no further than a few hundred yards in front of me and faintly outlined in the dull yellow beams of my little car’s headlights, I fancied I saw a gruesome oddity that sent icy fingers of bony wickedness crawling up my spine.  The ghastly scene was utterly baffling.  It looked like a hooded figure (stooping over under great duress) was dragging something heavy in a large sack across the road.  

For fear that a frightened deer might dart out in front of my car, I was driving slowly.  The old Pine Marsh logging road was a dangerous hazard.  More than one person had met a tragic fate when a panicked deer crashed through the windshield because they were driving too fast after dark.  A broken neck is a violent way to die.  The danger was real and I knew it, yet my mind was focused on the eerie circumstance of the mysterious stooped hooded figure.  My thoughts were racing in all directions as I irresistibly puzzled over what was being lugged across the road in that ghoulish brown sack.  Who would be out on this bleak road dragging something around in the woods at night?  

By the time I got close enough to get a good look at the strange affair, there was nothing to see.  The macabre sight had disappeared into the obscuring covert of the dense forest.  Had it not been for evidence in the form of the twisted track left in the soft sand of the backwoods road, I would have thought I had simply imagined the sickening thing.

With a sense of growing alarm, the hideous realization struck me cold concerning the immediate proximity of this unexplained grotesque act.  I was only a quarter of a mile from the sagging barbed-wire fence that enclosed the back forty of the derelict peach plantation.  My foot grew heavy on the accelerator and I ignored the haunting legion of gory unwholesome bare twisted branches of the dead decaying trees that seemed to reach out to claw at my throat in the lightning flashes of the rapidly approaching thunderstorm.

When my headlight beams swung into the driveway at the farmhouse, I noticed something else that disturbed me with brooding fear of the uncertain.  Birds roost at night, yet Grannie Dorn’s chickens were moving around in the front yard.  I got out of the car and locked the doors.  I attempted to catch one of the laying hens to take it to the coop, but Leghorns are notoriously fast barnyard fowl.  They all squawked loudly and flapped and ran away from me.  I gave up the mindless chase, chastising myself for acting so foolishly when grannie’s safety was of the utmost importance.  

The old farmhouse seemed unusually dark and foreboding.  Tiptoeing up the creaking wooden steps, I opened the screen door of the porch.  A sinking sensation made my heart feel heavy with horror.  The front door was standing wide open.  This was very odd, because always right before dark Grannie Dorn would make sure she was safely inside.  Without exception she had all the doors and windows securely locked before nightfall.  Moving cautiously through the front door into the ancient parlor, I called softly, “Grannie Dorn?”

Silence was my only answer.

The musty antique furnishings in the old farmhouse were obscured in deep shadow.  Someone could have been sitting in the high-back wing-chair in the corner and I wouldn’t have known it.  There were only two lights I could see.  One in the bathroom at the top of the narrow staircase and the other glumly trailing from the kitchen at the far end of the long dark hallway that led to the back of the old house.  In the soul-subduing gloom, it was difficult to discern accurately, but there appeared to be muddy footprints leading in from the front door across the parlor toward the hall.  I called out to grannie another time, but again, all that met my alert ears was that awful utterly-still all-pervading silence.  

Under normal circumstances, I would have gone upstairs to the bathroom because I knew grannie’s usual custom was to bathe and put on her nightgown in preparation for bedtime, yet she knew I was coming to pick her up to take her back to town with me, so I couldn’t understand why she hadn’t greeted me at the door, ready to go.

My alarm deepened into blood-chilling panic when the corner of my eye caught a suspicious movement as someone darted swiftly across the dim channel of light falling from the open door of the kitchen.  In hope that grannie was in the kitchen making last minute preparations for departure and simply hadn’t heard me call her because she was bustling about in a hurry, I steadied my nerves to creep down the sepulchral corridor to the back of the age-weary farmhouse.  

The floorboards creaked ominously under my feet as I slowly crept down the long dark hall toward the kitchen.  Portraits of Dorn kin dating back a hundred years lined the gray somber walls.  Alone at night in that eerie corridor my tense mind, harrowed and vulnerable in cryptic uncertainty, was viciously assailed by every sinister godawful horror that I had ever been exposed to in grievous legends of vile villains and mutilating monsters.  In that funereal hallway, ghostly shadows from a grave past worked their mournful spell so that rumors of thumping noises in the attic no longer seemed merely amusing, but were instead imminent and threatening.  I honestly believe that at that critical moment of Gothic suspense if I had heard a door slam my heart would have stopped beating in my chest.  I would have suffered instantaneous mortal coronary and dropped dead on the spot.  

With my quavering soul swamped in fearful trepidation I nervously poked my head into the kitchen’s quietly listening pool of ominous yellow light.  I saw no one.  The place was empty - still and silent as the grave.  

The back door was standing open, so I crossed the hardwood floor to close and lock it.  Looking down, I realized that the tracks in the parlor which I had mistaken for muddy footprints were in reality bloody footprints made by boots much too big for Grannie Dorn to wear.  That was the moment the lights went out.  I jerked rigidly motionless in stark terror.  I was paralyzed.  The blood in my veins seemed to stop moving.  After a long minute with my tensely straining ears listening paranoid in the dreadful silence of the suffocating dark, I regained enough of my composure to grope my way along the wall until I felt the light switch.  I flipped it up and down a couple of times, but nothing happened.  

Apparently, the electricity was off.  Suddenly and totally without expectation in that tomb-like inky well of night, I heard a slight sound somewhere nearby.  I realized I wasn’t alone in the kitchen after all.  My heart pounded like a sledgehammer in my chest.  Beads of cold perspiration dotted my brow.  In a voice weakened to a whisper by guttural horror, I called out to Grannie Dorn, but all I heard in response was a slight shuffling sound moving closer to me in the darkness.


© Copyright 2018 Sean Terrence Best. All rights reserved.

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