The Haunting of Wildwood Farm
© 2021 Mark D. Gallant. All rights reserved.
Chapter Four: The Ghost of Kent Cottage
A word about the Halloween Festival…
It was a big deal, probably bigger than the Festival of Lights because the Festival of Lights was an event specific to Wildwood Farm. The Halloween Festival was a big-time event encompassing multiple towns.
The festival, having been previously held in Mystic Point, had found a new home in downtown Castleton, one of those quaint Rockwellian towns. What's a Rockwellian town, you may ask? Well, the term Rockwellian pays tribute to Norman Rockwell, an artist who painted and illustrated classic scenes of American life. His work is often associated with small town charm, and for us old folks, it's a throwback to simpler times.
Castleton was the perfect place for the Halloween Festival. Most businesses were centralized to the downtown area, strategically placed between pedestrian-friendly walkways and greens. The town common was a popular gathering place for the locals which sat opposite Castleton Town Hall, and vendors from all over would set up tents and booths and hand out free swag and candy. There would be popcorn, cotton candy, corndogs, fried dough, and many other carnival staples. Essentially, a nutritionist's nightmare.
Families fortunate enough to find parking along Main Street or in the nearby municipal lots would participate in Trunk-or-Treating. It was like Trick-or-Treating, but done out of the trunk of your car. I know, it sounds kind of shady, but it was legit. In fact, nowadays it was the preferred method of Trick-or-Treating for the community.
Y'see, one of the drawbacks to living in the White Mountains region is that if you didn't live in a thickly settled area, Trick-or-Treating became difficult, if not impossible. Many homes were in rural areas, sparsely populated, and in some cases, in the middle of nowhere. In certain places, houses were half-a-mile apart, or further, and you try lugging your toddler half-a-mile to Peter and Millie's house along a state highway with no sidewalk and miserable lighting conditions, just to get a fun-size pack of M&M's. And after one house, that kid would be all done, whining and crying 'cause his legs hurt and he wants to go home. And trust me, and the world would agree, as far as Trick-or-Treating goes, one house is not considered a good haul.
Hence, the Halloween Festival. It was kid-friendly, safe, well-lit, plenty of entertainment, and a ton of candy. Moms and Dads could let the kids run wild and the odds were good that no one would end up in the Police Log. A good time to be had by all, and no near-death experiences along the Three-Oh-Two.
Anyway, one of the biggest draws at the Castleton Halloween Festival, aside from all that sugary goodness, was the Halloween costume contest. The festival gave out cash prizes for best individual costume, best group costumes, most original costume, best this/best that. It was stiff competition with hundreds of entrants, because we all know there's nothing kids love more than candy than cash money. And maybe Amazon gift cards.
One balmy afternoon after school found the Wildwood Gang contemplating their costume quandary. They were hanging out in the barn on Wildwood Farm, lounging about the twin tractors and other heavy equipment housed within. They enjoyed spending time here in the machine shop, especially with Cody, despite Mr. Heard's office residing on the mezzanine directly above them.
Sofie had recently suggested they enter the group portion of the costume contest, and while the others agreed that would be a cool idea, they had yet to come up with an idea or theme.
"What do you guys think about the Wizard of Oz?" Sofie offered.
"Lame," Drew said.
Sofie turned to him slowly and gave him the stink eye. "It is not lame."
Drew scoffed. "Maybe not to you."
"I don't mind it," Jeff said. "Who would be who?"
"Well, I'll be Dorothy, of course. And Jeff, you should be the Scarecrow."
"Ethan should be the Scarecrow," Drew said. "No brains."
"No," Sofie said. "Jeff is the Scarecrow. Ethan is the Lion. And Drew is the Tin Man, because he has no heart." Both Jeff and Ethan laughed.
"Hey, if you're the Tin Man," Ethan said, "you get to carry an axe! That's cool."
Drew frowned. "Whatever."
"So what do you guys think?" Sofie asked.
"I think it's a great idea," Jeff said. "We should totally do it."
"Are we gonna buy costumes or make our own?" Ethan said.
"Make our own," Jeff said. "We'll have a better chance of winning the contest. The judges like that sort of thing."
"Okay," Ethan said. "I'm just not sure how to make a lion costume."
Sofie smiled. "I'll help you. This is right up my alley."
"What about you, Drew?" Jeff said. "Are you in?"
Drew leaned back in the seat of the tractor and kicked his feet up on the steering wheel. "Whatever."
"Is that a yes?" Jeff asked.
Drew shrugged. "Whatever."
"It's a yes," Sofie said. "He doesn't really have a choice."
Drew shot up straight. "What do you mean I don't have a choice?"
"Oh, man," Jeff said. "Can we not do this again? Drew, if you need help with your costume, I can help."
"I don't need anybody's help," Drew said. "I can make a better costume than all three of you combined."
"That sounds like the Drew we all know and love," said a voice descending the stairs from the mezzanine above. It was Greg, and he was carrying a bag of tools on his shoulder. He landed safely on the floor of the barn and walked over to the tractor that Drew sat upon. "Skedaddle, kid. I need to tune this puppy up."
Drew hopped down from the tractor and wandered over to a pile of lumber against the opposite wall and sat down. "Didn't you just tune that thing up last week?" Drew asked the senior farmhand.
"This beast is older than dirt," Greg said. "It needs constant attention."
"Why don't you just buy a new one?" Drew asked.
"I don't sign the checks around here, sonny boy," Greg said. "They tell me what needs fixin' and I fix it."
"Maybe they should find a new fix-it, man," Drew said. "Seems everything you fix breaks again."
Greg chuckled to himself. "You're really good at testing my patience, aren't ya?"
"No," Sofie said, "he's just really good at being rude. I'm sorry, Greg."
"Don't sweat it, Sofie," Greg said. "I've wrangled worse than him."
"Have you ever had to wrangle a ghost?" Ethan asked. "Like the one at Kent Cottage?"
With furrowed brows, the rest of the Wildwood Gang glared at him incredulously.
"What?" Ethan said, jumping on the defensive. "I'm curious, that's all. It's not everyday that someone's murdered in your own backyard. Well, Jeff's backyard, that is."
"You don't wanna go down that road," Greg assured him. "It's not pretty."
"But that's what makes it so interesting," Ethan said. "And Jeff said you know the whole story."
Jeff lowered his head and groaned. "Thanks for throwing me under the bus."
"Oh, I didn't mean it like that," Ethan said. "Sorry. Don't want to get you in trouble or anything."
Greg smirked. "So you wanna know about the Ghost of Kent Cottage, huh? Well, I'm not sure I should tell ya. I don't need your parents yelling at me cuz you're having nightmares."
Drew laughed sarcastically. "The only reason they'd give you any grief is for telling us a bogus story."
"It's not bogus," Greg said. "It's legit. The Ghost of Kent Cottage is the real deal. Jeff's dad gives you kids run of the farm, everywhere except that place. Why do you think that's so?"
"Oh, I don't know," Drew spat, "cuz that dump of a house might cave in on us?"
"No," Greg said. "Because of the ghost."
Drew rolled his eyes. "Oh please."
Greg stared at him for a few moments in silence. Then he looked at the inquisitive faces on the other three, and a few moments after that, tossed his tool bag aside. "Okay," he said. "You wanna know what really happened out there?"
"Yes!" Ethan said with widened eyes.
"Okay," Greg said. "But don't say I didn't warn ya."
"You're excused," Drew growled.
"It happened many years ago," Greg began. "Long before your parents were born. Your grandparents were just kids. Wildwood Farm was just a farm back then. Old Man Markham hadn't bought the place yet. He was the foreman and rented a small shack on the east end of the property and lived there with his wife and kids."
"That's my Great Nana," Jeff said.
"Right," Greg confirmed. "He lived in this tiny little space with your Great Nana and your grandfather and his brothers and your Great Aunt Patty. And the kids played on Wildwood Farm, kinda like you kids do, just nowhere near as destructive. Anyway, on the other end of the property was Kent Cottage, named after Jebediah Kent, the guy who built Wildwood Farm way back in the eighteen hundreds."
"Is this story gonna pick up?" Drew said, "or are you just gonna give us a history lesson?"
Greg snarled at him. "Do you want me to tell this story or not?"
"Yes!" Ethan said. "Keep going."
"Alright then," Greg said. "Stop interrupting. Where was I? Oh yeah, Jebediah Kent. So old Jeb Kent built Kent Cottage as a little hideaway where he and the family could escape. You know, a quiet place to get away from the daily grind of farm life. And as time went on, Kent passed ownership of the farm down to his kids and then their kids. Well, about the time that Old Man Markham took up foreman duties, the Kents rented out the cottage to another family, the Nichols family. Anson Nichols and his wife had four children, two girls and two boys. The youngest was named Charles."
"Is that the boy that got murdered?" Ethan asked.
"I'm getting to that," Greg said, then he continued. "The Nichols children played with the Markham children and everything was just peachy on the farm. But Charles Nichols was kind of a weird kid. The only thing he really cared about were his baseball cards, and this irritated his father because Anson was a farmhand with a strong work ethic and he expected his kids to be the same. So when Charles was upstairs in the attic looking at his baseball cards and not out in the field helping with the chores, Anson would get mad. And sometimes Anson would yell at him, and other times he'd take him out back and give the boy a whoopin', and one time he snatched a few of those cards from his son and tore 'em to pieces. And Charles started crying and screaming and he told his father he hated him."
"Is that when his fathered murdered him???" Ethan said with excitement.
"Can I finish the story please? Thank you." Greg collected his thoughts and continued. "So Anson punished Charles and gave him more chores to do, and sometimes Charles would do them and sometimes he wouldn't. And when he didn't, Anson would punish him again. And this went on and on, and soon Anson got tired of punishing Charles and took his frustrations out on his other children. Anson gave them more chores, and more whoopins, and more grief. And the siblings blamed Charles for this. If only he did what he was told to do, and not hibernate in the attic looking at his baseball cards, there wouldn't be so many beatings."
"But that's child abuse!" Sofie exclaimed. "Why didn't they call the police?"
"Things were different back then," Greg said. "Some kids took pride in getting whooped. But not those Nichols kids. And one day, they decided to take action. They snuck up to the attic, and dragged Charles over to the open window and dangled him out, threatening to toss him out if he didn't smarten up. Charles begged for his life and promised he'd do better, and when his siblings were satisfied, they pulled him back in. But as they did, the window sash came crashing down on his neck and chopped his head clean off!"
"Holy shish-kebob!" Ethan cried out. Although he didn't use the word shish-kebob.
"Language!" Greg lectured. Ethan recoiled and apologized.
"So what happened next?" Jeff asked.
"Well," Greg said, "you would think his siblings would be traumatized. Like sobbing and screaming over his demise, especially since he was missing his head. But the truth is, they weren't that broken up about it. They never liked him much anyway, and decided to get rid of his body. The strange thing is, when they went out to the yard looking for his head, they couldn't find it. It just up and vanished. So they hauled his headless body over to the well and tossed it in."
"You expect us to believe that?" Drew said.
"It's true," Greg replied. "Anson and his wife assumed he ran away, unhappy with how his father was treating him. And everyone went back to their normal business, until Anson found the boy's body in the well. That all but destroyed him. And you would think that nothing could be worse for that family. But things did get worse. They got much worse."
"The Ghost of Kent Cottage!" Ethan said.
Greg nodded. "Yep. The headless ghost of Charles Nichols."
Ethan looked at Jeff and Sofie as he mouthed the word headless.
"The ghost of Charles Nichols haunted Kent Cottage every night thereafter," Greg continued, "looking for his missing head. The ghost prowled the attic and slammed the window sash open and shut. He pounded on walls, turned over furniture, and flickered the attic light all night long. He tormented his family like never before."
"What happened to his family?" Sofie asked, huddling a little closer to Jeff and Ethan.
"They called in a priest to exorcise the ghost," Greg said. "He was a local priest. A nice old man. Everyone in town loved him. And he came out to help the Nichols with their ghost problem, because that's what he did. He helped people. And he brought along his crucifix and his Bible and his holy water, and he marched up those stairs to the attic to confront the ghost of Charles Nichols. And do you know what happened next?"
Ethan shook his head rapidly as Jeff and Sofie leaned in closer.
Greg lowered his voice just a bit. "That nice old priest was thrown out the window, shattering the window pane. Shards of glass cut into his skin as he hurled through the air and fell to his death on the ground below. Anson packed up his family and high-tailed it out of there. He didn't even bother to collect his last week's pay. He and his family were gone."
"What happened to the ghost?" Ethan said.
"Oh, he stuck around," Greg said. "He was still looking for his head. And when a new tenant moved into Kent Cottage, they would suffer the wrath of Charles Nichols's ghost. Most tenants would leave immediately. Those that stuck around would have nightmares for the rest of their lives. And those that made the mistake of entering the attic would meet the same fate as the priest."
"That's horrible," Sofie said, visibly upset that the Ghost of Kent Cottage was maiming innocent people.
"Yes it is," Greg said. "And soon word of the hauntings spread, and the Kent family could no longer find tenants for their cottage. And when Old Man Markham bought the place, he put chains on the doors and left it vacant." Greg paused for dramatic effect, and then went back to work on the tractor.
"And nobody's been in there since?" Ethan said.
"Nobody's lived there," Greg corrected him. "A few have gotten inside. Treasure hunters mostly."
Drew's ears perked up. "What do you mean treasure hunters?"
"Well," Greg said, turning back to face his attentive listeners. "There was a rumor about a hidden treasure in Kent Cottage. No one knows how it started, but it picked up steam after Markham took over, and pretty soon every Indiana Jones in New Hampshire was stopping by for a look."
"What kind of treasure?" Ethan asked. "Was it gold? Jewels?"
"No one knows," Greg said. "Nobody found it. But they did find something else."
"The ghost!" Ethan said.
Greg nodded. "That's right. The headless ghost of Charles Nichols. And I bet those unlucky souls wished they had never heard about the treasure. Especially those kids last summer."
"What kids?" Jeff said. "I don't remember any kids last summer."
"I'm surprised," Greg said. "It was in all the papers. A bunch of high school kids, maybe six or so, broke into Kent Cottage looking for the treasure. Sure enough, they go up to the attic, and sure enough, one of them is thrown out the window. Luckily he survived, but the poor kid's just learning to walk again. Yeah, it's a big legal mess. Lawsuits and everything. But the fact the kids were trespassing on private property, and they have the breaking-and-entering charge against them, works in your dad's favor. We'll see. Your dad made Heard board the place up. 'No Trespassing' signs, the works. Heard watches that place like a hawk. Nobody goes out there… for any reason. Or Heard'll get ya!"
"He probably enjoys that," Sofie muttered to her friends.
"I'm sure he does," Drew said.
Jeff agreed. "Yeah, I don't know who's scarier, the Ghost of Kent Cottage or Mr. Heard."
Greg smirked. "Well, Mr. Heard hasn't thrown anybody out a window, so I'll put my money on the ghost."
"I'll put my money on Mr. Heard," Ethan whispered.
"Then do yourselves a favor," Greg said, "and stay away from that cottage. Now get outta my barn, I have work to do."
The Wildwood Gang left the barn at Greg's request and wandered over to the white gazebo, a little shaken from the story. Well, all except Drew. But he was lost in thought anyway.
"That was freaky, huh?" Ethan said.
Jeff nodded. "I had never heard it told like that before. No wonder my Dad wants me nowhere near that place."
"Do you really think it's haunted?" Sofie asked.
"I don't think I want to find out," Jeff said.
"We should go back," Drew said, finally waking from his trance.
"Go back to the cottage???" Jeff said, nearly choking on his own spit. "Are you crazy???"
"Calm yourself," Drew said. "This is a golden opportunity for us. An ancient stone fortress! Haunted by a murderous ghost! Protecting a hidden treasure! Open your eyes, Markham. This has 'Wildwood Gang' written all over it!"
"My eyes are open, Drew. And so are my ears, and when my Dad says stay away, I'm staying away. Besides, I don't want any part of the headless ghost of Charles Nichols, and I certainly don't want to be tossed out a third floor window!"
"You won't be," Drew assured him, "because there's no such thing as ghosts."
Sofie raised an eyebrow at him. "And I suppose you want to prove that theory?"
"You clearly don't know me, Sofie," Drew said with a hint of malice. "It's not the ghost I'm interested in. It's the treasure."
© Copyright 2021 Mark D. Gallant. All rights reserved.