The Haunting of Wildwood Farm
© 2021 Mark D. Gallant. All rights reserved.
Chapter Five: The Tribal Elders
Jeff's grandfather was Thomas Markham, and if there was one regret he had in life, it was that he never should have retired. Thomas was a working man's man. A former proprietor of Wildwood Farm, he knew what it meant to get one's hands dirty. He had inherited the same vigorous work ethic from his father, and had passed it down to his son, Ron. It had yet to take hold in Jeff, but what did you expect? He was only ten years old.
Thomas was a guy who liked to stay busy. His hands and feet needed to keep moving, and the gears in his brain needed to keep turning. But thanks to retirement, poor Thomas was bored out of his skull.
The burden then fell to Ron to find projects to keep his father busy, and believe me, Ron needed a lot of projects. Y'see, Thomas was pretty good at fixing things, and he fixed things quickly, so Ron had to constantly find him new projects. In fact, finding things to keep his father busy was a full-time job in itself, and it distracted Ron from his other duties. But this was a necessity, because if Thomas got bored, he'd start fixing things that weren't broken, and he'd start taking things apart that didn't need to be taken apart. And that drove Ron crazy.
Fortunately, the inn next to the main house was a great source for projects, as things were always breaking. The inn brought in a steady stream of people traffic, so there was constant wear and tear. Faucets, shower handles, clogged toilets, clogged drains, carpet stains, burned-out light bulbs, defective thermostats, you name it.
Bathrooms were the worst, because generally speaking, people are filthy animals, and it takes a special person to care about someone else's property. Sometimes you'd get lucky and you'd book some of these special people. And other times you'd get a bunch of unruly savages who absolutely trashed the place.
Such was the life of an innkeeper, and the rules were no different at Wildwood Farm. So if something needed fixing at the inn, you sent in Thomas Markham and his arsenal of handyman tools.
That's where Saturday morning found him, bright and early, replacing a broken ceiling fan in the building's common room. It was a cozy room with twin sofas in the Queen Anne style and two matching chairs. Long, flowing red drapes hung over the windows, barely brushing against the thick Oriental rug that covered most of the hardwood floor. There was a computer and desk in the corner with Internet access, and a beautiful brick fireplace on the far wall. When Jeff walked in around seven-thirty, Thomas was standing beside his ladder looking up at the hole in the ceiling.
"Hey, Grandpa," Jeff said. "What are you doing?"
"Oh, good morning, Jeff," his grandfather replied. "What are you doing up so early?"
"On a Saturday morning? You must be wired like your dad."
"I thought seven-thirty was kind of late for life on the farm," Jeff said. "At least that's what Dad always tells me."
"Yeah, he's right about that. Gotta get an early start. Feed the animals, do this, do that. Although times have changed. Wildwood has changed. Nowadays the animals are the house guests. Oh, shoot. Don't tell anyone I said that, okay?"
Jeff smiled. "I won't."
"Thanks. It would be awkward if your dad had to fire me. I mean, I brought him into this world, right?"
"Hey Grandpa, why is there a hole in the ceiling? And what are those wires for?"
"That's for the ceiling fan. The old one broke. Have to install this new one. Not my first choice assignment. I'd rather be fixing that cabinet in the dining room, but that requires a hammer, and your dad says no banging before ten a.m. Don't want to disturb the guests, you know?"
"Do you need some help with the fan?" Jeff asked.
"Well, I suppose I could use a second set of hands. Almost fell off the ladder twice."
"Why, is it wobbly?"
"No," his grandfather said. "I got zapped."
"Zapped with what?"
"With electricity," Thomas said. "Y'see, these fan wires are on the same circuit as the kitchen lights. Not sure why they were wired this way. Someone took a shortcut obviously, but in order to kill the power to the fan, I'd have to kill the power to the kitchen lights, and that would mean cooking breakfast in the dark. And we can't have that, so I figured I'd live dangerously. That proved to be a bad idea."
"So what are you gonna do?"
"I killed the power. Kitchen staff will just have to make-do." Thomas clenched his fingers into a fist. "Good. The feeling's coming back to my fingers. Let's get to work." He reached into a box on the floor and took out the new ceiling fan motor and proceeded to wire it into the ceiling. Jeff held the ladder still and handed him the screwdriver when asked, and in a short time, the fan motor was successfully installed.
"Grandpa, can I ask you a question?"
"Sure," Thomas said as he reached into the box for the fan blades. "What's on your mind?"
Jeff hesitated. "Do you remember Charles Nichols?"
Thomas gave him a strange look. "From Kent Cottage?"
"Sure, I remember Charles," Thomas said, climbing the ladder with two fan blades. "What about him?"
Again, Jeff hesitated. "He had… an accident, didn't he?"
Thomas paused and sighed. "Yes he did. A shame what happened to that boy. Poor kid lost his head."
Jeff's mouth dropped open. "So it's true?"
"I'm afraid so," Thomas said. "A real shame. Good kid, too. Kinda quiet, but never gave us any trouble. Your Aunt Patty was pretty close with him. I think Charles was sweet on her. Nothing ever came of it, though. Unrequited love is what they call it."
"What does that mean?" Jeff asked.
Thomas patted down his back pockets. "Well, when something is unrequited… what did I do with that screwdriver?"
Jeff noticed the screwdriver on the floor next to the box, so he reached down and picked it up and handed it to his grandfather.
"Your Aunt Patty is coming to visit," Thomas said. "You can ask her about it." He sighed again. "Real shame what happened to him."
When he was finished assisting his grandfather with the fan, Jeff left the inn and made his way back to the main house. The Charles Nichols tragedy was really weighing on him now, and he needed some further insight. So he went to see the one person who had a knack for putting things in the proper perspective.
Old Man Markham's widow, aka Jeff's great-grandmother, aka Great Nana, lived on the first floor at the rear of the main house in what most people refer to as the in-law suite. Yet Great Nana wasn't an in-law. She was the law, the matriarch of the Markham family, and I'd like to say she ruled with an iron fist, but that simply wasn't her style. She was warm, compassionate, and very approachable, the hallmarks of any good matriarch.
She was reminiscent of Yoda the Jedi Master, old and wrinkly, but very wise. She was well over ninety years old, but not quite a hundred, and her arch nemesis, mobility, or lack thereof, had confined her to her own personal snow globe. With the help of her walker she was able to get about the house and join the rest of the family for meals, but most of the time you'd find her watching television in her comfy little sitting room.
The sitting room was situated off the hallway and consisted of a sofa, Nana's power recliner, and a pair of chair-side tables upon which rested wooden dishes filled with those chalky mints that great-grandparents stock to the hilt. Opposite Nana's recliner was a small entertainment console that supported her vintage thirty-two-inch television. Hey, at least it was a flat screen.
When Jeff arrived, he paused in the hallway and peered into the sitting room through the open doorway. Great Nana was fixated on the television, but she soon sensed his presence and made eye contact with him. Her face took on a tender glow and a welcoming smile formed at her mouth.
"Good morning, Jeffrey," she said. "Come in and sit down."
Jeff did as he was told and sat down on the sofa as Nana lowered the volume on the television. She always gave her undivided attention to her visitors, especially Jeff and his younger sister Emily, even if it meant telling Andy Griffith and his Mayberry cronies to go pound sand.
Nana offered him some mints, but he declined, informing her he had yet to eat breakfast. He proceeded to tell her about his visit with Grandpa and the ceiling fan at the inn. When he told her that Grandpa kept shocking himself and his fingers went numb, Nana laughed so hard her upper dentures fell out and landed in her lap. Then she laughed even harder and the bottom ones fell out too.
Nana had a good sense of humor about it, although she knew that both Jeff and Emily were terrified when she took her teeth out before bed, so she quickly picked them up and put them back in her mouth. When all was settled, Jeff asked about Charles Nichols.
The smile quickly faded from Nana's face, and a dark cloud of melancholy swooped in above her. It was as if she were an inflatable doll and someone just let the air out of her. She sighed a long, slow sigh and shook her head in somber remembrance.
"A horrible thing happened to that boy," she said softly. "So very sad. His poor mother never got over it. It was a bad time for the whole family."
"Did they… know the truth? About what happened?" Jeff asked.
"I don't think anyone knew what really happened," she replied. "His father found him, and that was that."
Jeff could only imagine the trauma that Anson Nichols suffered. Finding your son's body that way. How do you recover from that? And did he ever learn the truth? No doubt Greg could spin a good tale, but Grandpa and Great Nana had just confirmed his story.
"What's the sudden interest in Charles Nichols?" Nana asked him.
"Oh, I had just heard some stories about Kent Cottage, that's all."
Nana huffed. "That house is plagued by tragedy. I wish they'd knock it down."
You're not the only one were the words that rang between Jeff's ears. Of course, it was possible the ghost would need a new place to latch onto, and the last thing Jeff wanted was for the headless ghost of Charles Nichols to take up residence in his own house. So bulldozing Kent Cottage might not be the best course of action.
Nana looked weary as she sank deeper into her chair. It was clear to Jeff that she no longer wanted to discuss Charles Nichols or Kent Cottage, so Jeff switched topics and told her about the Halloween Festival and his scarecrow costume and the two brainstormed ideas as to how he could make it the best scarecrow costume ever.
When Nana recognized that Jeff's capacity for entertaining an old woman had been depleted, she politely excused him from any further obligation and sent him on his way. Jeff waved goodbye and hurried off to the kitchen for breakfast.
© Copyright 2021 Mark D. Gallant. All rights reserved.