The April Sherman Series follows a young girl growing up in a small town, fundamentalist Christian family.
A Short Story by Bekah Ferguson.
My cousins lived in an old farmhouse out in the country. Sometimes when I’d visit for a sleepover, my cousin Kasey and I would explore the outer perimeter of the barn on the far edge of their overgrown field. The hayloft and floorboards were rotten, and half the roof caved in, so the inside was supposed to be off-limits.
“You could fall through the floor and break a leg at best, your neck at worst,” my uncle said many times. Usually we obeyed but tonight we’d gone outside to play after supper while auntie did the dishes, and we hadn’t yet been called back in, even though dusk was descending. It seemed the adults had forgotten about us for the time being.
“We’ll only go in a short way and look around, we won’t climb anything,” Kasey explained, a gleam in her eye. She took off for the garden shed and emerged again before I caught up, a flashlight in hand.
It was a cool August evening, crickets shrieking, a bull frog droning. I followed her through the woody plants and bramble, much of it nearly as tall as the two of us. At one point I didn’t see a blackberry bush in time and brushed right past it with my bare legs, the scratches burning; tiny beads of blood appearing on my shin. We soon reached the barn and Kasey flicked the flashlight beam up and down and around. It was nearly dark with an overcast sky, the moon a faint glow behind the clouds. I saw a swipe of fieldstone foundation, a rusted soup can full of decomposing cigarette butts, and a window with four broken panes.
“Here’s the way in,” she whispered, holding the beam over a peeling gray door with a rusted latch.
I’m not sure at what point we’d taken to whispering (and it seemed a bit silly with no one around to hear us anyway), but something about the darkness made us feel we needed to tip-toe and keep things hush-hush.
Kasey flapped the latch back and yanked on the door handle, tugging a few times to get it to budge; overgrown grass all bunched up in front of it. She managed to get it open wide enough for us to squeeze through one at a time. She of course went in first, being the brave one. Kasey liked to take charge and I didn’t mind being bossed around. I enjoyed her company, so that made it okay. Plus, I didn’t feel like a very creative person—that is, I didn’t know what to suggest whenever kids asked me for ideas. I definitely wouldn’t have ever dared to suggest this, though it often crossed my mind. As long as it was her idea, I felt safe.
Inside the barn wasn’t as pitch black as I’d expected, which I realized was due to the missing part of the roof above the second level. I could see the murky gray clouds above and the smudge of yellow. In front of us was an open area with a set of stairs on the left leading upward and stalls to our right. About ten feet ahead was an old tack room. The stalls were damp and moldy, clumps of hay in the mud. I figured a lot of rainwater must come through the missing boards in the outside walls. Since we both had sandals on, we stayed put on the cement floor, not wanting to step in anything yucky. The hallway seemed to go all the way to the back of the barn but neither of us had the nerve to walk past more than two stalls—we ran back to the entrance squealing and laughing. I already had goosebumps and a chill zinging up my back but I didn’t feel too scared, especially with Kasey so giggly and confident leading the way.
Next we went to the wooded stairs, Kasey shining the flashlight beam up to the second level. We couldn’t see much up there but figuring we’d be safe so long as we stayed put on the cement floor, we decided not to do any climbing. Nevertheless, in my mind’s eye I mounted those stairs anyway and watched myself walk out across a hay-strewn wooden floor only a few paces before feeling the floor give way beneath my feet, and falling hard and fast into a black chasm.
I shook my head to clear the vision; not wanting to imagine the part where I landed in whatever lay below.
“Ever seen a ghost?” Kasey asked, suddenly shining the flashlight beam straight into my eyes.
“Hey, don’t do that,” I covered my face with my arm, scowling a moment, annoyed that she’d spooked me.
She lowered the beam and let it hover over the stairs. “Mom says a little girl died in this barn, a long long time ago. Like in pioneer days.”
I felt my eyes widen. “What happened to her?”
“She fell out of the hayloft and cracked her head open.” The crickets were still shrieking but I thought I heard a low moan somewhere in the distance, perhaps outside. “I bet you her ghost still haunts this place,” she said, positioning the flashlight beam under her chin and cackling at me.
“Stop it!” I felt angry with her, but also scared.
The moan sounded again, louder this time. Both of us startled, staring at each other with unmasked fright.
Kasey moved to the door and peeked through the gap. Without the flashlight beam the darkness behind me grew, engulfing me; the chill in my back painful. I wanted to get out, now.
“It’s Mom, she’s calling us. Let’s go before she catches us—come on.”
Kasey slipped through the gap and for a split second I was left all alone in the barn. I lunged for the door and squeezed through, letting out a cry and tripping, nearly falling into the bramble. I didn’t bother to close the door but instead ran as fast I could to catch up with her.
There was no fooling auntie and boy did we get an earful that night. And when I went home the next day, I faced a second scolding from my mother. When bedtime rolled around, even though I was back in my own bed, miles away from the barn, I kept thinking about the pioneer girl and imagining how she might actually have been there, staring at us somewhere in the shadows. I’d soon worked myself up to a near hysteria and called my mom into my room to tell her about it. She sat down on the edge of my bed, hand on mine.
“There’s no such thing as ghosts,” she said, smiling softly, “so you don’t need to be afraid. The Bible tells us that when we die, we go to heaven or hell. Children go to heaven. So that little girl would have gone straight into the arms of Jesus. The only danger in that barn is that you could have gotten seriously injured. ”
A warm flood of relief tingled through my limbs and I relaxed.
“How come people believe in ghosts?” I asked.
“Most of the time I think it’s just their imagination running wild,” she said, looking thoughtful. “Or they heard the story from someone else, though sometimes people deliberately lie. But in some cases, a very small percentage of stories . . . well . . . it could actually be that they saw a demon, and mistook it for a ghost.”
“Yes, a fallen angel. That’s what the Bible calls them—demons.”
“What are they?”
“They are angels that became very bad and were kicked out of heaven. The Bible says that they wander around on earth. But you don’t have to be afraid of demons either, sweetie, because you’re a Christian. Demons can’t hurt people, they can only scare them.”
“But they haunt houses like ghosts do?”
“Well, no, not exactly—they just like to, I guess you could say, pretend to be ghosts.”
My hands became cold and clammy. She kissed me on the forehead, adjusted my blankets, and left. I looked out my window at a full moon, then settled my gaze on the shadows filling my room; imagining a pair of eyes in the gloom, watching me. My heart began to thud and I pulled the blankets up over my head.
In the years to come I would learn a great deal more about demons. Like how they could possess people and make them do wicked things. Only non-Christians though, unbelievers. Christians were immune so long as they had the Holy Spirit inside them to protect them, and if a Christian got possessed, it meant they weren’t saved to begin with, not a real Christian. But real Christians could, however, be oppressed by demons: toyed with, taunted—yes, haunted.
Ghosts by another name. Though not the unhappy, departed souls of human beings; something much more sinister. Alien spirits from another world that had the power to shapeshift and resemble the deceased or could even take over the spirit of a living person, using their body like a puppet.
No need to fear ghosts that weren’t real. Not when there was something out there much more terrifying.