This is the first chapter of a book that I am writing on this. If you like it, help a brother out by giving me a follow please!
“What do you boys want?”
The farmer was addressing us after stopping his work, lifting his shotgun, and walking in our direction.
This really wasn’t surprising, nor was it as alarming as it would be today. The year was 1983, and we were in Herndon, Virginia — a suburb of DC that was very slowly letting go of its agrarian roots. A happy byproduct of that fact was the myriad old abandoned houses around for two rowdy twelve year olds like us to explore. Bobby was my best bud, my soccer teammate, my fellow clandestine Dungeons and Dragons devotee, and a consummate adventurer just like me.
What led us to our encounter with Farmer Shotgun was the absolute holy grail of busted up, deserted houses. This sucker looked like the prototype for every horror movie, and it beckoned to us with unparalleled appeal.
The problem was, it was situated smack dab in the center of a turf farm, and Bobby and I as of yet saw no way to enter the house without being observed by whoever might be looking out the farmhouse windows or working the grounds. So, we decided to play it safe, and we rode our bikes up the long gravel driveway to ask permission, prompting Farmer Shotgun to meet us halfway.
“Sir, that is the coolest old house we have ever seen, and we have seen a lot of them,” I explained “Please let us go in”.
The farmer seemed to relax just a bit, and even managed a half smile- not bad for a man whose hard work had just been interrupted by two preteen punks on a sweltering day.
“Tell you what. You can walk ‘round the outside of it, look in the windows, whatever you want,” he proclaimed “but you can’t go in there, it is condemned”.
We found his terms very generous, but probably not for the reasons he figured. You see, we were GOING in that house- that much had been decided when we saw it. The problem had always been how to enter while avoiding detection, and the good Farmer Shotgun had just gift wrapped our point of entry exploration and dropped it into our hands.
We circled the house making appropriate appreciative noises and gestures, and the farmer walked with us. Bobby and I were both getting nervous when, on the south side of Scooby Doo Manor, we spotted a cellar with a clearly broken door. In a seismic stroke of good luck, the cellar was situated in such a way that if we approached from the forest surrounding the farm the house itself would obstruct the view of us as we sprinted to it. There was only a patch of maybe five hundred yards where we would be visible IF the farmer, hands, and family were in the house or working the northern pastures.
“Thank you sir, “ Bobby said, employing Eddie Haskell-ish unctuousness, and I echoed with the same feigned gratitude.
After riding away , we immediately circled into a housing development that was under construction bordering the farm, ditched our bikes, and made our way through the woods to the point where we felt we could make our most stealthy approach.
Bobby and I were both pretty athletic, but he was a head taller and unbelievably fast. He made it to the house before me, but I wasn’t too far behind him that day. Although the farmer’s shotgun was most likely a ruse, why take a chance?
Upon reaching the cellar, we barnstormed in. It would be nice to concoct some sort of dramatic pause, but for us the drama was outside of the house, not inside, and the objective was more to get out of view than TO view anything.
Once we DID get in though- whoa. It looked like an insane hoarder’s joint, sure, but we supposed the place had been empty for a while and things had just sort of been stuffed into the skeletal structure over the years.
That said, it was a cornucopia of cool stuff. There were butter churns, old farm implements, fading pictures, a mesmerizing old wood stove, newspapers, musical instruments, etc. Bursting through the cellar was, literally, to go back in time. The place was three stories, and every story seemed to have its own story.
We eventually separated and I somehow made my way up a rickety old staircase to the third level. I was looking around, just drinking in everything, when I noticed some leather satchels lying around. I opened one and found…..notebooks.
I mean there probably couldn’t be much more of an anticlimactic item than a bunch of notebooks, but for some reason, I started reading them.
I was immersed in the world of a girl named Mary. The house had been a school for girls in the 1800s , and here I was reading the thoughts of a girl who had almost certainly died some time before we burst through the cellar. From what I could gather, Mary was homesick and lovesick. She seemed to be between 14 and 15, and she actually liked the schooling but dreadfully missed her family and her beau.
Mary was into fashion, and in several of the journals she had drawn women in dresses and had actually used some sort of adhesive to stick various swatches of fabric on to the paper.
I can’t explain why I was interested. I have less fashion sense than anyone on the planet, but the knowledge that I was reading the thoughts of a young girl who had lived in my hometown was exceedingly interesting.
It was so interesting, in fact, that I lost track of time while reading her words.
“ Hey, that asshole[Farmer Shotgun] is out on his plow” said Bobby, breaking the spell that had come over me “We better get out”.
I knew he was right, but I just wanted to keep reading. If the farmer started working the south pasture though, we were screwed and could be holed up for hours and hours, so I grabbed the satchel, put the notebooks in it, and took it with me as we bolted across the pasture and into the safety of the forest.
Later that night in my bedroom, I went through my nightly ritual which was mundane except for one facet: I always made sure my closet was closed. The reason for that was the movie Poltergeist had recently come out, and I had seen it. If YOU haven’t seen it- you should. It is old, but it holds up, and the premise is that the closet in this house becomes a gateway to hell. I was not interested in my closet being a gateway to hell, so I made damned sure that the closet was closed night after night.
Anyway, after the closet was closed and my teeth were brushed and all, I retrieved Mary’s journals and was immediately brought back into her world. I read about various maladies, the weather, her mother, the death of one of her siblings etc until I just couldn’t keep my eyes open any longer. I put the notebooks back into the satchel, put the satchel in the closet, shut the closet again and went to bed.
Around three in the morning, I was awakened by noise. I looked towards the closet and there was a girl, a very pretty one but one with a face that reflected deep sorrow, rummaging through the satchel in my closet. She looked at me, her face tear streaked.
A pause. Then “HOLY SHIT! WHAT???????”
By the time my adrenaline spiked and I was fully awake, I was alone in my room.
But, the closet door was….OPEN!
I didn’t sleep again that night, and when it seemed just early enough to not be too rude but not a second later, I phoned Bobby at his house. For young people reading this, we didn’t HAVE cell phones then. If you wanted to call someone , you called the house, and in a situation like this you just hoped the person you wanted answered.
He did. Thank goodness.
We went back to the house within hours, and I placed the satchel and Mary’s notebooks exactly where I had found them.
I reflected on what Farmer Shotgun had said to us when he first saw us- “What do you boys want?”.
I don’t know what we wanted. However, I know what we DIDN’T want, and that was it!
One of my favorite books is The Magic of Reality by Richard Dawkins. In it, Dawkins relates that when two people see a rainbow, neither sees the same rainbow. Differences in height, the shape of the eyes, bone structure, and many other factors influence what is seen by the individual. Both are seeing a rainbow, but they are seeing different rainbows, and if a billion people were present , all would see different rainbows.
In that vein, I can tell you that the story I just related was experienced by me. If you gave me a polygraph and asked me if I experienced that, I would pass with flying colors. However, if you asked me if the experience was real in a supernatural sense and I was hooked up to a poly, I probably couldn’t give you a straight answer.
I was 12. I was under the influence of a movie which involved closets in a creepy way. I am not religious. I don’t believe in ghosts, and I am not nuts.
Still, I experienced this, and I cannot explain exactly why.
I think the place where I grew up had a lot to do with this whole thing. The presence of a lot of old, abandoned properties combined with the advent of VCRs probably gave rise to lots of folk tales around my town in specific and the United States in general.
I am now a high school teacher and have been for almost thirty years. I have told that story to students for almost every one of those years. I may be flattering myself, but it wouldn’t surprise me if one night when the internet was out, phones were dead, and kids were starved for something to do, my ghost story was told and amended slightly, and then the cycle repeated itself.
My story was and is a subjective view of reality- make of it what you will.
Every little town, and every big town for that matter, has its share of objective horror stories as well though. These horrifying stories may undergo transformations, but they remain mired in indisputable reality. Whereas my experience with “Mary”was witnessed only by me and was probably nothing more than the byproduct of a confluence of time, place, and adolescent imagination, the undeniably true stories send shockwaves through communities that, sometimes, are not completely expunged by the march of time.
Bobby and I often invented morose legends for the abandoned properties we explored. Our self- developed conglomerations imbued upon us a certain bravery and catalyzed a sense of danger that was probably completely nonsensical. We could never be certain that our fantastic inventions were true and, in fact, we were sure they weren’t or else we wouldn’t have been so brazen in our intrusions.
Amidst this quagmire of uncertainty, however, this is certain: my remembrance of the encounter with the sad, closet raiding “Mary” has triggered the need to tell the story of another young girl whose memory should not fade and whose tragic demise was not at all imaginary.
Her name was Eva Roy. She was raped and murdered in Burke’s Station, Virginia back in 1918. Burke’s Station, which is now known as Burke, Virginia is my current hometown , and it lies just south east of the stomping grounds of my youth . My wife and I have lived in Burke for 15 years, and it is where we have raised our three children. For as idyllic, beautiful, and peaceful as Burke is , there is a little cemetery on Lee Chapel Road that still has an allure grounded in tragedy and sorrow for its residents. It is there that the body of Eva Roy was laid to rest over a hundred years ago. Her father, Peter Roy, was laid to rest next to her years later.
The forlorn cemetery, which is now bordered on one side by million dollar houses and on the other by a major roadway in opulent Northern Virginia, is the subject of a plethora of urban legends and “ghost” sightings.
But, for me, stepping through the gates of that little cemetery wasn’t scary- it was mesmerizing in a sorrowful way. It was like stepping through the cellar door of Farmer’ Shotgun’s condemned house and back in time once again.
And so, nearly four decades after my encounter with “Mary” I find myself compelled to tell the story of another deceased young girl, this one inarguably real. I hope my retelling of our story does justice to her memory, for it is the only kind of justice Eva Roy will ever receive if so.