The real estate agent was becoming exasperated with us. She had already shown us five properties, every one with the promise of being “just exactly what we wanted.” Each time my husband said, “This isn’t it.” The poor woman didn’t know where she was going wrong.
“Listen,” she finally answered after showing us the fifth place; which she had told us again with great enthusiasm– was just perfect, “I guess I still need more information on what you’re looking for.”
My husband, at last, dropped all modicum of propriety and told her, “Look, here’s the deal. When I go down to the end of my driveway to pick up the newspaper in the morning…I want to be wearing my drawers.”
I snickered; but, while nodding agreement with Norm, I raised an eyebrow in an attempt to let her understand that I realized he was uncouth. She turned a little pink, muttered something I didn’t quite catch, made polite goodbyes and got away from us as quickly as she could. I didn’t think her sense of humor was what it ought to have been for her line of work. After all, she had to have met characters like us before, or worse. Norm and I laughed about it as we were riding back home. I scolded that he knew better and he confessed that he had grown tired of her anyway. He thought she had a persnickety attitude.
Mr.Goldwithe called at our door at almost the exact moment Norm and I got back into the house. He was a thin man with dark eyes capped by thick, unruly eyebrows. His dark blue suit was perfect on him, and I remember thinking that it was probably tailor-made for him instead of something off the rack. The back of the collar of his white shirt, however, was grimy and that struck me as curious since he looked so otherwise well-groomed.
He introduced himself and informed us that the Grimes Agency had called him to ask if they could show us his property. He was so close, he told us, that he thought he might just take us by there himself if we had the time right now. He explained that he would soon be away out of town for some time and that he’d really be the best one to show us all the pluses of the house and property. He said that, frankly, he was not impressed with the real estate agent anyway.
Well, that won Norman over quickly, but I thought that it wasn’t very wise of him to say since he’d hired them. We invited him in and offered him water or sweet tea. He chose sweet tea and politely waited in the den while we freshened up and located the kids.
They were all in the basement with a load of their friends. They’d all come to our house directly after school, raided our refrigerator and relaxed in front of our big screen TV to assume their regular ritual of eating us out of house and home and devouring their favorite after-school episodes of Saved By the Bell, A Different World, and the Cosby Show. We didn’t mind one bit as they were well-behaved (at home) and it was always good for us if they would bring their friends to our house rather than hang out at someone else’s home where they may not be suitably monitored.
Norm gave the kids the option of coming along with us to check out a possible new home or staying put. The boys opted out, but our daughter, Keli was anxious to come, determined that she would have a major input on wherever it was that we would end up living.
We followed Mr. Goldwithe’s cool grey Jaguar as he led us on what soon proved to be an excruciatingly long drive. I began to think, This is too far away from everything. Where will I go for groceries? Then to Norman I said “This is an awful long way. Don’t you think?”
“Look at that damned car,” was all Norman answered. He was mesmerized by our guide’s expensive luxury car and was hardly listening to me. “I wonder what kind of money this guy makes,” he said.
We followed County Road 157 as it unfolded in front of us. It was 5 o’clock in the evening, and the sky was colored the prettiest hues of blue. Beautiful, voluminous clouds hung stationary on the canvas of the sky like handfuls of cotton balls. I could deliberately trick my eyes so that the land and sky looked like a mural in front of me. It was calming and beautiful. The black asphalt road was smooth and not scarred or accented with potholes or any imperfections, so we glided along atop it, lifting subtly up and down as we approached the center of my endless mural.
“This is a long way,” Norm said to me now.
“That’s what I just said, honey. This is getting out there.”
Just then, the jaguar’s left blinker came on, and we were turning onto yet another county road.
“Well, we’ve come this far. Let’s just go on and take a look at the place.”
On both sides of the road most of the way was dense woods with trees of luscious green leaves; thick bushes and vines, sometimes interrupted by a stretch of crops of corn or cotton, or by a freshly mowed field of brown stubble accented with huge wheels of bundled grass. I always have seen those huge wheels of bundled grass and never once witnessed them being produced. I wondered what the machine looked like that makes them. Perhaps they’re like crop circles mysteriously appearing out of nowhere.
Every now and then a house or farm or old barn would pop up. Some were nice; others were dilapidated, ghostlike edifices that should have been torn down and cleared away ages ago. I could definitely imagine all kinds of mishaps occurring in them. Dead bodies and stuff.
Another half-mile and another left signal and Mr.Goldwithe began to slow for a turn. We were turning now at a point where one could hardly tell that there was any opening until you were either passing or actually turning into it. There was no sign or anything to mark the entrance. I supposed the obscure mailbox on the opposite side of the road was the way one could tell they were at that specific spot. Once turned onto the driveway, it was just a path; two travel-worn lines of dirt with ragged, tough blue grass sprouting up between them. Short elderberry bushes and sweetgum trees were thickly represented but losing the fight against kudzu on both sides of the path. The purple vine leaf draped over across the double dirt path, grabbing onto the trees on both sides and forming a natural arbor. Specks of sunlight beamed through patches overhead casting a beautiful hazy hue. It was an interesting spot. We drove another fifty feet through the organic archway and abruptly emerged into a clearing.
There stood the house. It was more like the dilapidated buildings we’d passed on the way than something we would have normally been interested in seeing. I wondered why on earth he or anyone else would bring anyone to see this place. It was like a ruin. The grounds around the house were badly in need of repair, as was the house itself.
The wooden structure had two levels. All the wood was grey and washed out from years of weather and abandonment. The top level was shorter in width than the bottom and only spanned across two-thirds of the bottom level. A covered porch extended across the front and around the right side of the house. Two windows donned the front on the top floor. The house was much longer than it was wide. Eight gray, nearly rotted-through, wood columns held up the speckled brown-tiled awning that extended around the front and right side.
I was picturing Anthony Perkins walking out of the front door onto the porch when Mr.Goldwithe burst in on my thoughts, “It’s 3600 square feet,” he started, obviously teeming with pride, “The house has been in my family for over 130 years. My grandfather started the original foundation with his own hands. His slaves didn’t leave the property until far after the beginning of the Reconstruction. They just were not ready, you know. They loved him and wanted to stay close by him.”
I certainly did not know, I wanted to say but didn’t.
Norman stepped up onto the porch and looked in the through the windowpane in the door. My daughter stood by the car wearing a look of abject disgust. “Mom!”
I walked back over to her.
“Mom, you’ve got to be kidding. This place is disgusting. Why are we even looking at this?”
“Keli, I know. Let’s just go look inside. Who knows?”
“I’m not going in there,” she stubbornly folded her arms.
“Well stay out here,” I said, laughing to myself. I already knew there was no way she would stay outside without someone with her. She looked around nervously as I walked away toward the house, leaving her behind. She decided that she’d rather go inside after all.
Mr.Goldwithe stepped up and opened the door. Keli and I cozied up behind Norman as he followed Mr.Goldwithe inside. Keli was so close up to her dad that he turned and gave her an annoyed glare.
The first few steps inside was a landing with handrails, and three wide steps led down into a wider room. A large stone wall stood out as a partition in the far left of the room, the whole bottom half of which housed a well-used fireplace. Its opening was five feet tall with a wood beam shelf running across the width of it.
“Dusty,” was my first thought upon entering the house. Everything was covered with a thick layer of immovable dust. Spider webs accented the corners of the ceiling occupied by tiny, colorful hosts with their insect corpses hanging helplessly. Cobwebs were draped suspended all over the place. Norman waved his arms as he walked, clearing them away.
Out of the stone on both sides of the fireplace thick, black steel rings protruded holding several cast iron pokers with fancy decorative handles. The wood plank floors looked as though they should be creaking but were sturdy and quiet as the four of us walked around, Keli clinging to my arm like a marsupial.
Mr.Goldwithe proceeded to point out details and little interesting facts about the most insignificant things, like the fact that his great-grandfather fixed the first step on the stairs that led to the second level with the same wood that he’d used to build his great Aunt’s casket. She died of pneumonia at age seven. Norman said “Really?” and then looked at me with a sarcastic eye roll. Our guide continued with more useful information about the heating and electricity and water. “…There’s also a functioning well on the property.”
“I’d like to see that,” I suddenly found interest in a bit of trivia. I didn’t really know why.
“It’s right out that door. Follow the path to the corral and behind that smoke shed out there is a well.”
“Come on, Keli.” My daughter needed very little coaxing to get out her of the house and she eagerly followed me through the door Mr.Goldwithe had pointed out.
“Corral?” Keli said. “What’s the corral for?”
“Horses, of course.”
“Did Daddy say he wanted to get a horse?”
“He’s always said that,” I smiled, “though I don’t know what for.”
We came upon a large octagonal shaped area of dirt, enclosed by a split-railed fence. We walked through the broken gate, which was hanging on by the last threads of a wire hooked over a rusted hinge. It broke away from the rail just as we pushed it inward. We passed through the dusty corral. “Is this it?” I said as we approached a contraption poking up out of the dirt.
In the ground, there was a large hole outlined by old wood planks lain end to end in a circle. Keli and I immediately grabbed for each other’s arm as we inched cautiously closer to the opening. A spigot protruded from a caste iron plate in the ground beside the hole. I leaned over to look in.
“It’s dark down there.”
“No kiddin’ Mom. Woo!” Keli pretended to push me, and I stepped gingerly aside.
“GIRL! Don’t play like that Keli.”
And just as I said those words the old dried out plank on which just the front tip of my right foot rested gave away. I felt my body jerk backward as my leg went out from under me. The rotten wood scraped nasty jagged lines in the back of my leg as I began to slide down into the hole. It all felt as if it were happening in slow motion. I grabbed for anything I could catch hold of.
Keli hollered out and grabbed for me, catching hold of the back of my jacket.
“Oh, Jesus!” I clutched at the sides of the hole and tried to wedge my arms against the dirt and old roots that jutted out just below the opening. I jammed my foot into a hollowed out place and stopped myself from plunging downward. I strained and summoned all my strength to try to lift myself out, but the dirt was so easily falling away that I finally froze, afraid to move any more. I tried to calm myself and hold perfectly still.
“Keli…go get your Dad,” I panted out between heavy breaths.
“No Ma!” My daughter was terrified. “I can’t let you go. You’ll fall down into the hole!”
“No, Keli. I’m wedged in,” I tried to say as calmly as possible, “I can hold here, but I can’t move. You gotta’ get Norman to pull me out. You can’t hold me. Hurry.”
Keli ran off crying and screaming for her father. Suddenly all the sound and commotion was gone. Everything was still, except for my breathing and the soft sound of little wisps of dirt falling away. I immediately started praying. Then I heard it.
My eyes widened as if doing that would sharpen my ability to hear. I tried to still my heartbeat, which had begun to pound increasingly louder.
“Come down nooowww.” The voice came from below me. I moved my chin slowly into my chest to avert my eyes downward where I knew I heard the voice coming from. My arms were beginning to fail me, and I had the dreadful sensation that something was just about to touch my left foot. It was pitch black down there. I couldn’t even see my own legs beneath me. I began to hear splashing and what sounded like rustling water. Then I heard again, in a most peculiar sounding, eerie cadence. “Let-go-come-down-now.”
My heart skipped, and a fear gripped me like I never have experienced in all my life. I tried to shift my body without moving my legs in order to see into the well below me. A glimmer of sunlight crept through the space between my arm and the wood to which I was clinging with my scratched up elbow. It shone down into the well. An ashen, grey face whisped past the beam of light. My heart rushed into my throat, and my scream came out sounding more like a distressed cow. I knew that something was about to grab my legs and drag me down.
When my husband’s hands grabbed my shoulders, it sent a shock of terror through me, and I jerked my head around to realize it was him. I frantically grabbed for him, scrambling wildly to get away from that opening.
“Norm, there’s something in there. There’s somebody down there.”
“Oh my God baby. You could have been hurt badly.” Norm was trying to hold me, but I was undone. I didn’t know whether to run away from there or to try to see again down into the hole. I paced backward and then forward and then back again.
“Norm, there’s somebody down there.” He finally heard what I was saying.
“What? Calm down Rhonda.”
“There’s somebody DOWN THERE!” I was panic-stricken. “Where’sMr.Goldwithe? Something’s in there!”
“He came out here with you. Where did he go?” Norman inched over to look into the hole.
“He didn’t come out here with us. He was showing you the kitchen.”
Now Norman went nearer to look down into the well.
“GET BACK, HONEY!” All my usual calmness during a crisis was not kicking in. I started to look around nervously. It seemed more desolate out there now. I hadn’t noticed how much moss was hanging from the trees til now. Now as I looked, the whole place seemed so much more overgrown and thick with bushes. The gate and fence of the corral behind us were really very rotten. The path that Keli and I had come through to get to the well looked narrower than it had when we walked it… and darker.
I tried to calm down. “Honey, call Mr.Goldwithe, please. I’m sure I heard something down there.”
He turned to my daughter. “Keli, go get the flashlight out of the trunk of the car.”
“I’m not going out there by myself,” Keli was adamant. “I’m not leavin’ you guys.”
“Stay here. I’ll get it.” Norm turned and began to walk back to the path toward the house. He called out for Mr.Goldwithe as he went.
“Hurry up,” I shouted to him. Keli and I huddled together far back from the well. I was trembling.
“Mom, what did you hear?”
“Keli, just be quiet.” I didn’t want to make any sounds. I just wanted Norman and Mr.Goldwithe to get back quickly. Norm came jogging back just in time enough for me not to start panicking again.
“Goldwithe’s car is gone.”
“I guess he left. Did he say anything to you?”
“NO, he didn’t say anything to ME. He was in the house with YOU.”
Norm didn’t say anything else. He just carefully inched up close to the opening of the well.
“Be careful Daddy,” Keli said, still clinging to me.
Norm knelt down and grabbed hold of the old metal spigot that was protruding up from the ground beside the well’s opening. He yanked on it a little to test its’ stability. Then holding onto it with his right hand, he fixed his knee down on the ground, shored his foot and leaned over pointing the flashlight down into the well.
“SHIT,” Norm jerked back away from the well, nearly falling on his behind, but he shuffled to his feet and simultaneously grabbed both Keli and me by the arms. “Let’s go. We’re out of here.”
Keli and I knew not to ask any questions. At least not then. We started off, stumbling as Norman pushed us along in front of him and we ended up running. We didn’t dare go back in through the house. We ran around it.
Mr.Goldwithe’s car was gone. Norman got our car started and whipped around so fast that it stirred up a huge cloud of dirt. I strapped my self in and looked over at my husband. He had that look on his face that I recognized as his fight and flight mode. It was never fight OR flight with him. It was both. There was no doubt; whatever he saw in that well scared him, just as much as what I’d seen and heard scared me.
We barreled through the overhung path that was the entrance to the property. It no longer seemed pretty and quaint. It just seemed long. Keli began to cry.
“Don’t cry Keli,” I tried to comfort her, but I was on the verge of tears myself.
“Honey, what was it?” I finally felt calm enough to ask as our car skidded back out onto the road.
“Where the hell are we?” Norman was staring straight ahead; his eyes darting right and left looking for a road sign. He continually accelerated. I glanced down at the speedometer. Ninety.
“Honey, slow down. Norman. Slow down please.”
“Rhonda. Baby. I’m about to freak out.”
“What?…WHAT? What was down there?”
“Call the realtor, Rhonda. There’s a body down there.”
“What dead? A DEAD body?”
“Hell yeah, a dead body. What do you think I mean…a LIVE body?”
“But I heard something Norm. I heard someone.”
“What do you mean you heard some one?”
“I HEARD SOME ONE!”
“Calm down baby. Call the realtor.”
I pulled out my cell phone and began scrolling down to the Grimes Agency’s number. My hands were shaking. I could not get the sound of that voice out of my head. I know I heard it. I trembled and looked around into the back seat at my daughter. Not so much to check on how she was doing than it was to make sure that it was her presence I felt behind me and not some specter. Her eyes were wide as saucers.
“Mom, come sit back here with me.”
“We’re alright, Keli,” her Daddy told her. “We’ll be home in just a minute. You’re alright.”
I reached back and held her hand.
Norm told the realtor to meet us at our home. He had to insist, but he could be quite persuasive, or more accurately, intimidating. Our little realtor and her boss, Mr.Grimes himself, showed at our home not long after we’d gotten there and had a chance to steady ourselves.
Here is what we found out.
No. The Grimes Agency had not sent anyone to show us that house, because– No, their agency did not handle that property. However, yes, they did check out the property after we called them in such an agitated state. And, yes, the property was owned by the estate of a Mr.Samuel Goldwithe. Mr.Goldwithe had gone missing some twenty years ago. His family finally had him declared dead and fought continually over his very wealthy, however, unkempt estate. The property had never been settled because his family members had either died off one by one or just mysteriously released all claim to it. He was never found.
Norman and I looked at each other. “He’s in the well,” we said.
— 30 —