This is a true story — least as “true” as my imperfect memory can conjure up. And when a fiction writer tells you a story is true, you ought to pay close attention. We lie for a living.
These events took place in June, 2009 in the Catskills Mountains of New York. The names have been changed out of friendship and respect.
I'd never been to a weekend writers retreat. But when a couple of good friends invited me, I found myself jumping at the chance. There were five of us in all and, for the purposes of this story, let's call them Jezzie, Meredith, Ryan and Vera.
Jezzie and Meredith I'd known for years. Both were published novelists. Both brilliant and engaging people. Vera I'd met a few times but, as yet, couldn't really call her a friend. That would change — big time. As it would with Ryan, whom I'd never met at all, except via a writers forum we all belonged to.
By the end of the weekend, a very special camaraderie would develop among the five of us. And not just because of shared meals, swapped stories, and ... well ... alcohol. But, in no small part, because of our sixth “member”.
Jezzie and Vera had set the whole thing up — a big Victorian house outside of a remote town in the Catskills, all alone on a steep mountainside, near a stream. From the outside, the place kind of defined “quaint”: a gabled roof, a wrap-around porch, large windows and doors of heavy wood.
Inside, the first floor included a “great room”, with living and dining areas, a large, fully equipped kitchen, a living room (with the only land-line phone), a media room (with T.V., stereo, etc.), and a couple of small bedrooms, neither of which we used. Up the central staircase, the second floor hallway fed a single bath — the only one in the house — and five more bedrooms. Only the front bedroom had a king size bed in it.
I was lucky enough to get that room, as I'm a man of some — well — size.
At first, as we arrived one or two at a time, the mood was tentative. We were getting to know one another, feeling each other out. Then, as those early hours passed and we shared our first meal, things slowly began to relax. That's how it goes at such events, in my experience. That night, exhausted from the drive and the new environment, I slept like a bear.
The next day, Friday, we spent writing and sharing story ideas. All of us gathered around the huge antique wooden dining table, our laptops plugged into every available outlets, toiling at whatever our Work-In-Progress d'jour happened to be. For hours we'd type in silence, only to have someone stop and read a passage that they’d written and wanted to test out.
It was a great day.
That night — or, more precisely — early the next morning, things took a turn.
I awoke around eight. Sunlight was streaming through the high windows in my bedroom. The house was still asleep. So I lay there for several minutes, awake but comfortable, thinking about nothing in particular, my gaze settled on the closed door for no particular reason.
Then I felt someone climb onto the other side of the bed.
Those of you who have children will know exactly what I mean. The mattress dips with first one knee and then the next. If the mattress is older, as this one was, there might even be a little bouncing involved — not much, but enough to awake a sleeping parent.
Except I was awake, and my kids were mostly grown and a long way from here.
A moment later, before I could even really react, a voice — a little girl's voice — whispered in my ear, clear as a bell: “Daddy?”
I tried to turn my head, to whip it around really. But I couldn't! It felt like a small hand was pressing on side of my face! The pressure was playful but surprisingly firm, and I had to really harness my strength to break it.
It felt like forever, but was probably no more than a few seconds, before I managed to twist my body, shift my weight and finally look at the other side of the bed. As I did, the pressure immediately vanished, as did the child's weight on the mattress.
I was completely alone in the room — with my heart in my throat.
Needless to say, I got the hell out of there.
Sometime later, as I sat down in the great room, my friends rose and the day started. We all had breakfast. We all spent the morning writing or editing. Then, just before noon, Jezzie, Meredith and I drove into town to bring back lunch. On the way, we stopped at a local ATM.
And while standing in line with these two people — both of whom I knew well and trusted — I said, “I had a crazy dream this morning ...”
Then I told them. I told them all of it.
When I finished, they looked at me. The stranger standing in front of us at the ATM looked at me. For a long time, nobody spoke.
I felt like an idiot.
Then, very quietly, Meredith said, “I've been seeing a little girl around the house all weekend.”
Now it was her turn to be looked at.
Meredith had a daughter who, like my kids, was home — not here. Yet yesterday, as Meredith had been working alone at the dining room table, she'd seen a little girl walk up the main floor hallway and disappear into one of the unused bedrooms. At first, her distracted mind had assumed, as parents will, that it was her daughter. Then, of course, the absurdity of that had dawned and Meredith had stood and gone into the bedroom to look.
She had found it empty.
This next part of my story remains a point of some contention. As I remember it, the three of us agreed to hold off telling the others. I don't really remember why, just that we did. Except, the moment we got back to house, Meredith marched it and announced, “Ty was touched by a ghost!”
And Ryan, who was sitting on the couch with his laptop, looked up and said sheepishly, “Um ... I didn't want to say anything, but I've been sensing a little girl in this house since I got here.” Sensing. That was the word he used. He's from California. 'Nuff said. (Kidding, buddy!)
Well, we searched the house, top to bottom. Nothing. Vera and Jezzie complained that neither of them had run into anything so “interesting.” We talked about the supernatural, about our various — and varied — belief systems, and then finally we went back to work. This was a writers retreat after all. There was writing to be done.
But as the day got long, I kept thinking about the necessity of my spending one more night in that bedroom upstairs.
I admit it: I was spooked. No pun intended.
As the windows grew dark, sometime after supper, I found myself in the kitchen with Meredith, cleaning up the dinner dishes. There, mustering up my courage, I said what I'd been too embarrassed to say before now, “I'm ... really freaked out about sleeping in that room tonight.”
Meredith seemed genuinely surprised. “Are you? You don't have to be. She's just a little girl.”
“A little dead girl,” I said.
“Look,” she told me. “All you need to do is: just after you shut off the light say, 'Little girl, thank you for your visit last night. But I'm not your daddy, and what you did really frightened me. So I'm going to ask you to please let me sleep in peace tonight.' Then you won't have any problems at all.”
Well, around midnight in that dark house, with mostly everyone else in bed and with my exhaustion warring with my trepidation, I gave the ridiculous a try. I said what Meredith suggested, exactly the way she suggested it.
Then, I slept.
In the morning I awoke, immensely relieved. No ghostly visitation. No little hand on my face or child's weight on the bed.
It was Sunday morning and we were all rising early. Ryan and I would be leaving first for the long drive down to Newark airport, where he would catch his plane west.
I went downstairs and found him sitting on the couch, completely spent. “You okay?” I asked him.
He looked up at me with bloodshot eyes. “I had a ... visitor ... last night.”
“Oh,” I said.
“After you all went up to bed, I stayed down here and worked a little longer. After a while, I started hearing someone in the kitchen. It sounded like they were opening and closing drawers. I could hear the utensils clattering around as they did it.”
“Jeez,” I said, sitting down. “Did you check it out?”
“No, I didn't 'check it out'!” he exclaimed. “I sat here on the couch, put my head down, and pretended I couldn't hear it! Except, a few minutes later, I started hearing footsteps walking back and forth in the room with me! Right there!” He pointed to the empty space between his couch and mine.
“Well that did it,” he said. “I went upstairs. But, after I'd gotten into bed, I found out that the the footsteps had followed me! There was someone walking around in my bedroom! So I threw the covers over my head and ... well ... just waited for the night to end.”
Ryan met my eyes, tired and shaken. “What I don't get is why? Why come to me all of a sudden?”
I looked at my friend, my new friend, as I'd never met him before this weekend. And here's what I didn't say. I didn't say: “Well, last night I asked her not to bug me. So maybe she decided to bug the only other man on the premises.
“Maybe there's a little girl in this house ... looking for her daddy.”
We all went home that morning, with the retreat declared a resounding success on many levels. I told my wife what happened. I told my family and co-workers. And, over the course of the next year, Vera, Jezzie, Ryan, Meredith and I discussed it online.
The following June, we scheduled another retreat and Jezzie booked the same house. I admit I had — mixed feelings — about that.
But there was nothing. No ghosts. No footsteps. Nobody “sensed” anything.
I had no idea why, but the whatever was haunting that amazing house had apparently gone.
What did it all mean? Was it real or did I doze off that morning and dream what happened to me? Did Meredith doze off at the dining room table? Did poor Ryan doze off on the couch with his laptop, then wake up and go upstairs to bed, only to have to same disturbing dream?
Or was there really a little girl in that house. And, if so, did she finally find her daddy?
I hope so.
Author: Ty Drago
Publisher: Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, 432 Pages (October 1st, 2012)
Add to: Goodreads
Synopsis: Twelve -year old Will Ritter and his rag-tag army of teenage resistance fighters may have triumphed over the Zombies last time, but that's the thing about the dead: they keep coming back.
A new Corpse leader has crossed the rift and taken command of the invasion: The Queen of the Dead is even more brilliant and ruthless than her predecessor, and her ambitions are even deadlier. Will and the crew must somehow rescue his mother, prevent an assassination, and show FBI Agent Ramirez the truth about the Corpses-and the danger the world faces.
But how do a bunch of kids prove to a grown-up that monsters are real?
Find Ty Online:
Website/Blog | Twitter | Facebook
Order Ty's Books Online:
Amazon | Barnes and Noble | The Book Depository
ENTER TO WIN ONE of FIVE Copies of QUEEN OF THE DEAD!!
- FIVE winners will each receive a copy of this title
Rules and how to enter -
- Please fill out the Rafflecopter form below to enter this giveaway.
- Name & Email Address must be provided. (Easy Entry, just click the form & it does it for you!)
- You must be at least 13 years old to enter.
- This giveaway is open to US residents only.
- Giveaway ends: November 19th, 2012 (12:01AM EST)
a Rafflecopter giveaway
Ty, it's great having you back on my blog for Haunted Halloween. LOVED your story, it is the perfect addition to our scary month long event.
Also, a HUGE thank you go Sourcebooks for donation the copies of Queen of the Dead for this giveaway.
REMINDER: *If you are interested in the COMMENT CONTEST, remember to include your email address with your comment for an extra entry.
Please ready full entry rules >>>HERE<<<