The dress was sewn with care. The long slender sleeves have small caps at the shoulders, and the hem would have hung below the knees in a stylish drape. Small porcelain buttons align with neat buttonholes. Despite decades of sun, brutal Keweenaw winters outside the kitchen window, and a transition from home to coyote den to goat barn, the dress thins and fades.
Likely to disintegrate if touched, the dress has become an icon of Ghost House Farm.
My daughter Allison and her husband Drew raise goats, pigs, chickens, market crops, and flowers for bouquets. They farm like science nerds who love the writing of Brandon Sanderson, hip podcasts, D&D, wild spaces, and local food. Ghost House Farm is an expression of their life, creativity, and commitment to humanely raised food, soil, and water. They honor the land ancestors and immigrants who farmed (and mined) before them.
You’ve heard about my goats(es) and how they live in the ghost house. Drew and Allison have researched old property maps and know that as many as nine houses were on their farm. I’ve researched people who lived at the Franklin Junior Mine and farmed this property known a village called Boston Location. I’ve shared with you some of the cemetery stories that have ties to Boston Location. History lingers in the shadows of old orchards.
Until now, I’ve not had an actual ghost story to tell you.
It could be explained as a sleep disturbance. It’s a story that could have been a dream. It’s a story to question. But it is my story. An otherworldly experience.
Friday, Allison and Drew left for Wisconsin to attend a wedding. They have partnered with other young farmers in the area and have people to check their livestock and crops. They asked me to dog-sit and give blind-kitty snuggles. I even faked a diurnal cycle for a sick chicken in the basement. In exchange, I got to pick the market gardens for nightly kale salads and watch Our Flag Means Death on their HBO account. They even let me sleep in their bedroom where I could delight in air conditioning.
That’s where the farm visit went awry.
Normally, I sleep in the guest room/home office. But it had been a rare hot Keweenaw day and I don’t have air conditioning of my own. I was looking forward to a cool night’s sleep. The pups and I settled into bed and I began to drift off. I don’t know how long I was asleep but gradually I became aware of a strong energetic presence in the form of words.
I. DON’T. WANT. YOU. IN. MY. HOUSE.
Startled, I woke up immediately only to find myself in a state of sleep paralysis. In my 20s, sleep paralysis impacted me so badly, that I thought I was dying. That’s when I discovered I had PTSD. It’s been years since I’ve suffered from this condition, having retrained my sleep cycles through meditation, CBT, and EMDR. In that paralyzed state, my mind was fully awake but my body would not move and my voice would not work.
After numerous attempts, I finally yelled, “Fuck off!”
Not a classy response but an honest one. I unplugged the air conditioner, grabbed my pillow, and took the dogs to the guest room to sleep. It was hot but felt safer to me. I felt like whatever the presence was, it didn’t want me in Allison and Drew’s room.
The next morning a friend picked me up for a veteran’s funeral. It turned out to be a beautiful celebration of life and I found Pastor Bucky’s sermon to be profound and even a balm for what I had experienced the night before. When I told my friend the story, we both got goosebumps as I repeated the words. When I retold the story to her boyfriend he suggested it was a nightmare.
True. I had been thinking the same thing. But usually, it’s the other way around with sleep paralysis (at least from my earlier experiences with the condition). The paralysis happens first and the terror follows. Sleep disturbances can be triggering for me, but this was so intense that if it were merely a nightmare, why did it trigger a condition I have long overcome? I was more curious than scared.
At some point during the day, I decided to accept the incident as a ghostly message. I don’t see ghosts or channel ghosts, but I’m a cemetery story-collecter. I can perceive stories from minor clues that feed my imagination. The imagination is often disregarded as fantasy or “not real” but some of my greatest truths and epiphanies have emerged from this sensory organ.
As creative writers, we know the value of a good imagination.
Thus, I decided to channel a story. A ghost story from the woman whose dress hangs in the house turned goat barn. And what I discovered surprised even me (and I was the one writing).
She won’t tell me her name. She doesn’t know that I’m Allison’s mom, and she has no desire to connect with me. But she’s connected to my daughter. That idea concerned me until I realized that this ghost loves flowers, too. The farmhouse was never her house. She lived next door and had planted all the Sweet William, lilacs, pink roses, myrtle, globe thistle, monkshood, and oregano. She is the farm’s tree twister. She loved the beauty of the place and suffered great sorrow after her father died. She had never married but her brother got rid of her by sending her off to an asylum in Marquette.
Her breath, once released from her earthly body, found its way back to the land and flowers she had loved so much. Not all ghosts haunt. She tends to the seeds, buds, and flowers of Ghost House Farm. Her dress neatly hangs in the goat parlor and she is fine with the arrangement because she has another woman to share a love of floriculture.
Evidently, I disturbed her peace when I went to sleep in Allison’s room. She was telling me to get out on behalf of my daughter. They have flowers to tend and I’m a rock gardener. I remind her of the heavy-handed men who built the stone walls and mines near the farm. Allison is going to have to let her flower partner know, I’m just mum. And like rocks as beautiful as flowers.
Later that day, I cleaned the rooms upstairs with rosemary and selenite. I made the bed and promised never to sleep in Allison’s bed again. I understood how much energy it took for her to muster the warning to me and it happened at the juncture in sleep when one enters into dreaming. The same point in a REM cycle that — if disturbed — causes sleep paralysis. The perfect point for ghosts to speak.
That’s my ghost story and I’m sticking to it.
August 8, 2022, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about “the one who left the dress.” A 1940s-era dress still hangs in an abandoned house. Who left it and why? You can take any perspective and write in any genre. It can be a ghost story. Or not. Go where the prompt leads!
- Submit by August 13, 2022. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, please use the form. The Collection publishes on the Wednesday following the next Challenge. Rules & Guidelines.
- Carrot Ranch only accepts stories through the form below. Accepted stories will be published in a weekly collection. Writers retain all copyrights.
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- Please include your byline which is the name or persona you attribute to your writing.
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