The Long Room

The home I grew up in was an Inn for travelers back in the horse and buggy days. It was an old English, salt-box style house. It had a parlor, front room, kitchen, dining room, and seven bedrooms. We had recently added an indoor bathroom and plumbing. There was a huge, black, wood-burning cookstove, that also provided heat for us. We eventually purchased a coal-oil stove to heat the parlor, then another to heat the front room. The bedrooms would get so cold in the winter, we would heat adobe bricks on the top of the stoves, and put them in the beds where our feet would be, to get them warm. We would pile heavy quilts on top of us. A person didn’t toss and turn much with all that on top of him. Somehow, we lived through it.

The one thing I didn’t think I would live through was the ‘long-room’. It was upstairs, and ran the entire length of the house. Travelers stored their trunks and baggage in there, while they rested from their long journey. Now, the room was a catch-all for everything not currently in use.

My brother is eight years older than I, and loved to tease me. “You better stay out of the ‘long-room’, you’ll disappear, it’s haunted.”

I already knew it was haunted. I was nine years old; I had been reading for four years now. I had a collection of comic books that any kid would envy. I guess I could recognize the signs of a real haunted house.

I wasn’t there while the house was still in use as an Inn, mind you, but the bedrooms still had the numbers over the doors. The longroom had no number, it was as if it wanted to be a mysterious unknown. The room was very dimly lit by two small bare lightbulbs; shadows were in abundance.

There might be anything hiding behind the shelves and wardrobes. The thing that really pushed my panic button, and stood those old goose-bumps right up, was the dark,

forbidding hole in the back wall. I figured one of the old time travelers got so tired of traveling, he decided to just stop, and make his home right there, through that hole, in the attic. You see, at night, and sometimes even during the day when I was home alone, I could hear him moving around. He must be quite old, and probably had a long grey beard.

His teeth would surely be rotten by now, and he was sure to smell bad. His clothes would really be ragged, but his knife would be sharp, and his guns well-cleaned.

My bedroom was right across the hall from one of the doors to the longroom. I had tried every way I could think of to lock the two doors, mine from inside, the other on the outside. I used ropes, wire, wedges, chairs and anything else I could get up there.

Old Bill, as I had taken to calling him, always found a way to get out. As I lay in bed, I could hear the old floorboards creaking. There were other sounds I couldn’t be sure of, but just as sinister. I wasn’t about to get up in the dark to check them out.

Sometimes during the day, I would muster my courage, and sneak into the longroom. Invariably I would feel my knees start to shake as I neared the black hole. As I looked around, I was sure things had been moved,

nothing too obvious, but it was as if I could sense differences. As I went out the door, I couldn’t help but hurl back, ” Ha, old Bill, you didn’t get me that time.”

I don’t know why I wanted to taunt him. I figured he would get me soon enough anyway.

One night I heard the floors creaking, other things rustling, and even the window panes rattling. I thought, “He must really be mad this time, I shouldn’t have been so mouthy, this afternoon.” I dove under the covers, burrowed to the bottom of the bed, and curled up shaking, as I waited for him to come for me. Those big old quilts were so heavy, I almost suffocated. I had to have air! I slithered towards the top of the covers. I speared my hand under the pillow, and made a sort of air passage. It was kind of like a submarine snorkel. I probably sounded a lot like a submarine, as I gasped air into my lungs.

I realized old Bill still hadn’t grabbed me, so I eased the covers down past my eyes. There was nothing near the bed. It took me quite awhile, but I finally fell asleep.

I had a huge breakfast of wheaties the next morning, and was beginning to feel like a champ myself. I tried to make light of the episode the night before, as I related it to my father. I didn’t realize how perceptive he could be.

I had just started in on a really good comic book, when dad came up to me, “I need your help, son. When we installed the new water heater, I forgot to tag the wire in the attic. I need you to take a flashlight in there. The

wires are back toward the east wall. I’ll tug on the heater wire, and you put this tape around it.”

Have you ever had that sick feeling, like when your heart has followed your veins right down to your toes? Well, my chin must have followed my heart. Dad looked at me closely. He put his hands on my drooping shoulders and said, “Son, I know you can do this.”

That hole looked like the mouth of a dragon. I put the flashlight in first. Nothing happened. I stuck my head in, and followed the beam of the flashlight as far as I could, then crawled all the way in. There was nothing, and nobody in sight, no signs that anyone had ever lived in there. This time, I almost passed out from relief. I forgot all about the wires, and crawled back out.

I found dad in the exact place I had left him. The slight nod of his head told me. I had won a major battle that day.

The longroom was just for storage, and that dark hole in the back wall, that I had feared, merely accessed the attic.

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