I'll Tell You a Story

Every so often, you'll find a new story here just to read for pleasure or to give you a glimpse of my writing style to see if it's what you'd enjoy in a longer book. Feel free to give me your feed back!  

Them Bones Gonna Rise


She waited a week before revealing the secret, although she wasn’t sure just why. It had come upon her so unexpectedly, consuming her whole psyche as it were. What had started as a simple smoothing out of the dirt-packed basement floor had swelled to something she wanted to keep to herself for her own reasons.

“You’ll love this house, Mrs. Ketchum,” the real estate agent assured her. “It’s move-in condition. Well, maybe except for the basement, but you won’t need that with all the storage in the garage and the building for your lawn care equipment in the back yard.

“Just how old is this house?” Joyce asked, running her fingers over the carved newel post at the bottom of the broad, curving staircase which all but disappeared before it reached the second landing.

The woman consulted her clipboard. “Built 1890 by the Sterling Randolph, head of a prominent early family in Brookings. Or so it says. I’d suggest you consult the original abstract, of course.”

“I’d like to know if there’ve been any structural changes.”

“The owners provided me with a contractor’s statement about the remodeling done six years ago. Mostly cosmetic. Some rewiring and plumbing to bring everything up to code. Oh, and I see it says the supports under the side porch were replaced. The basement door is under there.”

“Does the basement run the length of the house?”

“I don’t think so. Most old homes were built over excavated foundations, of course.”

“My husband was a contractor, so I know about these things. He’d expect me to ask.”

“You said he died a long time ago.”

“Eight years. I helped run the business, and there were things to finish up. Then I traveled a few years, but now I’m ready to settle down again. We’d always planned to retire to an older home and remodel to suit ourselves.”

“But you like what the owners have done here?”

“Very much. I like he neutral colors and the fact they kept the original floors and woodwork. The wainscoting is lovely.”

“And it’s not too big for you?”

“Oh, no, not at all.”


“None of those. We weren’t blessed with children.”

“Oh, I’m sorry.”

“It’s all right. Glen would say I’m just getting my second wind now, and I intend to sail with it.”

“You have a wonderful attitude.”

Joyce smiled. “A bad one wouldn’t help, would it?”

     She moved in on the first of October just as the leaves on the oak trees were beginning to turn. From pictures of the house she’d found in the town’s museum, she knew some of them had been here as long as the house. They were family.

Her furniture fit in well, although she had to supplement with a few pieces from the local antique and thrift stores. She especially liked her second-floor bedroom with the large sitting alcove boasting a bay window with a window seat overlooking the side lawn beyond the port-cochere. The small fireplace would, with a new gas heater, make the room a cozy retreat in winter.

By the end of October she was ready to investigate the rest of the house outside and beneath. The basement door, no longer difficult to open since she’d installed a new lock and oiled the ancient hinges, swung back easily, allowing the musty smell of a long-enclosed space to envelop her. Her first project in the spring would be to install a new floor over the dirt one, but for now, she could smooth this one out.

Using Glen’s heavy roller, she began to walk back and forth over the hard-packed gray dirt. About three feet from the back wall, which she’d calculated would come half-way under the sun room, the roller sank abruptly. She jerked it upright and went to investigate. “I knew I’d have to have this floor leveled before installing a new one, but…”

She moved the roller aside and peered into the gap it had left between the wall and the rest of the floor. Then she realized it wasn’t a gap but rather a hole--and something was down there. She hurried upstairs for a flashlight and returned for a closer look. Definitely something down there. Finding an old broom in one corner, she used the handle to poke around in the hole.

When it snagged something, she hesitated, then brought it to the surface and found herself looking directly into the empty eye sockets of an intact skull. Most women would’ve dropped it and run screaming, but Joyce wasn’t most women. “Well,” she said, “what are you doing down there?”

Another look revealed the ends of bones sticking up grotesquely from the now widening hole as the dirt began to fall in around them. “This will cost me a pretty penny,” she said. She laid the skull aside. “Filling leveling…oh, and not to mention removing whoever’s down there and finding him--or her--a new home.”

She rose, brushed the knees of her jeans, turned out the light, and locked the door behind her. I’ll have to think about all this. No one needs to know for now.

She found herself humming, “Dem bones gonna rise again,” as she showered that night. When she woke in the morning she remembered how she’d dreamed they had indeed risen, reattached themselves, and marched out through the unopened door.

After breakfast she walked downtown to the local museum where she’d already become acquainted with Jeremiah Jackson, the local historian. He hadn’t been forthcoming with his age, but she pieced together a few clues and decided he must’ve lived in Brookings since the 1920s.

“Ah, good morning, Miss Joyce,” he greeted her, straightening from a glass case he’d been rearranging. “All settled in the new place? Or rather, the old one. Old Sterling’s Showcase.”

“Pretty much. Why do you call it old Sterling’s Showcase?”

“Because that’s what it was. He built it for his young wife who, rest her soul, died when their third daughter was born. Then he used it to showcase his daughters. Rilla, Reyna, and Rosamund.”

“He doted on them.”

“To put it mildly. I was closer to Rosamund’s age, not that she ever noticed me. But then, I was just a poor boy from the wrong side of the tracks who mowed their lawn and weeded the flowerbeds.”

“Did the girls marry?”

“Yes, and quite well, and all of them moved away from Brookings.”

“What about Sterling?”

“Oh, he stayed until he died.”

“When was that?”

“Right at the end of the war--the second, not the first. When Rosamund married and left home, he closed himself up in that place and just withered away.”

“So he’s buried in the cemetery at the edge of town.”

“Well, yes and no.” Jeremiah poured two cups of the coffee he kept warm on a hotplate summer and winter and pushed a mug across the desk toward Joyce.

“Yes and no? Either he’s there, or he’s not. Or so it seems to me.”

“Well, it seemed that way to a lot of folks. The girls--who weren’t girls anymore--came home when milk and newspapers started piling up on the front porch. His lawyer called them and said he couldn’t raise Sterling by phone or the doorbell or pounding on the door.”

“That’s sad.”

“The undertaker came to the house, and the next thing you know, out comes a casket right into the back of the hearse, and it went straight to the cemetery.”

“There wasn’t a funeral?”

“Well, yes and no. People saw the hearse and sort of like the Pied Piper of Hamlin, they started following it. Nigh onto two hundred eventually got out there, at least according to the newspaper.”

“He was respected then.”

“Yes and no. He was a hard businessman. That’s how he made his fortune and kept it even when most folks lost theirs during the Depression.”

“Oh, I think I understand. What happened to the house after he died?”

“It sat empty for a long time. I think the girls scavenged it for whatever they wanted. Then they sold it sometime in the early fifties. It was a boarding house for about ten years.”

“What kind of people lived there?”

“Well, I don’t like to say.”

“You don’t mean…”

He winked. “Let’s just say they didn’t work in town during the day.”

“So who owned it?”

“Nobody seemed to know.”

“Then what happened. I mean, after the girls left.”

“Then it just sort of sat there again. Finally, the Bradshaws bought it and did a lot of work. And then you bought it.”

“It’s certainly had an interesting history. Are any of the girls still alive?”

“Rosamund was last I heard.”

“No grandchildren?”

“Nope, nary a one.”

“Where’s Rosamund?”

“In New York. She married some high-up on Wall Street.”

Joyce made a pretense of looking at an exhibit of old postcards on her way out the door. When she got home, she went straight to the basement. The skull sat grinning on the edge of the hole. “So, I wonder…” She picked it up and turned it over in her hands. “I just wonder.”

She wondered for four more days, then went back to see Mr. Jackson. “I was wondering if anything exciting ever happened at the house.”

“While it was occupied or empty?”

“Either one.”

“Before the girls sold it, the story got started it was haunted. Schoolboys used to prowl around at night looking for a ghost.”

“Did they ever find one?”

“Not before the police found them and ran them off.” He chuckled.

“What else?”

“Well, the girls used to come back every summer for a couple of years. Nobody saw much of them in town. They were packing up what they wanted, I guess. When they got it, they were done. I heard they tried to sell it, but they wanted too much money.”

“But they sold it to somebody. The mysterious owner who moved in all those girls.”

“Guess they came down some.”

“And nobody knew who bought it?”

“Somebody knew. They just weren’t telling, but I always thought…” He seemed to be considering his next words. “I always thought it was Rosamund.”

“She bought her sisters’ interest?”


“Why would she turn it into a…”

“Who knows? She was wild in her day. Drove old Sterling out of his mind. But it was his own fault. He spoiled her. Spoiled all the girls. I always thought if she did buy it she did it as a last dig at her daddy.”

“That seems pretty…mean.”

“She was. Is. Mean. Like I said, I worked for the old man when I was a boy. He paid me good, and that made the difference for my mamma and me. My pop ran off and left us when I was about three, and Mamma took in wash. So when I was big enough to work, what I brought home kept the wolf from the door.” He shook his head. “But Rosamund…I always hoped she wouldn’t know I was there ‘cause she’d sit on the porch and taunt me.”

“Didn’t her father have something to say about that?”

“He couldn’t do anything with her.”

“How did she taunt you?”

“About most anything she could think of. She used to say she’d kill me and bury me in the basement, and then my mamma would never see me again. She said I was a raggedy boy who lived in a shack, and m mamma was an ignorant washerwoman. My mamma. It was what she said about my mamma that got to me most.”

“I can imagine.”

“The last time I saw Rosamund…” His voice trailed off. “Well, it’s not important. And I fooled her. I went to college and studied engineering, and I moved my mamma out of that place by the river and…I always thought it would be something if I could buy that house and move Mamma in there. It would serve Rosamund right.”

Joyce thought the man’s jaw tightened, and she knew she saw something dangerous in his eyes. “I’d say you did all right for yourself,” she said softly. “When was the last time you saw Rosamund?”

He shook his head. “I don’t remember. I never saw her again.”

Joyce stood up. “She doesn’t sound like a very nice person.”

“But you are. And the Bradshaws were nice. I used to go over there--I was retired by then, you understand--and talk to them about the trees and the shrubs…what flowers to plant where for the best growth. I knew all that because I’d done it. They always appreciated my advice. And I told them not to use the basement because…”

“Because why?”

“Doesn’t matter. It’s wasted space.”

“Yes,” Joyce said, starting for the door, “it’s wasted space.”

      The police chief didn’t believe her at first. “You gotta be kidding!”

“Come see for yourself.”

“You bet I will!”

He followed her back to the house and into the basement. The grinning skull caught him off guard. He uttered a word for which he had to immediately apologize. “I’ll have to get somebody over here from St. Louis,” he said. “I don’t have the resources to deal with this.” He turned his back on the unwanted visitor from Beyond. “Just stay out of here until I get back in touch.”

It took the forensic investigators two days to find and remove all the bones from the basement, but when they invited Joyce down to look at how they’d laid them out, she knew they’d found a complete skeleton. “Any idea how old it is?” she asked.

“Twenty, twenty-five years. Not the age but how long it’s been down there.”

“And of course, you don’t have any idea who it is?”

The police chief scratched his head. “This house has a history, but so far’s I know, nobody connected with it ever went missing.”

“Are there any members of the original family still alive?” Joyce asked with the innocence of a child.

“I doubt it, but I’ll find out.”

He did. Two weeks later, he came to see Joyce off the record as he called it. "Sterling Randolph, the man who built the house, had three daughters. The youngest one married and moved off to New York. Then about twenty years ago she told friends she was coming back to live in Brookings. Nobody who was here then remembers her ever showing up.”

“What’s the story on the skeleton?”

“Female. Older…maybe sixty, sixty-five.”

“How old would Rosamund have been then?”

His mouth twisted. “Sixty-five.”

“You think…”

“Who knows?”

“And who cares?”

“I heard she was a nasty sort.”

“I heard that, too.”

“From Jeremiah Jackson?”

Joyce nodded.

The chief’s mouth twisted again. “Well, with no way to identify the remains, they’ll go to a pauper’s grave.”

Joyce pretended to sigh. “Sad. Very sad.”

      The next time she was downtown, she went by to see Jeremiah Jackson. “Did you hear the latest on the skeleton I found in the basement?”

“I heard.”

“I just wondered. Did you ever think about writing a book on the history of Brookings?”

“Not really.”

“Well, the bones in the basement would make a better fiction story anyway.”


Joyce smiled. “Maybe you’ll write that someday.”

Jeremiah smiled back. “Maybe.”

 Copyright Judy Nickles 2017