by Kayanne Smith
As a young reporter, Ella Case was eager to take on any story to come across her desk, so when her Editor in Chief breezed into the office and requested she do the annual Haunting Story for the paper’s Halloween edition, she happily agreed.
Ella stepped out into the crisp autumn air and made her way down to the local library. Sure, she could stay chained to her desk and find just about any information she would need right at her fingertips, but she always enjoyed the hunt for information, thumbing through old books, newspapers, and microfilm, and of course her greatest source, the local people of Temple.
The Annual Halloween Haunting Story was usually something one would expect to hear around a campfire or in the wee hours of the morning at a slumber party, nothing with any depth, and definitely short on actual fact or history. Ella was determined to make this year’s story different, to write something more than just a “fluff” or “filler” piece, maybe even uncover a real life ghost story right there in Temple.
“Good afternoon Ms. Case,” the librarian trilled as she approached the front desk, “tell me dear, what exciting story are you working on today?”
“Well if you must know I’ve been assigned the task of writing the paper’s yearly Halloween Haunting story, and I really want it to be special this year, so I decided I’d begin as I always do with some honest to goodness research.”
Mrs. Cox clasped her hands in excitement. Ella never quite knew if she was really ever excited to hear about her assignments, or if she was simply being kind, nevertheless, it always made her feel someone actually did in fact care what she had to say.
“What creepy tale will you be sharing with the people of Temple this year?”
“I’ll be doing a piece on the old Wingarten Place,” Ella offered, when suddenly the old librarian’s whole demeanor changed. She had never seen this side of her, didn’t even think she was capable of having any emotion other than happiness.
“Mrs. Cox, are you okay? Did I say something to upset you?”
“Be careful my dear, there are some things – some stories, that should remain buried.” And with that, she turned and left Ella standing there not really knowing what occurred between them. All she did know was she absolutely had to find out what made that sweet, unassuming lady react as she had.
Ella combed through town histories, newspaper clippings, taking notes and making copies of anything that seemed odd and relevant to the topic at hand. As her research continued she learned the Wingarten Place was originally owned and built by Joseph Wingarten. It operated as a plantation and after the Civil War he’d been forced to sell the property and home to the state. After a few years it was restored and made into a hospital for the mentally challenged. Those members of society who were different – not necessarily dangerous, but perhaps misunderstood.
She hurried home, eager to go over her notes and do some research on the internet, thinking how she could take this story to the next level. It was rumored to be haunted, but had it ever been confirmed by anyone other than the local kids who had broken onto the property as a dare? Not that she could find. But amid all the supposed paranormal experiences recorded she not only discovered it was one of the most sought after locations to be investigated, but what exactly made Mrs. Cox react in the way she had earlier that day, her daughter, Sara Rue Cox a patient at the hospital before it been closed down for good, and had died as a result of “unknown causes”, which actually meant they’had taken one of those experimental treatments too far.
Over the next few hours she researched various paranormal groups and decided on one that seemed to have the best knowledge, equipment, and experience of any of the others. She jotted down their information and made a point to contact them the next morning. Ella spoke with the team leader and soon all the details were set for the upcoming investigation of the Wingarten Place.
On a gray and chilly October afternoon Ella met with the paranormal team to go over the process of the investigation, where to place cameras and audio recorders, and who would be teamed up to investigate. Ella would be joining each pair, observing how they gathered their data, and hoping to have her very on experience.
Throughout the course of the night each team seemed to be having unexplained experiences, but nothing more than what she would learn was a residual haunt. As she followed the final team through what used to be a beautiful home a chill came over her, and all the energy seemed to be sucked out of her. Had she just had a paranormal experience or was it just that she was standing in a drafty old home after a very long night? The common sense side of her leaned toward the latter, but it didn’t stop the nagging feeling that something wasn’t quite right.
After all the equipment had been gathered they parted ways, promising to get back to her as soon as all the data had been analyzed with a fine tooth comb. They were all hoping to find some extraordinary evidence!
Ella arrived home as the sun was just beginning to peek its head over the horizon. She was so tired, but energized at the same time, she just knew it had been a successful venture. She crawled into bed, falling into a deep sleep. She awoke later that afternoon and as she brewed a strong pot of coffee she stood under the stream of the shower allowing the warm water to envelop her and soothe the ache and chill that seemed to reach down to her bones, a cold she just couldn’t seem to shake.
She returned to work the following week and finally received the call she had been waiting on from the paranormal team she worked with. They found some pretty compelling evidence and were very excited to share all they found with her. Ella met with them the next afternoon and was overwhelmed with what they found, she couldn’t wrap her mind around all that was going on around them, not having heard most of it during the investigation. The team members gave her copies of all the data, which Ella would put up on the paper’s website for those who dared to listen.
Now that she had everything she needed, Ella began feverishly writing the story that was turning out to be all she hoped it would.
“Mr. Thompson, here it is, the BEST Halloween Haunting Story ever to be published in The Daily Temple,” Ella chided as she plopped the finished copy of her story onto his desk.
With a sigh, he glanced up at her with a bewildered look, “I’ll be the judge of that, Ms. Case. Now go home and get some rest, you look as if you need it.”
“Now don’t be a girl and get all sensitive and take it the wrong way. It’s just that you’ve been looking a little pale and drawn lately and I know how much you’ve put into this, though I can’t seem to understand why.”
For whatever reason, his last statement infuriated her. Yes, she put a lot of time and effort into this, but it was no different than any other story assigned to her. She didn’t half-ass any other assignment, why would she start now?
Spinning on her heels, and taking her boss completely off guard, she laid into him, “Well, maybe if everyone else around here put in the same kind of effort we’d have a much better paper!” She could not believe what she’d just done. Ella was usually mild mannered, never wanting to rock the proverbial boat, what was going on with her, she felt as if something was taking over, something she didn’t have any control over.
“Ms. Case I suggest you leave this office immediately and go home for an extended vacation! This is not a request, it’s an order!”
She ran out, not looking back, not wanting to see the disappointment on his face. She wondered if he would even run the story after the way she had behaved. Ella arrived home and threw her belongings on the ground, not caring about the mess it made, just wanting, no craving rest. She looked in the mirror and saw for the first time just how sick and tired she appeared and made an appointment for the following day to see the local physician. Over the past week Ella had barely been able to sleep, haunted by dreams which were beginning to feel more like memories than the nightmares they were. As badly as she wanted to sleep, she feared it at the same time.
The next morning she went to the doctor and was told just what she thought she would hear, “what you have dear is the common cold, all you need is rest and to let it run it’s course.” Feeling even more defeated Ella returned home where she stayed for the next two weeks, seeing no one, speaking to no one, living in what was becoming a daily hell. Nightmares becoming ever increasingly more vivid and horrible, being so cold no amount of clothing or blankets could warm her, and her appetite seemed to disappear more and more every day. She had to get some help, Ella felt as if her very self was being taken over by something, or was it someone? But who could help her, who would help her? She’d pushed everyone away, except for one person, Mrs. Cox. For reasons she couldn’t explain she was more and more compelled to reach out to her every day. Maybe it was because of her kind nature, or because she’d always to have some interest in her life, but it felt like so much more than that. Something far deeper than she could even begin to grasp. Ella grabbed her phone and dialed the number for the library, she had to see her, now.
“Temple Library, this is Mrs. Cox, how may I help you?” It was a greeting Ella had heard countless times, but today it almost brought her to tears, “Hello, hello? Is anyone there?”
Ella gathered herself, “Yes, Mrs. Cox, it’s Ella, could you come over? I-“…
Before she could finish her thought the sweet librarian interrupted her, “I’ll be right there.”
Her heart raced, Mrs. Cox just couldn’t believe what she’d heard over the phone. This had to be some horrible prank, or maybe it was the horrible memories Ella’s story and conjured up, the years of grief over losing her only child taking it’s toll. As she turned into Ella’s driveway she took in a deep, slow breath and made her way towards her door.
The door opened. Mrs. Cox let out a shriek. Standing before her was not the young, vibrant reporter she had come to love, but her dear deceased daughter Sara Rue Cox.
Kayanne Smith lives in Gainesville and works at The Coffee Shop, one of the few remaining drug store lunch counters, minus the soda fountain. When she isn’t working she enjoys reading, listening to music, traveling (which she wishes she could do more of), going to the theater and concerts, spending time with friends and family, and coming up with new creations in the kitchen. Kayanne has always enjoyed writing (admittedly it has been awhile), and is very excited to be included among so many talented writers!!