(photos by the phenomenal Betty Bishop)
A wind whistled across the barn and blew right through my bones. This was the coldest winter in forever. Even too cold to snow.
I stood at the bottom of the ladder and looked back at my little sister. She had one foot inside the barn, the other outside, ready to take off.
“Come on, Rosie. Don’t be such a wuss,” I yelled. “Besides, he’s not even up there.” I stretched my neck back as far as it would go and looked up to the top of the rafters. No owl in sight.
“You are the most annoying brother,” she said, taking a tiny step forward.
I don’t know why I even try. My sister is afraid of everything that moves. Which means she’s afraid of just about everything except the walls and furniture. And sometimes even those because our dining room table wobbles, seeing as how one leg is too short.
“Dad said to stay away from the nest,” she said, as I started up the ladder. “Besides, it’s the first night of Hanukah and she could be here. Please, come back down.”
“There’s no such thing as a ghost,” I said.
“Kids, it’s getting dark.” Mom’s voice drifted across the meadow. “Jake. Rosie. Get back here, right now.”
“Let’s go,” Rosie jiggled the ladder.
She didn’t wait for my answer. From my spot, I saw her running through the meadow toward our house. As she reached our back porch, the blue and white twinkly lights came on framing our fence, our roof and almost all the windows.
Almost, because on my window half the lights didn’t work. But what did I expect? It’s always about cute little Rosie who does everything right and my big brother, Ethan, who is so smart, my parents are sure he’ll be president someday. What’s the chance of that ever happening?
A blast of icy air hit me in the face. I climbed up a few steps, slowly, feeling the way with the toes of my boots. One more and, yes, there was the nest. It was made from twigs and colored yarn and…was that doll hair? Eww. From my sister’s creepy doll with the missing eyes.
I couldn’t see inside the nest from where I stood but my hand reached the edge. I felt something cold and pointy. My fingers wrapped around it.
Eeeeeeeeeeee. The owl’s raspy scream cut into my ears and right through my brain. The air swept around me like I was in the middle of a million fans. I tucked my chin into my neck, clutched the ladder with my free hand and slid to the ground. I squeezed my eyes so tight, the veins in my neck hurt.
As I hit the dirt, the owl dive bombed at my back. I buried my face in the ground with my arms over my head. My heart sped as fast as a race car. Everything in my life spun around me. Mom. Dad. Rosie. Ethan. Mindcraft. Hockey. Skiing. Hot chocolate. Grandma. Bye bye world.
But the world didn’t end. Instead, for one split second the owl’s humongous wings flapped above me and I saw my chance. I dragged myself up and ran for the door.
Our house seemed a million miles away. I clutched the pointy object and bolted as fast as lightning.
Old Man Spike, who used to live in our house, stood near our back porch. His torn winter coat glowed in the light cast from our house. For a one split second, he even shimmered. I didn’t have time to talk with him. I barely nodded as I hopped up the steps. I flung open the door and leaned on the kitchen counter, panting in front of my whole family.
“Where have you been?” Mom asked.
Didn’t she notice my arms and legs shaking like crazy? Didn’t anyone notice?
“What’s that in your hand?” Dad asked, as he sliced the turkey.
I opened my palm. “I don’t know,” I said, staring at an old, dirty driedel.
I smeared the dirt off, revealing the four symbols: nun, gimel, hey and shin. But there was something else printed, “Spike and Olivia. May 2, 1950,” I mumbled.
“That’s her. The lady that died in the barn on Hanukah,” Rosie said, hugging herself like a baby.
“You mean, the one Spike murdered.” Ethan tried to grab the driedel from my hand. “Let me see it.”
“He didn’t kill her,” I said, holding the ornament against my chest. “He couldn’t kill anyone. Did he, Dad?”
“Well, her body was never found,” Dad said. “When they searched the barn, all they discovered was lot of old junk from Spike’s toy store.”
I held the driedel in the air. “What do you think, Mom?”
“I think you should get that dirty old thing out of here.” She scowled at me as she carried plates to the table.
“I’m going to put it on the mantle next to the menorah,” I said, leaving the kitchen.
“No, you are not!” Mom waved a fork in my direction. “Just throw it away.”
Mom’s evil eye burned into my back as I walked toward the living room. Instead of going to the fireplace, I opened the front door and sat down on the porch with the driedel on my knees.
It was the type where the top came off, and gelt would be stuffed inside. I picked it up by the spinner, trying to open it. I jigged and twisted, and finally it cracked a tiny bit, but still wouldn’t budge. As I balanced it on the palm of my hand, a gob of dust rose out of the crack like a snake and traveled up my nose. I sneezed about ten times.
I batted at the dust, or whatever is was. Because now it looked like old, curling witch fingers. I moved to the driveway, but the fingery blob followed me. It followed me everywhere, wrapping me in webs that stuck to my skin.
And then I heard a voice. “I don’t want to hurt you.”
Hurt me? My heart slammed against my chest.
I made a three sixty in the driveway. “Who’s there?” I shouted.
The wind answered with a long, low cry. The webs separated for a second. Whoosh! I was sucked into a tunnel. Down. Down. I curled into a ball, hugging myself. Gasping for air. And then everything stopped. Stillness. Silence. Nothingness.
I wasn’t any place I had ever been in my entire life. I couldn’t see anything around me. There were no sounds. No smells. I was nowhere!
A light flashed. Out of nowhere a scene appeared, hanging in front of me like a hologram. It was Old Man Spike, but he was young with lots of curly hair, and he was holding hands with a girl. Olivia. It had to be her.
“Meet me at the barn, at midnight,” Young Spike said.
The world spun around again. This time when it stopped, I saw Olivia writing a note. “I love you,’ she said. “But I can’t be here at midnight. It’s our Hanukah dinner. Meet me at the bus tomorrow morning. If you’re not there, I’m leaving forever.”
She tacked the note on the shiny barn door. After glancing around and waving at the cows, she walked out into the meadow. A ginormous blast of wind shook the barn. The note fell to the ground, drifted into the corner and was buried under a pile of dirt.
Proof! Spike didn’t kill her. I had to tell someone. I ran forward, smacking into a dirty window. I turned around and bonked my head into another window. My forehead throbbed. Was there no way out of this place? A tiny stream of light beamed down from above my head. I tried climbing up, but I kept slipping.
“Jake! Where are you?” Rosie called.
“Here,” I yelled. But nothing came out of my mouth.
I screamed, silently pounding on my prison walls. As I stared, a Hebrew letter came into focus. A nun. Do nothing. And then a big eye stared at me. Rosie’s eye. Fricken Chicken! I was inside the driedel. No way was this possible. But it was. Because next I stared into Rosie’s ear, all waxy and ugly. And up her boogery nose.
“Mom, I can’t find him,” Rosie said. “All I see is this old driedel he found.”
And then I was spinning around again.
“Help me!” I pounded on the smeared glass. “I’m in here. Rosie. Stop spinning me and get the top off.”
This time when I stopped, I saw the Gimel through the dirty window. Player takes all.
I rose up. “Do something,” I screamed. I waved my arms in the air and stomped my feet.
“Oh no,” Rosie cried, as the ground dropped from under me. “I broke it.”
The dreidel shattered. My insides were totally whacked out. But I was back on the driveway. Back to normal size.
“OMG! Jake.” Rosie bit on her fingertips. “Where did you come from?”
“I don’t know what happened,” I said. And I didn’t have time to think about it. “We have to go the barn. Now! I know Spike didn’t kill anyone. And I need your help.”
“Please, you can sleep in my room tonight if you want,” I said.
I grabbed Rosie by the hand and dragged across our backyard and through the meadow. As we reached the barn door, the owl swooped us and into the night.
“Gaaah,” I cried as his wings skimmed the top of my head.
“I thought you weren’t afraid,” Rosie said.
“I’m not,” I lied. “Stay right here. Watch for him to come back.”
Moonlight slithered through the open slats in the barn. Long, skinny shadows bounced around on the ground, like dancing ghosts. I kept looking back at Rosie, making sure she hadn’t deserted me.
Down on my hands and knees, I crawled into the corner where I saw the note had fallen. The barn rattled all around me. Something long hung over my head. Whatever it was, it scratched and moved slowly down the wall. I couldn’t look up. But I had to. Toes dangled above me. A body?
My breathing was jagged and painful. But I kept digging, tossing dirt and leaves out of my way. The wind howled through the barn. The scraping grew louder.
“Watch out,” Rosie shouted.
Thud! A netted bag landed at my feet. Heads and arms poked through the openings. I gasped. Dolls. Just frickin’ chicken dolls. My heart pulsed and pounded.
I went back to searching through the dirt. Finally, my hands touched an old piece of crumpled paper.
“Let’s go.” I grabbed Rosie’s hand and took off running.
“Hey, Spike,” I yelled, seeing him walking by our fence. I waved the note in my hand. But he didn’t hear me. He grew fainter, although he didn’t seem to be moving.
I wanted to run after him, but I didn’t want to let go of Rosie’s hand.
I barged through the back door. “Mom. Dad.” I shoved the note in their faces. “Old Man Spike didn’t kill anyone. Olivia left town. Read this. They loved each other.”
“Oh, be still my heart,” Ethan clasped his hands over his chest.
But for once, my parents took me seriously. With Dad looking over Mom’s shoulder, they studied the letter.
“I’m right, aren’t I? We have to tell Spike. Can we invite him in for dinner?”
“Oh, Honey,” Mom put her arm around me. “Spike died last week. In his sleep.”
“But I…I just..” I thought about how he shimmered and looked so thin and see -through. Like a ghost.
A lump the size of a soccer ball, bounced in my throat. “We need to let the police know. And everyone in town.”
“We will,” Dad said.
“But poor Old Man Spike.” I stared out our kitchen. Snowflakes started falling onto the meadow.
“He’s okay,” Rosie said. “Ghosts know everything.”
Happy Hanukah to all who celebrate. Watch for Tina Ferraro’s Christmas story, coming soon!