My memory of Mrs. Jenkins* is that she was a kind old lady who always wore a smile on her face. She lived a few houses down the street from my childhood home, and I remember visiting her on more than one occasion with my mother. Every time we visited I wanted to explore her attic, but Mom always said, “No.” She said I was too young to go into the attic. I suspect she was trying to spare Mrs. Jenkins the inconvenience of having an inquisitive boy messing around with her stuff.
The idea of an attic fascinated me because we didn’t have one in our own home at the time. I imagined all kinds of interesting things in that attic. Mrs. Jenkins even told me that when I got old enough to go up the stairs she’d let me take something from it, or at least that’s how I remember it. At some point she gave to me a toy wooden circus wagon. Horses pulled the wagon and animals on wheels rode in it. I remember there being a giraffe. I don’t think I really ever got to go into the attic, but I remember the toy circus wagon coming from the attic. It’s funny how this memory makes total sense to me but most likely never happened.
At any rate, Mom repainted the wagon but she wouldn’t let me play with it. She said it was an antique. Instead of impressing me, this designation made me like the wagon less. What good is a toy you can’t play with? I’m sure Mom still has that wagon.
Several years later, Mrs. Jenkins died. I don’t know how she died, but the facts of her death didn’t matter to my friends and me. We made up a story that Mrs. Jenkins died in her house and that her house was haunted. It stayed empty for years (probably only months). Since I’d been in Mrs. Jenkins’ house and it had always been a pleasant experience, the story we made up about it being haunted didn’t scare me.
That’s why, on a hot summer day when we dared each other to break into Mrs. Jenkins’ empty house, I wasn’t afraid to do it.
In addition to an attic, Mrs. Jenkins’ house had a crawl space. With my friends egging me on, I pushed open the crawl space window and squeezed through. The only things I saw in the dark were the underside of the flooring above me, bone-dry dirt below me, and cobwebs in between.
Too synchronized not to be planned, I heard my friends scream in unison outside. I scrambled back out through the window to laugh along with them but they were long gone by the time I got out.
At that point I was a little spooked myself. I ran to an old shed on the edge of the property to hide. As my eyes adjusted to the gloom of the shed, I saw old tools, piles of junk, and some kind of mower. Back in the corner of the shed stood a man in overalls. Time stood still. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t move. And then the man moved, and all of a sudden I could move faster than I have before or since, more scared than I have ever been before or since.
I ran out of that shed and back home. I didn’t tell anybody what had happened. I didn’t think my friends would believe me and I thought I’d get in trouble if I told my parents what had happened.
Looking back on it, I’m pretty sure it was Mr. Parker* in that shed. Mr. Parker lived nearby and I don’t have any idea what he was doing in there. It wasn’t his shed. It could be he was borrowing a tool and when I came running in I surprised him and he hoped I wouldn’t see him. It could be he had a stash of whiskey in there. I’ll never know why he was there.
*The names of these long departed souls have been changed.