Lucy’s eyes were getting heavy waiting for her father’s return. Even though she had explored every tree, bush and pond on her father’s land, it seemed much scarier when he was gone. She watched the candlelight’s reflection on the window in her room. She normally felt safe in her room on the second floor of the huge mansion, but tonight she felt anxious because of the heavy rain storm outside.
Her father went into town to settle a business account and he promised to be home soon. “Soon” to a 16-year old girl is hard to define, but this was past “soon” for sure. The Civil War had changed many things in America, but her father had always found ways to make money in these troubled times. Lightning flashed again in the Alabama sky, exposing the driveway from the road to her house and she scanned to see her father’s horse and buggy coming in from the road. No buggy. Not yet.
Her eyes drifted to a light on top of a nearby hill. It was the Castleberry Sanitarium. Her father explained it in as delicate terms as he could. He called it a place for ‘troubled people’ and even with that soft-sided explanation there was a fear that surrounded those who were in Castleberry. Some nights Lucy would hear strange cries and screaming echoing down the hillside and drifting in her window. She told her father about it and he said, “Well honey, this land is filled with all types of animal life. Sometimes you can hear the animals talking to each other. They are just saying goodnight.” Even with those types of explanations to the children in the surrounding area, stories about escapes from Castleberry and the terrifying things that happened were whispered about by the children like ghost stories.
Most times, news of a Castleberry escape spread quickly, and the men nearby would ride out and search for them. Usually they would capture or kill the escapees, but a few times some living nearby were victims of the escapees cruelty before they were captured. Parents warned their children over and over to never open the door to strangers.
Lucy heard a pounding at the front door.
Was it her father? Another lightning flash lit up the sky and she looked for the familiar buggy. She scanned the driveway and out to the road, but no buggy.
The pounding continued.
Her father gave the hired hands strict instructions to keep an eye out for any strange goings on, but they were not coming around to check things out. Why? Who was outside?
Lucy grabbed the candle with her shaking hand, opened her bedroom door to a huge lightning crash. The only way she could know what was going on at the front door was to investigate herself. She slowly made her way down the stairs and toward the front door.
Maybe the person or thing went away. She sighed and turned around to go back to the sanctuary of her room thenshe heard knock, knock, knock.
Her hands began to shake again and she turned toward the door. Fear began to envelope her like an icy blanket. She inched closer and yelled, “Who’s out there?”
Knock, Knock, Knock.
She called out again “Who are you?”
A mournful cry was returned and the pounding continued. She knew that this must be one of the escapees. ‘What should I do?’ Her mind raced. ‘Wait’, she thought. The gun her father bought for protection, but where was it? She set the candle down and ran upstairs to find it.
On her way up to her father’s room she remembered hearing him move a chest of drawers before fetching the gun. She tried to move the large chest of drawers but it wouldn’t budge.
Knock, Knock, Knock.
She shoved and pushed, but it didn’t move.
A window broke downstairs. She had to get that gun. She pushed with all her might and finally the chest of drawers moved a little bit at a time, until she found a depression in the floor and the gun. She pulled out the heavy pistol and thought about what it meant for a moment.
She didn’t hear anything. Had the person crawled inside? Was the person hiding in the shadows somewhere, waiting to kill her? She lifted the pistol and walked out to the landing.
“I have a gun,” Lucy said, “Whoever you are. I will kill you”.
She walked down the stairs and saw the window with a huge hole in it. This was it. She stepped up to the front door again, took in a deep breath, and…
Knock, Knock, Knock.
Lucy lifted the pistol and pointed to where the sound was coming from, “I’m warning you – Go away!”
Another mournful cry came from the other side of the front door, and the pounding continued.
Lucy fired one shot at the door. A loud scream was heard. She fired again, and another scream was heard, then she could hear the sound of a body slumping down onto the front porch.
She listened for any other sounds.
She listened more.
She heard the back door unlock, and Lucy turned to see a silhouette of her father with his hat on walking in. She dropped the gun and ran to him.
As she approached him an arm grabbed her. She looked up and saw it was not her father. She screamed. “Now, listen little lady. I caught up to your Pa on the road. I had to get out of that crazy house up there, but he didn’t want to help me. I had to “convince” him and that’s when I took care of his tongue and sent him crawling home. Thanks for shooting him. You saved me the trouble. Now, what to do with you?”