Skip navigation


I’ll never forget the summer of 1986. My father’s company sent him overseas to supervise the set up of their new office in Madrid. It had always just been my father and me, but the company would only pay for his accommodations, so it was decided that I would spend the summer with my grandparents in Missouri.

Grandpa Roy was a retired pastor. He had a giant, gray beard and unkempt hair and always reminded me of Dan Haggerty as Grizzly Adams. It seemed like he always had on a red and black tartan work shirt and a scowl. Grandma Babs told me once that he only smiled on Sunday, but I must have never been around when that happened.

Grandma Babs had been a school teacher. She had an anecdote regarding her years teaching for everything that ever came up. Sometimes, she’d tell me stories about the kids she taught that I’d really not want to hear; personal aspects of their lives that I could have gone without ever knowing. She was a thin woman, but had a kindly face that counteracted Grandpa Roy’s permanent frown.

I spent most of the summer trying to stay out of my grandparents’ hair as much as possible while at the same time be available if they needed me to do a chore or run an errand. It was actually what my father told me to do during the drive there.

“Just stay out of their hair,” he said, “And do what they tell you.”

We’d brought my bicycle, a rusty, red Huffy I had nicknamed “Old Yeller” in anticipation of the day I’d have to put it out of its misery. I rode Old Yeller all over town, looking for other kids to play with or just exploring because there was nothing else to do. There was an arcade in town, but I rarely had any money. Sometimes I’d find a quarter wedged in the cracks of the sidewalk or a dollar sitting in a puddle by the curb, but I gave those to Grandma Babs because I felt obliged to help pay for them feeding me.

One day, I found an old dirt road that ended at a stream, and I spent hours skipping stones in it. By the time I got back, it was getting on dinner time and Grandpa Roy was sitting on the porch waiting for me. He was scowling as usual.

“Where you been?” he asked me.

“I’m sorry, Grandpa Roy,” I said, “I was skipping stones and lost track of time.”

He raised his eyebrows and I could actually see his eyes for once. “You were down by the creek?”

“Yes. Yessir.”

“How’d you get there? You cuttin’ through people’s yards?”

“No sir, there was a road.”

“What road?”

“An old dirt road. Chapel, I think it was called.”

He eased back in the swing. Until that moment, I hadn’t noticed how he had started looming toward me. Sighing, he started pulling at his Grizzly Adams beard.

“There’s a road–”

“Sir?”

“Shut up! And listen.” He started waving his finger, gesticulating toward nowhere in particular it seemed. “Just beyond that one you was on. Two roads down from Chapel. It ain’t got no sign, but it’s called Old Mill Road on account of there bein’ a mill there once. There’s no houses to be seen on it ’cause no one lives there.”

He paused. “Rather, no one you should be knowin’ lives there.”

At that, he stuck his finger in my face and put on his preaching voice, the one that meant that you had better be listening. “You listen good, boy. You stay off Old Mill Road. It’s evil. The devil lives there.”

“Yessir.” I said instinctively leaning away from his imposing finger.

“Good,” He said, reverting back to a calmer state of angry, “Now get inside and wash up for chow.”

Well, naturally you can’t tell a child to stay away from something and not expect that child to be curious. But Grandpa Roy was intimidating, so I lasted about a week and a half before I started questioning whether he was just a crazy, old coot.

It was hot, the middle of July, and I was riding Old Yeller along the back roads where it was thick with forest and I could pull off and sit in the shade from time to time. I was exploring again, just following the edge of the road, turning down side streets and turning around whenever I happened upon a cul-de-sac. When I came by Old Mill Road, it was from the opposite direction and I didn’t even realize it. Like Grandpa Roy had said, there was no sign indicating where I was, just a stretch of dirt road with no distinguishing houses or markers.

About half a mile in, the road curved off into the woods, and as I approached the bend, a figure stepped out of the trees, startling me. It was a woman in a green summer dress, probably about the same age as Grandma Babs, with fine, white hair that seemed to flow like water off her head. She wasn’t thin like my grandmother, but she wasn’t fat either. I believe the term would be “well-proportioned”. I could tell that when she was younger she had been quite a looker, and she moved with the confidence of someone who knew that.

“Hey there,” she said in a sultry Southern intonation.

“Hullo.” was all I could manage. I felt somewhat ashamed that this old woman had startled me, and slightly unnerved by the fact that, despite her age, my heart seemed to leap excitedly at the sight of her.

“You’re Tucker’s boy, aren’t cha?” Her voice was like an angel’s. I’d swear I heard  the soft hush of a murmuring choir in the background each time she spoke.

“You know my father?” I asked.

“Not half as well as I’d like.” she said, looking off somewhere past me for a moment. Her eyes latched back onto me. “Did I startle you?”

I could feel my cheeks burning, “No, ma’am.”

“Why, you look flushed as Scarlet. It’s awfully hot out here, isn’t it? I’m used to the heat.”

I tried to swallow, but it felt like there was a stone in my throat. My heart was beating like I’d just raced a train across a trestle.

Her eyes, green, traveled down me and back up and she smiled again. I couldn’t take my eyes off her lips. “How’d you like to come inside and have a glass of sun tea? I’ve had some brewing all morning.”

My mouth felt strangely parched where it didn’t just moments before, and I could almost taste the cool tea on my tongue, but something in my stomach lurched, and it distracted me momentarily from the overwhelming desire to follow her.

“Inside?” It seemed a strange thing to ask, but I realized as I asked it that I hadn’t seen a house.

“Just around the corner,” she said with that beautiful Southern twang, and laughed. Her laughter echoed in my ears, and for a moment all I could think was what I would give to hear that laugh again.

“I’ve got some ice cold sherbet too,” she grinned, “Do you like sherbet? Come inside and rest a spell.”

“I–” I felt dizzy. My stomach was doing cartwheels.

“You look like you need to sit down, hun.”

“I’m sorry. I think I need to be getting home.”

“You stayin’ with your grandparents?”

I nodded dumbly.

“Well, you tell your Grandpa Roy that you had a nice chat with Sadie Hingle, okay?”

“Sadie Hingle.” I repeated.

“Your granddaddy and me know each other *real* well.” she winked and smiled at me again, but it didn’t feel warm and friendly anymore. “You tell him Sadie says hello. Tell him I miss his visits, and I look forward to seeing him again.”

“Yes, ma’am.” I stuttered.

Her smile faded, and suddenly she didn’t seem quite so beautiful. There was something malevolent beneath the surface that made me grip Old Yeller’s handlebars tight. My heart was racing again, not with excitement, but with a sense of foreboding.

She stared at me, her eyes clinging onto mine until somehow I managed to break my gaze and turn around. I got on Old Yeller and started pedaling. With each second I moved further back down the road, the tension in my chest seemed to ease. I glanced back over my shoulder, but the road behind me was empty.

It wasn’t until I had returned to the main road and been riding a while that I passed Chapel Road and realized what that meant.

When I got back to my grandparents’ house, Grandpa Roy was out front, fixing a rail that had come loose on the porch. I could see Grandma Babs in the backyard hanging laundry and singing to herself.

“Grandpa Roy,” I said in a nervous tone.

“Eh?” he looked up, “What is it?”

“Sir, I–” I swallowed hard, afraid to tell him that I had been on Old Mill Road.

He stood up and set the hammer down. That seemed to lower my anxiety a little, like I’d gotten it into my head that he was going to use it on me.

“I met Missus Hingle today. She said to say hello.”

“Ms. Hingle?” his forehead bunched up into an expression of puzzlement. “Who’s that?”

“Mrs. Sadie Hingle, Sir,” I said, “I ran into her today.”

“Sadie Hingle?” he paused a moment, then all the color seemed to drain out of his face. He glared at me. “How do you know who Sadie Hingle is?”

“I met her today, Sir. I accidentally went down Old Mill Road and–”

“You went down Old Mill Road!” the color came back into his face, and he turned crimson. “Did you forget what I told you?”

“No Sir, but I didn’t know–”

“GET INSIDE!” he erupted.

I ran in, frightened. Grandma Babs came in from the back carrying an empty laundry basket.

“For Heaven’s sake! What’s going on?” she inquired.

“I’m sorry, Grandma, I didn’t mean to–”

Grandpa Roy stormed in, slamming the front door. “He went down Old Mill Road after I told him not to!” he yelled.

“Oh, Roy–” Grandma Babs started to say something in my defense, but I didn’t give her the chance.

“I met Mrs. Hingle, but I just said hello and left!” I cried.

Grandma Babs went white as a sheet and stared off into space. “Sadie Hingle…” she whispered.

Before anything more could be said, Grandpa Roy twisted my ear and dragged me crying into my room, where he pulled off his belt and gave me a lashing like I’d never felt before nor since. I stayed in my room through dinner and the rest of the evening.

Around 9 o’clock, Grandma Babs came in quietly with a glass of milk and something to eat. She hugged me tightly and told me how I’d done nothing wrong, and that Grandpa Roy was wrong to have punished me.

“Who’s Sadie Hingle?” I asked her.

Her complexion paled again, but she sat down on the end of my bed and, checking out the door, started to tell me in a hushed tone. As she did so, she crossed herself.

“She was a parishioner at your grandpa’s church. She was a widow who lived by herself over on Weyland Street. Her husband died in the war long ago. She used to make ornaments and things to sell in town, but people often would help her out because she was all alone.”

“She said Grandpa used to visit her.” I whispered.

Grandma Babs blushed. I could see that she was trying to find the right words to say. “He… a lot of the men in town… helped her… with chores and such. That she couldn’t do on her own.”

“Why does she live on Old Mill Road now?” I asked.

“She doesn’t,” Grandma Babs replied, “she passed away ten years ago, before you were even born.”

Grandma Babs kissed me goodnight and took away the dishes, but that night I didn’t sleep a wink. In fact, I spent the rest of that summer not sleeping very well.

My grandmother passed away six years later from Leukemia. Grandpa Roy continued on for another ten in that house of theirs. My father and I visited them from time to time, but there was a tension between me and Grandpa Roy that hadn’t been there before that summer. It wasn’t until I was a teenager that I realized some of what Grandma Babs was avoiding telling me that night. By then, I had almost convinced myself that my encounter with Sadie Hingle had been a delusion, somehow caused by the intense summer heat.

When my grandfather died in 2002, I drove out and attended his funeral. I had expected it to be a big town affair, since he *had* been a pastor at the local parish for many years, but surprisingly not many showed up. Just a few people, including me and my father, a couple distant cousins and some guy I’d never met who shook my hand and gave me his condolences without even introducing himself.

After the services, I drove past their old house. It looked so rundown and deserted. The porch was on the verge of collapse. With his health waning, Grandpa Roy had given up on keeping the house in shape.

Continuing down the road, I remembered that summer in 1986, and the one day that forever defined my relationship with my grandfather. I found myself turning off onto a back road and driving past Chapel. I knew where I was going, but I didn’t know why. I guess something inside me wanted to see that road one more time, prove to myself that I had not actually been there and had not met Sadie Hingle, and get a sense of closure.

Old Mill Road was just like I remembered it. No sign at the turn, no houses… nothing at all had changed, and I felt a chilling sense of dread as I turned onto it and drove slowly down the dirt road.

It was getting dark, and the woods seemed to be looming in on me from both sides. I had to flip on my headlights, which cast everything in ominous shadow. It wasn’t long before I saw the road curve around that horrifyingly familiar bend, and I stopped the car and sat there, staring at it. Some small part of me wanted to creep forward and see what was around the corner, but a bigger part of me suddenly remembered the feeling when I was 9 years old and a pit had opened up underneath my stomach.

My finger hovered over the button to roll my window down, but inside my brain was in panic. I couldn’t explain why. There I was, on an empty road, surrounded by trees, and everything inside me was screaming to leave. My heart was pumping hard again, and my mind started teasing me with horrible ideas of seeing Sadie Hingle come walking around that corner with a smile on her face, only her green eyes were staring into my soul and there was no friendliness in the way she smiled.

I put the car in reverse and stepped harder than I should have on the gas, kicking up a cloud of dust. I almost lost control of the car, but slowed down and managed to keep on the road.

But you can’t go down Old Mill Road without a little something to keep you up at night. I made the mistake of taking a moment to glance back in front of me, where the headlights were shining on that dust cloud I’d kicked up.

There was the silhouette of a figure walking out of the dust. It wasn’t running, or making any effort to come after me, it just came forth from out of the darkness, perfectly cued with my panicked retreat and the fading headlights.

The only detail I could make out and that has kept me awake many nights since was the black and red tartan shirt it was wearing.

Originally posted on /r/nosleep

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: