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Old Man Morton

by KH Obergfoll about a year ago in Short Story
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K. Obergfoll

photo--stock--adobespark

Hay lined the dusty floor as Tempest McCallum made her way up to the loft of the old Newhouse Barn, careful not to be noticed by anyone else. The structure was the only inhabitable place left on the sprawling fifty acre estate. A few hundred yards away the Newhouse’s once towering home lie boarded up in shambles, falling apart from the inside out.

Tempest often found solace in the quiet dark of the cool loft; she could still smell the animals that had once called this place home and now it was her sanctuary. For weeks she had been sneaking out to the barn nearing dusk and had forged a small room up in the rafters complete with a makeshift bed right under the large circular window that overlooked miles of farmland. She often wondered what had become of those who lived and died here. It was truly a magnificent place, the most beautiful she had ever seen.

Most nights she would lie awake watching for any sign of life in the nearby windows as she slowly drifted off to sleep. She had become quite accustomed to the groans and creaks in the old barn and hadn’t seen a soul for miles. She wasn’t worried about someone finding her and as it were, many of the townsfolk steered clear of the Newhouse Farm so she didn’t reckon she would run into anyone. The farm and its sprawling acres was deemed haunted—having such a sordid and mysterious past didn’t help—or at least, that is what the stories would have you believe but young Tempest McCallum was not one to run from adventure or a little scary story. In fact, that is what drew her here to begin with, she was intrigued…curious even. She had to get to the bottom of what really happened here. She wanted to know once and for all if the rumors and legends were true.

As the stories all go, Old man Morton—as everyone called him had quite the reputation. He was a mystery in himself. No wife or kids, no family, no nothing. One day he vanished leaving behind his farm and the animals. Nothing was ever seen of him again, it was always assumed he had just died or relocated but Tempest found those stories to be too convenient. No one just disappears without reason. She allowed herself to slowly slip into a deep sleep, thinking of where to start next in her search when she was awakened by a flicker of light up in the middle room of the second floor.

She immediately jumped up allowing her eyes time to adjust—did she just see what she thought she had? Was someone in the home? Whatever it was wasn’t visible anymore. Tempest slowly slipped out of bed and made her way down the shaky ladder as she tip-toed across the yard. The moon illuminated most of the path for her so she knew whoever was up there had probably seen her as she made a quick bee-line for the front door.

She hesitantly put one foot on the step as she stared at the faded sea-green colored door with slices of paint rolling in fragmented waves towards the lead-lined glass of the side windows. It had been over a decade since anyone had been inside and she wondered how someone could have gotten in. She had scoured the house earlier in the day and couldn’t find a way in that didn’t require making a bunch of noise and she didn’t want to damage anything so she had put it off but now…she knew she had to get in. There was no time to wait until tomorrow.

Tempest pulled a small metal hooked- tool out of her bag as she weighed out all her options—at this point if someone was in there, they would have surely seen her. She couldn’t turn around now and with that—she hooked the piece of wood and pulled with all her might as she ripped the boards off of the door. She gently turned the knob. To her surprise the door was unlocked. As she pushed the door open it screeched loudly causing Tempest to recoil as the moon light bathed across the wooden floors. Even more of a surprise was how pristine the home looked. It was as if it had recently been lived in—all the furniture was neat, tidy and in place—a stark contrast to the outside. The only thing missing was food on the table and a roaring fire in the fireplace.

It such a disparaging sight as she expected to walk into a floorless room with the roof caved in all the way through to the basement. She had hoped for an empty house full of cobwebs and overgrown fauna but what she got was even more confusing. Tempest slowly walked over to the stairs as she made her ascent—careful to not make much noise as she lightly stepped onto the carpeted boards beneath her feet. The home was dark but somehow felt like the lights were on as she reached the top and stopped just short of the landing gripping the hooked tool tightly in her sweaty hand. She was ready for whatever fate lie in front of her as she peered down the hall to the closed doors.

Tempest took a deep breath as she summed up what was left of her nerves. She walked towards the middle of the hall as she thought about which door she should enter first. Before she could think it through further, she instinctively reached for the last door on the left. She flung it open and found an empty room—no closet, no furniture, nothing; just two windows and a door. What a strange room—she thought to herself as she shut the door behind her.

She was growing impatient. It was now or never…what else did she have to lose? Tempest went over, pushed the middle door open and was stunned to find a room full of toys. What an odd thing to have in the house of a man who had no family. She walked past the mess and towards the window where a lone snow-globe sat bathing under the light. As she held it in her hand, a magnetic feeling came over her and a bright light flashed in front of her face. She felt a zap of electricity course through her body as she dropped the snow-globe at her feet. The last thing she saw was the shimmery ball of snow rolling off the carpet under the bookshelf as she was hurled into pitch blackness.

Before long, Tempest awoke to find herself on a soft bed of moss. She was in some sort of forest. As she looked about she didn’t recognize anything. She could smell the familiar scent of wood burning and got up to follow the smell. Nearby about a half-mile through the woods was a small hut-like cabin. Thin plumes of white smoke curled through the tree tops. Tempest ran towards the cabin looking for any sign of whoever was home. Tempest needed to find some food. She was sure it was nearing morning but didn’t know for sure how long she had been out.

As she peered through the neatly arraigned cabin she saw the same immaculate and tidy appearance that had surprised her back at the Newhouse farms. Everything was in place. It was then she saw a man in a red flannel shirt bumbling about the far side of what appeared to be a kitchen. She could hear him humming to himself as he continued chopping vegetables. As he spun gracefully between the counter and the fireplace she watched as he tossed the contents of a skillet pan as the smell of simmering meat and potatoes wafted past her.

He walked over to the table a few feet from her face as she lowered herself from sight as he poured the veggies onto two plates. She scrambled down towards the wood pile as he came out the front door next to her. Before she knew it she was face to face with the man. He was much older looking out in the sunlight but she recognized his handsome features—“Old man Morton”—she exhaled.

“I knew you weren’t dead” Tempest declared as she watched wearily as the man wiped his hands on his apron.

“Not in the slightest. In fact, I have been waiting for you to come. I made us breakfast” he began as he motioned for her to follow. Tempest followed, confused. Her apprehension was clear but she didn’t have many options and the food smelled so good.

He motioned her to join him at the table. Tempest didn’t object as she quickly scarfed the food down. Old man Morton slowly ate as he watched her devour the contents of her second helping of food. “It took you long enough to find me” he exclaimed as Tempest looked at him, a puzzled expression on her face. “I know you have been staying at my farm. I saw you a few times and left some odds and ends for you to keep you warm”.

Tempest knew he was referring to the stack of blankets that had been left on a shelf in the barn. That was awful kind of him. She slowed her momentum. There were so many questions and she didn’t know where to begin. “You’re house is not haunted” Tempest stated—her tone was matter-of-fact.

“No, it’s not” Old man Morton answered quietly. “It’s just empty, unloved. I don’t want it to be forgotten. When I found out you were sleeping in my barn I decided something had to be done. I knew you would see the light in the window and find me. It was a matter of time”.

Tempest nodded her head as he continued—“the house itself is magical if you weren’t aware. It has many secrets but I can’t keep taking care of it. I only come back once a week to inspect it, I come and go through the snow-globe—a neat trick huh”

Tempest nodded. She had begun to put the pieces together—“then why did you leave the farmland and come here” she asked.

“There was nothing left for me. My animals had all been sold off, I have no family, no heirs, I don’t have much of anything but the farm and my cabin. I want you to take care of it for me…”

Tempest was unsure of what to say—she was a young woman herself, she didn’t know how to manage a farm. “It is easy. Here…let me get something…”

Old man Morton walked over to a curio cabinet in the middle of the room and pulled out a stack of letters—“this is all for you”. Her hands shook as she tore open the envelopes and began to read what was not only a will but as she soon found out—she had been the rightful owner of the Newhouse Property for over twenty years. He had gifted her all of his property. His estate, the home, the money—well half of it, was of it was hers.

She sat confused—why had she not known before. “But the paperwork…I don’t understand”. Tempest began. The man said nothing as Tempest stared at the date on all the documents—everything was dated the year he disappeared, the year Tempest was born. This couldn’t be a coincidence.

Tempest looked up. Old man Morton was gone. Tempest jumped up and ran about the cabin…it was as though he had vanished in thin air. As she looked back over to where he was sitting just seconds before—a small key and a snow-globe sat in his empty chair.

Short Story

About the author

KH Obergfoll

Mid thirties--Writing my way through life, looking for the next great adventure!!!

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