Why this small town girl avoids old barns
Charlotte's Web was one of my favorite books in grade school. I didn't realize it at the time, but it planted a seed within me to think of animals as friends. Growing up, I loved animals. I felt that they should be free, not caged or chained up.
My belief was put to the test when I married a man who hunted, trapped and raised farm animals as a way of life. We had goats chewing the grass and anything else they found in our yard, about a dozen rabbits in cages, a pig in the old barn shared with an owl, and two American Eskimo Spitz dogs with free reign inside and out.
Our farm was the last house on the left, about a half-mile away from Pearson Mill State Recreation Area, part of the Mississinewa River Reservoir. Visitors to the area sometimes stopped at our house asking for directions to the boat launch.
The owner of the farm said she and her husband lived there for fifty years, but she could no longer care for it after he died. She rented it to us dirt cheap just so it didn't get vandalized or overgrown with weeds.
One day my husband was out of town for his day job, so I had to feed and water the animals. The urge to set them free was overwhelming. Just for a little while, I thought, as I let them loose in the fenced-in area. I put the dogs inside the fence as well so they could all play together.
I went about my chores and suddenly felt tired. I decided to take a catnap. Twenty minutes of rest should help revive me on this gloomy afternoon, I thought.
I awoke to the dogs barking and the pig squealing. I must have slept a long time because it was dark in my room. I went to turn on the light and see what all the commotion was about, but I couldn't move. I felt paralyzed. The hair on the back of my neck stood up as I heard the old floorboards in the kitchen creaking.
What was going on? Why couldn't I move?!
My bedroom was on the left end of the kitchen by the back door. I always slept on my side with my back to the kitchen. It felt as though someone was standing in the doorway staring at me. The animals were still making all kinds of noise. I tried desperately to move, scream, anything, but I felt like I was covered with a lead blanket.
I heard a knock at the front door. Lightly at first, then louder. By the third round of knocking, the spell was lifted, and I could move. I grabbed the pistol that my husband had in the nightstand drawer for protection and answered the door. It was two men I did not recognize. I held the gun behind the door. They asked to use my phone to call for help because their truck broke down at the boat launch. I told them to wait while I grabbed the phone. I closed the door while I retrieved the cordless phone.
When I opened the front door to give the guys the phone, they were nowhere in sight. I locked the door then carried the phone and gun with me to let the dogs in the house, but all the animals were gone!
The phone rang.
It was my sister-in-law calling to warn me that she had just heard that dead animals were found in an old abandoned shack in the woods at Pearson Mill. She said an inverted pentagram was painted on the floor, and rumor was going around that it was a satanic cult looking to sacrifice a virgin. I said, "No worries there since I am pregnant!" She said, "Your baby is a virgin! You need to leave immediately."
I had no car. I couldn't go anywhere! She said she tried to page her brother/my husband before she called me, but he didn't respond. I told her I would try paging him, and if he didn't call me within a few minutes, I would hide in the hayloft until he got home or someone from the family came and picked me up.
I would often go to the hayloft to read. I had a cozy little nook set up. Even though I knew a barn owl hung out in the loft window, I felt safe there. The owl never bothered me. It just always surveyed the area like a royal guard.
I immediately paged my husband. I kept the cordless phone and gun in my hand while I grabbed a flashlight from the kitchen cabinet where we stored emergency supplies.
When I opened the door to make a beeline for the barn, my husband was standing in the doorway holding a big bag. I screamed at the top of my lungs, dropped everything—including the loaded gun, and hugged him like my life depended on it.
"What's going on," he asked as he moved the bag aside to embrace me.
I started explaining everything rapid-fire as he released me and walked to the freezer to take what looked like freshly packaged meat out of the bag. I stopped telling him my story and asked where all the packages came from.
"From the pig. I sent the butcher shop guy out this morning. He said he knocked on the door, but no one answered."
"The only knock I heard were the two guys who said their vehicle broke down at the boat launch. The butcher being here would explain the dogs barking and the pig squealing," I said. "But how did he know the pig was in the backyard?"
"In the backyard?" My husband scrunched his face like he did every time I said something that he didn't comprehend. "Why would the pig be in the backyard?"
"Well, I let the pig and rabbits run loose with the goats and dogs in the backyard. Then when I awoke, they were all gone!"
"You've lost your mind, dear. The butcher said he and his helper had a heck of a time getting the pig out of his pen. He said that stubborn pig squealed and fought them the entire time. Holly and Molly were sleeping on the porch like a couple of old hound dogs when I pulled up."
"Oh, the butcher also said he gave a lift to two guys that were here when he arrived. So that explains why you thought they disappeared."
Now it was my turn to scrunch my face. "That doesn't make sense. You said the butcher was here this morning. Those stranded guys were here just a little while ago."
Our conversation was interrupted by sirens and flashing lights. Three squad cars pulled into our driveway. Two police officers came to our porch and said over the barking dogs that they were investigating a missing person report. The detective said they had reason to believe the missing young woman may be in our area. They asked to search our property. Of course, we agreed. They searched our house, garage, attic, and the old barn.
The officers found nothing but asked if we were aware of an old shack in the nearby woods. My husband said he had seen it during one of his deer hunting trips. He told the officers where it was located. They radioed for more assistance and disappeared into the darkness.
I couldn't stop shaking as I tried to make sense of everything. "I'm not sure who put the animals up or what's going on. But what I do know is I am moving to town as soon as I can. Being the last house on the left in the middle of nowhere and staying home alone creeps me out. I'm done with farm life!"
"And you will be eating that pork by yourself because from now on, I'm a vegetarian!"
"Hormones," he said as he shrugged and shook his head.
Within a few days, I found a house on Main Street in Sweetser. I was happy to be a small-town girl again. I packed our belongings into the back of our minivan as the owl watched from the hayloft window. I could swear I saw an old farmer standing beside him.