I have not yet discovered the trick of writing a thrilling mystery. All of my attempts go awry (my plot-line is not at all tied together) Here is one of my attempts at writing a ghost story.
The Old Ranch of phantoms
There was the graveyard, with only two graves in it, dark and shadowy in the midst of the skeleton trees. And beneath the two pebbly mounds of earth, black earth, so rich yet old and worn, laid the corpses of victims of the phantoms. There was no noise in the wood, except for a distant hoot of an owl, who sat lonely and spectral upon a lofty limb, waiting for its prey to appear on the ground. Shadows of scrawny coyotes drifted up and down nearby the wooden stables, which seemed like a ghostly cabin on the edge of the forest. And the old house with only one window, aloft in the upstairs study cast the moonlight off its crystal pane. And the old woman sat on her porch, knitting while humming a faraway lullaby to herself. The lullaby which haunted this ranch of the somber hills. At her feet sat the bloodhound, weary and old lying on the cool wooden boards of the porch, which were almost rotten from age.
“She’ll be here soon Ghost,” the woman said, smiling down at the dog over her wire-rimmed spectacles. The dog only raised his eyes with boredom, almost resentful that the old lady should break the eerie stillness. He shifted his head so it would face the rough dirt road, which came up to the broken down carriage house and stopped there. The two sat in silence for a few more minutes. The old woman smiled to herself, as she knitted a perfect saddle cloth for her guest. It would be soft and colorful with a royal design hemming it. “It’ll be just the thing for her ride on, Ghost,” the lady said to her dog. Ghost growled slightly, and turned his head away. The woman bent her head and knitted steadily until… two bright lights, those of a car’s headlights, streaked down the road, and a car rounded the bend. It was a new-fangled car, with a shiny, gray sparkly coat, unscratched and perfectly new. The girl in it wore the apparel of a stylish New Yorker, yet in other ways, besides her outward clothing, a tough country spirit shone out. The lady didn’t stand, but only continued to knit. Ghost stood and growled at the car, sticking his long rough tail between his thin legs.
“Don’t be worried Ghost,” the woman said, smiling at the dog, “She is here.”
Melanie Porter muttered to herself as she slowly unbuckled her seatbelt and climbed out of the car. “What kind of place is this anyways?” she wondered, looking about. She didn’t see the old lady on the porch, or the great bloodhound who gazed at her shadowy figure with the prospect of meeting a fierce man in black. Young Melanie was nothing of the sort. She was a head-strong young lady with the will of a perservering patriot. She was out here, at this hidden, almost forbiddingly sacred and secret place, where she had finally found a summer job at. This ranch was in need of a hand to care for the horses, and her employer was a woman by the name of Mrs. Rosalind Grant. As Mel had driven out here, she had found that the road had been full of rickety bumps and shady trees, which had given her the shivers. Here she was now, at her new job for the whole summer, and she had only found an old run-down house and stable, which could hardly boast of careful grooming and attention.
Now Melanie looked around curiously, the wind blowing through her brown hair. And then she laid eyes on the little old woman on the porch. “Mrs. Rosalind Grant!” she thought.
“Here she is,” the old woman said, gazing out into the darkness at the young woman.
Melanie hurried up the steps, looking around nervously, “A-are you Mrs. Rosalind Grant?” she asked, resting her eyes on the tiny, shriveled personage before her, who sat hunched over her knitted work.
“Yes,” the woman simply replied, continuing to knit, and then paused and slowly stood, “You are the one.”
“Yes, I am here to help you on the ranch. I’ll be helping you work out here. Where are the horses?”
Melanie looked at the wrecked stable-house wondrously. She smiled to herself, thinking that it would be easy for the horses to escape through those rotten, rickety walls.
“Come, you must be tired,” the old woman said, opening the door slowly. Melanie started, hearing the long, eerie creak as the door opened.
“You will be sleeping in one of the upstairs rooms,” Mrs. Grant told her as they stepped inside. The only light came from the old kerosene lamp on the wooden table. Mel shivered. It was very cold in here; no electric heaters seemed to be on… it almost seemed like an ice-house it was so freezing.
“C-cold!” she murmured, looking about, shivering.
“We have a lot of blankets,” Mrs. Grant briskly said, toddling into the old-fashioned kitchen. Mel took notice of the water pump and a basin for the kitchen sink. ‘Wow!’ she thought in surprise, ‘This lady must like antiques!’
“Come along,” Mrs. Grant hurried into a room, which Mel decided must be the “parlor” and stopped at a flight of stairs leading up into what seemed like a shadowy attic.
“Well, you’ll be sleeping up there in the first room to the right,” Mrs. Grant told her, waving her hand as indication that she was to go up now. Mel nodded uncomfortably and began to climb the stairs.
“Good night,” Mrs. Grant called after her. As Mel slowly crept up the stairs, she heard the soft cackling as the old woman turned as hobbled back out onto the porch. It sent shivers up her spine. This was a strange place, and very ancient it seemed. Mel found the room Mrs. Grant had given her. Before going into it, she glanced around the hallway. There were only four other doors in the hallway, and at the very end of the corridor was a window with a window seat beneath it. The curtains, which were of a lacy, old fabric, cast eerie shadows upon the floor, making it look as if ghosts danced about. Melanie slowly walked over to the window, forgetting that she was supposed to go to her room, and stared out the window. Touching the curtains with her fingers, Melanie noted that they seemed so dusty, as well as the window sill, which was blanketed with dust. Cobwebs stretched at the corners of the panes, and Melanie shuddered as she noticed a few spiders spindling up and down them with a graceful, yet desperate sort of crawl. Melanie hurried back to her room, and shut the door hurriedly. There were shelves of books along the wall, and Melanie took note that they were all about horses. But many of them were fictional, and a good number of ghost stories. ‘Strange,’ Mel thought, frowning. Finally she was ready for bed, and laid down on the tick-straw mattress, which she decided, must be the only means of her sleeping area. As she lay there, trying to fall into the slumber she had so wanted on the way here, Melanie thought in the distance, she heard a horse whinny, quite loud, and almost by her window. She sat up. For one horrible moment, Mel had thought she had heard a faint scream. ‘Just your imagination,’ Melanie told herself, and laid back down in a desperate effort to fall back to sleep. ‘Tomorrow you have a big day ahead of you, taking care of the horses…’ Melanie finally drifted off, but her dreams were only of ghostly images in her mind.
The next morning Mel woke up and dressed. Going downstairs, she found that the old woman had left her a note on the table.
Gone to pick berries.
Melanie frowned, wondering if Mrs. Grant even intended to give her directions how to care for the horses. ‘Oh well,’ Mel sighed to herself, and sat down to the breakfast which sat on the table. There were two other places set, and Melanie curiously wondered who would be joining her. Mrs. Grant hadn’t mentioned anything about guests coming, but maybe she had gone out to get some other things to prepare for them.
“Ellen and George,” Melanie read the names on the small place cards, which were written with neat calligraphy.
“Now, who are they?” she wondered, and began to eat. When she was done, Mel wandered outdoors and to the stable. But then she heard it, that whinny she had heard the night before. It sounded nearby. ‘Probably coming from the stable,” Mel decided, proceeding onwards. Melanie reached it and pushed open the heavy wooden door. There were three horses, and they all watched as she came in. Melanie could not help feel uncomfortable. It seemed as if they were watching every move she made, and the small snorts they made seemed to be as if they were whispering amongst themselves. Melanie glanced at one of them; its pale, sharp eyes seemed to stare right through her, as if she weren’t even there. It was quite frightening, in fact. They were not restless or like any horse Mel had ever seen. They were just quiet. Too quiet. Then her sharp brown eye caught sight of two names on two of the stalls.
“Ellen and George” they said. ‘Who are they?’ Mel wondered again, staring at the brass names which hung to the stable doors. Melanie picked up a rake and began to throw the musty old hay into a pile. She first had to clean this place up. Then she heard a whinny behind her. The horse with the pale blue eyes was standing at the door. How did it get out of its stable? Its door wasn’t even ajar. Melanie frowned. “Hey, you horse!” she called, walking towards it quickly. The horse neighed, and tossed its mane.
“Come here!” Mel demanded, reached up to catch hold of the harness it wore. But the stallion jerked away and galloped out into the woods. Melanie followed it, yelling for it to come back. “Horse! Come here!” she called desperately. She ran as fast as she could, although her heeled boots didn’t serve very well for running. Mel followed it until she had cornered it at a steep bank, where anyone could be well injured if he rolled down it.
“Gotcha!” Mel smiled, briskly walking up to the horse. But instead of submitting to her hand on his reigns, the horse turned and cantered off the edge, and Mel heard it tumble down the hill, to its death.
“Stupid horse!” Melanie exclaimed, rushing to the edge and peered down into the misty gorge. There was no sign of the horse. It had just disappeared.
In anxiety, Melanie paced the cliff, wondering what she should say to Mrs. Rosalind Grant. The old woman would be probably very upset, and fire her for not taking responsibility for the horses. ‘What should I do?’ Mel wondered worriedly, as she pondered the situation. Slowly she made her way back to the stable. To her shock, the horse was back in its stall, snorting impatiently for its food.
“W-what?” Mel spluttered in shock, staring in aghast at the horse, which she had deemed dead from the fall. But it was very much alive right now as it pawed the ground impatiently.
“How did you get back here?” she gasped. “How?” Mel slowly reached her hand out to see if the horse was actually there, and to make sure it wasn’t her mind playing tricks on her. But she felt its warm muzzle beneath her fingers, and its tongue, wet and slimy, lick her hand. Melanie jerked her hand back, still very puzzled. It was alive all right! She turned and began to pour feed into the buckets. The other two horses were still there, and began to casually munch on the grain. Melanie brushed off her hands and watered the horses as well. Then she strolled back to the house. Mrs. Rosalind Grant still wasn’t back, so Mel decided to simply explore. ‘Besides,’ she thought, ‘whose it gonna hurt to explore around here? I bet all of the stuff here is old fashioned or something. Mrs. Grant won’t care.’
Melanie decided to go upstairs and check out those books in her room. As she flipped through them, Mel realized that they all had something to do with horses disappearing, or throwing their riders off, and the person would become a phantom of the ranch. Mel laughed to herself, trying to act cool and casual. ‘What make-believe stories,’ she scoffed, shoving the books back onto the shelf. The harsh jolt knocked a large, heavy book ajar, and it nearly fell right onto Mel’s head, but she caught it just in time.
“What is this?” she muttered, and sat down on her bed. Melanie opened it. Immediately, the smell of musty pages and moldy interior filled the room.
“Gross!” Melanie gasped, but kept it open anyways and began to flip through the pages. A couple of newspapers fell out, and Melanie picked them up. On the front cover, Mel saw a man, sitting with his hands in his lap; he had a large mustache, and gray, parted hair. And his wire rim spectacles glimmered in the light shown in the picture. Underneath, Melanie noticed the large words, GEORGE PARKER NICOLAS MISSING BEFORE ELECTION! ‘George Parker Nicolas!’ Mel thought, instantly remembering the name place downstairs. ‘George!’ She read further.
Our George P. Nicolas, who is running in the lead for mayor, disappeared Saturday, July 4th, 1924. Authorities’ say there is no evidence that he was murdered, as many people had supposed he was. They have looked into the matter, but currently, there are no clues of Nicolas’ whereabouts. His wife, Ellen, is a suspect for the time being, but she claims to have nothing to do with her husband’s disappearance. She insists that the week before the results of the election was to come out, her husband went on a short trip to the country, to a small ranch called Rosalind’s Ranch.
Mel gasped. Rosalind! Rosalind Grant! She tried to make out the next words, but they were faded and she could hardly even read them. So Melanie set the newspaper down. Her mind was whirling as she tried to sort out all these pieces of this mystery. George P. Nicolas had disappeared. And she had seen his name on the tag downstairs. His wife Ellen was on one of them as well. That meant that both of them must have been here! And what did her employer, Mrs. Grant have to do with any of this? Melanie hurriedly picked up the second newsletter, which was dated Saturday July 11th 1924. ‘This one is written a week later!’ Mel thought, and began to read.
The police are now looking into the disappearance of Ellen Nicolas. Shortly after her husband’s disappearance, Ellen Nicolas vanished mysteriously. No one knows what happened to the couple, who everyone in our town loved so dearly. Police are unable to connect these two people’s disappearances. No clues have turned up.
Melanie felt her heart pound in her chest. Ellen! So Ellen and George were the two on the name plates downstairs. What did this mean? Mel found herself caught up in the depth of this mystery, even thought she knew had nothing to do with her. Was Mrs. Rosalind a murderer? Mel put the newspapers back inside the book and put the huge volume back on the shelf. Then she strolled out into the hallway. She noticed that one of the doors was ajar, so she went to close it. But Mel’s curiosity got the better of her, and she took a peep inside. There was a metal framed bed, and by it, there was a table with three horses on it. Mel’s heart beat faster. She crept over to the table, where a small diary lay. It was old and yellow with age. Mel opened it, although she stole a guilty glance towards the door every now and then. It was wrong of her to intrude in on this old lady, but now her curiosity was sparked, and she couldn’t rest until was at the bottom of this. Mel read. It was the same handwriting as that she had seen downstairs on the note Mrs. Rosalind had written her.
Yesterday Parker came to call on me. He is quite a gentleman, but so drab and dull. I sent him on a ride on Xavier, my fine palomino stallion with the beautiful blue eyes. Xavier is a good horse. Xavier came back at 5:00. Parker is dead. Now Jordan will be in the lead in the election. Dear Parker needed to let Jordan win. He will certainly give me no more trouble, interfering with my ranch. I laid him to rest in the graveyard by the old wagon. I am waiting for Ellen now.
Mel flipped to the next page, her heart pounding in horror now.
Ellen came on the seventh of July. She came to call on me, and told me about her husband. I have to laugh when I think that soon she will see him again. Now they will not interfere with my horse business.
July 8th 6:00 1924
Xavier just got home from his ride with Ellen. Now I have done what was to be done. They can lie in peace, and I may proceed with my life in peace. Ellen is to be laid to rest tomorrow afternoon in the graveyard next to her husband. Right now she is lying in the gorge by the oak tree, where the horses are buried. I feel bad that Vladimir and Torrance and Xavier are dead, but they will always be here with me. I expect that sooner or later someone will see them. Xavier is buried at the bottom of the pit, where the first graveyard and wagon was.
Xavier. Vladimir. Torrance. Those are the horses? Mel stared at the three horses before her, which were made of metallic plastic. But in the diary, Mrs. Grant said that they were buried. And Xavier must be the stallion which ran away and then committed suicide by falling off the cliff. How could they still be alive and downstairs in the stable? And Ellen and George must be buried somewhere around here; by the wagon which Mrs. Grant mentioned in her diary.
By the three horses, there was a small box, and Mel took it up and opened it. There inside were two small dolls. They were quite wealthy looking, and Mel took notice that the small man looked exactly like the man in the newspaper article. Just then she heard someone coming up the front walk, and she rushed to the window. Mrs. Grant was strolling up the road, with Ghost at her side. The huge dog lumbered lazily to the front porch. Mel hurried out of the room, her mouth dry, and rushed into her room. Here she was, with a murderer on her hands. Mrs. Grant had killed these two people. ‘Perhaps they were interfering with her business… but why should Mrs. Grant have to kill them?’ Mel wondered, clutching her purse to her chest as she heard the front door open. Finally Melanie ventured downstairs. Mrs. Grant was humming to herself, as she sat at the empty place at the table. The dishes for the deceased George and Ellen had been cleared.
“So, how were the visitors?” Mrs. Grant cackled.
“W-what visitors?” Mel stammered.
“Why, didn’t they even tell you their names? George and Ellen of course!” Mrs. Grant snapped.
“B-but…” Mel protested, wondering what to say, “These people…”
“You can always visit them in the graveyard,” Mrs. Grant continued, as she turned to the open window. Why don’t you ride Xavier to the graveyard?”
“Yes, my palomino.”
“Mrs. Grant…” Mel decided to tell the lady about what had happened earlier. “Mrs. Grant, your horse went of this cliff, and I saw him go off it… I guess he got out somehow, and I followed him to catch him, but Xavier went off the cliff. And…” Melanie knew that Mrs. Grant might think she was crazy… but then again, Mrs. Grant had written very strange things in her diary. “…And when I came back, Xavier was back in the stall… I hate to say it ma’am but I found that that was quite strange… to you have any idea of what could have happened?”
Mrs. Grant turned to her, “You read my diary?”
Mel jumped. How did she know?
“I-I…” she stammered.
“You read my diary, didn’t you? Yes…” Mrs. Grant wearily shook her head. “This day would come, but I am afraid that it must happen.”
“What?” Mel asked. But then she explained, “I did read your diary…” she lowered her head, “I shouldn’t have… but ma’am, this George and Ellen… you killed them?”
“What else could I have done? They would have taken me from here, and put me in the asylum.”
“What do you mean?”
“They found my graveyard of the others. But those peoples’ deaths were not my fault!” the old woman began to tell Mel, “They weren’t! Xavier… that horse Xavier of mine. Something took him in the wrong direction. He is a good horse, but I had to lay him and the other horses to rest.”
“Why?” Mel demanded.
“They were killers.”
“Killers? What did they do?”
“Xavier, Torrance and Vladimir were unusual horses. From the very beginning. I had some other horses here, but they ran away sooner or later. I used to own a large horse ranch here. People would come out to ride in the forest… when I got these three horses, they were different. These horses killed all those innocent people…” tears were in Mrs. Grant’s eyes, “They threw them off into the ditch. I had to bury ‘em, or else people would get to suspecting. It wasn’t me who killed them. The Nicolas’ suspected though. Their close friends were killed here by those horses. They began to threaten me, and said I would be sent to the asylum, where I would be accused of murder and would have to stay there for life. They thought I was killing those people. I wasn’t. It was those three horses. So in the end, even though I loved the three horses, not because of their evil minds, but because of their gentle loving touches they gave me, and me only… I had to kill them, so no more killing would be done. But their ghosts are here. And they still are. The Nicolas’ still accused me of killing those people, and were going to bring it up in court. So I did what I had to do. I brought them to rest. They are still here. But now they won’t give me any trouble. The three horses are here too, but they can’t kill any people any more. Xavier did that one last thing for me, helping me stay out of the asylum. But they are like live horses, and I need someone to help me feed ‘em. They eat the same as any live horses. I am getting near the end of my line… and you came to help me. That is my story, the story of this old ranch.”
Mel left that night, terrified. The place was haunted. She brought the matter up in court. These horses and this woman were dangerous. She knew the old woman meant well, but it would be better for the old lady if she died with someone to care for her. She found the graves. There were twenty five people buried. The horses still haunt Rosalind’s Ranch.