I couldn’t wait a minute longer than I had to. As soon as my parents were asleep, I crept downstairs catlike, grabbed a few things out of the kitchen, and snuck out the door, quiet as you please.
The old lady was back in her chair, still rocking, still watching. I picked the rocker up one last time, and carried it off the porch, quiet as you please. The wind was whistling gently through the leaves. It sounded like the old lady’s breathing. Once I got her far enough away from the house, I pulled out my bounty: a box of matches and a jar of kerosene.
I doused the rocker in the kerosene—I never saw any of it go through the old lady, but she stayed as dry as a raisin through the whole thing. It just sorta slid around her. Then I lit a match.
It blew out instantly.
I lit another—the same thing happened. Now, I was bound and determined that I would burn this rocking chair before the night was out. I lit five at once, and threw them at the old lady. They were out, just like that.
Then I got an idea. I had seen something like this when I went to a movie with my cousin in Chicago—the bad guy had used some dynamite to blow up a bridge. I carefully lay the rest of the kerosene in a line leading back towards the house. It was still there, under the eaves. After I got the last drop out, I struck another match, then dropped it there. I watched the fire lick its way towards the chair, wavering in the wind a couple of times; then the chair went up in flames. I had won.
Then she started screaming. I couldn’t look away—she was in agony. I had never thought that she could be hurt—only that I had to get rid of her. I was transfixed, hypnotized, watching her shrivel and blacken.
My parents must have smelled the smoke, or seen the fire, or something, because all on a sudden I heard them yelling. It was enough of a disturbance that I could wrench my eyes away from the sight to see what they were yelling about.
The house was on fire.
We all watched in our nightclothes as the house burned to the ground. The old lady was screaming all the while. She didn’t stop until the last ember went out. I remember my parents asking me why I had done it, why I had burned the house down, but I couldn’t speak. She had screamed until she had stolen my voice.
We tried to find someone’s house to stay in for the night. Apparently, no-one wanted the crazy little firebug anywhere near them. I don’t really remember that much. The next thing I remember clearly, I was lying in a makeshift tent pitched next to the ruins of our house. Peeking under the edge, I could see the spot where I had started the fire—where the old lady burned to death. Except she was already dead. Wasn’t she?
As if dreaming, I found myself standing over the charred spot. I reached down to touch it—to make sure she was gone— And all of a sudden she was there, still all on fire, still screaming She grabbed my wrist, and I thought she was going to take me with her. I could feel my skin burning, burning, burning—
And my dad grabbed me, pulled me back from the spot. My mother was standing there, face white. They never did tell me what they saw, but they never blamed me for the house burning down, either.
We never went back to Tennessee. My parents somehow scraped enough together that we could afford to go back to Chicago. The marks from where she had grabbed me never faded away. I went back eventually, found the records for that house. The first owner of that house had had a son named Luke, who had gone off to fight in the War Between the States. I found a picture of him in his uniform. We did look an awful lot alike. He never came back, and I guess the old woman was just waiting for him still, until she met me.
So you can believe what you want, son, but I know that ghosts are real.