The Bachmann Family Secret
Damian Serbu © 2020
All Rights Reserved
I trembled at the thought of returning to Nebraska for my grandpa’s funeral.
Even he told me not to return.
Of course, you can’t explain the situation to your parents, or say your concerns out loud to anyone, without the world thinking you’d gone bonkers.
Still, after my uncle called Dad to tell us Grandpa died, Gramps tried for the past day to keep me at home.
Yeah, my dead grandpa warned me not to go to Fremont, which meant no way I wanted to go either. I trusted him dead as much as I trusted him with all my heart when he lived.
But what Gramps and I wanted did not matter. Because we all planned to get into Dad’s Blazer and drive back to Fremont, to the big Victorian house that had comforted me so much my entire life as the embodiment of Gramps’s love, to the small town we’d left behind years ago.
Unfortunately, none of these dreadful thoughts took me away from the reason I shut my eyes a moment ago and worked with all my power to keep them closed.
Sitting on my bed next to my suitcase and hugging my knees close to my body, I knew Gramps still stood in the corner with a frown. His ghost was upset, and his agitation had to do with my going to his funeral.
Keeping my eyes shut, I reached over next to me, at least comforted by the presence of my dog.
Then my mind played a fucked-up trick on me, as I giggled at my thoughts. I wished for a support group. Hi, I’m Jaret, and I see dead people. Like the frickin’ movie, with what’s-his-name acting in it. The Die Hard guy. Not that I ever wanted to see ghosts. Nope, never did. But ever since I was a kid, as early as I could remember, I saw them. And I learned pretty quickly to keep my mouth shut about my visions, no matter how many times I saw them. People would look at me like I went nutso if I told them such stuff. The other high school kids would freak. My own parents signed me up for the shrink farm when I was in third grade because I told them about the old man ghost in my classroom who made mean faces at me when I got an answer wrong. But could I blame them? My story sounded bonkers and scared the shit out of them. For all I know, the ghost sightings proved once and for all I am nuts.
Back to my senses, I took a deep breath and peeked over at the corner. Still there. Gramps shook his head, the way I remembered from when he wanted to teach me a lesson when I was little. The love had sparkled in his eyes even as he’d reprimanded me, and his ghost form adopted the same demeanor, despite his displeasure with my insistence on traveling to Nebraska.
I almost tricked myself into believing he still lived, except I had watched him materialize out of nowhere in my bedroom. One minute I stared at my hot picture of Captain America, the next Gramps blocked the poster from view as he appeared to me.
“Gramps,” I whispered. “I don’t know what you’re trying to say.” My head pounded with a headache, always a sign the dead had arrived for a visit. “Please help me. I don’t know what you want. Or how I’m supposed to do it. I’m not in charge around here! You know I have no power.”
He shook his head again, and the word “no” echoed through my skull.
“I got your message!” I yelled as a jolt of pain crashed through my brain. “You don’t want me to go back to Fremont. But I can’t not go. What would I tell my parents?” They’d scold me about making stuff up about ghosts again. Or could I even mention the episode to Jenn and Lincoln, my sister and brother? Too embarrassing. “Gramps, I’m sorry. I have to go. Please understand.”
Again Gramps shook his head, but then began to fade away.
“No. Please. I miss you—”
He disappeared, and Darth whined next to me, her ears back, her big brown eyes worried. At least my head returned to normal, except my stomach turned over in knots. A very, very bad force lurked in Fremont, bad enough Gramps’s spirit left his house to warn me.
I pulled Darth into a tight hug, so she pushed her snout into me. Even she tried to keep me from packing. She listened to Gramps’s warning and took his plea to heart. Yeah, I’m a strange case. I bond with dead people and dogs. I petted her and she whined again. “Don’t be sad. You get to go too.” Of course, I figured my assurance might make the fear worse for her.
I sighed as I stood, Darth mimicking me, and then grabbed my suitcase and headed upstairs, Darth on my heels.
“Look at the bright side,” I told her. “First we have a long car ride through Nebraska! And—Dad informed us no one can take a cell phone. How cool, right? No contact with the real world the whole time!” While Dad often flipped out about our being on our phones too much, he’d lost it with total abandon today. He forbade any phones on the trip, whatsoever. We all caved, though, because, well, first the order came from our dad. We never won those battles. And I think we all figured the phone rage related to his grief.
Darth tilted her head at me, trying hard to understand my words. “Plus, Gramps doesn’t even have a computer!”
We always dealt with the old-world nature of visiting Gramps, but we needed to bury him, which made the whole thing feel like total bullshit. No phones. No computer. Like 1890 all over again. Not to mention the ghosts fucking with me more than usual.
All these dreadful thoughts continued to float through my head as one cornfield after another flew by on the trip to Fremont. I stared out the window the entire time. But my mind kept reminding me we hurried toward a black hole, with nothing good at the other end.
I stifled another inappropriate giggle. The latest horror movie, starring Jaret! The dark stairs seemed foreboding, so I headed right down them! The evil monster ran into the woods. I charged in there alone after the beast! Every movie watcher screamed to go the other way, but the idiot actor plodded right into the danger. Except I became the idiot. Fuck me.
Plus, my head hurt like I got it smashed between two elevator doors. No way to forget the bad premonitions when your head reminded you of them every second.
Thankfully, we all stayed pretty quiet for the entire trip, given the grief of the moment.
We arrived in Fremont the next afternoon, first driving by the cemetery to my left. Grandma was buried there. She died of cancer years before I was born. But Gramps missed her every day of his life. I sensed his sadness, even as a kid. Maybe he could go be with her. Or maybe not. There he was, again, standing in the cemetery, watching us pass.
My apprehensions almost exploded right out of my stomach, all over everyone in the Blazer. A sudden, debilitating headache paralyzed me and a white light blinded me. I turned my head toward the graveyard. In the middle of the bright light, Gramps glared at me through my pain, the one clear vision amid the piercing white light. His apparition hovered beside Grandma’s tombstone, shaking its head back and forth with the same warning. “No. No.” His stern face added a desperate plea to his words. “Go no farther. Turn around. Turn everyone around.” His ghost appeared so real I thought I could reach out and touch it. No other ghosts from past visions had such tangible features or form. I saw right through them, but Gramps looked as if he still lived, in his actual body.
“Jaret? What’s wrong?” my mom almost screamed but stifled the sound. I regained my sight and found my mother turned around in her seat studying me.
“What?” I asked with a lame tone of voice.
“You’re pale. Are you sick?”
“No. Sorry. I was thinking about Gramps.” My half-truth ended the conversation.
Mom reached back and placed her hand on my knee. Even my brother, who shunned physical contact, touched my shoulder, but their comfort hardly relieved my fears.
I almost blurted the truth out to all of them but bit my tongue. We drove through the rest of Fremont, with its small-town feel. I always loved coming here, with its throwback charm and Gramps’s love all around, but the whole place creeped me out on this ride.
The sight of the gables on Gramps’s old, white Victorian house almost made me blow chunks right there in the SUV. Gramps loved to tell me about its history, but like everything else, its presence felt off as we drove along. Built in the late 1800s and owned by subsequent Bachmann generations, Gramps said the first immigrants in our family came from Europe with a lot of money, part of which they used to erect the house. Rich. The uber wealth ended with them. But the house remained, with lots of charm, a huge porch, great stained-glass windows, all sorts of cool stuff. Except when it lurked over us as if alive, waiting to eat my entire family as we meandered toward the mansion.
Shit, I had to get a grip.
Upon rounding the corner, I spotted Aunt Alice standing on the porch and staring into the street as if lost. We’d pulled into the circular driveway and started getting out before she jolted out of her funk. What the hell? She’d never acted like a space cadet before.
“Well, goodness. I didn’t even see you.” She laughed and shook her head.
She greeted all of us with a hug and ushered us inside. As I passed her, she almost grimaced but then returned to her welcoming smile, though her eyes maintained a hint of suspicion or fear. Great. Did she already sense my psycho-ward tendencies gripped me? Or did I give off an evil vibe? What the hell was going on?
I walked inside and started up the stairs, but made sure Darth followed me. No way I would go up these stairs alone, with all the shit happening with ghosts and feelings and death. I headed straight toward my usual room, ignoring the tingling in my head, the rumbling in my stomach, and all the bad thoughts racing through my mind.
On the second floor, I went by the hall down to Gramps’s study, felt a nasty chill as I went by the door to the attic, and almost fell flat on my face. The hair on my arms stood straight up, and Darth growled a warning. After I regained my balance, I peered down the hall to see Gramps’s apparition staring at me, as vivid as the one from the cemetery. He pointed to the attic door and shook his head. “No, no:” the same message as before but directed at a particular place. His stern expression reminded me of the times when he wanted to teach his grandkids an important lesson without seeming angry. Strangely, because of his demeanor, I no longer feared Gramps’s ghost, though an unseen force terrified me to the core at the same time.
Dad’s voice from below yanked me out of my funk and back to reality. “Hurry up. I’m hungry.”
I sighed. More than ever, I struggled with carrying on with business as usual when freaky shit kept happening.
Also with Dad’s shout, Gramps vanished. He’d seemed so alive, so real, I’d had the urge to race up to hug him. But what the hell did he want? For me not to go to the attic? All the effort, and that’s all he communicated to me? Back home, he’d warned me against coming to Fremont, but he now seemed to accept my presence, though he cautioned me against approaching a certain door without telling me what scared him. Was I too dense to figure his message out? Again my head spun in confusion.
Worried Dad would start yelling again, I patted Darth on the head to calm her and tossed my suitcase onto the floor in the bedroom. I returned downstairs to find everyone gathered at the front door, so we headed outside and into cars to meet the rest of the Bachmanns for lunch. I hated leaving Darth behind in the place with all the creepy sensations, but again I had no choice unless I revealed all the loony bin stuff occurring around me, or at least taking place in my head. I kissed her on the head and followed my family, refusing to look back at her because I knew she was staring at me like I betrayed her.