This is a ghost story. A true ghost story. But like all good ghost stories, it has changed a little in the retelling.
The Rim country woman who had the experience still lives in the very cabin where it happened. While she asked that I not reveal her name, she consented to let me tell her story.
The woman came to the Rim country from Texas some 10 years ago to escape a tragedy, the death of her husband Paul and daughter Rachel Kathleen in a traffic accident.
Upon her arrival, she checked into a small motel, bought a copy of the Payson Roundup and went to the Knotty Pine Cafe for something to eat. A scan of the classifieds turned up an ad that read, "SMALL CABIN FOR SALE. MUST SACRIFICE BECAUSE OF ILLNESS. ONE BEDROOM."
A phone call to the infirm old man who owned it piqued her curiosity, so she drove to his home to talk to him. He explained that his father had built the cabin many years before. In fact, he himself had been born there in 1910.
But one day when he and his father were out working a mining claim, his mother had been brutally murdered in the cabin. After that, it sat vacant for 30 years. Then the old man rented it to a series of tenants up until he died three years ago.
The old man suggested the woman spend a few nights in the cabin before deciding if she wanted to buy it, and he encouraged her to take the original deed with her to read at her leisure.
The woman felt a chill when she heard about the murder but, she reasoned, that was 70 years ago and the cabin had been occupied off and on since. She accepted his offer.
After checking out of the motel the next morning, a long, dusty ride down a dirt road brought her to the cabin, nestled in the middle of three acres of wooded forest. With green paint peeling from the logs and one end of the porch sagging, it looked as forlorn as she felt.
She opened the screen and unlocked the door. Pushing a spider aside that hung in the doorway, "the smell of dust and stale wood smoke" filled her lungs.
Once inside, she noticed "the walls were knotty pine turned dark with age. The dark walls absorbed most of the light coming through the soot-covered windows, leaving the room with a cave-like atmosphere," she recalled.
On one wall was a native stone fireplace, and next to it hung an antique clock with ornate black hands that still marked the passing of minutes and hours. "Its ticking, the only sound in the cabin," she noted, "invaded my thoughts and seemed to pull me toward it."
But after a few moments, she examined the rest of the cabin. The bedroom, she discovered, had a full bed with a pink chenille spread and a door leading to a small bathroom.
She walked into the bathroom and turned the handle on the faucet. Nothing. She had forgotten that the old man had told her the water and electricity had been turned off.
She made a shopping list, with water and cleaning supplies at the top, and drove into town to get them. Upon her return, she "donned an old sweat suit and tackled the cleaning with fierce determination. Spiders looked for new homes, as webs were swept from the ceiling and corners," she said.
By dusk, the smell of dust was gone and the woman was feeling more confident. She lit two candles and sat down to eat a cold sandwich. By the time she finished, it was dark.
Exhausted from her long day, she carried the candles into the bedroom, blew them out, and went to bed.
Sometime in the night, she was awakened with a start by a squeaking board. "Her hand trembled as she touched the burning match to the candle. Holding the candle in front of her, she picked up a hairbrush and slowly walked toward the living room."
Finding no one, she turned to go back to the bedroom when a noise by the fireplace startled her. "Holding the candle as far as her arm would extend," she walked tentatively in that direction.
"The noise was coming from the antique clock. Its hands were spinning backwards...." She watched in disbelief, then finally said in a shaky voice, "If you are a ghost, I know you can't hurt me, and I'm going back to bed."
When she awoke the next morning, "the sun had cleared the morning mist from around the trees." She went straight to the clock, but its shiny black hands once again pointed at the correct time. Staring at it, she said, "That was some show you put on last night. Are you trying to tell me something or just scare me?"
She sat down with a cup of coffee and began looking at the deed the old man had given her. "The paper was fragile with age, the writing beginning to fade.... At the bottom was his father's name, William S. Burch, February 15, 1910. Beside it in small, feminine lettering was the name of his murdered mother, Rachel Kathleen...."
It was the very same name as her daughter. She put her head down on the table and let the tears flow. "I now knew this was where I was supposed to be," she said.
The woman decided to buy the "haunted" cabin and rebuild her life in Payson and there she remains to this day. She is actively involved in the community, and if I could reveal her identity, you would not question her credibility.
And yes, the ghost is still there.