By John Gray
“You guys wanna hear a ghost story?” Those seven words is how it started. Becky Walsh, Jamie Myers and Mercedes Alverez were having a slumber party the night of October 28 in the small town of Kinderhook. The three ninth graders had just finished off the pizza and were tired of talking about boys when Mercedes asked that innocent question. “Sure,” Jamie responded so Mercedes told them the tale that her grandmother once shared about “The Ghost of Isabella.”
Kinderhook was an old farm town where the homes are spread far and wide. Back in the 1800s there was one schoolhouse that sat down by a bend in the river and children from all over walked or rode by carriage to learn there. It was an odd place to build a school but there it still sat all these years later, now boarded up with decay.
As the story goes, one day, right before Halloween, a little girl named Isabella was outside playing with her friends during recess. When they rang the bell to come inside, she lingered by the river, trying to skip stones across. On her very last throw she lost her balance and fell into the rushing water. It was three days later that they found her body downstream along the muddy shore, still wearing her lace pink dress and ribbons in her hair.
“To this day,” Mercedes continued in her scariest voice, “they say if you go into the old schoolhouse and write her name on the blackboard, Isabella comes back to haunt you. Boo!” The girls all giggled at the silly story and soon drifted off to sleep.
The next morning the three of them decided to go down to the river and take a closer look at the old school. Becky found a loose board around back and they couldn’t resist squeezing through a hole and going inside for a peek. It was mostly empty save for the mice and bats and the few antique desks now battered by time. Then they saw it— the chalkboard.
They did “rock, paper, scissors” to see who would go first. Jamie wrote I S A, Becky added B E L and Mercedes finished with L A. “There!!” Come and get us Isabella,” they scoffed. The girls waited but nothing happened. See, just a silly story.
The night of October 29 seemed to come and go without incident until the following morning. Jamie got up to have breakfast with her little brother and parents just like always. Only today, something was off. Her usually chatty father was silent as the grave. Her mother finally asked him what was wrong. He explained that driving home from work late last night he was passing the river when a little girl appeared in the middle of the road. She was wet and cold, wearing an old fashioned dress with ribbons in her hair. He nearly hit her. “I asked her if she was lost or needed help and she climbed in the back seat without saying a word.” Her father assumed she was in shock and thought it best to bring her home and call the police but when he pulled into the driveway and turned around the little girl was gone. “I can’t explain it,” he said. Jamie’s spoon made a loud clang as it hit the floor.
The second night, October 30, Becky was woken just before midnight by her dog Scooter. He was standing by her bedroom window growling, as if the devil himself was looking in. Becky threw on the lights but there was no one there.
When Becky awoke the next morning she was excited to see a light snowfall covering the autumn leaves. Her joy ceased, however, when she walked around the house toward her bedroom and spotted two small footprints directly outside her window as if someone had been standing there looking in. No tracks, just two footprints.
The three girls shared their stories and were hysterical with fear. First Jamie, then Becky, they were certain Mercedes was next in line for a visit. They wanted to tell their parents but who would believe them? Instead, they went back to the schoolhouse to erase ISABELLA from the blackboard. Mercedes used her sleeve to wipe the letters away and they left in silence.
Not certain it was really over, the girls decided to sleep together Halloween night at Mercedes’s house, just in case. In the corner of her bedroom Mercedes had a toy chest filled with board games, dolls, an Etch-a-Sketch and other things. They played Monopoly until they got tired, put everything neatly away and went to sleep.
The next morning when they woke, everything was still locked up tight and they breathed a sigh of relief. Then they saw it. There was water on the floor by the toy box, as if something or someone was dripping there. On top of the box, propped up for all to see, was her Etch-a-Sketch with one word written in bold black letters—ISABELLA. You could hear their screams all the way down to the river.
John Gray is weekly columnist for the Troy Record and the Saratogian newspapers and news anchor at ABC 10 and FOX 23. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.