It is just a small green space in the center of town. Three iron park benches just a few feet south of the Food Mart on Main Street in Walton, Kentucky.
There is nothing special about the benches. They are like thousands of others in small towns throughout the United States.
Except for one thing, that is. The benches sit about 60 feet from the CSX and Norfolk Southern Railroad crossings. Freight trains amble through the village loaded with lumber and coal, making their way to Lexington and back.
Brenda and I travel to Walton because it is nearly halfway between Lexington and Wilmington. It serves as a pick-up and drop-off point when grandson Jack comes to visit.
Whenever Jack is departing for home, we usually go to Walton early, and stop at the Food Mart for a sandwich and Coke. More often than not, you can find Jack and me sitting on a bench waiting by the tracks as the trains roll by.
Jack and I talk about a lot of things. He particularly likes to hear ghost stories, when he is in the mood.
One Sunday morning, a week before Halloween, we were sitting on a bench watching the trains. Unexpectedly, an older gentleman sat down on an adjoining bench. We noticed his leathery hands tightly gripping a wooden cane, and two crooked front teeth that beamed when he smiled.
Within a couple of minutes, it became apparent he was quite at ease striking up a conversation with total strangers. He was holding a small pamphlet like the ones I had noticed inside the convenience store earlier. I had skimmed the front to find there was a so-called haunted house in the area.
The man eavesdropped on our conversation for a few minutes before interrupting. “Excuse me. I don’t mean to interrupt, but I heard you mention something about a haunted house,” he said.
I saw him glance quickly at the pamphlet before he began to tell us about an old, abandoned house just outside of town the locals swear was haunted. I noticed Jack’s eyes growing wider as the man continued his story.
According to the man, the house sat on a hill back a long lane with rotted barns surrounding the house. “Are there ghosts in the house?” Jack asked.
“No one knows for sure, but my dad told me a man and wife lived there many years ago with their three kids,” the man continued. “Some say the man was nuts. One morning, he woke up confused, went to his closet and got a gun. He killed his wife and children. One kid jumped out the front window and ran as far as he could. Finally, the father caught the boy and killed him in the old railroad tunnel further down the line.”
“Ghost hunters come here all the time,” the man said, as he glanced first at Jack and then at me.
“Some say they even hear gunshots and screams,” he added in a low, dramatic voice. “If you go down there, be careful is all I can say.”
“Would you like to go see the house?” I asked Jack.
“No! Dad will be coming soon,” he quickly replied.
I knew that wasn’t the real reason he didn’t want to find the house, but that was OK.
Shifting the conversation to a milder tone, I asked Jack if I had ever told him about the old house on Cowan Creek Road near Clarksville. “No, not that I remember,” he responded.
“When I was in high school there was a house that sat near the corner of Cowan Creek and Halpin roads. The old farmhouse sat on a hill, too, up a dirt lane,” I said.
“In fact, one night a good friend of mine had a hayride, and his dad drove us down Cowan Creek Road,” I continued.
“See that light bulb?” one boy asked pointing up the hill. “I bet it is haunted.”
The back of the truck became quiet. Suddenly, we heard a large crack. It was either a gunshot, firecracker, or one of the boys had slapped the side of the truck. A girl screamed. We quickly sped away.
“Did anyone get shot?” Jack asked.
“No, but it scared us,” I said.
“What time do think Dad will get here?” Jack asked, quickly changing the subject.
“I don’t know,” I said, as we heard a train whistle blowing in the distance.
“Can we just watch the trains and not tell anymore stories, Grandpa?” Jack asked with a little quiver in his voice.
With that, the blue and yellow train whizzed by and Jack shifted back a little. The engineer blew the whistle and waved. Surprising, he was wearing a Freddy Krueger mask.
“Freddy Krueger is dead, isn’t he grandpa?” Jack asked.
“Of course,” I replied.
“I wouldn’t be too sure about that,” the old man said, flashing his crooked teeth.
“That doesn’t scare me,” Jack said, as he gave a look that wiped the smile off the old man’s face.
Pat Haley is a Clinton County Commissioner.