Reed and I were together for five years, but sometimes I lost track. As they say: time flies when you’re having fun. He was everything I’ve ever wanted in a man. Reed was handsome, patient, attentive and passionate. Recently, I had the pleasure of stringing nearly one hundred iterations of the word “yes” together, clutching my mouth, tears of joy running over my fingers. I never thought I could love as much as I love Reed.
I’ve always dreamed of walking down an isle of budding lilacs on a warm spring day. The wooden white chairs line the isle with all my friends on either side and my mother looking on with her shimmering beautiful smile. Beyond the purple garden would be the calming rolling ocean, beating against a bright white sand beach. But as you know, love alone doesn’t finance the wedding I’ve fantasized about since I was a little girl. We’re both still drowning in student debt and I haven’t exactly found the salary I expected when I graduated. But once you find your true love, you have all the time in the world.
Nonetheless, Reed and I decided we should take a celebratory engagement vacation. He was under a lot of pressure after his new promotion to senior manager, and my company had just wrapped up year-end closings. So after a few weeks of my persuasive yet probably incessant pleading, he agreed to take a late summer trip down to Georgia. I wanted to find a cozy historic Airbnb. I’d always wanted to stay in a historic home for a few nights, but probably never buy one because of the mind-numbing maintenance restrictions on updates to it and all other possible issues with owning one. But of course, given our financial situation that was well off the table anyway. Our shared love of history made this an easier sell than most vacations for my stubborn fiancé.
We arrived starry-eyed and wildly in love in Savannah, Georgia as young couples are. I’ll preface this by saying I’ve never fell out of love with him, and I never will despite all that happened. We picked Savannah because of its rich history and colonial feel. For a week we could pretend we lived in simpler times, or at least feel a touch of what it was like in the 19th century. The Airbnb we settled on was just off the main drag, right at the heart of the city. It was built in 1819 by a wealthy couple. The husband, Hugh John built the home for his wife, Maura. He made sure it was constructed to her exact specifications, down to every detail. “How romantic,” I said to Reed, swooning over an early 1800s love story.
“Don’t get any ideas,” Reed jested. “We’d be lucky to own a one bedroom by the time we’re 70 at this rate. Did you see that old lady out front?”
“What old lady?” I asked.
“She looked at me like I had six heads when I unlocked the door to the house. Absolutely disgusted. What did I do?”
I laughed. “Reed, I wouldn’t overthink it too much.” That was one of the things he did best. I guess it was a side effect of his deep emotional connections with people. “Maybe she thought you smelled bad.”
He heaved out a forced laugh and shook his head. She was clearly still occupying his busy mind. “I’ll just bring everything upstairs. You get settled down here and figure out if this place has WiFi.”
“For some reason I doubt it, Reed. But I’ll look around,” I smiled at him over my shoulder and waved goodbye as if he was leaving for work. He grabbed both our suitcases, clenched his teeth, breathed out sharply, and started up the stairs. The old wooden boards creaked beneath his heels. I secretly hoped I wouldn’t find a WiFi password. I just wanted us to enjoy our time together and disconnect from the world.
My eyes tracked him up the winding stairs until he was out of sight. When he was gone I did as he suggested and searched around the main floor for an owner’s manual. We had only ever been in two rentals before, but both had some kind of guide lying around. In Nashville a few sticky notes were pasted to the cabinet with the most beautiful handwriting I’d ever seen. The other was a ‘glamping’ cabin in Pennsylvania where the family left a laminated binder to recommend all 3 restaurants within 30 minutes along with detailed instructions on all their smart home technologies.
I walked through the living room and found very little that resembled a welcome kit. Most of what I found was vintage furniture and candle wax stains on the floor. It was strange such wealthy owners didn’t take the time to repair such obvious stains, but perhaps it reminded them of the house’s age, the stories it had to tell – of which I admittedly knew none. I ran my fingers along the walnut end table beside the couch, my fingers collecting a dusty clump along the way. I wiped it off on the couch’s arm. The house appeared even older than it was. The last thing I forgot to mention about this place was that it burned down in 1831. It was rebuilt in the exact image of the original structure, but it took 3 years for reconstruction. So the house wasn’t quite as old as advertised. I spun around the room before moving onto the kitchen.
The ornate window above the front door was near the only light the house had while the ceiling lights were still off. The sunlight illuminated dust hanging in the air, so still. I approached the fireplace, enamored by its décor. Two dark wooden ionic columns stood at either side of the firebox. The iron bar doors twisted together in front of the charred wood. As I drew closer I noticed the dust hanging in the air still hadn’t moved – hadn’t parted when I walked through it. I slowly raised a hand to test it, to see if it’d shift when I swiped at it.
Suddenly I jumped and gasped. My body jolted involuntarily. I let out a weak shriek I momentarily wished was louder. I spun around, wide-eyed and ready to strike at –
“Hey, sorry. I didn’t mean to scare you,” Reed said with an unwelcome smile. “Did you find the WiFi?” he asked eagerly. “I just finished setting us up upstairs.”
“No,” I admitted with a sigh. “I’ve been…I don’t know. Does the air feel heavy to you?”
“Heavy?” Reed snorted. “What do you mean, Laurie?”
I turned all about to reexamine the dust – I couldn’t see it anymore. I shook my head. “Nothing, forget it. Let’s go find the welcome kit if there is even is one.” Reed could tell I was upset, I saw the way his eyes scanned me. But he didn’t ask.
We looked through the kitchen and eventually found a dirtied Post-It note that read ‘p@S5word’. Reed logged into it and immediately dipped his head into his phone. I watched as his mesmerizing brown eyes glazed over against the blue glow. It ebbed and flashed as his fingers whipped over the screen. I reached out and gently covered the screen, drawing him closer with my other hand. “Hey, Reed honey,” He looked up, his eyes regaining focus. “can we lay off the phones, just for the weekend?”
“Well I just have to check a few emails from work and make sure the team doesn’t need me. We have to get a deliverable out by Monday and –” he started to protest. I cocked my head and grimaced. “Okay, fine, you’re right. Let’s just enjoy this week together.” He slid his phone into his pocket and looked into my eyes the way he did when we first met. “What do you say we tour around a bit?” My grimace turned to an unavoidable smile. I nodded and took his hand. Reed always did know how to make me smile. “Let’s go upstairs. The rooms are amazing.”
And so we did. I followed closely behind him up the winding staircase. I looked up at him, only seeing the back of his wrinkled gray t-shirt and backwards Red Sox hat. The two socks hung from the ‘t’ in ‘Boston’ and the brim was worn from constant use. Come to think of it, Reed would wear that hat more often than he’d ever wear real socks.
I tried to curl my steps inwards to see if I could walk without causing the floorboards to creak, but after more than a few tries I realized it was fruitless. Upstairs the air felt less dense, but maybe that was because Reed was with me. The rooms were as amazing as he suggested. The master bedroom was fitted with a large Persian red and black carpet with a twisting pattern mostly covering the oak wooden floor. The far end of the carpet disappeared underneath the low feet of the king-sized half tester bedframe. Sunlight peeked through the dark green drapes before Reed yanked them open to reveal the grassy square beneath. “It’s beautiful,” I commented. “This was really a great find.”
“You know me,” he said. “Travel planner extraordinaire. It’s an art really.”
I laughed and he broke a smile. Reed wrapped his arm around me. We stood at the window and watched the busy streets below – a woman walking her dog, a man waiting impatiently to cross a street, a couple moseying aimlessly beneath the Spanish moss tree.
Then, I heard a creaking coming from behind us. I shuddered and tucked myself closer to Reed’s side. “Did you hear that?”
“It was probably just a draft,” Reed soothingly replied. “Come on, let’s go check it out.”
I reluctantly followed him away from the bedroom window towards the hall. Reed rounded the corner outside the door frame and briefly zipped out of sight. And in that brief moment…something slammed shut.
I stopped dead in my tracks. I tried to concentrate on my breath, control it – but it only got heavier. My skin grew clammy and most likely pale, my eyes lost focus. I attempted to utter his name, but only a whimper came out. Attempting to gather myself, I tried again. “Reed?” I called out.
“What’s up, Laurie?” his hatted head poked out from the door frame.
I sighed, relieved and wiped my brow with my sleeve. “Nothing,” I replied.
“What is it? You’ve seemed on edge since we got here.”
I nodded, confirming his observations. “I just – it’s just I’ve read so much about this city and how haunted it is. I guess it all really got to my head. I’m probably just being paranoid.”
Reed laid a hand on my shoulder and guided me out of the bedroom. “So you did psych yourself out – even when I told you not to. You know how you get with ghost stories.”
“You’re right. But you know there’s just been so much death here – 2 bouts of yellow fever, fires, unsolved murders, you can’t help but think -” He gave me a stern look. “No, you’re right.”
“There are no ghosts,” he said. “You’ll be fine.” In a way I guess his statement still holds true. I would be fine.
We reached the living room once more, and from a long day of travel and scaring myself with ghost stories on the internet, I flopped onto the couch in exhaustion. Reed still had much more energy than me and started looking for the TV remote. I’d have to concede the battle over the TV in my vendetta against electronics on vacation. I caressed the velvety carpet with my bare toes while I watched him search. Reed stuck his hand behind the television and scurried his fingers over the mantel on which it sat. His expression suddenly shifted and he triumphantly presented the television remote and declared, “Found it.” Reed made his way to the couch without looking and instead examining the buttons on the remote the full way over.
As Reed shuffled over to the couch his sneaker caught on a divot in the carpet. “Woah,” he yelled shakily. While the remote occupied one hand, his other arm flailed for balance. He fell flat on his stomach with an echoing thud. I started laughing. I couldn’t help myself. “It’s not funny,” he winced.
I tried to stop but it was no use. My sides buckled and my eyes would hardly stay open, tearing up at the corners. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry.” But I continued laughing anyway. Eventually, I was able to hold my breath long enough that my laughing subsided. I looked back over to him. “Here, let me help you up.”
Reed shushed me. “Hold on a minute.” He closed his fist and lightly hit the carpet. “Do you hear that?”
“Hear what?” I asked, though I already knew what he meant. I heard it too.
“It sounds…hollow.” Reed tossed the remote to the side, suddenly disinterested with the television. At the moment, I preferred he dove into his phone’s screen again. He grabbed the carpet’s lining and lifted the corner. His eyes squinted, his face overtaken by wonder. He pulled it back further.
“What is it, Reed?” I asked. I stood to get a better look.
He didn’t answer, but continued pulling. He stood from where he fell and pulled up two thirds of the carpet, then threw it over the couch. His eyes lit up like a five-year-old boy who’d just seen a train for the first time.
“What is it?”
“It’s – It’s -” he stammered. “It’s a door.” I approached his side to lay eyes on his discovery. “That is so cool.” His tone changed drastically. Reed knelt down and blew on the wooden floor.
Dust drifted aside and sure enough, there it was: a distinctive rectangular outline splitting the floorboard’s natural pattern. A couple screws secured one side of the shape while the other was fastened with a circular faded silver handle lying flat nestled into a slot in the wood. Of course, Reed’s arm shot towards the handle. He stared at me deviously.
“Reed, no. Don’t open it. You don’t know what’s down there.”
“Maybe it’s where they store all the dead bodies,” he jeered.
“Or maybe the owner puts all their personal stuff they don’t want you touching down there. Leave it alone,” I pleaded. I frowned forcefully, putting on my best guilt-inducing expression.
It was too late. Reed was too entrenched in the idea. “Come on, Laurie. I’m not going to steal anything. I just want to have a look.”
“Can’t you be respectful of their place? I want to be invited back. It’s beautiful here.”
Even as I spoke, the handle was already firmly in his grasp. “Where’s your sense of adventure? I’m just going to have a peek. 5 minutes tops.”
I sighed. “Fine.” I didn’t mean it. I still wished he would just relent.
Instead, Reed’s smile widened. He put all his weight behind the handle, and stood, pulling it from its frame. Once the door was above his shoulders, he finished the job by pushing from underneath. It creaked against its rusted old hinges until the door smacked into the floor beside it. “Reed,” I scolded. “Be careful, you’re going to scratch the floor.”
“Sorry,” he said with clenched teeth, knowing as well as I did it would leave a mark.
The opened floor revealed a wooden ladder. My guess is it hadn’t been used in over one hundred years. A step was broken in half, and it swayed against the drafty air, dipping into the pitch-black nothingness beneath. I’d never seen such pure darkness. I had an unnerving hunch: something sinister crept beneath. I tried to shake the feeling, writing it off as another incarnation of my internet ghost stories.
Reed stuck a foot on the ladder’s first rung to test it. He put more and more of his body weight on it until he was confident it could hold him. Appearing satisfied, he turned around to dip his torso into the hole, grabbing onto the ladder. “Reed,” I pleaded once more.
He looked up at me with his gleaming brown eyes. “5 minutes tops.” I stepped back, oddly worried the hole would suck me in. I watched the top of his Red Sox baseball cap fade into the darkness below. His feet slapped against the wet ground beneath. An artificial light flicked on and beamed around him. He’d taken his phone out of his pocket for a flashlight. Reed looked back up at me, the baseball cap pushing into his shoulder blades. “Just so I can see. Then I’ll put it away, promise.”
I nodded, not sure if he could detect such subtlety in my movements from 10 feet down. He either saw my nod or didn’t need my approval, most likely the latter. Reed pointed his phone forwards and slid deeper into the darkness. Despite his phone illuminating his surroundings, I saw no sign of the floor he stood on, or even what surrounded him. The light ceased only about six inches around him in any direction. And then – silence. I couldn’t tell how far he had ventured, and soon the time he spent down there grew hazy. My tapping foot and sweating brow all but annihilated any natural sense of time I might have had.
Where was he? How big could the cellar or whatever was down there actually be? Why didn’t I hear even a peep? It was so unlike him. My mind swirled. I began to fear the worst. “Reed,” I called down, sticking my face into the foreboding hole. He didn’t answer. “Reed,” I repeated.
Then I heard someone running, but the steps were too light to be his. Pattering against the damp ground, splashing through each puddle. Something resembling pots and pans fell. I shuddered – giggling echoed from the hole – the giggle of a little girl. “Reed?” I called out meekly. Who was down there with him? The laugh echoed slightly louder.
As scared as I was, I needed to go down looking for him. He was my fiancé, and it was time to bail him out of another one of his adventures. I grabbed my phone, turned my back towards the hole, and descended the ladder. I coughed against the musty air beneath. I took each step cautiously, each rung more obscured than the last in the thick black hole. Finally, I felt the ground, soaking against my bare feet. “Ugh,” I muttered to myself. I groped my pockets, trying to get a decent hold on my phone. I wrapped my fingers tightly around it to be sure not to drop it in whatever I was standing in. The screen lit up with an old selfie of Reed and I in front of the Washington Monument on a crisp Spring day. I pressed the button on the bottom left of the lock screen, activating the flashlight. Just as it had been for Reed I saw nothing beyond 6 inches in front of my face. The light was swallowed by whatever lie ahead. “Reed,” I called out louder. Still no answer.
Then I jumped and yelped. My heart pounded faster. The giggle echoed once more, even louder this time, all around me. I couldn’t tell what direction it came from and I was positive it wasn’t Reed. “Reed, who’s down here? Where are you?” Still nothing. I started to get angry with him. “Reed, answer me. Where are you? This isn’t funny.” No reply. I inched forwards, extending my phone out in front of me to provide better lighting – it was useless. “Reed, where are you?”
Something moderately hard hit my knee, then splashed into a puddle beside my foot. “Ow”, I yelled, but it startled me much more than it hurt. It had the texture of cloth, but heavily reinforced. I guided the phone’s light down to get a better look at what it was. I gasped and tripped over my own heels. I couldn’t get away from the sight fast enough. In a murky puddle beside my feet, about 6 inches deep was…his hat. That Red Sox hat floated and spun slowly in the puddle until it turned around revealing more of a dark red than I was so accustomed to – splotches of blood seeped down over the badge and saturated the brim. I covered my shaking lips with my free hand and began to cry. “Reed, please answer me. Where are you?” I managed to utter through a shaking voice.
Then the running started again. The pitter patter of small feet darting over the wet ground grew louder. It neared me, and so did the laughing. Louder and louder it ran and pounded. I grabbed the hat and sprinted back towards the ladder. Somehow, whoever was running kept pace with me, still edging closer. I slipped my phone into the pocket, placed the hat loosely upon my head, wrapped my fingers around the rungs above my head, my feet clamored for a spot on the lower portions of the ladder. The faster she ran, the louder the steps. The giggling ensued.
I climbed and climbed. Out of the darkness I ascended. I thrusted my right elbow over the trapdoor’s frame, onto the surrounding floorboards. And then the running stopped. She was here. The giggling no longer echoed as much as it resonated from beneath my feet – it was even more terrifying. Her small fingers grabbed at my ankles, long nails piercing my pant leg. I pressed my elbow harder into the oak floor for support against her pull. She couldn’t pull too hard: she was no more than 10 years-old. But her nails dug so deep, her giggle broke out into a demonic laugh. I kicked violently, my legs flailing. “Help,” I cried out, not knowing who would hear. The long nails ripped at my skin, slipping downwards. The hand pulled harder, but I mustered the strength to hoist my torso over the opening and onto the floor. From there it was easier to kick, easier to break loose of the demonic girl. Her laughing turned to frustration, grunting. Finally, I wiggled loose and darted from the trapdoor. I ran out the front, Reed’s baseball cap still bobbing on my head. I called the police and continued running – running as far away as I could from that horrible house. My wet bare feet scraped against the uneven brick sidewalks, but I didn’t care.
The police opened a case within 15 minutes of my call: timelier than I expected. They sent a team into the house and requested I joined them to point them in the right direction. I vehemently refused. I didn’t want anything to do with whatever was in there. I told them about the trapdoor, about the heavy air, about the baseball cap, Reed, and the laughing girl. They took me seriously enough, or as much as I’d expect anyone to given the story. After about ten minutes the team emerged. They all had the same look on their faces, disappointment, awkwardly sucking their lips, avoiding eye contact. The police chief approached me, the Red Sox cap I gave him still in his hands. He haphazardly offered it back to me just before beginning to speak. “Laurie, right? Listen, we see cases like this all the time. It’s a haunted town, you know? It’s not that we don’t believe you, we just…”
“Won’t you at least look?” I shot back, tears still welled in my eyes. “He’s my fiancé for Christ’s sake.”
The chief nodded and his team converged around me. He continued. “That’s the thing. We did look, Miss. We were just in there. My boys saw the rug in the living room and looked underneath just like you said. Laurie, the thing is…there was no trapdoor.”
“What?” I hissed. “Yes, there is, I know it, I saw it – I went down there. Reed is still down there with that little demon girl. You need to look for him, please.” As the words came out of my mouth I hardly believed it myself.
“I can’t waste department time on conspiracy theories and ghost stories, you have to understand. I’m sorry.”
Another man on his team grabbed my hands and thrust my wrists together. “Please,” I said, crying once more.
He turned away and got in the driver’s seat of his car.
I’m out of jail now, 3 months later. Reed’s parents still think I did it, but they never found any evidence other than Reed’s hat. No body, no more blood, no nothing. I lost my fiancé that day, and no jail sentence would have been worse. Even though I’ve left that prison and Savannah altogether, my life has less meaning than it used to. I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to love again. I’ll always think back to that trapdoor and that bloody Red Sox cap. I’ll look over our pictures sometimes, loosely capturing all the years we had together.
Since losing Reed, I’ve wanted nothing more than answers. The Savannah PD has tried to close the case multiple times on false conclusions, but I always call back giving them an ear full about it each time. Reed Garland is still in that house, still down there with that girl.
After a while, I gathered the strength to research the house we stayed in. Pouring over countless articles and accounts of the house I finally found the answers I needed. Prior to burning down in 1831, the house was a hub for the underground railroad. It was responsible for hiding and transporting slaves up north to freedom. The house burned down because a group of barbaric slave owners came one day looking for their ‘property’. When they arrived, the homeowners, their daughter and the twenty slaves all descended into their secret basement accessed through a trapdoor in the living room. The slave owners still ransacked and the house, until it was nothing more than charred, simmering wood littering the property. charred wood littered the property in its place. None of the house’s inhabitants ever escaped and only a few unidentifiable corpses were found. Since then, the house was rebuilt, but that trapdoor – that trapdoor never was.