Martha said, “no, it doesn’t matter but it’s a very sad story.”
“Go on then,” I said.
Martha began. “Mr. Brooks was the last owner of the property and he had designs on making it a beautiful, show-stopping home, complete with gardens that would be rivaled by none.”
She said, “they say that Mr. Brooks had all the modern amenities installed in the house…well at least modern for that day and age. Then he started on the grounds. He planted every conceivable flower known to man and people would stop by and just marvel at the beauty.”
“He carved out a plot for vegetables and worked all day, tilling and planting and tilling and planting.” Martha looked at Betty and queried, “didn’t he have a little boy or something?”
Betty said, “no, he had a little girl. I heard they used to walk around and Mr. Brooks would tell her the names of all the flowers in the yard, and show her the seeds for the vegetables he was going to plant.”
Martha and Betty had long since excluded me from the conversation. I watched and listened as they told each other the story. I didn’t really mind.
Betty looked at Martha and laughed as she said, “did you hear about the time old man Brooks started shooting and the sheriff had to go out and tell him to stop?” Martha said, “no. I didn’t hear that.”
I finally interrupted their little gab-fest and asked Betty what she was talking about. I think she was a little embarrassed and apologized for having more or less cut me out of the conversation.
She said, “well Mr. Brooks was having a time with raccoons. They tore up his flower beds and ate his vegetables…just made a mess of everything he had worked so hard to do. He couldn’t run them off, so he decided to stay up one night and shoot them. Well, that didn’t set too well with the sheriff, so he went out and warned Mr. Brooks that if he did it again, he would be arrested for disturbing the peace.”
“What happened then?” I asked. Martha looked at Betty and then at me and said, “well, Mr. Brooks bought some traps. Not those cage things you see now where you can catch and release. He bought bear traps. He didn’t have it in mind to save the little critters. He wanted them dead. So, he set all the traps and just waited. Now, this,” she said, “is the heart-breaking part.”
I steadied myself as I thought, “I know where this is going.”
Betty said, “one day, his little girl went out to pick some flowers and stepped in one of the bear traps. She was so far from the house, that no one could hear her scream. Her poor little foot was cut clean off. I heard that she lay in that flower bed and bled to death.”
That explained the little foot in the shoe. It was indeed a heart-breaking story and I felt even more guilty for having stolen that little shoe, but why was it buried in the little building?
Betty continued to tell the story. “As you can imagine, Mr. Brooks was beside himself with guilt and grief. They came to get the little girl but he wouldn’t let them have the shoe. They say he used to walk around with it and wouldn’t let anyone touch it.”
“The strain was too much and his wife eventually left him. He stayed in the house and turned into a recluse. The gardens turned to weeds and the house started deteriorating around him but he didn’t seem to care. They say he went to jail two or three times.”
“For what?” I asked. Betty said, “well, he sort of went insane. He started stealing shoes. Back then, people would leave their shoes in front of the door. It was some sort of superstition or something, I think. Anyway, Mr. Brooks would go take one of the shoes, take it home and bury it somewhere.”
I knew where he had buried them, but I wasn’t telling.
“Anyway, he would get arrested and spend three or four nights in jail and then get out and do it again. It was another superstition. I think they say if you bury a shoe…just one shoe…it’s good luck. I’ve also heard that if you bury a shoe from a loved one who has gone away, they will return.”
I was fascinated…and also so very sad. I was also glad that I had returned the shoes. If I had somehow interrupted Mr. Brooks’ good luck, maybe it would come back now.
I didn’t dare tell them what I had done, nor did I dare tell them that I had been in possession of the little girls’ shoe. I told them that I thought allowing him to revisit the property he once owned was a nice thing for the city to do.
I said, “He seemed to be sane when I met him. And he told me that the place was rumored to be haunted by a little girl with a crutch, but I figured he just didn’t want me to come around there. Bless his heart. I guess he got better though because, like I said, he seemed to be sane when I talked to him, although he did tell me not to come back around there.”
They looked at each other and again, looked at me. Martha chuckled and said, “I guess you could say he got better and I guess you could say he seems to be sane now…but he’s been dead for years.”
I was stunned. “What do you mean? I just talked to him yesterday.”
Martha laughed and said, “you talked to his spirit. He put a shotgun in mouth and blew his head off. Sorry if that sounds crass, but that’s what he did. Don’t feel bad. Like I said, you aren’t the first person who has met the ‘caretaker’, and you won’t be the last.”