Ghost story of a Dallas boy who meets the girl of his dreams in a Texas small town. A girl who might be too good to be true. Written by Bob Hopkins.
The weather was perfect that third day in May as the boy, energetic and youthful, walked out the door of his childhood home with an ample bit of courage coupled with excitement, but shadowed with a slight hint of fear. It was on that day the boy became a man. That beautiful morn in May was his twenty-first birthday and life seemed so full of possibilities, and like a pit bull full of spit and courage to face the unknown, regardless of what may come, he trotted into a day of boyish vigor morphing into manhood.
It was a typical spring morning and not a cloud in the sky. Just the kind of day for an adventure, and not just any adventure – today, Hayden Hawkins would celebrate his birthday with a gift that most boys his age would certainly envy if offered half the chance. Today would be the day when Uncle Red would finally allow Hayden to drive his treasured 1964 Chevy Corvette, a priceless gem of Americana, one that still dominates the dreams of car lovers both young and old alike.
He arrived at Uncle Red’s house about 9 AM that morning with unbridled anticipation. Red, his mother’s brother, three years her senior, met him at the door with a list of what not to do while behind the wheel of his classic automobile, rules of the road spelled out by a man who treated his car better than he treated his wife. Hayden, hearing only about half of the lecture, couldn’t wait for Red to hand over the keys. After absorbing an eternity of instructions he finally found himself sliding into the driver’s seat of a classic piece of machinery.
Where would he go? What would he do? He was forbidden to allow any of his “hoodlum” friends, as Red called them, to even sit in the car, let alone ride in it – Red’s strict orders. So, he just drove in the direction the car was facing: eastbound. Soon he found himself cruising through the campus of Southern Methodist University and figured that was as good a route as any while the warm wind caressed his youthful face, bobbing to the music on the radio which was blaring loudly from the convertible classic.
Soon he connected to the dreaded 75 Central Expressway, six lanes of southbound traffic speeding toward the very center of “Big D.” Like a bead of water into an ocean he too blended into the endless stream of steel and rubber floating toward the heart of the city. One either needed to be a part of it or be run over by it and if he wasn’t careful, it could easily be the latter if he dared slow down or take his eye off the eighty mile an-hour traffic.
Hayden was as giddy as a child as his swelling pride rose up once he discovered he was the envy of most drivers along the highway, gawking at the Vette with smiles, envy, and even an occasional “thumbs up.” He found it almost impossible to keep his foot light on the throttle but even in his youthful venture, discipline would keep him safe from such dangerous thoughts. And still, where to go? It didn’t matter; he had all day and the world, that day, belonged to him.
Before long, Hayden found a deep desire to get out of the city and since he was southbound on Interstate 35, he figured he’d just keep going. It was near noon by now and he was getting hungry while taking the Highway 287 exchange – next town, Waxahachie.
He’d heard of the small town but had never been there and his stomach convinced him that stopping for a burger anywhere was a must. Route 287 Business was his next exit west into the middle of the historic north Texas village. Fertile fields and forests of pecan and oaks soon gave way to historic stately homes on either side of the road. He was amazed as he passed one historic home after another giving his imagination a hint of life in the old days. The pride of the village was a beautiful red stone courthouse right in the middle of the town square surrounded by unique 19th century commercial architecture. He soon found a quaint little restaurant right across the street from the courthouse and had a bite to eat among cut limestone walls lined with black and white pictures and décor from a time when cotton was king and Waxahachie, Texas thrived by the profits of it.
Once Hayden devoured the best home cooking he’d ever had away from his mother’s table he decided to cruise the Victorian neighborhoods and admire the historic homes. He was mesmerized as he drove past one beautiful house after another, each outlined with bright colors, gingerbread trim, large wrap-around porches and stately yards manicured to perfection.
Early-afternoon was looming as thoughts beckoned his return to Dallas, when suddenly the car sputtered. His heart sputtered along with it. Not only would a breakdown maroon him in unfamiliar territory but Uncle Red specifically instructed him not to take the car very far from the neighborhood. He just knew he would be in some serious trouble if Uncle Red found out. Another sputter, a cough and that was it…nothing. The car died and rolled to a stop, and Hayden found himself stranded without any idea of what the engine looked like, let alone what could be wrong with it.
Once again, he tried to start the car but to no avail. Over and over he turned the key but the engine just churned and sputtered. So, naturally, he got out of the car and lifted the hood glancing at the motor, not that he had any idea what he was looking at but that is what men were supposed to do. He was no mechanic.
Not knowing what to do next Hayden instinctively started jiggling wires and checking for loose parts when his hand unintentionally came in contact with a hot radiator cap. “Ouch!” he shouted as he jerked his arm back, striking the support rod dropping the hood directly on his head. Frustrated, he let out an expletive that would embarrass anyone in mixed company. But he was not in mixed company, or so he thought until he heard the sweetest voice on God’s earth.
“You broke down?” she yelled from the safety of the porch. It was only then that he realized his car had stalled in front of a beautiful Victorian house with a large wrap-around front porch. Sitting in a rocking chair on the porch was one of the most beautiful girls Hayden Hawkins had ever set his eyes upon.
“What’s the matter with your fancy car?” she yelled again. Hayden found himself awestruck and suddenly unable to speak. “Are you deaf or something?” she hollered.
“No,” he replied, somewhat insulted and embarrassed all at the same time. “It just died.” At that she stood up and walked down the sidewalk toward the car. Hayden was instantly smitten with the girl as if bewitched, even though she seemed a bit feisty in her initial tone. It mattered not, she was a Goddess as far as he could tell.
“Is it yours?” she asked.
“Uh, no…it’s my, my Uncle Red’s,” he stuttered. “We live up in Dallas and, well, he lets me drive it.”
“Do you always tear up your Uncle Red’s stuff…Just kidding,” she said with a smile. “You want to use our phone to call your Uncle?”
“I guess so,” he reluctantly replied, knowing that the phone call could spell out the end of driving the car forever.
“Well, come on up to the porch and I’ll ask my mother if you can come in and use the phone.” Hayden had his cell phone in the car but ignored it – if doing so would lend him any prospect of being in the company of such beauty.
“Mama,” she yelled into the back of the house, “there’s a boy who needs to use the phone, his car broke down in front of the house!”
“What boy?” came a woman’s voice from the same direction.
“Just a boy,” the girl yelled back. “He just needs to use the phone!”
“Alright, yelled her mother, “but don’t go any further into the house, I just waxed the dining room floor and I don’t want anyone walking on it for a while!”
“Okay, Mama,” the girl replied, motioning Hayden into the large foyer lined with dark oak wainscoting upon a crimson carpet that covered the heart-o-pine flooring.
He found the home elegantly fashioned in comfort but oddly retrospect in decor. The young lady pointed toward an old rotary telephone sitting in a little nook just inside the main hall next to the beautiful staircase that led to the second floor. “Strange,” he thought as his eyes spanned the room which smelled of fresh cooked pastries mixed with floor wax, odd yet inviting all at the same time. Hesitant to use the phone, mostly because he wasn’t sure how to operate the antique rotary dial, he figured he’d wait a bit before calling Uncle Red. Maybe the engine just got hot, he thought, and he could let it cool off and then see if it would start. Besides, he could think of no better place on earth to be stranded.
“Sorry, I didn’t introduce myself. I’m Barbara, Barbara Hill.”
“Nice to meet you,” he replied as he found himself hypnotized by her beauty and her smile.
“So, do boys from Dallas not have names?” she asked with a curious smile.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” he replied embarrassingly. “I’m Hayden, Hayden Hawkins.”
“Nice to meet you Hayden Hawkins,” she replied with a slight giggle.
“I think I’ll wait on that phone call and just let the engine cool down a bit, if you don’t mind,” said Hayden.
“Suit yourself,” she said. “You can sit out on the porch and relax a bit if you’d like,” of which he was more than happy to oblige.
He quickly made himself comfortable in one of the large white rocking chairs with thick padded cushions surrounded by big tropical plants as he took note of two hummingbirds sipping from the blooms on the crepe myrtles. Barbara sat in the chair next to him quickly joined by a gray tabby cat who she affectionately called “Mr. Doodles”.
“Do you go to school? she asked.
“Yes’em,” he replied, in his usual southern drawl, “I do. I just finished my third year at Texas. I’m working on my business degree. What about you? Do you go to school here?” he asked her.
“I’ll graduate high school in a couple of weeks,” she replied. “I’ll be a freshman at Baylor this fall. I can’t wait.”
The conversation went on and on and Hayden was beginning to understand the silly notion of love at first sight. They shared interests and hobbies and each other’s goals for life as if time no longer held any meaning. He learned that her father was a physician who had a practice up in Dallas, her mother stayed home and her brother Roy was in the Army, a first lieutenant stationed right out of Fort Hood, Texas, and Mr. Doodles, well, he just walked up to the house one day and they took him in.
They spoke of things like childhood memories, grandparents and friends – all the while careless of the stress that comes with adulthood and responsibilities. The only thing that suddenly existed for them seemed to be the bliss of the moment.
The day evaporated and Hayden suddenly realized that evening was upon them and he still had a car problem on his hands. “Wow,” he remarked as he noticed it getting dark, “I guess I need to see if that car is going to start, I had no idea that it was so late.”
“Why don’t you see if it will start now?” she said, as Hayden got up to walk toward the car. She followed down the sidewalk which ran through the manicured lawn to the curb where the car sat. Hayden rechecked the hood to make sure it was closed when he slid into the seat and tried the ignition once again. With one crank, Vroom! Just like that the engine roared to life. Hayden checked the gauges and everything seemed just fine. Curiously, he got out of the car to thank Barbara for her hospitality.
“I guess maybe it just got hot or something,” he said.
“Yea,” she replied, “cars sometimes do that I guess,” as she shrugged her shoulders while giggling.
“Well, I guess I’d better be getting home, he said, nervously. Suddenly, as if again bewitched he instinctively added, “I sure would like to see you again.”
Barbara said, “Yeah, me too. I really had a nice time today.”
“Would you like to go out next Saturday night?” Hayden nervously asked.
“I’d love too,” she said with a huge smile.
“Great” he said, “it’s a date. Why don’t I pick you up early in the afternoon and you show me around Waxahachie?”
“Sounds wonderful to me,” she said.
“Can I have your phone number?” he asked and she said “Yes,” and made a quick trip back into the house returning with the number written on a small piece of personalized letterhead that read, “Dr. Lewis Roy Hill, MD.” With that Hayden walked around the car and got in, leaving the beautiful girl waving goodbye from the sidewalk in front of her beautiful home.
Hayden’s drive back to Dallas was interrupted by his cell phone. It was Uncle Red inquiring the whereabouts of his classic Corvette and to make sure Hayden was alright. Any punishment handed to him at this moment was irrelevant compared to how he was feeling. He was on cloud nine, floating northbound along a stream of lights toward home, his mind still reeling with the thoughts of the most beautiful girl in the world and eager anticipation of the time he would spend with her next Saturday night.
The week seemed to drag for Hayden. He’d had lots of dates with girls and even had a serious girlfriend in high school but something about Barbara Hill was different. Just the thought of her made him feel all funny inside. Never before had a girl had this kind of impact upon him. Like a five year old waiting for Santa, his thrill and anticipation of seeing her again seemed to grow daily. He could hardly wait. She was all he could think about.
”The number you are calling is no longer a working number…” was the recorded voice each time he dialed the numbers Barbara Hill had written on the oddly faded piece of paper she’d handed him just days before. Hayden tried the number several times, each with the same results. It was the middle of the week and he just needed to hear her voice again and besides, it was proper to confirm the date. But he couldn’t reach her by phone. Not to worry, he thought. He’d planned to show up anyway. Nothing was going to keep him from going to Waxahachie – after all, he had a date with the girl of his dreams and he was going to keep it no matter what.
Soon, Saturday arrived and Hayden, borrowing his mother’s SUV, headed south to the small town half an hour south of Dallas in nervous excitement. It was about four in the afternoon when he pulled up in front of the large Victorian house. But something strange was about. The rocking chairs were missing, as were the plants, and the crepe myrtles were missing their blooms. As a matter-of-fact, the porch was bare and lifeless with the front door shut. No longer warm and inviting as it was the week before, as dust and dead leaves covered the porch and steps as if no one had been there in weeks or even months.
As Hayden walked up the sidewalk he noticed an elderly woman in the lawn next door stooped over a flowerbed. The woman looked his way as if curious of his intentions. He continued up the steps to the front door where he knocked but got no answer. He knocked again when he was interrupted by the elderly neighbor, “Can I help you?”
Oddly startled he replied, “No Ma’am, I’m just here to pick up my date but it seems that nobody is home.”
“Well, young man,” she replied, “that could be because nobody lives in this house.” Hayden looked at the woman as if she had lost her marbles. She went on to say, “No one has lived in the house since 1968. It’s owned by Mr. Roy Hill, who lives near Seattle, Washington. I don’t think he’s actually been here in years. He just keeps the place exactly like it was when he was growing up here. I keep an eye on things for him.”
Hayden was dumb-struck and refused to believe what the old woman said. Most likely crazy, he thought. “Is this some kind of joke?” he replied. “I just met these people a week ago. My car broke down right there,” pointing to the spot at the curb where he had parked the car. “I met the girl who lives here. I walked into the house where I heard her mother in the kitchen. People live here. I saw them. I was here and they were here.”
“Young man,” she replied, “I never said you didn’t see and talk to someone at this house. I simply said no one has lived here for over forty years.”
Hayden looked at her completely puzzled when she asked, “Did you meet a pretty young lady named Barbara with long black hair, beautiful blue eyes and sweet as the morning dew?”
“Yes,” he said with confusion. “Yes, that’s her, that’s Barbara Hill!”
“Did she sit on the porch and talk to you and give you a phone number that you couldn’t call?” asked the old woman.
Hayden was dumbfounded as the woman continued with another question.
“Was she wearing a pair of white slacks with a blue sleeveless sweater and a red ribbon holding her hair back?”
“How do you know all that?” he asked.
“Because you’re not the first,” she said. “I mean, you’re not the first boy who has showed up here for a date with Barbara Hill. Several young men just like you have walked up to these steps expecting to find a warm and friendly young lady waiting for them at this door, but no one has been at this door in many years. Or at least, no one living.”
Hayden was beginning to question his own sanity and not sure he could believe a word of what this crazy old woman was saying.
“The first time it happened was about 1978, ten years after the plane crash. A young man just like you, about your age, showed up one afternoon to take her out on a date, but naturally no one was here and hadn’t been for some time. He knocked on my door looking for any information about my neighbors and young Barbara Hill. I was angry with him at first and told him to leave my property because I thought he was playing a cruel joke. Since that time there have been several, including you who came looking for a beautiful young lady forty years dead. Like a magnet from beyond she continues to come home to this house, somehow, and mingle with young men who instantly fall for her devilish charm and unending beauty…even in death. I’ve lived in this neighborhood since 1948, only a couple of years before Barbara was born. I watched her and her brother grow up here. My husband and I were good friends with her parents. You can only imagine the grief when the family died in that plane crash.”
“Plane crash? What plane crash?” he frightfully asked as his mind wondered if any of this conversation was really happening. He was sure, without a doubt that he stood upon this very porch not a week ago falling hopelessly in love with an 18 year old beauty named Barbara Hill who was as real as he was and very much alive.
The woman continued as she searched her mind for memories, “It was on the 3rd of May, 1968 when they were headed home on a flight from Houston. The Doctor had been to a conference there. He’d decided to take Barbara and her mother along on the trip so the family could spend some time together. The morning was stormy here in Waxahachie and a line of heavy storms had just past through. The plane was en route back when the pilot tried to fly through those storms. The plane just came apart in mid-air and crashed to the ground in a fireball near a small town down near Corsicana. There were no survivors.”
The conversation went silent as Hayden searched every fiber of his being for something to assure him that things like this didn’t really happen. That the ghosts of pretty girls don’t come back to break the hearts of boys like him. But he was left with no choice as the facts began to unfold on that strange afternoon, one that would forever plague his mind in wonder and doubt.
“Barbara was a beautiful girl and very witty,” the woman continued. “She was so full of life and was looking forward to her first year in college. She was a very popular girl whose young life was tragically taken away. I guess she wasn’t ready for that to happen and somehow keeps trying to go on with life the way she lived it, unfortunately, she hasn’t figured out yet that she can’t.”
Once again, another moment of eerie silence caressed the space between Hayden and the old woman.
“Barbara’s older brother Roy was serving in the Army and was in Vietnam at the time. He came home and buried his family. Roy inherited the home but never lived in it again. He hires folks to keep it maintained just like it was when he was growing up and it’s been kept just as it was the day the family left,” she told him as she sadly gazed into the empty yard.
She then stared right at him and said, “You see son, some things in this world are…well, just strange like Barbara Hill and we’ll never have the answers to them. I suggest you go on home now and give this some time to sink in. It’s best if you don’t try to find all the answers in life. You go on now.”
With that she turned and sadly walked away, leaving Hayden Hawkins standing on the front porch of the beautiful home where a beautiful girl once lived on a beautiful day in May many years ago.
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