The Haunted House | October 19, 2022

As you’ll see in the news, the Williston Herald is running a kid’s ghost story contest.  When I read it, I thought, “I want to write a ghost story.”  The last time I wrote a short fiction piece so many of you lovely people sent me the nicest notes and I’m like a gremlin when it comes compliments (and food) – feed me and I won’t leave you alone.  So, in the spirit of Halloween and contests that I’m too old to do, here you go.

The Haunted House

by Amanda Kosior

“Don’t go over to that house, Coop, you hear me?”  Natalie Schanz’s sunshine smile had darkened to a thin grey line.  Around her feet, the autumn leaves swirled.  “Pretend like it’s not even there.”

Coop looked at his mother, who had only moments before been laughing with her childhood friend.  Her mother gave him the look that said that he shouldn’t even think about it.

“Don’t even think about it,” Laura Rooney said.

Natalie’s son, Sawyer, shifted his weight to the other side of his bicycle, and stared at the ground.

Coop was pretty sure he was going to like his new house.  He was pretty sure he was going to like his new school, and his new neighborhood, and his new town, and North Dakota in general, because they were all like his house, school, neighborhood, and town in Wisconsin – only now they were closer to his grandma and grandpa.  He was pretty sure he was going to like living across the street from Sawyer, because Sawyer was also eleven, played hockey, and rode a bike.  But he wasn’t sure what to think about that old, rundown house at the end of the block.

“Sawyer will show you all the good places you can go; won’t you, buddy?”  Natalie’s smile returned.

Sawyer nodded, his eyes still downward.

“I see they still haven’t done anything about The Olson’s,” Laura had said to Natalie five minutes earlier when she had brought over a meat tray and Sawyer to welcome the Rooneys to the neighborhood.  Laura had tilted her head to the house – which had probably been bright purple once, although now the few flecks of remaining paint were more of a dusty violet – and, as she did, the rickety screen door flapped open and closed a few times.

“They put up a ‘No Trespassing’ sign a couple of times, but you know how it is,” Natalie had said.  “Ardie Jean set up that trust to pay the taxes and keep the lawn and sidewalk clear, so it just goes on and on.”

“Still?”  Laura had scoffed.  “She died, what, fifty years ago?”

“At least.  My dad said it was haunted when he was a kid.”

That’s when Laura and Natalie had remembered that their boys were standing there.

“Don’t go over to that house, Coop, you hear me?”  Natalie said.

Later that afternoon, after the moving van left and the pizza man called, Cooper took his dog, Gunner, for a walk.  He thought about going left, towards the park, because that’s where his mom told him to go; but instead he casually strolled to the right, in the direction of The Olson’s.

Earlier, the street had been busier with cars and neighbors but now it was just Coop, Gunner, and the wind – which pushed him along until he found himself in front of the place he had been warned not to think about.  He studied it.

Cooper had assumed all haunted houses would look like something a person would find at Disney World, with a big spire and a gargoyle or two.  This was just a regular old falling-down house.  The porch tilted so low forward that the weeds had started to wind up the siding and most of the boards covering the windows were long gone.  But still, slap a coat of paint on it and it wouldn’t be too far off from their old home in Wisconsin.  In fact, he was pretty sure his mom had that exact same planter by the door, except this one had pieces of broken glass where the flowers should have been.

Gunner pulled on the leash, bored with the normalcy of this forbidden abode.

“Bye, house,” Cooper said.

The front porch light came on.

Cooper stared at the light.

“Must be a prank,” he said to Gunner, trying not to be scared.  He also tried not to be frozen in place.  Neither seemed to work.

“Stay away from this place, buddy,” a voice called out behind him, and Cooper jumped out of his skin.  He flipped around, grateful that he was at least able to move again.

The voice belonged to a mom pushing a baby in a stroller.  The baby chewed on the ear of a stuffed elephant, holding it out to Cooper as they approached.

“It’s probably about suppertime, isn’t it?”  She asked, patting him gently on the shoulder.  “You’d better get home.”

He nodded, and flipped Gunner’s leash.  She stood in front of The Olson’s until he turned into his driveway.

Cooper didn’t sleep a wink all night.  He got up twice to peek out the window.  In the darkness, The Olson’s front porch light burned brightly.

The light was still on the next morning when Sawyer rode up on his bike.  Together, the boys turned away, towards the park.

They rode until they ran out of runway at the baseball field, where they joined a game of 500 already in progress.  They played until lunchtime, when they, with a few new friends in tow, rode back to Sawyer’s for hot dogs.  For the rest of the day, they rode and played and played and rode until one of the kids – a boy named Jack – said, “I’m hungry,” and, without discussion, all of the boys turned down the road one block behind Cooper’s street.

They parked their bikes behind some tall bushes, and army-crawled to the back door of The Olson’s House.  The back porch light was also on.

“What are we doing?”  Coop whispered.  His voice shook, and he played it off with a cough.

“Shh,” Sawyer said.

A moment passed, and then the back door to the house creaked open.

“C’mon,” Jack whispered, and Sawyer grabbed Cooper’s arm, dragging him forward.  The boys ran up the stairs, through the door, and into the kitchen.

The condition of the kitchen mirrored the outside of the house.  Cobwebs hung off of every surface, from the dented ice box to the shredded polka-dotted window curtains.  Inside the doorless oven, a squirrel chirped.

“Hello, Mrs. Olson,” Jack called.

Once again, Cooper found himself unable to move.  He wished he had listened to Natalie.  He wished he had listened to that lady with the baby.  He wished they hadn’t moved out of Wisconsin.  He wished and wished, but those wishes still didn’t stop the fact that a real-life ghost was floating right up to him.

Except, Cooper realized, his legs loosening up a bit – like the house, this ghost wasn’t very…ghosty.  She was see-through, to be sure; but more of a pinky see-through.  She wore an apron embroidered with hearts and had tied a little bow on the top of her fluffy hair.  Cooper sniffed, and realized the air smelled like chocolate chip cookies, which were his favorite.

“Hello, boys!”  The ghost said in a twinkly, twittery voice.  “Sit down, sit down, I baked too many cookies!”

The boys sat down at the table, which Cooper noticed was not only completely devoid of dust, but polished clean and covered in a lace tablecloth.  Mrs. Olson puttered about the countertop, and when she turned around she was holding a platter of actual, non-transparent chocolate chip cookies. 

She held the platter out to Cooper.  He took one and bit into it.  It was warm and gooey and perfect.

“Now who are you?”  She said, as she pushed the platter to Cooper to make him take a second.

He told her his name the best he could with a mouthful of cookie.

“Cooper Rooney,” she said, tapping her finger on her lips to indicate she was thinking.  “Cooper Rooney.  I don’t know any Rooneys.  Are you from around here?”

“No,” Cooper said.  “But my mom’s family is.  My grandma’s name is Ginny Thompson.”

“Ginny Thompson!”  Mrs. Cooper threw her head back and laughed.  “So you’re Laura’s boy?”

Cooper nodded.

“She loved chocolate chip cookies, too,” Mrs. Olson said, handing him another one before giving the other boys three cookies of their own.

“You can’t tell your mom about this,” Jack said, shoveling two cookies in simultaneously.  And then, in his best mom voice, “Too much sugar.”

Sawyer nodded.  “Always ruinin’ supper,” he sang, and the boys laughed.

Okay, in all honesty, I don’t know where the photo above came from. I didn’t take it. I had it on my phone picture roll with all sorts of other photos that I downloaded that I thought were funny, like this one:

I was going to get a stock photo of a spooky house and saw these skeletons and thought they were much better. If it’s your photo or your skeletons and you want me to take it down, please message me (and I’m sorry).

Obviously, this week’s news has a writing contest. It also has sauerkraut and a perfect game. Read on.

Know a middle schooler or high schooler who loves to write ghost stories?  The Williston Herald is hosting a spooky writing contest! (Williston Herald)

Medora and Garrison have been named two of the coziest towns in America by (KX Net)

Once again, Wishek’s Sauerkraut Days are a stinky, delicious success. (KFYR TV)

Speaking of Wishek, here is a story of two random acts of kindness by teenagers Dominic Sayler and Gavin Wolf. (KFYR TV)

This is the non-obituary obituary for Arthur’s Joanne Iwen. (Fargo Forum)

Congratulations to eleven-year-old Tatum Lee of Bismarck, who bowled a perfect 300 game! (KFYR TV)

For the 42nd year, Williston is Tree City USA. (Williston Herald)

Let’s Be (Official) Pals!

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Socks | October 29, 2020

I don’t think North Dakotans are under any misapprehension that it gets cold around here; there is, however, some inconsistency as to when it happens.  I personally don’t officially acknowledge winter weather until two things occur: 1) I turn on the furnace; and 2) I need to wear socks.

A few days ago, our digital weather systems – we have two, one in the front of the house and one in the back, because my husband doesn’t trust the sun – both read 24 degrees.  A gentle dusting of snow was beginning to fall from a blue-grey sky.  I was working diligently at our dining room table, wearing both a sweater and a sweatshirt.

“Do you think we should turn on the heat?” My husband, Kyle, asked, blowing on his hands as ice crystals began to form in his coffee.

I looked at the thermostat.  We had turned it from “Cool” to “Off” a while back in our annual fall-time ritual where we make a big show of opening the windows and forcing our children to breathe fresh air.  The digital reader on the thermostat was frosted over, but I’m pretty sure it read 62 degrees.

“No, it’s supposed to warm up,” I said.

“When?”  Kyle asked.

“Well, springtime, for sure,” I said, as a family of penguins waddled through the room.

For someone who goes out of her way to avoid mild inconveniences, I will live with refrigerator-like temperatures in my home if I think there’s even an inkling of a chance for 50-degree weather in the next 30 calendar days.  The thing is this: once I turn on the furnace, I’m acknowledging that I’m cold.  Cold is such a subjective feeling when you’re a North Dakotan because 30 degrees in October is glacial and 30 degrees in March is hot enough to cook an egg on the sidewalk.  Using that logic, my theory is that if I don’t know that it’s cold, it’s not cold.

I have a similar feeling about socks.

In Laura Ingalls Wilder’s book “On the Banks of Plum Creek,” as soon as the frost is out of the ground, Ma packs away the children’s shoes and Laura and her sister go barefoot until the following winter.  A recurring theme in our marriage is Kyle’s disappointment in my shoe choices.  It’s a fair concern – I once went pheasant hunting in ballet flats – but I’ve come to realize the problem is much less with the shoes, and much more with the lack of socks.  Because, like Laura Ingalls Wilder, I will only wear socks if there’s three feet of snow on the ground.

Case in point: it was snowing the other day when I dropped the boys off at school, and so I naturally put on a down coat, stocking cap, and gloves to keep warm.  I also wore flip-flops, because it’s October and not January.  When I got home, I noticed that Kyle tucked my flip-flops in the hall closet and set out my much-more-sensible-but-requiring-of-socks boots.  I have since compromised by wearing slippers, because it’s definitely not cold enough for socks.

Speaking of socks, here’s an older story of one of my chillier Halloweens.  And speaking of October, I was sitting at the aforementioned dining room table when the sun came over the trees just right and turned everything a brilliant gold – the photo is above.  And speaking of North Dakota, here’s this week’s news – about National Adoption Month, some young honorary deputy sheriffs, and ornament makers.  Read on.

November is National Adoption Month, and so the Roman Family in Jamestown is holding a toy drive to make sure that foster kids have something of their own. (Jamestown Sun)

Even though Homecoming has been cancelled, NDSU students are getting out to “Serve the Herd” around the Fargo area. (KVRR)

Seventy-two North Dakota National Guardsmen are off to Washington D.C. for a national mission. (KX Net)

Three Glen Ullin teenagers helped a deputy sheriff with an arrest, and got an award for it. (Bismarck Tribune)

Have a field photo that you’re itchin’ to share?  The ND Corn Growers Association is looking for corn-related photos for their annual contest. (Jamestown Sun)

Minot’s Nancy Pietsch has published her first poetry book. (Minot Daily News)

My sons will bypass two bathrooms to go outside to go to the bathroom, so they would be all over this fancy outhouse in Harvey. (Fargo Forum)

There are 30 children in North Dakota looking for families through Adults Adopting Special Kids, an organization which helps place kids that are older, of a minority race, in a sibling group, or have physical, emotional, or psychological needs. (KFYR TV)

Mandan 4-Hers are beading up ornaments for the State Christmas Tree at the Morton County Law Enforcement Center. (Bismarck Tribune)

A good reminder for Katie Pinke to say thank you to the people who keep us humming. (Dickinson Press)

Twelve artists have been hired to paint murals in Bismarck’s Art Alley, including Mahalia Mees, who is featured in this article by KFYR TV. (KFYR TV)

Congratulations to Shawnee Kasemen, the newly-crowned Miss North Dakota! (McIntosh County Star Tribune)

Ten North Dakotans were honored by the National Extension Association for Family and Consumer Sciences for their work on health and nutrition programs for children. (McKenzie County Farmer)

(Like the story above?  Check out last week’s tale of a rad Halloween costume.)

Nice news of the week – July 16, 2020

Did you know New York’s Lincoln Center is streaming songs from the musical Carousel – and Grand Forks’ Michael Marcotte is one of the performers? You can check it out here through August.

And did you know this week’s news has a warehouse full of Girl Scout cookies, a virtual movie club, and a rare breed of fox.  Read on.

Thin Mints for everyone!  The Girl Scouts donated 3,000 boxes of cookies to Sanford as a thank you to healthcare workers. (KFYR TV)

The Mandan Flower Project is coming up roses in its desire to spread a little cheer. (KX Net)

Parshall’s Mel and Darlene Malnourie love trees so much that they have taken it upon themselves to care for 350 evergreens in the area. (BHG News)

The kids at Wiggles and Giggles sold lemonade, cupcakes, and cookies to raise money to fill backpacks with school supplies in advance of the upcoming school year. (KVRR)

Twenty years ago, Bismarck’s Brian Selzler wrote a story with his daughter, Chelsey, on the way from Bismarck to Grand Forks, and now that book is available for everyone to enjoy. (KFYR TV)

The Traill County Historical Society is giving tours of the 100-year-old Bloomfield schoolhouse. (Hillsboro Banner)

After the high school’s official prom was cancelled, Wishek took the grand march to the streets. (KFYR TV)

You know how I feel about all of these beautiful building murals – and now Jamestown has a new one to show off. (Jamestown Sun)

In Fargo, the North Dakota Horse Park is back to the races. (KVRR)

The Fargo Theater may have temporarily closed its doors, but it has found a bunch of new ways to engage with their audiences – including a virtual movie club and a special marquee that was retweeted by the screenwriter and lead actor of “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure.” (Fargo Forum)

Mandan’s Daryl and Virginia Kerzman are supporting local businesses by eating out every night – and just surpassed their 305th meal at Bennigan’s. (KX Net)

This is a sweet North Dakota love story, 40 years in the making. (Fargo Forum)

Start up your vintage engines!  Dickinson’s annual Prairie Car Show is expected to be the largest one in event history. (Dickinson Press)

The Red River Zoo has three new swift foxes as a part of a breeding program to protect this rare species. (Dickinson Press)