In the outskirts of what used to be Sage Wyoming, half a mile east of where Twin Creek passed under Rt. 30, the huge moonlit silhouette of the old abandoned Skully barn loomed tall in the cloudless star-pocked night sky.
It was about 40 yards south of a double set of railroad tracks that ran parallel to the east/west highway.
The barn was known far and wide for being unique.
It was also said to be haunted, and aggressively watched over by all of those who died in Sage the day six propane railcars exploded in the double train wreck of ’63.
Legend has it that the spirits of all of the townsfolk chose it because it was the only structure that survived the massive blasts that completely wiped the town off the map and ruptured the earthen dam holding back Lake Sage.
The powerful concussion blew debris from what used to be the Skully family’s newly built house half a mile away. The multiple explosions nearly toppled the enormous barn too, but it heroically withstood the blows… barely.
Truckers now-a-days used it as a landmark when giving directions somewhere for many reasons:
~ The giant ad painted on only the western face of it for something no one locally had ever heard of.
~ Its unusually enormous size.
~ Its extreme northeastern lean towards the railroad tracks as if it were about to fall over, even though it’d been tilted like that since the disaster a couple of decades ago.
One thing in the old barn’s favor was that everyone nearby loved the landmark and jealously protected it.
For another, the only usable entry was from the front and it was close enough to the then moderately busy road for plunderers to be spotted and arrested before they could make off with anything.
Though the barn was directly east of the explosions, it is said that the blast concussion bounced off the hillsides like a billiards shot and struck its southern side somehow. The slant of the structure was such that all doors inside and out were sealed by diagonal pressure on them so that a chainsaw would be needed to enter unless you broke and then crawled through one of the lower windows.
The section of the barn's roof that sloped south away from the two-lane blacktop was almost completely peeled away, then flipped northward intact up and over its peak to land upside-down in the field across the road.
What remained of the other side of the roof facing the highway was nearly untouched.
Since their barn back in Ohio had one, the ad that took up the entire west face from top-to-bottom, side-to-side of it was meant to soothe his wife’s homesickness… which it did.
Only the western side facing where the house once stood had the now faded giant tobacco sign painted on it in black, with soaring white and yellow lettering. The other three sides were painted simply black. The Skully boys had planned to paint the same ad on the opposite side that summer, but eventual circumstances would prevent them from getting around to it.
Through the years, many lobbied to have it declared a historical monument to those who’d died, but they repeatedly failed because of opposition from the powerful railroad…
They wanted it torn down.
Lincoln County eventually took it over for back taxes.
After the railroad threatened to sue if it wasn’t dismantled, they came out in the early 70’s to prop a single telephone pole against its northeast corner, which was more of a gesture than anything that’d really stop it from toppling onto a train if it had a mind to one day.
Wealthy "Old Doc Skully" had owned the farm field that it stood in way back in 1960 when Lake Sage Reservoir kept everything green and lush. After he and his family moved here from the Midwest, he put up a new house where he lived with his wife and three sons; two of which were then in college at Ohio State University.
The "barn" was actually a huge storage building intentionally built in the shape of a farm structure in order to blend in with the local surroundings. It housed five generations worth of collected and handed down Skully family mementos from both sides of a long and prosperous marriage and he spared no expense putting it up.
The bottom floor contained storage for light farming equipment, stalls for a few pet horses, and a complete though compact auto bodyshop for their teenaged son, whose latest hobby was restoring classic old cars. The second and third floor contained a lot of valuable inherited antique furniture and keepsakes. The upper levels were said to hold odds and ends, trunks of vintage old clothes and family photos.
Fortunately the whole family was away in Utah when the calamity happened, and they immediately bought an aluminum house trailer to live in until they could rebuild…
…which was then promptly struck by lightning two weeks later, killing the entire Skully family ironically when its two external propane tanks exploded.
1963 was definitely a cursed year for anyone who lived anywhere near Sage Wyoming.
At 1:20 AM Thursday night, they arrived with a flatbed tow truck. All of its shiny surfaces were coated with mud and its tail and parking lights were covered to hide lit brake lights. The train tracks blocked direct access from the road, so Ted used the ancient driveway rail crossing, circled left around back of the barn, and then backed up to the middle of the front side facing the road, cringing at the loud beeping the truck made when he put it in reverse.
At passing road speeds, he was counting on no one spotting the black truck against the dark barn.
One old sliding wooden door might just give access, but because the structure leaned toward it, it was wedged against the concrete sill so it wouldn’t open without a crowbar and some muscle.
If they could tear it apart, they might be able to just barely squeeze their intended prize through it.
If Bob hadn’t been nearly stoned out of his mind on weed, he’d be scared shitless... and for good reason. From where they stood at the stone foundation, the barn leaned a good four feet out over their heads.
After making short work of the hanging door leaving it shattered in pieces, they entered; shielding their flashlights with their palms.
While Ted studied the wall on either side of the doorframe to see if it could be widened, Bob weaved his way between vertical support beams towards the back and off to the left into the dark, heading for the far southeast corner of the building.
From the light of a nearly full moon shining through their improvised opening, Ted considering sawing through the timbers to the right of the doorframe to widen it. Bearing in mind that a lot of weight load was leaning on it, that probably wasn’t a good idea.
In the dead silence he heard his brother knock over something and cursed bringing him under his breath.
After about ten minutes he was about to get his sledgehammer out of the truck, when suddenly Bob came stumbling quickly at a dead run out of the gloom in hysterics.
"THERE’S SOMEBODY BACK THERE!" he yelled with wild wide eyes.
Ted jumped his older brother and covered his mouth as Bobby tried to repeat himself pointing frantically backwards. Through gritted teeth he warned, "Keep yer fuckin’ voice down!" and then checked outside for any traffic on the dimly lit and vacant road.
One particular Lincoln County deputy that they dealt with a lot towing cars loved this barn, and the last thing they needed was for him to happen on them so they needed to be fast and quiet.
Returning his gaze in the direction of the dark interior, he instructed, "Take a couple of deep breaths 'n tell me what happened."
Bob looked frightened and moved swiftly out of the building to lean against the front driver-side corner of their truck. As his younger brother joined him, Bobby bent forward at the waist resting his palms on his knees and toppled backward against the rig’s big front push-bumper to steady himself.
After his panting panic subsided, he told Ted there was a man and a woman in the car that they’d come for. She was drinking a beer and he was singing to the radio. When they spotted him, she jumped out of her door and threw her glass bottle at him.
Her boyfriend shined his high beams, revved the engine, and blew the horn.
Ted huffed a frustrated sigh and rolled his eyes skyward asking the bright stars for help. "Yer high," he declared with a tone of disgust.
"No," he protested, "I swear!"
"Where’s yer flashlight?"
Bob frowned and glanced around, "I musta dropped it in there."
"C’mon," said Ted and headed back inside, stopping to glance around for witnesses from the road.
This was taking entirely too much time already and the longer they were here the riskier this whole thing got. Especially since his dumbass stoner big brother wore a white t-shirt instead of dark clothing like he was told.
Bob grabbed a short 2-by-4 and the other crowbar from the flatbed and hesitantly followed his brother.
Grabbing the tool from him, Ted stopped them and listened intently…
…Only ear-ringing silence.
Ahead and to the left a flashlight shone on the floor where Bobby’d dropped it. Ted shoved his brother, who stumbled forward to pick it up, shining it ahead of himself but not moving any further.
When Ted caught up to him, Bob insisted in a harsh whisper, "I’m a tellin’ ya there’s someone back there."
Ted huffed loudly through his nose and took the lead, shining the light on the floor ahead of himself. Near the back wall he turned left and was confronted with a standard but solid wooden door.
They listened at it attentively and heard nothing. Beyond it was a narrow workroom where young Jake Skully was putting together a special project car before he died. Rumor had it that it was a nearly completed immaculate 1959 Cadillac Fleetwood.
Stillness surrounded them and silence came from beyond the door. The only sound was of wood softly creaking overhead and bushes outside hissing in the wind.
The younger brother reached for the doorknob and Bob grabbed his hand before he could pull it open.
Bobby urgently said in a scared whisper, "I run like fuckin’ hell brother ‘n believe-you-me I did not stop to close no goddamn door behind me neither."
They listened again together and still heard nothing but the building ticking like an old wooden pirate ship on a rolling sea.
Gathering his wits, Ted impatiently looked at his half-buzzed elder brother and declared, "Yeah, and I didn’t hear no car a runnin’, I didn’t hear no radio, and I sure as shit didn’t hear a horn neither."
Bob pursed his lips in the dark, "Okay then I’ll show ya," and with a pissed off look at his brother reached over and yanked at the door but it was wedged closed from when the building had shifted.
…Nothing happened in reaction to the sound …nobody moved within.
"It opened right up before," he protested.
Ted pushed his brother aside and after turning the knob, pulled with both hands. The door’s protesting bottom corner scraped the floor loudly where it was jammed against its doorframe.
Ted was now really pissed. Bobby had to have lied about being in here or he would've heard the door. In Bob's buzzed state of mind he was probably too scared... or lazy to enter and came after his brother with this crazy story.
After struggling it open about a foot, he got around the other side, braced his back against the doorframe and pushed until it opened a gap of about two feet.
No fucking way Bob was in here.
Cautiously they entered together and their lights darted around the room.
Ted scanned the floor and was surprised into a puzzled frown at the sight of his brother's boot prints in the collected dust, but didn't say anything.
The door they’d come through was in the middle of the shorter west wall of the tight 20 x 30 foot room. Floor, walls and ceiling were clad with grimy, dusty and bare wood planks. Hefty hand hewn barn timbers supported them overhead.
Long unused cobwebs dangled everywhere and flying dust clouded the air in their flashlights.
The floor was littered with empty oil and transmission fluid tins, crushed beer and Dr. Pepper cans, lube grease containers and an air hose that ended at a torque wrench partially hidden under a bunch of greasy rags at their feet.
In the corner immediately to their left was an acetylene tank presumably for welding. Ted examined it closer and by the gauge it was still three-quarters full after all this long a time.
To the right, a long workbench extended back the length of the wall and off into the dark, ending at the southeast corner of the barn. It too was dusty and littered with dull untouched old tools, a caged work light, a vice and half a dozen bushel baskets containing assorted items that varied from a tire patch kit to empty brown glass beer bottles.
It was odd that the windows were still intact after such a huge concussion hit this place. Ted figured the Skully boys must’ve repaired them just before the lightning strike that took their lives.
He scanned the floor again; no broken glass from a thrown bottle. A cardboard box sat in front of the workbench. It contained a dirty distributor cap; sparkplug wires, a used air cleaner filter and battery cables. Beside it was an old kid's school bag.
The left wall held nailed up old license plates from Utah, Wyoming and one from Nevada; none younger than 1963. Iron chains hung from the ceiling suspended from a heavy-duty roller track, presumably used to lift the body off the frame, or lower a rebuilt engine down into its new home.
Five feet or so in front of them, in the middle of the room sat a car under a heavy dust-covered canvas tarp. This is what they’d come for.
Ted worked his jaw side-to-side considering its bulk and suspected it wasn’t big enough to be the Cadillac they’d hoped for. The undisturbed thickness of the brownish powder atop it said it hadn’t been touched for years.
Bob frowned and protested, "It weren’t covered like that when I come in." To his brother’s skeptical look he added loudly, "I swear!"
A gradual feeling came over both of them that neither could describe. The closest that Ted came to it was that it felt "heavy" in here like the weight of the structure they stood in was pressing down on the air they were breathing
Ted took a deep breath and realized again that they’d been here too long already. He walked over to the driver-side front fender and yanked the tarp back to just above and behind the windshield exposing their prize, but not what they expected; a yellow ’55 Chevy that had seen better days.
No Cadillac... fuck... well it was still a classic so they should be able to get something for it or better yet they could sell it for parts. More than likely the engine and tranny hadn't been out on the road yet after being rebuilt. The interior and dash alone was probably worth a fortune to a collector.
Bobby let a breath out he'd been holding in relief when nothing happened at the unveiling. Their lights glinted off a dull dark green replacement hood. Beneath and beside it, reflections danced off a brand new chromed bumper, parking lights, headlights, grill and hood ornament.
Ted smiled and shined his light through the possibly new windshield and got pissed at his brother. No dashboard, no steering wheel, no interior at all save the grimy panels on the doors. Shooting Bob an annoyed look, he moved to the glistening grill over the front bumper probing around, and his fingers found nothing to pull on.
He reached to the floor, guessing what a three-foot piece of a wooden pole was for and heaved up on the heavy metal hood, propping it open with the rod.
They both peered into a clean but vacant engine compartment and Ted shoved his brother backwards against the wall to the right of the door. He wasn’t pissed about the missing components; that he’d half expected. He was angry with his stoned brother for being a fool and seeing things that obviously weren't there.
Bob straightened defiantly, "I saw what I saw - I heard what I heard too."
"There ain't NO FUCKIN’ MOTOR ASSHOLE! There ain't no HORN, there ain't no wiring fer the LIGHTS, there ain't no steering wheel to blow the GODDAMNED horn 'n there ain't no seats fer yer two drunken lovers to sit on NEITHER! I told ya not to smoke that shit tonight."
Ted inhaled then exhaled a frustrated breath and continued, "Now go fetch the damned sledgehammer out of the truck; we’re gonna have ta take this wall out."
His brother left the room and headed out of the barn muttering under his breath. Outside, gathering small fluffy clouds shined in the moonlight being pushed along by the wind.
Alone, Ted peered back into the engine compartment. With no steering wheel, they’d have to muscle the damned thing through the sharp right turn towards the front doors. He inspected further and was relieved that a brand new front suspension had been installed, tie rod and all.
The only way to steer the old auto was to raise up the front end on a portable hydraulic jack and muscle it out, but the jack’s little metal wheels going over the barn floor’s uneven planks would be a bitch, and he reconsidered if it was even worth it considering what they’d get out of it in the long run.
Lowering the cumbersome hood back down, he pulled the tarp back over the car and circled it coughing out flying dust. Well, at least the tires still had air in them after all this time. They had a pressurized tank on the truck, but thankfully it wouldn’t be needed.
The outer wall was solidly built and reinforced so the old Chevy must’ve been pushed in from out front, then they built up the inner wall with the only door in it to seal it in for some reason. It didn’t make sense but that wasn’t his problem for now.
His light scanned where the doored wall met the ceiling, thinking maybe the whole thing was on a track and rolled sideways out of the way but it was nailed there good.
In the silence he surveyed the workbench for tools to steal and considered taking the acetylene tank too. The tarp the car was under looked big enough to tie down over the flatbed and still cover the Chevy and everything else he decided he wanted.
He frowned and lifted the cover at the driver's-side door for another look. Shining his light in, he smiled at what looked like a never-used rebuilt 4 or 5-speed manual tranny beneath a sought-after Hurst "cue-ball" shifter, then let the tarp drop back down.
His light went to his wristwatch and he shook his head impatiently.
Two trips before daylight would be out of the question and it'd take extra time he didn't have to secure the acetylene tank. He was considering how much would fit on the truck bed with the car when Bob returned.
Outside, the wind picked up and all around them the building began creaking as old wood flexed. The movement caused the overhead chains to clink together continuously. Another gust of wind seemed to sway the barn around them and something glass fell off a shelf and shattered making them jump from nerves.
The wind outside got louder and the barn seemed to come alive with movement as the sound of creaking wood got more intense from all directions while the floor seemed to sway.
As they fled the room in panic, more old wood groaned. Out of nowhere a huge beam began crashing down diagonally towards the middle of the floor. Its left end broke loose in front of the repair bay; its right end remained attached to the outer wall one floor above.
As Ted shoved him hard backwards out of the way, Bobby exclaimed, "JESUS FUCKIN’ CHRIST!" coughing out a mouthful of flying dust.
Something heavy crashed down on the floor above directly over their heads and Bob dropped the heavy sledge and ran for the shattered outer doorway scared out of his mind.
Ted sprinted after him and just outside they looked up. Even more clouds were racing across the dark sky from north to south making the front wall and roof that overhung them appear to be in motion. Loud wooden groans and bangs signaled the building was about to collapse forward.
A couple of moments later they were speeding down the road empty handed. Ted studied his rearview mirror to see if the barn fell across the tracks behind them but saw nothing in the bright moonlight before rounding a curve…
…The next morning the brothers drove back to discover in the distance that the huge barn was miraculously still standing and as they came up on it the tow truck came to a screaming halt in a cloud of light blue choking tire smoke… The front door that they’d destroyed last night was back in its place and intact as if nothing had happened!
Wide-eyed, they both blurted out, "What the fuck?" and Ted floored the gas.
As the boys burned rubber away, Deputy Sheriff Clayton Dawes stood up in the grimy 2nd story front window and loudly burst out laughing while holding his stomach.
He’d spent most of the morning after discovering the damage on patrol attaching a sheet of plywood to the inside of the doorframe, then nailing the pieces of the old sliding door back up into place like a giant vertical jigsaw puzzle. Afterward he took some brown paint and daubed it into the cracks and splinters to hide the exposed lighter colored wood.
Unless you walked right up to it you’d never know the door had been destroyed. He knew whoever had done it would probably return to the scene of the crime and his reward was their reaction.
With the ceiling support beam that had fallen effectively sealing the old car in place, he was pretty sure they wouldn't make a second attempt for it.
A week later a new ghost story began circulating around the area, borne of a frightful experience and lips loosened by a half-bag of weed.
Of course it got more and more exaggerated as it traveled, which was good…
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Important notice about this novel: This adaptation of the original short story was
written by Vernon "Jet" Gardner © 2005-2012 and contains enhanced versions of all of the original's events written by Annie Proulx, Larry McMurtry & Diana Ossana in red/black/green.
All text in blue written by Vernon "Jet" Gardner published here ©2005-2013.
Reproduction in any form or use of unique characters is
forbidden without permission of the author.