Every human loves a story. I was in a webinar the other day and one of the participates asked, “Where can I get ideas for stories?” That struck me as odd. Every experience one has is a story. When in college and I took a class on storytelling I learned that if we pay attention to our surroundings and try to take mental snips of things we see that intrigue us we can make stories from those images. Being that I am never far from a camera I took that to heart and instead of a mental image I take actual images and use them to make stories.
The thing about visual writing prompts is that they spark different stories for different people. Take a look at the image, and tell the story that comes to you. Turn off the inner critic and just write for a few minutes. What do you see, what textures stand out, why? Do they spark a memory? Can you tell the story of the people that once used this old barn? What did they do? What were they like? What happened here to make it become dilapidated? Was there something sinister that occurred there? Or was it just a home for animals? Were the animals special? How? Was a prize-winning racehorse once housed in this very barn? You get the idea.
What Happened to Herman Nelson?
By: Erika Hayes
“I heard he was deranged,” Millie whispered as she swat a mosquito on her neck.
“I heard he would kill things and stuff them with leaves in the barn.” Heather grabbed Millie’ s arm and opened her eyes wide. “I heard from Billy, that he stuffed his wife before he strung her up.”
“Billy Mitchell don’t know nothing at all. He sees his wife’s ghost and she haunting him for killing her and he got deranged from it, that’s what my momma said.” Millie’s hand was on her hip but she kept her voice low.
The two girls stood at the edge of the woods as the light purple sky moved deeper into the night. “Let’s go, maybe we can see her ghost.” Millie pulled Heather by the arm.
The two girls held onto each other and moved carefully toward the dirty window of the weathered barn.
The rumors of Herman’s barn had grown from haunted by the ghost of his dead wife to a place he tortured all kinds of defenseless animals.
The truth wasn’t that simple. Herman was a man of little need. After finding his wife twisting with a red cord about her neck hanging from the hayloft of his barn, he would sit on his porch, smoke his pipe every evening, rocking in his chair and stare at the barn.
The police said her death was self-inflicted, but the people of Harley questioned the findings. Herman had once been a warm, happy-go-lucky man that carried butterscotch in his pocket for the children he would meet. He taught the boy’s Sunday School class faithfully for many years and he never met a stranger. He was known for an easy conversation and a generous wallet. He could be counted on to volunteer when there was any work to be done.
Before Marion died, Herman closed himself up in his barn for a few weeks and only came out to eat and finally retire for the evening. Marion would knock on the big door and call out his name, he never answered. She would press her ear to the barn door listening for any sound. She heard his heavy boots scrap the floor as he paced and carried on a conversation with himself. She would strain to hear the content but never could make it out.
Then two days before her death, a neighbor reported seeing Herman walking through the field with a birdhouse on a large pole over his shoulder. When asked, Herman said he built the birdhouse for the newly widowed Lorette Kline. and walked on.
Ms. Kline was kind but refused the gift saying it was too painful. Her recently deceased husband, Mack, had been an avid bird watcher, like Herman’s own wife, Marion. She thanked Herman and shut the door.
Later, Herman was seen by his neighbor leaning the birdhouse against the barn before disappearing again into his barn. Herman’s wife worried fiercely for her husband, he seemed to be obsessed with the death of his friend Mack. In the month before her death, she reported to a woman at Squiggle’s grocery that he mumbled Mack’s name in his sleep and had stopped speaking to her altogether. He just ate his meals then returned to the barn mumbling nonsense.
At the county fair, the night of her death, some children reported coming up on Herman and Marion in a spat. He had gripped her arm tightly and was pulling her toward the exit. He growled at them as they pushed past. One child, William, said he never had been afraid of his former Sunday School teacher, but that night he had a look of the devil in his eyes, and through clenched teeth spoke only the name Mack Klien over and over again. The police discounted what the child said because rumors were still running wild about the sudden death of Mack Klein.
Herman saw the girls sneaking toward the back of his barn and smiled. He knew the stories. He knew the curious minds of children. He stood from his perch on the porch and carefully came around that backside of the barn. Millie and Heather were just about to peek into the big dirty window. He coughed, then a loud snap of a breaking stick sent Millie and Heather shrieking toward the deep woods from where they had slunk only a moment before. Herman chuckled and returned to his porch, lit his pipe and slowly rocked his chair back and forth and watched the barn. He was a simple man after all.
This story is raw, unedited and what I saw from the image. This photo was taken in Ohio on a recent trip for a family event.