The farm was deserted, of course. Sarah told me there were people her dad had hired to take care of the horses and to work on the endless renovations, but they were only there during the week, and we only ever came on weekends. Her mom had some business in Andover, so she’d dropped us off for the day with her usual “Be careful” and “Only go in the house for water, and be sure you lock it back up when you’re through.” She didn’t really need to tell us; we’d heard it about a jillion times.
Sarah lived in my neighborhood, a little southern New Hampshire subdivision, but she was a farm girl at heart, the only 4H kid I ever met. Heck, the only reason I even knew what 4H was. Me? I was a product of the 60s’ middle class wealth, oldest daughter of parents who had started with very little but now lived comfortably in a two-story home with a pool in a quiet, safe neighborhood. We had become friends in 4th grade when she moved in down the street. She and her family were a bit of an ill fit in our homogenous little world, but I liked that. I never was one for cookie cutters anyway.
The Kenyons didn’t socialize with anyone, which was odd enough in an era when everyone in the neighborhood knew everyone else’s life stories. But Sarah’s parents kept almost totally to themselves, choosing to stay home in their weird little house instead of, say, coming to block parties and such. The house probably wasn’t all that weird in and of itself; it was a standard split level, but for some reason Sarah’s mom preferred it to be dark inside, so they actually had bookcases up against the big windows in the living room and very few lamps, among other odd touches, and the house was perpetually full of shadows. Plus they had shelves stacked up in the lower level rooms making all of these windy passages. And Sarah was uncomfortable showing me her room, too, for some reason. I assumed it was like the rest of the house, which she knew kind of creeped me out; it felt like the kind of place vampires would set up if they lived in a suburban subdivision. We didn’t play there much. Instead we played at my house or at their farm.
I’m not sure what it took to convince my parents to let their 12-year-old daughter spend days unchaperoned on a farm 25 miles from home. Even in that much looser time that was a bit of a stretch. But somehow the Kenyons emerged from their self-imposed shells and came out into the sun (without catching fire or even sparkling) long enough to assure them it would be fine and that neighbors were around if there were problems, etc. So we went there often. I guess when I came back after the first time in one piece and having not been sexually molested or changed into a creature of the night they figured it was all good. Their standards really weren’t all that high, as it turned out. (Mom later would let my sister have her boyfriend over “but only if you stay up in your room so you don’t bother me.”)
So Sarah and I spent many glorious summer days at the farm, where the neighbors were in fact generally home, but were also at least half a mile down the road. In the decades before cellphones, they might as well have been in another universe. The farm had an apple orchard, an old and wonderful barn with a hay loft, a good sized shed used for lots of things (including making wine from the giant rhubarb that grew on its edges), and a stable for their horses. After my first visit in a skirt, I learned to dress closer to my tomboy friend, who almost always wore overalls, even in summer; it was not a place to be dainty.
It was, though, a place that changed my life.
On a Saturday in early July, we’d been dropped off for the day to check on the horses and just enjoy ourselves. It was going to be a hot one, but when we first arrived it was midmorning, so we did what we always did: head for the shed, where we sat on its wooden stoop and ate rhubarb she cut down with this big knife she kept inside, our faces making that twisted “sour lemon” look every time we took a bite.
“Why do we like this stuff so much?” I asked her through contorted lips burning with the painful pleasure of the taste.
“Dunno,” she said. “It’s real sour. But in a good way.”
We continued chomping away. I looked over at her. “You get Burns for Science again?”
She shook her head and sighed. “Yeah. Just once I wish I could learn science from someone who doesn’t look like he died in the forties.”
I laughed. “He’s not that bad.”
She squinted at me shrewdly. “Really, Jeannie? I could see if he’s single…”
“Eww!” I shouted, and we both laughed.
Calming down, I lifted my stalk of rhubarb again and was about to take a bite when it happened. It may not have been all that hot out, but when something ice cold touches you, it still shocks you. I jumped back and looked at Sarah, thinking she was playing a joke, but she was sitting still, eating her own rhubarb. And I could still feel it: cold, colder, at first like a small touch, then like something leaning into my entire arm.
“Jeannie? Are you OK?”
I had stood up. I had dropped the rhubarb. I was staring to my left at nothing at all, but something icy was touching me. Then, as suddenly as it had started, the cold sensation did something I never could have anticipated: it passed right through me and disappeared.
Sarah was on me in a flash, holding me, trying to stop me from shaking, which I only then realized I was doing.
“Calm down,” she was saying. “Calm down, Jeannie. What happened? Did you get stung? Where is it?”
She was searching my body for potential swelling, hard to do since I was wearing my denim pedal pushers, a bit loose on me because Mom wanted two summers’ use out of them.
“No…sting,” I stammered out. My breathing was coming back. For a long moment I just stood there, in my friend’s arms, my face (as she told me later) white as a sheet, not saying a single word.
“OK, you didn’t get stung,” she said. “That’s good. But something scared you so much that you wet yourself.”
I looked down. She was right: my pants were soaked, the wetness drowning both legs as well as the center. I began to cry. I hadn’t done that since an accident in first grade.
“Hey, that’s OK,” she said, consoling me. “It happens. Really. It’s nothing. No big deal.”
“But I don’t–”
“Never mind,” she said. “What’s more important is why. Tell me what frightened you so much.”
I was still staring at my soaking wet pants, wondering how I possibly could have wet them like that and not even realized it. Wondering how she could say it was no big deal.
I looked up at her. “I…I don’t know,” I said.
“Can you describe it?”
I nodded. “C-cold. Very, very cold.”
A look of recognition came across Sarah’s face. “Sudden iciness?”
“Did it touch you? Go through you?”
I stared at her. How could she know? “Yes. Both.”
She nodded, then looked at me for a long moment before saying, “Sit back down, Jeannie.”
I did, realizing as I did that my wet pants were cold. Though the temperature that July day was quickly rising, I shivered a bit when they touched the stoop.
“We’ll take care of those in a minute, but you need to understand first,” Sarah said.
She looked directly at me. “His name is Bill,” she said.
I just stared blankly back. She might as well have been speaking a different language for all the sense that made. “Whose?”
“The ghost you just met.”
I narrowed my eyes. “Ghost?”
“I know. It sounds stupid. But he’s real, and he’s here. He’s been here all along. He must have decided it was finally time to introduce himself. Sometimes you see him and sometimes you don’t, but when he’s near you feel him, and he’s like you described: ice cold.”
I sat in silence, in my wet pants, for a long time. Then I spoke. “I was sitting next to a ghost,” I said.
“And then a ghost went through me.”
“You got a better explanation?”
I desperately tried to come up with one, but none came.
“OK,” I said. “Tell me more.”
She smiled. Sarah loved being in the position of the more knowledgeable one. Since I got the better grades, she reveled in the times she knew stuff I didn’t.
“He’s a kind of ghost called a poltergeist.”
“Poltergeist. German for ‘noisy ghost.’ They tend to be the kind of spirits who like to move things around, make sounds in the attic, that kind of thing. They usually don’t hurt you, though I suppose they could.”
I started freaking again. “Has Bill–?
“No, no. Bill just plays pranks. Hangs out in the farmhouse for the most part. Moves things, leaves them where you don’t expect them to be. Shows up unexpectedly, like just now. I’ve always thought it might be pretty lonely being a ghost; he just needs to get his fun when he can find it.”
“Do you know who he…was?” I asked.
Sarah nodded. “We researched it. He owned the place in the late 1800s. Died on it, I don’t know how. But I guess he just never left.”
“It is a nice farm,” I said, smiling for the first time since feeling the cold.
Sarah smiled back. “Yeah. I mean if I had to pick a place to spend eternity… Now let’s take care of your pants.”
The temperature was warming even more and the smell of my pee was getting noticeable. “Please!” I said.
We got up, Sarah jammed her knife into the wooden stoop, and we headed toward the stables.
“Where are we going?” I asked.
“Two birds with one stone,” she said. “The horses will be getting really hot by now and they’ll need to be hosed down. So do you.” She smiled.
“You’ve got to be kidding,” I said, but she was already walking, so I could do nothing but follow behind. “You can’t be serious: you’re going to clean my pants by firing a hose at them?”
“Why not?” she asked without even looking back over her shoulder.
“How about the whole lack of soap thing?”
She stopped and looked at me. “I could use the soap I use on the horses.”
I gave her a nasty look.
“Let’s at least try the hose, OK?” she said. “We’ll do something else if it doesn’t work.”
I acquiesced and followed her to the stables. It was getting near noon and with the sun directly overhead the heat was pounding on the open field of the paddock and exercise yard.
“I was going to exercise them first,” she said, “but it’s so hot maybe we should just feed them and water them and hose them down.”
She wasn’t going to get an argument from me. She was the horsey person in this duo; I was along for the ride. Truth be told, I was afraid of them. I’d fallen off a pony when I was seven, and ever since I was nervous around anything remotely equine. I even stayed off of merry-go-rounds.
Tentatively, I assisted Sarah in her work with the horses. Mostly I just brought her what she needed and let her do it. She understood my phobia by now. When she was finished with the feeding, she brought out the hose both to give them water to drink and to hose them down. But first, she decided to clean me up. She had me take off my shoes and socks so they wouldn’t get wet.
“Ready? she asked.
“I guess,” I said.
Sarah turned on the hose and pointed the gushing water in my direction, aiming it full force at my pants. She had the good sense to aim low at first, toward my legs, before moving higher. An opening blast to my crotch probably would not have been pleasant. The water, of course, was very cold, but on a hot day it was actually pretty refreshing, if you didn’t count the fact that it was coming at me so strong it practically knocked me over. When she was through, she left me standing there dripping in the grass and went to attack the horses. Fifteen minutes or so later, she returned. I had moved over to a fence, where I was partly in the shade, and was leaning up against it. I had squeezed a lot of the excess moisture from the pant legs, and the sun had actually begun to dry them a bit, or maybe that was my imagination. They were still really uncomfortable.
“Time to head out,” she said.
“Where to now?”
I agreed. It wasn’t the season yet to eat any apples, though there might be some little green ones that were edible, but we loved climbing the trees and sitting in them, and it was by far the coolest spot in the farm.
“OK,” I said, as we tried to decide which tree to climb. “Tell me more about this ghost. Like, how long have you known about it?”
“Him,” she corrected. “Almost from the start, I think. I don’t know if Dad and Mom knew when they bought the place, but Bill made himself known right away.”
I started up the trunk of one of our favorite trees, because its split trunk made for especially easy low hand holds and then its branches were thick and made wonderful seats even ten feet or more off the ground. “Weren’t you freaked out?” I asked.
Sarah’s overalls caught on a tree branch as she climbed, and one of the shoulder straps unbuckled. For maybe the thousandth time, I wondered how she could possibly be comfortable in them in this heat. Whenever I asked, she always just shrugged. Stopping to redo the strap, she said, “Oh God, yes. Let’s just say yours are not the first wet pants on this farm. But we got used to him. To be honest, I thought I’d already told you about him until this morning. But when I saw your reaction…obviously I hadn’t.”
We sat in the tree chatting, enjoying the shade and a breeze that both helped a bit with the heat, and even finding a handful of green apples big enough to eat without, we thought, suffering stomach aches as a result. Between the rhubarb and the green apples, outings to the farm generally more than fulfilled our weekly quota of “sour” foods.
Eventually, though, we tired of it and headed back out of the orchard, thinking about going to another cool place, the hayloft. As we walked there, though, I happened to glance toward the farmhouse and stopped dead in my tracks.
Sarah looked at me, then in the direction I was looking, before she asked what was wrong.
“The house,” I said. “Someone’s inside.”
She shook her head. “That’s impossible. I have the only key, and Mom checked when we got here. You know it’s locked up tight.”
I knew what I had seen. “Sarah, there was someone looking out the window. I saw him.”
She seemed nervous for a moment, but then her tension passed and she said, “Must just be Bill.” And she kept on walking.
I walked quickly to her, put a hand on her shoulder and spun her around. “Wait a minute! An invisible ghost on a stoop is one thing, but I saw someone standing in the window looking out at us! We need to go get a neighbor!”
She shook her head. “I’m telling you, it’s Bill. That’s just one of the things he does.”
I couldn’t believe it. There was someone else on the farm, a robber or a killer maybe, and she was shrugging it off? I just stood there, unable to move, my breathing beginning to feel as if I’d just run a race.
“Look, Jeannie,” she said, “what did you see? What did this guy look like?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “It’s too far for details. Just…a figure…at the window.”
She nodded. “Exactly. That’s how Bill manifests. Shadowy like that. I’m telling you we don’t have any reason to be concerned.”
She kept talking to me, but I lost track of her words. All I could do was stare at that window, waiting for him, or it, to return, but nothing happened.
“…guess we’ll have to check it for ourselves.”
What had she just said? She was pulling me along in the direction of the house.
“What?” I asked. “What are we doing?”
“We’re going in,” she said. “It’s the only way to prove it to you. Besides, the cleaning didn’t work. You’re starting to smell again, and the only other water is in there.”
She was right about that, and more: my legs were chafing within my pedal pushers. But go into the house?
“I don’t want to go there.”
She laughed, pulling me along again. “We’re fine. Let’s go.”
My imagination was now officially in overdrive. I was seeing a mad killer on the loose, waiting for us inside. He had a gun. Or a knife. Or an axe. And he was just…waiting.
“Please, Sarah. Don’t make me go in there.”
Sarah, on the other hand, was as down to earth as ever. “No one else is here. And how could anyone get in the house?”
But I begged her to at least do a walkaround. We walked around the whole house, checking every single window and door: all locked securely. And all the way around I kept getting whiffs of stale urine from my pants, which by this point were pretty dry but definitely not clean. We really did need to do something. As we came back to the front of the house, though, I froze once again. We had come within sight of the shed, and the very first thing I saw was that front stoop…without the knife stuck in it.
I pointed, my hand shaking violently. My voice certainly did as well when I said, “Sarah, your knife. You stuck it in the stoop, and it’s gone.”
She looked, but it didn’t seem to bother her. She just shrugged. “I told you: Bill likes to move things around.”
“That doesn’t help!” I yelled, not at all placated, for some strange reason, by the notion that gee it isn’t a murderer but a ghost running around inside that house with a knife and we were about to go in. She reached into her pocket for the key and headed to the front door. I kept staring at the stoop, terrified. I’d seen enough movies to know you don’t go in the house. But in Sarah was going, and I knew an even bigger rule: never, ever split up! So, way against my better judgment, I swallowed hard and in I went after her.
It was a hot day outside, but inside that closed-up farmhouse it was an oven. Walking through the door was walking through a solid wall of heat. I felt my skin start to bake as soon as I took my first step, and with every successive step through the viscous, dense air, more and more of me evaporated. Thoughts of why we were in there in the first place flew from my mind as Sarah, who was ahead of me, called from the kitchen.
“Come on, Jeannie. The only running water is in here.”
Right. My pants. I trudged through the outrageously hot, jello-like air until I found her. The kitchen was fairly large and had been fully rehabbed. It was a country kitchen with cabinets and sinks along two walls and a table and chairs in the center. The table was a big old rustic one: a large polished slab of wood. Sarah, in that clothing that made me think she should have simply melted out of existence by now, was standing next to it.
Pondering what my friend was wearing, it suddenly occurred to me that I had nothing else at all to wear. “Sarah,” I said, “I don’t want to put them back on wet again, but what am I going to do while my clothes are drying? I can’t wander around naked.”
She shook her head. “No, you can’t. And that’s why I’m going to trust you with a big secret. Well, that and the fact that you wet your pants out there, so I have a secret on you too.”
She smiled, but I must have turned a thousand shades of red. “I thought you said it was no big deal.”
“It isn’t,” she said quickly. “And here’s why.”
Sarah reached up and unclasped one of the straps of her overalls, the same one that had come undone in the orchard. What the heck was she doing? In a move almost too swift to anticipate, the clothing fell to the ground, revealing what was beneath it. I stood there, too stunned to move or say anything. Sarah was wearing a diaper. It was one of those new Pampers disposables; she was still so small—we were the two smallest girls in our class, always at the end of the line—that it fit her fine. And it was clearly wet.
“Wh-why are you…?” I tried to ask but couldn’t find the words to finish the thought. She answered it anyway.
“I need it,” she said, simply. “There is something wrong inside and it can’t be fixed. The doctor says I’ll never be fully toilet trained. So I wear these. Actually I was so happy when they came out! Until third grade I had to wear cloth diapers, even to school!”
I took it all in. What a horrible thing to have to endure. What a horrible secret to have to hide! But…
“Wait. Do you use them for…everything?”
She laughed. “No, thank goodness. I’m only broken in front. The back door works fine.”
“But why tell me? Isn’t it embarrassing for someone else to know?”
She looked at me. “Do you think less of me?”
I shrugged. “No,” I said, and I meant it.
“Then I’m not embarrassed. It was a… calculated risk. I told you for two reasons. First, because you wet yourself and I wanted you to know you weren’t alone. Second, and this is the harder one, because the only thing I have on this farm that remotely resembles extra clothing are the diapers I keep here to change into. So…”
She stopped to let that click into place.
“So if I don’t want to go around naked I have to wear a diaper.”
Her face scrunched up in one of those What can you do? expressions, and I sighed. “Let’s get this over with,” I said.
She smiled. She told me later she was happy not to be the only one in diapers for once. “OK, I’m going to change myself first, so watch me.”
She reached into one of the cabinets and I saw a stack of Pampers and some baby powder. She pulled a mat of some kind out from a corner, put it down on top of the table and then grabbed a face cloth from the sink, wet it and soaped it up. She then opened her wet diaper and allowed it to drop to the floor, followed by a thorough cleaning of the area it had covered. After putting the cloth back into the sink, she grabbed a small towel and dried herself. Then she returned to the table. She spread a Pampers on top of the mat and powdered it, then climbed up and lay down on it before putting more powder on herself. Then she carefully pulled up one side and taped it on and did the same for the other. Afterwards, she pulled her overalls back up, and I noticed that I couldn’t even tell she was wearing the diaper at all.
“Got that?” she asked. I had changed my little brother’s diapers, and this looked considerably easier than cloth, so I nodded. I took off my wet clothing, grabbed the face cloth and soaped it, then duplicated Sarah’s moves until I too was encased in a plastic diaper.
“How’s it feel?” she asked me.
“Weird,” I said.
“You’ll get used to it.”
“I hope not,” I said with a chuckle.
We filled the sink up with water and soap and washed my pants and undies, then with plain water to rinse them clear. Afterwards we took them outside, the July heat somehow seeming a sweet relief after the house, and draped them over a wire that was there for goodness knows what reason.
As we were about to walk away, I turned to Sarah. “Wait.”
“What’s wrong?” she asked.
I shook my head and looked at her. “What about Bill? Won’t he just…move them somewhere?” I wasn’t all that sure I believed in the ghost, but hey: these were my only clothes.
She thought for a minute. “Actually, that hadn’t occurred to me.”
For a moment she seemed puzzled. Then she turned toward the house and called loudly. “Bill! I know you can hear me! Now you’ve had your fun, so leave Jeannie’s clothes alone. Otherwise I’m going to be very, very mad at you.”
I looked at her, confused. “Does that work?”
“How the heck should I know?” she said. “It’s as good as anything else, I guess.” Then she burst out laughing, and somehow it all seemed so silly that I joined her.
“So if he takes them?” I asked.
“Then we find them,” she said. “Want to see something cool?”
“OK,” I said.
She turned to go back into the house.
“Inside again?” I asked, clearly not thrilled about the prospect.
“You don’t really believe there’s a mad killer in there, do you?” she asked.
I thought about it. It had been locked up, as she said. And we’d both been very vulnerable in the kitchen when we were changing: perfect if someone wanted to attack us. And why on earth would anyone choose to be inside with that unreal heat and humidity anyway except, you know, a ghost who provided his own ice?
“Maybe not,” I said.
“OK, then,” she said, and she led the way back into the house through the back door to the kitchen, where we’d just exited. Closing it, she bent down and opened a small, almost hidden second door.
“What is that?” I asked.
She grinned. “Apple cellar.”
“That is SO cool!” I said.
“Not only that,” she said, “but it’s actually so cool! It has natural air conditioning. Check it out!”
She climbed through the little opening into the darkness beyond, lowering herself into a space I couldn’t see. “Just wait a sec,” she called to me out of the blackness. “Let me get this…Ah!”
The place suddenly filled with light, and I could see through the door that she’d pulled a chain on a single bulb hanging in the middle of a cross-beam on what was basically a stone ceiling. The floor was stone as well, and the walls were a mixture of stone and earth. There was a “ladder” made of pieces of 2x4 fixed into the wall below the entryway; that’s how we climbed down. But Sarah was right: as soon as I was in that chamber, I realized that the temperatures couldn’t have been higher than about 60°.
“Whoa!” I said.
“Yeah,” she said. “And it’s cooler in winter and spring, but never freezing. So it keeps apples crisp and perfect for ages.”
“You guys going to reopen that orchard?” I asked, sitting down on the stone floor and realizing that this diaper created some pretty nice padding.
She smiled. “I think just for ourselves, once we get the place fixed up.”
“So you’ll move here then?” I asked, voicing something I’d always suspected.
She shrugged. “That’s the long-term plan.”
“When will that be?” I asked, unable to stop a little bit of sadness from entering my voice.
“Dad’s working on the attic this summer; he’s gonna convert it into three bedrooms and a bathroom. The kitchen is pretty much done, and so is the living room, but the south end of this floor still needs work. So he thinks maybe in two years?”
“But you’ll miss 8th grade at Fisher Elementary!”
“I know,” Sarah said. “I kind of hope it goes a bit slower, so we can be together at least until high school. But we’ll see.”
We talked about this and that for an hour, maybe two, and finally Sarah said, “Should we go up now?”
Despite wanting to stay in this cool place forever, I nodded and started to climb the ladder. Halfway up, I stopped dead. There, a couple of feet to the right, embedded in an earthen section of the wall, was the knife Sarah had been using out at the shed to cut rhubarb. There was no mistaking it: the hilt was unique.
“What’s wrong?” she asked.
I pointed. “Your knife.”
She followed my finger and saw it. Then she nodded as well. “I told you,” she said. “Bill likes to move things around.”
In a flash, all of the calm that had washed over me since I’d entered the kitchen vanished. Replacing it was a morbid dread. I really was in a house with a ghost. Or, maybe, a mad killer who liked playing practical jokes. His face rose before me fully formed: a scar above his left eye, something slightly askew about his mouth, awful yellow teeth, scraggly dark hair, a bit of drool sliding over his chin. I reached over and pulled the knife from the wall like I was King Arthur, not that I had any clue what good it would do me against my madman, not to mention something without a body, but it was better than leaving it for either of them.
Upstairs again, I begged Sarah to leave.
“Please,” I asked. “I know you say Bill isn’t dangerous, but if he can move knives around he can put one through my back.”
She laughed. “He wouldn’t do that.”
“How do I know that? And I’m getting worried about the other possibility again. How do I know there isn’t someone else here?”
I was getting a bit upset that she wasn’t taking my concerns seriously, but I didn’t have much choice. You never split up. And she wasn’t leaving yet. Not until, as she said, we searched the whole house to see if we could find Bill.
“Find him? I don’t want to find him! I want to forget I ever heard of him!”
It was as if my words left my mouth and died a few inches in front of me. Maybe they did. Maybe Bill could do that too. He could make noises; maybe he could take them away as well?
So there we were: two 12-year-old girls, both in diapers, one with nothing covering hers and carrying a knife two-handed in front of her as if jabbing it at the ghost or the madman might save her, wandering slowly through the lower floor of a superheated ancient farmhouse under rehab. Room to room we went. I was content to stand in doorways, look in, and declare the room devoid of supernatural beings and crazed killers, but Sarah wanted to be more thorough. She entered every room, slogged through the humidity, looked behind things, flung doors open (scaring me desperately on more than one occasion), and made a huge game of it before finally acknowledging that Bill wasn’t there. Once she opened a closet door and screamed and I nearly fainted before I realized she was laughing at how much she’d scared me.
“Not funny, Sarah. Not funny at all.”
When we had determined that he was nowhere on the whole floor and I thought we were done, Sarah turned toward me with a grin and said, “We haven’t tried the attic.”
I really didn’t want to go up. I mean I really didn’t want to more than I’d really not wanted to do anything in my whole life. But Sarah went first, and I followed, half a staircase behind.
The attic was reached by a long set of stairs that opened onto a lovely arched window overlooking the front grounds of the house. As Sarah reached the top and disappeared, I continued my climb. Halfway up, my head passed the level of the attic floor and I turned and could see…everything. The whole floor. The window provided so much light that the giant room was completely visible. The entire space had been ripped apart right down to 2x4s and wires and pipes and things. In a second, from a single spot, I could see it all: Sarah at the far end exploring the room layouts, the upright wooden posts where walls would be, the oddity of a toilet sitting in the middle of a space where, apparently, a bathroom would be, etc.
Now if the main floor was an oven, the attic was the furnace of a crematorium…and I really wished that image had not come into my head. But the room was outrageously hot, having no insulation above and being shut up for a long time, and the air was hazy as summer air often is. I was actually glad I was wearing only a diaper; even on the stairs the pedal pushers would have been too much.
Sarah called out to me from a mile away. “This will be my room.”
“Looks nice,” I said, wanting nothing more than to go back downstairs, where the stifling heat was much less stifling.
Then, in a different tone, she called again. “Jeannie! Look at the window!”
I did. At first I saw nothing more than I’d seen before: the beautiful arch, the patterns of the woodwork, the fact that the glass needed cleaning, etc. But then, as I looked closer, I noticed something odd. Near the center of the window, there was more than the usual heat haze, and what was there was…hovering. I heard Sarah’s voice, softer, much closer now: “Bill.”
I stood frozen in place, unable to move, not even holding out the useless knife, as this haze disengaged itself from the window and began gliding across the landing and down the stairs in my direction. When it passed me, when it reached my stair, that insanely hot attic very briefly turned into a freezer. More than a freezer: the Arctic. I watched as it continued down and turned the corner into the main part of the house and then was gone.
I turned and Sarah was at my side. “You OK?” she said. “You look as if you’d seen a ghost.”
‘Very funny,” I smirked. “Can we get the heck out of here now?”
She looked me over. “Well, we could, but then you’d need to explain that to people.” She pointed at my diaper. I looked down and saw what she’d noticed: it was very wet.
“What?” I was astonished. “When…how did that happen?”
Sarah smiled conspiratorially. “Could have been when I was slamming doors and stuff; you were pretty jumpy. But if I had to wager I’d say it was Bill again: he’s been known to have that kind of effect on people.”
“What? Scare the pee out of them?”
“Sometimes worse,” she said.
Took me a second to get what she meant, but then I did. “Gross! But, um, now I’m done with him, right? At least for today, right? So I should be OK?”
She considered. “Well, first of all, you can never be sure with Bill. He might just decide he’s having too much fun with you to let you go that easily.”
“This was easy?”
“Shush. And second, I remember when my brother first met him, he had what I call ‘aftershocks’ for several days.”
I couldn’t believe this. “Several days??? I might wet myself randomly for several days because of this?”
She shook her head. “Oh it wouldn’t be random. But if you get surprised or shocked by something, well…”
“Great. So what should I do?”
We were in the kitchen by now, and she reached up and opened the cabinet. “I think you know, Jeannie.”
There was one more fairly minor (as it turned out) Bill antic that day.
When we’d both changed our diapers, as Sarah also was wet, we thought to retrieve my clothing from the back yard. (I realized I had been so terrified by the knife’s appearance I had forgotten it at that time.) When we went out, of course it wasn’t there. Sarah’s little threat to Bill had done exactly bupkis. So we searched. And searched. And searched. We were worried that Sarah’s mom would return before we found them, but something provoked her to return to the kitchen, and there they were: on the table. Folded.
“You just never know with ghosts,” she said.
There were lots of other days at the farm that summer, and I spent many of them diapered, worried about Bill, who indeed made a few other memorable appearances. My initial “aftershocks” weren’t too terrible. I had a few issues, but since I was protected they were not embarrassing. I honestly didn’t mind wearing the Pampers so much, but it would have been way embarrassing if anyone had found out. I don’t know how Sarah did it. I finally understood, though, why she wore those overalls all the time: practicality. Mom probably thought it was a bit strange that I started wearing overalls at times as well, but I think she decided I was just emulating my friend. She never caught onto what was really happening. Thank goodness I never had to wear diapers full time, though the whole experience made my own incontinence, when it came on decades later, a lot easier to take.
At the farm, the days were long and warm and wonderful, and somewhere in there Sarah and I kissed for the first time. We were sitting in an apple tree laughing together when it happened. It was a 12-year-old kiss, the kind that wonders exactly what this even means, but we both knew that something had changed between us. We kissed more after that, sweetly, gently, and held each other’s hand as we walked around the farm. We had secrets. We’d seen a ghost. It was 1970 and we loved each other and at the farm we wore diapers together under our overalls.
And we were twelve. There was so much life left to live.