GHOSTS by Diane Sward Rapaport (excerpt)

The gun holds their ghosts...PROLOGUE

If you are student of history, as I am, you study ghosts, the people that came before you, that grew up in the house you live in, planted the crab apple and apricot trees you eat from, plundered the mountain where you now walk your dog, and try to figure out what they created or destroyed has to do with the present and future.

If part of you is a romantic, how could you not sense the ghosts that still amble about the streets of Jerome, Arizona, souls that did not want to depart for some other job, another ugly mining town; who died too early, got too old, parked their memories inside their homes so their emotions could tug them back, to hard times, better times, family times. These are the ghosts that can’t bury Jerome in their hearts and so take to haunting the people who live there.

And if you have studied some Buddhism or Taoism, as I have, you understand that the spirits of animate and inanimate life are everywhere around and that to shutter yourself off from them is to shut down part of your humanity, separating yourself from the essential nature of the universe.


At night, only at night, Hilde and Jerry, newcomer hippies to Jerome, hear the voice of an old lady croaking up from Gulch Road, “What are you doing in this house; get out of this house; where is Frankie; you forgot the dog food.” She lives in a shack a few houses away. Its inside walls are so close she can touch them with her arms barely stretched. They have never seen her, but they know she is there because every week they bring a bag of groceries and leave it at the bottom of the steps of her shack. The next morning, the bag is always gone. The strangeness of the neighborhood they now lived in sometimes made them shiver.

From time to time, a tap tap tapping is heard from the vicinity of the outhouse. Tap. Tap. Tap. It is the sound of the old lady tapping the cardboard latch to shut herself in.

Her family from over by Prescott knows she is still there. From time to time they pile out of a disheveled Chevy and call and call her, venturing no farther than the bottom of the steps. She is silent and doesn’t come out. Eventually they go away.

When Father John comes with a delegation of neighbors to beg her to come back to church, she never appears but chases them away with loud curses from her witch’s mouth.

Still, no one ever sees her.

One day, there is a small grass fire just outside her house. Scott, her next door neighbor calls the firemen. He grabs a fine Oaxacan blanket he hopes he does not have to use and his fire extinguisher. He sits on a wall close by, as the antique fire engine charges towards the shack, a red dragon churning up stones and twigs from under its tires.

He watches as the door of the shack opens and the old lady comes out. She is small like a child, and he does not see her face. A torn dress hangs from stooped shoulders. A frail, crumpled wraith.  Slowly and with no apparent rush, she advances toward the little grass fire with a glass of water in her hands. She throws the water in it, watching the flames sputter just slightly before she turns and slowly walks back inside the shack. She waters the fire twice more before the firemen arrive and put out the fire with their long hoses. The firemen call to the old lady, but she does not come out.

Scott never sees her again. But at night for quite some years, he hears the tap tap tapping at the outhouse, and the distant yipping of coyotes.

In the mid-seventies, artists Nancy and Lee Louden bought the old shack from the old lady’s daughter, who now lives in Prescott. They find a rusty twenty-two rifle on the wall and newspaper clippings that reveal that the woman’s son and daughter had a child together and that, when the child was born, the son killed it with the rifle and fled.  They find another clipping that says the son escaped from prison.

The gun holds their ghosts—the confusions of the son, the tears of the daughter that made the canyons weep with her tears, and the anguish of a mother who watched her son become a murderer.

3QR Author Note and Intro

3QR Author Bios

16 comments on “GHOSTS by Diane Sward Rapaport (excerpt)

  1. She was my next door neighbor. One of her eyes looked in a different direction, a sign of an evil spirit. I took her peaches and eggs, and she came to the door. she was quite sweet, actually, but the dead baby in the bamboo out front was creepy. She also had a stuffed fox that a teenager was seen with, under his arm, leaving the gulch.

  2. What a sad and disturbing tale! Great imagery.

  3. Geez … people can get so wrecked …

  4. I heard talk of some howling and crying from up the Gulch Canyon on certain dark windy nights. They called it La IIorona, the daughter crying for her baby!

  5. With a deft hand, Diane Sward Rapaport sets the scene and then slowly brings more pieces into play to bring this tale to a startling conclusion. Masterful storytelling!

  6. I came upon this story by accident. What a great story and incredibly well written. Whoever Diane Rapaport is, she should write a novel and it would end on the best seller list.

  7. Ghosts surround us every day: whether they be in the house we live in, the boarded up factory down the road, or in a remembered smile or chuckle of someone we loved. Memories, while full of ghosts, are also full of life.

  8. This well told tale hardly needs a ghost to maintain the drama; a mysterious old woman, a found rusty rifle and whispers of the ultimate taboo including comic relief as the old woman fights the fire with a glass of water. The recording such stories is an important part of maintaining our legacy.

  9. Eerie, compact and deeply moving account. Well written. I can barely wait for the complete work to be available in print.

  10. I have loads of neighbors and I never considered any of them worth a sentence. After reading about the croaky voiced old lady I’ll have to take a closer listen. Tap, tap, tap.

  11. Simply splendid! I loved it.

  12. Diane weaves amazing, factual details into captivating stories. I know of no one who tells a better quirky, complicated and sometimes emotionally-, politically- and you-name-it- charged stories. I visited the Jerome, Arizona often and recognize some of the characters–real folks–she writes of. Diane was there and has captured a slice of time in a fascinating read.

  13. Love the way Diane pulls you into the story and makes you want to read on. How you can care so much in such a short time. Great writing.

  14. great intro…… great vision i’ll remember to smile the next time a spirit appears

  15. I’ve lived in Jerome 42 years and never seen or heard a ghost…but I know they are here. I’m very likely to be one of them myself, one of these days. Treat me kindly. And read this book! It is chock full of wonderful, and true, stories, beautifully written.

  16. Moving and surreal. Superb writing.

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