Today in our Haunted Halloween Countdown we present the story of a ghost companion who got between a little girl and man’s best friend.
from Ghost Dogs of the South
by Randy Russell and Janet Barnett
Dogs can be as peculiar as people. Audrey Gerrin’s dog, Buddy, was devoted from an early age to the habit of presenting her with a daily gift. Audrey’s peculiarity was to accept what Buddy gave her as if she had been waiting all her life for a badly chewed extension-cord plug from the neighbor’s trash. Whatever Buddy brought to her made Audrey’s day special.
Audrey was introduced to Buddy when she was seven years old. Penny Gerrin walked her daughter to school each morning and walked her home in the afternoon. The old man who lived in the house on the corner called them over that day with a greeting and a wave of his hand. The old man had a large backyard he never mowed. Far from it. He grew okra back there and planted corn. A tall stand of cane formed a natural fence across the back. Bushy, rangy plants were everywhere, with winding paths cut through to a shed with a chicken coop on one side. The old man didn’t have any chickens. They weren’t allowed in town.
He had cats. Sitting in a rocking chair on the rock porch he’d built himself, he teased his cats with a piece of rag tied to the end of a long stick. Audrey liked seeing his cats. They had good motors that came on with a steady purring when you petted them.
Earlier that year, the old man had told Audrey it was his birthday. He was eighty-six. Audrey’s mother baked a cake with Audrey’s help, and the young girl carried it to the old man’s house while the pan was still warm.
Audrey enjoyed stepping up on the old man’s porch while Penny Gerrin commented on the weather. One end of the porch was entirely covered, all the way to the roof, with morning-glory vines. The other end was honeysuckle. Audrey liked the front porch and saying hello to his cats, but she was afraid of the old man’s backyard. Afraid, that is, until he said the magic word.
“Hello, sir,’ Audrey said, standing in front of him, sticking out her hand.
The old man leaned forward in his chair and shook Audrey’s hand. He asked how her day at school had been. After she told him, the old man said he had a surprise for her, if she had time to see it.
“Puppies,’ he said. “I told them about you, and I believe they are waiting to see you now.’
When Audrey learned there were puppies in a small chicken-wire pen attached to the old man’s shed out back, she was no longer afraid of his backyard. Before her mother might say anything to keep her from it, Audrey was running around the side of his house on her way to the chicken coop. She dropped to her knees and stuck her fingers through the wire. Buddy was the first to greet her.
“They were inseparable,” Penny Gerrin recalled. “Buddy was Audrey’s constant companion. I couldn’t walk Buddy on a leash when Audrey went to school He would refuse to leave once she went into the building. I’d end up carrying him home, and he’d try to squirm out of my arms all the way.
When they moved to the new house in Jackson, Audrey was nine years old. She didn’t want to move because it meant she had to change schools. There were no other girls her age in the new neighborhood.
“She probably would have refused to move at all, except the new house had a very large yard,” Penny said. “I told her Buddy needed more room.”
As soon as the car door was open on moving day, Buddy leapt free from Audrey’s arms, and the two of them dashed into the backyard. There were trees. She could have a swing, her mother told her. And maybe a tree house, if she promised to be very, very careful.
“Buddy was always digging up something,” Penny recalled. “You never knew what he was after. Audrey hadn’t come into the house yet, hadn’t seen her new room, when Buddy found her a gift.”
He raced to a spot in the yard as if he had a map. It was by the biggest tree in back. Buddy barked when he found the place to dig and then went at it. Sometimes, it was nothing more than an old walnut a squirrel had buried, but Buddy always found something. What he uncovered this time was a girl’s bracelet.
“No telling how long it had been there,” Penny said. “It was a simple gold chain with a small, round plate in the middle etched with the initial M. The clasp was broken off, but the rest of it cleaned up nicely. Audrey treasured it. I said I could fix it so she could wear it, but Audrey didn’t want to wear it. She put it in a little cedar jewelry box we’d bought her when we went to Biloxi. It was her first piece of real jewelry.”
Buddy slept in Audrey’s bed. Penny didn’t know if it was the result of their being in a new house or not, but she found Buddy curled up on the living-room sofa when she got up in the morning. It was the first time since he’d been housebroken that Buddy hadn’t spent the night in Audrey’s room.
Soon, Buddy wouldn’t go into her room at all. After a week of this, Penny asked her daughter about it.
“Mildred doesn’t want him there,” the nine-year-old said.
“My friend,” Audrey replied, as if the answer were obvious. “She lived here before we did.”
Penny had noticed that Audrey was spending less time with Buddy. Buddy noticed, too. No animal on earth can look as deeply disappointed as a dog. He’d lie outside the door to her room and mope.
Eventually, he became glum. Audrey spent more and more time locked in her room playing with Mildred, who her parents assumed was an imaginary friend. Penny talked to her husband about the situation, and he said it was a natural reaction to Audrey’s having changed schools in the middle of the year. It would take her awhile to make new friends.
Penny tried to entertain Buddy, but he wasn’t interested. He’d been shunned by Audrey, and he didn’t understand it.
“I noticed Audrey wasn’t getting enough sleep,” Penny said. “She was always tired, and I was worried about this. At the time, I hadn’t figured it out. In my daughter’s mind, the bracelet Buddy had found in the yard belonged to Mildred. It was her initial that was engraved on it.
“We’d been there three weeks. Everything was unpacked, and it was time I started working in the yard. I made Buddy go with me while I raked leaves. He was just the saddest thing. Usually when you were in the yard with him, he ran every which way. When you raked leaves, he was right in the middle of them. Now, he just stood between me and the house, turning his head from time to time to see if Audrey was coming outside.”
Buddy understood. Mildred was a ghost. He could see her. She lived in Audrey’s room. Mildred didn’t like Buddy, not one bit.
As Penny moved to the big tree with her rake and basket, Buddy came alert. He raced to join her.
“Buddy came right to where I was raking and started digging. I managed to get some of the leaves out of the way. Then I went to the other side of the tree. Buddy barked at something in the ground and kept digging. Then the leaves sort of danced at my feet. They moved around.
“I thought for a second there was something under the old leaves. They’d move, and they’d stop again. Like something was running through them. I raked them up in a hurry. I emptied the basket on top of the other leaves for my husband to burn and went inside. I called Buddy, but he was still digging. I left him out there.
“Buddy came in when my husband came home. They were both tired and hungry. I didn’t like Buddy digging the yard, but at least he was doing something besides lying around the house looking sad all the time.
“That night when I went to bed, it came to me. The initial on the bracelet. I got right up and went to Audrey’s room. Buddy watched me when I walked through the living room, but he didn’t come along. I turned on the light. She was in bed, but she wasn’t sleeping.
“When I told her I wanted to talk to her about Mildred, she started giggling, like someone was tickling her. I asked her where the bracelet was, and she had it under her pillow.”
Penny asked her daughter to tell her about Mildred.
“She’s right here looking at you.” Audrey said.
“We have to put the bracelet back.”
“I know,” Audrey said. ”I’m tried of playing. But Mildred won’t let me stop.”
“Her parents moved, honey. Just like we did. She has to go to her other home now. Give me the bracelet.”
Penny Gerrin put her clothes on while her husband snored in bed. She didn’t want the bracelet in her house. She didn’t want to meet Mildred, whoever she was, and she didn’t want Mildred bothering her daughter any longer.
“I put my hard shoes on,” Penny recalled. “I went to the garage and got a shovel. Buddy came outside with me. I went to where we had the trash barrel, and I started digging. I dug for quite a bit. The whole time, Buddy was running around the big tree in the dark, barking and having a lively old time.
“I put that gold bracelet in the ground and covered it up. When I was through, I moved the trash barrel on top of it to keep Buddy, or anyone else, from digging it back up.
“Buddy was still running around that old tree when I was done, and I thought maybe he’d gone crazy. He came inside, though, when I called him to.”
When Penny got up in the morning to fix breakfast, Buddy wasn’t on the couch. He was back in Audrey’s room.
“They were pals again.” Penny said . “‘Audrey never mentioned Mildred, and I never found out who she was, although I could have asked around and maybe found out. I think all the people who lived in the house are listed on the deed somewhere. I just didn’t want to know. I didn’t want to know how she died. And maybe she was still alive, an older woman living somewhere else who got to be a girl again when she was at our house.
“Buddy was a real happy dog after that, happier than before. And he was active right of£ As soon as Audrey left for school, I let him out the back, and he raced to that tree. He was acting real peculiar, and he stayed out there all morning.
“When I went outside to see if he was eating crazy mushrooms or something, he was sitting on the concrete stoop, kind of rolling over on his back and putting his paws in the air. When I went out there, he rolled right over and raced to that tree again, barking his head off.
“This will sound funny, I know. But you could see he was playing with something. He was chasing around that tree, and every once in a while he’d roll up in a ball, like it had caught him. He was downright joyous about it. Then Buddy would take off in circles again, like something was chasing him.”
Penny walked to the tree. She walked around it. Buddy stopped running. He sat down and looked at her.
“He walked over to that hole he’d dug and rooted around for a minute and brought me a gift,” Penny said. “I took it from Buddy. It was another piece of chain, but this one was thick, old chain with some rotted leather stuck to it. It had a metal tag on it that looked like brass. I took it inside and washed it off It was a dog tag with the words City of Jackson stamped on it, and the date, 1924.”
Buddy had found his own ghost to play with.
Check back for more tales of terror and legend in our Haunted Halloween Countdown or pick up one of the spooky books they come from.