By Wayne Thoden

The old Mill Works.  I spent a lot of years there.  Was gettin’ ready to retire too, until that dammed fire. The building was still there after the fire, but they said there was too much damage to the structure, so it wasn’t safe to use it for anything.

Yes sir a ton of people lost their jobs ‘cause of that fire.  Nearly everyone in town worked at the mill. They thought I fell asleep at my post and set the fire by accident.  But that’s not what happened at all.

Sam Wilke set that fire.  Ya see Sam never was really dealing from a full deck, if ya know what I mean.  He wasn’t quite right in the head.  After Sam was let go from the mill, he took it kinda personal.  People thought he just up and left town, but he didn’t.  He came back one night to get his revenge on the mill and all the people who teased him and called him “Crazy Sam.”  But I was the only one who knew that.  Ya see, I heard Sam screamin’ for help that night.  If I’d a never gone in there to try and save his worthless butt, that fire wouldn’t of taken me too.

They never found Sam’s body.  He tried to hide down in the boiler room.  The fire didn’t get him down there, but the smoke sure did.  A big old boiler collapsed over Sam and covered up his body.  So, the only body they ever found was mine.  Nobody had a reason to look for another body ‘cause they figured I was responsible.  And that’s how I got the blame.

Then they finally decided to do it. They were gonna tear down the old Mill Works.  It was just an abandoned factory, closed down for over forty years. Some folks thought they should of torn it down right after the fire.  I don’t know why they didn’t.  Now they’re gonna build one of those big fancy malls up there. 

It was only a couple of days before the bulldozers were gonna level the place. They had gathered all the people that used to work at the mill—the ones that was still alive anyhow—and got ‘em all to pose in front of the building for a picture.  I guess it was supposed to be sentimental or something.  Some of the people had tears in their eyes.  Not me though.  I was glad they were gonna tear down that old eyesore.

The Mill Works was a huge building.  It was in a part of the town where there weren’t many other buildings.  I guess after the fire, nobody wanted to live around them parts no more.  I don’t know if people thought there was something evil there, or they just didn’t want to live next to an old burned out building.  Whatever the reason was, it seems that over the years, people just up and left the area. Oh, there are still a few old homes near it, but they’re in worse shape than the mill.

I don’t know exactly how long the mill had been there, but I can tell ya one thing, that building was really old.  It was actually quite something to look at in its time.  The brickwork was all fancy, top of the line.  Them stonemasons must have had some party when they were done.  There were gargoyles all around the roof, looking down over the town like they were keepin’ guard over it.

There’s been a lot of stories about the mill over the years.  People have said they’ve seen the ghost of old Amos Cobb, the night watchman, making his rounds.  They’ve said they could see my flashlight when I walked.

Yeah, there have been many stories all right, but none like this one. This is my story.  My name is Amos Cobb.  The same Amos Cobb that died in the Mill Works fire.  I walked through that burnt out skeleton of a building for over forty years.  But I wasn’t the only dead guy wandering through that empty shell.  Sam Wilke was there too.

We’ve had our run-ins over the years, but there isn’t really a whole lot one ghost can do to another.  It ain’t like I wouldn't have given him the back of my hand if I could have.  I mean, after all, if he hadn’t set that fire, I would have retired and lived a lot longer.  Instead, I was trapped in that tomb walking and walking, making my rounds.  What else was I supposed to do?

I never knew why the good Lord kept me in that place until the night of September 11, 1999.  A young boy from town came to the Mill that night.

Tucker Marsh was his name.  Most people called him T.J.  Now T.J., he was a good boy, kind of small for his age.  He had sandy brown hair, blue eyes and looked like he could eat a bit more.  He was sort of skinny, if ya know what I mean.  His grandfather, Randal Marsh, used to work at the mill. He was a supervisor there.  In fact, Randall was the one who fired Sam Wilke; caught him stealing company property.  Boy, you should have been there that day—there were more fireworks than on the fourth of July.  Wilke’s face was all red, and he was yelling and screaming at everyone.  Said he was gonna kill Mr. Marsh and that we would all be sorry.  I can still hear his words.

“You’ll pay for this, Marsh, you’ll see!”  He just kept yelling at everyone as I walked him out of the mill.  “You’ll all be sorry!”

He even pushed the mail boy down a couple of steps.  The kid was only fifteen.  He was working through the summer to help his momma pay her bills.  Poor kid broke his arm too.  Wilke was rotten to the core, just a nasty man.
Anyway, T.J. had a kind of fascination with the old Mill Works.  For as long as he could remember, whenever his daddy would drive past the mill, T.J.’s face would be glued to the car window like a dog staring down a cat.  T.J. knew that he had to go see the place close up before they tore it down.  After all, he was thirteen years old, and felt he ought to be able to make some decisions about what he could and couldn’t do.
T.J. figured that he would sneak out of his house that night to get a good close-up look at the mill, cause tomorrow there wasn’t gonna be no more mill.  He was kinda nervous about sneaking out of the house, but this would be his only chance.
He put some clothes under his blankets to make it look like he was asleep in his bed.  He got the idea from watching some old prison escape movie on TV, so he figured it would work. Then he threw on a sweatshirt and tiptoed to his window, slowly opened it, and quietly crept out of his house.  He knew the way to the mill, but it turned out to be a long walk.  It had seemed a lot closer when his dad drove by there in the car.

As he made his way through the woods, all the sounds of the woods made him kinda nervous, but finally he was there: the old Mill Works.  He never realized how big the place really was until now.  His heart started to beat a little faster with his excitement.

“Look at this place,” T.J. whispered to himself, amazed at the sight before him.  He had never seen it up close before.

The first thing he wanted to do was to get inside and take a closer look at the gargoyles on the roof.  He began to walk around the building, but stopped for a minute to think about what it must have been like before the fire.  He imagined people walking in and out of the building, or sitting on the old iron benches in the courtyard on a sunny day.  He could almost hear the people talking and the machines inside running as the people worked.  The building seemed so alive, yet so dead.

He made his way around the building, looking for an opening.  The moon was full that night, so it was easy for T.J. to see where he was going.  He rounded a corner and entered the courtyard.  There he saw some old dead trees not far from the warped iron benches.  The trees looked kind of freaky, patches of bark hung like torn clothing from the leafless limbs, reaching out like the helpless arms of an old beggar.
T.J. tried to ignore the old trees and kept looking around for a place to get in.  There were a few boards missing from one of the windows near the maintenance room, so T.J. squeezed his way through the space, just like a little field mouse.
It didn’t take Sam long to figure out we had a visitor in our little old mill.  Wilke was as bitter and as full of hate as he was the day he set fire to the place.  And the fact that Tucker was the grandson of Randall Marsh—well that really burned old Sam Wilke—so to speak.  So, Sam figured he would finally get his revenge on Randall by doing some harm to his grandson.

He wasn’t just gonna hurt the boy; he wanted to terrorize him first.  But I figured it different.  I wasn’t gonna let Sam Wilke harm a hair on that boy’s head.  No sir, not if it was the last thing I did on this earth.
Anyway, T.J. was working his way through the building.  There wasn’t really a whole heck of a lot to look at.  They took most everything out that they could make use of right after the fire.  Wasn’t much left but some burnt up equipment and such, but I guess to a small boy, that was enough.  That was surely enough for Wilke to use against the boy.  I mean, that place was just waiting to hurt someone.

Wilke couldn’t really kill the boy himself, but if he could scare him enough to make him fall down some steps, or through a hole in the floor, that would be just fine for him.  He knew they were fixin’ to tear the building down the next morning.  If Tucker were still inside when the wrecking balls started, that would be the end of him.
I could hear Tucker talking to himself.  He was picking up little pieces of nothing that he thought were something.  He was trying to work his way up to the top of the building to get a close up look at those gargoyles.

Well, it didn’t take very long for Wilke to start in on the boy.  He was making noises to try and scare Tucker deeper into the building.  And it was working too.  It wasn’t but a few minutes and Tucker got himself lost.

I don’t know exactly what happened next, but let me tell ya, it was the strangest thing I ever seen.  I was trying to get to T.J. and I tripped and fell.  I cut my leg and it hurt.  I was a man again!  I don’t know how, but I was alive. Then it dawned on me:  that meant that Wilke might be alive again too!  I had to get to Tucker before Wilke did.

Suddenly, the factory machines started to turn on. The presses, the cutters, and the saws—they were all beginning to run again.  It was like the Mill had come back to life too.

I saw Wilke jump out and grab T.J., and I could see the fear in little Tucker’s eyes. He was screaming.

“Let me go!  What do you want?  Let me go!”

Wilke was trying to push Tucker into one of the presses, so I started toward ‘em and screamed out to Wilke.

“No you don’t, Sam Wilke. Don’t you do it!”

Wilke’s head snapped around and his eyes caught mine, and I could see a fire glowing in ‘em that was red with hate.
“What are you gonna do about it Cobb?” Wilke asked in a voice that was pure evil.

Tucker looked up at me, and then kicked Wilke right between his legs.  I saw Wilke hunch over and let go of the boy.  Tucker got up as fast as a jackrabbit and started to run away form Wilke.  When he did, I started to run toward Tucker, ‘cause he was running the wrong way!  He was heading for the catwalk.

Wilke grabbed my leg as I ran by him and I went down.  He stood up and kicked me in the ribs, then began chasin’ after Tucker.

I saw that the boy was walking slowly along the catwalk that ran up over the factory.  There wasn’t much left of the catwalk, and it was shaking with every step Tucker took. I got back up and started toward Tucker when Wilke jumped out in front of the poor kid.  Scared him so bad he nearly peed his pants. His arms flew up in the air and he fell back against the old handrail of the catwalk.  The rusted railing broke loose and T.J. began to fall backward.  Thank the Lord he had a cuff on his pants, ‘cause that was the only thing keepin’ him alive.  That cuff hooked itself on the snapped off piece of handrail and left T.J. dangling there.  He was scared to death.  His teeth were clenched and his face strained as he tried to reach up for the catwalk, but his pants started to tear.  Tucker’s eyes began to well up with tears and his heart began to race.


As I made my way down the catwalk, I could see Wilke trying to shake the boy off.  I came upside Wilke’s head with my flashlight and knocked him back a bit.  It wasn’t much, but it gave me the second I needed to grab T.J. by the leg and pull him up.

Wilke was getting back to his feet, so I didn’t have long to think about the situation.  I had to get that boy out of there.  T.J. was shaking like a scared pup.
“Come on boy, you ain’t got no time to be scared.  Come with me; I’ll get you outta here.” T.J. wasn’t sure what to think, but he shook his head to let me know he understood. “Come on now, come with me,” I said as I reached my hand out to Tucker. “It’s okay, boy.  My name is Amos.  I gotta get you out of here.  They’re gonna be tearing this place down any minute, and Wilke won’t stay down long.”

As soon as I spoke those words, I heard them starting up the bulldozers outside.  The boy could hear ‘em too, so he grabbed my hand.  When he did, I could feel his hand in mine.  And he could feel my own hand, I was sure of it!  I knew then that I really was a man again!  And I realized why the good Lord had kept me in the Mill all those years; it was for little T.J.  I was like his guardian angel.

Just then, I noticed that Wilke was back up. He was looking awful mad too, so I picked Tucker up and started to run with him. It wasn’t easy; parts of the building were beginning to fall all around us.

As I ran past each machine in the mill, they stopped running.  The Mill was dying again.  But I kept on going just as fast as my old legs would take me.  I was gettin’ near a side opening and could see the daylight, so I put T.J. down.

“Go on now boy, you gotta get outta here.”

T.J. looked up at me and said, “Aren’t you coming too?”

“No son, I gotta stay here,” I said sadly, then took off my hat and put it on T.J.’s head. “You tell ‘em to look in the boiler room.  Tell ‘em Sam Wilke is in there and he’s the one who set the fire.  Will ya do that for me boy?”

“Sure, Amos, I guess so.  Thanks for helping me out,” he said, then he put his arms around me gave me a hug.

“Go on now son, get.”
I watched Tucker walk out until one of the workers saw him.  I could feel a tear roll down my cheek; it was the last thing I felt.  The worker started yellin’ to the others to stop the bulldozers, then he ran and grabbed Tucker as the building began to collapse around me.

They found what was left of Wilke, just where T.J. told ‘em to look, and I’ve not seen hide nor hair from him since then.

They asked T.J. how he knew about the remains, and he told ‘em “Amos told me.” I don’t know if they really believed T.J., but they never could figure out how he got my hat, or how he knew about Wilke.

They put up a plaque for me in the courtyard of the new mall.  It tells how I died trying to put out the fire and all, and that the mall is protected by the Amos Cobb Security Company.

I sure do like that plaque.