The Halloween House

The following story is found in The Hamlyn Book of Ghosts Vol. II, by J. Allen Randolph, published in London in 1969:

Of the many strange encounters I have had over the years, there is one that stands out to me as a testimony to the oft-forgotten human side of the supernatural, the normal, as it were, of the paranormal. When I was a student at university, I was acquainted with an elderly, eccentric professor. I should stop now and say that there were, in fact, any number of elderly, eccentric professors at university, but the strangeness of Professor James stood head and shoulders above the rest.

Professor James taught anthropology at Yale University in the United States. He had studied with some of the greats like Radcliffe-Brown, Malinowski, and Lévi-Strauss. But James was a standout in that crowd for the extreme lengths that he would go to prove his theories. His specialty was European folklore from the Iron Age to the Early Modern. He was especially interested in its material culture.

Professor James took a special liking to me I think because I grew up in Britain, site of some of his specialized research. In those days, it was not uncommon for professors to dine with their students, and Professor James had invited me to his home for just such an occasion. I should mention that the date in question was October the 31st, All Hallows’ Eve, or as they call it these days, Halloween Night.

As I approached the wide front porch of Professor James’s old Victorian home, I stepped over a curious line of white powder that snaked across the stately lawn. It struck me as peculiar but I had little time to ponder its purpose as Professor James met me at the door in a state of extreme agitation. I was quickly hustled inside to an empty house. It was then that I learned that I was to be the only guest that evening. He had even dismissed his man for the night.

I was rather dismayed as Professor James could monologue at length on the subject of Roman charms and Celtic tomb mounds and it was so much easier to escape when one had an accomplice. Even so, I sat in the chair offered and girded myself for an enlightening, if not lively, evening.

Professor James stood at the great fireplace hanging his head. The flickering shadows on his face carved lines of worry and even fear. The fire’s soft sputtering was the only sound. After some time he turned to face me.

“Do you know what day it is, Randolph?” he asked me.

“Of course, sir,” I replied. “It’s the last day of October, the 31st.”

“Do you know what happens on the last day of October, Randolph?”

Back home in England, the modern Halloween tradition was not widespread, but I had been in the states long enough to know about the practice of guising-up and asking for treats.

“It’s the night when the youngsters dress up and ask about for sweets,” I answered.

“Yes,” he said. “But it’s also the night when the world of the dead coincides, as it were, with the world of the living. Do you think that’s true, Randolph?”

“No, sir, I do not,” was my reply but I admit I was lying because even then I had already seen some strange things in my short life.

“Maybe it’s a metaphor, Randolph,” he said. “Some days, I wish it were. Tonight the dead live again, the meek become the powerful, the king goes begging in the streets, and,” he paused and turned away from me, “all debts must be paid.”

I wasn’t sure what to make of this statement; it was rather dramatic for Professor James. I didn’t have time to respond as I was whisked away to the dining room for a surprisingly truncated dinner of ham sandwiches and nearly cold soup.

James sat and watched as I dined. In his hand he fingered a trifle, a small coin that caught the dim light. He saw me looking at it. “Do you know what this is, Randolph?” he asked me.

“I must confess that I do not, sir. A lucky coin perhaps?”

“A good guess. You always were a most perceptive student.” Professor James held the coin up to the light. “It’s called a touch piece. It’s a kind of sympathetic magic, in that it operates on the basis of its association with something else. This particular piece was once owned by Emperor Vespasian.”

“Good heavens, sir!” I nearly spit out my soup. “Vespasian’s amulets are a myth; they’ve never been found!”

James put the coin in the pocket of his smoking jacket. “Never reported to have been found.” He smiled coldly and stood. “Nevertheless, its power to protect its bearer is quite real.”

I quickly finished my soup under Professor James’s quiet stare. He led me back to the study and we settled into a pair of overstuffed chairs. The fire crackled, sending shadows across the walls. James stared into the flames and asked, “Do you believe in witchcraft, Randolph?”

“There are some interesting –” I began but was quickly cut off.

“Necromancy, conjuration, sorcery, Randolph. The power that turns the wheel of the universe. Magic.” James quickly rose and pointed to the window. “There, you see?” he asked. A thin, scruffy flower hung suspended in the curtain. “The wild rose, it repels evil, just like the line of salt that encircles the house. You saw it, no doubt.”

Professor James retrieved a small stone from the mantle. “This stone was painted by the ancient Picts and infused with a power.” He pointed to a larger rock that rested on the hearth. “This is a fragment of a Punic betyl that once protected the great temple at ruined Carthage.” He glanced my way with a wild smile. “It may not have been a complete success.”

I returned the smile and tried to interject but James was already off on another subject. “Do you know the Merseburg Incantations? Eiris sazun idisi, sazun hera duoder; suma hapt heptidun, suma heri lezidun! Do you think it will work?”

I was beginning to suspect that James was more unhinged than usual, and that it was now my responsibility to see that he didn’t hurt himself. Is that why he had asked me to come, I wondered? James struck a match and lit a small bowl. A sickly sweet incense permeated the air.

“It’s kyphi from ancient Egypt,” he told me. “Used to placate the dead and their pagan masters. I also have a small pot of mummia, ground from the bones of ancient Egyptian mummies, although I am not sure it will be of use to me.”

Professor James patted his coat pocket. “I have here the bone of a black cat. I have it on good authority that it is a powerful mojo, but I have my doubts.”

He opened a small box on a side table and picked up a thin, curved rod with great reverence. “And this is my prize, this is a 2,000-year-old ivory wand dedicated to Hecate Chthonia, mother of witches.” I could see the fine lines of airy script delicately carved along the yellowing surface.

Suddenly, we heard the sound of a quick knock on the front door. Professor James jumped and nearly dropped his beloved witching wand. Seeing his fear, I rose to answer it, but the professor caught my sleeve. “Do not answer the door tonight,” he commanded.

“But, sir,” I began, “it’s only the local children asking for their sweets. Must we disappoint them?”

James’s eyes screwed together in disbelief. “Children? They are most decidedly not children, although they may wish that you think them harmless.” My befuddled stare impelled him to add: “The door is made from the wood of a rowan tree; it cannot be breached by the forces of darkness.”

I knew that the poor professor was having what we call a breakdown, but being a student, it was not at all clear from whence I would derive the authority to intervene. I was, as they say now, along for the ride.

James was now waving his wand and reciting something in Old English: “Sitte ge, sīgewīf, sīgað tō eorðan, næfre ge wilde tō wuda fleogan.”

I could hear more knocking now, not from the front door, but from the back of the house.

“Beō ge swā gemindige, mīnes gōdes, swā bið manna gehwilc, metes and ēðeles.”

Now there was knocking on the windows and I knew that Professor James was right: they were not children. Something sinister was afoot. Amidst the rattling and knocking, James fingered the old Roman touch piece and waved the ivory wand in the kyphi smoke. He cut a figure both mad and wild, an ancient wizard born of standing stones and dragon’s blood.

I went to check the doors, to make certain whomever was attacking the house was not breaking in. I found the ground floor to be secure and as I returned to the study, both the knocking and the professor’s chanting suddenly ceased. I found Professor James slumped in his chair, his hand clutched to his chest. He was not breathing.

I raced to the telephone and told the operator to send a stretcher. I knew it was probably too late for old Professor James, that whatever it was that was after him had succeeded in finding him. I wondered if I had somehow let him down, if in my ignorance of the ancient practices, I had inadvertently let the door open for evil.

In retrospect, I can say that it has been my experience that men do not ward off evil by trying to keep it outside, that evil exists already inside of all of us, that we are, in fact, the source of much of the evil that plagues the world, and the best that we as weak and imperfect humans might be able to do is keep the evil in our hearts locked up securely inside.

In postscript I must add that as I waited for assistance to arrive, I spied something on the floor in front of Professor James. It was the touch piece that had belonged to Vespasian. A priceless artifact, if it could be authenticated, or merely a trinket. A fool’s burden in either case. There was a knock on the door.

It was not a knock like before. This was a quiet rap, a child’s knock. Without fear, I opened the door and there on the step stood a child of no more than nine or ten. He was dressed in a ragged red suit and to his face had been applied a red pigment and on his head he wore a crown of paper horns.

He held out a limp brown sack. “Trick or treat,” the little Devil said.

“Neither,” I responded and tossed the ancient touch piece into his bag. “Happy Halloween.”

The Corn Witch

The following story is found in The Hamlyn Book of Ghosts, Part II by J. Allen Randolph, published in London in 1973:

As the crisp scent of autumn permeated the chill evening air, I sat down with Mr. Martin Fleetwood on the porch of his North Carolina home. Mr. Fleetwood had been a resident of the region his entire life, over ninety years as he figured it. Here he had farmed his small plot and provided a satisfactory, if arduous, life for his family.

Mr. Fleetwood, having been privy to secrets and tall tales of the area for much of his long life, was a living archive of Americana, especially the kind that liked to lurk in dark corners and deserted country lanes. I traveled to Mr. Fleetwood’s modest home in order to hear a master storyteller “weave a yarn,” as the Americans like to say. I was not disappointed.

Of the many stories related to me, that of the Corn Witch was easily the most compelling, being a tale steeped in history and dripping with both tragedy and horror. The story of the Corn Witch begins in the early years of the century in the same part of North Carolina where Mr. Fleetwood’s family lived. I submit this story to you in Mr. Fleetwood’s own words:

“The Mathews family lived just up over the hill. Now, they were poor – we all were poor – but they were poorer than most. Mr. Mathews had been born into slavery and he took for his wife a Catawba Indian woman and some people didn’t think that was a proper way of doing things. What that meant was they didn’t get help when they needed some, so when Mr. Mathews died, why they were hard-pressed to keep the bank from taking what little land they had left.

“Now, two of the Mathews children, Zora and John, were twins and were always going about together, always getting into trouble of one kind or another. At the time they must’ve been about twelve or so; young enough to know everything. Their mother was worked up about the money trouble and some said she had turned to drink, and so, the twins were desperate to find any way they could to hold onto their daddy’s land.

“It was coming up on Hallowmas – Halloween – and there was an old story about a witch what used to live hereabouts. Folks called her the Corn Witch and it was said she could make the corn in the fields wither and die with nary but a sideways look.

“Some folks said she was up and hanged before the start of the War for the Union, and some others said she was an English woman married to a pirate what come across the sea before the Independence War, and some said she was an Indian maid cursed by the Devil, and still some others said she was older than all that, that she had been here before there was people here.

“Well, the part of the tale told ‘round these parts has it that the Corn Witch walked the fields by night, and she could bless ‘em or she could curse ‘em, depending on if she was feeling charity or spite. People back then liked to leave her little things like hard candy or rock salt or little dolls made with corn feathers, and folks said the Corn Witch would take them and make your corn grow.

“The other part of the legend said that if you caught the Corn Witch in the field, if you looked down her long nose and didn’t turn from her old warty face, why you could get her to give you a wish, just like a genie in old Araby. The thing was that you could only catch her in a field she had cursed and you could only do it on Hallowmas night, when all the ghosts and the goblins and Hell’s own went to trooping about.

“John and Zora, being kids, got it into their heads they were going to catch that there witch. Hallowmas night came and John led Zora up to the high fields, the ones that get left to themselves more oftener than not. There was a field there owned by a Mr. Freemer that did bad that year and that was where they were going to go to wait for the Corn Witch.

“It was an awful cold night and them twins had a long wait ahead of them. Now the corn field was picked clean except for a few ears here and there – food for crows – but the dead stalks were still standing row by row.

“John and Zora walked hand in hand down those rows and stepped across the dried-up husks, watching the moon get bigger and hearing the sounds of the night birds. It was sometime in the dead of the night, when it’s so cold it can’t get colder and it seems like the sun ain’t never coming back, that the Corn Witch came upon them.

“Now, this is the part of the story that folks want to hear and it’s the part of the story that can’t ever get told because no one except John and Zora can tell it and they for sure ain’t talking. This story’s got a big hole right in the spot where the heart ought to be, but it really ain’t like that at all.

“People like to get to talking about things they know, but they really love to talk about the things they don’t know. For every corn stalk in Freemer’s field, there’s a dozen stories about what happened to John and Zora Mathews that night.

“Some folks think it was the Devil himself come up and others that it was a crazed-up mountain man, but I imagine that sometime that night when the whole Earth was still and cold as a grave and you’d think it just couldn’t get any later, that John and Zora might’ve seen a ragged, black shape rise up out of the stalks and cross the night sky on an old corn broom, trailing a dirty tattered shawl behind it.

“It might’ve struck John and Zora as looking like one of Freemer’s old scarecrows before it lightly came to rest among the dead stalks. On her head she probably wore a tall, crooked hat like she was pointing one angry finger up at God, and she might’ve glared at the children with hellfire eyes from beneath that broad brim.

“So, I’d imagine it might’ve been. All I know is that, in the morning, John came down from the high fields alone. Zora was nowhere to be found from that day to this. Folks said she run off with a peddler and others in their whispering said that John had killed her and buried her up in the field.

“Now, I don’t believe hardly none of it, but I don’t know exactly what to believe if you take my meaning. December was coming up when the bank agent come to town and went up to visit the Mathews farm. John met him at the door and paid off the family debts with a fistful of old Spanish doubloons.

“The bank agent almost fainted dead away but he took it for the debt ‘cause he knew that John was overpaying. John didn’t care about that; he worked hard to help his mama and get that farm working again.

“No one in these parts had seen crops grow so fast and so well as they did on the Mathews farm the next season. Why, in a few years, John was able to buy out some of his neighbors, and by the time his mama was put in the ground, John Mathews was one of the richest men in the county.

“That sure gave people something to talk about, no doubt. They were jealous and they were petty and mean and most of all they wondered what really happened to Zora Mathews on that Hallowmas night so many years before.

‘Well, if, like me, you like to take your evening constitutions on the old country backroads, and if, like me, you don’t mind walking after the sun is down and everything is dark, and if, like me, you sometimes stop to watch the moon and listen to the music them lonesome night birds make, then you might, on nights when the air is getting chilly and the leaves are starting to fall, spy a figure behind the dried-up stalks, a small figure, ‘bout the size of a girl, wearing a big old pointed hat and torn black shawl, sweeping the rows with an old corn broom.

“They say the corn grows well in this part of the country, but I say we just know how to treat our friends. What happened to little Zora Mathews? Well, the corn needs to be planted again every year, and I’d imagine that maybe something like a Corn Witch needs to be planted again from time to time.”

 

Read more terrifying true stories of the unexplained in Scary True Stories Vol. 1 and Scary True Stories Vol. 2!

The Legend of Mother Meade

Western Pennsylvania has its fair share of strange stories and weird legends, but none more so than the story of Mother Mead and her thirteen children. In the early eighteenth century, the state was sparsely settled with European immigrants. In an effort to attract more settlers and displace the native Indians, the English welcomed religious sects of all flavors.

One of these groups was centered around the personality of Mother Mead, an enigmatic and colorful early American figure. It was said that Mother Mead was a powerful witch or a lapsed Anglican nun or a runaway slave who took up with the Iroquois. Whatever her true identity, she became the focus of a number of tall tales over the years.

One of those tales concerns Mother Meade’s numerous children. Although they were all very different and spawned many legends of there own, one thing they all had in common was that they were born monsters.

Some thought the birth of monsters was a sign of the impending End of Days, the time when the earth would be sundered by war in heaven. On this apocalyptic foundation, Mother Meade was said to have formed a cult centered around her charisma and her gruesome brood. Hailed as a prophet of terror and destruction, Mother Mead attracted much attention but only a marginal following.

After a few years roaming New England, Mother Mead’s cult ended up in Pennsylvania. They took up residence in a largely uninhabited expanse of forest known as Broome’s Quarter. While the cult settled down to await the end of the world, Mother Meade’s monstrous children stalked the Quarter’s shadowy ridges and dark hollows.

Bill grew up next door to Broome’s Quarter. He writes to tell me of the strange encounters he experienced in the shadows of the ancient forest.

Bill’s first story comes from his childhood when he explored Broome’s Quarter with his older siblings and cousins. In the warm summer months, Bill would often head out with a sampling of his kin, intent on fishing the small brook that ran the Quarter’s length.

On one particular sunny July morning when he was ten years old, Bill set out with his older brother and a teenage cousin. They started fishing the brook and hunting for the tiny crayfish that hid among the rocks. “The old brook was always full of crayfish and minnows,” Bill recalls.

As Bill and his brother carefully checked under rocks for their elusive prey, Bill’s cousin was watching the brook’s head with a strange expression on her face. Bill and his brother exchanged a mischievous look and decided to play a prank on the older girl.

As Bill’s cousin stared at the splashing water, Bill and his brother found a mean, old crayfish under a big rock. Their cousin would certainly get a scare if they slipped it down the back of her shirt, they thought.

But before the boys could even get out of the water, their cousin was on top of them. She grabbed both boys by their shirts and dragged them out of the brook. “I thought she figured out our little prank and was gonna give us hell,” Bill writes.

But Bill’s cousin had a look of abject terror on her face. She screamed at the boys and told them to run. “I was never so scared because I didn’t know what was going on,” Bill remembers. As Bill and his brother took off running through the trees, Bill turned to catch of glimpse of something struggling and thrashing in the water near the bank where Bill and his brother had been playing.

Bill’s cousin never returned to the Quarter. She refused to talk about the incident except to say that there was something in the water and she thought it was going to eat the boys.

When Bill grew up, he went to work in the coal mines that accounted for most of the region’s meager economic activity. Bill still enjoyed the occasional foray into the Quarter, especially when he could take out his dirt bike and ride the winding trails.

On one particular overcast August afternoon when he was in his 20s, Bill was racing down a steep incline. “After that it levels out a lot and there’s a straightaway,” Bill recalls, “But I saw right away that there was something on the trail.”

Bill slowed his bike and cursed his luck. From where he was stopped, he could see that a tree had fallen across the path and he would be forced to turn around or drag his bike over the top. Deciding that his bike wasn’t so heavy, Bill continued on the path toward the log.

As he got closer, Bill could sense that something wasn’t quite right. “Well, for starters, that log was moving,” Bill remembers. What Bill took to be a fallen tree was apparently being dragged across the road.

“I thought maybe someone was in the woods moving the log off the trail,” recalls Bill. “I thought things were looking up after all.” But then as Bill got closer, there was something tugging at the back of his brain, something was telling him that he was in serious danger.

“It just didn’t look right,” Bill recalls. Bill got within 20 feet of the log when he could see that the log was not a log. What he thought was a fallen tree was some sort of animal; what he took to be movement was an undulating wriggle; what he thought was old tree bark was a grizzled hide of dull brown scales.

Bill couldn’t believe his eyes. In front of him there appeared to be just a small part of a truly giant snake. “I didn’t know how big the sucker was,” Bill says. “I could only see about ten feet or so.” The part that Bill could see was thick, about three feet in diameter. But that wasn’t the extent of Bill’s surprise that day.

“I was in shock,” Bill remembers. “Just staring at this thing that I knew was there, but knew couldn’t be.” Bill wasn’t prepared for what happened next. From his left, he heard a rustle coming from the bushes. Then the giant snake in front of him stopped moving.

“I looked to my left and saw it right above me,” Bill says. Leering above Bill’s head was the one end of the giant snake he didn’t want to see. Huge, watery yellow eyes fixed on Bill from a blocky head covered in countless scars and oozing sores. The giant snake head began slowly descending towards Bill as its jaws opened wide to reveal rows of tiny, jagged teeth like a mouth full of venom-dripping needles.

Bill does not recall exactly what happened next. “I was riding my bike as fast as I could go to get back home,” says Bill. “I almost got lost because I couldn’t think straight, much less drive my bike straight.”

Like his cousin before him, Bill never returned to the Quarter, and when the mines closed, he left Pennsylvania for good. Although the rest of Bill’s story unfolded in places far from Broome’s Quarter, he’ll never forget his meeting with the great serpent, and tells me that he’ll always wonder if the creature he encountered was one of the legendary monster children of Mother Meade. If it was, did her offspring somehow survive the centuries stalking the lonely tracts within and below Broome’s Quarter? Or did they live long enough to produce a new monstrous generation and, as monster begat monster, populate the woods with grotesqueries and horrors?

Only more sightings of these terrible beasts will help us unravel the mystery.

 

Read more terrifying true stories of the unexplained in Scary True Stories Vol. 1 and Scary True Stories Vol. 2!

Halloween in July Sale

Did you know Halloween is only 16 weeks away? Have you started your costume? Planted your pumpkin? Mixed up your monster mud?

Well, no need to worry about all that. Just relax on the beach with a good book. To get you started, Scary True Stories Vol. 2 is on sale for only 99¢ for a limited time!

Get it at AmazoniBooksNook, and Kobo.

Stay scared!

 

 

The True Story of the Litch House

Just past North Fork Creek in the sleepy hamlet of Brookville, Pennsylvania, a local legend stands overlooking historic Main Street. The Litch House was built in the 1850s for the lumber baron Thomas Litch and his growing family. Today the residents of Brookville know the stories, but the history of the home is so twisted that few know the true story of the Litch House.

In the years before the Revolution, Western Pennsylvania saw an influx of white settlers into what was nominally recognized as Indian land. The following account of the Brookville area comes from A Survey of the Indian Countries, Being an Account of the Travels of Col. Joseph Paxton Among the Indians of the French Territories:

“At the Head of a Forked Creek there stood a Bluff upon which gloomy Pines held the high ground. My guide led our party away from the wooded Hillock and east toward the Ohio Country. The Indians hereabout hold that these Woods are inhabited by sundry Spirits and ravenous Beasts – Devils, the Parson might deem Them. My Guide related an Incident to me in which an unwary Brave hunting in the Forest was taken up by some Fiend that it was said lurked in the very Trees.”

The following account of the Litch family comes from Recollections of the Allegheny, a first-person history of the 19th century Allegheny Plateau published in 1901:

“In those days the pines still stood thick and gloomy and lured proud men with promises of easy wealth. One of those men, Thomas K. Litch, came up from Pittsburgh and established himself among the leading men of the town. He raised here a family, three fine sons and a daughter, and built for them a great house upon the hill above Old Fork Creek.

“Mr. Litch had purchased an enviable swath of woodland after having heard about the remarkable opportunities in the lumber trade, and he commenced to build the largest and best kind of sawmill yet seen in that part of the country. Soon the woods were abuzz with the sound of the saw-men as the pines were felled and cut to size and sent down the river to Pittsburgh.

“The youngest Litch boy, Edward, was said to be a bad seed and spent his time walking the woods like an Indian and his father was wont to send him to take up a trade in Pittsburgh. Before he could, the boy ran off to take up with a tribe of Iroquois or some such people for a month or more before his father could fetch him.

“When young Edward was seen among the people of Brookville, he seemed a changed man, gaunt and wild-eyed, babbling nonsense and Indian-talk about the spirits of the rocks and the trees. No one paid him mind and he rarely strayed from the empty guest house Mr. Litch had constructed on the estate grounds.”

Unknown to most historians, the Litch family receives a mention in the infamous, always-lost manuscript Mystery of Mountain and Tree, known in occult circles as The Lignis Manes. Ostensibly a history of the culture of Appalachia, The Lignis Manes is best remembered for its extensive recording of mountain black magic practice and its peculiar interest in secret histories and places of supernatural power. The provenance and publication date of The Lignis Manes is unknown but is first mentioned in print in the late 19th century:

“Upon a hill above the serpent’s tongue, Master Litch broke open the trees and gathered the secrets from the creaking logs and he called upon Old Nick, that Evil Spook, to grant his boon and the spot where the Devil’s foot had trod has never known sun’s warmth nor spring’s green nor winter’s touch.”

From an 1895 article in The Lantern’s Light, a monthly publication of the Philadelphia Ghost Club, a short-lived spiritualist society:

“Another legend of the region concerns the so-called Litch House, a manor of extraordinary dimensions built almost fifty years ago, where a number of restless spirits are said to communicate. The manor’s unhappy former master, Thomas Litch, is said to roam the upper chambers and walk through the walls at his whim, while the adjacent guest home is thought to have been visited by Satan himself one cold winter’s night. It is said that Mr. Litch’s son conjured the devil with Indian magicks and thereby lost his soul to burn in the Pit. There is a place near to this house where local legend has it that the Devil tripped on a tree root and fell to his knee, and the spot is now forever barren of vitality and the snow melts as it touches this ground.”

From the suicide note of J. Randolph Bish, resident of the Litch House until his death in 1932, provided by his heirs to this grateful author:

“In the trees, in the pines, the voices I have heard as I walked among them! They told me about him, how he walks with them now, about the times long ago, about their prison and the prisoners they keep in turn! In the trees, in the pines, the cold wind is blowing and the trees are howling! I can hear it in this house, the trees are here in this house, here inside with me!”

From the private correspondence of Dr. William “Big Bill” Kester, prominent Brookville resident, to a friend, dated December 1, 1949:

“I hope you will find this story worth the telling, C___. In October of this year, as I was taking my evening walk along the river, I saw an old woman blocking my path. She didn’t seem to notice me, fixed as she was upon the old Litch house. I could see she was dressed oddly, like one of those old mountain grannies we used to see when we were kids. As I approached, I touched my hat and offered some pleasantries. Without taking her gaze from the house, she asked in a rather crude mountain drawl if the old place was occupied. ‘No,’ I told her, as it stood empty just then, ‘but the Moorhead family is moving in next month.’ The old crone spat into her hands and said, ‘Body made of wood, house made of wood, wood made of body,’ and then stalked off mumbling more hoodoo bunk.”

From the confidential papers of Detective Frank Bailey of the Pittsburgh Police Department, dated February 1967:

“Tuesday: Got a call from the chief of Brookville, little place up north. Heard about me from someone Jerry knows. Asked me about black magic. Says they got a haunted house, maybe more than that. I told him maybe some local kids pulling pranks, painting pentagrams and elder signs and whatnot. He says he deals with kid pranks all the time and this ain’t kids. Little girl went missing in the woods in November; walked out of the woods without a scratch in January. Said she’d been in the trees – inside the trees – talking and playing with them the whole time. I sent a message to Iroquois John. Maybe he can tell me what kind of damn trees those are.”

From an interview with Asaph McKitt, 101 year-old self-described mountain man and at one time the longest-living resident of Jefferson County, Pennsylvania. Recorded in 1971 for the local PBS documentary show, Pennsylvania Profiles, the footage was never aired:

Interviewer: “What stories did you hear about the house?”

McKitt: “What my granpappy tol’ me was that Tommy Litch, Master Litch he was called, built himself a house. A fine, big house it was, but it weren’t a house for him and it weren’t for his family.”

Interviewer: “Wh-what, who was it for, then?”

McKitt: “It was for them, them of the trees, you see? In the gloom, in the pines, they walk behind! Old Litch did what none could do, and he walked along with them, with the trees!”

Interviewer: “Uh, OK? What else do – “

McKitt: “Whatever was in them trees, it still is. Up in the house they walkin’ now.”

From Ed Jessop’s “Out ‘N’ About” column appearing in the March 1978 edition of The Jeffersonian Democrat, Brookville’s weekly newspaper:

“It seems folks have gotten their drawers in a bunch over the doings at a certain prominent local home. The lady of the house was seen running up the street late one morning this past week, screaming and carrying on like she had seen a ghost. Although the poor thing was returned to her home no worse for wear, a little bird tells me that she did in fact see a real live ghost in her storied abode. Check with local agents if you’re looking to move, as this columnist has it on good authority that a grand home known for its beautiful woodwork will soon be on the market!”

Under the bridge that crosses Brookville’s North Fork Creek, this graffiti was found and recorded by a concerned citizen in 1982:

“In his house dead Litch waits dreaming!”

From the records of Harvey J. Rearick, president and founder of the Jefferson County Extra-Historical Society, the now-defunct folklore project:

“My research is nearly complete; one more foray into the Litch house before I close this case. It is my opinion that not only is the house haunted, but a large part of the surrounding woods is as well. There are things in those woods that I can’t explain, things I have seen but wish I hadn’t. It’s connected to the trees somehow, as if the trees are haunted by something, but what? Is it some nature spirit like the Indians used to call on, or can the trees be haunted by ghosts of people? What people, though, I don’t know.

“Here’s what I’ve pieced together so far: Thomas Litch found something in the woods long before he bought the property. I think his son, Edward, figured it out later, got scared, and never went back to the house. I think Edward even tried to stop whatever it was in the house and the supposed magic circle that shows up in all the stories is really the only spot that Edward was able to cleanse with the spells he had learned from the Indians. One little spot where nothing grows (not even the trees) was the only protection against whatever was haunting (is still haunting!) the Litch House.

“What I need to do is get in that house and confirm that it’s made from the same wood. And if I can, I’ll see if I can capture any evidence that Thomas Litch’s ghost is in there somewhere, too.”

Harvey, a dear friend, disappeared in 1999 the very night he wrote the note above. What was left of his papers were entrusted to me and from them I have culled everything I present here. This is a case for a history of a haunting, not grainy videos or blurry photographs, but an authentic archive of the supernatural, what Harvey would have called the true story of the Litch House.

 

Read more terrifying true stories of the unexplained in Scary True Stories Vol. 1 and Scary True Stories Vol. 2!

Polybius II

Of the many cultural signifiers of 1980s America, the video game arcade ranks as both important and transitory. They were once ubiquitous and the source of much consternation regarding the moral fiber of 80s youth, but unlike Transformers and My Little Pony toys, you  won’t find one on eBay. Video arcades were places to gather with friends, have some fun and forget about school, parents, even oneself. This effect was supposed to be temporary, but for one young man, it threatened to become a permanent situation.

When Jeff was a young teenager growing up in a Washington suburb, the allure of the arcade was too strong to resist. “I was there every chance I could get,” Jeff tells me. “The weekend, I practically lived there.”

Jeff’s friend Mark shared his obsession with video games and even excelled his friend in his passion. “If I was at the arcade for two hours,” Jeff said, “Mark was there for three.”

Jeff explains that while Mark’s family was well-off and could keep him well stocked with quarters, trouble at home kept Mark from wanting to leave the arcade. “There were a lot of incidents at Mark’s house, sometimes the cops were involved.” Jeff tells me. “Mark wanted to be anywhere but there.”

One morning in November 1984, Mark met Jeff at school in an agitated state. “I hadn’t seen him so worked up like that,” Jeff says. “I thought something had happened to his parents.”

Mark went on to explain to Jeff in ecstatic terms the new video game that had arrived at the arcade the day before. It was, according to Mark, the most advanced, most exciting, most important video game he had ever played and Jeff had to play it as soon as possible.

“He said it was called the Pole Busii or something,” Jeff recalls. “English was always his worst class.”

Unfortunately for Jeff, he wouldn’t be able to make it to the arcade. “My mom’s family was visiting and she had all this stuff planned,” Jeff says. “No way was I getting out of it.”

The next day at school, Jeff noticed a difference in Mark’s demeanor. Instead of breathlessly monologuing about video games or sullenly complaining about his home life, Mark was distant and spoke very little. “He was kind of blank,” Jeff remembers, “like something inside him had been deleted.”

Jeff tried talking to his friend but he got little out of him. The only question Mark seemed to respond to was when Jeff asked if he had been back to play the new arcade game. “Mark’s eyes widened and he turned to stare at me. ‘It’s only pretending,’ he said” Jeff recalls. “He didn’t talk the rest of the day.”

The next morning, Mark didn’t show up at school. Throughout Jeff’s morning classes, he grew more and more concerned. By lunchtime, he knew what he had to do. “I cut the rest of the day,” Jeff tells me. “I had to find Jeff and I knew exactly where he’d be.”

The arcade was dark and empty. Almost empty. There at the back of the arcade stood Mark, his back turned to Jeff and half-lit by the lights from a dozen arcade game’s garish attract modes. He was a playing the new game, or at least that was what Jeff could surmise. “The top of the cabinet where the name should be,” Jeff recalls, “it was filled with these weird symbols like hexagons and triangles.”

Jeff approached his friend and stood next to him. Mark didn’t acknowledge him but kept his attention focused on his game. Jeff tried to talk to Mark, but soon, even his attention was drawn to the screen. What he saw there still disturbs him.

“The game was primitive yet highly advanced,” Jeff remembers. “It was a series of colorful geometric forms moving from the middle screen to the edges at increasing speeds.” The effect of this pattern for the viewer was the feeling of intense movement. But soon another more unsettling effect began to become apparent.

“I stood there watching the screen as Mark played, although I’m not even sure what he was doing that would be considered playing,” Jeff recalls. “After a few moments, the sense of movement intensified like a hundred times and the basic shapes on the screen seemed to take on elaborate 3-D forms. There were these purple lights that started blinking and then rotating and moving around, even what seemed like to the sides away from the game cabinet and then behind me. There was a sound like loudly humming machinery from far away and a weird clipped buzzing much closer to me. It almost sounded like speech.”

Jeff came to slowly realize that there was actually someone talking. Under the disturbing sounds of humming and buzzing, Mark was speaking very quickly and quietly in a monotone. “I’ll never forget it,” Jeff says. “He was mumbling incoherently, but I could make out some of it: ‘communication is impossible…dwarfs the visible structure…we didn’t build it…symbol of the old empire…waiting inside the ziggurat…the form it will take…at the edge of the asteroid belt.’”

The strange sounds and sensations began to draw Jeff further and further into the screen until he felt like he wasn’t in the arcade anymore, that he had been transported somewhere else entirely. “I suddenly felt very cold and it seemed like I was floating,” Jeff recalls. “There was a large object in front of me, a rock or a planet, and it seemed to be impossibly distant and I was flying towards it and it was opening up and there was a golden light inside.” And then, Jeff and, possibly even Mark, was saved by Jeff’s poor mealtime decision-making.

“I got sick and puked up my lunch all over Mark and the machine,” Jeff says. “I had some funky tacos that day.” Mark was momentarily stunned and took a step back from the game. He had a look on his face of unimaginable loss and extreme disgust. As he recovered, Jeff saw that the strange effects on the screen had disappeared and the game was now beginning to play its ending screen. “It read GAME OVER,” Jeff remembers, “POLYBIUS II.”

Just then, the arcade owner came charging up and chased the boys out the front door for making a mess. Mark stalked off in silence and Jeff headed home to clean up.

That evening when his mother returned home, she told him how she had seen a lot of police activity at that arcade he liked so much. Jeff shot out the door before she could finish. When he got to the arcade, police cars blocked the street, their lights flashing in the fast approaching twilight. A large black van was parked directly in front of the arcade. FBI was written in yellow across the side.

Jeff joined the small crowd of gawkers gathered down the block. Mark was there wearing a confused and pained expression. Jeff approached his old friend. “I said ‘Hey, man’,” Jeff recalls. “And he said, ‘Hey, man. You puked on me’.”

Mark had seemingly recovered some of his old self. As Jeff and Mark watched the scene, they overheard a man in the crowd explaining that the owner of the arcade had been running an illegal gambling operation. The FBI had been raiding arcade parlors up and down the state for gambling.

As the man finished, two FBI agents emerged from the arcade with a game cabinet on a large dollie. Jeff saw Mark shudder as the agents wheeled the cabinet around to reveal the strange game with the enigmatic symbols that had so fascinated them. It disappeared inside the empty van. Mark grabbed Jeff’s arm and the two friends turned to leave.

“Mark was fine after all that, no permanent problems,” Jeff tells me. “Of course, the arcade closed down and we never heard about Polybius II again. One thing I’ll say, I didn’t see those agents take any other games out of the arcade that day, just Polybius II.”

Jeff’s story remains the only documented evidence of the existence of a video game known as Polybius II. The side effects of this sinister machine appear to be quite alarming, but the implications it raises about the human mind and the universe it inhabits are doubly so. Was something using Mark and, presumably, other players to reach out across the cold vast voids of time or space? And if so, was the message a hopeful one of cooperation and a better future? Or was it, as some believe, a warning that the lonely reaches of interstellar space could only harbor the enemies of life itself, that waiting in the cosmic gulf was humankind’s worst nightmare. Or as others have sometimes put it more succinctly, game over, man.

 

Read more terrifying true stories of the unexplained in Scary True Stories Vol. 1 and Scary True Stories Vol. 2!

Google Bus From Beyond

The following account was sent to me three months ago by a young man known to me only as Ramon. His story is fantastic and horrific; I, however, cannot testify as to its veracity. Despite my attempts to reach him, I have not had contact with Ramon since his first email. I reprint it here in full.

“I do a lot of freelance work for a weekly in San Francisco. As you may have heard, one of the big stories right now is the shuttle buses that take tech workers from SF to Silicon Valley for companies like Facebook and Google. Residents complain about the buses blocking traffic and idling in city bus stops. It’s really a story about gentrification and income inequality, and everybody loves to dump on the techies, too.

This stuff has been covered to death in San Francisco, so I wanted to find a different angle. I thought if I talked to some of the shuttle drivers, I could sell an editor on a story about a difference in culture and income between the riders and the drivers.

It sounded a lot easier than it was. When I approached the shuttle companies, they wouldn’t even talk to me. At first I thought they were trying to avoid publicity, but now I know the real reason.

I considered staking out the bus stops in the city, but I really wanted to talk to the drivers alone, without the tech workers around. To do that, I needed to know where the buses went, I needed to know their route, I needed to follow them home.

It wasn’t hard to get on the trail of these buses; Interstate 280 is full of them. My plan was to follow the last of the buses up from the valley to San Francisco, catch the drivers after they make their drop offs in the city.

So, one early summer evening I sat in my car on Page Mill Road just off of 280 and, around 7PM, I pulled into the evening traffic behind a large white bus. You can always pick out the tech buses because, unlike those gaudy tourist buses, the tech buses are plain white and black with no markings at all.

We pulled onto 280 and started the crawl north to San Francisco. The sun was just going down and, with the light behind the bus, I could almost make out the silhouettes of the passengers inside, their heads bowed in concentration of their numinous screens.

It wasn’t long before the traffic began to thin and soon, it was just me in my little Camry and the sleek white bus prowling the lanes like a killer whale. As we got about halfway to the city, the bus moved to the exit lane and I thought for a moment it was going to pull over.

It was just before the junction for 92. This stretch of road is pretty barren, but I knew there was a rest stop coming up somewhere. If the bus was stopping there, it would be a great chance to talk to the driver. Suddenly, the bus was exiting the freeway and I was following close behind.

Then I did something and I’m still not sure why I did it.  I turned off my headlights. I know it was pretty dangerous, but I just had this feeling that something was about to happen. I kept my distance behind the bus.

The exit road curved up and away. It didn’t look like a rest stop at all. The bus climbed up and up and I never saw the usual parking lot or buildings for restrooms or even any other cars.

I had never seen this exit before. My best guess at the time was it was one of the scenic vista exits that they have around there; a place to stop and check out the view of the bay. But what would a commuter bus be doing there?  We drove for a few more minutes on the unlit road. The bus never slowed down.

I wasn’t sure I could keep following the bus because there weren’t any lights on the road. The only light I had to go by was what came off the bus itself. The bus turned a corner, however, and it suddenly seemed that the night turned to day.

I pulled off the road and slammed on the brakes. In front of me was a parking lot, a huge parking lot lit up with banks and banks of stadium lights, surrounded by a high chain link fence. The entire lot was filled with buses identical to the bus I had just followed. I watched as that bus pulled into the lot through the open gate.

It drove through without stopping, disappearing behind rows of similar buses. I didn’t see a guard or intercom or anything at the gate. I knew this was my best chance to get up close to these buses and talk to their drivers.

I marched straight through the gate and stopped. The lot was like a still picture, it was lit up, alive, but nothing moved, nothing made a sound. I couldn’t even hear the bus I had followed in; it had joined its brethren and become a part of the picture.

I followed the path that the bus had taken as best I could. The other buses had arranged themselves in rows at odd angles, making it difficult to make out where the other bus had gone. The whole place was deserted and quiet except for the sound of my sneakers against the gleaming black asphalt.

I knew I might never find my bus, but I wondered what could have happened to the passengers and the driver. Was there something else here in the parking lot as well? If I couldn’t get an interview, I would settle for some pictures of the inside of a bus. My editor would buy that.

I approached the nearest bus in a state of agitated caution. Not being versed in the laws regarding unattended vehicles in California, I didn’t know if I was breaking a law or not. I reached for the door with trepidation, but before I touched the cold steel of the handle, the door sprung open of its own dreadful volition.

The driver’s seat was empty. I called out a timid greeting, but the darkness beyond the yawning cavity did not respond. Curious, I placed a tentative step on the black plastic step and raised myself up to peer beyond the towering passenger seats.

The seats were unoccupied and darkness seemed to rule the empty bus. I paused in frustration, not knowing if photographs of an empty bus were enough to excite my editor. Then, in the darkness, I heard what I thought was a whisper drifting over the brightly-colored fabric of the sepulchral bus seats.

It seemed to come from somewhere far away, yet it could only have originated from inside the cavernous bus, if not in front of me, then on the unseen second floor. I took another cautious step into the darkling aisle and approached the staircase that wound above.

The sibilant whispering grew louder and I thought I could discern within it the peculiar rhythms of a ritual chant, like something I had heard the swarthy Palo Altans call to their idol-capped screens. I turned away from the steps as I perceived at their summit the coalescing of a strange form loathsomely redolent of spheres and dimensions apart from our own.

I ran from the bus in a rush of delirium, my thoughts a jumble of nameless plasticity. I staggered in my madness among the bone-white buses until I could locate the lonely gate from whence I made my escape from the parking lot.

In my feverish agitation, I fled past the spot where I had left my car and up until I summited the hillside. I found myself overlooking the hellish lot and its fleet of monstrous implications. I could see now for the first time that the buses were arranged in a very curious pattern not unlike the frightful elder signs that the crazed Menlo Park idolaters use in their blasphemous rites. The revelation of the profane symbol sent my thoughts careening on the edge of non-Euclidean angles.

And in my reverie, I felt as if I was carried far from this benighted shore to a strange, nethermost space so distant, so forsaken, it was hard to say whether it had ever really existed. And there beyond the vagaries of time and space, in a chamber unlit, there was something that moved, something boundless in its cruel hunger, something that saw me and knew me! It whispered its blasphemy to me, in maddening murmurs, it muttered its madness! It was the center of infinity, the boundless place where all things, known and unknown – the information – were collected and entombed; the place where one could seek and uncover all the secret knowledge of the universe. All one had to do was search! And it seemed that this place was reaching out and touching our plane of existence, collecting all that was known, draining dry our very thoughts and adding them unceremoniously to the black spirals of infinity that swarmed in the occult gulfs outside of time.

I awoke in the driver’s seat of my Camry. My clothes were disheveled and I smelled terrible. The sun was rising. No fleet of hellbound busses met its light. No perverse parking lot stretched to the reaches of furthest space. I was alone on a hill overlooking a highway.

I present my account to you in the hope that someone, somewhere will be able to make sense of it, or at least, find some small grain of comfort in the confirmation that the struggles of this world are transitory, that something strange and terrible is waiting for us in the dark. Remember: what was driven may be parked, and what was idle may drive again.”

 

Read more terrifying true stories of the unexplained in Scary True Stories Vol. 1 and Scary True Stories Vol. 2!

The Midnighters: All Hallows

For over thirty years, Jerry worked as a police officer in Pittsburgh. In his time on the force, Jerry had seen some bad things, some worse things, and some downright evil things. Cleaning up when people got mad or got crazy was part of the job, but there were other things that Jerry saw, things that most people never see, things that prowl the night, things that refuse to die.

I interviewed Jerry several times in 2002. The following incident is just one of the many stories Jerry shared in hours of audio recordings. I have transcribed them just as they were told to me by Jerry.

“This must’ve been about 1970 or thereabouts, right around Halloween, when Frank and me – that’s my partner, Frank – we were investigating this homicide, well, it was more like a missing persons case at that point, but we had a hunch – Frank had a hunch – that there was more to it.

“The story behind it all was that in October this girl disappeared and she used to be real friendly with Mayor Flaherty which is a big problem, right? Well, that ain’t the half of it, ‘cause the real problem was she also used to go with Johnny LaRocca who ran the gambling and girls and the whole mob there in Pittsburgh.

“So, the girl goes missing and it’s kind of a mess for all the muckety-mucks, but of course this poor girl’s family are wondering are they ever going to see her again. Well, the girl – her name was Rosie – she was last seen downtown near the Liberty Bridge with a couple of shady guys, then she just up and disappeared.

“Frank and me, we were helping out on the case on account of all the heat from the mayor’s office. I was thinking the girl skipped town or was hiding out but Frank, he was pretty sure she came to a bad end. The problem was, nobody knew where she was and the blame was going around and people were getting antsy.

“Now it’s the night before Halloween, right, and we’re all working overtime and Frank, he pulls me aside and says let’s go for a drive. I’m like, sure, I could use a coffee or something but Frank takes me up the Boulevard of the Allies there and at Grant he pulls over and he shuts off the engine.

“Now, I’m like, this is all fine, Frank, but we got work, right? But Frank, he’s just staring off and I can tell he’s got something on his mind. Frank points up at the street signs and he says, where are we, Jerry? And I say, on the Boulevard at Grant, so what? And Frank says, right, Jerry, we’re at a crossroads.

“I’m like, big whoop, so it’s an intersection, who cares? But Frank, he says, no it’s a crossroads and he tells me how a crossroads is a place where ghosts and stuff hang out or something ‘cause it’s a place between two places…I’m not really saying it right, but intersections are spooky places is all I mean.

“Then Frank says, what day is it? And I say it’s the 30th and Frank says, no, it’s after midnight, it’s Halloween. And then he tells me how on Halloween, the wall between us and them ghosts is thin, as thin as it gets all year, and sometimes you can see the ghosts.

“So, Frank had a double whammy here with it being Halloween and us being at that crossroads and I’m wondering what Frank has up his sleeve but he just tells me to wait and I say, wait for what? And Frank says, for Rosie.

“It must’ve been two hours we were on spook stakeout there and I was falling asleep and Frank gives me a nudge and points down the Boulevard and I look and there’s this mist come rolling down the street, right?

“Now, I’ve seen some heavy fog before but this was something else and it just came like a flood down the Boulevard and up over the car. Frank and me, we’re just quiet, watching and waiting, and then after a minute or so, the mist starts to thin out and then I see that, yeah, there’s people in there.

“They was moving down the street, the Boulevard, in a big group – a parade, I guess – and I say they was moving, not walking, ‘cause I didn’t really see any walking going on. They were whitish like they were covered in chalk dust or something and they were kind of see-through. I mean, they were ghosts, right?

“There must’ve been hundreds of ‘em and every kind of person, right? There were guys and ladies, adults and kids, some looked like they died yesterday and there was some looked like cavemen and must’ve died a thousand years ago.

“I saw a guy, he looked like he might be a Revolutionary War soldier, and there were lots and lots of Indians all marching together. There were men in suits and top hats and others in rags and all bloody. They just stared right ahead and kept moving down the street.”

“But there were these other ones, right? I don’t know what to call them exactly, but some were big, bigger than people ought to be, and they were black and shadowy – hard to make out – with what looked like big bat wings, and there were some were smaller, but they had these big claws and teeth and they looked more like animals than people.

“I said to Frank, what are those things? And Frank says, I got no idea, Jerry, but let’s hope they don’t notice us sitting here. And none of them did, in fact, I don’t think any of them moving down the street even looked our way once.

“I said to Frank, what are we doing here Frank? And Frank says, we’re waiting for Rosie, and I’m thinking if she ain’t dead, she ain’t here, but I know Frank thinks she is.

“Well, we watched all this go on for a good twenty minutes – longer than anybody ought to – and then Frank says, look, and he points and there in the crowd is a little figure, and I can see it’s Rosie, I recognize her from her picture, and, I mean, you know, jeez, she’s just a girl, and she’s as white as the rest of them and soaking wet from head to toe.

“Well, we watch her pass on by up the Boulevard and the whole crowd starts to thin out and then that’s it, they’re all gone with the fog. Frank and me, we’re both a little shell shocked here. I don’t think Frank even expected all that to happen, but now we know, right, now we know that Rosie’s dead and she’s in the drink somewhere, in the river.

“We can’t exactly go back to headquarters and tell ‘em what happened, but Frank fudges a bit about a tip we got and he gets them to search the Mon River there around the bridge and after a couple of days, they find her down there with a chunk of concrete tied to her legs.

“Things cooled down between the mayor and the mobster after they buried the poor girl and that makes me think they were all in on it and that girl must have known some bad stuff about everybody’s business.

“Frank and me, we never been back to that intersection – the crossroads, right – but I guess if someone wanted to, they could go down there on Halloween, wait for Rosie to walk by, and ask her what happened. Couldn’t hurt, I guess.”

 

Read more terrifying true stories of the unexplained in Scary True Stories Vol. 1 and Scary True Stories Vol. 2!

The Impostor

If there’s one thing that epitomizes the celebration of Halloween, it’s dressing up in a scary costume. The practice of trick-or-treating has a long history as a means of imitating evil spirits and placating the restless dead. Sometimes, however, traditions become unmoored from their origins and people forget their own customs; sometimes, even the evil spirits forget.

Don writes to tell me the bizarre story of one Halloween night in 1993 when something strange – stranger than usual for Halloween – came to the door. Don and his wife Kathy were home with their son Brian handing out candy to the children who came to the door.

“Brian was just thirteen then,” Don tells me, “but he thought he was too old to go trick-or-treating.” Don and Kathy took turns answering the doorbell. It was getting late and Don was about to turn out the porch light and call it a night.

“There hadn’t been a trick-or-treater for a good half hour,” Don recalls, “but near nine-thirty, there goes the bell again.”

It was Kathy’s turn to answer the door and she rose from the family room sofa. Don heard his wife grab the bowl of candy from the chair in the hallway and open the door. It was quiet for a moment and then Don heard his wife’s low fearful gasp.

“I thought it must be a doozie of a costume to give her a scare,” Don tells me.

Don set down the magazine he was reading and leaned back on the sofa to listen better. He could hear his wife nervously clearing her throat and the night sounds coming through the open door – crickets and far away traffic – but the trick-or-treater remained quiet.

Kathy broke the silence and said, “That’s quite a costume you’ve got there, young man…or young woman?” She nervously tapped the candy bowl with her fingers for a moment, seemingly waiting for a reply.

Suddenly Don heard a strangely amplified voice scream “Trick-or-treat!” It sounded like a recording played on poor quality speakers, and Don jumped up off the sofa when he heard the crash of the candy bowl as it hit the floor and shattered.

Don called to his wife and she reassured him that everything was fine, she had just dropped the bowl. Don walked to the door and he could see his wife’s back but not the trick-or-treater standing outside. As Kathy bent down to pick up the shards of porcelain, Don got his first glimpse of the costumed figure.

“Well, it was real odd,” Don remembers. “It was a mixed-up sort of costume, I guess.”

A small figure, not five feet tall, stood in a ragged brown robe, a dirty plastic bag held out in one mittened hand and a small orange box with a jack-o’-lantern face in the other. On its head, it wore a yellow-stained pillowcase with two frayed holes for eyes.

When it saw Don approach, it held up the orange box and punched a button. “Trick-or treat!” the box screeched.

Don stopped and stared for a moment, not sure if what he was seeing was a threat to his family or just a harmless kid. “I mean, not every kid gets a new costume and you make due with what you got sometimes,” Don tells me. “But this kid gave off a really weird feeling.”

Don continued to the door and got down on his knees to help his wife gather up the candy. He glanced up at the trick-or-treater. The porch light was behind and above the figure, so when Don was standing, he couldn’t see much of the face. But now, as he knelt on the floor, he could see into the ragged eye holes.

“There were the eyes and they were black, like completely black, no irises or pupils,” Don recalls. “And the skin around the eyes, I’m pretty sure it was covered in black fur, real fur.”

Don recoiled in surprise and put his hand on Kathy’s arm. She looked at Don and then slowly rose with a fistful of candy in her hand. “Trick-or-treat!” the plastic toy screamed again.

The costumed figure cocked its head slightly and Don could hear a low gurgle. Kathy held the candy in an out-stretched arm. The figure held out the plastic bag in a mirror image of Kathy.

The two stood frozen facing each other, Kathy waiting for figure to close the gap between them and the figure apparently mimicking her posture. At last Kathy stepped forward and quickly dropped the candy into the bag.

As she stepped back, the figure stepped forward, and Don, still on his knees, could see that the feet under the cloak were shoeless, but covered with the same black fur. “And they had claws, big claws,” Don tells me.

Kathy nodded at the plastic bag but the figure continued to stare at her. Suddenly Brian walked up behind his parents and said, “What’s going on? Somebody break the…”

Brian stopped when he saw the trick-or-treater at the door. The figure looked at Brian, studying him, and then grunted sharply. Rising to his feet, Don could see the black eyes widen in reaction to his son and Don began to feel very afraid.

“Well, I guess my wife has things more together than I do most of the time,” Don says. “She knew just what to do.”

Kathy took another step backwards and slowly closed the door on the strange little figure. The trick-or-treater simply stood there with the plastic bag still extended, still staring at Brian.

“Damn it if he didn’t stay there for another fifteen minutes,” Don remembers. “Every so often we’d hear that gizmo go off.”

Finally, it walked away and Don and Brian peeked through the curtains as it did. “It walked funny, kinda exaggerated,” Don recalls, “like it didn’t know how to do it right, but it was trying to imitate a person walking.”

Sharing their thoughts afterwards, Don and his family agreed that the last trick-or-treater to visit their house that Halloween night was not human. “Maybe it was a really, really good costume,” Don tells me, “but you can’t fake the feeling we all got that whatever was under that pillowcase was a monster.”

Halloween costumes represent a kind of meeting of the dead and the living, the human and the monstrous, a halfway point where recognition is exchanged. Could it be that the other side – the monstrous side – has changed the terms of the agreement and more visitors like the one that came to Don’s house are already on their way?

Or have the ghosts and goblins that come out to play on Halloween night forgotten their role in the show and are they now merely imitating what they see around them? Maybe the ancient practice of dressing-up as evil in order to conquer it has now been obscured, becoming merely the performance of a performance.

“I think my wife said it best after I kept pestering her,” Don tells me. “She said, when a monster comes to the door, you give him some damn candy and then send him home.”

 

Read more stories of the bizarre and unexplained in Scary True Stories Vol. 1 and Scary True Stories Vol. 2.

The Night Road

The American highway system is the largest in the world with four million miles of road. Every year it claims the lives of roughly 40,000 people. For those who don’t make the trip home, there is sometimes another road they must travel, a dark and lonely road that traverses lands unseen and leads to destinations unknown.

Carlos writes to tell me the story of an event that he witnessed late one night in 1991. Carlos drives a big rig and spends a greater part of the year on the road. His job usually takes him from the west coast, where goods are unloaded at the Port of Oakland, California, to the distribution centers that dot the Midwest.

On that fateful night in 1991, Carlos was running a load east along Interstate 80. It was late and very dark as Carlos drove along the nearly deserted highway. “I was in Wyoming, heading toward Cheyenne,” Carlos tells me.

There are stretches of roadway in Wyoming that are downright beautiful, gorgeous examples of the planet’s natural wonders. There are times, however, when those same places can send a cold chill down a man’s spine.

“There’s a place, after Green River but before you get to Rawlins,” Carlos says, “that is a sight to see in the daytime. But at night, it always gave me the spooks.”

Carlos was driving this stretch of roadway one night when he found himself to be the only driver on the road. “It’s not like it doesn’t happen,” Carlos tells me, “but out there, you can see a long way up and down the road, and I didn’t see nothing.”

It was late and Carlos was trying to push through to Cheyenne, and the dread he felt out there alone were helping him stay awake. And then suddenly, he saw the headlights behind him.

“Maybe I dozed off, who knows,” Carlos recalls, “but all at once there was a car right behind me.” As headlights flooded the truck’s mirrors with light, Carlos slowed his rig. The lights grew brighter, brighter than any kind of car Carlos had seen before.

Suddenly, the lights dimmed and raced forward. “I thought it was a maniac trying to ram me,” Carlos remembers. “But then they came up alongside.”

Carlos could see a black sedan coming up beside his truck. It was an old fashioned model, a classic in good condition. Trying to keep an eye on both the car and the road, Carlos was distracted enough not to notice the speed that the car was traveling.

“This was like a Model T car or something,” Carlos tells me. “I look down and see that I’m going 80 and it’s passing me fast.” As the vintage roadster roared by, Carlos caught a glimpse of its passengers.

“There was a man and a woman inside,” Carlos tells me. “And the only reason I could see them  was because there was this strange glow inside the car.” It seemed to Carlos that the passengers were lit from below with an unearthly green light, a pale fluorescence that cast deep shadows, making the car’s driver and his passenger appear gaunt and skeletal.

The old car charged past Carlos’s truck and then everything went dark. “It’s like they shut off their lights,” Carlos recalls, “but I knew that car was gone because it was a ghost car being driven by ghosts.”

Before Carlos could process the strange event, another set of headlights suddenly appeared in his rear view mirror. This time, Carlos could see right away that it was another rig coming up behind him.

“I was calling on the CB to see if this guy saw what I saw,” Carlos tells me, “but it was just dead air.” The rig started coming up fast, faster than any truck Carlos had ever seen before. Carlos started to worry.

The lights drew closer and Carlos could hear the sound of the oncoming truck’s engine groaning and screeching like a wounded demon. Carlos gave his rig a bit more gas, trying to put some distance between him and whatever was coming from behind.

It was no use; the truck changed lanes, moving to pass Carlos, so Carlos slowed down to oblige. In the brief moment that followed, Carlos wished he had raced on to Cheyenne or driven off the road or, at least, closed his eyes.

For, although the truck that passed by looked like any ordinary tractor trailer on the road today, the driver, lit from below by the same ghastly green light Carlos had already seen, was of another order of phantom than Carlos had previously encountered.

The truck’s driver was huge and pale, sitting high in his seat like a giant; his skin was like the surface of the moon, pitted and gleaming, reflecting the ghoulish light, and from the scars that covered his face, blood trickled and oozed. He turned briefly in Carlos’s direction and his eyes glimmered with a baleful red light as he smiled.

“I stayed on the road somehow,” Carlos tells me, “but I don’t know how.” Reeling in shock, Carlos had no time to react before he was hit with the image that still haunts his dreams and unsettles his waking hours.

As the cab of the truck passed him by, Carlos could see the dismal load its fiendish driver was hauling. “It wasn’t a regular trailer, it was a fenced-up one,” Carlos recalls, “like what they use for cattle.”

The great bulk of the truck slid by in the night, and, lit by the running lights of his own rig, Carlos could see the hands and fingers and faces – some rotted and bleeding, some stripped of all flesh, some just ghostly shades  – through the small openings in the trailer’s enclosure.

“I try not to drive at night anymore,” Carlos tells me. “But I have trouble sleeping at night anyway.”

Although Carlos refuses to drive that particular stretch of road anymore, many millions do. How many of those drivers pay attention to the cars that pass in the night, the ones that seem to come from nowhere and quickly speed off to their fates? How many of the cars that pass by are weary travellers heading home and how many are travelling a different kind of road, a road that is crowded but lonely, a road that cuts straight through the night but never arrives at morning?

 

Read more stories of the paranormal and unexplained in Scary True Stories Vol. 1 and Scary True Stories Vol. 2!

« Older posts

© 2018 Scary True

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑