October 31, 2010
Halloween at midnight. Legend has it that Dead Time runs between midnight and three a.m., the time when all deeds black and evil in nature should be done. A time when foul things of worlds beyond our understanding have the power to break through the bonds keeping them in check.
We pride ourselves on our ability to recognize that which is real and separate it from what we understand to be our imagination. To come in contact with what we know to be impossible is to challenge the very fiber of our being....
Having traveled to many places in search of a true haunted house, I had become quite cynical over the years. I would hear stories of things that could be heard walking in attics, voices that would speak in whispers that you couldn't quite understand, images peering down at you from windows of rooms seldom visited, yet I seemed to be let down time and again, never seeing or hearing anything.
I was thinking about these things as I was burning some brush across the road from the driveway. The evening was settling in and night was about fall, a cool breeze was blowing as the smell of wet leaves and decay wafted about me. I had thrown a few loads of limbs onto the fire, now billowing smoke from the damp leaves, when I stood and leaned on my rake. I looked down across the small field of high grass swaying back and forth in the wind to the yellow lights burning in the windows of my Grandparent's house.
I had heard my Grandfather spin many tales about ghosts and strange things he had witnessed over his life. I could see his figure outlined in the dim light from the house as he sat on his porch.
I made a decision.
When the fire had died down to a manageable pile of embers, I walked through the field toward his porch. I remember looking back at the fire, the slight wind making the coals heat up to a dark red glow. The moon hanging low over the horizon looked uncharacteristically large, its light casting everything around me into the dull black and gray of its world. The colors of this season were wiped away as easily crumbs of bread from a shirt.
I stepped onto the porch and sat down next to my grandfather, never speaking a word. He was looking toward the edge of his yard, just past the huge tree that he had put a fire hose swing in so many years before. After a few minutes he tossed his arm up and pointed in the general direction of the tree.
"Back over in there on the other side of that acorn hill is a spot you shouldn't go..."
I was always intrigued as to how he could seem to read your mind. I decided not to say anything, so I sat back in anticipation, ready to be spun a tale I was sure I would relish for years to come. He had a pace for talking that you had to set yourself up for, so I waited for him to continue.
"We came up here once when I was young, back when all this was a big farm. I remember that man we saw told us about how this was a plantation back around the Civil War. We started down the road from the other end." He hooked a thumb over his shoulder toward Macedonia Road. "We had been told we could come out here and hunt for deer, the foreman over at the mill told us about where to look for an old camping spot they used down in a hollow. He said that when the road started back down hill toward panther creek we would see a little road off to the right, about where ya'lls driveway is. We stopped the pick up truck just inside that road and got out to go look for it."
He leaned over the porch rail and spat tobacco juice out into the yard, then rocked back in his chair, turning to face me. The look in his eyes was deadly serious, it made me sit up and take notice.
"Now I ain't ever been one to be scary, but let me tell you... when you start walking off into those woods up there with a lantern late at night, you can get to feeling like there's something watching you... We walked all the way out in there with just one lantern, that was all. I was carrying the tent and food, the fellow ahead of me had the guns and that old boy from the loading dock was in front with the light. We topped that acorn hill and stopped up there just to listen. It was god awful quiet and the wind was blowing about like it is right now. I knew that place was eat up with haints because of all the things I had heard at work, but I just kept myself calm and said there wasn't anything to worry about.
We started down the backside of that hill, headed north east, when we heard the awfullest racket you could imagine coming from near the creek. We all stopped short and stood stock still listening... It sounded like somebody was getting burned alive in a fire down there, I hadn't ever heard screaming like that. We didn't know what to do.
After a while of nearly pissing our britches we decided to walk on down there. It had got quiet again, but we noticed that it was a bit too still. I guess we all sort of decided just not to mention what we had heard, because we walked in silence. When we reached the creek we found the little log bridge he told us about and we set out over to the other side. We went around some big rocks and found the spot he was talking about, there was a ring for a fire set up in the middle of a clearing and some wood was still piled near an old tree they had built a plywood table on. I put the stuff down and we started picking through it to get things set up, it was late and we wanted an early start on the deer.
We hadn't been there ten minutes when we heard that screaming again. This time it sounded like it was right on top of us. We all started backing up to the trees behind us, heading away from the noise. We started looking at one another but were too scared to say anything. When it got quiet again that boy from the loading dock said that we just needed to go home. I turned around and he was white as a sheet... I told him it wasn't anything to worry about , probably some old bobcat or something. He told me that the folks down on the village told him there was a witch that lived over here somewhere and he wasn't about to mess with a witch. As soon as he said that the other guy started yelling and came up with an axe in his hand from behind the loading dock boy, he screamed and threw that axe right past me, and started yelling, 'There she is! There she is!'
We dropped everything we had and started running back toward the creek. When we crossed over that bridge, that yelling started up again, it sounded like whatever was yelling was snapping right at our heels... We didn't stop running until we were back at the truck...
We threw that thing in gear and floored it, heading back down the road right toward that old bridge that used to be down there."
He pointed deeper into the woods where the old road bed lay from before the road dead ended at his driveway.
"When we hit that bridge, there was somebody standing right off to the side, right on the creek bank, holding a lantern. It was an old woman, dressed all in black, wrapped up from head to toe. She was pointing at us when we saw her. We nearly went off that bridge, that boy driving was yelling, I was yelling, and that other fellow was yelling louder than either of us.... But I'm telling you, we could still hear that screaming even though we were all yelling as loud as we could. That truck didn't slow down until we hit the highway..."
We sat in silence for a few minutes, then he reached down and picked up a piece of wood that he had been whittling on and started up where he left off. He stopped after a few minutes, and looked my way...
"I ain't never been back over there past those rocks since that night.. not once."
As I was walking home I kept looking over my right shoulder.. Directly toward the spot he had been talking about. It was dark and still, the light from the moon was bright, but I knew I would need a flashlight..
I was standing at the edge of the driveway, flashlight in hand, staring at the old road bed. I pondered things for a few moments before stepping onto the pine needles. I knew exactly where he was talking about. The problem was that the entire area was all boggy now. A swamp had crept up over the years, with many springs bubbling out of the ground... Yet I knew I had no choice but to go in search of this campsite.
I walked down the road bed toward the old bridge, no easy feat. The way had become treacherous over the years, pig trails and the edges of beaver dams held the surest footing. When I got to the creek I searched in both directions until I found the remnants of the bridge. The county had been doing road work out here and had driven an old tractor onto the bridge, causing it to fall in. They pulled the tractor out of the creek, but never came back to repair the bridge... over the years the road was swallowed by the woods. My grandfather bought the land from the mill owner and built his home near the start of the downhill slope toward the bridge, over time the road just came to end at his driveway.
I crossed over the creek and stood looking out through the woods toward the place where the campsite would be. The woods were deadly still, you couldn't hear a sound except for the running water of the creek. I would look back toward home then out in the woods again, I went back and forth like that for a while until I plunged deeper into the woods. I followed the creek for a good while until I was at the back of the hill he had talked about. This was the most menacing part of the walk. The moon was behind the hill, causing it to be a mass of blackness to my right. I was still unnerved by the complete silence of the woods.
When I reached the bend in the creek I looked out to my left and started walking in a northeasterly direction. I had not gone far when I walked up on several large rocks sitting close together at the lip of a hollow. I went around the far end of the rocks and found myself in a clearing. I stood there for some time looking around with my flashlight, investigating my surroundings as meticulously as I could. I began to walk in circles around the area spreading out as I went.
That was when I noticed some nails in a tree. The tree was large and about six feet or so from the ground there were several square nails sticking out from its trunk. I stared at them, wondering if that had been where the table had been nailed to the tree... a bit high, but the tree would've grown. I continued to stare at the tree with the flashlight moving slowly over its surface when my blood ran cold. About four feet above the nails, there was an old axehead buried deep into the wood.
My heart began to beat rapidly, I shook my head a few times as I kept refocusing on the old rusted metal poking out from the side of the tree. Surely not... I was looking around the clearing for anything I could use to climb up to the axe head when suddenly the most earsplitting, high pitched noise I've ever heard ripped the silence around me to pieces... At once I lost all thoughts about reclamation of relics as the flashlight flew into the air and I headed in the opposite direction.
I was at a dead run toward the creek, tripping over roots, banging into trees, and damn sure that the cry that was following me held voices in it... all calling for my death.... I hit the creek with three knee deep splashes and made it a few steps on the other side when the cry began to waver and morph... It dropped its high pitched screaming and gave over to the throaty curl of an owl.... I stopped running and bent over, attempting to catch my breath. With my hands on my knees I began to laugh at myself for getting so caught up in the story and in the moment. When I had gathered my wits I started back toward the creek to retrieve my flashlight when I noticed something odd. The beam of light was casting odd shadows from the other side of the rocks. There was just one problem... The light was moving around.
All the blood drained from me completely as I stood still and watched the light moving. I thought to myself, "That's nice..." as I turned on the spot and began walking up the hill as fast as I could. The faster I walked the more sure I was that I could plainly hear footfalls in the woods behind me. Before I knew what was going on I was running as fast as I could. I went straight over the top of the hill and directly toward my grandparents house. I thought I would never reach anything recognizable and was sure I was lost forever when I broke out onto the old road bed just below their house. I made my way up the dirt road until I saw the light from their house coming through the trees. Still at a dead run, I ran across their yard and skidded to a stop in front of the porch and grabbed the rail, spun around it and landed in the chair I sat in to listen to his story...
I was sitting there breathing heavily when he looked over at me and said, "You just couldn't leave it alone could you?" I took a few more deep breathes and replied, "No Sir... but you were right.. There's definitely a spot back over in there that I shouldn't go..."