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Between the Walls

May 23, 2016 at 12:00 AM
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I had never been frightened by anything. Sure, I’ve always been fearful of things like terrorism, bankruptcy, drunk drivers… but nothing paranormal. Ghosts, goblins, ghouls, and the like. Not out of any misdirected bravery, but simply because of the fact that I didn’t believe they existed. How can one be afraid of something imaginary? Then I found out how wrong I had been. How very, very wrong.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Allow me to set the scene.

My family and I had recently moved to Indianapolis. We left our home of six years in Texas – the home where we had raised our two children – because of a new job opportunity. It was my job that had been the reason for moving from Ohio to Texas in the first place, but after six years we came to the conclusion that were Yankees through and through. We just weren’t suited to live in the desert of southwestern Texas.

Arriving in Indiana, we opted to rent a house temporarily. That would give us the time to complete the sale of our house in Texas and look around for a new home that our family would like – a forever home. My office was located in downtown Indianapolis, and there was a newly gentrified section of the city located within five miles. We found an old house – very old – that the owner had restored with the help of subsidies from the city council. That’s what he told us over the phone, anyway.

The first time that we arrived to meet the owner and look around, we were impressed. We had beat him to the house so my wife and I parked in the long gravel drive and exited our vehicle, our two young children in tow. We walked around the house in awe. It, like the neighboring homes, was practically a mansion. The entire avenue consisted of large, brick homes with slate roofs and scores of chimneys. Lots of limestone lintels and decorative filigrees, even a gargoyle here and there – none on the home we were looking at, unfortunately. As promised, the house was pristine. From the outside.

The landlord’s name was Lenny. He was a pretty cool guy. A bit cynical, but given the people he probably had to deal with on a daily basis, not too bad. He seemed to take to our children pretty well and didn’t mind that we had a large dog. He pointed out some of the outdoor renovations – repointing of the brick, new slate roof, and newly glazed windows. Then we went around back to enter through one of the rear doors.

When he swung open the door, it quickly became obvious that the exterior of the house was not indicative of the interior. Its beauty was indeed only skin deep. A musty odor wafted through the entryway and the interior hall was dimly lit. All of the sheer curtains had been drawn and only slivers of sunlight filtered through, motes of dust floating about. By the end of our tour, we had determined that the house was definitely in need of a lot of work, but it had a certain charm about it.

The rear entry hall was surfaced with a vintage hex pattern porcelain tile which extended into a small – very small – half bath immediately inside the entryway. At six foot four inches, I couldn’t stand fully upright in the washroom. The hallway extended forward toward the front doors, and at some point about halfway the flooring transitioned to hardwood. As the foyer opened up to the full three story height of the house, we noticed a huge stained glass chandelier hanging from the ceiling. It was impressive.

Just to the left, a small – and when I say small, I mean normal-sized as the rest of the doorways in the house were almost nine feet in height – swinging door led into a tiny kitchen. The kitchen had absolutely no conveniences save for a sink. It was almost a surprise that there was running water. When we pointed out that our refrigerator would obviously not fit, Lenny offered to bring in a smaller one from another of his rentals. The kitchen had three more doors: one leading into a dining room, one leading out into the backyard, and one leading down into the cellar.

The cellar was a sight! The stairwell was steep. Just one flight leading down about twenty feet to the cellar floor. Bare bulbs lit each of the eight rooms it had been divided into. This basement was one of the creepiest places in the house complete with dripping pipes, chains hanging from the block walls for no apparent reason, and a huge gravity furnace in the farthest room from the stairs. It lurked there like a colossal monster with a multitude of steel arms reaching up into the house above. The floor back there was littered with papers and boxes, and the walls were lined with cabinets that we never did dare to open.

Aside from the kitchen and half bath, the first floor of the home contained a dining room and large living area, both separated from the main hall by pairs of huge arched doorways, and both with large limestone hearths set into the far walls. I supposed that the gravity furnace was either a newer addition or that – like most that I have had experience with – did not do an adequate job of heating a large house. The bedrooms occupied the second and third floors. A niche in the wall housed an old-fashioned servant bell system. Bells on springs attached to chains leading to each of the upstairs rooms. Lenny claimed that they still worked, and we were sure that the kids would test them out.

The upstairs bedrooms were unremarkable, save for the supersized doorways and fireplaces in all of them. The two bathrooms on each floor were also tiled in the hex pattern porcelain we had seen in the entryway and had genuine, honest-to-God claw footed bathtubs.

Lenny made sure to point out another unique feature of the house. At the back of each bedroom closet lay a narrow, almost undetectable doorway. He opened one of them to show us a system of slim passages that ran behind the lathe and plaster walls and connected most of the bedrooms to each other. Why were they there? Probably for no other reason than one would expect to find something like them in a house like that.

So, as I mentioned earlier, the house was perfectly creepy in every way.

“We’ll take it!”

I figured that if I would ever experience anything spine-chilling or uncanny in any way in my lifetime, it would happen in that house. I wasn’t disappointed.

It was late fall and the apple tree in the back yard had started shedding its fruit. There were half rotting apples all over the lawn, so I was raking them up and scooping them into bags for the trash. I stopped to rest for a moment and my eyes fell to rest on the garage. Like the house, it was brick with a slate roof. It had two large carriage-house type doors. Since the drive was large enough and there was a turnaround at the rear of the house, we generally left our vehicles outside. The only time that we had even been inside the garage was when we had moved in. We had instructed the movers to store some things out there – things that we would not be needing for a while until we found our forever home. Suddenly, I had an overwhelming urge to give the garage a closer inspection.

About forty feet to a side, it – like everything else about the property – was a rather large structure. There were no doors other than the carriage doors, so I eased open one leaf just wide enough to step inside. I felt around and my fingers eventually brushed up against a chain hanging from the ceiling rafters. I yanked and a single bare bulb cast a small pool of light around me. I made my way through the garage pulling more chains and managed to illuminate most of the garage floor. All of our belongings – garden tools, lawnmower, my large shop tools, and boxes of things that we hadn’t planned to use for a while – lay against a wall along one edge of the floor. The only other thing in the garage was a four foot high pile of slate shingles in a back corner. I walked over and took one of the tiles in my hands. Heavy. The garage roof alone probably held tons of weight. I couldn’t imagine roofing the entire house in slate.

I heard a ticking, scratching sound from overhead. The ceiling of the garage was mostly open, with bare rafters through which you could see the underside of the roof sheathing. About one quarter of the rafters had been covered over with wooden planks forming a sort of floor. Probably for extra storage space. I imagined that a house and garage as old as this had been must have mice, at the very least. From the intensity of the sound, though, I could tell that it was something much bigger than a mouse – even bigger than a rat. I groaned at the prospect of having to evict a raccoon or some larger animal from the attic. I considered leaving it alone. We were just temporary visitors anyway. It was probably a more permanent resident than us. My conscience ruled against that thought. With two children who were bound to end up playing out in the garage someday, I couldn’t chance them encountering a wild, possibly rabid, animal.

I peered up into the darkness, allowing my eyes to adjust, looking for some sign of movement. There! I saw it. Quick. Fleeting. It startled me so that I dropped the slate tile I had been holding and it shattered at my feet. I had only caught a short glimpse in my peripheral vision, but it didn’t look like any animal I had ever seen before. An icy chill ran down my spine but I chalked it up to the darkness, an unfamiliar place, and a general feeling of anxiety. We had recently completed our move and moving had always stressed me out. I used a shovel to scoop up the tile shards and took them around the back of the garage, throwing them into a pile of stones and bricks that a previous tenant had heaped back there. Then I went back into the garage, turned out the lights, and closed up the door.

Later that evening, after dinner, after the kids were asleep, my wife and I sat in the living room huddled close to a fire that I had built in the hearth. We had learned that the old house got extremely cold at night, despite running the furnace at full-tilt.

“Hey, Hun. I think we might have an animal problem out in the garage.”

My wife looked up in surprise. “Rats?”

“No, no. Probably a raccoon or something. I really only got a glimpse of it, but it seemed pretty big.”

“What are we going to do? The boys… What if it’s rabid?” She looked alarmed.

“I’ll call an exterminator tomorrow. I’m not going to mess with it. Who knows what might be out there? I’m a lover, not a fighter.”

My wife smiled, and I felt more at ease. I had decided to put the problem in someone else’s capable hands. Whatever it was out there, it would soon be gone. We began to talk about how relieved we were that the move was over. The conversation turned to our next step – finding a forever home – and then led to talk of making the creepy house more livable until such time as we could move out. Painting, maybe? Replacing the carpet runner on the staircase, definitely. Just then, one of the bells in the niche jingled.

“Huh?” I got up and walked over to the front hall. The bell jingled again, and I could see that it was the one labeled “Master bedroom.” I yelled up the staircase. “Boys! Get back to bed, and stay out of Mommy and Daddy’s room!” No answer, but the bell was silent. I assumed that they got the message. When we climbed the staircase a half hour later, we looked in and saw that both boys were tucked in and sawing logs. I imagine that they were excited, but I didn’t want them exploring the house until I could check it out thoroughly. If there was a raccoon (or something) in the garage, there just may have been mice, rats, or worse in the house.

I started a fire in the smaller fireplace in the master bedroom, and we fell asleep as it waned. I was in a sort of twilight when I heard the bell jingle again. “What the..?” I crossed our bedroom and tiptoed down the stairs to the second floor. Looking in their rooms, I discovered that both boys were still tucked in. Jingling again. Now I ran down to the first floor hall just in time to see the “Master Bedroom” bell shake again. Bewildered, I headed back upstairs.

“You rang?” I asked my wife as I walked back into our room.

“What?”

“Why did you pull the bell chain? Are you trying to freak me out? Or did you just miss me?”

She looked puzzled. “Um, I didn’t pull the chain.”

I could tell that she was telling the truth. I had gotten good at reading her over the ten years of our marriage. With irritation and perhaps a bit of denial, I resolved that we did, in fact, have a rodent problem in the house. That was the only explanation, right? I pictured a mouse (or worse) scampering across the bell chain as it ran behind the walls through one of the house’s heating ducts or pipe chases. Lenny would certainly be getting an angry call in the morning. We eventually managed to fall asleep, even though we could hear one or another of the bells ring a few more times during the night.

Lenny grumbled a bit about “No damn mice… ” but he did agree to have someone come out and check. He knew a guy. Lenny knew a guy for just about everything: plumbing, yardwork, and now pest control. The exterminator set and baited a cage trap for the raccoon out in the garage. After checking out the basement and closets, he said that although he didn’t find any signs of mice or rats – scat, nests, etc. – he would set some glue traps under our furniture and near the baseboards. He said that they would be safer than snap traps, which we probably didn’t want around the kids. Both my wife and I thought of the suffering that a mouse would endure if it were caught in the glue to eventually starve to death or die of thirst, so we asked for an alternative.

The “terminator,” as my boys called him, agreed to set some bait stations instead. He said that Lenny wouldn’t be happy about the extra cost but I could see that he was pleased to be upping his sale. He said that the bait stations just held poison – out of reach of children and pets – which the pests would eat and then leave. They would bleed out somewhere within a couple of days. He promised that we would never have to see or smell the dead mice (or whatever they were). Still sounded pretty nasty, but at least we could just leave them and forget about it. Out of sight, out of mind.

We gave it about a week or so, but nothing ever showed up in the cage trap outside, and the bells still jingled all night. Sometimes in our room, other times in the boys’, yet other times in the unoccupied rooms. I called the terminator again, and he said that Lenny had instructed him to “Just put out the damn glue traps,” which he did. He also rearmed the trap in the garage with what he called “special bait,” and warned us to stay away from it.

Another few days passed with no changes. I checked hourly at first, then daily, but nothing appeared in the traps. I was determined to get rid of the varmints myself. So I got on the internet and began looking up homemade solutions. I found a really simple one that involved rubber-banding some paper over a five gallon bucket and cutting a cross in the top. I set the bait, a peanut butter and cheese cracker, carefully near the center of the cross and pushed it to the back of our master bedroom closet. The concept was that when the rodent went for the bait, he would fall through the paper and get stuck in the bucket. Sounded slow – catching them one at a time like that – but at least it would be making some progress.

Nothing happened the first night. The bells still jingled. Midway through the following evening though, I was startled awake by the sound of something falling into the bucket. Something big! Oh God, it must have been a rat! I jumped out of bed, still in my boxers and bare feet, and whipped open the closet door.

“Now I’ve got you, you little fu…”

I’ll never forget what I saw. Thinking back, I still get a chill running down my spine. Tiny hands gripped the lip of the bucket and it pulled itself up over the rim. It was not a mouse. It was not a rat. It was not a raccoon. When it had fully extracted itself from the pail, I could see that it stood about a foot high when erect. It was humanoid in form. Humanoid, but definitely not human. Pale skin hanging over a bony frame. Although it was naked, I could see no genetalia to speak of, yet I got the feeling that it was a “he.” Huge eyes that were black through and through – no irises. Its ears and nose were simply holes in its head. It had no hair, and when it turned toward me it flashed a big toothy smile. Crazy – they looked like human teeth, not enlarged canines or front teeth as one would expect a rodent or small animal to have. For some reason that made it seem even more disturbing. It waved the peanut butter cracker in one tiny hand and ran off. Ran off into the passageway between the walls, the panel snapping shut after it went through.

In a cold sweat, I ran to the bedroom door and switched on the lights.

“Holy mother of God! Shit! Fuck me!”

My wife sat up, scared by my reaction. If only she had seen it… I immediately ran to the kids’ rooms and switched their lights on. In fact, within the next five minutes the entire house was alight. Except the cellar, though. That place gave me the creeps on a good day.

The four of us had gathered in the living room. Still shirtless and shaking from the cold or the shock, I said, “That’s it. We’re not spending the night in this house. Get dressed. We’ll find a hotel.”

“Nonsense,” said my wife. “We’re not going anywhere. What the hell happened?”

I pulled her aside, out of earshot of the boys, and told her what I had seen. “Come on,” she pleaded, “think about this rationally. Nothing like that exists. It had to be a rat or something. It was dark. You were half asleep. I mean seriously, honey…”

Once again, I wanted it to be true. Even a rat seemed like a better alternative than what I had seen. What I thought I had seen. I calmed down a bit. My wife got the boys back to sleep while a made a cup of tea and settled into one of the tubs for a hot bath. After a bit, I was calmed down enough to go back to bed. As I fell into sleep, a bell jingled.

Every night after got progressively worse. The bells continued ringing throughout the days and night. I kept hearing bumps in the dark. Panels slamming shut. At times, I heard the closet door creak open – the proverbial “monster-in-the-closet.” I could even swear that a few times I saw it watching me from the darkness beyond the cracked door. The final straw was when I awoke one night, roused by a sound near my bed, and came face to face with it as it stared at me over the edge of the mattress. Once again, I jumped out of bed and flipped the lights on.

“That’s it you little bastard!” I couldn’t see it, but I heard it scampering toward the closet. I gave chase and saw it just as it slipped through the panel at the back of the closet and into the hidden passage. Determined to put an end to the insanity, I grabbed a flashlight from my nightstand drawer. By that time, my wife was looking at me as if I was crazy – and I considered that she may have been right. I threw on a T-shirt and ducked through the panel at the back of the closet. It was the first time I had been back in those passages. Maybe, as a younger man, my curiosity would have made me check them out the first day we had moved in; but over time, the thirst for adventures like that had been quenched by a “too-much-effort” attitude.

The passages had hardwood floors, unfinished planks widely set – not carefully like in the livable areas of the house. I saw only the backs of the walls. Lathes with plaster that had oozed between the seams before hardening. To my surprise, there were no cobwebs, as if someone had been using the passageways; but the floor had a layer of dust and little crumbs of plaster coating it. There were footprints in the dust. Not just one set running away. Not even a set coming toward the bedroom and then away. There were hundreds of footprints running this way and that. Either my little friend had buddies or he had been a busy guy.

I was so fascinated that I had about forgotten why I entered the passage when I heard another bump down the hall. My flashlight only cast its beam a short distance, but I shone it ahead and slowly walked down the hall. I had to hunch over at times, as it seemed to have been built for a man smaller than myself. I supposed that people were shorter back when the house had been built. Of course, I don’t imagine that the passages were built for comfort. I could see that they were built out of some necessity. I was a bit surprised to find that a set of narrow stairs led down to the second floor, another down to the first, and another that must have gone all of the way to the cellar.

I was constantly propelled ahead by a series of bumping noises. Whatever he was, he clearly was not afraid of me. The noises weren’t moving away from me very quickly. It was almost as if he were waiting for me to follow. As much as I wanted to avoid the cellar, I was a man on a mission. I plunged ahead until the passage at last came to an end. It wasn’t closed off at the end, but apparently opened into one of the cellar’s rooms. I noticed an iron flap-type door set high into the wall and realized that I must have ended up in one of the coal bins, built before the gravity furnace had been converted to burn heating oil instead of coal. Lenny had assured us that the door had been permanently sealed, but now I doubted it.

A dim light filled the room – moonlight filtering through the smudged and dirty glass of a high set window – but not enough to see by. I spun slowly around, shining my flashlight ahead as I turned. I was surrounded by dozens of the little creatures. They did not appear to be afraid of me, nor did they appear to be aggressive. I felt safe, even somewhat calm. Relieved to know what it was that I had been pursuing for the past weeks. Calm, that is, until one of them – the bold one that had been in my closet, I believe – “spoke.” In a gravelly, high-pitched voice it raised the peanut butter cracker and questioned, “More?”

That was all it took to send me bolting out of the room and up the cellar stairs. I slammed the door shut behind me and threw the bolt. Pouring myself a glass of water from the kitchen tap, I walked to the living room and sat down on the couch. I was breathing heavy, almost hyperventilating. Even though I knew in the back of my mind that nothing had really changed, and they apparently had the run of the house, I calmed down after a while. I never did fall back asleep that night. Not entirely. I must had nodded off occasionally, but I woke every time I heard something stir. After a fitful night, I returned to the kitchen to put on a pot of coffee once the dawn sunlight began sifting through the house’s windows.

I called the exterminator at precisely 8:05am. I wanted to be the first to get a hold of him, but I didn’t want to leave a message. I needed to talk to him immediately. I was in luck, and he promised to make our house the first stop of the day. While I waited for him to arrive, I drank some coffee. As the caffeine started to kick in, I began to understand the ridiculousness of what I thought that I had experienced during the night. I convinced myself that I had merely dozed off on the couch and had a horrible dream. Yes, that’s what it had been: a dream. Nevertheless, I would have the exterminator check out the basement, as well as the rest of the traps.

I met him out back as he was getting out of his truck. I tried to speak lightheartedly as I related my nightmare. It all sounded so silly when I told the story out loud. He smiled a little, but didn’t seem as amused as I thought he would be. Perhaps the normally jovial man was having a rough start to the day.

He headed for the garage first. He opened the door just a crack and, turning on his flashlight, poked his head inside. Then he turned back to face me – a serious look on his face.

“You had better wait here. Looks like the little buggers are back.”

“What is it?” I asked with excitement. “Raccoons? Rats? Oh, please tell me it’s not rats.”

“No, not that bad.” He shook his head. “You may want to stock up on peanut butter and cheese crackers, though.”

Credit: Kenneth Kohl

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Roommate Troubles

May 15, 2016 at 12:00 AM
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This actually happened to me a few years back at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia.

My sophomore year, I roomed with a girl named Kara. She was a jazz vocalist, but her main interest was opera. We had a small room on the sixth floor of a dormitory called Juniper Hall. The walls were thin, and her late night singing and voice practices would keep me up late. After a month or so of lost sleep, I convinced her to move her late night practices to the music studios in the Merriam theater building a block away.

Around eight o’clock one evening, Kara announced that she would be practicing late for an upcoming recital and probably wouldn’t be home until around midnight. Great, I thought, that means I can go to bed early (I was beat… I had a horrible day in acting studio, and was ready to pass out as soon as I had dinner). She said goodnight and left, coffee and sheet music in hand.

I made some grilled cheese and soup, gobbled it down, and immediately began to prepare for bed. By the time I got out of the shower, my eyelids were so heavy I could hardly brush my teeth. I pulled on my PJ’s and crawled into the top bunk of our bunk bed. I was out as soon as my head hit the pillow.

I should take a second to describe the layout of our apartment. When entering the apartment, the bedroom was through a door immediately to the left. Our bathroom was inside the bedroom, just past the bunk beds (UArts is nice in the sense that you don’t have to share bathrooms).

Anyway, I woke up to the sound of the apartment door closing. I opened my eyes, and groggily checked my phone: midnight on the dot. I rolled back over and closed my eyes. I heard Kara enter the room and stop in front of the bunk bed. Checking to see if I’m actually asleep, I thought. She flopped down on the bed below me, which was strange, as she was a stickler for brushing her teeth and washing up before bed. Then again, exams were just around the corner, and we were all exhausted. The mattress below me creaked, and then was silent. I couldn’t even hear her breathing.

I started to drift off again. I was just on the edge of deep sleep when I was startled awake again by a noise.

A key in the lock. The door opening.

And Kara entering our apartment, humming an opera tune.

The mattress below me creaked.

Credit: Jessi Cosgrove

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Propane

May 12, 2016 at 12:00 AM
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Thump.

The girl jerked awake. She glanced at the window, afraid of what she would see, yet it revealed nothing but the dark night. They’re back, she thought anxiously. A week ago, the girl awoke to find that somebody had spray painted loops and scribbles of blue and red on their garage door. Mom thought it was a rival gang at first, maybe trying to intimidate the girl’s brother’s clan, but the girl wasn’t so sure. She’d never seen gang graffiti like this; usually it was only one color, and they’d write out just a letter and a number, like the “X4” she’d seen in a bathroom stall at school. If they used a lot of colors, it was to paint a nickname in cool, bubbly letters, like the ones under the bridge on her walk home. This looked nothing like that graffiti.

She had thought it was silly at the time, but the next morning as Mom was leaving for work, she noticed something lying across the top of the driveway. It was a long, wooden board with nails poking through it, sharp side up. It was a good thing Mom noticed, because it would have popped all of her tires for sure.

The girl was anxious about it, though nothing bad had happened. The events were strange, more than anything, but Mom said she’d ask her boyfriend to stay over the next night to keep them safe. That made the girl feel a little better, but something happened that night, too. The girl thought all those globs of white on his shiny BMW were just bird poop. It looked like a whole flock of giant birds had unloaded their intestinal burdens right on his car on purpose, and since the girl didn’t like him much, it made her laugh. Mom’s boyfriend got mad and cursed a lot, though, because the globs turned out to be paint remover. He’d have to get the whole car repainted.

Somehow, targeting a full-grown man like that made the girl more frightened than anything else. It didn’t feel like teenage pranksters anymore, nor gang rivalry.

At the present, she was worried she wouldn’t be able to hear anything even if someone was right outside the door, because her heart was pounding so hard in her ears. She strained to listen for another sound anyway and –

Thump. Thump.

Her eyes darted to the source of the noise and realized it was coming from her brother’s bedroom, which shared a wall with the living room. They’re probably doing it, she cringed in discomfort. Her brother and his girlfriend were supposed to be watching her. She didn’t really need a babysitter, but Mom’s boyfriend didn’t want to come over anymore. Mom had night classes and wouldn’t let the girl stay here alone, since someone kept messing with the house.

Thump. Thump. Thump.

The girl turned up the volume on the TV to drown them out. She’d fallen asleep watching Nickelodeon, but now an old show in black and white was on. She considered just going to bed, but her room was upstairs and the staircase was dark. The laughing and talking from the sitcom was comforting. She would just fall asleep on the couch, and Mom would put her in bed when she got home.

By the time the episode ended, the thumping from her brother’s room was long gone. Now, he was playing his rap tapes, and even though she liked the music – and she’d even steal his Walkman when he was out of the house and listen to them – the deep, shuddering bass penetrated her heart at night and set her on edge. It would be less overwhelming if she went upstairs, so she resigned herself to brave the darkness and try to fall asleep in her bed.

As she rose from the couch to turn off the television, she thought she glimpsed a flash of light from outside. She froze. A car? Their house was set against a hill, so the living room windows looked out on mostly sky and treetops, not roads or sidewalks. It couldn’t be a car. Lightning? But there hadn’t been a cloud in the sky all day… Just as she had convinced herself she had imagined it, the girl saw the light again. It was a flashlight. Someone was walking through the yard below their back deck, and the beam from their lamp flicked up through the trees as the figure stepped over larger logs and stumps.

She could see the man by the dim light coming from the window at which she stood – and it was definitely a man, with a big, broad back and long legs stomping through the brush – edging closer and closer to the shed by their propane tank. When he stopped and set down the pack he was carrying, the girl jumped back and turned, running to her brother’s room. She glanced at the splintered hole that he had kicked in the door and for a moment reconsidered, but someone was outside their house and she didn’t know what else to do.

The girl knocked. Waited. Knocked again. Knocked louder, and finally she heard footsteps coming toward the closed door. Her brother threw it open, and a smelly wall of smoke hit her face. It wasn’t like his room usually smelled – that weirdly sweet smell, like a skunk but not bad. This was more like when Mom cleaned the oven. Or like a litter box. Or both at the same time.

“What do you want?”

“There’s someone outside.”

“Shit! Mom’s home?”

“No, it’s not Mom. I think it’s like last time…” The girl started to cry. Her brother was being stupid. His eyes were red, and his girlfriend was just lying there in his bed, doing nothing, when there was someone outside their house! She wished Mom were home.

“Someone’s outside?”

“Yes! That’s what I’m trying to tell you!” The girl sobbed.

Her brother pulled on his red-and-black plaid jacket and clumsily pushed her aside. He strode to the living room window, the one looking out down the hill, and the girl followed. She could see the man down there, crouched over his pack, like he was trying to hide, as he pulled something out of his pack. Something long and shiny. It was a handsaw.

The girl pressed her face to the glass to see better.

“Hey! I see you, motherfucker! I’m gonna call the fucking cops!” Her brother shouted, his barely post-pubescent voice cracking on the last word.

The man leapt up and dropped the saw. Before the girl’s brother could shout anything else, the man was sprinting up the hill to Begonia Road, running at an angle to get away from their house. The girl’s brother turned on his heel and burst out the front door. Just as the girl was starting to worry that her brother had found the man and the man might hurt him, her brother came back in the door, sweaty, pale and out of breath.

“He’s gone.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yeah.”

“Do you think he’ll come back?”

“I don’t fucking know, alright? Just go to bed.”

The girl went upstairs to her room, but she couldn’t sleep. She sat on her bed until she saw the headlights in her window that announced Mom’s return, then crept to the landing outside her room and listened to her brother tell Mom what had happened.

“Jesus,” Mom sighed when she’d heard the story. “Thank God you guys are ok.”

“Yeah.”

“Who do you think…?”

“Don’t look at me like that, Mom, it wasn’t because of me.”

“I didn’t say it was, Joseph. I just don’t know who else could be doing this, or why. What if it’s some punks trying to scare you?”

“He wasn’t trying to scare us, he was trying to blow up the house!”

“The house wouldn’t have blown up. It would have caused a leak, that’s all. Cost us a fortune to have it fixed and the tank refilled. Maybe the spark from the blade would have started a fire, but it wouldn’t have blown us up. I’ll check it out tomorrow.”

“Maybe he didn’t know that. He was trying to blow us up.”

They went quiet. The girl tiptoed to her bed and crawled under the covers so that when Mom came in and checked on her, she would have thought the girl was deeply asleep. But she didn’t sleep at all that night.

Mom said the tank was probably fine the next morning, but she could smell the propane and had called a professional to come and make sure there wasn’t a leak. It was Saturday, so Mom made French toast for the girl and Joseph. Joseph’s girlfriend was still sleeping.

The phone rang. Mom lifted it from its mount on the wall and said, “Hello?” Her face went cold. The girl’s dad must be on the other line.

He asked how she was, the girl guessed, because Mom said “fine”, but she said it in the high-pitched voice that betrayed her words. Mom never lied except when she said “fine,” and always in that tone.

The girl’s dad wanted to come over and borrow some tools from the shed. Mom didn’t say anything about last night, or the other nights. The girl knew Mom was afraid that he would use the information in court to make her seem like an unfit mother. He did that when the girl got lice from school, and said that Mom’s home wasn’t clean enough. Mom’s house was always clean.

The girl’s dad arrived in his big, white Chevy truck soon after they finished breakfast, and he walked into the house like he lived there. He swooped the girl up onto his big, broad shoulders, and the girl wrinkled her nose at the odd smell on his thick jean jacket that had mingled with its usual scent of sawdust and cigarettes. Mom gave him a cup of coffee, black. He talked about the garage door, said it was gang-related for sure, and he shot Joseph a nasty look.

“I don’t think so, Mike. I haven’t seen any graffiti like that before.”

“Well, I have. And I think you know what to do about it,” Mike said, looking accusingly at Joseph again. Joseph got up and went to his room.

“Yeah, I do,” said Mom. “We repaint.”

Mike offered to help and said he’d be back tomorrow with a roller and a bucket of paint, but now he had to leave, so he went out the door and hiked down the trail to the shed.

The girl went outside when he was back up at his truck to say goodbye. He was lifting a pack into the passenger seat, and she saw something shiny sticking through the open zipper.

“What’s that?” she asked.

“A saw. I’m helping someone with a project today.”

“You don’t have one of those?”

“I did. I must have left it here the last time I visited.”

They locked eyes for a moment, and the girl tried not to let her thoughts show on her face. She wasn’t sure what she thought, anyway… She felt like she did when she was taking a test at school and she knew the answer to a question, but just couldn’t pull it up in her memory. Her dad broke his gaze first, smirked and climbed up into the truck. He didn’t look at her again, as he turned his truck around in the driveway and chugged up to Begonia Road, but that smell from his jacket lingered on the girl’s pajamas. The distinct smell of propane.

Credit: Holly Radmacher

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The Great and Powerful Oz

May 6, 2016 at 12:00 AM
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Not all ghost stories are scary, but they can still send chills down your spine.

My grandfather was a Lutheran minister. Growing up he had four brothers. His wife, my grandmother was an only child and a divorcee, a terrible blemish in the 1950s when they wed. Her first husband had been abusive, but even with that justification a divorced woman marrying a minister in that day and age was an anomaly. Other than that, I know remarkably little about my grandparents.

This story is about my grandfather. “Grandpa Boo” we called him, though he was never scary to us. He had a big hearty laugh and would sometimes take the long way home down a big hill so our tummies would toss. He’d let us decorate his office with streamers when we went to visit and we mutually impersonated the mysterious figure of “Oz” that my sister and I had dreamed up one day as children. The joke stuck.

Every time we visited we’d dress up a mannequin in a costume and position it at the top of the stairs, saying that Oz had come to visit too. Over the years we started sending tapes back and forth of our deeply-modified recorded voices, always impersonating Oz. He usually had a riddle or joke for us, sometimes he told us to be good or enjoy an upcoming trip. In turn, we’d create tapes and send them to him. He thought we were immensely talented, and would tell anyone who’d listen that my sister and I were going to be famous broadcasters someday.

————————–

I remember the day my grandfather died. It was March 1, 1991. I was young and he’d been sick as long as I could remember. He was always in and out of the hospital, having some procedure or running some test, but that never dampened his smile. His death wasn’t unexpected. We went to visit him in the hospital before he passed. I remember picking out my best outfit; I think I knew it was the last time I’d see him alive.

We traveled from central Pennsylvania for the funeral near Altoona. It was scheduled for March 4, my Birthday. Looking back, I was unforgivably selfish about the arrangements. I pleaded and begged for it to be changed so we could observe my Birthday and, when that didn’t work, I resorted to guilt.

“It’ll scar me for life,” I promised. This did not turn out to be true. At least, I don’t think it did.

“I’ll never be able to celebrate a Birthday without thinking about this day,” I sneered. This turned out to be true, though I often reflect more on my poor character than any other aspect.

“You’ll be sorry you scheduled it for that day,” I threatened. This, as fate or other forces would have it, also turned out to be true.

————————–

My Aunt, Uncle and cousins came in from Pittsburgh for the viewing the night before the funeral. As I said before, my grandfather was a minister and almost the entire parish came out to wish him farewell. It was unreasonably long and terribly boring for my sister, my cousins and me.

Eventually the eight of us were told we could play quietly in the other rooms of the funeral home. Before long we found the kitchen and proceeded to dare one another to consume the packs of sugar we found there. By the time the viewing was over and my parents came to get us we were unruly, sugar-fueled terrors.

They packed us all in cars and shuttled us back to my grandmother’s house, a three-story home with plenty of spare bedrooms to sleep all the guests. We ran screaming from room to room, high on sugar and the company of one another. My Mom and Aunt somehow got us all washed and changed, then dragged us up to bed, threatening that if we didn’t say in bed and go to sleep there’d be hell to pay.

Now, in my cousins’ family there is a special Birthday competition to see who can wish the Birthday girl/boy happy Birthday first on their big day. So that night, as my Mom tucked me in, I was promised of a shower of Birthday wishes in the morning even though it was the same day as the funeral.

————————–

I did not awake to the promised Birthday wishes. The first thing I remember was hearing screams. We woke up late, very late, though no one could say exactly how late at first. The power had gone out overnight, most likely due to the near foot of snow that had fallen so far. Without power, none of the alarms had gone off and we’d all slept just as late as we pleased.

My Dad had to run out and fire up the old wagon to see the time. It was 9:07 a.m. The funeral was at 10:00 a.m., half an hour away in good travel conditions. There were eight kids and five adults in the house who were not showered, dressed or fed. The immediate consensus was that we’d skip breakfast and showers were on an as-needed basis. Everyone flew into action and, miraculously, by 9:30 a.m. we were all buckled into cars and on our way.

In our car was my Dad behind the wheel, my Mom, sister and grandmother. We plowed through the snow at a desperate crawl. Each mile seemed to go slower than the last, with snow falling more and more rapidly as the minutes ticked past.

Because of the heavy snowfall we soon discovered our planned route – west on the Pennsylvania Turnpike – had been unexpectedly closed. We followed the detour onto the highway instead. It was only a minor setback; we could still make it my father insisted, trying to convince himself as much as the rest of us.

We didn’t begin experiencing car trouble until we were getting off the highway. My cousins were behind us – all eight of them crammed into their car. My Mom leaned out the window and flailed urgently at them, trying to communicate that we needed to pull over. We stopped in a Hoss’s parking lot.

There was more than a foot of snow on the ground by now, and our options were quickly deteriorating. We’d all come to terms with the sad reality that we were going to be late. Now it looked like we might not make it at all. As my Dad and Uncle were under the hood trying to figure out what was wrong with our wagon, my Aunt crept over to me.

She smiled weakly and bumped hips with me, trying to feel out my mood. I half-heartedly smiled at her and hugged my coat tighter as the sky pelted us with white flakes.

“I feel bad,” she confided. “In all the rush this morning, I forgot to wish you happy Birthday.”

I beamed.

“Who was first?” she asked.

“You,” I said. “Everyone else forgot.”

A burst of laughter overcame her. I was confused; how was that funny? Just as she was stopping, another wave of laughter seized her and soon she was nearly doubled over from laughing so hard. Everyone was staring at her by the time she regained her composure.

She smiled, a big wide smile that seemed so out of place with the mood of the morning. She squatted near me. “Grandpa Boo remembered,” she said, gesturing at the car and snow and the world around. “Heck, he’s only been up there three days and he’s already running the place. Guess he didn’t want his funeral to be today either.”

In the end, the fourteen of us all piled into my Uncle’s car for the final five miles of the trip. We didn’t make it on time, but we made it. On the way back we stopped at my parents’ car. It started right away this time and rode fine for the trip to the cemetery and, later, back home. My parents never figured out what the problem was.

————————–

On the way back to Harrisburg after the funeral, my sister and I found an unmarked tape in the backseat of the old wagon. We played it later when we got home and found a mysterious message recorded on it. Though it didn’t identify the recorder by name, the voice sounded too similar to Oz to be anyone but him.

The tape explained that sometimes life doesn’t go our way, but that the people who love us will always try to do their best for us. It signed off with a promise that he’d always use every resource at his disposal to ensure our happiness. He always did.

When we tried to replay the message, nothing was on the tape but static.

————————–

It has been 25 years since my grandfather died. To this day I believe that he was behind the trials of that morning. Between the rogue snowstorm, the power outage and the car trouble, it’s just too many events for me to chalk it up to mere coincidence. And if that wasn’t enough, my sister and I both heard the fortuitous message on Oz’s final tape.

Not all ghost stories are scary.

*Written with love in memory of The Rev. Richard L. Tome

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Thump!

April 29, 2016 at 12:00 AM
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I have no idea whether or not this story will be seen as “creepy” by anyone reading it, but I can honestly say these events will stay with me until I die.

Living in England, I grew up on a healthy diet of ghost stories, myths and legends. The county I live in has many of it’s own supernatural stories, ranging from witchcraft, faceless monks and grey ladies to the supposed ghost of Boris Karloff! My story involves none of these.

Before I start, I want to say that I won’t be using names of places or “people” as I don’t want to exploit and/or cause trouble for anyone, myself included. Any ages or dates will be swapped out for false ones.

It begins innocent enough, a drink with an old friend. It was early December 2012 and I wanted to celebrate my birthday with a friend I’ve had since childhood. She was going to be moving to Spain that week, which meant she would be gone by my actual birthday at the end of the month.

I had intended on leaving her place quite early so I could catch a bus home. I didn’t know the area too well and I didn’t want to be out in the dark. Up until that night, I had always relied on her giving me lifts back and forth, so I never took time to really take notice of the neighbourhood.

I ended up not leaving until around midnight but in my somewhat drunken haze, I had managed to convince myself, and my friend, that taking a bus back home was still a good idea. The problem was, I had missed the last bus hours ago. Never the less, I put my coat on, stumbled out the door with some general directions to the nearest bus stop and I promised to return should I run into any trouble.

Now, sober me has no problem admitting to being scared of the dark and sober me probably would have seen spending the night at my friend’s place as a viable and probably the better option. But I was drunk and while under the influence, I tend to display out of character bravery and an unusual level of stupidity. I had set my mind to do something, I was going to do it.

Finding my way to the bus stop was going to be easy as it was at the bottom of a street who’s name was the same as my last name. As I turned into the street, I felt safe enough as it was a well-lit residential road that was packed with blocks of flats and council houses down one side and a primary school on the other.

It was quite a short road and I could just about make out the bus stop at the end under a street lamp. I was singing something, I don’t remember what, but a short distance from the school gate, I was stopped in my tracks when I heard what I thought was a scream.

You know when you hear something and you remain silent for what seems like ages, straining your ears for the slightest sound to figure out where it’s coming from? That’s what I was doing right then. For a short time, I heard no sound other than the general ambiance and a few cars at the bottom of the street and I thought about carrying on.

Just as I had plucked up enough courage to start walking again, from the direction of the primary school, I heard crying and a series of strange thumping sounds. Thump! Over and over! It was like nothing I had ever heard before, or since. I mean, obviously I know what a thump sounds like but these were different. I can’t explain how!

When I thought what ever it was had finally finished, I heard another, more choked scream followed soon after by one last thump. My blood felt like it had turned to ice and my brain started to “whoosh” after straining my ears for so long.

I thought “fuck this!” and I turned back around, ran as fast as my legs would go to the top of the street and back to my friend’s house. What ever it was that had just happened, I was NOT waiting around to find out!

I got to her door and though every bone in my body was urging me to bang on the door and scream, I slowed my breath as much as I could and knocked calmly. “I knew you would come back!” my friend yelled as she yanked the door open. “I think I missed the last bus” I replied quietly. I went right to the sofa, took off my shoes, lay down, coat still on and I slept, heavily. To this day, I don’t know why I never said anything.

When I woke up, I wasn’t hungover like you’d expect. I felt fine and I had slept really well. I was still a little shaken from the scare but sober me piped up and put the whole incident down to drunken hallucinations and my fear of the dark.

I wanted to go home right away but my friend didn’t want to drive until she was sure the alcohol was out of her system and I did NOT want to catch a bloody bus! She dropped me off home around 6 that evening and for the next couple of weeks, life kinda just carried on. She left for Spain, Christmas and my birthday came and went and I hoped to celebrate the New Year with my family.

On the morning of New Years Eve, I got a call from my Mum, confirming our plans. “Dad says you can have a few drinks and he’ll be the designated driver” she almost sang over the phone. It was then, after trying to forget, the screams and scary thumps weedled their way back into my head. I told her I wasn’t going to touch a drop!

After the call ended, I started to think about everything that had happened that night. What if I had heard someone being attacked? What if I had just run off when I could have helped? I knew I wasn’t going to be able to get past it as I had hoped. That’s when I realised that I could look up any possible incidents on the internet, duh!

I typed the date, area and “attacks” into the search engine and to my horror, something came up. I clicked on the link and was taken to a news report about the murder of a young woman. I was kinda relieved when I saw that even though it was a story about a murder from that date, it was 6 years before.

I was about to quit the page when I saw a name. It was the name of the primary school I was about to pass that night. I read on and I started to feel sick.

“Police have re-opened the investigation into the death of _____ ____ who was murdered in __________ back in ____. _____ was 22 when she was sexually assaulted and murdered behind _____ Primary School, in the early hours of _____. She was found partially-clothed later that morning by a caretaker. The crime is thought to be linked to a series of rapes that happened in the area around the time of the murder and locals now fear the assailant may be someone close”

I carried on reading and found out that she had taken the same street, the street with my name, on her way to the same bus stop after visiting a friend from the same road mine lived in. She never made it past the school.

The post mortem determined her cause of death as asphyxiation. The back of her skull was crushed and so was her spine. She had been stamped on.

By now, I was in tears. I still half believed the whole affair to be a drunken dream but in the end, I couldn’t deny the dates, times and places lined up perfectly. Even those horrible screams and thumps started to make sense.

The part that scared me the most? The reason it was back in the news as recently as a few months before. The guy who had spent the last 6 years in prison had just been cleared of the crime. In the time he was locked up, a few sporadic rapes and the disappearance of another young woman have happened in the area. No arrests have been made in connection with any of them and the real killer of _____ ____ has never been caught.

I can’t help but think that the events from 6 years before were somehow playing out again that night. Like a recording. Maybe if had I attempted to carry on to the bus stop, I would never had made it past the school either.

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My 6th Birthday

March 16, 2016 at 12:00 AM
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It was my 6th birthday, and my party had just ended. We had cake, pizza, and played games, typical American birthday party. I lived with my mom and her boyfriend, his name was Steve. For my birthday they got me one of those plastic Fischer Price playsets, the ones that were like 4 feet tall and had a small slide (small enough to fit in my room). I was extremely excited about this because it was exactly what I wanted and I was sure it was the greatest invention since sliced bread. The playset was set up right by my door in front of my bed.

Now before I go onto the actual part of the story you want to read I need to give a little background about the house I lived in, from what I know at least. To begin with the house was an old, blue, colonial house in upstate NY. The house was like every other house in the neighborhood and since Steve had just got a promotion at work there was constantly work being done on the house, basically a complete remodel while we lived there. The only thing I didn’t like about the house was that you couldn’t get into the attic, and for some reason bats kept getting in there and at six years old you don’t like bats.

My mom tucked me into bed after my birthday at about 9:00 PM, a little later than usual. I remember waking up a few times that night because I was really excited to use the playset in the morning, I didn’t get to play with it much that day because of the assembly. One of the times I woke up I remember looking at the playset when I saw two shadows, a boy and a girl, and they looked like they were talking to each other. As a child I didn’t want to be scared so I rationalized this as the shadows of the trees playing tricks on my mind, that’s what my mom would have said. I managed to go back to sleep that night and didn’t really think much of it the next day.

My birthday is in June so I usually didn’t have class on my birthday, this meant that I could spend the day playing with my friends. I didn’t think about the shadows I saw the night before at all, I basically forgot that it happened, until the next night. My usual bedtime was 8:00 PM and my mom was pretty strict on this matter so I was showered, in my pajamas, and in bed by then. I was lying in bed when I had a strong feeling something was watching me. I looked to the wall between my door and the play set and the shadows were there again. This time I payed more attention to it while I was frozen in fear in my bed. The shadow children seemed to be talking but I still couldn’t hear them, it also seemed as if they were looking at each other but it’s hard to sense 3D direction from a 2D shadow. I screamed for my mom and she ran into my room and turned my light on, at this point the shadows disappeared. My mom then let me sleep in her bed that night, which she never let me do. She assumed I had a nightmare.

Every night from then on when I would look at the wall at night those shadows would be there. When this would happen I would call for my mom and the cycle repeated. During this time Steve and my mom would argue a lot, I wasn’t sure why but I know I didn’t notice it at first. The house had also gone into a full remodeling where almost half the house would always have something being done to it. I wished for school, this was back when school was fun and all your friends would be there. I hated spending any time in the house and I would try to go to my grandma’s whenever possible.

This cycle repeated for a while and I’m not really sure what my mom thought about me telling her that ghost shadow people were in my room every night. I begged her to leave the hallway light on every night, hoping that the light would scare away the shadows. She obliged but the light never did anything and I would yell for her every night. This continued for a while but then one night something changed.

Lying in bed something felt different, I wasn’t sure if I had built up a sort of tolerance to the shadow people that were in my room at night, in the same place, doing nothing but silently “talking” to each other, or if I was just dumb. That night I decided that I didn’t want to wake my mom up for some reason; I decided I would be brave enough to walk right past the shadows to my mom’s room. I think it might be important to remember that whenever my mom would come by these shadows would disappear, I still don’t know why. I walked past the shadows and nothing happened, I was then in the hallway with the light right above me, and my mom’s room to my left. I remember looking up at the light, and then back to my mom’s room, then back to the light. I did this a few times and then I remember just staring into the light, I am not sure why but I was drawn to the light.

This is where the story starts to get a little confusing but I will try my best to explain to you what I can. This next part of the story will be what I can remember as of today, then I will try to fill in some blanks with what my family remembers and could tell me.

After looking at the light for some reason I decided that I didn’t want to wake my mom up, which was weird because I never cared before. I went back to bed and the next thing I remember is sitting in the living room watching T.V.. There was construction all around me, and plastic covers on the couches so that none of the drywall or new paint got on them. I remember I was sitting on the floor and I was just watching static on the T.V., to me this memory seems like an out of body experience, I feel like I was there but I didn’t feel in control.

These memories are like a flash to me, I have them but nothing in between. I only have one more memory being in that house. I was in my room looking out of my window down to the driveway. It was night time and my mom had asked her friend’s mother to come over. Her name was Danielle but everyone called her Dee. I remember watching her pull up into the driveway and giving my mom a hug. I could hear them for some reason, and this also seemed like an out of body experience. I heard Dee say that there was a boy and a girl spirit in the house but they weren’t the problem. The problem was that there was a dark and evil entity in the house and that it wanted me. Dee and my mom then proceeded to burn sage in the house. I assumed I went to bed but when I woke up I was at my grandma’s house and it was two months after the light incident. I felt fine when I woke up and I don’t think I even noticed anything different, I often spent the night at my grandmas house.

I had my own assumptions about what had happened but I never really talked to my mom about it until I was 16. When I woke up at my grandmas my mom had told me that we were moving out of Steve’s house, that they were breaking up and that I wouldn’t be going back. My mom would get my stuff.

As I stated earlier I talked to my mom about this, in detail, when I was 16. The memories had bothered me for so long and I wanted answers. I told my mom the exact story that is written above. My mom gave me a confused look when I told her about the part with Dee. She told me I wasn’t in the house. My mom proceeded to tell me how I became more and more distant as we lived in that house. Then one day we were eating dinner and I just passed out, head in plate, like out of a movie. My mom said I had a high fever and looked ill. My mom is the kind of person who believes in the supernatural and I think when I passed out she decided to accept that the “ghost” stories I was telling her weren’t in my head. This is when she decided to call Dee, who was known around town as being psychic. Dee told my mom to immediately get me out of the house and that she would come over. My mom drove me to my grandmother’s and went back to the house when Dee showed up. I wasn’t in the house but I was able to recall what Dee had done and said, without my mother telling me. My mother also told me that she didn’t tell Dee anything about what I had said just that I said something was here.

Since I was sick my grandma kept a close watch on me that night, my grandma doesn’t really believe in ghosts but when I talked to her about it she said it was a weird night. She said I was making weird noises, having trouble sleeping and had a high fever but then it just stopped. Like one moment all of my symptoms went away, I went to bed and that’s when I remember waking up.

As I sit here and right this story I am a 21 year old senior in college, every so often I think back to these events and I am just confused. I have no answers. I try to come up with my own conclusions but I can never think of a rational one. I have a hypothesis for what happened but I wont share that with you now, I want you to come to your own conclusion. Maybe someone else has gone through the same type of situation. That was the point of writing this story, I am hoping that someday someone will read this and be able to help me. It would be easy to say I was possessed or something but that seems to unreal. If the memories I have weren’t so vivid it would be hard for me to believe this story, hell it’s hard to believe with the memories but I assure you that this happened.

Credit: joey517

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