The story I am about to tell you is crazy. I had the weirdest, creepiest experience last weekend. And I think people like you want to hear. The curse must have happened over 300 years ago. But for us, it started when my dad and I found a great-great-great-great grandfather’s diary. Well, kind of. Anyway, there are a few things I should explain first.
My family are formerly from the Balkans and moved to America a few generations ago. Our family immigrated with everyone who traveled from their village. Maybe like 30 people to live in America in a place called Grimmville, where they continued to live together for years. Until one day, great (X4) grandfather Edward moved states with his family, and we have never known why. Upon finding the diary.
I’m getting ahead of myself. First, you should know that my family, are highly superstitious people. My grandmother and grandfather would always tell me stories- of horrors in the woods, visits from gypsies, and deathly omens. There was always a reason for something strange or unfortunate to happen. And that reason was always supernatural. I believed the stories as a kid. But, these days, I can see where coincidence and paranoia collide. Even so, two stories stuck with me 40 years later.
There was a rule at my grandparents’ house- never leave the window open at night. My parents didn’t care for this rule, as it wasn’t something we did in our house, but they always respected it. One weekend, I stayed at my grandparents’ place while my parents were out of town. I was about 6 years old. It had been a hot day, and the house was stuffy. I opened my window in the afternoon to let the cool breeze inside. I started playing with my toys and completely forgot about the window. A few hours later, my grandfather came to get me for dinner, saw the window, and exploded. He was furious; I have never seen him so mad. He slammed it in a flurry, saying it was ‘dangerous’.
Then he sat me on the bed and told me of the toymaker.
“Bram is a man who makes toys for little boys and girls, like you”, he said to me. “He places the toy on your windowsill. It may seem like a lovely gift, but it’s when you pick it up that he catches you with his claw.”
He took me by the chin and made me look him in the eye. I could feel his handshaking. “All that is left, in your stead is a doll, of your likeness, and you are never seen again. It is said on windy nights when the clouds cover the moon. You can hear the lost children wail.”
He let go of my chin.
“Never leave your window open again.”
He stood up and walked to the door before turning back.
“Remember, Bram the toymaker is not your friend.”
And then, to make his point, he left me to bed without dinner. I couldn’t sleep a wink. What kid could? I stopped playing with my toys for a while after that. And, I never left the window open at night. Not at my grandparents and not at my own house either. Much later, in my teenage years, when I would tell this story to my friends, no one had heard this old wives’ tale. Not even my friends from the Balkans.
The other story that sticks with me happened a few years later when I was 9 years old. My grandfather had just passed away. At his funeral, I remember my uncles carrying the coffin out of my grandparents’ house to take to be buried, when just before crossing the threshold of the front door they stopped, talked amongst themselves, then backed up and turned around 180 degrees. My grandma was standing next to me, and I looked up at her. I remember her face, the usual warmth in every wrinkle, but not today. She was solemnly nodding as the men turned around.
“Grandma, what are they doing?”
“They’re making sure his legs come out of the door first.”
She looked down at me, surprised I didn’t understand. I still remember the unnerving intensity in her eyes.
“To make sure he doesn’t come back, of course. Or he’ll take us with him.”
And she walked away, leaving me there, alone again.
I couldn’t sleep for weeks, worried my grandfather would come to visit me. My parents would read me Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark occasionally, and boy, were they regretting that now. Every night I expected to hear heavy thuds on the stairs to my room, imagining his legs stiff from rigor mortis. To see his face as he rounded the doorway, sunken cheeks, white eyes a home for flies, blue skin puffy – or worse – rotting away, mouth frozen open in eternal despair.
Over time I forgot, and bedtime became less scary.
Nowadays, I chalk these superstitions and scary tales up to getting your kids to behave. I’m sure there’s some psych study on it. But then we found that diary.
My dad asked me recently to help him clear out my grandparent’s place. My grandma died 3 years ago, bless her, and my parents finally decided to turn their place into an Airbnb. So last week, my dad and I had spent days sorting through their furniture, figuring out what was to sell or keep, listing what repairs would need to be done, you get it. We were almost done in the attic when I noticed the creaky floorboards. It was in a spot that had been completely covered in boxes before. I got up close to see if the floorboard could come loose and, lo and behold, it did.
I immediately began thinking about adventure movies and imagined finding treasure, expensive antiques, something worth a fortune. I pulled up the floorboard but all that was underneath was a small wooden chest, locked. The chest looked old, worn at the edges, cracks along the panels, exciting but not quite what I was hoping for.
My dad had never seen it before either and didn’t remember his parents with it. So, our curiosity tells us to open the box. I go to pick it up and it is ice cold to the touch, the kind of cold that almost feels like it’s burning as it had just come out of a freezer. I drop it in surprise and the damn thing gives me a splinter before landing on the floor and breaking open. A splinter I still have, by the way, that won’t freaking heal.
Anyway, inside the chest, we found the diary. Sure, we were a bit underwhelmed, but we knew it would interest mom, so we took it with us. That night over dinner, we pulled it out and read it.
Let me tell you. We did not finish our food. Not, after what we read.
As I said, the diary was written by my great-great-great-great grandfather, Edward, in the late 18th century from what we can tell. It recounts his involvement in the murder of Bram, a toymaker, and his wife, Rose. Eerie, right?
The diary is long and, in the old native language, so I’m just going to summarize what he wrote about (it took my dad, mom, and I a few hours and a bit checking the dictionary to fully understand).
When Edward, his family, and the 30 or so people from our small town in the Balkans were boarding the ship to America, they met Bram and Rose who happened to be moving to the same village, Grimmville. They had recently inherited a manor there, so they joined Edward’s party. Though friendly, Edward notes that no one knew anything about them except that Bram was an intelligent and talented woodcarver.
Grimmville was a small village located on the outskirts of a forest, quiet and desolate, it had been abandoned by its former tenants and was practically empty. It was only a few houses clustered together and at the center, they turned one house into a tavern, but it was all they needed. Edward doesn’t say why they went to this particular village, only that they had been told there was a distance from other towns and privacy which the villagers valued greatly. When the party landed, Rose and Bram disappeared to their new home in the woods, immediately taking to the discretion the large, secluded manor provided. Bram took to set up a toyshop in their house while Rose kept to their bedroom, she was pregnant at the time. He talks of how the women of the village found it rude that she didn’t spend time with them, and so gossip followed. There was a nasty rumor that Rose was having an affair under Bram’s nose, as while he worked downstairs at night, she was sometimes seen staring out the window with a dark figure looming over her shoulder, whispering in her ear.
One day, some men were hunting in the woods when they saw Rose in her nightgown, surrounded by candles, symbols drawn in the dirt at her feet, chanting. This was during the witch-hunting hysteria so of course the men go back to the village and tell everyone. Edward says he was in the tavern at the time and at the first mention of ‘witchcraft’, the men had everyone’s attention. The elders cited the dangers of an independent women’s mischievous nature, fresh rumors went flying. Parents were scared for their children. Within minutes the village had formed a mob, so fueled by liquid courage and fear, they gathered their wits and weapons and went to Bram’s manor.
Bram was working when the villagers burst through the door. A toy doll splayed out on the table, waiting for him to attach the limbs and make it whole. The mob knocked his work aside and rounded on Bram. He tried to calm them as Rose came from upstairs to see what was wrong with her hands on her pregnant belly. They accused her of witchcraft which, of course, they both denied. But it didn’t matter what they said, it was too late for them. The villagers had made up their minds.
They dragged the couple outside and threatened Rose that if she did not admit guilt, they would cut Bram to pieces. Protecting her baby, she refused, and they kept their word. Edward says the hilt of a blade was pushed into his hand, and stepping forward, he welcomed it. He describes how they started with Bram’s arms, finding the gap in the bone and the cartilage to stick the knife in and hack. They started at his wrist on one arm. Rose begged them to stop, claiming their innocence. But he says that after a while, they stopped hearing her. As if she wasn’t there. They could not hear Bram’s screams, only the tearing of flesh and the spurting of blood. He wrote, “A hunter does not see the animal once it is caught. Only the meal in front of him.”
During this torture, one of the elders- Edward calls her an old gypsy woman- entered Bram’s house to look for something.
Eventually, once Bram had lost much of his body, just an empty sack on the ground, they turned to Rose, their hunger for violence not yet satiated. Rose’s silence said it all, she knew what was to come, and she did nothing to sway her captors. Edward said to look in her eyes was to see the devil himself. She did not speak as they tied her to a stake, nor when they poured the oil. But when they lit the fire, her voice could be heard by all.
Her body began to writhe against her bonds. Her head twisting, neck-snapping at inhuman angles. Edward described her voice as tangling with unearthly sounds, demonic voices outside of the range of human vocal cords, screeching, wailing, and crackling with the fire. Words poured out of her like blood, hurtful, dangerous, and evil.
Just before her last breath, she swore a curse on them for their heinous judgment calling upon Lilith to avenge their deaths.
As Rose’s charred body crumbled on the stake, the old gypsy woman came out of the house holding some papers. She had found notes in the bedroom, written by Rose, incantations to drive out a foul demon. The demon had told her its name was Lilith. An evil demonic night monster. Horrible threat to women in childbirth and children.
The reason for their escape from the old continent was a ritual gone wrong with Rose. She accidentally summoned a demon during the séance who got attached to her. After that their house became hunted, that is why they decided to go far away.
Afterward, the villagers dared not approach either body. The gypsy implored everyone to bury them, saying if they are not given a proper burial, the curse would take root. That in Bram’s final moments, he had crawled his way to the manor, and now he had to be removed legs first lest his spirit return. The bodies must be placed in deep graves.
Otherwise, the horror would live on. But the people shut themselves inside, barring windows and locking doors. The village was silent as their consciences had been earlier.
Edward, in his home, cannot face himself. His mind reeled from the bloodlust of the village, the atrocities he had committed. As the night darkened, he could not escape the blood on his hands, and try as he might, they would not get clean. Guilt overtook him. He decided to take on the responsibility of burying the dead. Exiting his home, only the creatures of the night saw him walk to the manor, foxes, owls, rats. It seemed all had come to bear witness to his guilt. Quietly, he dug a grave next to Bram and Rose’s manor, as deep as he could go. He picked up what little remained of Rose and, to his horror, felt some stick to his hands. Ignoring the nausea building in his stomach, he shook as he placed her. He then turned to find where Bram’s body lay.
As he walked, he noticed the squelch of mud beneath his boot. The mud was made not from water. But from blood mixing in the dirt. It sucked at his shoes, releasing eerie gurgles with each step. Turning his fracturing mind away, his eyes searched. Half an arm here, a foot there, a hand, but no Bram. Instead, a trail of blood smeared across the ground that led towards the manor. Edward followed the trail, and sure enough, just as the gypsy had said, Bram’s mutilated torso was located inside the manor.
I can’t imagine how? He would have been in so much pain to use his arms and legs. Eugh I can’t think about it. Edward’s entry is hasty here. Clearly, he was terrified just writing this down.
When Edward entered the manor, the air went still. No sound could be heard within. Even in the dark, Edward could see the toys Bram had been working on, laid out waiting to be put together. Dolls, bears, animals with happy faces. But their smiles obscured in the dark. Their eyes were dull, and staring at the murderer who had entered their home. Then the manor released a long groaning creak, a sound of mourning for its owners, which frightened Edward half to death.
Bram is dead at this point, that much is certain, from the loss of blood from his wounds. Pressure mounted on Edward, his fear increasing with every second he spent in that manor. In a panic, he slid his arms under Bram’s armpits and, walking backward out the door, pulled Bram out, headfirst. He dropped the body in the grave next to his wife, leaving himself splattered with blood again. Barely able to lift the shovel, he filled the hole nonetheless. Then he left, his guilt easing with each step home, but this night had become one he would carry with him every day.
He notes, it’s much later he realized that the gypsy woman had spoken the truth.
There is a gap in the dates after this, about a year. Edward explains for months, he had stared out the window looking at the forest. He was waiting for a fiery hand to reach inside. Burning flesh catching light to his cabin, followed by a howling so loud and visceral it would shake the foundations of his house. Or to hear the slow drag of a body on dirt as it pulled itself, somehow, towards his home. But nothing as such happened. Edward began to find peace, and the village did not speak of the event they already wished to forget. Exactly one year later, a child went missing.
His parents said they had put him to bed, and when they went to his room in the morning, his window was open, a red toy sat on the windowsill. And a toy doll, in their child’s clothes, sat in the child’s bed. The red toy? It was a deep red. The color of old blood. The entire village searched for the boy, in the fields, the forest, in every nook and cranny. They searched for four weeks when another child went missing. Another blood-red toy and doll were left in their place.
Though the village searched and searched, they would never find the children who disappeared. Edward thought of Bram’s workshop, the toys left behind, and how he had pulled Bram from his home headfirst, not legs first.
Five children had disappeared in the few months. It was time for Edward to abandon this cursed village with his family, for good.
It’s funny, Edward was assured. Bram returned as an undead night figure, and it was his fault for not carrying him as the gypsy said. But I wonder, it sounded like what Rose did was a curse, wanting revenge on the people that wronged her. What if Lilith possessed Bram’s corpse and brought him to life? It could be the demon coming for the kids.
I’m not sure what I believe now, to be honest. I know it sounds crazy to think this story is real, but in that diary, the words Edward wrote, you can see it was real to him. And to think this story has been passed down for generations, makes me think Bram followed them. Followed the villagers who Rose had cursed maybe? Luckily, we don’t live in the same state anymore.
But it does have me curious. I wonder if the house is still there, what it would look like? I’ve decided to do a road trip to Grimmville this weekend. Learn a bit more about Edward and the village. And who knows? Maybe see if this Bram is real, or just a scary bedtime story…
Credit: Ljubomir Milic and Lily Connor
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