Estimated reading time — 9 minutes
There’s an old, abandoned mission in the hills west of Tucumcari, New Mexico. It’s about a 3-hour hike from the nearest access point by car. It’s not marked on any map and there’s no clear trail to it, but if you had a day or two to spend searching, you could probably find it.
I wouldn’t recommend it, though.
I’ve been there – about three years ago now, when I spent the summer crossing the country, exploring the great outdoors.
I heard about this place on a message board and decided to see if I could find it. It’s a bit of a local legend, apparently; the sort that often creates arguments about whether the place actually exists, or if it’s just a myth. Of course, everybody who knows the legend spins a slightly different variation on the same theme. But one of the common threads you’ll hear repeatedly is about some wealthy landowner who gave ‘something’ to the mission in the 1700s, which the priest hid away. There’s no consensus on what it was, exactly. Some say it was a treasure, some say a treasure map; and then there are the more esoteric theories, such as a holy relic that had been sailed over from Spain.
The morning I went to look for the mission, I was in a convenience store purchasing supplies, when some local kids overheard me mention it to the clerk. One told me if I found the place, I had to look for ‘the skeleton’. That was one part of the legend that I hadn’t heard yet, so I asked the kid what he was talking about.
He told me that there was supposedly an old, unburied skeleton resting somewhere within the mission, and that, according to legend, every explorer who visits the mission finds it in a different place.
Then one of his friends chimed in with, “and it’s headless!” To which the first kid argued, “No, it’s not!” The rest of the group all joined in, taking sides. I heard a couple of kids trying to appease the ‘headless’ camp by correcting them with, “It’s half-headless.” At least one kid was protesting that the mission itself didn’t even exist.
I thanked the kids for their advice, paid for my purchases and left, with the argument still raging. I chuckled to myself as I left the store, fondly remembering how my buddies and I used to argue about far-fetched rumors like that when I was that age.
Four hours or so later, I was summiting a hill in the middle of nowhere and passing alongside the crumbling stucco outer wall of the mission.
Time had not been kind to that place. There was almost nothing left of the church’s roof, though its walls were mostly intact. An established layer of dirt covered the original floor, with several patches of dry, yellow grass scattered throughout the building.
Aside from a handful of scattered hunks of gray, dry timber poking out of the ground, there were no traces of any of the original interior features. No pews, no crucifixes, no pulpit, no altar. If the church had left anything behind when they abandoned this place, the elements had long since turned it to dust.
The other buildings were all in various stages of disrepair. A couple were worn down to just stubs of walls, marking an outline of where a building had once stood. Some were partially collapsed, and some were close to being intact.
While peering into one of the collapsed buildings through a wide gap in the wall, I discovered the notorious skeleton.
His bones had been painted a dirty brown from the years of accumulated dust. Shreds of pale fabric still hung from his shoulders and arms, covering part of his ribcage. Likewise, the grayed remnants of his pants laid in tatters beneath his leg bones.
His skull had been caved in on the upper-left side, leaving a massive crater that swallowed up half his eye socket. I remember thinking to myself, “Those kids who said he was ‘half-headless’ ought to get a coke!”
His left leg was buried under a huge hunk of collapsed ceiling, leading me to wonder if the poor soul had died trapped in that room after the ceiling had caved in on him. Then again, perhaps he was killed relatively mercifully by the collapse itself. That would’ve explained the damage to his head.
The gap was too narrow to climb through, and I wouldn’t have felt safe entering such an unstable compartment anyway, so I continued my explorations.
I don’t remember a whole lot else about what I did there, to be honest. What I do remember is suddenly developing a headache, which grew and grew until I could barely walk. Just as it got really bad, I thought I heard a whistle; like a really intense, industrial sort of whistle, roaring at me from everywhere and nowhere, until it got so loud it was like I had an A380 landing right on top of me.
By the time it peaked, I was dizzy and disoriented. All I could figure was that I must’ve been suffering from heatstroke, so I staggered over to the shade being cast from a nearby remnant of wall, sat down, and began vigorously rehydrating.
After a while, I felt better. But that unpleasant turn had cured me of my adventurer’s itch, so I started back to my car as soon as I felt well enough to walk.
I continued on with my vacation, successfully making it all the way to the east coast, as I had intended.
But after that day at the mission, things were different. I can’t explain how, exactly, but as the days rolled on, I just found the trip less and less enjoyable. I started to feel a little depressed, then later, a bit anxious, too.
Maybe the dreams started while I was still traveling? I don’t remember.
Of course, when I got home, I shared all my photos and videos of the trip with my friends and family. That was the first time I ever actually looked at any of the images I took at the mission.
When I went to show my sister photos of the skeleton, it wasn’t there. My photos of the collapsed chamber where I’d found it were on my phone, uncorrupted, but the skeleton itself wasn’t there!
Naturally, I just assumed that I must’ve been confusing one building for another in my photo gallery, so I scrolled through it all. That’s when I discovered photos and videos of areas of the mission I have no recollection whatsoever of visiting! Photos taken inside buildings I don’t even recall seeing, much less entering. And more disturbingly, no less than 27 photos from some sort of undercroft, which I am certain I never went in to, including what looked like an enclosed chapel, and a crypt with grave markers in the wall.
There was even a video of me going down a long, dark corridor to get to the chapel. Normally I provide running commentary in all my solo exploration videos, but in all the videos I had from the mission, the audio was scrambled.
My sister thought I was pranking her when I got freaked out about all these strange photos and videos.
Me? I didn’t know what to think. I just felt confused – and a little frightened, too.
The next morning I decided to look through my gallery from the mission again. I was stunned to discover the skeleton lying upon a heap of outdoor rubble in one of the shots! I distinctly remember viewing this photo the night before with my sister, and the skeleton was not there! It was definitely the same skeleton, with the same distinct head wound.
Every time I went back into the gallery to try to make sense of it all, or to tell my story to someone, the skeleton had moved. Sometimes I wouldn’t be able to find him for my friends and family, but most times he would be somewhere in the photo/video library – just not where he was the last time.
Most people figure I was mocking the whole thing up to spook them. But a couple friends and relatives really believe me, I think.
Eventually, it all got too much for me and I just deleted everything I had from the mission. But that didn’t put my mind at ease for long, so for good measure, I wiped the entire phone and traded it in for a new one.
I just wanted to forget all about the mission and go on with my life. But I wasn’t going to be so lucky.
I can’t be sure when the dreams started. Maybe after I got rid of the photos and videos? Or maybe even when I was still on the road?
It’s always the same. And always different.
I’m wandering around this elegant old house; like something from around the turn of the 20th century. It’s probably more of a mansion than a house, actually.
The floorplan doesn’t make any sense. But that’s okay, because floorplans don’t have to make sense in dreams. It never seems to remain consistent within a single dream, let alone from night to night.
I just keep wandering from room to room. No two rooms are alike. I’m searching for something, but I don’t know what. And I have this feeling that I’m not alone in this house. Someone else is here, and I want to avoid them if I can. I’m not afraid of this other person, I just don’t want to encounter them.
I have this dream all the time. Not every night, but most nights. And pretty much every time I have this dream, I just spend the entire night wandering through the house, feeling lost.
But on rare occasions, I encounter a door. I can’t describe how, but this door is different to all the other doors in the house. This door is special. And somehow, I just know that whatever it is I’m looking for is right behind this door.
Despite the fact that I feel an incredible urge to open that door, the first few times I encountered it, I just stood back and stared at it. Something told me it would be a really bad idea to open that door, so I forced myself to turn around and go back the way I came.
The day immediately after I had a dream like that was always… difficult; especially when night rolled around. I would just have this overwhelming sense that something was “wrong”.
Then about the fourth or fifth time I encountered the door in my dream, I couldn’t help myself; I approached it and wrapped my fingers around the handle. I was so, so tempted to turn it and finally open the door, but I managed to resist the temptation and let go.
The following night, I awoke in a panic in the middle of the night. No sooner had I gotten my bearings when I heard a voice, quietly, anxiously muttering away in Spanish.
Soon enough, my eyes adjusted to the darkness and I saw them – a person standing before me, in the corner of my bedroom. I couldn’t make out any features; but there was enough ambient light bleeding through my window to show that there was definitely someone there.
I just sat there, petrified, as the intruder sounded more and more upset as their constant muttering persisted. My mind started racing, trying to figure out how the hell I could defend myself against this wacko. The only thing I could come up with was to throw my bedside lamp at them. Without taking my eyes off them, I reached over to my nightstand and groped around for the lamp. But I couldn’t find it by touch. I turned my head for just a split second to help me locate it, but by the time I turned back, the intruder had vanished. The muttering had stopped.
I sat there, my hand still latched firmly around the neck of my lamp in case I still needed it, staring at the spot where the stranger had been.
Nothing. No sound. No sight of them.
Then something small fell from the darkness, right where they had been standing. I heard it clatter as it struck the floor.
Even though I never got a good look at it, I’m certain it was a rosary.
I fumbled around the surface of the lamp searching for the switch. It took far too long, but eventually my trembling fingers found it.
My fully-lit bedroom looked exactly the way it was supposed to. No intruders. No sign of a break-in. I plucked up the courage to get out of bed and go over to the corner when the figure had been.
Nothing. No rosary. Nothing.
With nothing else I could do, I anxiously slipped out to the bathroom to splash some water on my face. Eventually, I tried to go back to bed, but I didn’t get a wink of sleep the rest of that night. Didn’t get much for the next few nights, as a matter of fact.
I keep having the dreams, and on rare occasions, I find the door again. It’s getting harder and harder to keep myself from opening it. On three subsequent occasions now, I’ve gone so far as to touch the door. One time, I actually turned the handle and moved the door just a smidge; such a small amount that it didn’t even clear the doorframe.
Every time I touch that door, I know I’m going to get a visit from the stranger the following night. And unlike the old mansion, I am certain now that those visits are not dreams!
I don’t know what you call it; a spirit? A poltergeist? But it comes to me in my bedroom and mutters Spanish words I don’t understand in a quiet, upset voice. The night after I partially opened the door, it was very upset, to the point where I felt certain it was going to harm me. I don’t look anymore. I can’t look. I just pull the covers over my head like a little kid, stick my fingers in my ears, and try to convince myself it isn’t happening. Whatever it is, I know I can’t fight it with fists, so all I can do is hide.
I can’t explain my reasoning here: but I think that when I went to that mission, I found something that I can’t remember. I think I brought it back with me, too. I think what I found was sort of like a question.
And when I dream at night, of wandering around that old mansion, I think I’m searching for the answer.
I have this terrible feeling that, whatever that question is, it isn’t meant to be answered. And I think that when I left the mission with that question, I brought a part of something else along with it; something that’s been guarding that mission; something that’s desperate to make sure the question never gets answered.
I guess that probably doesn’t make much sense. I’m not even sure I understand it myself.
All I can say is, as terrified as I am of the spirit that haunts me at night, I’m even more terrified of what I’m going to find behind that door.
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