31 Oct Old Nan
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"Old Nan"Written by
Estimated reading time — 12 minutes
This is a story about something that happened to me a few years back. I haven’t told many people, and those who I did tell dismissed me out of hand. So now I come to you, the internet. Sure, most of the people who read this account won’t believe me. But I still cling to the hope that someone out there will take me seriously. Maybe someone has had a similar experience. Anyway, that’s enough rambling. Here’s my story.
I grew up in a small town in Restigouche County, New Brunswick. For those of you who don’t know, the area is a cool, mountainous region of Canada known for its beautiful forests and rivers. And it lives up to its reputation for natural beauty; the rolling hills, golden shores and lush woods make it a pleasure to explore in the summer. However, being fairly far north, it cools down quite a bit by early autumn, which is when the event I’m about to describe took place. As I said I grew up in a small, friendly town, and we didn’t have much in the way of “Haunted houses” or urban legends. But one town over, a few miles down the road, there was an old Victorian era mansion that was said to be haunted by the spirit of a woman. I had always heard the story growing up, but by the time I was about 12, I had stopped believing in ghosts and other such nonsense. But I’m getting ahead of myself; I should explain the legend as it was told in our area.
The spirit was known to local kids as “Old Nan” or “The Shrieking woman”. Some people who thought it was all bullshit would dismissively call her “Screaming Granny”, while shaking their heads at the foolish people who believed in her. Now, the details of the story vary depending on who you ask, but here’s the most common version: during the 1800s, there was a local outbreak of pneumonia one winter. There were some other sicknesses like colds and flus going as well. It was a cold, snowy year and everyone spent their days huddled inside – perfect conditions for a disease to spread. Couple that with the poor hygiene and primitive medicine of the time, and it’s no wonder that people started getting sick. The doctor in town – and yes, there was only one – was extremely busy treating the sick and trying to slow the spread of the disease. He went up to a large house on the outskirts of town, trekking through the snow and icy winds, to check on the family that lived there.
Now, the history of this family was tragic enough already: the man who owned the house had died several years earlier of an unknown medical condition. His wife, distraught at losing her beloved so suddenly, had run away to America in the hopes of starting a new life, leaving her three young children in the care of her mother. The last anyone heard of her she was a drunk living in the slums of some American city, though no one can agree which city it was. I should stress that the details of this tale are hard to verify and that I am merely explaining the story as I heard it growing up. Anyway, by the time this outbreak of pneumonia hit, the three kids were in the care of their grandmother, a kindly old woman who tried her best to hold what was left of her family together. When the local doctor made his way up to the house, which was outside of the main settlement, he was relieved to find no signs of disease in the family. He explained that due to the high rates of sickness in town, and the difficulty of journeying to their outlying house in such inclement weather, he wouldn’t be back for at least a week. He was satisfied that the inhabitants of the house were healthy, and as long as they stayed home they couldn’t contract any disease.
Of course, the doctor had neglected to consider that he might have carried the pathogens from his patients in town up to this family. This turned out to be the case, for even though the doctor had not fallen ill himself, he must have been carrying some sort of bacteria or virus when he visited the family on that cold, bleak day. He spent the next week or so working almost without rest to treat the ill and dying in the town, and during that week it snowed every day. It was one of the harshest winters on record. But the doctor kept his word, and as soon as he could, he made his way back up to the old house outside of town where the grandmother and three children lived. Apparently it took him four hours just to walk through the snow that lay thick upon the road, though at least the blizzard had finally stopped.
When the doctor arrived, he knocked on the door. He received no response, so he knocked again, calling out to the old woman. Again there was no answer, so he let himself in. I don’t know if the door was locked or not, but he got in somehow, and what a terrible sight he found. He first walked through the kitchen, seeing utensils and old food strewn about haphazardly. The furniture was in disarray. Now very concerned, he made his way into the dining room and gasped in horror: there, in her favourite rocker, sat the kindly old grandmother, but she was a hideous mockery of her former self: covered in blisters and cysts, with her skin a pale gray colour. Her eyes were bulged and glassy and her nostrils were flared. Perhaps most disturbing, however, was her mouth. Her lower jaw hung open at an impossible angle. Her few remaining teeth, yellowed and worn with age, jutted out of her now bluish and shriveled gums at odd angles. The doctor felt her hand. She was frozen. She had obviously become very ill and passed away, and with no one to tend the fire, the house had become frigid, freezing her disease-riddled corpse. The doctor got up and ran up the stairs screaming for the children. He burst into the nursery to find two bluish, unmoving forms. He began to weep as he tried hopelessly to resuscitate one of the children, but was surprised and relieved to find that he actually began to stir. The child was frostbitten and ill, but still clinging to life. His sister was less fortunate; she had frozen almost as solidly as her grandmother. The third child was missing. It is presumed that he tried to go for help in the blizzard and froze to death on the way, though since a body was never recovered, no one could be sure. The surviving child was delirious and could not remember where his brother had gone. This one fortunate boy was nursed back to health and eventually he was adopted by the doctor, who felt immense guilt at having carried the fatal disease to the small family. The old house was never lived in again.
Anyway, that’s the story as it was told to me in my childhood, and it persists to this day. But I have yet to touch upon my own experience with “Old Nan.”
As I mentioned earlier, I had stopped believing in ghosts, including this one, by the time I was about 12. But later in my teen years I developed a fascination with the occult and paranormal. I still didn’t really believe in any of it, but like many people I enjoyed being scared. I loved the tingling in my spine when I heard a good horror story. Unfortunately, none of my friends shared my interest. You have to understand that back then, believing in “fairy tales” was a sign of weakness after a certain age, and though my town was a pretty friendly place overall, some of the young punks would mock or beat up people who they didn’t like. My ghost hunting hobby and collection of horror stories made me a bit of an outcast. But I guess there are assholes everywhere; people who will punish those who are different. I didn’t so much mind the teasing, but the fact that no one would come along when I went to check out “haunted” locations was discouraging. Nevertheless, when I was 16, I decided to go by bus the nearby town where this supposedly haunted house was.
I know I’m repeating myself but I must stress that at heart, I didn’t believe in ghosts. I’ve always been a skeptic. But I did enjoy scouting out creepy, abandoned locations, and a part of me always wanted to find evidence of the supernatural. I guess these days people call it urban exploration. It was a blend of that and half-hearted ghost hunting. Anyway, this would be my first expedition outside of my immediate area. After half an hour, the bus arrived and I got out.
I didn’t bother asking anyone for directions. I knew the name of the street the house was on, since I’d heard the story a hundred times. It was at the end of Birchwood Lane. Besides, I didn’t feel like embarrassing myself by asking anyone where the town’s haunted house was.
After wandering around the core of the town – what you’d call downtown, were the place not so small and sparsely populated – I saw a street sign marked Birchwood Lane. Following it, I made my way through a few blocks of modern houses, then some older buildings, and eventually the town thinned out entirely and I found myself walking into the woods. At the edge of the woods the road, which had been paved up to this point, gave way to a gravel trail. I sighed and pressed onward. I had brought a flashlight with me, but as the sun had not quite gone down, I didn’t need it yet. As I continued the path got more and more uneven, and the sinking sun and increasingly thick foliage above me shrouded the narrow trail in darkness. Before I got the light out, however, the trees thinned out again and I saw before me a large, dilapidated two-story house. By this time the day was nothing more than a fading orange glow on the horizon, and the mansion was basically a silhouette. I’ll admit I was a bit apprehensive at this point, but it was far too late to turn back. I walked across the overgrown lawn, which was covered not only in tall grass but also shrubs and a few young trees. As I got closer to the house I could see it more clearly. There was a single door hanging from its hinges in the middle of the façade. The remains of what was once a front porch lay rotting beneath it. Above the door, a small awning bent dangerously downward, looking as if it could give way at any moment. Only one of the pillars designed to support it still stood. The exterior of the house barely had any paint left on it, and what little still remained was chipped and cracked. Most of the windows were shattered, though only one had been boarded up. The house looked old, to be sure, though it didn’t look like it had been abandoned for 200 years. If that had been the case, it probably wouldn’t have remained standing so intact. I reasoned that someone must have kept the building in shape for a while after the old woman had died, and it only fell into disrepair sometime afterward.
As I came to the door and climbed up over the remains of the front porch I felt a chill run down my spine. I’ve felt fear before, but this was different. It was more than fear. It was a feeling of being unwelcome. Of not belonging. I dismissed it as paranoia and gave the battered wooden door a push. It was partly open already, but the wood of the doorframe was too warped for it to swing freely. I pushed it again, harder, and heard a loud crack as the rusted hinges broke apart. The whole door lurched and then fell outwards. I had to jump out of the way as it nearly fell on me. I dusted myself off and clambered inside.
The sunlight was now gone entirely, and I was extremely wary of tripping over old furniture or holes in the floor. I switched on my flashlight and swept the beam over my surroundings. I was in some sort of large hallway that branched off in several directions. At the end was a staircase. I walked along the corridor and looked into each adjacent room as I went. It was hard to tell what any of these rooms were supposed to be; each was just a mess of exposed wooden beams, old trash and pieces of the walls fallen onto the floors, and the pervasive smell of mildew. A few books, ruined beyond recognition, lay upon a shelf in one room. There were several broken jars on the floor.
I made my way slowly to the staircase and began to climb it. I was nervous, as the stairs were old and rotted and creaked loudly under my weight. Carefully I got up to the top and looked around. The second floor was much like the first, except that it was even more uneven. This did little to comfort me, as I knew that the floor could give way under my feet and send me toppling down 9 feet to the lower floor in a pile of debris. But what can I say? I was a dumb, fearless kid. To me, giving up and going home seemed worse than risking my own neck. It’s funny how teens think sometimes.
As I explored, I came upon a bathroom. It looked so dated. That may sound weird, especially since the whole house was pretty ancient, but just seeing the old fashioned pipes, the archaic toilet, and the bathtub on little ornamental legs just seemed so quaint. I was a bit confused when I looked into the bathtub and found dark, reddish stains. While the first thing that popped into my head was the phrase “Bloodbath,” I laughed when I realized that they were probably just rust stains.
The next room I entered was truly unnerving. I recognized it almost immediately as the nursery from the story. There were two small beds and a small cot. For some reason, the child’s sized beds were made up, with moldy, moth-eaten blankets tucked neatly all around them and turned down partly at the top. I guess the last caretaker of the house had just left them like that, but it seemed so eerie to me. It was almost as if someone had just prepared the beds for the kids a few hours ago. The cot, by contrast, was completely bare.
Now, if this story is making me sound brave so far, please realize that I really wasn’t. I’ll admit that I was terrified. The feeling of being unwanted hadn’t left me; if anything it had grown as I explored the house. As I got further from the door, my heart began pounding harder and harder. But as I said, I was determined not to chicken out and leave. I steadied myself and fought the urge to run. In hindsight, I probably shouldn’t have.
There wasn’t much more of interest upstairs, as the other bedrooms were pretty much empty. The furniture had mostly been removed long ago. I spent about another 20 minutes upstairs before heading back to the creaking old staircase and carefully making my way back down. I realized that I hadn’t yet seen all of the rooms on the ground floor, as I had been eager to look for the nursery upstairs. I really felt like I needed to leave, but that stubborn part of my mind stopped me. I made my way through a few small, nondescript chambers without finding much. But then, in one of the last unexplored rooms, I saw her.
Look, this is still hard for me to think about, much less type out. The memory is so vivid. I’ve spent the past 6 years trying to forget what I saw that night, and now I’m recalling it. And the image hasn’t faded at all from my mind. Fuck. Alright, I’ll do my best.
I came around a corner into a new room and as my flashlight beam swept across the wall I saw her face. The dead grandmother’s face. I swear to you. It was only there for a split second but it was so clear, I know I didn’t imagine it. Her skin was mottled gray, blackened in some patches. Wrinkles and cracks covered every inch of exposed flesh. Her eyes bulged out, but they were pure white, as if covered in a thin film. Her lower jaw hung slack, but not in a way I’d ever seen before. It was as if her jaw was dislocated or outright broken. A few small, jagged teeth sat around her gapping maw, and a swollen tongue was visible between them. Her white hair clung to her scalp in patches, matted and stained. She wore an expression that I can only describe as desperation, almost as if she was pleading for someone or something to save her from her awful fate.
I really only got a good look at her face, but I also glimpsed her upper body, and while I can’t be sure, I think she was clutching something in her wizened hands. A bundle. It was about the size of a small child.
As soon as I saw her I screamed. I screamed louder than I ever had before. Or since, come to think of it. You know that feeling of pure, absolute, all-encompassing terror? Fear so powerful that it numbs you, while at the same time making you hyper-aware of everything around you? Some of you will know what I’m talking about. I dropped my flashlight and ran. I ran through the house, now completely dark without my flashlight. I tripped and hit a couple of doorframes, but remarkably I seemed to remember the way out even in my state of total panic, because I was outside in about 10 seconds. I just kept on running, now with the moonlight to aid me.
I’m not sure exactly when I stopped screaming, but by the time I saw the outskirts of the town a little while later I was merely sobbing. I ran to the first house that had lights on and pounded on the door. A bewildered man opened the door and I ran inside, nearly collapsing on the ground from exhaustion after running so far. My mad dash for town had left me with more than a few scratches and bruises. When I calmed down enough to speak I told the man I needed to use his phone. He still didn’t really know what was going on, but he led me to the telephone in his kitchen. I’ll skip the details. I got a ride home with my father. Despite his repeated questions, it took me weeks to tell him what had happened. He was pretty upset that I had broken into an abandoned house, and to this day he doesn’t believe that I really saw Old Nan. Whatever, I wouldn’t have believed it either.
It was months before I could get a full night’s sleep again, and even today I have nightmares about that dead, pitiful face staring out of the darkness at me. And though she made no sound when I saw her that first night, in my dreams she screams and wails. They say that memories of important or traumatic events are far more vivid than memories of mundane events. I guess that’s true. I’ll remember that face until the day I die.
I don’t blame you if you don’t believe me. But I’m not the only one who’s seen her. There are a handful of other unlucky people who have gone into her house at night. I’ve heard a rumor that someone even snapped a picture, which is online somewhere. I don’t know about that, since I never searched for it. I never want to see Old Nan again.
Credit To: SammyTsuroka