Estimated reading time — 12 minutes
Just thought that I’d share a couple of spooky stories from my childhood, to get everyone all hyped for Halloween.
When I was a child, it was just me and my mother. We lived in a property owned by my grandma, a three story, old farmhouse right at the fringe of the woods. It was far off the road, down a long, unlit, gravel driveway―it felt very isolated at night, being so distant from any other houses, set in an area that hadn’t been inhabited for thirty years before we started living in it. Quite often, I was a fairly rambunctious child, so while my mom went off to work, I would occasionally skip the morning bus to school and stay home alone all day. The big house had a habit of feeling incredibly lonely and sparse, so I spent most of my time playing in the forest expanse out back. Some distance into the woods, far enough that I couldn’t hear my mother when she called, there was a toppled pine tree which had crashed into another―an even larger trunk on its way down was now frozen there, forming a long arc over the forest floor. I loved to climb up the jagged stump at the base of this fallen tree and then steady myself to a point just above the middle. I was never able to make it all the way to the top because it just got too steep for me to continue any further, and I had a bad habit of freaking out from how high up I was.
One day I was sitting in my usual spot on the fallen tree, which was a good distance from the ground, just listening to the birds singing and simultaneously feeling the warmth of the sun on my neck, when I heard something strange from underneath that paralyzed me in shock:
I was gripped by a sudden strong surge of fear for a moment. The voice had come from directly underneath me. I strained to look down, but couldn’t see anything over the ledge. For a long time I just sat there in absolute silence, and I was at the point where I was almost soon to convince myself that I had imagined hearing a man’s voice at all.
“I know you can hear me.”
His voice was much louder this time, as I yelled something out, and scrambled up the log a bit higher. Trembling nervously, I dug my fingernails into the bark and held tight for dear life. I sat there, trying to collect my nerves for god knows how long. Although I couldn’t see it, the presence of the thing underneath me was still clear. The bird song was much softer and more cautious this time, and when I listened closely, I swear I could hear the faintest echo of human breathing. Gathering all my courage, I vowed to prove to myself that it was all my imagination by leaning over the ledge as far as I possibly could without slipping right off. Digging hard into the bark behind me, I stretched out along my arms and peered over, getting a full view of the empty forest floor and undergrowth, when suddenly―
“―COME DOWN HERE OR I’LL COME UP AND GRAB YOU!”
It was so loud, it was as if it was being screamed right in my face. I released my grip on the tree in fright and plunged off the platform. I was saved only by grabbing a nearby branch, and for one awful second, my bare legs dangled in the cool air. When I pulled myself up, I ran at full speed to the top of the collapsed pine, to the point I had never reached before. I sat there, just below the rustling canopy, pissing myself and staring at the distant base where the splintered wood rose, fully expecting at any moment to see someone crawling rapidly up the pine towards me. Instead, all I heard was the wind whistling in the leaves above and below me, and occasional snippets of birdsong. It was about two hours before my mother got home and found me, after much worried searching, trembling, and crying at the top of the fallen tree.
Although this incident spooked both me and mother, in time I somehow recovered, exhibiting that naive hard skin of a child, although I never went as far into the forest as I used to, and never again even approached that fallen tree. Once when I was twelve, I had the chore of taking firewood from the shed out back (just at the edge of the woods) and to bring it back inside the house. It was a tiresome job, and I always chose to do it at dusk when the air was brimming with mosquitoes and a swampy fog that usually coated the lawn. By the time I had made my last round, I would sprint back to the house, spooked. One of my least favourite things about this job was that the shed was full of barn owls (if you have ever seen a barn owl’s face staring at you from a dark roof corner, then you will know how uncomfortable that shed made me).
One of these nights it got mistier than it had ever been before. A thick silver fog covered everything and limited my line of sight to a short sphere around me. Even though the shed wasn’t far from the house, I found myself feeling disoriented, and more than once I walked in the wrong direction, both times for some reason walking straight into the woods. By the time I had reached my last load, it was too foggy to see the street. My eyes stung in the moisture and it made my vision blur. Lurching forward, I managed to walk headfirst into a tree, doubling over and dropping all of the wood I was bundling onto my feet with a hard crunch. As I went to pick them up, with my foot throbbing pretty hard, I realized that the ground was too misty for me to see my own knees. I decided to head to the house, since we had more than enough wood for one night. However, it was getting to be pretty dark and I couldn’t make out any signifiers of which direction I was heading in. Even though I cautiously walked for several feet in all directions, trying to figure out my position in the mists, I still couldn’t figure out any point of identification.
I couldn’t even locate the fence or the gate, and the more I walked, the more I seemed to stumble into trees, pine needles and mud crunching under my feet instead of dew-covered lawn. After a while, I finally realized that I couldn’t even find the shed any more. Cursing myself for being so dumb (while trying to ignore my thumping heart and sense that something else was at play) I became aware that I was lost somewhere in the fringe of the forest. Screaming out for my mother at the loudest possible volume was only met with a resounding silence from the depths of the mist all around from where I stood, affirming that I had wandered too far from the house to be heard. As a deep panic started to settle on me, I noticed a glimpse of something pink moving against a nearby pine trunk. Coming closer I saw that it was a ripped-out square of pink paper. On it there was an arrow, pointing left. Looks vaguely like something my mom might make, I rationalized, to keep me from getting lost. So, foolishly, I followed the direction set by that green arrow, shivering in the increasing cold.
I kept walking for about five to ten minutes before needing to stop to take a breath. My heart was pounding so fast, it was beginning to hurt. As I was sitting down, however, I spied what appeared to be another note fluttering on a nearby trunk. I noticed that this one was embedded with a long nail. It bore another arrow, this one pointing up, and a small, sloppily written note that said “THIS WAY”. Despite my increasing panic, I convinced myself that these notes were my only shot at getting back before nightfall. I was desperate to get the hell out and my brow was cold with sweat. So I followed the green arrow, to a point where I could just dimly make out another spot of pink, up an incline of collapsed stumps and leaf litter.
At this point it was getting pretty dark, and I had to strain both my eyes just to see a few meters ahead of me. Following the green arrows, feeling less and less sure of where I was, I stumbled through the woods, groping out in the mist to feel for trees (although I was terrified of something unseen grabbing my arm). I came across the third green note, which had another arrow pointing up again, this one lead to an increasingly steep slope that I didn’t recognize being anywhere near my house, and with a poorly drawn smiley face right above it. At this stage, I became too freaked to cope and started to cry there a little. As I slumped against the pine stump, the possibility that I would be out in these woods all night was beginning to sink in, like a syringe being driven into the veins within my arm. I caught a glimpse of another pink square in the near distance. Squinting hard, unnerved by these notes, all of which looked fresh and without sign of decay despite the previous week’s nonstop rain, I read it from afar.
What I read made my blood turn cold. I stood to my knees, dead silently, wobbling on them in fear. My ears were sensitive to any tiny prickle of noise in the mist. For a long time, I stood there in the rolling fog, reading and re-reading that horrible note over and over again, before a snapping stick somewhere behind me caused me to sprint, blindly, twigs snagging at my ankles and cutting up my face as I ran. Written on the note, in big green letters, was my name. It felt like I was running for hours, all the while, the rain and mist lapped at the back of my neck like the decaying breath of someone running right behind me. Somehow I made it back to the house. All the lights were off, and I struggled to find the keys for a moment. When I found them, I bolted indoors and quickly crawled into bed where I remained, unsleeping till morning. Mom just thought I’d come inside and gone to bed, and hadn’t thought to leave the lights on. It was a miracle, aka some freakish coincidence that I even found the house at all. The final “incident” at that damn house was witnessed only by my mother. Up until then she had never experienced any of the strange things as I had, although we mutually shared the peculiar oppressive quality that the house’s interior had on us, and its placement in the dreary, imposing woods.
Although I was obviously never a popular kid, by living way out in the country in the opposite direction from everyone else at my school, I did make some tight friends in my first year of high school. One of these friends, Amanda was her name, invited me over one night and I accepted. My mother drove me out to the place, which was about three miles away, then drove back home. The night went well. We watched a horror movie (suitably), devoured some pizza and probably smoked a little pot. My mother went home alone where she intended to get some writing done. She worked for a magazine at that point. It was about midnight when I received an off-putting text from Mom in all caps:
IS THIS A PRANK I NEED TO KNOW IMMEDIATELY
Thinking it was some kind of joke I texted back: calm urself, is what a prank?