Estimated reading time — 14 minutes
Have you ever wondered why we see ghosts? Maybe they have a message for us. Perhaps they’re trapped somewhere between our world and theirs, oblivious to the fact that time has gone on without them. There have been tales of long-lost family members visiting us in our dreams and unexplainable coincidences that put a smile on your face. But for every heartwarming story of visits from the “other side” there is a frightening account of an unwelcome presence that can send a chill down your spine. I could share a number of instances where I felt uneasy or even frightened by what I knew was an angry or negative spirit. However, the story I’m about to share is one that has cast a dark cloud over my nightmares for over 17 years. I can just short of guarantee that this story will force even the non-believers to check that dark corner before drifting off to dreamland.
I was 11 years old the first time I saw her. My parents were away for the evening and I had ordered “Scream” on pay-per-view. I haven’t watched a PPV movie in a long time, but back then it would play the movie on a 24-hour loop once ordered. Well into the second viewing, I got up from the couch to grab a drink from the kitchen. I was headed for the stairs when I saw a shadow out of the corner of my eye. Hesitating for a moment, I took a deep breath and continued toward the stairway.
Returning to the basement, the air seemed ominous. The room seemed darker. As I relaxed on my seat to watch the rest of my movie before bed, I saw what appeared as a strange silhouette standing near the bathroom door. I focused my full sight on what I thought was there. I blinked and it was gone. Boy, was this movie giving me the creeps. Then I heard it; the soft whisper of a young girl at first, followed by a much louder command, “Let’s play!”
Now, I have two older brothers so I flipped on the light expecting to see them playing a trick on me with a flashlight and a tape recorder or something. These are the same brothers who used to hide a toy record player in my room blaring train sounds and throw me in with the lights off, holding the doorknob so I couldn’t get out. Needless to say, teasing me during a horror movie would not have been above them. With the lights now on, I yelled, “Ben, Phil…stop it or I’m telling mom!”
I figured I was just over-tired. I curled up on the couch and felt my eyelids getting heavier as I finished watching my movie. Just before I drifted off I heard Ben’s bedroom door creak. I dismissed it, too tired to get myself worked up over nothing. I then got the sense something was watching me. I tried to shake it off, I just wanted to sleep. Finally, I heard something breathing heavily and slowly. At first I thought it was me and that I was psyching myself out, so I held my breath for a moment.
Swearing off slasher movies forever, I turned to face the back of the couch hoping that would help me get to sleep.
“Can you play now?”
The question came from lips that couldn’t have been further than a few feet from the couch. Still turned, I yelled, “I’m gonna tell mom if you guys don’t leave me alone!” Within seconds, Ben and Phil were at the landing by the back door.
“What the hell are you screechin’ about?” Ben asked, he and Phil not the least bit concerned about the panic on my face.
“If you guys don’t stop I’m telling mom when she gets home!” As I spoke I knew there was no way they could have been both places at once. The realization that my brothers were upstairs all night left me cold. I stood up from the couch and quickly marched upstairs to my room, praying I could just fall asleep and put this whole thing behind me.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t so lucky.
Thirty minutes into my restless shuffling, I was alerted to the sound of my bedroom door opening ever so gently. Jolting upward from my bed and opening my eyes, I became frozen as I saw, in the corner, a young girl with long, black hair, around the age of 6, in a once-white nightgown. She stared at me with dark, unblinking eyes and a wide smile. It was the kind of smile that you muster up for family picture day in the sense I could tell it was for show. I began to open my mouth, hoping to scream or cry; anything that might scare her away. Before I could make my decision, she pulled her boney finger up to her still smiling mouth.
“Shhh. Now it’s my turn to hide.”
I yelled louder than I had ever yelled in my life. To my surprise, my mom came running into my room. “Honey, what’s wrong?” she asked, as I darted my eyes between her and the now empty corner of my bedroom. I couldn’t answer. Was it a nightmare? Was my mind playing tricks on me? One thing was for sure; it was over. I shrugged it off as an all-too-real bad dream and went out to sleep on the couch in the living room.
Fast-forward about three weeks. It was around 10:30 and I was out playing “spot” with Phil and nearly a dozen other neighborhood kids (for those of you wondering, “spot” is a game of hide-and-seek played at night with flashlights). The rules were simple. We had to stay within our block, we weren’t to go into backyards without permission and you couldn’t stay in one place for more than five minutes. I had been gearing up for this evening’s game all week. I had the perfect hiding spot and nobody would ever think to look there. Our next-door neighbors had a split-level house with a red deck off of the kitchen upstairs and plenty of room underneath for storage. Their yard wasn’t fenced in, so it had easy access. I made my way under the deck and positioned myself behind their lawn mower. “No way anyone will find me here,” I thought.
I had been crouched for around three minutes when I saw the beam of light coming from between the houses. My friend, Mike, was “it” and he was running with his flashlight, nearing my hiding spot. Without hesitation, he turned at the edge of the house, shined the light directly on me and yelled, “SPOT!” There’s no way he knew I was there.
“How did you do that? Did Phil tell you about my hiding spot?” As I asked the question I could tell he was paying little attention to me while he searched the area.
“Where did she go?” Mike asked, a little hesitant. “I’ve been chasing her for half a block and I just watched her duck under this deck!”
I couldn’t tell if he was trying to play a trick on me or if he was being genuine. Although I didn’t want to know the answer, I asked, “What was she wearing?” As he answered, I felt a rush of cold all the way up my back, as if someone had splashed me with ice water. “She had a long, kinda grayish pajama shirt on. It was really strange. Must be somebody’s little sister.” I leapt out from underneath the deck and stared at him for several seconds, reading his expressions.
“Mike, I’ve been under here this whole time and you’re the first person I’ve seen.”
With the small amount of light from his flashlight illuminating only a portion of his face, I watched his color fade. “Whatever, this game’s for babies anyway. I’m going home.” he stated, visibly shaken, but doing his best to keep his composure. “You’re it now.” He shoved the flashlight into my chest and walked quickly in the direction of his house.
Although Mike was gone, I had a sudden awareness that I was not alone. Doing my best to avert my eyes from my once great hiding place, I pointed my flashlight back toward the street. My legs struggled to lift my feet. It was as if hands had emerged from the soft ground and clasped their menacing fingers around my ankles. In a desperate attempt to run, my legs had a different plan as I crashed, face-first, into the wet grass. I lied on the ground, stunned for what felt like only a few seconds. Gathering my wits, I lifted my head to see bare, pale feet resting only inches from my nose. “Aahh!” I screamed, suddenly sitting but leaning back on my hands. I had no words. That girl, the same one from my room, was standing over me. What once had been a vacant grin was replaced with a disgusting, angry snarl.
“That was MY hiding spot!” Her voice now a high-pitched shriek, like thick nails on a dirty classroom chalkboard. Her shadowed eyes pierced through me like a hot blade as she began to cry. She continued with a much quieter, more sinister tone, “It’s your fault.” It was at that moment I knew she wasn’t talking about the game anymore. She lunged forward, flailing her arms while she fell on top of me. I struggled to grab at her frozen wrists and hollered for anyone close who might be able to come help me. I caught one last glimpse of those sinister eyes before everything went black.
I awoke to the sound of footsteps creeping up to me. “I’m sorry!” I proclaimed, weak and covered in sweat. Just then a hand reached down and grabbed my arm.
It was Phil. “Are you OK?” he asked. “Everyone is going home now. We didn’t know where you were and it’s getting late.” As I stood up I realized I wasn’t in our neighbor’s backyard anymore. I had somehow managed to end up in my own driveway, just a few feet from the front steps.
“Are you hurt? What happened?” My brother was beginning to show worry at my lack of response. “I…I don’t know.” I stood there, still puzzled at how I had come to be in the driveway. “Well, we’d better go in. It’s almost midnight,” Phil continued.
“Wait. What?” The words left my mouth and I began to grow more and more concerned as to what might have happened after I blacked out. I had to tell him. There was a good chance he would think I was crazy but I couldn’t keep this to myself anymore. “I saw this girl…” The front porch light came on and our dad stepped outside. He didn’t have to say anything. We knew it was time to come in.
The nightmares started that night. I lied in bed, staring at the ceiling for hours and doing my best not to look anywhere else when I felt my eyelids getting heavy. With each flutter, I could picture her face, staring at me with that look of hatred and disgust. I fought the fatigue for as long as I could, finally succumbing to the night. They say you only remember bits and pieces of dreams and lose sight of what little you had as time marches on. But the horrors that plagued my subconscious for the next several nights are still as vivid and frightening as they were 17 years ago, reappearing every now and then as not to let me forget.
My first dream started out normal enough. I was with a couple of friends (who have asked to remain nameless) and we were headed to an area near our house we all called “Cherry Hill”. It spanned several blocks and housed lots of trees, trails, hills and even an old train trestle. We did all sorts of stuff there. We built forts, rode bikes, played tag; the stuff you’d expect kids to do. We were walking down the trail, boards and tools in hand, looking for just the right spot to build. Settling on an area tucked in by the trestle, we got to work. I was nailing some small boards to a tree to make a ladder leading up to a long ledge. It was to be our lookout. I could hear my friends digging some kind of hole behind me.
After a while, the sound of their shovels stopped. That same chill I had felt under the deck was inching up my legs to my back, then to my neck. I whipped around to see that they were gone. In fact, everything was gone; the shovels, the hole. It was as if they had never been there at all.
It had gotten very dark. The giant trees were blocking any trace of light shining from the evening sky. As I strained my eyes to scan the area, I locked in on a familiar nightgown across the small stream of murky water. I was panicked. Frozen in fear, I watched as she grew closer, never moving her limbs. She threw her head back in a disgusting cackle befitting a woman well her senior. I closed my eyes, hoping that would somehow slow my pounding heartbeat.
I wasn’t ready to open my eyes. My mind was racing and I couldn’t decide if I was awake or asleep. Before I had a chance to come to any conclusion, I felt a soft tug on my wrist. “They’re gone now. Will you play with me?” It was that same soft voice I had heard in my basement. It wasn’t creepy or angry. If I had to think of a word for it, I would say it almost sounded scared. No longer feeling threatened, I was ready to open my eyes. What a horrible mistake!
She stood only inches from me, covered in blood but with no visible wounds. Through the gore I could see the frills of her gown, now torn and crimson. The more frightened I became, the more pleased she seemed with herself. Turning to run, I had made it only a few steps before tripping and crashing into the cold dirt. I had to compose myself. I sat up and glanced at the object that forced me to topple over. “Oh my God, no!” the words left my mouth as I stumbled back even further. There, laid out in a heaping mess, were my friends. Next to them was a shovel covered in blood and hair. She stood over the bodies, that menacing grin returning to her face, and she slowly brought her finger up to her lips.
I awoke on the living room couch. I know I fell asleep on my own bed, but with a history of sleepwalking I wasn’t surprised. One thing was for certain, I wasn’t going back to sleep. I turned on the TV and watched infomercials until morning. I finally got up to make myself a bowl of Cinnamon Toast Crunch as the rest of the family emerged from their rooms. I wanted to tell them what was happening to me, but I was sort of famous in our house for stupid nightmares. To this day, I still catch guff about the big, green duck with a machine gun that would chase me around the neighborhood. Nobody was going to take me seriously. I had to find a way to handle this on my own.
That night, before bed, I knelt down next to my bed and I locked my hands together in prayer. “Dear Lord, I need your help. There is something evil here that won’t leave me alone. I don’t know why it would choose me. Did I do something wrong? I beg of you, Lord, please stop this. I will never ask you for anything ever again! Amen.”
I was dream-free for the next two nights. Maybe there was something to this prayer thing. It was Saturday and a few of us had gotten together for a game of street hockey. We must have played for at least two hours before someone said, “Let’s go to Cherry Hill.” As soon as I heard it that cold chill raced up my back. “I think I’m going to stay here, guys.” They weren’t having that. After lots of prodding and pleading, we hopped on our bikes.
We stayed near the entrance, making dangerous ramps out of leftover boards from our hockey goals. I wasn’t that excited about going toward the trestle, but I figured there was strength in numbers. We were pointing out spots that would be ideal for a new fort. “There’s a good spot,” I said, pointing to a wall of dirt with an area already dug out. I was quickly out-voted as it was clear someone else had already claimed that area. We ventured down the trail until we neared the old trestle. “This spot is too open.” I pled my case and hoped for the best. It must have been “Let’s Do The Opposite of What Jamey Wants to Do Day” because everyone ignored me and headed down toward the water. Not wanting to let my fears get the best of me, I followed.
I walked toward the lookout ledge from my dream. It was as if something was pulling me in that direction. Glancing at the tree I noticed letters etched out in the bark. They spelled out “Shhh.” I was done. No more fort building for me. I jumped on my bike and sped home. I was still shaking when I pulled into the driveway. I refused to come to the door when a couple of my friends stopped over to check on me. I lied in bed, sobbing and cursing the ceiling. “Why won’t you help me? I begged for your help and you didn’t listen!” I cried myself to sleep.
My next nightmare was much shorter. It was a very strange dream in that I felt like I was watching a slide show. I remember watching an old, run-down farmhouse slowly fall to a pile of junk, but it was in pictures with each one showing more age and decay. There was a tree in the front yard with a tire swing and in every image there were children running around and playing. They didn’t seem phased by the crumbling house behind them. As the house aged, fewer kids were seen running around until only one remained. I watched as the last little girl stared at the ground, sad that her friends had left her. I watched her sadness turn to anger and then into resentment. The background grew dark and her eyes met mine. The edges of her mouth turned up into that all too familiar grin. She knew I was watching her. She stood still for several minutes as the wind blew through the bare trees behind her. Suddenly everything went dark and I heard the whisper, “What should we play next?”
I avoided my room for the next several nights, finding any reason I could to stay up well past my bedtime. Although I feared coming across her while I was alone in the dark, it somehow felt safer than meeting her in a dream. She could manipulate me in my nightmares. I couldn’t look away. I tried obscene amounts of Mountain Dew, bright lights from the TV and music to avoid surrender to the night. I finally figured out that if I slept during the day she left me alone. I still wonder to this day if she was fueled by my fear. I was calmed by the light of day. It kept me safe.
I had nearly forgotten all about her by the time she visited me again. Weeks had passed and I had started sleeping in my bed again. This final encounter was, by far, the creepiest (I consider this my final encounter because I truly believe any dreams since then have been residual, albeit terrifying).
I awoke to the wind blowing my curtains across my face. This was significant because I have terrible allergies and am unable to sleep with the windows open. As soon as my eyes opened I could hear faint laughter coming from the front yard. It almost sounded like the overused laugh track that goes with any clip of children playing in movies and television. I attempted to sit up and quickly realized I had no control of my own movements. I felt paralyzed. Before long I was lifted out of bed and placed, standing on my bedroom floor. I began walking toward the window still unable to move my own limbs. At the screen, I watched as this beautiful little girl skipped and sang through the grass without notice of the world around her. This time I didn’t feel as if she knew I was there. Mesmerized for nearly a full minute, I finally snapped out of it to find I was no longer in my own room. From my surroundings I could tell that this bedroom belonged to a girl. The walls were covered in bright pinks, purples and yellows with tons of princess doll houses, Barbies and dresses scattered along the floor and in the open closet. I stood in the middle of the room, still unable to move, and watched as the door flew open and that same little girl from the front yard came running in, crying. When she dashed by me without looking I didn’t think that she could see me.
Had I become the ghost?
The girl jumped into the closet and her eyes locked onto mine. As footsteps grew louder down the hall she looked at me, put her finger up to her mouth and gave a soft, “Shhh.”
Who was she hiding from? Why was she crying?
I stood and watched as a tall man wearing a baseball cap, red t-shirt and jeans marched into the room with a menacing, “Come out, come out wherever you are!” The little girl kept her stare on me as tears rolled down her face. I tried to ask him who he was looking for, but he didn’t respond. Couldn’t HE see me?
His tone quickly changed, “Where the hell did that b***h go?” I still couldn’t tell if he knew I was there, but I knew she must be hiding for a reason so I decided to keep my mouth shut. He gave one last look around the room and left. I watched him walk down the hallway until I could no longer see him, and when I turned to the closet she was gone. In the blink of an eye all of the room’s bright colors turned to shades of gray. I heard shouts coming from another room in the house. Without hesitation, I ran toward the screams.
When I got into the living room the little girl was lying on the floor. This time she was wearing that same night gown from my earlier visions. The man in the ball cap was standing over her and I could tell that she was uncomfortable.
“Let’s play a game, sweetie. It’s called ‘the quiet game.’”
Although his words were sweet, I knew his intentions were anything but. She was terrified. Her eyes were telling a story of fear and sadness. I panicked.
“Leave her alone!” I yelled the words as loudly as I could. I’m not sure what I was expecting to happen, but my shouts fell on deaf ears. It was no use. She turned again to look at me I began to feel light headed, like I was losing oxygen. Everything went dark but I could still hear the faint cries of a scared little girl. The cries were followed by wet, gurgling sounds and that’s when I heard the sound that still gives me chills as I write these words. As if he was right by my face, I heard the man whisper one last request, “Shhh.”
I woke up right after that and sobbed in my bed for what seemed like hours. Aside from the occasional nightmare, I haven’t seen the little girl since. Although I haven’t seen her, I still feel like she’s around. I’ve spent time in libraries and news archives hoping to come across a story of a familiar missing girl or maybe even something on the man in the cap. I believe my dream of the deteriorating house means the potential scene of the crime is long-gone. I suppose it’s best that I leave it be. But the question I fear will forever go unanswered is: Was I just a kid with an overactive imagination, or was a frightened little girl reaching out for help that I failed to provide?
Credit: J. Northrop