here's one from our pal, ernie (cooper)...
When I was twelve, I often spent the summer with my aunt and uncle. They lived in a town called Prattsville. It was a small town, but big enough for the local kids to develop cliques, cliques that really know how to make an out-of-towner feel unwelcome. It’s not like they threw rocks at me when I was down by the river or at one of the more popular swimming holes, but they definitely never invited me into their inner circles, or even over for dinner.
As it turns out, I wasn’t the only young visitor in town looking for a clique to call my own. There were four of us. Kyle Kramer was instantly likeable. You just knew he was popular back home, and he was always slightly confused as to why he couldn’t ever fit in here. Ted Jameson was the runt of someone’s litter. He was pale and a bit twitchy, and, as we constantly reminded him, a bit of a mama’s boy. He never got to go swimming with us, and he only got to hang out with us when it was overcast. And then there was Billy Lovitz. Billy was around our age, but bigger, bulkier, and obviously a bully back home. You could tell he would rather be giving us massive wedgies than hanging out with us, but he didn’t want to run the risk of alienating his new seasonal friends.
One by one, we all found our way to the old McKay house. If you get the feeling you’re not wanted, you end up finding your way to the one spot where nobody else wants to be. And that was the abandoned house on the south end of town. It was an adventure in and of itself to navigate the jungle-like overgrowth that years of neglect had piled upon the property. Once through, though, you could play in the big yard, or just relax under a lazy sun.
I was first to plant the flag. Ted, Kyle, and Billy all appeared within the next two weeks, and before long we were sword-fighting with branches, playing hide-and-seek, and agreeing as a unit to spend more and more time in our own private playground. Ted joined us when the weather permitted. He was also not really into the whole “bashing-each-other-over-the-head-with-a-big-stick” scene, but would sit against the bole of the big tree in the front yard and yell encouragement to either side of a duel, although generally not Billy. When Billy did sometimes relapse to his non-Pratsville bullying self, Ted was often the object of his derision. When we shot marbles, though, Ted was a whiz, and he was great at both hiding and seeking.
Life was good in our little world, and none of us seemed to mind that the old McKay house was haunted.
I’d like to say it was because we were all just that brave, but it really boiled down to “any port in a storm,” and we all just knew that none of the other kids in town would bother us. After all, we didn’t have to live in the shadow of the McKay house, or hear the stories about the house every Halloween. Old Man McKay snapping and murdering his entire family. People saying the house was built on the obligatory Indian burial ground. Spectral lights in the house and roaming across the property.
You know the stories…The whole spooky nine yards.
Occasionally we’d hear distant banging coming from the house. We were always quick to dismiss the noise as squirrels, or cats, or even angry possums. We took turns yelling out random animals whenever we heard noises emanating from the house. It was almost as if we were casting some magic spell that would cause any ominous noise source to become, say, a restless squirrel.
We left the house alone, and we figured it would leave us alone. Then things started to disappear. Any ball we brought in with us and left would be gone once we got back. At first we thought some other kids had violated our little sanctum, but then things started to disappear while we were there. A stack of comics Kyle had brought with him vanished from the rock he’d left them on. We knew the stalemate with the house was over, though, when Billy’s dad’s pocket watch vanished right out of his pocket. We thought he was lying about it until Ted spotted the gold chain hanging from the rusty mailbox on the front porch.
None of us had ever been that close to the house. We looked at each other nervously, and then Billy darted forward, snatched the watch from the mailbox, and dashed back to us.
We followed Kyle’s pointing, trembling finger. In the front window, clearly visible through the grime, was the face of a woman. She gazed impassively out at us.
I’m not sure who screamed the loudest, or who was fastest back to their house, but I’m not ashamed to say it was probably me on both counts.
You’d think that we’d never go back, but we were young, and filled with that peculiar mix of bravery, stupidity, and wonderment that would eventually drain with age. Plus, two days later it was a beautiful day, not a cloud in the sky, so it was hard to imagine anything ghostly happening under the harsh glare of the blazing sun. Kyle and Billy had the same idea, and the three of us found our way back to the house. Ted, of course, was at home, as Billy put, “hiding under his Mom’s skirts from the sun.”
Everything seemed to be back to normal, and we managed to convince ourselves that the face had just been our respective imaginations playing tricks.
Yes, all at the same time. A mass hallucination. We were twelve-ish, remember?
Within days, the four of us were back to our usual shenanigans. Things kept disappearing, and every so often one of us would tense up and look at the house as it made its usual sounds. Our cries of random forest critters seemed a bit more shrill and desperate.
And we’d still occasionally see the woman. Sometimes her vantage point changed, and she stared out a different window, but by this point we had thoroughly convinced ourselves that the truce with the house had returned, and if some ghost lady wanted to watch us run rampant all over her yard, so be it.
Then one sunny day when we were again just a trio, the house again threw down the proverbial gauntlet. As we lay on the lawn panting after a particularly robust round of kill-the-carrier, Kyle let out a horrified squawk. He pointed again, this time not at a ghostly face, but at the long-missing comic books that were jutting, mangled from the mailbox.
He slowly walked, zombie-like, to the mailbox, and tried to gingerly extricate the remains. Billy and I were behind him, and I laid a sympathetic hand on his shoulder. Kyle was still making strangled, inhuman sounds. He finally balled up the ruined mass and hurled it onto the front porch.
We stood in stunned silence at the brazen counter-attack, and as we held our breath, heard the distinct sound of the front door softly clicking open.
From the lawn, the door still looked closed. Not quite knowing what wellspring I was drawing the strength from, I shook off my paralysis and glared angrily at the porch.
“I’m goin’ in.”
“Are you bonkers?!”
“Just wait here for me. I’m just going to the door.”
I swallowed nervously, and then took all three stairs at once. The front porch cracked and settled. The first step was like a gunshot going off, and we all cringed at the sound. It was obvious nothing living had stepped on the porch for quite some time. I made my way slowly across the protesting wood under my feet, and I could definitely see that the front door was cracked open.
I reached out, palm aimed at the door. There was a horrible creaking behind me, and I whirled to see that both Billy and Kyle stood at the top step.
“Stay there,” I hissed.
I returned to studying the dusty webs stretched across the open door. Maybe it had been open all along?
I studied the back of my open hand, wavering in the space before the door. Not knowing what else to do at that point, I leaned in and gently knocked.
“Dummy,” Billy growled.
Nothing. There was no sound from behind the door, which hadn’t even budged at my gentle rapping.
I knocked tentatively again, and this time I thought I heard a gentle tapping back.
“Did you hear anything?”
I was about to turn and beg for silence again, but at that point, there was a loud bang against the door. It was as if something had charged into it from the other side, slamming it shut. The door literally shivered on its hinges and a concussive blast of dust and debris showered the lot of us.
We scrambled backwards off the porch.
This time, though, we stopped on the sun-dappled lawn, not retreating all the way back to our respective homes.
“What was that?” Billy tugged nervously at his shirt bottom.
Kyle, who had been preaching the virtues of his parents buying him a puppy once school started again, offered, “Maybe there was an animal trapped in the house. He brightened, “A dog?”
I scowled. Kyle could keep wishing for a dog, but there was just no way that a dog was behind that door. Billy, realizing the house had made an uncontested and very loud sound, immediately started murmuring other – and smaller - creatures that could have just soundly slammed the door in our faces.
As he continued with his litany of small, furry animals, I had an idea. A crazy one, yes, but the house was not only threatening our summer, but it had also just violated both Captains America and Marvel.
It was time to take the fight to the house.
Into the house.
I nodded grimly. “Guys, we’re going to have a sleep-over.”
As unpopular ideas go, this one initially ranked somewhere between a school dance and a visit to the dentist. However, I managed to get them both fired up, although Billy kept saying that there was no way Ted’s mom would let him do it, and we all agreed it had to be the four of us as a unit. What had once been the source of endless ribbing was now a most convenient defense.
Two days later, though, it was gray and rainy, and we were all reunited in front of the house. Ted slowly chewed his lower lip as we relayed the story to him, and his eyes bulged as we detailed our plan to announce we would be staying at each other’s house overnight, and then secretly meet to crash whatever ghostly party was going on in the house.
“I think that’s a terrible idea. Terrible.”
We all chimed in, arguing, and then Billy shook his head, “I knew your mama wouldn’t let her little porcelain doll come play.”
Ted’s teeth ground together. “Fine.”
Billy was startled. “Um…What’s fine?”
“I’ll do it. Tomorrow night.”
Billy looked like he just swallowed a very large bug.
From Billy’s expression when we went our separate ways, I would have bet a large sum of cash that he wouldn’t be joining us, but ultimately the four of us found ourselves back at the house, this time under the cover of dark.
Kyle and I had each managed to steal a flashlight, and Billy had a small pack on. Ted had brought himself, which was probably all he could carry, anyways.
Billy hefted the weight on his back. “Didn’t you guys bring a sleeping bag or anything?”
“Do you really plan on sleeping?”
“Oh. Good point.”
We moved to the porch and I aimed the beam of my light at the front door.
We climbed onto the creaking porch again. It seemed quieter, yet more sinister. Actually, everything seemed more sinister under the starless sky, and as thoughts of abandoning the mission raced through my head, I reached out grabbed the doorknob, and shoved. Hah. Too late to stop now.
The door swung inwards with a long groan.
“Last chance to bail out.”
Apparently, nobody wanted to be condemned as chicken, as we all remained silent.
I went first, then Ted and Billy. Kyle brought up the rear with the second flashlight. I wasn’t sure what I expected, but as the beam of light played down a short hallway, it all just seemed dusty and sad.
We crept deeper into the house, and when we reached what had once been a living room but now was a sheet-draped wasteland, I heard Billy whisper softly. “It’s her.”
The woman in the window was standing on the stairs that led up and around to the second floor. She gazed sadly down at us. She could have been real, except for the fact that her body would vanish wherever the beams of light danced across her. It almost seemed rude, so we stopped, and we stared up at her as she gazed resolutely at us.
“Hello?” I whispered softly.
She turned and walked up the stairs, vanishing after a few steps.
“Does she want us to follow her?”
I shrugged at Kyle, and then decided he might be right. We started up the stairs. When we reached the second floor, there was a sound like a large exhalation from the ground floor. We played our lights back down and across the furniture. It looked like there was something new under the sheets now, things writhing under the dusty linen. A figure suddenly resolved amidst the roiling mass, a softly glowing man.
His back was initially to us, but he seemed to be sniffing at the air like an animal. He turned towards us, and I gasped. He had no eyes. The upper part of his face was a mass of ugly scratches. Even without eyeballs, though, the ruined mess seemed to be staring straight at us.
“Guys! Guys! Get back!”
We all shrank back against the wall, and I noticed a door to my left. As quietly as possible, I turned the handle. Downstairs, the figure started to cackle. I pulled the door open, figuring the laughter would mask the sound of the door. It did, and then continued to get louder, more manic. Ted had the heels of his hands grinding against both ears. He was mumbling softly to himself, but when he saw me looking, he stopped, and then whispered imploringly, “Make it stop…”
I didn’t know how to stop it, but at that point I just wanted to get away from it. “In here!”
The four of us raced into the room, and I closed the door as quietly as possible. Behind the door, the laughter ended abruptly.
We quickly scanned the room for anything hostile. It had obviously been a child’s room. We were less concerned with the décor, though, and more concerned with whatever it was that had been in the living room. While the ghostly woman had always seemed to be a benign observer, there was no such vibe from the eyeless man.
Billy was tugging madly at his shirt bottom. “What do we do?”
“We need to stay quiet.”
Ted was crying softly. I turned the light on him, “Hey, is your arm bleeding?”
He just shook his head helplessly at me.
The three of them were behind me, cowering, as I stood at the door. I thought I could hear a shuffling sound from the other side. As I strained to hear, there was another sound behind me. I tried to frantically hush my companions, thinking it was one of them. It was actually a lone marble that was slowly rolling across the floor towards us. Kyle, wide-eyed, tracked it with his flashlight.
As the marble bumped against my sneaker, more marbles and other toys began to roll and bounce across the room, and something started to hammer at the closed door. I jumped back just as Ted began screaming. I whirled, aimed my light. Ted was walking towards me, a stricken look on his face. He reached out to me, whimpering, as bruises and welts began to bloom up and down his thin arms.
I stumbled across the floor to him, and then right through him. I passed right through his body and felt an icy blast chill me, the cold exploding across my brain. I dropped to my knees, and Billy and Kyle went completely nuts, yelling incoherently and backing away from Ted and I.
Ted’s eyes rolled back in his head, and he began to tremble uncontrollably. The hammering at the door stopped, and Ted slowly rose into the air. Kyle stopped pounding against the wall and yanked the door open. There was nothing on the other side, and since Ted was now spinning slowly in place and screaming once again, Kyle chose to make a break for it. Billy was right on his heels.
I took a swipe at Ted, feeling cold emptiness again, and then some invisible force smashed across my right cheek. My head snapped to the side and stars danced wildly around in my head. The mark it left would end up lingering for weeks.
Helpless, hurting, I turned and ran. Kyle and Billy were already racing into the living room when I hit the stairs. Kyle bolted out the front door.
And the front door slammed shut.
Billy ran full tilt into it, bouncing back almost comically. He fell hard on his left side, and the nearest wriggling sheets started to make hissing, gibbering sounds at him. I reached the bottom of the stairs, and then all of the air seemed to rush to the center of the room, and Mr. McKay appeared with the sound of muffled thunder. He was floating about three feet off the floor between Billy and I.
I fell back against the stairs as all of the dust and webbed debris in the old house began to snake across the floor towards the malevolent figure, curling up and around him, swirling in an angry maelstrom. The dust seemed to give him a physical presence even as his body began to flicker in and out of existence, strobing crazily. The ugly red scratches that made up his face turned to me, and then quickly back to Billy who was crying hysterically and clawing his way towards the door.
His forward momentum stopped, though, and he instead started to be pulled backwards towards the spectral whirlwind in the center of the room. I noticed that the ghostly woman was back, eyes downcast, to my right. And suddenly, on the left, there was Ted. He was still bruised, beaten and bloody, and just like the ghostly woman, didn’t seem to notice or care about anything going on in the room.
Billy had flipped over onto his back and was kicking wildly yet ineffectually at whatever had him.
Suddenly, the house itself seemed to speak with a low, guttural voice. “Weeeeeeeaaaaaaaaaak,” it uttered, and Billy rose into the air, kicking and screaming hysterically. “Liiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiitle…”
A slash appeared on his right forearm as the very walls continued to growl. I stood up, but something smashed me back against the stairs, holding me in place. As more bloody slashes appeared over Billy’s thrashing body, a thin voice called out over the sound of the angry house.
Ted was back. Our Ted. The Ted that had spent the summer watching us valiantly sword-fighting, but never participating. And at this point I realized I had not only never seen him swimming, but I’d also never seen him anywhere outside of the property. When we all went home, he was home.
His hands were curled into fists, his wounds were gone, and he stood resolutely in front of the imposing figure of the thing that had, in life, been his father.
“Daddy, leave my friends alone!”
The house rumbled in anger, but I felt the crushing weight lift from my chest and saw Billy plunge to the ground. Ted grunted as the welts began to track crazily across his arms again, but didn’t scream this time as he rose into the air. Racing around the perimeter I helped Billy to his feet, and with one last look at Ted locked in battle for the first time with his father, I threw open the door and fell across the porch and down the stairs.
Kyle was miraculously still there, waiting for us. We all sort of clung to each other then, most likely reassuring ourselves that we were all physical beings and not masquerading ghosts. The house was alive in the night air, and eerie lights danced and played in all of the windows. The usual warm buzz of twilight summer had been replaced by silence, as if the night itself was holding its breath as we stared up at the still-open door.
The silence was broken as Ted’s voice exploded all around us, at my shoulder, in my ear.
And we did.
Hopefully, you won’t be surprised when I tell you that summer ended without our going back to the house. In fact, after that night, except for one sullen encounter at the grocery store, I never saw Billy again. Even Kyle and I lost contact with each other after a few years of being infrequent pen pals. I spent years trying to rationalize what I saw, the things we experienced that night. Whenever I hear someone tell a ghost story, I think of what happened that night, and realize that the best ghost stories leave out non-spooky terms like “domestic abuse” and you get oddly desensitized and tend to lose sight of what might have really happened, the source material.
So remember when you hear those urban legends and ghostly tales, and keep in mind that they’re often painted with the broadest strokes. None of us knew at the time, obviously, but I poked around afterwards and found out that Old Man McKay’s son had been a sickly little kid named Ted. Ted Jameson. His widowed mom had had kept their last name. It was ultimately just one more thing for Mr. McKay to be angry about.
He must’ve been really angry when they knocked the whole house down about twenty years later to make room for some new development. I read the little blurb online, and took a trip to Prattsville that summer. The demolition crew had torn great swaths from what had turned into a small forest over the years, so I was able to easily get up the hill once more and take a look at the house. There was still a good bit of the house left, albeit strewn around the yard. I walked idly through it, kicking boards here and there, humming to myself.
I stopped when I came upon the old rusty mailbox. The porch was gone, and so it lay on its side. As I watched, it squeaked open, and a shiny blue marble rolled out and landed innocently in the grass. I slowly knelt and picked it up, rolling it gently between thumb and forefinger.
“Maybe next time,” I called out into the empty yard, and slipped the marble into my pocket. Turning with a small grin, I strode back down the hill.
smell ya later