A local haunting
story by Don Campbell;
illustrations by Betsy Kehne
Halloween is about scary stories and such, but they are not supposed to be real. Before, I always thought they were fun. That is before last Halloween. Now it doesn’t take Halloween for me to be scared.
I think you need to know why.
Last Halloween, Rocky Jones was emceeing public readings of Halloween stories, like he does every year, at Prince Frederick Public Library. He had put the arm on us members of the Writers by the Bay writing critique group. I had a short ghost story, so I thought I would give public reading a try.
As I pulled into the library’s back parking lot, things started feeling strange. You know, like someone you can’t see is staring at you and the hair on the back of your neck starts to bristle?
Coming into Prince Frederick, I had to hit the brakes hard when a driver pulled out without looking. Traffic on DeathWay Four; it can make you swallow your heart just getting into town. That near accident had my nerves pulled tight even before I got into the parking lot.
Plus, it was that kind of night, what with the wind making the trees groan and the moon casting silver ghosts among dark shadows. It was almost Halloween and I had psyched myself up to read a spooky story. I figured all that was reason enough to feel spooked.
I looked around after I parked and didn’t see anything to worry about, so I kind of gave myself a slap on the back of the head for being goofy and bent over to grab my story off the floor.
Story in hand, I headed toward the back door. Walking down the ramp from the upper lot, I found someone had dropped a story. I carried it in, thinking to return it. But I couldn’t find anyone to claim it. I’m the curious type, so I read the story.
I think you need to know what it said. It starts:
Why Jamie’s Gone
Jamie and I was out in the woods, away from the Bay over by Fairhaven. We was just goofing around. We kept hearing this rumble coming from the ground. We kept lookin’ for it. We found this grassy place and there was this ordinary looking hole.
Well, not ordinary.
It was plenty big enough to fall in. But not like an old well. Its sides were dirt, not bricks like wells are. I knew there must be water down there cuz I could see this swirly gray mist kinda hanging over the hole. It didn’t even go away when the breeze blew hard. It was funny, like it was almost solid, but it was mist. So I figured it must be coming up a lot to not get blown away.
Jamie said, “It’s a sink hole. I saw all about them on TV. Water carries dirt away so the hole falls in. Dirt fallin’. That’s what made the rumbling.” He got real close and said, “I can hear water running.”
I couldn’t hear any water and this hole was straight down, not the kind that caves in all broken like on the sides. It looked like someone had dug it, but there weren’t no dirt on the grass. And no sign of anyone working or having a machine there.
That was weird.
Jamie dropped a rock in. We tried to hear it hit but never did. He said, “Too small. I need something bigger.”
I didn’t like him doing that. That hole didn’t look right. When I looked in, deep down there was a flat blackness that pulled me like I was high up and getting dizzy. Like the time I was way up in a tree and the wind blew and everything moved and swayed like I was dizzy. But the movement was real, not me being dizzy. It was like that. After that, I wouldn’t go next to the hole.
I stayed away while Jamie went to look for a big rock. He came waddling back with one bigger than he should carry. He went right up and pitched it in. After a minute he said, “Damnit” Jamie was always using cuss words “Why can’t I hear it hit?”
Well, I looked at that hole, and it looked like it had moved. Not much. But the flowers on the side looked farther away. I knew that couldn’t be. It had to be an optical illusion.
Jamie said, “To hell with rocks,” and started for the woods.
Well, I wasn’t going to stay by that hole so I went along. We made a ball with dry moss and grass and birch bark. He stuck a branch through it as a handle. Then we went back. I looked at that hole and it looked like it had moved again. But there was still grass all around it so it couldn’t have moved because there weren’t no bare spot where I thought it had been. But even thinking it had moved made me feel squirmy inside.
“I’m not doing this. That hole is too weird,” I told Jamie.
He laughed at me. “Bull. Hold this while I light it. I want it burning good.” He put his lighter under it and I turned it so the whole thing was burning. “Go ahead drop it,” he said.
“Uh-uh not me. I don’t want to do this. It don’t feel right,” I said.
He called me chicken and said “Gimme that.” He grabbed it outta my hand.
It was licking up flames and smoke and he pointed the stick down to let the flame ball slide off. Only it didn’t. My eyes got stuck looking at the smoke. It was getting sucked into the mist. Watching it was like seeing around a curve. I mean I was way back from the hole, but the way I could see the smoke, it was like I was standing right over the hole watching.
Then the fire started to twist and spiral right down the center of the hole. It was mixing with the mist that was going in not coming out. The smoke, the flame, then the stick and Jamie’s arm seemed to bend. It looked like things do when you feel dizzy. Jamie didn’t even yelp when the rest of him bent and stretched and twisted as he flowed head first into that black hole and kept spinning and getting smaller and smaller until I couldn’t see him no more.
I was so scared I peed all down my leg. Then the hole burped and started to move toward me. I ran like hell.
They looked for Jamie for more than a week. I was too scared to tell what I saw. I said we were playing and he was hiding and I couldn’t find him so I thought he had gone home to play a trick on me.
I’m older now. I really want to tell someone, cuz when I feel the rumble in the ground I know what it is. And I know why so many people are missing and why no one ever finds them. I can feel the hole looking for me ‘cuz I know once you’ve seen it, it keeps looking for you. I think somebody else knows too; that’s why they put up those Don’t walk on the grass signs. They’re warning you. I never ever walk on grass no more.
I heard that rumble real close today. I always stay on the pavement. I hope that makes it okay. But …
The story ends there, the sentence unfinished.
After I’d finished reading, I remembered something else. When I pulled in to park, and looked around for what was making me feel spooked, I saw this young fellow walking across the parking lot real quick, and he was writing something as he walked.
I flashed back to how it was in school when I hadn’t gotten my homework done and tried to scribble the rest of it on the way to class. I hadn’t remembered that for a long, long time. I smiled a bit at that memory and made a guess that he was heading for the Halloween readings, too. But, and this was part of the spook I was feeling, it was strange that there was a mist around his feet like you see on the pavement after it rains. It hadn’t.
As I’d bent down to grab my story off the floor, I’d heard a rumble like a truck had gone by. When I sat up and straightened out my pages, I didn’t see the fellow anymore. I figured he had gone inside. Then I walked down the ramp between the parking areas and found this story on the pavement.
After I read it, I knew what that mist was. Now that I have seen the mist, I can feel it’s pretty hungry and I don’t think it minds pavement at all. I don’t go into that parking lot any more. I’m telling you this because you need to be careful. If you see the mist or hear a rumble, well … I think you understand there isn’t anything you can do.
Don Campbell, a 68 year old semi-retired historian, divides his time between writing fiction and restoring the old Turner Farm house in Sunderland, where he lives with his wife Nancy. This is his first story for Bay Weekly.