A Bay Weekly Smorgasbord of Scare
From ghoulies and ghosties
And long-leggedy beasties
And things that go bump in the night,
Good Lord, deliver us!
’Tis the night the night
Of the grave’s delight,
And the warlocks are at their play;
Ye think that without
The wild winds shout,
But no, it is they it is they.
Arthur Cleveland Coxe
’Tis the time of year for haunting tales of ghostly appearances and things that go bump in the night.
Halloween is about scary things. Now the distinction blurs between the daylight world of reason and the spectral night world.
Celebrated on the night of October 31 or All Hallows Eve Halloween arrived on our shores with the wave of Irish immigrants in the 19th century.
It has since become our national night of fright.
As darkness falls, costumed children, often dressed to scare, appear throughout neighborhoods, knocking on doors, demanding trick or treat. We eagerly hand out the treats rather than dare the threatened trick.
Our most familiar Halloween face the Jack o’ lantern began as a crude lantern, a carved gourd set on a doorstep to scare away evil spirits of the night.
Those night spirits not scared away haunt our daylight thoughts and inspire our ghost stories.
Bay Weekly writers come together to share their spooky stories of unexplained sounds in the night, whispers of chilled air and shadows lurking in hallways.
Can you tell fact from fiction? Remember that nothing is what it seems on Halloween.
And so as darkness falls across Bay Country, let the sounds of the night creep in. Like that strange scratching coming from your attic. It’s probably nothing more than a branch tossed about by the wind …
The Séance, by Sandy Anderson
In the winter of 1967, my sister Joan and her fiancée, Walter, joined 15 others in a darkened room near American University. Seated around a long table, they held hands. The candles scattered along the walls made their faces appear hollow.
Who would visit this time?
Time passed slowly as the party bonded their minds and spirits. Sometimes a séance was a happy event, but not always. Always an imprint: No one walked away the same.
The medium, an older student who wore her hair in a loose bun, walked slowly from person to person. She wore a vest and sleeves just past her elbow, not too long, not too short. With her loose flowing skirts wafting over the unseen floor, she paused behind Joan and Walter.
The room chilled.
Walter stiffened into catatonia. Everyone was intently aware of the darkness as the medium began to chant.
Slowly, deliberately she described a furious Englishman, wearing pantaloons and billowing shirt and grasping a sword.
Joan’s thoughts flashed to how our ancestors and Walter’s had left England in the early 1600s.
The medium continued:
The spirit’s bloodshot eyes searched the landscape looking for those men, wives and children as they raced toward the river. The families ran, desperate and quiet, as more town militia appeared on the hilltop, silhouetted by the town lights on the night horizon.
He spotted my kin and rushed toward them, then hesitated, waiting for the other townsmen to join the arrest. He would stop these fleeing traitors; Cavendish would find out, and they would face their crimes.
The terror around the table surged as hands gripped for safety. All felt the hatred in the spirit chasing my family toward the waiting boat.
Abruptly, the medium broke the contact, and the spirit vanished. It was over. No one breathed. Only with reluctance did they let go. Joan stirred Walter; he remembered nothing. This night would end quietly as the witnesses pondered what had happened. Then they parted, taking their fears with them.
Joan gave up going to séances, remembering how the militiaman had loathed her. How long had this Englishman’s spirit sought her?
Recently in a book, Mayflower, I read, stunned:
In Nottinghamshire … a group of Separatists gathered every Sunday to worship in secret … Their escape from England did not go well. … They secured the services of a trustworthy Dutch captain, who planned to meet them on the southern bank of the Humber River, just above the town of Grimsby. But they’d loaded no women and children, and only a portion of the men, onto the ship when the local militia appeared. Fearing capture, the captain determined to sail for Amsterdam, leaving the women and children weeping in despair as their husbands looked on from the deck of the departing ship.
What the Eyes Don’t See, by Diana Beechener
You can’t be hurt by something that’s not there, I muttered to myself as I bundled my coat tighter around my neck. For the third time in as many hours, I cursed myself for accepting an outdoor dare in the middle of October. In a Pikesville cemetery, staring into blackness, I prayed the sun would pop over the horizon a few hours early.
I only had to make it until sunrise, resting on the Angus Gravesite, daring the statue, Black Aggie, to show herself. I sat in a barren patch of land, where Black Aggie herself sat for over 50 years, hugging my knees to my chest as the temperature sank.
The statue had been removed years ago, because stupid college kids not unlike the one currently crouched in the vacant patch of lawn were dared to spend the night cuddled in Aggie’s cold bronze lap. Too many kids defacing the statue: That was the official reason given by the cemetery staff. The official statements never mentioned fiery red eyes, a choking metallic grip or how at least one girl who snuggled up with Aggie left in a coroner’s van. The official statement didn’t mention these facts because official statements deal with facts that can be easily explained.
I puffed out a foggy breath and listed the explanations for my condition. Goosebumps formed on my arm because I chose a thin jacket as I left the house. The hair bristled upward on the back of my neck because there was a light icy breeze swirling around my ears.
The two red orbs that peered from the darkness were harder to explain. I blinked, hoping that my tired eyes needed a rest. But they still hovered a few feet ahead: two blood-red dots glowing in the darkness.
My mind fell still and cold. Panicked, I picked up a stone and chucked it toward the two burning beacons. A clank, the sound of stone hitting bronze, rang loud in my ears. Then a noise like the creaking movement of a rusty hinge sounded.
I ran for the car. Slamming into the side, I clawed at the door with the key. There was rustling behind me, probably the wind rearranging a pile of dead leaves. I did not turn. Finally wrenching the door open, I peeled out of the cemetery, hoping that my shaking hands could keep the wheel steady.
I began breathing again when I saw the lights of a main road. I stared at the bright red brake lights before me. Dozens of them peered into my windshield, but it was two red lights in my rearview mirror that caught my attention. They were too small for brake lights, hovering too high in the air. Slamming my foot on the gas, I wove into the traffic, hoping to lose myself in the sea of red lights.
Raising Spirits, by Allen Delaney
Back in the early 1970s, I would push my father’s lawnmower through the neighborhood and mow yards for pocket money. One of my clients was a couple with whom the wife’s mother lived. My mother, who knew the couple, told me stories about the elderly Southern woman with a spooky past. Throughout her life, the lady claimed to have seen ghosts float across her front yard and felt their presence. She still had the Ouija board given to her on her 10th birthday.
One hot afternoon, after I mowed the lawn, the elderly lady nicknamed Money by her family after her firstborn couldn’t pronounce Mommy invited me inside. She served iced tea as I asked about her ghost-filled past. She regaled me with tales about how her deceased relatives would play tricks on her family, make noises in the night and speak to her through the Ouiji board.
The summer wore on; I mowed lawns, visited Money and played the Ouiji board with her. We would sit facing each other with the board on our knees, hands on the planchette, the triangular pointer. Within minutes it would move across the board, spelling out messages. Sometimes the pointer would even do a quick tap dance.
My friend Randy laughed about the mysterious board. “She’s moving it, you idiot!”
When I told my mother about his reaction, she said to invite him for lunch the following Tuesday. She explained that she was having Money and some other women over that afternoon and that his suspicion would be put to rest.
The following week, my mother and her friends, including Money, were in the dining room enjoying finger sandwiches while Randy and I ate hotdogs in the kitchen. When everyone finished, I was instructed to fetch a small, wooden table from the living room corner and to place it in the middle of the kitchen. The women and I stood around the table and placed our fingertips lightly on its top. Within a minute, our fingers tingled, and Money began our séance. She asked the spirit to move the table. The table slowly slid across the floor with us following along. Randy looked on with a Yeah, right smirk.
His expression quickly changed. With our fingers still on top of the table, Money asked our unseen guest, “Can you make the table rise?” For a moment there was no movement; then the table slowly rose about two inches, hovered for several seconds and descended.
Money levitated two things that day, the second being Randy. When the table rose, so did he. His feet didn’t touch ground until he was down the road and safely inside his house.
He eventually returned to our home, and when he did, he was a believer.
Haunted Canyons, by Dotty Holcomb Doherty
Native Americans have lived in our southwestern deserts for the past 10,000 years. Some never left.
In 1980, I worked as a naturalist on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. As part of my job, I patrolled the backcountry, backpacking into the canyon for several days. One trip took another woman and me along a remote northern trail. As we hiked, the blazing sun made the heat oppressive. Stillness surrounded us. No birds sang, no breeze whispered; we saw no one. Then, in the canyon wall, the cool shade of a shallow limestone cave beckoned. We dumped our backpacks and crawled in.
When I lay back into the coolness and closed my eyes, I heard the drumming. Not the hollow sound of a woodpecker on a tree but intricate human rhythms played on a drum. I opened my eyes and turned toward my friend, who was staring at me wide-eyed. “Did you hear that?” I asked. She nodded.
Quick as the jack rabbits that frequent this country, we high-tailed it out of the cave and down to a creek. Scorching silence enveloped us, the only sound the pounding of our hearts in our ears.
When I returned to the rim and told my supervisor, he nodded and told another story of a young ranger intent on sleeping in an Indian ruin in southern Utah, a remote site said to be haunted. No one was supposed to stay there at night, but this ranger was determined to refute the ghost theory.
As night fell, his friends set up camp across the ravine from the canyon wall. They had heard the ghost stories; no way were they going to be up there in the dark.
The young ranger laughed and climbed into the ruins, a village where hundreds of rooms remained tucked into the soaring sandstone cliff. Ancient pottery shards and corn cobs littered the floors; petroglyphs of bighorn sheep, turkeys and tiny footprints decorated nearby walls. Though he had planned to stay inside one of the rooms, he decided that seemed too blasphemous and chose instead to lie in a doorway. He still would be able to tell his friends he slept in the ruins.
But sleep never came. The night closed in. The sliver of moon set; the breeze hushed. Then, in darkness so full he could barely see his own hand, the footsteps began. Careful footsteps. All night, he felt them step over him, back and forth, as they walked in and out of the room.
At the first hint of dawn, the young ranger rose, surprised at the quaking in his thighs. He paused, gazing at the empty rooms. “Good-bye,” he whispered, then turned and began his descent.
The Familiar Voice, by Dennis Doyle
A curious thing happened to me many years ago after the death of a hunting partner, a fellow named Charlie. Charlie and I had a goose hunting lease, and we spent at least one day a week shooting together on a farm near St. Michaels. This was back in the day when the season went from October through February, so we got to know each other well.
He led a fairly wild social life. That lifestyle conflicted with his many medical conditions and hastened his demise. He was only in his early 50s. The wake was at his favorite Baltimore tavern.
A few days after the wake, his church memorial was to be held. Knowing Charlie’s feelings on such things, I instead accepted an invitation for a duck hunt on the Potomac with another friend of ours, Blair. I knew Charlie would have approved.
We set up our decoys in the early morning, off an island in the middle of the river, and took up our stands. The early flights were a little slow in developing, and Blair moved around a bit, looking for additional foliage to add to our makeshift hides.
Near the water overlooking our decoy spread, I had spaced out in a daydream when I heard Blair’s voice behind me hiss, “Dennis, don’t move.” I froze and, with minimum movement of my head, looked intently about.
When I finally saw the birds, they were almost overhead and wheeling to make another pass at our decoys. I slipped my safety off and got ready for them. But at the last minute they flared off in a panic.
Behind me I heard the brush crashing as Blair appeared bearing an armful of evergreen boughs. As he looked at the departing birds all he could say was, “Whoops. Didn’t see ’em. Sorry.”
“But you warned me not to move just a minute ago.” I protested.
“No, I didn’t say anything. I just came up from back of the island.”
It was then I realized that it wasn’t Blair’s voice I had heard.
My recently departed friend Charlie apparently hadn’t attended his memorial service, either. The sound of the distinctly familiar voice over my shoulder convinced me he had decided to go along on the duck hunt.
Duppy, by Valerie Lester
Up the stairs and tries to find me
Fast my eye
Run I fly
Tripping on my nightdress falling
Cold my neck
Spirit strives to stay behind me
Touch me not
Shriek I cry
Heart forever playmate calling
Harm you not
Love to visit those who stay here
I’m your friend
Lonely is without some pleasure
What I seek
Tell me how you found the way here
Few they are
Come this far
What a brave one you are, treasure
Run and run
To the top
Nowhere left for me to fly to
Small and small
Wait and wait, all is quiet
Break of day
Birds at play
Nanny calls someone to cry to
Voice won’t squeak
Duppy hasn’t said goodbye yet
Toys in the Attic, by Helena Mann-Melnitchenko
On an evening when the trees stood stark and bare against a sky drained of all color, Ellie drove home early. Her little charge had died, a girl with an intense gaze and wisdom born of pain in her blue eyes. She was her first patient after Jack’s death. For weeks she had watched as the girl’s hair fell out, leaving intricate golden designs on the pillow.
Ellie knew at once that something was different as she stepped over the threshold of her old house. She glanced at the narrow, steep stairway and shuddered. Long fingers, cold as Antarctic floes, touched the back of her neck. “I must be really tired, imagining all sorts of things,” she said and sank into a chair. Exhausted, she slept a long time.
A small noise woke her in that longest hour of the night.
At the bottom of the stairs, one hand on the polished banister, she listened to the rhythmic sounds of wood on wood: a cradle rocking. She remembered the dolls in the attic, meant for the daughter she and Jack had longed for in vain.
Next day she was eager to get home to a house no longer empty. A hurricane was brewing deep in the Atlantic; clouds scurried across the silver moon. She switched on a yellow light. Would it lure the little girl for she knew who she was down the steep, creaky stairs?
When the wind had fallen, again she stood at the bottom of the stairs listening to the rhythmic sounds of wood on wood, hesitating. “No, I mustn’t disturb her. Her presence is gift enough. She’ll come down when she’s ready.”
The first snow came late in December. That shining night, the child came down the stairs, dressed in a filmy white dress, as specters often are. Delicate as wings of butterflies, fragile as happiness, with a wisp of a smile, she slid into a chair. They sat companionably silent, hearing the moaning of the wind and the banging of a shutter against the aging house.
She came often during that long winter. Later she danced on the snowy lawn, leaving no footprints, as Ellie watched from a window. She called her Snowgirl.
Spring came. The days were again graced with sunshine. Ellie looked for her in the white petals of the cherry tree Jack had planted, but Snowgirl was nowhere to be seen.
Snowgirl, dressed in stardust and wings of butterflies, never came into the brightly lit room again. Sometimes, though, when the wind blows from the north, Ellie hears the soft rocking of a dolls’ cradle in the attic.
What He Saw through the Window, by Ben Miller
My cousin Paul lived in West Virginia and worked nights as a cashier at the race tracks in Charles Town back in the 1950s and ’60s. Arriving home late, he would read the newspaper or the racing form until he relaxed enough to sleep.
One night he was reading at the kitchen table when he felt the hair stand up on the back of his neck. He looked up to see a large creature, glowing about the face, seemingly suspended in the air, staring at him through the window.
Paul got up, turned out the light and went upstairs to bed. His wife, Frances, told me she awoke to find him shivering under the covers. He wouldn’t say what was wrong.
The next day Paul looked outside for tracks, but found none. The house was built on a hill and the kitchen window was 10 feet above the ground.
Paul could never explain what he saw through the window, but newspapers in other parts of West Virginia reported similar sightings.
One description turned up in the novel Messiah, by Gore Vidal: In West Virginia, a creature 10 feet tall, green with a red face and exuding a ghastly odor, was seen to stagger out of a luminous globe. … He was observed by a woman and four boys. … Later in the company of the sheriff and well-armed posse, they returned to the scene … to find both monster and conveyance gone. But even the skeptical sheriff and his men could detect … an unfamiliar odour, sharp and sickening among the clean pines.
The Premonition, by Alice Snively
The telephone rang. When I lifted the receiver, an electric shock charged up my arm and through my whole body. It wasn’t a short in the phone line. It was a premonition coming to pass. Before a word was said, I knew the caller.
A voice I’d not heard in decades spoke my name.
“Oh my God,” I replied, “I’ve been thinking of you nonstop for three days.”
The deep voice quietly answered, “Of course you have. I’ve been working nonstop for three days to find you.”
Premonitions are, let’s face it, spooky, and this one was amazingly so. The voice belonged to a man with whom I’d had no contact in 30 years. I had no idea where he was. He isn’t American, doesn’t live in this country. But for three days prior to the call, thoughts, visions and dreams of him had invaded my mind.
This gentleman was a Mexican whom I’d met when he was an exchange student studying in Indiana, where I grew up. A strong bond formed between us, not so much romantic as intellectual and, for want of a better word, spiritual. We spent a lot of time together for more than two years.
We went off to university in our separate countries, and in the glow of that new life lost touch with each other. I never forgot him but figured he’d long ago forgotten me. Turns out he’d not forgotten and was determined to reconnect. He still lives in Mexico, but since that fateful call, we e-mail nearly every day and talk most weekends. While we each have spouses and happy lives, we’ve rediscovered our special bond and have vowed never to lose touch again.
Premonitions: How and why do they happen? Why the electric jolt? Perhaps only the spirits that come ’round on All Hallows Eve know the answers. Ask them … if you dare.
The Ghostly Guests, by Michelle Steel
Calvert County is full of lost souls. Just ask the Russells of Dunkirk. Their home, just a stone’s throw from a private cemetery, is haunted by ghostly guests.
A recent family dinner was interrupted by an apparently thirsty spirit. The Russells could only watch, frozen with fear, as a Pepsi can slid slowly across the table.
“It was like being in a horror film,” said Mary, who swears that condensation was not the culprit. Her hands trembled and her voice cracked as she summoned the courage to yell through her chattering teeth, Stop!
Mysterious noises in the dark squeaking floors, slamming doors, knocks on the door, flickering lights often wake the family.
“They only come out after dark,” Mary said. “They play little pranks on us to let us know they’re here.”
Even the family’s pets are haunted by the spirits. Their three dogs often wake in the middle of the night. With their teeth bared and hackles up, the dogs bark at what seems to be just an empty hall.
The cat will not enter the unoccupied bedroom at the end of the hallway and unnerves the family with its howls.
One night, Tom spotted the cat lurking around the corner.
Hullooo it moaned, in a most un-catlike voice.
“What the hell?” said Tom, frightened by the unnatural sound. “It was not a normal sound a cat makes,” Tom said. “It was really creepy.”
Hullooo the cat moaned again.
A breath of cold air blew across the back of Tom’s neck as he spied a ghostly shadow creeping next to the cat. He broke out in goose bumps. Frightened and alone, he waited, with all the lights on, for the family to return.
Another night, Mary thought the thick fog was playing tricks with her mind when the patio light began to flash. When she ventured out into the night for a closer look, an eerie male voice called out her name. Terrified, she fled inside, leaving her slippers behind in the fog. When Tom went out on the patio, all he found was empty darkness.
The most recent haunting left Mary so shaken she called a psychic for help.
Mary and daughter Amanda were in the basement doing laundry, when Amanda let out a blood-curdling scream. A transparent man, cut off from the waist down, floated in the corner. The terrified women felt a cool breeze, sending goose bumps up and down their arms. Amanda was as white as the sheets Mary was washing.
“It was definitely a ghost,” Amanda said. “I froze. I was paralyzed.”
The psychic confirmed the presence of at least two spirits in the family home: a German woman who appears most often in the kitchen and a man who prowls the halls and hangs out in the laundry room.
Perhaps they are seeking company.
The Lady in White, by Margaret Tearman
My cousin Janine came downstairs, joining my husband and me at the kitchen table in our 200-year-old farmhouse. She looked tired. She had arrived late the previous night after a long flight from Alaska.
“Did you sleep well?” I asked.
“Not really,” she replied. “Are we the only ones in the house?”
“Just the three of us,” I said.
“I woke up in the middle of the night,” she said, “and I swear there was a woman in the doorway.”
I told Janine she must have been dreaming.
“No,” she insisted, “I wasn’t dreaming. I saw a young woman, with long hair, in a white robe. She stood in the doorway for just a few minutes, smiled and then left.”
We couldn’t explain Janine’s vision and simply dismissed it.
Several years later, another over-night guest visited from California.
On the second morning of her visit, Elen came downstairs and, a little self-consciously, asked me if anyone had ever seen a ghost in our guest bedroom.
Not immediately recalling Janine’s nighttime visitor, I said, “Not to my knowledge.”
“Last night, I swear there was a woman in the doorway, just standing there, smiling at me.”
I felt the chills run up my spine.
“What was she wearing?” I asked.
“A long white robe,” Elen said. “She just stood there, playing with her long hair. She didn’t move. She wasn’t scary, but I was still frightened.”
Janine and Elen have never met, and I never told Elen about Janine’s experience in the same bedroom.
Neither my husband nor I have seen our ghost. But occasionally, when I descend the stairs late at night, I feel as if I’m being watched from the doorway leading to the guest bedroom. When I turn around, nobody is there.
It must be my imagination.