Monday, October 26, 2009

A Halloween Ghost Story

There was an old farmhouse that, until it was torn down, stood in the middle of a three acre plot of land in Mansfield, Texas.

The land belongs to Season's parents, who had purchased the otherwise barren expanse with the intent of building a home on the northwest edge of the property closest to the main road. The home was built, the perimeter fenced, and the rest of the land used to hold the many pieces of heavy equipment that Season’s step-father, uses for his sand and gravel company. After toying with the idea of renovating the sixty year old farmhouse and turning it into a guest house, they decided against it and now only used it for storage.

Last summer, Season received an invitation from her parents for us to spend a few days at their home, so we packed our overnight bags and made the four hour drive from our home in Oklahoma, looking forward to a pleasant weekend.

For the record, Season and I share an interest in the paranormal. We both enjoy horror movies, scary novels, and the occasional worthwhile spooky documentary. We’ve also tried our hand at "ghost hunting" once during a ghost tour in San Antonio, Texas.

What really captures our imaginations; however, are EVP (Electronic Voice Phenomenon) audio recordings. Some of the anomalies that we had heard on these recordings could easily be written off using more earthbound than otherworldly explanations, yet there are some that even a rational mind must admit are beyond the scope of common experience and understanding.

In any case, beyond having heard or read about such occurrences, we had never had a personal experience involving a disembodied voice.

Not until the weekend that we spent at Season’s parents' home, in July of 2007.

We arrived in Mansfield late on a Friday evening, and after a little catching up, we decided to turn in. Laying awake in bed talking, not quite able to sleep just yet, our conversation turned to the old farmhouse that stood about fifty yards off the south side of the house. I was as much enticed by the farmhouse's seemingly ancient, decrepit beauty as I was impressed by its subtle yet unmistakable air of foreboding. I mentioned how creepy it had looked to me under the light of the moon as we approached the house, and how perfect a setting it seemed for the types of hauntings I was so fond of reading about on dark wintry nights. I asked what it was like inside and she responded by telling me she didn't know, she had never been inside.

"My step-dad never let me inside." "He says it's not safe in there."

At breakfast the next morning though, the notion that I'd planted in her head was alive and kicking and she broached the subject of the old farmhouse with her step-father.

"It's a dangerous place, there's bats in the attic and I don't want you poking around in there," was all he would say when asked about it, attempting to turn the conversation from the subject at hand by asking if we wanted to ride the four wheelers after breakfast.

An hour after breakfast, Season informed me, with a mischievous grin, that we would be "investigating the old farmhouse" just as soon as her step-father headed into town on some errands. Gabriel had gone off with his grandmother to a water park so we would have the whole place to ourselves.

The sun was straight overhead as we approached the doorway of the old farmhouse. We hesitated at the entrance, casting a glance back at the house to ensure no lectures about venturing into unsound structures would be delivered over dinner that night. The door less entryway opened up to a fairly large room crowded with cardboard boxes and a large worktable stacked with various grease stained engine parts. To the right, there was yet another doorway that led into a much smaller room. The way into this room was made impenetrable by more stacks of boxes and crates. Off to the left, I saw an even smaller doorway that exposed a rickety flight of stairs leading, presumably, to the attic above.

The interior was fairly well-lit and we were both engrossed in our own thoughts and busily exploring when we heard the thump overhead.

I wish we'd had a video camera to record our reactions to this sound, because we both nearly jumped out of our skins.

I started to mutter "Did you hear that" when Season cut me off with a swatting of her arm and a sharp "Shhhhh!" Dead silence ensued for the next thirty seconds as we stood there until I finally spoke again in a whisper. "Could be the bats Buddy warned us about?” The noise came again, this time more distinct, not directly overhead but further toward the back, as of something in the far corner of the attic above our heads. Immediately our heads turned toward the doorway to our left, the doorway leading to the short flight of steps into the attic. Season was about to say something when it came a third time, actually loosening dirt from the rafters and punctuated by a dragging shuffle on the floorboards overhead.

I said "It sounds like there's someone up there..."What we heard next was a voice, soft and low, muffled by the rafters and the overhead floorboards that separated us from the attic and it called the words:

"David, is that you?"

One moment we were in that dark, stuffy farmhouse, the next we were out in the bright sunlight with the breeze blowing in our faces as we stepped lively through the tall grass back toward the main house. It was that quick, that synchronous.

Once away from whatever danger we may have been in or imagined we were in, within the safety of sunlight, you'd think that we would have found ourselves a safe space somewhere and sat talking about what we had heard, or what we thought we had heard, but we didn't. We simply turned heels quickly, left, and not another mention of the experience was had that day until we found ourselves in bed again late that night, unable to sleep and unable to forget.

I brought up the topic and we discussed what we thought we'd heard, and danced around a million different possible explanations for what it could have been, but the explanation that occurred to me as we lay there in bed, sleepless, was a bit more frightening.

"Maybe there's someone living up there that nobody knows about...

"The idea sent shivers up and down my spine, offering up images of escaped mental patients creeping onto unsuspecting people's properties in the dead of night and it alarmed me to the point where I actually got out of bed, stood at the window looking out onto the property offering a clear view of the moon washed farmhouse, and actually considered either going out there with a weapon from the house or calling the local police to check it out. We could have been mistaken in what we heard though and the last thing we wanted to do (apart from admitting to her step-father that we had betrayed his wishes to keep out) was call the police to investigate the overactive imaginings of a young couple.

So we determined that in the morning, we would go out to investigate yet again. This time as we approached the farmhouse (not having mentioned our concerns to her parents for fear of causing undue worry) I was armed with a baseball bat I'd found lying on the grass and Season, perhaps not entirely convinced the sounds had come from something living, with a long-handled flashlight and a mini-cassette recorder she found in the house.

Our second entrance to the farmhouse proved to be a lot more ordinary than my imagination had fancied it might be, and the notion that someone may have actually taken up residence in that ramshackle old home was quickly put to rest on a second look. Also the likeliness that anyone attempting to climb up the flight of stairs leading to the attic would most likely crash through the rotted wood and break a leg, or worse.

We stood listening in silence for what seemed like an eternity.

Nothing, no sounds except for the occasional crack of the old wood settling. We decided that since we had come this far, we were damned if we were going to leave without a good and thorough search and so we set about the task of figuring out a way to ascend the steps leading to the attic.

I'd spotted a fairly fresh plank of wood about six feet long, two feet wide, and three inches thick, lying in the yard of the farmhouse as we approached, so I came up with the idea that perhaps we could lay the plank lengthwise across the top of the steps to crawl up.

Once we had constructed the ramp and after another five minutes quietly arguing over who should be the first to go, I went up the length of the plank. By this time the sun had emerged and the sunlight cast through the holes in the roof was good enough so that I could see everything. As I stood on the floorboards of the attic, determining if they were in well enough shape to sustain my weight, I scanned the large area before me, baseball bat at the ready.

When I look back on it I honestly don't know what I was expecting to see up there in the attic, but whatever it may have been, whether flesh and bone or otherwise, there was nothing to be found. Only a severely rusted bedspring, an equally old mattress leaning askew against the near wall, a scattering of crates, and a decrepit rocking chair that sat in the farthest corner of the attic facing the wall.

I stood there staring at the back of that chair until Season's voice, directly behind me, startled me out of my daze. "It’s empty." I turned around to find that as I'd stood there taking an inventory of the space before me, she had made her way up the plank and into the attic.

She was aiming the beam of her flashlight and scanning the attic. "So much for our stranger in the attic theory." I added, motioning to the inch-thick layer of dust that covered every visible square foot of the floorboards. If anyone had been in the attic, it was a long, long time before we had ever arrived. I'm not sure how long we stood there, but it was long enough for the two of us to determine that none of our explanations fit what we had heard.

As we turned to begin our descent back down our makeshift ramp, Season stopped and fished a blank cassette out of her pocket and inserted it into the recorder. I said something like "Hey, don't bother, let’s just get out of here." but she informed me that she was going to leave the micro-cassette behind in RECORD mode. She set it down on one of the floorboards just inside the attic entryway. "Just to satisfy my curiosity," she said and we left.

We never did tell anyone what we had been up to that day, or the day previous. We were set to head back home early the following morning and we both agreed it was far better to exchange pleasantries on the final evening of our visit rather than to choke the air with questions about previous tenants, the history of the land, or the possibility of spirits that linger after death. According to Season, things like that didn't go over too well with her step-father.

We realized that in order to retrieve the cassette recorder Season had left behind, we would not only have to brave the rickety ramp of our invention once again, but we'd also have to make it out there early enough so that her no one would see us. We also decided that it would be best to take down the makeshift ramp, so proof of our actions wouldn't be discovered. We resolved to wake up half an hour before dawn and sneak out to the old farmhouse one last time.

When we got there, this time stepping our way through the dark with the aid of a flashlight, everything was just as we'd left it. No signs of any ghostly disturbance, no violently overturned boxes, no footprints in the dust other than those we'd created ourselves. I cautiously but hurriedly crawled my way up the wooden plank, reached a hand into the darkness, and retrieved the cassette recorder which was in the exact place we had left it the day before. I made my way down and we took down the ramp.

I was patting the dust and dirt from my pants legs when it came again. The same sudden, sharp thump that we had heard two days prior. My first thought was that Season must have heard something moving up there before the thump sounded, because when I looked at her, her head was already turned upwards and her eyes were fixed on the attic entrance directly above us. My eyes followed her stare and I looked up, but there was nothing discernible in the darkness beyond the threshold. Season had just began to ask me if I'd heard it too but her words broke off when another thud, this time more jarring than the first, almost violent in its force, sent a fistful of dust shooting from the rafters. The horrible, sickening shuffling sound came next, and the image that entered my mind then was that of someone, or something, dragging itself across the floor almost directly over our heads, approaching the attic entry.

In an instant the two of us were stumbling through the dark toward the front entrance and within five seconds we were back out into the cool predawn air. As we passed through the doorway of the old farmhouse for the last time, we heard the voice again, this time much closer, coming from atop the attic stairs where we had stood only seconds ago, this time much clearer, raspy, nearly gravelly, calling after us. And the words it said were:

"David...don't leave me all alone!"

We stopped about ten feet short of her parents' back porch and tried to regain our composure. Season suddenly remembered the micro-cassette recorder, checked it out closely and announced "It's turned off…halfway through the tape.” “As if someone shut it off on purpose." I tried to reason that maybe the batteries had run out, but she quickly dispelled that notion when she pressed the REWIND button and it kicked immediately into life. It only took a few seconds for the tape to reach the start of the spool, and just as she was about to press the PLAY button, the back door swung open and Season's mother, Charla, was standing there in her morning robe.

"What are you two doing up so early?" she asked. "Oh, just getting the car situated" I quickly replied and we darted back inside the house to have breakfast.

It wasn't until we said our farewells, and hit the road once again; all the while warily eyeing the old farmhouse as we made our way down the long gravel driveway headed for the main road with Gabriel safely conked out in the back seat; that we were finally alone and able to listen to what it was that may have been recorded.

I wasn't certain that anything would have come through on the tape, but I wanted to be able to listen without having to strain to hear over sound of the engine so as soon as we'd gone about a mile, I pulled the car off to the side of the road under the shade of a tree and shut the engine off.

The first sound head on the tape were Season's own words ("Just to satisfy my curiosity"), then the creaking and groaning of the floorboards and the racket of our footfalls as we made our way down the plank and exited the farmhouse. Five minutes of silence ensued, only the occasional sound of the old structure settling in on itself, then another five or six minutes, then the sound of an airplane flying by in the distance, then more silence. Just as the tape was about to reach the point where it had mysteriously stopped on itself, I heard something...

On first impression it sounded like someone breathing in short, shallow breaths. I was opening my mouth to ask Season to stop the tape and rewind it, when I realized the sound was only getting louder. I could tell by the expression on Season's face that I was not, in fact, hearing things. She was hearing it too. What came next, though, sent shivers down my spine and made the sounds we'd heard in the farmhouse, frightening and inexplicable though they were, seem like nothing more than a precursor. The breaths seemed to be getting louder, and although no sound of movement could be heard, I got the distinct impression that something was drawing nearer to the microphone. It frightened me to think that the very cassette recorder Season now held in trembling hands could have come so close to, or may even have been touched by, whatever it was that was causing that horrible sound.

The breathing faded, almost abruptly, followed by approximately ten seconds of absolute silence.

Then the singing began. It was quite unmistakably, and most distinctly, the voice of a woman and although I could not make out the words, she was singing something. A lullaby, perhaps? To this day I am not sure, even though we've listened to the tape hundreds of times since and have tried amplifying the sound through various means. It is certainly not a melody I, or Season, or anyone else we've shared the recording with, are familiar with.

It isn't that horrible breathing or the faint yet undeniable strain of song delivered by that mysterious voice that still, to this day, haunts my mind in the quiet dark before sleep overtakes me. Rather, it is the final three seconds of that recording that will always stay with me, and will always serve as proof to my mind that despite our best efforts to argue to the contrary, there are things that happen in this life that are beyond the bounds of rational explanation.

The singing voice stopped abruptly and was replaced by a dry, hoarse giggle. A hideous, insane laughter that erupted into a cackle just as an invisible finger reached out, brushed against the microphone, and pressed STOP.

~HAPPY HALLOWEEN!~

2 Comments:

Blogger MsPsycho said...

Great story. I always love a good haunting....lol.

19/1/10 11:19  
Blogger andrew said...

Great ending. Love stories with a good ending. Not too scary, not too boring, just perfect.:)

9/2/10 18:53  

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