Monday, October 31, 2011

In Your Words: Halloween Edition 2011

(Enter creepy laughter...)

There is strangeness all around us.
This is our 2nd annual Halloween Edition. Again, I asked friends and readers to submit a story of a strange experience that they have had, whether it be paranormal, spiritual, spooky, or down right scary. And again, I am pretty amazed at the number of responses we received.

There is strangeness all around us, folks. We travel through our 3-dimensional world without much thought most of the time. What phenomenon we do know about is a microcosm of what is actually out there. So, grab a bowl of popcorn, pop open your favorite brand of soda and lets get this show on the long dark country road...

Cassie Ewurs: When I was 14 me and one of my best friends and her cousin and her cousin's boyfriend went to a real haunted house that they had heard of. I don't remember where it was, but we drove down along dirt roads and it was in the country. It was a huge abandoned house with lots of old farm equipment and stuff in the yard. We pulled up in front of this house and we had head lights shining on it 'cause we were deciding if we where gonna go in or not. Then all of a sudden in one of the upstairs windows there was a dark human figure with glowing eyes!

"Eyes of Doom" Mixology by Cveckian
We all freaked out and turned around in the driveway and sped down the dirt road. For awhile going down the dirt road we could still see the dark figure and glowing eyes and the driver was doing like 50 mph.

I guess the story behind the house was a family of five got killed in there an nobody has lived there since. It was super freaky though.

Lil' Misfortune: It was Halloween and the children were still dressed up from Trick or Treating. The year was 1975.

My husband was driving the old station wagon and my best friend and I were telling our kids real ghost stories as we bumped along the old deserted road. The moon was full and the crispiness in the air made us shivery cold. We were feeling fearless as we told the old stories - the ones we grew up knowing - to our young and impressionable children.

We were telling a story about the Metz Mud Man who, according to legend, lives under the one lane cement bridge that spans across the  Skunk River in the little town of Metz, Iowa. It seems that he claimed the old bridge and the river his home many years ago. "People we knew" when we were teenagers had heard all the stories about how, on a fall night long ago, the Mud Man had first risen out of the river and sneaked up behind their car that was parked on the bridge. He was tall and thin, with long scraggly hair, covered in mud, with mud and weeds dripping from his hands and his hair, and his beard and his clothes.

The next day after the teens did not return home, their car was found empty and deserted with mud hand prints on the door handles and the windows, and "drag marks" in the mud down into the river under the bridge, where it seemed that the young people had been dragged. The legend was that if you were brave enough to stand on the bridge on Halloween in a  full moon and throw pebbles into the water where the two teens had disappeared so many years before, that the Mud Man would rise up out of the muddy river and chase you until you couldn't run any more.
"Metz Mudman"  Mixology by Cveckian
Our children were very quiet as we told our story and finally, squeaky little voices piped up, "Aw come on... Were not scared! That's not REALLY true is it mom? You are just trying to scare us!"
At this point the winding road finally approached the bridge. On the side of the bridge in big red graffiti style letters were the words written in red: BEWARE! THE MUD MAN IS STILL KICKING!

Everyone in the car screamed and even I got goosebumps as the car hurried across the bridge to make a speedy getaway. A mile or so up the road we thought that we were safe and far away from that awful place but suddenly just as we started to ease back into our comfort zones, a large elm tree appeared at the top of the hill. As we approached it we were stunned and horrified to see that it's shape looked EXACTLY like a huge demonic dragon with a huge eye and an open mouth... Even my husband got spooked... And with it's eyes glinting in the dark like a spark in the night and his large fiery mouth wide open, we drove our vehicle right through it.

Michele Jaeger Jaracz: There was a ghost touching me, blowing on my neck and constantly pestering me for months. I saw him one night and I scared him as much as he scared me. Then the touching and breathing on me started. During that time my insomnia worsened and I kept seeing what was a Jawa sized figure in a black robe running across the basement. I started drinking heavily to be able to ignore it and it finally stopped. For now. I've been hearing and seeing ghosts and spirits for most of my life.

Tommy Acuff: For about a year, I worked the New store in my neck of the woods. It was something of a thrill, since we haven't had a New store in 20 years, around here. Kind of neat to work in a place where fixtures aren't dented, and all the equipment works like it's supposed to.

One of the first nights I worked there, the only two people in the store were me and Tina, my office worker. I was sitting in the office, sending e-mail, and saw something dart by the door. I only saw it for a fraction of a second, but knew that it was bigger than a mouse. I got up to look to see, but couldn't find anything. That hallway dead ends at the restrooms. I even checked them, looking to see if a possum or a raccoon had wandered in, and gone in the doors. The store, though new and next to an upscale retirement community, was quite rural, and such things weren't out of the question. Tina saw me looking, and asked what I was looking for. I told her I'd seen an animal, or I thought I had.
"Oh," she said. "You probably just saw our cat."

"We have a cat?"
"Paranormal Paws" Mixology by Cveckian

"No," she said. "We have a ghost cat."

Seems a few of them had seen the cat out of the corner of their eyes since the store opened. They'd do the same thing: go looking for it, and not find anything.

I saw the same thing a couple more times in my time working there.

The other story I have about the place comes from my grocery manager.

He was closing the store, and doing his final walk through the back room. He walks through the loading bay, and hears a door slam. There's training room back there, and the door to a supply closet. He checks both. The supply closet is empty, and the training room is locked.

As he goes to leave the back room, he hears the noise again. It's definitely the sound of a door slamming. It sounds like the training room. He goes to the back, hair on his neck standing up. He finds the door still locked. He flips the light on (the switch is on the outside of the room, and on a timer--a fact that frustrates you when you're in the training room trying to read, and the light goes out on you). There's nobody in the room, he can see through the window. He opens the door, and nobody's there. The only thing he noted was it felt like an air conditioner had been running in there. We laughed about it later, because despite being a new store, the back room was always hotter than hell, and we joked we could use a paranormal air conditioner....

Beyond that, the only odd thing to report was my poor customer service manager having to go check on the alarms more often than normal. As the manager who lived closest to the store, she was obliged to meet the police if the alarms went off. I've had to do it, but only twice in my 8 years. Every 6 weeks or so, though, she'd have to go because the motion sensors had triggered. Usually, you can chalk it up to a display balloon waving a in a ventilation draft, or maybe a holiday decoration coming free from its moorings. But, she never found a thing. It could be a rodent....but given the history of ghost cats? Maybe more annoying, than spooky. Grocery people need sleep, too!

PJ McManus: The best place to go trick-or-treating, at least as far as I was concerned as a kid, was Forestdale, though we never called it that. It’s still one of Des Moines’ best kept secrets; a quiet little alcove to the southernmost end of Beaverdale at the intersection of Maquoketa and Germania Drives, but also encompassing Forestdale, Lanewood, and Waveland. Of course, my sister and cousins didn’t agree with me. You could get more and better candy on the west side out near Dowling, which is where we lived, but Grandma and Grandpa’s house on Maquoketa seemed positively built for Halloween. It was big and tall and spooky, pretty white stucco with an ancient red tile roof during the day, but which cast eerie shadows and creaked terrifically at night. The same was true for every house around, and there was even a picturesque little gingerbread cottage at the end of the lane which seemed to tilt oddly to one side. Apparently it wasn’t my imagination. I was by there the last time I visited home and saw that the gingerbread house had been condemned.

So when it was my turn to pick out our haunts for Halloween I always chose Grandma and Grandpa’s as home base. This probably only happened two or three times growing up, but the memories are fairly seared into my brain. It’s true that the candy wasn’t as good, what kind of kid wants to get a handful of Werther’s on Beggar’s Night?  But afterwards we’d return to the grand old house and if the weather was fair count out our loot and tell ghost stories on the patio which was on the roof of the garage. I half remember a mostly grown-up Halloween party somewhere else on the street, but the only clear memory that I have o it f is that people were actually bobbing for apples.  That was the only time I’d ever seen it in real life. What I do know I’ll never forget, though, is the pretty little girl with the soft golden curls in the pink pinafore dress.

Maquoketa Drive obviously takes its name from the little town south of Dubuque along the Mississippi, famous for the great caves which lie north and west of the city. Germania takes its name, or rather was given its name, by the man who built the whole neighborhood, an eccentric old architect by the name of Burt German. He was born and raised in Maquoketa and retained a strong affection for his hometown even after moving to Des Moines. In any case, German was personally responsible for building what may be the most architecturally interesting section of the city. Within a span of about three blocks you have everything from Spanish Colonial to Tudor Revival and even a touch of  Oriental Pagoda. Even as a kid I knew that the neighborhood was different, special somehow.

When I was small we would often go to Grandma and Grandpa’s on Sunday, either after church in the morning or after a larger supper at home. There were a fair number of other kids in the neighborhood and so I made friends with many of them and we would wile away the afternoons exploring Close’s Creek and playing football on the median which sits in the middle of the drive. Because it wasn’t my neighborhood though, and because I wasn’t there every weekend I wasn’t always altogether sure who all of the kids were. Andy and Jeff were always there, they went to Holy Trinity, and a tomboy called Katie who went to Meredith was around a lot of the time because her dad lived up on Lanewood, but he only had her every other weekend. The other kids all kind of blend together in my memory, except for the pretty little girl with the soft golden curls in the pink pinafore dress.

"The Girl in the Pink Pinafore Dress A" Mixology by Cveckian
I remember the first time I saw her. My grandparents’ garage was a walk-in with a patio for the roof from which the backyard sloped upward toward the street behind. Grandpa kept some of his tools downstairs in the garage and some of them upstairs in a shed near the garden but would frequently forget which ones he needed. I’d been sent upstairs to fetch some kind of a trowel and so was searching furiously in the little woodshed next to the patio when I heard the soft footfalls behind me.

I turned to see at little girl just about my age, maybe seven or eight. She was a slightly taller than me, but most kids were a lot taller than me, and she had the most perfect golden hair that I’ve seen to this day. I remember at the time thinking, “Oh, so that’s what the books mean by ‘golden hair,’” because I’d only ever seen regularly blond-haired people, but once you’ve seen a truly golden-haired beauty you don’t ever forget it. What was really strange, though, was the way she was dressed. She looked like she’d walked out of a storybook, kind of like the pictures of Alice from Alice in Wonderland. Her blouse was white and very formal looking, and she had on an apron-like pinafore dress with sort of pink-check trim. She wore white leggings and had pretty little black shoes which looked to me like they would hurt your feet. I’d never seen the girl before, so I stuck out my hand.

“Hello,” I said. “Who are you?"

She didn’t say anything, instead she just smiled a little. Now I knew the people who lived on either side of my grandparents, and so who shared this sloping backyard, but they were all too old to have kids this young.  People were pretty free with their yards back then, but I couldn’t figure out how she could have gotten up there without actually coming through one of the houses.

“Are you here visiting your grandparents?"

She shook her head back and forth rather forcefully, then, giving me a curious little smile, went skipping away. I stood dumbfounded for a minute or two and then made to follow her, but as I came around the corner of the house she was gone.

Of course, I’d taken longer than I ought to in order to get the trowel, and so Grandpa groused a bit when I returned to his workshop. I tried to explain about the pretty little girl but he would hear none of it. I mentioned it later at home but my parents passed over it without comment, though I did notice my sister give me a curious sort of a look.

I have no idea how much time passed before I saw her again. I know that one of the next times I was down by the creek with Andy and Jeff. We were hunting frogs and Andy had just caught one which was now wriggling wildly in his hands. They were arguing about whether or not he was big enough for fried frog’s legs, and how they weren’t sure that their mom even knew how to cook them properly since she was from the city, when suddenly the little girl appeared from out of the trees on top of the bank.

“Hi,” I said again. “Wanna catch some frogs?”

The boys looked at me like I was crazy. How was this pretty little girl all dressed up for Sunday dinner supposed to come frog-leggin’ with us? But they didn’t have to worry. She shook her head again as before and smiled in the same sort of way. I turned to Andy and Jeff and asked if they knew who she was. They said no, but that they’d seen her around before and that she was kind of weird. I looked back up and said, “Hey, who are your parents?” Getting no response I tried again, “Are you visiting your grandparents?” She shook her head once more and turned away, skipping off into the trees, still wearing the same old-style dress, her soft golden curls bouncing as she went.

“Creepy,” Andy and Jeff decided. They said that their dad had seen her once before and had told them to stay away from her, but didn’t really explain why. It was at that point that we realized that we still had a frog to deal with. After much arguing we decided to let him go but by the time we reached that conclusion we’d already forgotten about the pretty little girl.

The median was wide enough to play a proper game of football
(Photograph by Troy Church)
The only other time I really remember interacting with her before that fateful Halloween night was during a football game one Sunday afternoon. There might have been a dozen kids out on the median, which was wide enough to play a proper game on and the only lawn flat enough to do so in the whole neighborhood. I didn’t know a lot of the kids and most them were a lot older than me, but they didn’t seem to mind my presence so I did my best just to stay out of the way. At  a certain point the ball was passed to me and I miraculously caught it. But then I froze. This had never happened before and I didn’t know what to do. I wasn’t even altogether sure which side was my team’s goal. I started running frantically and managed to avoid two much larger kids who were trying to tackle me. Then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw the little girl in the pink pinafore dress. I ran towards her, which was just past the tree line which marked one of the goals. As I did so a cry went up. I’d made a touchdown, and luckily enough for my own team. She smiled sweetly and I thanked her, but before I knew it three or four bigger kids were slapping me on the back and congratulating me. Apparently we’d won the game. I asked the kids about the girl but nobody else had seen her that time, and besides, they were too busy either celebrating our victory or mourning their defeat.

I stayed that night at Grandma and Grandpa’s and tried to ask them about it at supper. Grandma didn’t seem to pay very much attention but Grandpa listened closely and asked me precisely what the little girl looked like. I told him that she was about my age, but a little bit taller with soft golden hair and always wore an old-timey pink dress. He looked across the table at Grandma who ignored him for a time and then eventually gave him a very sharp stare in return before saying, “Dad, don’t you think it’s time we get things cleaned up and this one ready for bed?” We didn’t have any dessert that night.

I didn’t see the girl again for a long time. Grandpa died that fall, and Grandma was more or less living with us by Christmas. She was hesitant to sell the old house, however, and so in order to keep the place up, and ostensibly to prepare it for sale, we started doing dinner over there most every Sunday, after which we’d spend the afternoon cleaning the yard or working on the house. It went on the market at the beginning of the school year, and Dad was sure that we’d have it sold by Christmas. When it came time for Halloween that year it was not difficult convince the others that it would be the last chance that we’d have to spend in the house as a family, and so in addition to my sister who was home from college and a handful of cousins, my folks allowed me to invite a number of friends from school to spend the weekend at the house.

The trick-or-treating officially ended by eight o’clock, and while some of the older cousins disappeared to wreak havoc on their more unfortunate classmates,  a half-dozen or so of us went back to the house to order pizza and watch some movies. We made our way through the classic Dracula with Bela Lugosi, which was surprisingly short. The pizza arrived about halfway through, and the movie turned out to be kind of boring and so we wound up talking through the rest of it. By the time it was done we were already headlong into sharing our favorite ghost stories. The weather was pretty fair that night, especially for late October, and so my sister suggested that we head outside and build a fire in order to keep the stories going.

She was a full ten years older than us and had a lot of experience as a camp counselor, so she kept us riveted for more than an hour. A couple of the other guys had  some good ones to share, most of which got muddled some part of the way through. I, of course, had been reading books of ghost stories for weeks and had a bunch prepared, but just as I got to the high point of my first, the old story everyone knows about the man with the hook for a hand, a figure appeared from out of the trees. I saw her first, but my pause and stare attracted the attention of my audience and they turned to see the source of my shock.

Standing there in the midst of the trees, caught in a pale shaft of light streaming from the house, was the pretty little girl with the soft golden curls in the pink pinafore dress. She approached the group sitting around the old Weber grill which was now reduced to embers and sat down on a patio chair to join the rest of us. One of my buddies, in a rare show of gallantry, intuited that she must be cold without a coat and offered her his jacket. She smiled sweetly and she shook her head in reply. I glanced over at my sister who looked even more shocked than I did. Immediately I knew that she must have seen her before too.

I stumbled along with the rest of my story, but it was clear that both the evening and my storytelling had lost their steam. One by one my friends started yawning and making for the house, each of them giving the pretty little girl a strange sort of look before leaving. The cousins offered to show people where they were to sleep, ultimately leaving my sister and I alone with the little girl. Nobody said anything for a long while; she just stared silently into the fire, and together we stared right back at her. Eventually my sister got up from her place and moved into the seat next to me, leaning in close and taking my hand, all the while never taking her eyes off of the girl.

“You know her?” I asked.

She nodded. “We used to play together when I was a kid. She hasn’t aged a day"

I nodded my head. I’d noticed that she wasn’t aging along with me as well. “Who does she belong to?"

My sister paused long and hard at this one. “The house, I think,” she said at last.

Then, rising from her seat she walked over to the little girl. She knelt down right in front of her and looked her in the eye. She put one hand on the girl’s shoulder and then her lips began to move, but no sound came out. Up until this point the pretty little girl gave no indication of hearing either of us, but now she turned slightly looking at my sister. Her eyes brimmed with tears and her face collapsed into a spasm of heartbreak. She leaned into my sister and cried hard for a long time, and yet weirdly never made one single sound.

"Girl in the Pink Pinafore Dress B" Mixology by Cveckian
After a time she was done, and she released my sister and looked back at her. Then, rising from her seat she walked past my sister and over to me. She leaned over slightly and kissed me gently on my left cheek. I felt it; cool and wet, desperately cold, like being kissed by a snowstorm. Then she walked back to the far edge of the circle, opposite of the way she had come in. She turned once and gave a sweet smile to both of us, and then, skipping silently away, she was gone.

My sister was still squatting on the ground in front of the chair which the girl had occupied only moments before. We both waited for some time before doing or saying anything. Finally I spoke.

“Sis,” I said. “What did you say to her?"

She didn’t turn. She simply stared wistfully at the chair and said, “I told her that she could go home. That her people didn’t live here anymore."

“Her people?”  At this she stood and walked over to me. “Come on,” she said. “There’s something you should see."

We crept as quietly as we reasonably could through the creaky old house, my sister leading the way. The building was four stories in all; the basement was a walk-out into the garage, the second and third floors were finished with bedrooms and living space, and the fourth, so far as I knew, was an attic. But we’d never been allowed up there as long as I was around, even when we were helping to refurbish the place. I assumed that the floor had never been finished or the walls insulated, which was how the attic was at our house. In any case, my grandparents were old and basically only lived on the first floor. I’d rarely even been upstairs.

But now my sister led me up the stairs and onto the second floor. Though it had recently been recarpeted and the bathroom redone, it still had the feel of a place which had not been lived in for a long, long time. The finished woodwork shone through the darkness, and though my friends were all sleeping downstairs my sister never bothered to turn on the overhead lights, contenting herself with a lamp on an end table and the eerie glow which seemed to come from the open bathroom door. The stairs to the attic were to the far end of the hallway. We opened the door and my sister reached in, fumbling for the light which hung on a chain which ran all the way from the top of the long narrow staircase.

A slight click and an electric hum later a single bare bulb flickered to life at the top of the stairs. My sister was still taller than I was so she obstructed my view as we started up, but I was only probably halfway there when I caught sight of the object of our quest. Sitting there, at the top of the stairway, lying crookedly against the wall and blanketed with a thick layer of dust and cobwebs was a portrait of the pretty little girl with the soft golden hair in the pink pinafore dress.

I was so startled when I saw here that I nearly stumbled up the stairs. My sister reached down and helped me up to the top. Once there I could see better. The picture was striking; even beneath the dust and cobwebs the colors shone vividly and I could see that the artist had captured a kind of life in the girl which was absent in the one we had seen only moments before. A thousand questions raced through my mind, but before I could speak my sister started.

“This used to hang at the top of the stairs down below, and before you were born, before Grandma and Grandpa were so old that they couldn’t handle steps any more, we used to have to walk by it all of the time. It always gave me the creeps. When I first started talking about seeing the little girl playing outside Grandma made Grandpa bring it up here and promise never to bring it down again."

“But who is she?"

“I think that she was the daughter of the first owner of the house. Apparently they had a deaf daughter of whom they were very protective. The story is that the day that they were moving away she went playing down by the creek. They were only moving next door. They didn’t like living in the old show house because visitors would still stop by wanting to see the inside. So they spent all day moving furniture and boxes just next door.  But when the little girl wasn’t back by dinner they started to worry. By nightfall they had organized a search. They covered all of Forestdale and all of Beaverdale. The police came with dogs and never found anything, but no body ever showed up downriver. She just disappeared. Supposedly her father never really got over it, used to go down to the creek each day looking for her and did that literally until the day he died.” “How did we wind up with the picture?"

“I asked Grandpa that once, but it was in front of Grandma who gave us one of her looks.” I nodded at this and she smiled, but then went on. “He told me later that there were a few things still left in the house when they first moved, but that when they came back to get them he insisted on leaving the portrait, in case she ever showed back up. That way she’d know that they hadn’t just abandoned her."

“So where did they go?” I asked her.

“Well the man was still living here when I was really little,” she said. “But I guess that he’d died by the time I started seeing her. Maybe that’s why she started coming back here..."

We stood in silence for a long time before the portrait. After a while I said, “We’re not really going to leave it here when we sell the place, are we?"

She looked at me curiously and said, “Well, you don’t want it, do you?"

After thinking about it for a while I said, “Well I don’t know, but I think I might later."

My sister knew that my Grandma would throw a fit if she knew we had taken the thing, but we also knew that Grandma was not going to be going up to the attic to check out its contents before we sold the house. So that very night we hauled the portrait down together, which was nearly the size of us both. We covered it with the packing supplies that were still in the basement and loaded it into the back of my sister’s jeep. She took it back to college with her and has kept it in storage for me ever since. She swears once I settle down that she’ll dig it out of her attic, but to be honest, I still don’t know where I’d feel comfortable hanging it. The picture still gives me the creeps.

What I do know is that I never saw the girl again. To my knowledge nobody else has either. The house didn’t sell by Christmas, but it did the following spring, and though I’ve been back to visit the neighborhood several times, I’ve never had occasion to go walking down by Close’s Creek, or wander through the trees that line the slope up behind the old house. Somehow, though, I doubt that I’d find her. Wherever she went that night my sister sent her away I think she is still. I just hope she thinks of me sometimes, even as I think of her, and I hope the memory of that kiss burns as warmly in her heart as it did coolly on my cheek on that Halloween night so very long ago.

James Kohler: As we drove along Hawk Mountain road the full moon illuminated the sky, as a thin vapor of fog began to come across the mountain. When we made the turn onto New Bethel Church road all of our pulses sped up for a fleeting moment. We all began to feel our trip was about to get more exciting.

I pulled the car into the New Bethel Church parking lot. Cemeteries rest on either side of the parking lot, that's why we were here. Pennsylvania's first known serial killer, Mathias Schambacher is buried in this rural church graveyard. Many late night visitors have witnessed strange flying lights flickering throughout the area, and felt a strange abnormal presence nearby.
The moon illuminated the sky
Mathias was known to have killed at least a dozen people during the mid 1800's. Many believe these lost spirits may still be roaming the area, as well as the spirit of Mathias himself.

I hopped out of the car to take a look around for Mathias' gravestone, while my passengers sat admittedly frightened in the vehicle. I stepped into the older of the two cemeteries with only the moonlight guiding me along the path. As I strolled around amongst the dead, I felt a presence around, but nothing overwhelming. While meandering about I spotted colored lights reflecting off a tombstone in the far. The lights seemed to change from red, to blue, to yellow. As I attempted to whisk off and investigate I was directed to return back to the automobile. Gradually approaching the car my passengers were reporting hearing strange noises and wanted to leave immediately. Before we could leave I needed my cohorts to verify the flashing lights I had observed, both passengers exited out of the vehicle to substantiate my findings. We all stepped back into the vehicle to maneuver ourselves on our way.

As we approached the exit I decided I wanted to take a few photos of the historic church. As I attempted to snap some photographs my camera seemed to keep malfunctioning. Every picture taken was showing up as total blackness, the church is completely unrecognizable in every photo. Once back in the car my traveling companions were in even more of a panic, the strange noises they heard earlier were back, and louder this time. I was ordered to exit out of there immediately. I proceeded to put the vehicle into drive and steer us back into some civilization. We merged back onto the road when a loud gasp was exhausted by both riders. I slowed us down to a halt, "what?" I exclaim! A light just flashed across the road they remark. I question their sincerity, both of their imaginations have been on overdrive all night. I immediately dismiss their sighting and continue down the road. Then it happened! A flashing light flew right across the road, into the trees and vanished. I glanced around hoping to see some sort of explanation as to what had just occurred. All of our pulses were now pounding, heartbeats sped up, and adrenaline began to pump through our veins.

We advanced slowly down the backwoods road, fear and tension building to an overwhelming high in the car. Was the evil spirit of Mathias Schambacher right here in our grasps. Every stone flying off the road caused a little more unease in my guests, I began to speed up the pace after seeing the paleness in their faces. An overcoming sense of fear had crept into all of us at this point. As my brain raced trying to calculate an explanation, there it was. It appeared before all of us. We sat in a bewildered state of disbelief, none of us spoke, for none of us were prepared for what we were witnessing. Finally the answer to our strange mystery was right there before us, something we are surely not to forget anytime soon...

Two men in a pick-up truck spotting deer!

Tami Worley: It was winter, the year was 1993. My Husband, Scott, and I moved into a Apt building best described as the bates hotel. 6310 Urbandale Ave. was the address, and has now since been torn down.

We had a SMALL two room apt, which means that our living room and kitchen were combined as one and the bedroom and bathroom were combined, with one door separating the two lg. rooms. And one door for the bathroom for privacy that was in our bedroom. We loved it there. Til we started hearing things.. Unexplained pounding, and knocking, The Middle door kept shutting by itself at all random times. At times Slamming shut as if a wind had blown it. Let me explain.... We had two windows, One to the East and one to the West. Being wintertime we had them covered with plastic as to keep out the cold. We had no air flow going through the apartment. No reason for the door to shut on its own... While living there for the 6 months we did, we encountered several odd things.. Objects would randomly disappear, never to be found.
"Light My Fire" Mixology by Cveckian
Then one night as we are watching TV, we hear a LOUD crash in the bedroom, Mind you its still winter... We had no pet or children at the time, just Scott and I and we were both in the same room. We looked at each other, with a question of what the heck was that... I get up to investigate, in out bed room, out window blind was all ruffled as if someone had taken their hand and ran it up and down the blind knocking half off the hinge, the lamp we had in front of the window was knocked over and broken.. Again we have no explanation how this happened, we had no wind, it was winter and the windows were covered in plastic.... Right after that the middle door slammed shut! We were a bit startled but what can you do?

A few weeks later, I had several candle scones on the wall in the living room, I never lit them as I was afraid that I would forget about them and they would catch fire to the apt. They were brand new and I was so excited to have them, Until I woke in the middle of the night, Seeing what looked like Fire in the living room I immediately woke Scott thinking how will we get out....

I look to the living room, and all the candles were lit... I know for a fact I did not light them, I accused My husband of trying to pull a prank he still denies to this day that he lit them. IN fact he was sound asleep, when I woke him. And was as freaked out as I was.. NO explanation on how or who lit them...
We moved out less than 6 months after breaking the lease early .. I noticed a few years ago the place has been torn down, I would have loved to have known the history of that place, All we do know that it was once a hotel in the 1950's and remade to a Hotel in the early 70's ... But I have no doubt there was definitely some spirits living and sharing our apartment with us while we were there.
Photo by Ann St. James

Ann St. James: As a young child, I always remembered my dad's dresser and his old fashioned clothes brush, I'm not sure when he purchased it, but it had to be at least from the 1940's or even earlier.The brush itself has a duck head and the body is the brush then the end of the brush is the ducks feet. Looks like a duck. It sits inside a holder that would represent the duck wings. When my dad passed away in 1995, that became the only possession I have of his belongings.

Approx in 1999, my two children and I were downstairs putting together a puzzle. We heard a very loud bang! I thought...what the heck is that? So I went upstairs and looked around. I couldn't find anything that could have possibly fallen? The last place I looked was in my closet. Well, there it was...the duck (brush part) that was on the opposite side of my closet. The wing holder was still on my closet hadn't moved an inch. Yet the duck flew across to the other side! I did an experiment and placed it back into the wing holder and tried to knock it out. I hit it and it only landed on my clothing hangers right below the shelf. I hit it didn't go far at all. I also had to hold onto the wing holder in order for the brush to even come out. No matter how hard I hit would never reach the other side of my closet.

My son suggested for me to place it on my I did. Only a few weeks later when we were all downstairs...BOOM! We looked at each other and said The DUCK! Surely had landed on my bedroom floor fairly far from my dresser. This continued off and on for a few months until I decided to put it away in a box and it remained in a box up until 2009 when my daughter asked me to take it out to see what would happen. We had also moved to a different home since it was out I know it wasn't the old house that had a spirit or something.

"The Things That Bind Us" Mixology by Cveckian
Low and behold...BOOM! There went the duck! I have it sitting on a desk in my bedroom. It flew hard, hit the door and landed on the floor. This happens to this day every few months or so. It recently happened while I was in my room while I was on my computer. I wish I had seen it fly! This time, it flew sideways...landing to the right of my desk which seems impossible! It landed at least 5 feet away from the desk as well.

I said, "Hi Dad...I don't know what to say... Is there something you are trying to tell me?"

I have no explanation for of these days I'd like to get a video camera set up and try to catch it in action. Now that would be interesting to see!

Terry Rose: My Dad dropped me off on interstate 80. I was hitchhiking to see Ziggy Marley and The Grateful Dead in Chicago. It was the eve of Halloween. I was quite manic. This is actually the original High Holiday that was celebrated as far back as Roman times, All Souls Day. The eve of that night was the specialty of pagans from times now forgotten. When it merged with Christianity it was, shall we say, cleaned up.

I don’t remember getting to Chicago but I ended up in a suburb. I started walking and when you’re manic you can walk forever. My memory really begins when I see a wildlife reserve of sorts. There were pink flamingos in a marshy area about 1000 yards off the road. I started towards it with a walking stick in hand and it was though I was leaving this reality for the next. It was perfect weather, a serene and partly cloudy day. I felt very alive and was more manic than ever.

I was exploring through a forested area when I came over a small rise and saw something that shocked me to the bone. It was a Tasmanian Devil not 20 yards in front of me. It wasn’t facing me but I felt it knew I was there. It was clearly smiling. I had never even seen a Tasmanian devil on T.V. before. This one looked exactly like the cartoon. I was scared out of my skin, the kind when your body temperature changes instantly. I picked up a rock, threw it in its direction and walked briskly the opposite way.

I felt a bit calmer when I had walked about 50 yards and stopped next to what looked like an ancient water tower, long ago abandon. I felt as though I was in an old movie set. I looked down and found one of my first authentic archaeological finds, a lynching rope. I say that because of its obvious age, mold, and I instantly felt you didn’t rig this to hang yourself but someone else. It looked exactly like the piece in Clue, the board game, only it had about 20 feet of slack. There was something very creepy yet very special about it. I put it around my neck and continued on, the rope trailing me as though some imaginary person was “walking” me.

It’s no surprise that a policeman eventually stopped me. The conversation is probably one for the books. I’m sorry I can’t remember it. At this time I do remember that I suddenly and very clearly was on a quest to find Peter Sellers. I must have seen someone that resembled him and out of nowhere I had this very intense internal drama being played out in my troubled mind. {This is the closest feeling of a manic episode I can relate to you.} The cop had no choice but to let me go on walking as though it were a matter of time before we met again, and we would.

I then ran into who I called “The Straw Man” because of the multiple McDonald’s straws in his shirt pocket. We ended up at his father’s house and while we were praying before a meal of very small hamburgers, I must have said something offensive because I was told to leave.
At this point I’d walked God knows how many miles that day and not eaten a thing.
Needless to say I was hungry, maybe the hungriest I’d ever felt in my life. I next remember being at a pizza place. The smell was driving my hunger to new heights. I ordered a pizza but before they made it I let on I didn’t have any money.

The manager wasn’t amused and told me to leave. Before I actually left, I sat down at a table and snorted some Parmesan cheese. It must have been some twisted way of protesting my hunger.

The next thing I knew I was taken to the police station.

Then it was on to the mental hospital. I was led to a small room that held only an examination table. I was strapped down and given a shot with an enormous syringe.

The nurses and doctor left. I laid there for some time before I looked over at the small observation window in the door. What I saw was so real yet so terrifying that it’s difficult to describe. It was an insect like alien creature. Dark, with a large head and huge eyes, and although I couldn’t see more than its head I sensed it had normal arms and legs.

It seemed to be observing me as though it were part of the hospital staff.

"Another Trip: Mixology by Cveckian
A few moments later I had the nerve to look at the window again only this time it was a lion, like the Wizard of Oz, but with a golden pyramid on its head. It looked directly at me with a silent roar. This was easily the most terrified I’ve ever been in my life.

The next thing I knew I came to during a bit of table side therapy.

There were about 6 patients sitting around the table and the guy next to me was telling the story of how he had the gun to his head and at the last minute he pulled it away enough to merely give himself a mild flesh wound. I turned to him and said very sternly, “If you want to kill your self, you put the gun right up to your temple and quickly pull the trigger.” He later told me he heard me screaming the night before, “Throw fire water on me,” over and over.

I eventually got out of the hospital but never forgot what I saw on that very creepy Hallows Eve.

Jeremy Caddell: Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones died on the day I was born. Every few months or so, I will wake up and see him at the end of my bed. He is always blabbering on about how Mick and Keith screwed him over, and I'm like "Dude, if you would have stayed away from the drugs, you would still be here today."

"Brian Jones" Mixology by Cveckian
Sarah Cartwright: When I was in fourth grade, a girl in my class asked me to spend the night. Her folks lived in a very old, big brick house next door to the school. Its jungly backyard ran the length of a high, old stone wall that separated the house from the schoolyard.

In playground conversation, it was simply referred to as "That, um...House."

We weren't the best of friends but I jumped at the chance...I wanted to see inside this house..a house shrouded in mystery to my friends, and my brother's friends. It had a weird vibe. All the kids felt it. Part of this vibe was that it seemed to have originally been something other than a house...a school of some sort, a boarding house, maybe. That transient kind of feel...strangers thrown together, arriving and departing separately from behind closed doors, each with their own key, and secret pasts.

I remember packing my little round spend-the-night suitcase as kids do...pajamas, a toothbrush, a change of clothes. I was more excited than nervous or scared, because my friend promised to show me something she said she had never shown anyone else.

My mom dropped me off and my friend greeted me at the door. I remember having to wait until she finished her flute practice before we could run off and do fun kid stuff. As she practiced her flute in the front hall, I looked around. It was a very long hall that I could see led into a huge kitchen. To the left of the hall was a very large sitting room, and the stairs in front of me were huge. The house had a musty smell...not unpleasant, but old...the rooms and furnishings seemed to belong to a different time as well.

When she finished, I reminded her that she was going to show me something. She led me up the huge staircase and into this kind of laboratory. It looked like a science room, and had two rows of old school desks in it. She reached up on a shelf and took down a jar with two brown things floating in it. "Guess what these are?" she beamed, holding them up to the light. Turned out they were her tonsils, saved in formaldehyde...kind of cool, but kind of creepy.

"Kinda Cool-Kinda Creepy" Mixology by Cveckian
There were alot of other doors and rooms upstairs. We didn't go into any of them except her room. Sometime around midnight, after playing some board games and doing whatever fourth graders do, we got ready for bed. I had my own twin bed to sleep in. I remember I had a hard time falling asleep...there was a light shining through the window. I figured it was a street light because it made a striped shadow on the floor.

All I remember from the rest of this overnight visit to The House is waking up in the middle of the night with a jolt. I opened my eyes to a greenish light...wavering and shimmering back and forth in place of where the streetlight had been. What woke me up was a voice....a disembodied voice void of humanness and emotion that I could neither discern to be male or female. And The Voice called over and over, "Roy....Roy....Roy..."

I laid there in a frightened, frozen state, making sure I was awake and not dreaming. I was indeed awake, there was indeed a voice, indeed a greenish light that was shimmering in waves to the voice. I remember thinking that if I laid still and didn't move, maybe nothing would happen to me. I laid still and frozen forever, until I ached from not moving. I remembered my friend's dad's name was Roy. Was that the Roy the voice meant? After what seemed like an eternity, the voice grew weaker and further away sounding, then faded away completely. As it did, the greenish light stopped shimmering, and once again became the streetlight glow.

I never told my friend, or anyone else about this encounter from the Other Side. Other Side of what I am still not sure.

Anonymous: It was in April of 2007 in Argyle, Iowa and  I do not know what I saw. But I do know it was something that should not have been there and it will remain with me the rest of my life.

I was turkey hunting one morning approximately 4 years ago. I have never told my story due to I feel people will not believe me. It rained all night long that night and thus it allowed me to walk into the forest in complete silence (No leaves crackling etc.) I set up on a hill side over looking a small creek and valley. It was nearly pitch black due to the overcast sky but soon the rain stopped and the forest became brighter. Soon after I realized I was sitting within 15 feet of several birds that were roosted in a tree next to me. I didn't know they were there until they started shaking the rain off. My gun was already propped on my knee and pointed at my decoy. As things became brighter I could make out most of the valley floor and I continued to watch the birds roosted next to me.

Soon after one of the birds gobbled I began hearing something off in the distance almost immediately after. I only remember this because it was a very strange paced sound. The rhythm of it seemed odd. Nothing I could think of would make a sound like this. I could see down the valley to my right for a fairly long distance however, to my left a separate hillside came out and I could not see up the valley in that direction.

The noise continued with almost near perfect rhythm for several minutes with only occasional breaks. It continued to get louder. I soon realized the sound I was hearing was coming from up the valley in the direction I could not see. The turkeys in their roost next to me stopped gobbling and remained silent. A few moments later the forest was becoming fairly bright and I could see most everything around me. All of the birds roosted in the tree flew down and hit the forest floor running. They didn't even seem to notice the decoy.

I remained perfectly still watching the birds run through the forest down to my right through the valley. They acted as though something spooked them. At first I thought maybe it was me that spooked them but then it occurred to me the sound had stopped about the same time the birds took off.

As soon as the birds were out of sight the noise began again. I remained still leaning against a large ash tree. Maybe one minute after I lost sight of the birds the sound was becoming much louder and apparent of what it might be. My first instinct was that another hunter was walking through the forest. However, to this day I will never forget what I saw in the coming moments.

The sound with an almost steady rhythm reminded me of what it would sound like if I were walking on dry leaves in the forest. There was not a drop of wind on this morning and I believe the valley might have been echoing the sound. A few moments later I caught sight of it. Maybe 50 yards to my left coming into view on the bottom edge of the valley. At first I thought it was a hunter in a gilly suit. But upon closer examination I realized this was no human wearing a camo outfit. It continued to walk up right on two feet down the valley towards my right. When the creature got to the bottom of the hill out cropping I was sitting on it stopped dead in its tracks and remained perfectly still momentarily.
I think it was as this point I truly realized what I was seeing. When it stopped and stood still it became nearly invisible in the forest. It seemed an eternity passed while I sat against this tree uncontrollably shaking. I was scared out of my wits even with a 10GA shotgun propped on my knee pointed in the direction of the creature.
"The Hunted" Mixology by Cveckian
What happened next scared me so bad I would have bet my life on it that was going to have a heart attack. The creature turned its head and looked directly at me. I stared directly into the eyes of this creature for an unknown amount of time. It made no sound, it did not move, only stared at me. I was in full camouflage including a face mask so maybe it was not sure what I was?? Shaking so bad at this point the only thing I could think of was to defend myself. I clicked the safety off on my shotgun. When I did this the creature went into an almost crouching position only it seemed more like it was in a position that would allow it to move quickly. The stare down went on for what seemed forever. I readied my shotgun not afraid to move anymore since it was apparent I had been seen. When I positioned my left hand under the forearm of my shotgun the creature sprang up nearly causing me to pull the trigger.

It continued its walk though the forest with its head turned watching me. I continued pointing my gun at it. I never pulled the trigger. I was so afraid I didn't know what to do. Eventually I lost sight of it. I jumped up as soon as it was gone and I ran back to my truck without stopping to rest once. To this day I will never forget what I saw or the feeling of absolute terror that overcame me. I do not want to be famous nor do I want my story posted all over the Internet. I just thought I should tell somebody my story.

Emily Antelman: My grandma's scary house. Have you ever walked by a house and just "know" there's something spooky about it? You certainly get that feeling at grandma's late 19th century house in Mitchellville, Iowa. The house has been in my family since 1962. My father and his three younger siblings grew up there. My father has had the most haunting experiences in that house ever since he was toddler. He says the entire house including the outside property is equally scary. My dad has never liked talking much about the spooky things he experienced. He always repeats that it is evil.

Photograph by Cveckian
The entire house and property gives everyone the heebie-jeebies usually within a few moments upon entering. One quickly gets the feeling of being watched, followed and not welcome. People almost always see things out of the corner of your eye. You know you are never alone. Even in the shop/garage my dad has been working and has had things fly off the shelves past his head or has had numerous items come up missing only to reappear in exact spot later.

The house has an old dirt floor basement with a small coal room with wood walls. That is what we call the "dark room." You DON'T want to go down there(even during a tornado warning)!!! In my opinion, I think someone or something is buried down there. There is more than one ghost, spirit or evil presence in that house. They make you feel like you should NOT be there. I lived upstairs for three years and it was awful!

The upstairs is another particularly scary part of the house. Even small children just know there is something eerie about it. My father tells me stories of seeing ghosts come in from the window(like a mummy or prisoner in chains) and they would just stand there, watching him. My uncle(who lived upstairs alone for a few years in his 20s) says he heard constant moaning coming from my father's old bedroom at night. He would have to turn his television up loud to try and block out the horrible wailing.

One thing is for sure, you are always watched, especially when you are laying in bed at night. My dad said one night as a child while being "watched" a ghost told him to "go to sleep." When I lived there, I had the worst sleep of my life. Even thought I couldn't see it, I would lay in bed and know there was a ghost staring at me from the bedroom doorway every night. Once I awoke and opened my eyes to one of the ghosts kneeling at my bedside staring me in the face. It was terrifying!

The stairs are a place where you feel followed up or chased down. There have been times when I feel like someone is yelling "GET OUT," even though I can't hear it. I would get my behind out of that house so fast and walk as fast as I could to my house(which was a block down). If I was upstairs when this happened, I would race down those stairs...pronto! It was very alarming. The bottom of the stairs seem to be a spot where something bad may have happened. Temperature changes occur there. Like on hot day with the air off and no breeze you may feel a cold spot at the bottom of the stairs and get chills. My dad says he saw a short midget like man wearing a top hat, standing at the bottom of the stairs once when he was a child.
"Emily Story" Mixology by Cveckian
There is a girl. She is probably 10 or so, dressed in a white long (old fashioned looking) nightgown and has long dark wavy hair covering her face. She is not intentionally scary, in fact, I don't think she knows we (the living) are there. She appears to be in some sort of pattern. When my brother lived there he would see her many mornings walking and fading from the dining room into the kitchen. He would also hear creaking at the bottom of the stairs at night, only to see her slowly coming up and appearing through the stair rails. Each time he saw her walk up the stairs, she would appear for longer periods and walk up and around the railing towards the larger bedroom.

Her room is where I slept. The first time I saw a ghost was when I was 17. It was a sleepover with my younger cousins upstairs on New Years. I awoke the next morning being pushed off the bed by my younger cousin. I sat up and looked over at the other side of the bed to see a girl with with long dark hair and a long white night gown facing away laying there on her side. Being very tired and unaware, I assumed it was my female cousin with dark hair (who was being a brat the night before and was upset for not being allowed to sleep in that bed). I sat up and told her to get out. I laid back down and stared at the ceiling. The next thing I knew, the girl was gone. I certainly did not hear or see anyone get out of the bed and walk out. I quickly went downstairs and told my aunt. She just simply responded, "Oh, yeah we used to see her all the time."

The worst ghost of all is very tall and dark with no features. My father doesn't like talking much about this ghost. This is the ghost we think grabs, pushes, and brushes the skin of its (usually male)victims. My uncle has had his feet grabbed while laying on the couch. Both my father and younger brother have been pushed onto their backs while sleeping after laying on their side. What they have their eyes fixed upon, for what seems like an eternity is the tall, dark, glaring ghost standing at the foot of the bed. I get distressed just thinking about it.

Then there are the "normal" ghost things that happen. Things like items being pushed off edges, stuff moving(like a rocking chair), knocking, hearing footsteps, items coming up missing and reappearing shortly after, and things like televisions or lights being turned on. My grandma had white deaf cat named "Angel," that was totally mean and crazy! That darn cat would watch, follow, chase and bite almost everyone. At night it would sit in the middle part of the upstairs and just look around the rooms. It would become unglued at night and would gallop and howl around the house. It was all very bizarre.

My great grandmother lived in a small room downstairs during the last few years of her life. One evening she came scooting out with her walker as fast as she could telling my grandma she had "never seen anything like this in her life" and "I saw what everyone was talking about." The girl. She said she just stood there peacefully looking at my great-grandmother and then faded away. My grandma described her as wearing regular early 20th century clothes with tall boots.

I think something horrific happened to that girl in the house. Whoever did it to her lingers there. It was an angry situation that may have led to something intense. I think it happened on the stairs. Whatever the situation and whoever did it certainly make it a dreadful place to live.

Ted E. Bear: I had heard the story but had never seen it in all the times I have travelled that stretch of highway.

It was late on a Tuesday night about 11:30. Fog had moved in from the moisture at the creek and river. It acted like a blanket covering the two bridges as I approached them. Coming down the hill, I could see the tops of the two bridges above the blanket of fog. As I drove my old pick-up into the fog, I had really slow down. I couldn't hardly see the front of the truck as it was so thick.

All at once I saw a white object ahead in the lights and fog. I swerved to the right to avoid it, but heard a THUMP! I glanced out my drivers-side window and there she was... A woman in a white gown with long black hair. She was holding onto the top of my truck and standing on my running boards. Staring at me through the windows, her eyes had a vacant look, like they were looking right through me.

Startled, I swerved my truck to the left and caused her to brush the side of the bridge. She disappeared from the side of my truck. I eased back into my lane. I wanted to get the heck out of there. I glanced into my rear view mirror and there she was again, staring into the back window at me! I slammed on the brakes and hit the gas pedal and my truck lurched ahead out of the fog. A quick glance at mirror revealed that she was gone.

"Girl in the Fog" Mixology by Cveckian
I stopped and got out of my truck. Looking towards the bridges behind me, I could see her walking along the side of the road, disappearing into the fog. I don't think I will ever drive into the fog again... Especially down on the river bottom.

Anonymous: In the lowlands near Des Moines, there was a group of businessmen who hired an entertainer, a woman, to dance for them. They went into a barn with hay. The barn burned. The woman was nowhere to be found. She was thought to have burned to death in the barn, buried in the hay.
"All that Remains"  Mixology by Cveckian
The next day, a man walking on the side of the road near the land, found a glove that was believed to be hers. The glove was the only trace of her to be found.

T. Church: The sounds upstairs couldn't be real. The pacing of the floors, the constant pounding and the spontaneous jumping. They were clearly a figment of my imagination. After all, there really was no upstairs, just an old floorless attic that had once been the starting point of a house fire. One couldn't even access it, unless they had a key to the empty apartment across the hall... And then another key to the attic stairs within. I was the only tenant in the four apartment building at the time, and had been in the apartment across from mine once, when Gene, the old man who owned the house was doing some repairs over there. He showed me the stairway to the attic and also the charred wooden beams that supported the roof of the apartment building. I made a mental note that there was no floor in this attic... Just the long abandoned floor joists where a floor might have once sat... I had already been hearing the strange noises upstairs.

Gene was the only one who had those keys, and it certainly wasn't he who was running and jumping and pounding on the floor above my bedroom at all hours of the night. He didn't even live in the same town for crying out loud...  A couple of times when the noise got particularly loud or bothersome, I actually wandered across the hallway and checked the padlock on the neighboring apartment. It was always securely locked... Keeping whatever was making the loud awful noises safely away. But, as always after I retreated back to my bedroom in my apartment, the noisy activity would continue above.

Then one night I awoke to my mattress wrapping up around me encasing me in the middle like meat in a taco. (It's the best way to describe it.)  I could feel it being dragged acoss my bed and anticipated it's eventual fall to the floor... Which came with a violent WHOMP!. It was dark, but I managed to get sight of my captor... An old skinny man with long gray hair and bushy gray sideburns. With one hand he had both edges of the mattress gripped tightly, and even though he was small in stature, he seemed to have no trouble dragging me and my mattress across the wooden floor toward my bedroom door. I struggled to break free, but the walls of the mattress against me were way too tight. All the while however, I was able to see this old man who had a destination for me. Suddenly he stopped and looked back at me... He had deep red eyes and with his free hand, he put his finger up to his mouth in a hushing motion. "Don't say a word" he said to me in his snarling voice. At that point I froze, but was able to let out a loud yell.... Suddenly I woke up and was in my bed, with my mattress as if nothing had happened. An apprehensive sigh of relief came over me... It was just a dream! I didn't hear any sounds upstairs the rest of that night, and after awhile of contemplating what just happened to me I fell back asleep.

The next morning as I left my apartment for work I stepped out into the hallway. The door across from mine was shut, but there was no padlock on it. It lay on the hallway floor. With a spooky sense of curiosity, I opened the apartment door to look inside... The door inside the apartment... The one which led to the floorless attic above... Was torn off it's hinges, as if someone or something tried to get up there in a hurry. With a body full of goosebumps, and hair standing on the back of my neck, I regressed back into the hallway and slipped the padlock onto the apartment door. Not long after that, Gene put the building up for sale and I had to move out...  That place is still standing, and I can show you where it is.

PJ McManus: Spending the summer in Chicago was not my idea. It’s important that you know that outright, because it changes the color of the story considerably. Nobody plans to stay in Chicago for the summer, even to visit the Taste, but my roommate from college had gotten an internship with a nonprofit filmmaking company which he had to drop at the last minute because he got a better offer with WGN. He asked me, not because I was a media hound like himself but because I’m something of a techie, to take his place. The trouble was his internship came with a place to stay and mine did not, so just in order to take his place I had to find a second job. That’s where all the excitement happened.

Inside the San Jose transitional living shelter?
I became, for the summer at least, a crisis counselor and night manager at the San Jose transitional living shelter. As the name suggests, it was located in one of the Latino portions of the city, affectionately called “Little Mexico.” The neighborhood was rough, but the area immediately surrounding the church and the shelter was considered neutral territory by the local gangs and so basically if you were white and wandering around at night, so long as you didn’t look lost, people presumed that you were a priest or a social worker. My job mostly consisted of sitting at the front desk to make sure that no one exited the building after 10 or entered before 5. I was also there to call in a more trained staff member or the police in case there was a fight upstairs in the dormitory or if a drunk outside got too abusive or dangerous. I only had to call the police a couple of times, both because of shootings that happened relatively nearby, but the building, so far as I knew, was only hit once.

Despite the ranginess of the neighborhood, I really didn’t feel very unsafe. It’s not that I’m particularly streetwise or anything; I am from rural Iowa after all, but once you got in good with the guys staying at the shelter you were even safer than if you had a security detail made up of Chicago’s finest. These guys were tough; most all of them immigrants, and a goodly number ex-cons. Most had been deported two or three times but kept finding creative ways to come back, and though they weren’t averse to finding creative ways to make money, they basically wanted to send cash back to their wives and families in Mexico. If they were on your side, they’d do anything for you, and so despite the dangers outside the building I knew that if anything happened I had fifty personal bodyguards sleeping just upstairs.

You can imagine my confusion, then, the night that I arrived to find the whole shelter still buzzing at quarter to ten, and some of the toughest Mexicans you could ever meet white with fear. My high school Spanish had actually gotten pretty good over the course of the summer, but all I could make out were snatches of conversation about “the woman” and “the crying.” Randy, the day manager whose place I was taking was still up, and when I asked what was going on he shook his head. “Just some old Mexican folktale,” he said. “This happens every once and a while. The whole crew gets spooked, stays up half the night telling ghost stories, and then they’ll be quiet for a week."

Lights out was supposed to be at ten but I didn’t even make them head up to the dorms until nearly eleven, and even then decided that trying to fight them on staying up talking was probably a lost cause. If there was someone up there that dedicated to sleeping tonight anyhow he’d probably be a better advocate for himself than I would, so I settled down at the front desk with the newest Harry Potter. By midnight or so the noise from up stairs had largely quieted down and I had begun to doze. The sound of the toilet flushing down the hall roused me a little while later and, looking up at the wall clock I saw that it was nearly two. All was quiet in the building except the sound of the toilet running, and a couple minutes later of a wheelchair squeaking its way down the hall.

As the figure wheeled himself up to the desk I reached inside the top right-hand drawer for the stash of sugar-free peppermints I kept there. This was a near nightly ritual for Antonio and myself. He was kind of the grandfather of the place; a once-handsome man in his mid-sixties but who had worked hard his whole life in ways that now showed on his face. The story was that he had walked all the way from El Salvador on a gangrenous foot just to join his wife in Chicago. She was gone now, and so were both feet, but he stayed frequently enough in the single handicap accessible apartment which the shelter had on the first floor, usually spending his days helping the cook. He also kept a stash of Tequila in the satchel on the back of his wheelchair, and though there was a strict rule against booze in the building, we’d reached a kind of an agreement early on about our middle-of-the-night chats. So long as he was willing to share, I was willing not to care.

“So, Amigo,” he said, pouring the liquor into two coffee mugs. “You’re the one the left up to keep watch for La Llorona?"

“Who?” I asked, taking my first swig and grimacing mightily.

“La Llorona. The woman they’re all so afraid of.” He made a kind of halfhearted gesture towards the stairs which led up to the dormitory.

“What was that all about?” I asked.

He smiled a little more broadly than usual and looked hard at the liquid in his cup. “What?” He said.

“You mean gringo grandpas don’t tell their little ones to beware of La Llorona?"

“No,” I said. “They do not. Randy said that this was some kind of a Mexican folktale or ghost story."

Antonio chuckled a little at that, but then paused before replying, “Yeah, yeah, she’s something like that.” Then, looking at me tentatively he asked, “You’re Irish, aren’t you, amigo?” I nodded my head as I took another drink. “Well you guys have this story too, right? About a weeping woman who only comes out at night, and if you’re not careful she steals your soul or something?"

Now it was my turn to chuckle. “Sure, the banshee,” I replied. “But she’s a little more than just a folktale or a ghost story, she’s a..."

And then, before I had a chance to finish, a ghastly cry filled the air. If you’ve heard it before then there’s no need to describe it, and if you haven’t heard it then no description can do it justice. In tone it sounds something like a cat in real pain, though it cries as long and hard as an infant when it wants attention. Goose pimples prickled my skin and the hair on my arms and the back of my neck began to stand up. Then, while the sound seemed to come from the far side of the building I saw something, no felt something move past the window behind me. I turned quickly but was too late and the cry had already stopped.

When I turned back to my companion he was nodding his head and smiling sadly. “Now you see,” he said. “This is what they men heard, and it’s obviously more than a story."

I was beginning to understand. “But where does she come from, Antonio? Why is she here?"
"Mexican Tale" Mixology by Cveckian
The old man took a long drink of his Tequila and then rubbed his leg longingly. “Nobody knows for sure where she came from,” he replied. “But everybody knows what she’s after: her children.” Seeing the confusion on my face he went on. “Some say she was an Aztec queen or a Mayan princess made pregnant by a conquistador. Others claim that she was Cortes’s mistress herself. Still others have her a simple peasant woman at the time of the Revolution. In any case, they all agree on this point: in grief or fear, grief over the death or departure of her husband, and fear over an invading force taking the town and doing things to the women and children worse than death, she drowns her babies in the river. Then, when the army never arrives, or her husband returns but is not dead, or she herself dies but is refused at the gates of heaven, she receives a curse. Whether God or St. Peter or her husband or whomever, they all commit her to the same fate. She is to wander along the river ceaselessly looking for her children. This is why she is called ‘La Llorona,” or “The Crying Woman,” for she cries out for her children until the end of the world. If she cannot find them, then she’ll take whatever soul she happens upon, which is why if you hear her cry...” He trailed off but gave me a knowing look. I nodded my head and together we took a drink.

I had another question I was about to ask but at just that moment there was a terrible pounding at the front door. “Abre la porta! Abre la porta!"

I glanced quickly at Antonio who shrugged as I jumped up to head towards the door. I ran quickly across the room with the old man at my heels in the wheelchair. Our visitor kept pounding all the while hollering, “C’mon, let me in. Open the door."

Our policy was very clear about not letting people in after ten, especially if they were drunk, as it seemed this man surely must be. I hit the button on the intercom inside. “What’s wrong?"

“She’s coming! She’s coming!” He replied.

I looked back at Antonio for confirmation but he simply shoved me aside and hit the button which emitted a metallic sounding buzz as the man fell through the doorway. Together he and the door crashed into me and the two of us wound up in a heap on the floor. There was no closer on the door so it stayed swinging on its hinges. Antonio cursed and tried to make his way around us, but we were simply in the way of closing the door. Our newest visitor, who was obviously drunk from the smell of him, was not getting back up, so I pushed him off of me and scrambled to my feet. As soon as my hand made contact with the door I heard the cry again. Then there was a great rush of air and Antonio and I made contact with the door at the same time. He even hopped out of his wheelchair on his one foot and together it took the two of us heaving with all of our strength to close the door against the strong driving wind. Eventually it latched and we heard the cry again, a kind of enraged squeal like a beast which had lost its prey.

I helped Antonio back into his chair, and then together we helped our newest visitor to a couch in the waiting area. There was some movement upstairs and one set of footfalls coming down. The door opened just a crack.

“You guys okay?” Came the voice tentatively.

“Yeah, yeah, we’re okay,” I replied. “Got someone in from off the street, but we managed to close the door before she came in."

There was a non committal sort of a grunt, followed by the muffled sound of speaking, and then the sound of something being pressed against the inside of the door. Apparently my faithful bodyguards were willing to leave me on my own when it came to supernatural threats.

Antonio and I returned to our desk and finished our drinks in silence. He was clearly contemplating going back to bed, but I think was afraid to leave me alone, for which I was grateful. I was getting sleepy again, from fatigue or from the tequila, and kept nodding off at the desk. I had just laid my head down deliberately onto a stack of papers, finally ceding to the inevitable when the cry came one last time.

It was horrible and piercing and seemed to break the night itself. I don’t know that the volume was so loud as the tone of the sound itself, but I thought my eardrums my rupture, or worse my soul simply shatter from hearing it. Then, like a bagpipe drone accompanied by another sound her scream was matched by another; less ethereal, more human, and more desperate. This latter cry was definitely louder but lasted only an instant, and then both were gone as quickly as they had come. Instinctively I went to the door, but by this time Antonio had roused himself well too. “Don’t,” he said. “It’s too late."

For some reason this made me unbearably sad. I made my way back to my desk and began to cry. No, I’ll admit it, I began to weep, to bawl uncontrollably like a little baby. I don’t ever remember crying like that before or since, and to this day I have trouble telling you why. I wasn’t afraid of La Llorona getting me anymore as I knew that the ghastly woman had already fed for the night, but something deep inside me rejected not being able to fly or fight, and so I simply cried. I don’t remember falling asleep, but apparently I did. When I woke the left side of my face, upon which I had been lying, was asleep, and my head was pounding from the tears and tequila. This, however, was matched by a real live pounding coming from the door. For just an instant my heart skipped a beat, but then I looked up and saw my watch. It was already five o’clock. The regulars coming in off of third shift were ready to come in.

“Did you see him, man?"

“Yeah, that was some craziness."

“I ain’t never seen a body like that?"

I looked at the men, all of whom I knew, and who seemed totally unaffected as had the residents the night before. They were just gossiping like people who had seen a traffic accident. “A body?” I asked.

“At the factory?"

For just a moment they looked confused and then laughed awkwardly. “No, man. You fall asleep on the job or something?” I touched the side of my face self-consciously and they chuckled. “For reals. You got a body right here."

Together they gestured to the side of the building just to the left of the front door. I followed their line of sight to the crowd which was gathering, an ambulance was parked on the side of the road but had turned its flashers off, and there were two police cars. I made my way towards them when one of the policemen stepped out officiously and stopped me. “Nothing to see here,” he said. “Move along."

But then, one of the others catching sight of me said, “Wait a minute, Reg. He works the night desk at the shelter.” Then looking right at me. “Dontcha kid?” I nodded my head. “Let him through.

As I made my way through the little crowd I could see the human shaped bundle lying on its side and turned to face the outside wall of the shelter. A chill went through my spine as I realized that he was lying immediately under the window just above my desk. The guy had died not five feet from me in the night and I didn’t even notice.

“Did you see or hear anything unusual last night, son?"

I was aware that the officer had spoken but nothing registered for a moment. Then he repeated himself. “Are you okay, son? You look like you’ve seen a ghost."

“Yeah, a ghost,” I said thoughtfully. Then, looking back at the officer. “It’s funny,” I said. “The guys were all telling ghost stories late into the night last night. Something about a Mexican “Weeping Woman” or something, and I’ll admit, I thought I heard a scream or two in the middle of the night, but it was probably just the wind."

The first policeman looked at little bit anxious and made as if to say something, but the other one cut him off. “Yeah, you’re probably right,” He said. “Late night ghost stories can do that to anyone.” Then he paused, and rolled the body just so that I could see the face. “This poor wino’s been drinking himself to death for years. It’s just last night he finally made it."

But I barely heard him. For lying there on the pavement before me was the unmistakable old face of Antonio. He was contorted in a spasm of fear which must have gripped him at the last moment, and he had one hand reaching towards his lower leg which he often rubbed longingly, but there was no doubt about it; it was him. I stared in amazement.

The first policemen asked me if I knew him. “Yeah, yeah,” I said. “He’s a regular. He’s name’s Antonio. In fact, I was sure he made it in last night but..."

The policemen exchanged a few low words but then the second one, having risen from his squat next to the body put his hand on my shoulder and said. “Don’t sweat it too much, kid. These things happen all the time. And if the guy was drunk enough to get outside without crutches or a chair, there wasn’t much you could have done."

I nodded my head blankly and thanked the officer, muttering something about telling the other men in the shelter. Of course, by the time I made my way in the coffee was made and the third-shift crew were already abuzz telling the regulars from upstairs about poor old Antonio outside. As I came in they asked him if it was true.

I nodded my head confusedly. “It is, it is.” I said, surprised that I wasn’t crying now given the night before. The thing is, wasn’t he in here last night?"

This sent a ripple through the crowd but the overwhelming consensus was that Antonio had not been in last night, at least not at the check for lights out at eleven. Perplexed I went to wake the drunk on the couch. He was still feeling it from the night before, and though he was hardly a reliable witness, he assured me that I had let him in alone. He then began to thank me profusely for saving him from La Llorona. I let him go on for a couple of minutes, and let the men who had stayed the night fill in the third shift folk on the evening’s events. After a bit I returned to my desk and began to write up my report, which I decided was going to be very, very short.

I was just finishing up the log which essentially read, “Quiet night. Uneventful,” as Randy came in. We exchanged some pleasantries and he asked if it was true about Antonio outside. I nodded my head.

“It’s a real shame,” he said. “He was one of the better men we’ve ever had here. But you know, this almost always happens."

“What’s that?” I said.

“Well, you know, when they got on this kick about the ghost-woman,” he said. Somebody always winds up dead outside. It’s just creepy."

“Yes,” I said in reply. “You have no idea."

Randy took over the desk and I gathered my things, including the coffee mug from the night before. It was then that I noticed with a surge of delight that Antonio’s was still there. I picked both up and made my way to the kitchen, but before washing them, stopped to smell the contents. The mug Antonio, or whomever, had been drinking out of smelled unmistakably of tequila. But mine carried no odor at all, except maybe a hint of chamomile tea.

I hated chamomile tea. In fact, I’d never drink it on my own. That would never have been my idea. But then, it seemed as though it probably wasn’t. And I was glad for it.

Happy Halloween!