Happy Halloween! Here’s some scary stories. All of them are true, especially the parts that aren’t.
And check out My Little Po-Mo vol. 2 for some coverage of bronies being scary! Purchase links on the Books page!
This is the story of why I don’t believe in ghosts. Because I don’t; not anymore.
As a child I believed in basically everything. Not religion, obviously; that sort of nonsense was fine for Christians but not sensible and level-headed Jews like us. But I understood the language of television well enough at six, seven, eight years old to understand that cartoons and live action shows like Alien Nation
were just stories, while things like the news and documentaries were true. And since they used the televisual language of documentaries and news magazines, I naturally believed shows like Unsolved Mysteries
were true, too. So I believed in aliens, psychic powers, Atlantis, and so on the same way that I believed in Congress or California or distant stars–without fervor, matter-of-factly.
My room became mine when I was six. My youngest sister was big enough to no longer sleep in the same room as my parents, so she moved into the room I had shared with my other sister; I therefore moved into spare room, which my mother had used as a study. I can still see the wallpaper in that room, a swirl of purple waves and pale-blue clouds interpenetrating in chaotic whirls. At the seams, it had yellowed a bit, turning those blues and purples into sickly greens, but other than that it was, I suppose, fairly pretty wallpaper. I was content; it made a good backdrop for whatever games my Lego spaceships– because no matter what the Kit was suppose to be, it became a spaceship in my hands–and I engaged in.
Months passed, circled back, passed again. Six became seven became eight. Until one night I woke up and couldn’t move.
It was dark. Impossibly dark, as pitch black as I had ever seen anything. There was a window directly behind my head, just above my pillows, but not a scrap of light came through it.
And I couldn’t move. I had succeeded in opening heavy eyes, I could look around the room, but I couldn’t turn my head, couldn’t speak, couldn’t make my limbs move or even twitch a finger. A heavy weight lay across me, like a thick quilt but without the heat. It was heaviest on my chest, and I struggled to breathe as my eyes flicked around the barely visible room. Something was wrong
. Besides being unable to move, besides the darkness, besides the pressure on my chest–there was another fear, beyond all of that, something instinctive and inchoate. I wanted to scream, and couldn’t.
Then the green began to glow. Thin lines of green along the seams of the wallpaper detached themselves into sickly glowing globs, drifting slowly toward my bed. I strained desperately in panic. If I could just open my mouth, just scream for my parents–but I couldn’t do anything as the light assembled itself into the vague form of a human, head too big, limbs too long, body too small, and made of independent smears of sickly yellow-green light, but still recognizably a person, watching me, bending over my bed. Considering me with great dark eyes, reaching one long hideous finger toward my face, closer and closer, until my eyes crossed trying to follow it and it blurred. Any second it could touch me, and this entire time the only sound was my rough panicked breathing, and I still couldn’t move, couldn’t struggle, couldn’t fight the weight pinning down my chest and my arms and my legs, couldn’t get my mouth open to scream.
Maybe there were clouds and they parted. Maybe it was timing and the moon happened to rise over the house across the street just then. I don’t know. All I know is that suddenly a shaft of silver light stabbed in through the window and struck the green, and it scattered. Dozens of little motes of light flowed away from it and back into the walls.
I found I could move one finger. Twitching it back and forth shook my arm free, and then suddenly I could move, and I screamed and screamed until my parents woke.
I refused to sleep in that room until they took down the wallpaper. I slept on the sofa in the living room for perhaps a week while they painted the room a nice blue with white trim and no green anywhere, and then I consented to sleep there again. In the years since I have, from time to time, woken in the night in terror, unable to move, but I read up on it. It’s just sleep paralysis, and sometimes it causes hallucinations.
So I don’t believe in ghosts, or alien visitors, or fairies, or anything else that comes in the night to steal children away. Because if I believed what I saw… well, then I’d be crazy, wouldn’t I?
In my second semester of college, I became a copy editor on the student newspaper. The next year, I moved up to copy chief. One of the new reporters that year, K, was small and energetic and cosplayed a quite accurate Yui Ikari, and I was definitely interested. Plus her friend kept hinting rather heavily that if I were to make a move, K would reciprocate. This was not a circumstance with which I had much experience, and I was rather at a loss regarding what to do about it.
Come October of that year, an assignment came down the pipe: a group of students were planning an overnight Halloween camping trip at Point Lookout State Park, which claims to be the most haunted park in America.
The park lies at the point where the Potomac River flows into the Chesapeake Bay, and is mostly woods, with a little bit of beach where it meets the bay. It was the site of a minor battle in the War of 1812 between a small local militia and an overwhelming British force, and in the Civil War it housed a POW camp and military hospital. They say that the dead of both camp and hospital were buried by the sea, but the sea has eaten away at the land, so most of the graves are now under the waters of the bay.
There’s a small house on the parkland where the rangers live. They say they’ve had objects go missing only to be found stacked in pyramids in the bathroom. They say that people who spend the night there often feel someone tugging at their toes, that that’s how the doctors in the field hospital used to check if their patients had died in the night.
They say a lot of things, and I was happy to go along and witness none of them happening, because I’d always wanted to get to debunk something. I’m not sure why K decided she wanted to go. Whatever her reasons, we were handed a camera–this was 2002, when trusting a digital camera to a student was a pretty big deal–and told to go along, talk to the others, write about anything unusual that happened, and take lots of spooky pictures.
We arrived in the early afternoon, were told a bunch of stories about the history of the park by a ranger, and then free to explore. I remember emerging from the woods into the sudden shock of bright sunlight off the bay, a few hundred feet from a decaying old shack on the water’s edge. When we looked inside, there was nothing there but a tall, narrow table set into the floor, like a kitchen island. A large carving knife stuck blade-first into the table, next to a pile of dead fish. As we watched, one of the fish slowly, deliberately bent upwards, staring at us out of one black, round eye.
We fled back into the woods, laughing. Obviously, I told her when I had my breath, it was recently caught and flopping randomly as it gasped for air. That we were the only people along the entire beach, that they were no boats to be seen, that the smell and bugs suggested those fish had been there quite a while–well, neither of us elected to comment on any of that.
We explored the woods further as it started to get dark. We found another broken down old shack and tried to take pictures. The shack was empty and very dark inside, but when we checked the pictures there was a ball of light hovering in the middle of the room. A bit creepy, but just some trick of the flash and the window glass, right?
We returned to the campsite and laid out our sleeping bags a little ways away from the rest of the group. It was a clear, crisp night, unusually warm for Halloween. We chatted for a little while about nothing consequential.
“What’s that?” asked K suddenly.
“What’s what?” I asked.
“You don’t hear that?”
We were quiet a moment. I strained but could hear nothing. It was too late in the year for crickets, and there was no wind to speak of. “No,” I said. “What did you hear?”
“A voice,” she answered. “But it stopped.” She sounded scared. I wasn’t, of course. Everything that had happened that day had a perfectly rational explanation and there was nothing to fear at all.
“Maybe we should hold hands,” I suggested.
We did. Her hand was ice-cold, but it was still nice. We lay there in quiet for a while, looking up at the stars, or at least I was.
“I’m cold,” K said after a while. She scooted closer to me in her bag, and I let go of her hand and put an arm around her.
“You are!” I said in surprise. Her whole body was nearly as cold as her hand. But then, like I said, she was pretty small, so it made sense she’d get cold easily.
I held her, and we cuddled, which eventually led to other things, and we forgot about any strangeness until morning, by which time we were a couple. K talked to some of the other campers, none of whom noticed anything particularly strange, and most of whom were also in pairs. We returned to school and wrote the story, which was dutifully published in the next issue’s Features section.
The next few weeks were among the most intense of my life. K was, it turned out, an incredibly passionate woman, not just in the usual sense but in everything. No matter what we did, she flung herself into it with abandon, relishing every experience, from the taste of food to the textures of fabrics. There was little talking with K, and a great deal of doing, touching, tasting.
And she was always, always cold. I liked that; I hate being too hot, and she was always deliciously cool to the touch. Late nights at the newspaper, when everyone was a little punch-drunk and we just wanted to wrap up whatever the crisis of the day was and put the damn thing to bed, I would sit on the floor with my arms around her, cool and soft while we waited for whichever editor was holding things up to get their fixes done so I could check them.
It was an intense time, and like most intense experiences, it is longer in my memory than it was to live it. After a few weeks at most, things began to change. She became suspicious–not jealous, but concerned whether people were who they said they were, whether I was really me and she was really she. She would scream sometimes, a short sharp yelp for no reason she could explain afterwards–and the one time I pushed about it was our first real fight.
By the end of the year, it was over. She accused me of being a spy, of trying to make her crazy so that she wouldn’t realize what I was up to, of being in league with the forces arrayed against her. She was both furious and terrified in that last fight, pale and bug-eyed as she shouted that she wasn’t going to let them get to her, wasn’t going to fall for my tricks.
And then she was gone, from my life, from the newspaper–I think she even dropped out of school.
She had some kind of a breakdown, I guess. Stress of school, or some other issue, who knows? I wish I’d understood better at the time, been able to help, but who knows what if anything I could have done? Anyway it was a long time ago.
And like I said, I don’t believe in ghosts, or curses, or anything silly like that. Everything has a rational explanation, even if we don’t always know what it is–and everything here is explained by known issues with the human brain.
Except the way her hair would sometimes smell like the sea. That’s a bit odd, I guess.
Even though I was the oldest, I was the last of my mom’s kids to move out. Once I finally went off to college, she sold the place we’d lived when I was in high school. She lived in an apartment for a little while, but eventually bought a little house with her wife, M. When I came home from school, I lived there for a while, in a bedroom that had once been the attic.
The stairs up were by the kitchen, long and narrow. At the top you emerged at the front left corner of the little room, which sloped down from there in both directions. There was a wall to the left, where the original house ended, and a sort of cross between a skylight and a window, since by that point the ceiling was practically a wall. The back right corner was the lowest point of the ceiling, maybe two feet off the floor, while the back left corner was closer to three feet.
The odd thing about that corner was the door. It was a perfectly ordinary door in miniature, about a foot high and painted white, with a little doorknob and a deadbolt. Beyond its size, the strangest thing about the door was that it was there at all; the attic ended at that wall, since the extension was only on the ground floor, so there couldn’t have been more than a few inches of space between the door and the exterior wall.
But hey, compared to the sorts of people I had as my first couple of college roommates, a weird door barely registered. I assure you it is entirely a coincidence that my bed was in the farthest possible corner of the room from the door.
Door or no, I liked that little room, with its oddly shaped corners and low ceilings and bookshelves filling every available bit of wall except the one with the door. I particularly liked it on stormy nights, which are pretty common in Maryland summer; I would lay in my bed and watch the rain drumming against the skylight, an endless ratatat that could lull me to sleep easily.
One night, I was lying there, watching a particularly energetic storm, when I heard something odd. It was quiet, but it sounded like a quiet scratching noise. Scritchscritchscritch pause, it went, scritchscritchscritch pause. But it was quiet, and the rain was drumming away, so I assumed I’d imagined it.
But then it came again. Scritchscritchscritch pause. Louder and a little faster, scritchscritchscritch pause. Now I was quite sure I could hear it, and as it became more insistent (scritchscritchscritchpause scritchscritchscritchpause) I was able to pinpoint where it was coming from: the little door, of course.
The scratching grew louder, and began to be accompanied by something else, a sound I couldn’t quite pin down. Scritchscritchscritch scritchscritchscritch, faster and louder. The other sound was getting louder too, but I still couldn’t quite make it out over the drumming of the rain and the scratching at the tiny little door in the corner.
The scratching was non-stop now, a furious and desperate scrabbling, and as the other sound grew louder with it I recognized it, wordless, panicked sobbing. I realized something else at that moment, too, there in the dim room in the wee hours of the morning: the deadbolt was on this side of the door, meaning the keyhole was on the other. That door wasn’t made to lock me out.
It was made to lock something else in.
At that moment there was a flash of lightning and a crack of thunder, almost simultaneous with each other, and the sobbing rose to a shriek. After that… silence. Nothing but the drumming of the rain.
I never heard anything from behind that door again. Eventually, I graduated from school, got a place of my own, stopped spending my summers there. Not long after that, mom and M sold the house and moved away. I never quite got around to opening that door.
Elise was frightened. Maybe that’s why she had the dream; maybe that alone was enough.
She’d come to the hospital that morning for a standard check-up, here at the start of what in her mind she capitalized as Pregnancy Week 48. Chuck was with her this time. No particular reason; he’d come to some of her regular check-ups and not others, as work allowed, more at the beginning and recently, less in the middle.
She was glad he was there; he’d known to hold her hand the moment the doctor had trouble finding the heartbeat.
That was one reason she was afraid: scared for the child she might never get to meet.
They decided to keep her overnight for observation. They’d try again in the morning, the doctor assured her, and maybe it would be different.
She didn’t believe him, because she was pretty sure he didn’t believe himself. That led to a second reason she was afraid: scared because of things she’d read about that might go wrong if there was no heartbeat, what had to be done if those things went wrong, and the very real possibility that St. Mary’s Hospital was not a place which permitted doing it.
So there was more than enough fear to explain the dream, because of course it had to be a dream:
Elise woke in the middle of the night. The room was incredibly dark; the only light a very dim green glow from the monitors that illuminated approximately nothing, and a thin yellow-white sliver through the slightly open door of the room, a slice of brightness that angled across her lap and off into the corner of the room.
Something was wrong, very very wrong, but she was groggy enough that it took a moment for her to realize what. The blankets were tangled and shoved to the side, and beneath them the flimsy paper hospital gown made it extremely obvious: her belly was flat, completely flat, as if she’d never been pregnant at all.
Worse, there was an extra tube, beside the one coming out of her arm: long and gray, wrinkled and glistening, it extended out from under her gown, between her legs, and off the end of the bed. She could just make it out in the gloom, extending out through the gap in the door, into the hallway.
The door creaked and opened slightly. There was a very small shadow pushing its way through the door, right down at the floor. It was hunched, crawling, stubby-limbed and large-headed. It lifted its head to look at her, and she saw bright red lips in a pale, round face. Her brown eyes met big, bright green ones.
And then it was morning, and she was heavily pregnant, and the covers were where they belonged. No strange gray tubes stretched across the floor, and the door was wide open as the nurse gently woke her.
The doctor found the heartbeat without difficulty, and it was healthy and strong and everything checked out perfectly normal for thirty-eight weeks, and she could go home with Chuck. Everything was right with the world, and not even the screams and sobs from the couple whose son had been in the room next to hers could damp her relief.
A couple of months later she gave birth to a healthy baby boy, and everything was fine, continued to be fine, would always be fine.
Still and all, for the rest of her life, she was very, very glad he had not been born with green eyes.