This is a story of a haunted childhood; the story of my childhood. The text here forth is the recollections and scarring remembrance of a young boy. Fear, time, and age can distort realities and bend memories, but for me…this is how it happened.
In the mid-90s, my family moved from a little trailer in Dayton Tennessee to a nice house in Sale Creek, nine miles away. We hadn’t lived in Dayton long, really, and it was great to be moving back to my home town. I would be mere minutes away from my grandparents and friends. However, as it turns out, I would also only be seconds away from terror.
The first trip to the house was exciting. We came South on highway 27, passing the turn off for my grandmother’s house and the school, onward until a small road connected off to our right. The old street was a little rough; any sign that there had ever been paint marking lanes or stops had been long washed away. It turned sharp, immediately twisting around a copse of trees and brush before stealthily following the highway a little ways north. The road slanted down until you could see it come to a dead end a half-mile away, a few trees and a ditch blocking any outlet. Almost as soon as we had turned right, we headed left. The driveway was long and thin. At that time, it was little more than dirt; the occasional rock here and there peppered the ruts. It cut a field of tall yellowing grass split in two as it approached a double set of train tracks. Just across was our new home.
We parked on the opposite side of the tracks from the house. We were warned by the previous owner that trains stopped there to let others pass by. It was the only double tracks for miles, and sometimes they would leave you trapped on the house side for half a day if you were unlucky. We stepped out of my mom’s old red car and started across, making sure we looked both ways for a train since there were no warning lights or signs here. The crossing was paved where the driveway had not been. We went up the small slope and down the other side. The dirt packed driveway crossed a tiny little stream of water four feet down. On either side of us stood a tall wood post, its painted surface pocked with wear and tear from its years of sentry. Atop these, hanging ten feet in the air was a wooden sign with carved and painted letters. “Serendipity,” it said. This was going to be a great place.
The house sat on the left side as you came onto the property. It was a single story, old but remodeled countless times over its hundred years. The front yard was dotted with a few huge trees, pines, hickory, and oak. The rest of the three and a half acres spread beyond behind and to the right, framed in a perfect square of tall trees, shrubs, and a barbed-wire fence. Beyond that fence lay the only neighbors we’d have—cows. In the distance, beyond the barrier of the square, you could see the low mountains. The kind that has been ground smooth and round over the millennia; the kind covered in thick, ancient woods that seem to disappear in rain or fog.
We passed beneath the wooden truss where the sign creaked in the breeze and walked toward the house. It was sunny that day, cool, but sunny. October had come when we were moving, and in southeastern Tennessee that meant warm days, cool breezes, and cold nights. I followed my mom and stepfather up to the three concrete steps that led to a roofed, concrete porch. The front door was a dark-red metal; a bronze colored mail slot was carved through its gut, though it had never been used.
The inside seemed innocent enough. The owner sold the property near fully furnished. A good-sized living room branched off into a small den. Both rooms had large windows, staring from the house’s side, out into the fields. Furthermore, connected to the living room was a door leading into what would become my bedroom. This, in turn, led off to my parent’s room, then into a small hall that connected to the den and kitchen. At the back of the house stood the kitchen; a product of some old remodel. The floor throughout the house was a thick carpet, aside from the kitchen and bathroom. The carpet in the kitchen was extremely thin and hard, stretched over a huge slab of concrete that used to serve as a back porch.
As we walked through the house, I made happy little mental notes of where I would put things. My TV would go there on a dresser. My video games and toys would litter that corner. I’d put my posters, medals, and school rewards on the wall there beside my bed. Another thing I noted as we went in and out of rooms was all the mirrors. Every single room seemed filled with the things. They were on nearly every wall, be it bathroom, bedroom, or even hallway—there they were.
As we delved deeper into all that we had just acquired, I began to notice strange odds and ends scattered throughout the house. In the den, wedged into a corner between a love seat and a cabinet sat a single drum. It looked old. The carvings in it seemed familiar. I concluded it looked African. Sure enough, as we explored more we found other odds and ends. An old wooden mask, small statues of strange African figures, a giant bronze plate with indistinguishable designs smeared across its dulling surface. Without much thought, I dragged my fingers across the smooth surface. It was cold. I shivered, then ran to catch up with my mom who was heading out a side door from their bedroom, which also led outside.
Just outside stood a mammoth black tree, and fifteen yards to my right stood a small shed. It was haphazardly made. Old, half rotten boards rose vertically from a sinking makeshift foundation. A painting of a horse’s head beside the entrance door stared at us as we approached, and on either side, there were more mirrors. This old man who sold us the house must have always wanted to look good. My step-dad pulled the giant wooden door open, and its hinges screamed. It was carpeted inside and from the look of it, it was the same which covered the kitchen. There were a lot of odds and ends in there—an aged lantern, a broken-down push mower, chairs and stool, paint cans and varnish, a dart board and a mirror. We looked around for a couple of minutes; my mom and step-dad talked about how old some of the things were. They talked about antiques and value. My step-dad reached up and pulled the long, thin, metal chain and the light popped off.
Once outside the shed, we took a walk through the back yard. There was part of an old wooden fence beside thirteen feet or so of pavement, maybe a foot wide. Beyond this stood two apple trees; the ground below them covered in rotting fruit. A cool autumn breeze blew past the house and shook a few more bug-infested produce corpses to the ground. The grass in the field was still short at that time, six or eight inches. Clouds came and went slowly above us as we walked out and around the property. There was so much room. I would be able to ride my bike out here. I would be able to play ball, have friends over. I would be able to play and explore. I would discover things I still wish I hadn’t.
Over the next week, we moved in. We ferried what we owned from the trailer park by the Tennessee River in Dayton down to our ever-yellowing acres in Sale Creek. I spent some nights with my grandma a couple of miles away, deep among the back-roads and hollows of the country. At last, it was time to move in. It was time to spend a night at my new home. I helped put my clothes into the dressers, cramming them in and ruining the folds. I hooked up my video games to the little TV, and I shoved some toys under my bed. My mom would never know. Once everything in my room was full and there was no space left to hide boxes or toys beneath my bed, I took the rest of the bags to the little hall.
The hall was a strange room. It was more of a square cut into an L-shape than it was a true hall. It opened from the den, then to the left was another door to my parent’s room. To the right lay the kitchen. If you continue forward, however, you were met by three doors. These three stood nearly touching one another—one straight in front, and one to each side. They were closets; I knew. I remembered my mom opening them as we had walked through before. The left and right were sliding meshes of white plastic, but the one that stood alone in the center had a thick, wooden door. This door had a glass window at the top of it. It must have been made for a front entrance way at some point, but now it stood in front of a small, dark closet. This was to be my parent’s closet. I turned towards the left and slid it open. I jumped back as I saw bright, glittering eyes staring at me. Another old relic from previous owners sat on the floor.
The statue was of an owl. It was thick and made from hard wood. Delicate carvings of feathers wrapped around its body. Inside the carved eye sockets were two bright, shiny faux gems. I shook my head at my silly fears and pushed the thing into the back corner. The statue connected with the wall in a thud. The room wasn’t large at all—three feet wide, two deep—and soon I had it crammed with things. I was eight at the time, so it is easy to imagine the preciseness with which I stacked things. Board games perched precariously atop smaller books and stuffed toys; a bee-bee gun leaned against the wall opposite the owl. I slid the sad excuse for a door shut, and it clicked against the metal frame. I turned to go to my parent’s room and see how they had set up when I heard a thud from my closet. I huffed and turned back toward the plastic barrier. I should have been more cautious when putting my things away, I knew. I was certain I would open the door to see games fallen down with their contents spilled and mingled with other things. I quickly slid the bulging door open. Nothing seemed to have fallen.
I nearly turned and left it at that. The sound I heard could have been my parents moving something in their room, rearranging and decorating. Then I saw it. The owl I had pushed into the corner seemed to have been turned. I had pushed it straight back; I was certain. Now, however, the eyes faced the corner of the wall. While I had been packing stuff into the closet, I must have hit it. Somehow I must have hit it and managed to turn the heavy thing around without noticing. I was sure it was nothing. As I closed my closet shut and turned toward my parent’s room, I caught a glimpse of the mirror opposite the closets. There seemed to be a light on in the middle door, faint and dimmed by the thick glass pane. I turned to the door but the window only showed darkness beyond. The mirror must have been playing tricks with the lights, as they often do.
The rest of our unpacking and rearranging went by uneventfully. The owl remained still as a stump, hidden behind my toys. The windowed closet stayed dark. Everything was going great. The weeks passed quicker than a kid would like, and soon October gave way to November. We settled in quickly enough. What once was a house was transforming into a home. The air grew cooler and more bitter as time passed. Rain began to come down regularly again, drowning the late autumn grasses. Thanksgiving was right around the corner, and just down the calendar from that was Christmas. The holiday months are a dreamland for children, and I was no different.
I ate through my mounds of Halloween candy as the days ticked on, the chocolates and other childish delicacies long gone. I made lists of the things I wanted for Christmas, and I waited impatiently for Thanksgiving hams and sweet potatoes. It was the day before Thanksgiving the first time it happened. The first time of what would grow to be more and more common—more and more terrifying.
I woke up in the black of night. At that age, I had no alarm clock of my own, so I cannot say what time it was. I do know that it must have been late; the familiar sounds of my parents talking or watching TV were nowhere to be heard. There was something else though; a faint sound in the distance, hardly leaking through the old walls. It started as a slow thump, quiet and barely heard. I pulled my quilt up to my neck and shut my eyes. Nothing could hurt me under a blanket. As if the pulling of the old quilt had let out some unseen signal, the sound rose. Thump. Thump. Thump. Slow and steady. Louder now than a whisper and harmonizing with my ever increasing heartbeat. I pulled the covers over my head. The sound no longer seemed so distant. I knew that whatever was making the noise was in my room. I knew it was right at the side of my bed. I knew I had to leave.
I threw the covers from my body and raced through the door that connected straight to my parent’s room. They were heavy sleepers. I pushed and shouted for them to wake up, oblivious to the fact that the sound was gone. Finally, my mom woke up, at least partially. She told me she didn’t hear anything and to get back in my bed. I was nothing if not an obedient child, for the most part. I slowly went back into my room, past the door that let out to the living room and den where I had heard the noise coming from. I turned on the little blue lamp next to my bed and crawled in. I pulled the blankets back to my neck and closed my eyes. I pretended to sleep that night as sweat slowly trickled down my face, one drop at a time. It itched, but I knew if I moved or opened my eyes, I would see something. I didn’t know what, and I didn’t want to. I fell asleep as the sun was peeking through the window; the feeling of not being alone finally washed away.
Thanksgiving came and went; November gave way to December, and I grew suspicious of that night. Nothing happened since. It must have been my imagination. Barring that, it must have had a reasonable explanation. The first weeks after the strange sound seemed tame and normal. I went to school, I came home and played outside and with my video games, I went to bed and slept well. When Winter break came I was overly excited. It is what every kid dreams of. For a young boy, winter is a gift only dethroned by a long, schooless summer.
Our Christmas tree stood near the foot of one of the two couches in the living room. The pine was bushy and filled the room with its earthy scent. We chopped it down ourselves up on the mountain. Tons of presents of various sizes lay at its base. On the end table was a big mason jar with holes punched into its metal lid. The tree came with a hitchhiker; a small, brown, praying mantis egg sack. I would keep it in the jar until it hatched; I loved insects and nature.
As I had countless times before, I shook some of the presents. I looked around to check for my mom or step-dad, then I even shook the one they had told me not to. I knew what a few were. These two small square ones were video games. These few here are movies, I thought. My mom came into the room and asked if I had been messing with the presents. Of course, a dutiful and honest son like myself said—No.
She sat down and turned on the TV, and I retreated to my room. I unhooked my video game system from the TV in my room and lugged it out to the den. I often did this. Even though it had been weeks since the strange occurrence in my bedroom, I still did not like to sit in there alone and play. The den was safe. The den was connected to the living room. Nothing unusual could happen while my mom was in sight.
The table where the small TV sat was in the far corner of the room on the outer wall, blocking some of the large window. The strange drum stood opposite of it. I sat down on the soft, cushioned floor; a large oriental rug added a layer to the plush carpet below. I slid my back against the love seat and began to play. Soon enough, as I often did, I lost myself in the game.
I played until a long winter night began to ease in on the fleeting daylight hours. The sun seemed to set quickly, darkness skipping the formalities of dusk and changing the light beyond the window to blackness. The strange L-shaped hallway went dim before the den, and despite my indulgence in my activity, I began to notice a twinkling to my left. Each time I saw the dim light from the closet’s window on my far left I would instinctively turn to catch it, but it was always gone, a fleeting thing that’s existence only lived in one’s peripheral. Again and again, it happened, and I caught myself involuntarily creeping inches toward the living room. My mom was still there. Protection was there. I turned back to the TV again, but this time I did not re-immerse myself in the entertainment; I was waiting. The effort to concentrate on something you cannot look at is beyond difficult, and whatever must have been causing the light knew. I sat for what seemed like a long while. I heard the credits start to roll on whatever movie my mom had been watching. I heard her stand from the squeaky couch.
She stopped for a brief moment in the den on the way to the kitchen, never truly standing still. She quickly asked me if I was ready for her to make something to eat, told me I should take a break from the game, and then she was gone. I cringed as I watched her walk through the hallway, my breath held as she passed by that peculiar window that did not lead outside. I knew that whatever was within would get her, but nothing happened.
I turned my attention back to my game and shut it off without saving; the TV crackled loudly with static as it blinked immediately to snow. I twisted the old knob down as low as it could go without it clicking and turning off. It was Friday night, I remembered suddenly, and I did not want to miss the TGIF shows. I ran into the living room, taking a cautionary look down the hall as I turned. My step-dad, Wesley, was sitting on the couch looking for something else to watch. He asked me where I was going as I approached the big red front door, and I let him know I needed to turn the antenna outside. The living room TV had satellite reception, but the one in the den connected to a large antenna that stood beside the house. I ran out into the cold without shoes or socks. I grabbed the old rusted metal pole which thrust the antenna into the night air and turned it carefully until I noticed the light through the window was no longer white and flickering. I came back around the house but paused before stepping back up onto the porch; there was something odd down the railroad tracks.
The double tracks by the house stretched long, flat, and straight to the north, but to the south, they curved out of sight. Weeks before, my step-dad and I had walked down beside those tracks to see what lay beyond the bend—nothing much as it turns out. On the left as you followed the curve were high dirt cliffs held together by long roots that wormed their way through the orange dirt. The right was much the same, only the dirt was replaced with rock. As far as we had gone, we saw nothing but cliffs and forest. Now, beyond the point where the view turned, there was light.
In the little over a month I had lived there, I had seen hundreds of trains. You could hear them coming from a mile off, their horn blowing and their power rattling the steel tracks. This night I heard nothing. As I stared down the railroad, goose bumps began to flourish across my skin. There was something strange about this glow, something eerie and unsettling as it peeked motionless back at me from around the curve.
Finally, my legs seemed to respond to my fear and burst into a flight of motion. I ran into the living room and slammed the door. By this time, my mom was back in and sitting on the couch. She asked if everything was alright, and I told them about the light. Where I had been afraid of the unknown, they seemed more worried about some poor soul lost out there with naught but a flashlight. I followed my step-dad out, but the light was gone. Whoever had been down there, he said, must have left.
Soon I was back in the den, quietly listening to the usual Friday night shows. My mom and step-dad passed by me on their way to the kitchen once more, and soon I found myself forgetting about the dim light from the closet. Then it was there again, this time brighter than before. I jerked my head toward it, expecting it to sheath and vanish, but this time it did not. It glowed like the light outside, but where it had been steady and unmoving, this one ebbed. In my mind, I was standing; I was running to my parents. I was yelling to them. But this was not so. No matter how much I willed it, I could not move. I sat in my spot, unable to break the gaze I felt from within the light.
I saw my mom, then I was free. She and my step-dad were walking back from the kitchen and broke my line of sight with the door. They gave me a strange look and asked me what I was doing. I asked if they had seen that light from the closet when they passed by, but they only assured me there was no outlet in there. There could not have been a light, they said. I turned back toward the show which I had just started watching and was surprised to see it was ending. How long had I sat and stared into that foul light?
That night after dinner, I silently refused to walk through the hall alone. I held my bladder until I could tag along side my mom or step-dad as they made their way to the kitchen. I watched what they watched. Before long, however, it was the time I had been dreading. My mom and step-dad were going to bed. They told me I could stay up as long as I wanted since I didn’t have school. I quickly weighed my options. I couldn’t sleep with my parents. I was afraid to tell them about the strange feeling of dread I had—there’s no such thing as ghosts and monsters, they would say again. I was scared to stay in the den, and I was terrified to sleep in my room. I would make my stand against this evil on the couch; nothing had happened in that room before. I would not have to make it on my own, however.
We had a dog back then, an outdoor mutt the product of a Beagle and Chihuahua. Her name was Bell. I made up an excuse that I cannot recall now, and my mom told me I could let her in for the night. I opened the red door and gazed wearily toward the tracks before calling for her. She came from the same direction as my fears, though the light seemed to be gone still.
I stayed up that night, as long as I could. I remained on the couch at all cost; the satellite broadcasting cartoons I scarcely paid attention to. When I became hungry, I let the growling remain un-sated. When I grew thirsty, I tried to ignore my dry lips. As I lay under an old blanket with my dog, my body finally betrayed me in a way I could not ignore. My bladder was full. Despite having had no drink in hours, somehow my body had worked to gather enough liquid to force me beside that damnable closet. I sat and rocked back and forth. I watched the TV and tried to take my mind off my discomfort. I clenched my legs together and held as long as I could until I knew I had to do something. I chose to go outside.
I opened the red door as fast as I could and ran out to the edge of the porch. I pulled down my pants and shivered as the cold concrete sucked the heat from my body. Steam rose as I emptied my bladder. As soon as I was done I ran back to the door, but I stopped as soon as I heard a familiar noise. Thump. Thump. Thump. The sound seemed to freeze my legs into place. I had to go back inside. It was freezing out, and I had nowhere else to go. I looked behind me, contemplating the unthinkable. My grandma’s wasn’t that far away, maybe I could run there—A foolish thought…the idea of an eight-year-old. All ideas of fleeing vanished as I noticed the glowing down the tracks again. My dog started to bark toward it, a catch 22 of knowing I wasn’t the only one who could see it and wishing that I was.
I ran into the house and slammed the door, locking it quickly before turning left and rushing into my bedroom. I could still hear the drumming from the den as I pulled the sliding plastic door aside that blocked me from my parents. I jumped onto the center of their bed and shook them both as hard as I could. Just as before, their waking silenced the house.
Just as I had thought, they told me to go back to bed. It’s only your imagination, they said, you’ll see when you are older. You’ll laugh about this. I followed my mom as she went to get a sip of water and use the restroom before she returned to bed. I chanced a glance to my right as we went through the hall and could see the vague outline of the old drum in the corner, silent as death. Despite my hunger and thirst, I still did not grab anything from the kitchen. I was afraid my bowels or bladder would betray me again. I could eat when the sun came up. Dawn would save me. My mom led me back to the living room and turned off the TV and light. She told me to go to sleep and then left. I admired her courage as she walked off into the dark house, not even bothering to turn on a lamp. Once she was gone, I hastily turned on all the living room lights and TV. At some point I must have fallen asleep; the next thing I knew my mom was shaking me, trying to wake me up. I blinked into consciousness and instantly came to a realization far more haunting than anything which had happened so far—my mom looked scared.
Part two is now available! To continue reading, click HERE!