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Volume 25, Number 1 — January 2018

Campfire Stories: 'House Up the Street'

Credit: Illustration Steven Shortridge | Bristol Herald Courier
Credit: Illustration Steven Shortridge | Bristol Herald Courier

If ever I have seen a haunted house in my life, it was this one

By VIRGINIA L. GRANT | SPECIAL TO THE HERALD COURIER | October 03, 2010

*** Final story in the Bristol Herald Courier's (mildly) scary story series written by Virginia L. Grant of Abingdon, Va. ***


I never would have done it if my older brother hadn't dared me.

It was in the summer after my third grade year that it happened.

I was 9, and my brother, John, was 11.

The two of us were spending a couple of weeks with our grandparents during our summer break from school.

Our grandparents lived in a small town where everybody knew everybody, and everyone knew every story of the town – especially the ghost stories.

A house just several houses up from my grandparents' was home to one of those ghost stories.

If ever I have seen a haunted house in my life, it was this one. When I looked at the house, it seemed to be looking back at me. And just like a haunted house is expected to be, it was big, old and gray. I think the house might have been white once, but time and weather had turned its tint.

Adding to its spooky look, old trees, bushes and weeds had grown up around the house, as if they were keeping something selfishly to themselves.

The trees' branches looked like the skinless hands of so many skeletons, and the weeds like the hair of old, desiccated corpses.

Obviously, the house hadn't been lived in for a very long time. Kids in the neighborhood told my brother and me that it hadn't been lived in for at least a 100 years.

According to the story about the house, a woman had been murdered by a stranger. She had been stabbed by the stranger 13 times. No one really knows how the stranger got into the woman's house or why he killed her. Some people believe simply that he was a madman.

Town folks say that late at night the ghost of the unfortunate woman can be seen standing by the kitchen window – the room in which she was murdered.

Some folks say, too, that the sound of a woman crying can sometimes be heard coming from the house late at night.

I can tell you, from my own experience, that the story of this house is true. For on one summer night, when I was 9 years old, I saw the ghost of the woman, myself.

And as I've already written, it started with a dare. This is how I remember the day, and night, of that dare.

One Saturday afternoon, my brother John and I were sitting on the front porch of our grandparents' house with three boys from the neighborhood, Rudy, Darrell and Nick.

It had been raining, and the five of us had been playing card games when Rudy suggested that we each tell a ghost story.

We had started getting a bit bored with the card games, so the suggestion of the ghost stories sounded like a good idea.

That's when Rudy, Darrell and Nick told John and me the story of the house up the street.

I asked the boys if they had ever seen the ghost themselves or heard her crying. They told me they hadn't, giving the excuse that their parents wouldn't allow them to go near the house.

"Y'all can, though, 'cause your parents aren't even in town," Rudy proposed to my brother and me. " All of y'all can spend the night at my house. ... John and Mike, your grandparents won't even have to know anything about it."

John and I looked at each other, a little doubtfully.

"So what's it going to be guys ... or should I say girls?" Rudy teased, wanting us to agree with his plan.

"I will if you will, Mike," my brother spoke, letting Rudy know that he didn't like his joke.

"Well, I won't, John, so just forget it."

"I dare you, Mike."

"No."

"I dare you, and if you don't take the dare, I'll tell Elizabeth Lee that you like her."

"No, you won't, John!"

"I will, and you know I will, Mike. You know her brother is my best friend, and–"

"Okay! I'll do it ... but you have to go first!"

"Hey, I'll go first. I am, after all, the big brother."

"Hold on, you two, there's more." Rudy spoke, holding up a card from the deck.

"There's more?" I asked, wondering how Elizabeth would take the news of my liking her.

"Yeah, see this jack of spades?" Rudy waved the card in front of my nose.

"Darrell, Nick and I are going to take it up to the house, and I'm going to slide it under the kitchen door. You two have to get it and bring it back to me tonight."

"But you said your parents–"

"Hey! If you two can walk into the house after dark, the least I can do is slip a card under a door in broad daylight."

Darrell and Nick nodded their agreement, and the three of them set off in the direction of the house.

"Hey, it's okay, Mike. This ghost stuff probably isn't even real."

John gave me a reassuring pat on my shoulder. "Anyway, I don't plan on seeing a ghost tonight."

I took a deep breath and followed my older brother into our grandparents' house to tell them that we were going to spend the night at Rudy's.

The plan was set. Now all we needed was the night.

And it came. After Rudy's parents had gone to bed, the five of us walked up the street to the house.

In all of my 9 years of life, I had never felt a night so dark. It wrapped itself around me like a snake smothering its prey.

We had brought flashlights, but we didn't turn them on until we got to the house.

The house stood at the end of the street, and though there were houses close by, it felt as if it stood in a time and a place all of its own. I felt as if I had stepped into another place, far from my grandparents' house – outside of the town itself.

It was then that I felt like I had to get into the house. I felt drawn to its mystery. As the dark had felt like a snake wrapped around me, my curiosity now had become a snake within me – and it was smothering my fear.

"So where's the kitchen door, Rudy?" I asked, eager to know the house's story.

"No way, Mike," spoke Rudy, misunderstanding my words, "you and John have to go through the front door and walk through the house to the kitchen. The card should be lying by the kitchen door."

"How do we get in? Isn't the front door locked?" I asked.

"The lock's broken." Darrell told us. "My dad said some men broke into the house years ago. They were looking for loot, but the tale is they all left the house in a hurry and hollerin'."

The five of us all looked at one another with an "I'm not so sure about this" look in our eyes, but the snake within me reared its head and urged me up to the front door. The other four then followed me.

Standing by the front door, we looked through its window, yet we saw nothing but dark.

I reached for the doorknob, but John stopped me, reminding me that he had promised to go first. I stepped back, and John opened the front door while reaching around to the back of my neck with his free hand and pushing me past him into the house without him.

The other three boys rushed up to help John hold the door shut.

I was in the house ... alone. I felt for the snake within, but I could not now sense it.

The house's mystery had again become less than my fear of it. In other words, I was scared. I tugged at the door and pleaded with the boys on the other side to let me out, but I had become their game, and there was no way out ... except by the kitchen door.

I turned away from the door and so from my teasing tormentors. I shone my flashlight around the room in which I stood.

Old furniture, dust and cobwebs were all I found. I stilled my breath as best as I could to listen. I heard nothing – no lady crying, or otherwise.

As dark as the night was, so was it quiet. I had never felt a night so quiet. I felt as if it were trying to pull sound out of me.

"Hello," I barely spoke. "Hello, is there someone here?"

I could feel the four boys behind me. I could feel their watching me. I could feel their anticipation.

I had to show those guys I could do this. Again I felt for the snake within. I felt a spark of curiosity deep within. The snake was back. It slithered quietly up my spine, urging me on.

I took a step forward, and then another. I made my way through what must have been the living room into a room with a dining table and chairs.

Again, I spoke. "Is someone here?"

Again, I stilled my breath to listen. The quiet lay itself heavily about me.

I stepped past the table and chairs to the doorway before me.

Here was the kitchen.

I stood in the doorway, not wanting to step into the murder-tainted room.

I was stuck in the doorway. I couldn't move. I could sense my brother and his partners in this trick, waiting for me to rush back to them, crying and begging for them to let me out.

I took a deep breath ... and stepped into the kitchen.

I saw nothing but a kitchen itself. I saw no lady, or a ghost of one. I heard no lady, or otherwise, crying.

I shone the flashlight on the kitchen door.

I spotted the card at the base of the door. I picked up the card and held it in my hand. Rudy's deal was for us ... well, me ... to get the card and put it in his hand tonight. I had the card, ready to put it in Rudy's hand, ready to show these chickens what I had done. I headed to the front door.

I moved swiftly through the kitchen and had stepped into the dining room when the card left my hand. It felt as if it had been pulled out of my hand, but I reasoned that it must have slipped. I shone the flashlight on the floor and found the card lying at my feet. I picked it up and stepped toward the front door.

The card left my hand again. I picked it up for a second time and stepped toward the door.

I was barely into my second step, though, when the card was yanked from my hand. I turned to see who, or what, had taken the card. I shone my flashlight through and around the kitchen. Strangely, there was the card, lying on the kitchen table.

"John?" I called, thinking my brother had somehow sneaked into the house and past me.

"Help me," a voice whispered in the kitchen.

"What? John, what did you say? Where are you?"

"Help me," the voice whispered again.

"John, stop this!" I said, searching the kitchen for my brother.

"Help me," the voice whispered, as a body now materialized with it.

A woman – or rather the ghost of one – stood before me. Her face was as white as milk. Her eyes were as dark as the night.

What looked to be a nightgown, long and white, was stained with blotches of blood.

"Help me," she whispered, as she held her arms out to me.

My heart pounded hard in my chest, urging me to run.

I grabbed the card off the kitchen table and ran to the front door.

My brother, having seen the ghost, opened the door as wide as it would open, and the five of us ran back to Rudy's house on feet we couldn't feel under us.

Back at Rudy's, we all sat on the front porch, trying to calm our breathing.

I handed the card to Rudy, but he wouldn't take it. "No, you keep it, Mike, you've earned this card!"

"So you saw her?" I asked.

"Yeah, we all saw her!"

"We could see back to the kitchen through a front window, Mike ..."

"Hey Mike ... if you want me to tell Elizabeth how brave you were–"

"No, John, I'd rather just let this night go ... at least for now.

"Hey, y'all don't think she – it – whatever – can follow us, do y'all?"

"I've always heard that she can't leave the house," Nick answered.

"That works for me!" I said, as the other four high-fived me.

I slipped the jack of spades into my jeans pocket and followed the others into Rudy's house. After having taken off my shoes, I scooted down into my sleeping bag beside my brother on the living room floor.

The next morning John and I left Rudy's house for our grandparents'.

"Let's go by the house," I suggested to my brother.

"Are you joking?" John asked.

"Things might look different in the light of day, John. Let's take a look."

"Okay ... if you go first," my brother teased. (Although I knew he really did want me to go first.)

The two of us walked resolutely up to the house and peered through the kitchen window.

"Hey look, Mike ... I thought you'd gotten that card."

"I did!" I spoke with surprise, as I reached into my jeans pocket.

"It's gone!" I told John, pulling my empty hand from my pocket.

My brother and I stood by the wicked-looking house, wondering who or what, had laid that card ... the jack of spades ... on the dusty, old kitchen table.

No dares this time, John and I walked down the street to our grandparents' house.

"John, don't ask me about the card ... I don't know how–"

"No, no, Mike ... that's not what I was going to ask you–"

"What?"

"Want to go fishing?"

"Yeah John, no more haunted houses for me today ... let's go fishing!"


© 2009 Virginia L. Grant