I suppose one could come to the conclusion just by browsing the hallowed halls of jhubner73.com that I do enjoy the creepy, the dark, and the eerie. Soundtracks of old films that freaked me out as a kid don my vinyl collection like blood dons shower curtains in 80s slasher films. I still get a thrill from those classic flicks, too. Nothing made in the last ten years gives me the same feeling as the first time I watched Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, or Bava’s Demons. Even the campy gross-out Return of the Living Dead was made timeless by it’s punk rock soundtrack and Linnea Quigley’s nude cemetery dancing(as well as a good amount of blood and gore.) So it’s safe to say that I love the gothic, and this time of year has plenty of it.
But, what about real scares? What about the things that go bump in the night for real? Those unexplained noises and objects that moved without your doing? Have you ever encountered a ghost? Or what you thought was a ghost? I’m pretty much a skeptic about things until I’ve seen it with my own eyes. I can hear tales of hauntings till the cows come home, but it’s hard for me to really believe it. I’ve seen enough of those ghost hunting shows to know even those cats are grasping at straws in order to keep those ratings up. As far as the unexplained I’ve had my share of incidences in my life, but there was one time in-particular that sticks out and I’ll share it with you here. This isn’t a ghost story, but it’s one you can categorize under “holy s**t”.
So we all have that friend in our lives that somehow or another we always end up getting into some crazy mischief with. For me, it’s my best friend Tyson. This guy and I have been best friends since we first met in the third grade. It was as easy as him riding by my house one day after school on his Mongoose dirt bike, seeing me out in the front yard with a toy machine gun and saying:
“Hey, you’re in my class aren’t you?”
“Yeah. Wanna come over?”
That was it. From that point on we were thick as thieves. Between Star Wars, GI Joe, and Atari at his place we were together about every weekend. I’d go to his house, but mostly he’d stay at my place. Besides Star Wars, we both loved horror movies. We’d watch whatever came on TV, but once my parents bought a Betamax VCR in 1984 it was hitting up Video World for whatever we could find. Horror movies, Prince, Duran Duran, and whatever hair metal I was into at the time pretty much filled our time. Halloween was always a great time for us as well, as we’d try to outdo each other in the mask department. In the 6th grade Tyson’s dad and stepmom built a house over on Stanton Lake, a small and private lake that at the time was being surrounded by a somewhat affluent neighborhood. Next to their house was a tennis court and behind the tennis court right on the lake was a community building where families could rent the place and have parties. I think over time Tyson used the place for “other” activities with whichever girl he was seeing at the time. Anyways, that’s neither here nor there.
Like I said, we all have that friend that you always end up getting into trouble with and Tyson was that for me and I for him. He decided to buy an Ouija board one summer and we caused some sort of disturbance in the force one evening where after a heated discussion over toning down the gothic rhetoric(he was trying to contact the spirit of a girl who’d taken her own life that my cousin was good friends with) the power blew as we sat in his bedroom. We both shot up and blew to the bedroom door only to not be able to open it. Finally after much fumbling and Stooges-like noises the door flung open and we both tumbled out of the room to find that the power only went off in his room, not in the living room where his stepmom sat drunk on the couch yelling “Goddammit Ty! Stop screwing around!” We had a few more dalliances with the demonic Parker Brothers board game, but nothing as visceral as that.
But this story is much simpler than that. This is a story about an abandoned farmhouse across the lake from Tyson’s house, and how we decided to check it out one day.
So we’d often take walks around Stanton Lake when we’d hang out at Tyson’s house. It was usually better for us to not be at his house when his stepmom was home(this was the same woman that used to lock us out of their old house when it was 40 degrees out when we were 8 years old because she wanted to be left alone.) We’d make our way around the lake and come across the same deer hunting hut every time. No one had used it in years; at least since the homes had gone in across the lake. Once you cleared the line of scrub trees there was an opening and an old dirt driveway that led up to an abandoned farm house. The old faded two-story house stood like a relic from another time. The white paint had long been faded by the hot Midwest summers and cruel Midwest winters. Off to the side was a dilapidated barn that resembled the skeletal remains of some long extinct beast; it’s doors rotted from their hinges and the opening seemed to me at least to be the toothless mouth of some splintered beast. There was the rusted body of a 1956 International Harvester tractor that had been abandoned and left in the high weeds off to the side of the driveway. As you approached the property from the front you were waiting for Leatherface to come busting out of the barn with his chainsaw ripping the air. Coming from Stanton Lake Estates to this scene in the course of a meager mile jaunt was quite jarring to the psyche, especially a teenage psyche.
One sunny summer afternoon Tyson and I headed out of his house and took the usual lake walk and made our way to the old farmhouse. Maybe it was the sunny skies and warm air, but we both had decided we needed to investigate this old place. There had been rumors that a group of unknown teens had been hanging out in the farmhouse, using it as their impromptu party house. There were also darker rumors that these teens weren’t teens at all, but cult-ish sociopaths that used the house for animal sacrifices and possibly human sacrifices. There was talk of a few kids in neighboring counties that had disappeared and were victims of these Satan-worshiping cretins. I figured had kids actually been taken and missing that there would have been something on the news, so these rumors must’ve been just that: rumors. In retrospect I now know that not all runaways come from homes that cared enough to report them missing, as sad as that is to say. But I digress.
So Tyson and I headed up the driveway to this relic from another time; a better time from the looks of it. The front door was long gone, and in its place was a torn screen door. It swung open easily and as we went inside the door slammed shut hard.
“Hey! Why’d you let it slam?” I said.
“Come on. It’s not like we’re gonna wake someone up”, Tyson said, laughing a bit.
I smirked and began looking around the place. The door we came in led right into the kitchen. There were ancient appliances still in the spots that they sat in many years prior, when they worked. The floors were littered with beer cans, cigarette butts, and eerily dirtied children’s toys. An old baby doll(of course) with ratty, scuzzy hair laid in the center of the room, while a rusty metal toy car sat nose first against the broken plaster wall. There were cereal boxes, a few broken dishes, and soiled clothes as well. This may very well have been some hangout for teens to get drunk, high, and screw, but I wasn’t sure how anyone could get in the mood in that place. For being the middle of August and nearly 90 degrees out, the house had an eerie draft to it. As I was going to mention that out loud to Tyson, He blurted out “Holy shit! You should see the size of the hole in the floor out here! You can see straight down into the cellar!” He’d walked out into the living room, which was adjacent to the kitchen, and to the right of that walkway was a pull down attic stairway that had been pulled down already. I had just assumed it was another spot for teenage debauchery so I hadn’t even considered the thought that someone else was in the house with us. As I began to walk towards the living room I’d glanced into the kitchen sink and was horrified to see dried blood and what looked like a cat carcass. As I was getting ready to yell at Tyson to get back in the kitchen he blurted out
“Did you hear that?”
“Hear what?” I said.
“It sounded like something was above us. Like upstairs.” Tyson said to me with a whisp of panic in his voice.
“I didn’t hear anything, but there’s blood in the sink”, I spoke with a hush in my voice. Tyson quickly made his way to the kitchen, leaving the crevice to the cellar that laid in wait in the living room. He walked past me and looked into the sink, looked at me, and said “Let’s go.” As we made our way to the screen door I glanced back to the attic stairway and saw two sets of legs descending from above, both in jet black slacks and black shoes. I turned around and yelled “RUN!” at Tyson and slammed into his back, pushing him along. We both ran as fast as our 15-year old legs would take us, not looking back till that International Harvester tractor was a good 15 feet behind us. When we did glance back over our shoulders we saw four people, three men and one woman, coming out of the farmhouse. They shuffled mayble 20 feet from the dilapidated structure before just stopping and watching these two teens running for their lives.
I know we didn’t head right to Tyson’s house. We knew enough from watching horror movies for the last 8 years to know not to lead the psychos back to safety, so we made our way around the neighborhood until we felt we hadn’t been followed and made it back to Tyson’s house. We kept the incident to ourselves, knowing that no one would probably believe the story anyways. Not that we were Chicken Little’s constantly telling everyone the sky was falling, but the story was too preposterous to repeat. Hell, I’d have a hard to believing it if someone else had told me. We kept this strange tale to ourselves all these years, only occasionally bringing it up after a few beers. On more than one occasion I’ve brought it up to my friend as if I wasn’t sure it really happened at all. Time fades those memories, and when you keep those tales between two people for so many years it’s hard to keep track of what’s real and what was concocted by time and an overactive imagination. But every time I’ve brought up that summer day and that eerie, rotting shell of a farmhouse to my friend Tyson he always confirms what I deep down knew was the truth: it really happened.
The farmhouse and barn are gone, long tore down and replaced with an immaculate tri-level with an in-ground pool. Nothing remains as a reminder of that sunny summer day. No International Harvester, no monstrous barn, and no disheveled, ancient home appliances situated on the front porch. Just an immaculately kept front yard, a cedar shed with flower boxes hanging under the windows, and a PVC privacy fence in the backyard. But even the happiest of upper middle class dreams and modestly built homes can’t completely erase the memories I have, as riddled and tainted by time as they are.