I stood on the long wooden porch of my father's boyhood home and gazed into the thick fog that had settled into the hollow. The night was rather chilly and I was grateful for the old wind-breaker that one of my cousins had discarded on a previous visit. Being from Texas I was not prepared for the cold nights of late August that were not uncommon in the Appalachians. It was certainly a welcome relief from the Texas heat and I wistfully regretted that my short vacation would soon be coming to an end. Lighting a cigarette I looked down from the rather high porch and out across the dirt road that ran in front of the ramshackle barn that had fallen into a state of disrepair and neglect. Near the dilapidated structure was an ancient looking hay wagon that was rotting where it sat.
Both the barn and the wagon were situated on the far side of a shallow creek that flowed and gurgled in the quiet night. It was a lonesome yet peaceful sound and rather soothing in its way.
I had spent most of my visit with Aunt Suzie and Uncle Jeb but could not pass up the opportunity to spend at least one night in the old house where my grandpa and grandma had once lived and that I so fondly remembered from childhood vacations. I believe my relatives found it rather odd that I would wish to stay in the old house that was now owned by another uncle who used it only on occasion as sort of a weekend retreat. Still, they readily consented to my request and assured me that I could return immediately if for some reason I changed my mind. They seemed concerned that I would be bored without a television, but I finally convinced them that a night of freedom from such distractions was in fact what I sought. At least there was electricity for lighting and water by hand-pump, though I would need to make use of the decrepit old outhouse for other more personal needs.
What I did not tell my relatives was that my true reason for wanting to stay overnight in the old house was to purge myself of a recurring nightmare. Being an amateur writer of horror stories had blessed or cursed me with a rather morbid imagination that was occasionally manifest in such dreams as that which had plagued me for a couple of years now. This dream was not particularly elaborate, but was at least consistent from visitation to visitation. It always played itself out to a certain point at which time I would awaken drenched in sweat and unable to return to sleep for some time. There was no logical reason that I could determine for this particular dream and I always thought it very odd that the setting of the dream occurred in a location that conjures up nothing but memories of the most pleasant sort.
Perhaps it would be best if I give a brief description of the dream before going further in this narrative.
The beginning was always the same. I would be on vacation with my parents and we would be visiting my grandmother and grandfather. There were many relatives present and a great deal of eating and visiting would be occurring. In other words, the basic type of events that one expects when visiting family members. Eventually everyone would retire for the night and I would go to sleep in one of the upstairs bedrooms with no difficulty or apprehension. Later I would awaken in the stillness of the night and be overcome with a dreadful sense of fear and loneliness. Eventually I would call out for my mother or father and vainly wait for one of them to come and check on me. After an interminable period of time I would summon my courage and leave my bed in search of my parents or one of the other relatives who were staying as overnight guests. I would always find myself alone in the large, old house and then the panic would set in. I would always run out onto the long, wooden front porch only to discover that the house and surroundings were blanketed in a thick, blinding fog. By this time I would be sobbing and crying out for someone to come help me. There was never any answer, but one thing always happened at this point in the dream. The fog would slightly dissipate and enable me to see a huge, dark shape edging itself up from the creek bed that flowed by the old barn, just to the other side of the dirt road that ended at the house. I was never able to clearly see what the nature of this shape might be as it seemed to shift and change as it made its way up the sloping ground that lead to the front of the house.
However, the shape would inexorably move toward the house, first vaguely visible and then completely obscured by the fog. At this point in the dream I would invariably run back inside and stumble through the darkened house until reaching my bedroom where I would then frantically attempt to barricade myself inside. My nightmare would then near its crescendo as I heard the terrible, shifting shape arrive at the wooden porch steps and continue its maddening pursuit with a frightening noise that sounded how I imagined a giant serpent might sound in the same fantastic circumstances. At this point I would hear the front door begin to creak and pop as if some massive force was pushing against it. When I was certain that the door was on the verge of exploding inward I would awake to find myself trembling and drenched in sweat.
These nightmares were always followed by relatively long periods of time in which the dream lay blessedly dormant. Sometimes it would disappear for a couple of weeks and at other times for months at a time. I had spoken with my older brother on several occasions as to the possible origin of my nightmare and could arrive at no definite conclusion. There was one possibility that we discussed which seemed as likely as any other explanation.
We had been talking about a year earlier, shortly after a recurrence of the dream, when my brother asked, "Do you remember when we use to visit Grandma and Grandpa when we were little?"
"How could I forget it?" I replied. "Those were great times, especially when Grandpa was still alive."
"Do you remember what you used to like best, though it always scared the crap out of you?"
I thought for a moment and then sheepishly smiled. "The ghost stories that everyone told when we were all sitting out on the front porch after dark!"
"Right," he said emphatically.
"So," I replied. "Weren't they just pretty much run of the mill spook tales?"
"Yes, for the most part," he said. "But the story about Uncle Hoyt and the witch was the one that always seemed to bother you the most."
I thought for a moment, but could not recall the tale in question. With little prodding my brother soon launched into as much of the story as he could remember.
My uncle, Hoyt Thompson, was a farmer who lived in Stouts Mills, West Virginia until his death in the early 60's. He was not particularly well-to-do back in the 30's (when this incident took place), but he was somewhat better off than many of his fellow citizens. One might even say that he was one of the most eligible bachelors in that very small part of a very poor state.
Hoyt Thompson was a large dour man of a serious bent. He did not usually engage in much nonsense or foolishness nor was he a lady's man by anyone's standards. It was said that an earlier failed romance in his youth had soured him on women and it appeared that he was content to live out his days as a bachelor. However, everyone was very surprised when back in 1933 he began to court an older woman who had recently moved into that part of the country.
The woman's name was Elvira Higgins and it would be extremely charitable to call her attractive. It was said that she was almost always combative and spiteful to everyone in the county and many loose tongues speculated that she was a witch-woman. Many of the women of the county were absolutely convinced that Elvira had placed a hex on Hoyt Thompson, as that was the only way to account for his attraction to the woman. Still, most of the men believed that this was ridiculous and would knowingly wink and nudge each other when the subject was broached. It was rumored that Elvira was a loose woman and had probably been run out of her home in New England for "immoral" behavior.
The courtship between the unlikely couple went on for several months and most folk knew it was only a matter of time until the two were wed. Then it abruptly ended as suddenly as it began. Elvira Higgins was not reticent in making her furious feelings toward Hoyt known. She cursed and badmouthed the man to any soul who would listen and promised that he would suffer greatly for the wrong that had been done to her. Most of the community was happy that Hoyt had "come to his senses" and paid little heed to Elvira's hateful rantings. Hoyt refused to discuss the reason for the dissolution of their relationship with anyone other than his brothers. He swore them to silence, which was a vow they kept until the passing of Hoyt. Even then the things they had been told by their brother were related only to a few other members of the family.
Shortly after the break-up it is related that many strange and curious things happened near the farm of Hoyt Thompson. Cattle went missing from fenced pastures only to turn up dead and mutilated in another part of the county. Strange noises and lights were frequently reported in the nearby woods and Hoyt took to retiring for bed before sundown, as if he feared to be out and about after nightfall. Eventually his health began to deteriorate and his brother Carl started to make noises about killing the old witch, which even he had come to believe was behind the baleful turn of events.
Fortunately the situation took a turn for the better with the arrival of an itinerant preacher who also hailed from New England. No one is entirely sure what transpired between him and Hoyt Thompson, but they soon became close friends and over a period of weeks the troubles which had plagued Uncle Hoyt seemed to dramatically decrease. It is true that isolated events still infrequently occurred, but even these reportedly stopped upon the unexpected death of Elvira Higgins. The shrewish woman was burnt alive in her old cabin after a tree was struck by lighting in a sudden mountain storm. Part of the huge tree had crashed through the roof of her dwelling, trapping her inside even as it burned from the lightning strike.
Following the death of Elvira Higgins there were only sporadic reports of strange lights and noises. Still, this did not stop Hoyt Thompson from locking himself inside his house before sunset nor did it end the general demeanor of apprehensive wariness that he had embraced. He was never entirely the same man he had once been following the incidents of 1933.
I looked at my brother, Roger, and smiled. I performed my best Twilight Zone theme imitation and we both laughed. "That is indeed wild," I said.
"Does it still scare you?" Asked Roger.
"Yeah, right," I sarcastically replied. "I always thought great Uncle Hoyt was a nut and this tale goes a long way toward proving it."
My brother shrugged in a "what can I tell you?" type of gesture.
"I'd still like to know what really happened," I said. "Did you ever hear any other talk about these events?"
Roger thought for a moment and then spoke. "I vaguely remember, and this is real hazy mind you, something about Uncle Hoyt and the New England preacher trapping some creature in an old abandoned well. Supposedly some critter that Elvira had called up."
"And you didn't try to find out more about this?" I asked incredulously.
"Yes, a couple of times," he said. "I talked to Dad about it, but he just laughed and told me to forget about such nonsense. I did once overhear he and our uncles laughing about Hoyt and the little star-shaped stones he carried with him to keep away haints. They supposedly sealed Elvira's monster inside the well or wherever with a talismanic star-stone. You got to admit that it all sounds like a load of crap!"
"And that's it?" I skeptically asked.
"That's all I ever heard," replied Roger.
The conversation with Roger was what kept replaying in my head as I leaned against the front porch railing. I had spent the earlier part of the afternoon exploring the immediate vicinity and did not dwell overly much on the recurring dream that had prompted me to spend the night in my grandparent's former house. West Virginia had much to offer in the way of natural beauty and the thick wooded hills of Sand Fork was a nice change of scenery from the flat plains of central Texas.
Earlier I waded in the clear-watered creek where my cousins and I had caught crayfish as a young boy. This brought a rush of childhood memories and left me in a rather melancholy mood. Later I climbed the steep hill behind the house and made my way to the small country cemetery where my grandparents were buried.
The cemetery was quite overgrown with brush and weeds, which made my grandparent's grave markers difficult to find. No one had been laid to rest in the small graveyard in more than twenty years, but I was still rather put off by the fact that my relatives in the area had not seen fit to keep the burial ground better maintained. Still, I was only a visiting relative and decided it was best not to be judgmental in the matter. After all, I was not privy to the everyday problems of their lives, but was sure they had their share. Lord knows it is difficult to find time to do everything in one's life that needs to be done. Such thoughts reminded me of an electric bill, now overdue, that I had neglected to pay before leaving on my visit. Hopefully it would not be disconnected for nonpayment before my return home. This irritating thought prompted me to depart for the house where I planned to eat a couple of the tasty pork loin sandwiches that Aunt Suzie had been gracious enough to provide for me.
I finished the sandwiches and decided to once again stroll through the quiet house that I remembered as being so noisy on my family's annual Christmas visits. I opened many of the window shades to make the interior as cheery as possible and then made my way upstairs to the bedroom where I always slept on my past visits. It was a pretty small room, but had seemed much larger when I was a child. This is often the case when reality is measured against the recall of memory.
As I looked around the sparsely furnished bedroom I experienced no sense of apprehension. I was planning to sleep in the plain, single bed and decided there was a great possibility that I would not have the strange, recurring dream. My original idea began to seem ludicrous, as I'm sure it would to others were they knowledgeable of my intent. I smiled to myself and returned downstairs.
I eventually took my ever-present spiral notebook out to the front porch and parked myself in a fairly comfortable wicker chair. I hoped to get some work done on a horror tale that seemed to be floundering. Hopefully, the lovely weather combined with the peaceful surroundings would be conducive to the writing process. I could not help but sigh as I contemplated the term "writing process." So far this alleged process had been responsible for me placing a grand total of three stories and a handful of poems in various horror publications of varying quality. It was readily apparent to me that I was not becoming one of "horror's rising stars," as they are fond of saying on the covers of paperback horror novels. Yes, I had a long way to go before old Stevie King or Pete Straub volunteered to write cover blurbs for my work.
Thank God I had a cushy job as a state employee! The job did not pay a great deal, but I managed to purchase the occasional Arkham House book at websites such as Ebay and Yahoo. My most recent acquisition had been The Borders Just Beyond by my hero, Joseph Payne Brennan. Truthfully, I would be quite happy if my writing became half as good as authors like David H. Keller, Richard Searight and Brennan. These guys never became rich or as well-known as King, but they had managed to achieve almost godlike status among a small, hard-core group of horror connoisseurs.
My train of thought was suddenly derailed by the loud crack of a tree branch. The noise seemed to emanate from the wooded area across the creek. I was greatly startled, but immediately thought of a number of logical explanations for the limb's breaking. As I mentally catalogued the possibilities, a second such loud noise occurred somewhat closer and a sense of unease began to creep over me. While I groped for comforting explanations, my blood was chilled by the agonized wail of an animal, perhaps one of the many dogs that freely roamed this part of the county. "That tears it," I blurted to myself and rushed into the house to retrieve the Ruger pistol that I carried in my suitcase when traveling away from home.
I grabbed the weapon from my suitcase, still open on the sofa, and returned to the porch, but the heavy fog made it impossible to see what might lie on the other side of the creek. All was quiet for a few tense moments when the water in the creek began to boil and churn. It sounded like half a dozen people were kicking and splashing in the shallow water and I could not imagine what might be causing the disturbance. This activity ended only to be followed by a loud sucking sound and then a tremendous wet thud that sounded like someone had overturned a dump-truck of mud from about a height of fifty feet.
I quickly realized that events were becoming frightfully surreal and was glued to the porch in fear. Was I now in the recurring nightmare that had been the impetus for my being here? Briefly the dense fog dissipated long enough for me to gaze in horror at the sludge-like creature that was slowly oozing toward the porch. It was a dark yet shimmering mass that constantly changed its appearance as it slowly but steadily made its way toward my vantage-point on the front porch. In stunned disbelief I watched it extend and retract ropy, questing tendrils as if seeking for prey. It made a noise like tremendous quantities of shifting mud while simultaneously emitting a high-pitched whistling similar to a tea-kettle.
I was almost hypnotized by the creature's extraordinary display of noise and convolutions when I remembered the pistol gripped in my hand. I had no illusions concerning the probable effectiveness of the weapon. Still, I steadied myself by propping my arms on the porch railing and managed to place six hollow-pointed shells into the center of the undulating mass that crept inexorably closer. This desperate act had no noticeable effect on the creeping behemoth except to dramatically accelerate the organically produced light show that was unlike any sight I had seen. I became disoriented while staring at the amorphous thing and felt sick to my stomach. I lurched toward the front door just moments before one of the snake-like tendrils shot out from the creature and coiled around the railing of the porch where my arms had rested.
Stumbling into the house I frantically shut the door and wondered what I could possibly do to stop the thing that was approaching the old house. I didn't expect the creature to be deterred by the door, which left me only the option of fleeing into the darkened woods behind the house. I rushed to the door and peered from the window, almost fainting as the dark, changing mass slid onto the porch like a giant mass of hellish gelatin. Frozen in fear, I stood in the middle of the room and stared through the glass pane of the door. The approaching mass tentatively extended a glistening tendril toward the door as I prepared to bolt to the backdoor and flee into the woods if the entry was breached. I was profusely sweating and held my breath in fearful anticipation of what might follow.
The ropy extension of the creature inched closer to the door and I felt my entire body tense. Creeping closer it at last made contact with the door's surface and then occurred a result I had not expected. The creature, upon making contact, emitted a monstrous, gurgling hiss of rage and the tendril violently recoiled from the door as if in great pain. Through the window I could see the massive shape quiver and shudder in what may have been pain, frustration or rage. I could not imagine what it was about the door that had caused this response, but I was truly thankful.
The mass was immobile for about a minute when it again approached the door and extended a probing tendril. The result was even more violent than the earlier effort. A cloud of what appeared to be colored steam erupted from the creature, followed by a hasty withdrawal. The steam, if such it was, had a vile reek about it, which managed to permeate the farmhouse. It reminded me of the descriptions of open graves I had read about in several horror stories. Unfortunately this was no story and I was at a loss as to what action to take. I watched and waited. After a couple of minutes the creature began to make more of the bizarre teakettle sounds and slowly withdrew from the porch.
I moved closer to the window and watched the monster as it oozed from the porch and onto the ground. I summoned enough courage to open the door a crack and shine a fairly powerful flashlight at the dark mass. This revealed a constant change of appearance as inhuman eyes seemed to come to the surface of the viscous shape only to quickly submerge into the writhing mass. Demonic visages appeared and disappeared in an unending cycle of madness. Eventually the creature withdrew into the fog and the shadows and I had difficulty in tracking its course. I periodically went from room to room in the farmhouse, peering from windows in an effort to determine if the thing was still in the vicinity. The fog grew thicker as the long night progressed and I was unable to again catch a glimpse of the horror.
I cowered within the house for the remainder of the eternally long night, continuing to shine my light in a futile effort to spot the beast. When morning broke I cautiously went outside, praying to find no sign of the nightmarish creature. What I first discovered was a slowly dissipating slime-like substance on the front door where the creature had sought entrance during the previous night. It is truly difficult to explain my feelings upon finding a very small, star-shaped stone that had been inset into the old front door. I had not noticed it the previous day, but after a cursory look around outside the house, I was startled to find several other such stones at various points around the outside of the house. I then thanked God that my great Uncle Hoyt was not the crazy old coot I had imagined him to be.
Hoyt and the itinerant preacher had indeed imprisoned an awful creature inside a well or perhaps some other location. Driving hurriedly to Aunt Suzie and Uncle Jeb's house, I could think of no way to tell anyone what had occurred. They would surely think I was insane or on drugs. Tomorrow I will return to my home in Texas and try to determine what I should do. I do this with the fearful certainty that a thing that should not be now roams the hills and hollows of Gilmer County.
Created: August 14, 2001; Current Update: August 9, 2004