(see editor's note below)
It started as a simple 'city magazine' article on the Mothman. I drove out to West Virginia and ran some old leads and talked to a few people and checked out the bridge and all that, then I went home and began a write up on what was truly a series of odd occurrences, but nothing more. In my conclusion I declared that while Something most certainly had happened in the mid-sixties in the Point Pleasant area, I did not think it was either a space alien or a mutant, and I didn't think there was a government conspiracy to cover it all up.
Not a week after that article came out I was on the road again. This time to Connecticut. I was heading for some dinky little town called Cornwall, with the mission to investigate the truth about what had been called the 'most haunted spot in America'.
What I found was an overgrown valley between a couple three good-sized hills and a lot of poison ivy. If Dudleytown had ever been cursed, I couldn't tell. But I did find a dozen rotting foundations and some twisted trees and two guys selling T-shirts. A local trying to cash in on the hype led me around (for only ten bucks as a favor to the press) to feel the energy vortexes. The only thing I felt was my wallet ten dollars lighter.
Doing some checking on the 'phenomenon that is Dudleytown' I found a lot of omissions and misstatements. One of those that had 'lived the curse' had died hundreds of miles from the town and never seemed to have had much to do with it when she had been alive to begin with. Those interested in perpetuating the legend called my pointing out holes in their story misinterpreting the clearly stated facts of the town and its history.
I left without a T-shirt but with a lot of pictures of eighteenth century stone foundations and thick trees, and a nice rash all over my legs.
The story ran with a few pictures and the warning that the town was private property and if you want to go up there to see it, call ahead and stay on the trails.
A month later I was stomping around a graveyard at midnight looking for 'ghost lights'. The lights were a bust, but the pizza was good. Next was a house that supposedly moaned, and it did. Every time the sewage pumping station across the road kicked on.
I was becoming the magazine's paranormal investigator by default. It got me out of sitting through fire commission hearings and interviews with conservationist that chained themselves to trees. My column got syndicated and once a month a new glimpse into the 'unusual and unexplained' would run.
In the first year or so I did find some things that weren't easy to brush off. One was cold spots in a building that shouldn't be there given the air circulation system and layout of the furniture. The cold spots were there if the lights and fans were on or off. And, yes, one was about the size and shape of a person sitting on a chair in an office that used to be occupied by a doctor.
Then I did something to prove that, yes, I am as dumb as your average plate of spaghetti. I got a chair from the waiting room and put in roughly where the cold spot was and sat in it.
I will never do that again.
The chills I felt had nothing to do with the country music coming out of the radio. I couldn't move, my fingers turned blue and my stomach heaved. I didn't get out of the chair, I fell out of it. Shivering and heaving on the floor I tried to crawl away from the spot but ended up sprawled out retching into a trashcan.
The two people that had been showing me the place reacted differently. The man ran out of the room claiming he was never setting foot in the place again. The woman helped me up and said she avoided walking through that spot for the same reason.
In the write-up I didn't go into the full color details of my reaction, I just mentioned 'funny, almost bad feelings' and let it go at that. I also pointed out there were no electrical transformers either above or below the spot. There hadn't been any new carpet laid in the room in the last five years, no fresh paint, nothing on the checklist of the usual suspects for things like that.
Was the building, and that office in particular, haunted? If it wasn't, maybe it should be.
But given my reaction, their stories about wandering staplers, curtains falling down, and the water cooler leaking seemed more plausible.
The article ended with the statement that at some future date, I was going to do a serious, long term investigation into places and happenings just like this one.
OK, so I cursed myself.First State Ghosts
Next I was in Delaware traipsing around a state wildlife refuge with a couple of members of a self described 'paranormal investigation club'.
Yeah, the place was weird. The trees all leaned at about the same angle off to one side. The ground was choked with honeysuckle. Unusual depressions here and there suggested either an abandoned graveyard or trash pits.
I didn't get any feeling that I was being watched. Nothing came flying across the field at me as we left. No strange energy bolts jumped from the ground.
It was different. And I got poison ivy again.
After lunch I was invited to go see a house older than the country itself that was on the record as being as haunted as one house could be. My contact said it had five ghosts in it.
OK, I'm game.
The house was old. Sure. It was out in the sticks, of course. And when I walked up the stairs I did get the serious impression that somebody was evaluating me and it wasn't the landlord.
Then I strolled through a state building that was supposedly up to its gills in spirits. They must have all been off work that day.
The column started a firestorm of email and notes from all over the country.
I had my pick of everything from a haunted lighthouse to a possessed school.
And off I went, on tour.
And like everything else, there were some that were wishful thinking, and some that weren't. And a few hoaxes as well.
I recommended to one group that the next time they try to pass something off, to choose a finer grade of monofilament fishing line.
It was a good time. I met some interesting people. Had a few nice evenings with some young women that were enthralled by my stories of things that bump through old warehouses in the night. One of which turned out to be a three-legged cat. And saw some rather unusual things. And I met a few seriously weird people, slept in a couple of fleabag motels, ate some questionable food, and sat through some of the most boring talks by local 'experts' that had ever been given on the continent.
People fail to realize that every county in the country has a 'haunted barn', a graveyard full of 'restless spirits', and a house where 'strange things' happen. And I had seen my share of them. I had learned how even a mild breeze can make a building groan. How one loose floorboard by the door can make the wall on the other side of the room shimmy. I not only knew all the sounds old plumbing can make, I could identify the problem from the sound better than some plumbers.
Some people got downright upset when I recreated their symptoms of a haunting in front of their relatives halfway through their story. I was run out of one man's house under threat of a lawsuit.
Others seemed relieved. One newlywed couple that had purchased an old house with the hopes of a bed and breakfast in their future sighed and bought me dinner.
The house had at one time been a farmhouse. Now it was on the edge of a subdivision. And rumored to be haunted by the ghost of a former owner that despised the building of townhouses where his cows had roamed. I sat up with my jug of coffee and bag of chips in the dark on the landing of the second floor and simply watched.
That's about three-quarters of paranormal research. Drinking lukewarm coffee, and watching. No fancy psi-energy detectors, no super sensitive microphones, nothing that you can put in a dish and run through a mass spectrometer. Just sitting and watching, and in my case, a forty-nine dollar camera around my neck.
The newlyweds had made a show of nothing unusual happening. I had arrived with some of their friends, we had a nice dinner, and for all intents and purposes, I had left.
From the moment I saw the place, and met them, I felt it was outside trickery far more than an upset dairy farmer from the last century.
Now I was putting my suspicions to the test. The place was as dark as the Pit, and everybody knows that old houses are not silent at night. I sat and waited half hoping it was a real ghost, but expecting more a more mundane answer.
It was just before midnight.
What a lot of hoaxers don't realize is that ghosts usually can't tell time. They don't care what the clock in the hall is striking, they come out and boogie when the mood suits them and never mind union shop hours.
That, and ghosts don't whisper about whether or not the other ghost brought the can of gel he was supposed to get.
My flash almost turned the two guys into ghosts. The second flash got them to yelling and shouting and then the master of the house began calling them by name and told them he was calling the police.
I kept a set of the pictures to use in my little presentation about spooks.
But neighborhood teenagers didn't explain another house where I watched shadows move on the wall when the lights were off and the water in the kitchen would turn on and off without cause. I took the faucet apart looking for some sort of gimmick, then I put it back together. Later in the basement I watched a line of dust roll across the floor and settle in almost a perfect circle. There was no breeze. There was no strings or gadgetry. A yard long and half inch thick stream of dust came out from under a shelving unit and roiled across the floor past me to end up in a circle halfway across the room. When I touched the dust in the circle, it was just dust. And there was more under the shelf. I took my picture and left.
In the garage of the house I got my biggest shock. And if I hadn't thought it outrageously expensive, I would have called it a hoax. When you looked out the window, you saw the back yard. But when you looked AT the window, you saw your reflection, and what the rest of the inside of the garage looked like in about 1930. I moved slowly, and the image shifted a little. Me, and fixtures and tools from seventy years ago. I could even see out the garage door, the houses and trees across the street were gone.
The glass was old plate glass complete with ripples and bubbles. From what I could tell there were nine coats of paint around it that hadn't been touched in years. The frame was solid wood, tightly fitted together. To have engraved that detailed a hologram on the glass would be an elaborate, and costly, project. And to what end? You had to be within about five feet of the window to see it, and the light in the garage had to be just so. I got one picture of it that almost came out good enough to prove we weren't imagining it. But not good enough to make sweeping claims about parallel universes or something.
I went back in and talked to the owner. He wasn't complaining about his 'interesting' house. He just thought I'd be intrigued.
My articles were pulled in for use on 'that's peculiar' type shows.
I got interviewed on every late night and early morning talk show on radio and TV, for which I used a pen name and wore a really ugly toupee.
I really tried to keep a low profile. The reason I gave was that I couldn't do my investigations if I had people following me around when I came to town.
The magazine people put together a collection of my best work and put it out as a book. Which was nice of them, especially since I got paid.
And I continued to sit in dark houses and watch for ghost ships in the Chesapeake Bay.
The church building wasn't all that old.
Most of the buildings I found that had even the potential for being actually involved in something out of the ordinary were at least fifty years old. That or they were built on the exact spot something had been on for a couple of hundred years or so. Unless something ungodly had happened in it, it took time for ghosts to move in and make a home there.
This was the exception to all those rules.
The church was barely twenty years old. There hadn't been a bloody murder on the site that anybody could recall. It wasn't on the site of anything except a bean field since this part of Ohio had been settled. And now.
Something. Had moved in.
It had been bad enough that the congregation would only use the building on Sunday during the day.
I walked in and didn't feel anything unusual. One of the men of the church had let me into the building early in the afternoon. He said it didn't matter if it was dark or not, if the thing was there, it was there. If not, there was nothing they could do about it.
And he wouldn't come into the building for cash money.
Immediately I suspected trickery and walked quickly to the far end of the building and peered out a couple of windows. There were no other cars around, and I could see my new friend standing by his car sipping his large drink from lunch.
I ran the standard checks, using my small flashlight and standing on a chair to lift up ceiling tiles and take a peek. I moved pictures and tested electrical outlets and put pieces of tape and lines of thread across window frames.
But as I worked, I began to notice a difference in my own mood. I was nervous and watchful. I went back outside. The man was still there, sitting in his car, listening to the radio. I asked him if he wanted to come in, he said no, he was fine. Then I told him he didn't have to stay there to wait on me. If he wanted to run any errands, it would probably take me an hour to do everything I wanted to do.
He nodded and said he did have to run into town and pay a bill. Saying he'd be back in half an hour or so, he started his car and waved. I went to my car and got a bottle of iced tea and a bigger flashlight and an inspection mirror on a extendable handle.
I walked back into the church intent on proving a hoax.
My sense of foreboding was gone. I chuckled at myself and resumed checking air-conditioning vents.
I had every door and window in the building open and was simply trying to think of something else to do when my feeling of something wrong returned. I immediately walked outside and basically jogged around the building. Then I went in and checked my trip lines. Every thread was there, every bit of tiny plastic confetti across doorways was still in place. And now, as I walked from the stage back down the center aisle in the sanctuary, I felt like something was simply sitting there watching me.
My eyes were watering, my breath came in hard shallow pants.
I spoke to the half lit building, telling it I was just here to make sure somebody wasn't trying to be funny with the members of the church.
It wasn't impressed.
Even though the side florescent lighting was on, and the windows were up, and the side door was open letting in the afternoon sun, the place felt darker than it was. An occasional breeze blew through, but the air seemed thick. I fought the urge to walk outside and see if he was back. Instead, I evaluated the options for somebody to be producing subsonic tones in the building, influencing my perceptions of the place.
The sound system was simple enough. I turned it on and put in a CD of harp music that was in the rack. Then I went to evaluate the outside, looking for a crawlspace or utility access.
There was none. The building was on a slab. I checked all the way around from the concrete out about six feet. Back inside I went around the windows in the classrooms, offices, and the sanctuary. Nobody except me had been in and out.
I had to swallow hard and fight down a bad case of the shivering sweats.
I closed and reset the threads on every window and door. I put down fresh confetti. Then with my flashlight and mirror, I did a slow and thorough once over of every inch of the place. I went through both bathrooms. I crawled down the side aisle. I peered slowly into every room and checked around every corner, expecting to find everything from another three-legged cat to a prankster to, well, a real live demon or angel or something.
I found nothing.
Well, no, I did find some spiders, and old chewing gum, and a comic book.
When I got to the front of the building, I looked around and felt like a hungry werewolf or something was ready to pounce on me from behind where the piano sat quiet with its brass light on top of it. But there was nothing else in the building with me. I was alone, but something was reaching out for me. It was broad daylight, but it seemed murky and dim.
I couldn't fight it anymore. I went to the back pew where my satchel sat and dumped my flashlight and stuff in it. Then I grabbed the handles and walked smartly out to my car.
Outside, I looked back at the building. It was still a fairly new building, with slightly faded vinyl siding and plastic stained glass windows. There was no dark cloud hanging over it or bright red eyes staring from the office window. Yet, I felt it was glaring at me. I put my case in the car and walked slowly around it.
It was watching me.
That's all there was to it.
I sucked up my courage and walked boldly back in.
The hair on the back of my neck was standing up. I was fighting nervous shivers. My eyes were watering. But I walked slowly around the building listening to the still playing harp music. Finally, I stopped at the sound table and shut the music off and powered down the system.
The feeling was still there.
Except now the eyes were above me. I could almost point to where it was centered. Somewhere between the second and third ceiling fan from the back. I set my jaw and walked around looking at the source of the fear...
trying to see SOMETHING.
It was moving.
Now it set itself in front of the main door, about five feet from the floor.
It was larger than a person, almost spherical. I couldn't actually see it, but I knew it was there. As I approached it with a hard set to my eyes, it became a little smaller. I could walk around it. But I knew better than to reach out to it.
Then it moved slowly back up the aisle toward the front.
I took a deep breath and followed it.
It stopped between a couple of the pews on the left side toward the front, and sat there close to the floor.
I nodded to it. Something, or somebody, was under that spot. Maybe it was a grave, maybe it was a natural spirit. Maybe it was something I didn't have a name for.
But I knew one thing for certain. It wasn't a hoax as far as I could tell.
I talked slowly to the source of the fear. But got no response at all. It didn't vanish, or move. It sat there.
It sat there and I walked slowly out of the church.
And now it was watching me again.
The guy from the church drove up the lane with somebody else in the car. I was then introduced to the chairman of their board.
He asked me what I thought. I shrugged and told them to come with me.
They blanched a little but nodded.
The three of us walked into the building.
At four in the afternoon and with every light in the building on, it still seemed too dark.
I felt it. It was off to the right, above the sound table.
With the two men watching, one of them wringing his hands with wide eyes, I walked toward it and nodded to it. It began moving.
It stopped in the same place. Between the pews, this time a little above the spot.
I told them that something was down there. But it might be fifty feet deep. It could be an old well, a spring, maybe an intersection of ley lines. Something was definitely there that couldn't be explained with the standard answers of hoaxes, noisy sewer pipes, or even static electricity.
Expecting them to be skeptical, I waited for a response.
Instead. They asked questions. The first man had heard of leys and wanted to know how we could find out if one was here. The chairman wondered if somehow the building was holding in a natural release of energy from underground and if they could somehow ground it or release it or something.
This was out of my league, and I told them so. But I also told them I had made a few contacts and acquaintances of some people that might be able to at least find out for sure what they weren't dealing with, if not actually fix it.
If the building was sitting on a ley and water line intersection, or somehow disrupting something akin to one of those, the only fix might be to move the building. The same was true if there was an ancient grave or mystic site under the concrete. But for some reason, I didn't get that impression from the force I had encountered.
They listened with rapt attention, and we almost forgot about our friend who was the subject of the discussion.
But, soon enough, it reminded us of its presence, and we slowly walked out of the building.
The chairman told me that since they now had some options and a plan of action, he wasn't nearly as afraid of the thing. The other man told me he was looking at it like they did when the parsonage had termites. Something unpleasant, but something they could deal with.
I was glad to put the church, the town, and in fact, the whole state of Ohio, behind me.
But I got an article out of it that won me two awards for writing of that kind of thing. A fictionalized version appeared on two sci-fi/reality/fantasy type shows in the next year. So, all in all, it was worth it.
The church ended up installing a couple of skylights that stayed open almost all the time except in bad weather. When they were open, their 'problem' seemed to vanish.
For the next couple of months I was back on tour.
I investigated a dam with a bad case of vibrations from a turbine. But one of the workers claimed it was a poltergeist and made so much bad noise I told the supervisor I'd had it and left until the loudmouth was gone for the day.
The employee also had a nice side business selling souvenirs on his web site and through ads in tabloid newspapers. When confronted by the evidence, with his name prominently displayed as to whom the checks should be made out to, he ceased to be loud and stupid.
The employee contended his web site was none of the company's business as he did it on his own time.
That excuse fell apart when the supervisor had him open his locker and it was loaded with 'genuine concrete' from 'America's Haunted Dam' in unbreakable plastic presentation capsules.
Then I was in New Jersey tramping through the Pinelands with the area's leading expert on The Jersey Devil. This was when I began to branch out from what was usually referred to as Parapsychology. And before long, some of what I was looking into didn't have a neat label.
I had read a good deal of the stories about the creature that supposedly made life Hell in the Southern part of the state from time to time. It was a deformed child brought about by a curse. It was a winged dog. It was Satan himself. It was in Burlington. It was from Leeds Point. It had been shot in Camden. No two stories seemed to jive. A couple of the towns were a few miles apart, another was some fifty miles away on the other side of the state. It had been sighted in Philadelphia and south across the ferry run in Delaware, and north to the New York border. Appearances ran between shady tales by half gassed fishermen to a thousand people with decent descriptions. Its history ran from before the revolution to a sighting three weeks ago. Three hundred years of the Devil.
We did see an albino white-tailed deer. But no Devil.
I interviewed all sorts of people, and read newspaper accounts, and even watched a tongue in cheek movie with a small dog wearing horns and wings with beady red eyes running through the pines.
A few grainy pictures were pulled out of albums. Somebody had a cast of a hoof-print. There were claw marks in woodwork and tooth marks on a bone.
I had enough 'evidence', so I started doing some actual detective work. There was no use trying to verify stories from the nineteen teens, or for that matter, from the 1960's.
The most credible theories, besides deliberate hoaxes, had the Devil as either some sort of monstrosity of nature, a prehistoric creature living in a cave somewhere in central Jersey, a mutant crane or other large bird, or a supernatural being. Some put forth seriously to me it was Satan himself at his holiday home at the beach in New Jersey.
Two weeks in New Jersey should qualify me for some sort of medal.
After everywhere I went, everything I saw, everybody I talked to, and the miles and miles over days and days I spent in the Pine Barrens, I never saw the Devil. He, or it, did not appear for an interview and physical exam.
My guide through a wildlife refuge where prints had been seen said it was because there wasn't a war on the horizon. Then he waxed poetic about its appearances and military conflagration. I just nodded and watched shorebirds fly by. His theory didn't explain all the Devil's activities in the state.
Which was the only consistent thing about the New Jersey Devil.
It didn't fit any one mold.
It was unlikely a hoax could hold over three centuries and three quarters of the state. There had been actual contact with the thing that left evidence here and there. Animal carcasses, tracks, marks and the like. Sightings by people that were considered reliable sources. And yet...
And yet it remained a mystery.
That was the only thing I could say with certainty.
[Editor's note: This story is Fiction. Although some of the places and incidents are on the record as either having had actually happened, or are rumored to have happened, the overall story presented is Fiction, based somewhat on the author's own parapsychological research and investigations. No representation of persons or places, legendary or real, dead, undead, or alive, is intended to be defamatory.]
Email the DESK with questions or comments- dr_leftover[-at-]themediadesk[-dot-]com