We were on our way home, my sister and I. The weekend we had spent in the city with our friends had been a success, but now it was time to return. School would be starting on Monday as always. At an intersection we made the mistake of taking a detour. All those years we’d been driving by, we had wondered about that road. In theory it wouldn’t be so much out our way, and we were partial to small roads and interesting scenery.
So we turned off, deciding to risk adding a few hours to our travelling time. Either way, we should be home by nightfall. At first it seemed the detour was well worth making. The countryside was beautiful, but appeared to be almost completely deserted. Houses were few and far between. It wasn’t long before we began to doubt the direction we were taking. We began to argue about which turning was the right one.
In the end I said I would ask directions at the next gas station. The guy was full of information, but directions was the least part of it.
”Oh, I know the way alright. It’s just straight ahead and then one right turn. That should put you straight back on the highway. From there you’ll find your way easy enough. But you’d better hurry or you won’t make it before nightfall.”
”Thank you. What do I owe you for the gas?”
I paid the man, and turned to get back into the car again. But it seemed he wasn’t through with me just yet.
”I hope you girls aren’t superstitious.”
I was beginning to think this was the village idiot. This was something we really didn’t have time for.
”Yes, are you afraid of ghosts?”
”I’ve never seen one, so I couldn’t tell you.”
”If you drive along this road about forty-five minutes you’ll pass the old Allenby place.”
”You’ve never heard of the Allenby place?”
”No, I’m afraid not.”
”Well, it was a long time ago, I suppose.”
I was trying to be polite, but I wished he would get on with it. As he pointed out, we would have to keep an eye out for the time. Ghosts or no ghosts we didn’t want to be out after dark on these deserted roads. But the man seemed to be about to launch into a detailed narrative. Either he was very bored, or he got some sort of kick out scaring two girls out on their own.
”It was back in the twenties, but we locals never forget the story. The papers all over the country printed it. We became quite famous back in those days.”
”The murder story, of course.”
This guy seemed to enjoy making me draw the tale out of him. But we didn’t have time for that. I could see my sister making faces at me behind his back.
”Not just one murder, several. Old man Allenby was a serial killer. He killed dozens of boys and young men. What you call a deviant. A pervert. Not all those bodies were found. In the end he was found out and brought to justice. He was tried, sentenced to death and executed. They buried his body outside the cemetery. No one knows where. Some say, even now, he isn’t quite dead. There’s a story he had someone do some sort of ritual to make him come back. Over the years, young people have disappeared. Maybe old man Allenby is still around to this day. If you go by that place, you might see him.”
”Well, I don’t see what we have to fear. As you can see, we’re both girls. If he was a pervert, and only killed boys, then we should be safe enough.”
”Ah, but that was only for pleasure. He might have killed other folks as well. Folks who came by and saw something they shouldn’t.”
”I see. Well, thanks for the colorful story. Now we really have to get going.”
Charming. Ghost stories about undead sex murderers. Whatever next? We’d wasted enough time in that dump. It was time to make our way back to civilized areas. In the car I entertained my sister with the intricate ghost story I’d been told.
”Wow. That guy must get a kick out of scaring people.”
”Tell me about it. Of course, we’re not scared, are we?”
”He must think girls are really dumb.”
Unfortunately, although not dumb, we certainly had a hard time finding the right way home. At least this afternoon. It wasn’t long before we were unsure about the road again. We began to scan the roadside for some place to ask new directions.
Finally, we spotted an old farm house by the side of the road. There was a small driveway where we turned off. Before leaving the car I decided to try the cell phone. It might be prudent to let mom and dad know we’d be a bit late. Like so many times before it refused to function. Although it wasn’t low on battery, it still wouldn’t ring.
”Want me to go inside? After all, I’m the eldest. While I’m in there, maybe I should ask to use the phone?”
”Ok. I’ll stay here and keep a lookout.”
”Good. Just in case, be ready to take off at a moment’s notice.”
”You’re not still worked up about that story, are you?”
”No, silly, but it could be dangerous anyway. Ok, I’m going to knock on the door.”
I did as I said, and waited. It was so long before anyone answered the door, I thought the place was deserted. It hardly looked lived in. The paint was flaking off everywhere. All the windows needed cleaning. I was just about to get back in the car, slightly relieved, when the door opened. In the doorway, I saw a teenage boy. I explained the situation and asked to be allowed to come inside. At first the boy didn’t answer, but then I heard someone older calling from inside for him to let me in.
The boy led me through a dusky hallway. I’m not ashamed to say, the place was giving me the creeps. When I thought about it, the kid hadn’t said more than two words. We came into a sort of living-room. It looked perfectly in keeping with the rest of the house. Old, run down furniture, threadbare curtains, faded wallpaper. Although I never watched horror movies, this place had all the ingredients of one. Even down to the fading daylight coming in through the windows.
I looked around and saw another boy of about the same age, but I still didn’t see the man who had spoken earlier. At last I spotted him sitting in a corner in an old armchair.
”Now, what can I do for you, miss?”
”We’re trying to get to the highway, but we seem to have lost our way. If you could give me some directions, I’d appreciate it. Also if it wouldn’t be an inconvenience, I’d like to use the phone.”
The old man looked kind of weird and his voice sounded strange, too. Somehow, it was as if he was saying one thing but meaning something completely different. He more or less repeated what the guy at the gas station had said, so we seemed to be heading in the right direction, after all. Maybe we had been confused by how long the trip would take. We weren’t used to these small country roads. I was pointed towards the phone. It was an old one, like you remember from when you were a kid. No, actually, it seemed to be even older, like out of an old movie.
For a while I was afraid it wouldn’t work, but at least in that my fears were allayed. I had no trouble getting through to our house. Mom answered, and I explained that we would be late. When I hung up, I turned back to the owner of the house to thank him, and be on my way. I wouldn’t be sorry to leave that spooky place behind.
What I saw made me turn to ice. For a while I thought I was dreaming, because it wasn’t the sort of thing you’d ever expect to see. I certainly hadn’t seen anything like it in real life, and hardly even in a movie. That old man was slowly opening his pants in front, and calmly pulling them down a little. Then he made a weird hand sign towards the boys and one of them began to walk jerkily towards him, as if he was hypnotized or drugged. I saw his eyes and they were glazed. When he reached the foot of that armchair he got down on his knees.
It sounds totally unbelievable, but that is what I saw. What happened next was exactly what you would expect. I know because I saw the whole thing. I didn’t dare to take my eyes off the shocking scene, for even a second.
At that point I gave up all hope of ever leaving that nightmare house alive. I kept expecting the old man to pull out a gun or some other weapon, but nothing happened. All the time he was looking straight at me. His expression didn’t change. It was as if I was hallucinating. When he was done, he made another hand sign towards the boy, who got to his feet and backed off, still moving like a sleepwalker.
After all that, would you believe that the old man simply asked me if I was through telephoning and if there was anything else he could do for me. The feeling of unreality continued. In my mind there was no doubt that no one would do such a thing in the presence of an innocent bystander, if he intended to leave her alive. I could hardly find my voice.
”Thank you, but that’s all.”
”I suppose you have to be on your way now. Glad to be able to help. I do hope you get to your destination, without any further mishaps.”
The voice sounded perfectly normal and polite. It was as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened. I could hardly make my legs obey me. Despite the fact that I was convinced I wouldn’t leave that place alive, I felt I had to try. Then I heard that voice again. It sent shivers down my spine.
”Do see our guest out, won’t you, boys?”
When I looked back I saw one of those weird hand signs again. Both boys began to walk towards me. As they passed me I got a good look into their faces. They both looked dazed. Although I was completely terrified, I had an impulse to try and do something for them, if I could. Out in the hallway, by the front door I whispered quickly to the boys.
”You can come with us in the car. If you hurry.”
”We can’t. We have to stay here.”
It sounded as if that simple statement had taxed the boy’s power of speech to the limit. The words came slowly and doubtfully. My own life was in danger and my sister’s, so regretfully I opened the door and left them in that house. I hurried down the driveway as fast as I could, without actually running. Something told me that if I began to run, I wouldn’t get far.
On the side of the driveway there was a long, low old barn, or outbuilding of some sort. I remembered passing it on the way to the house. To my surprise I heard a voice speaking to me, from inside that building. I bent down, pretending to tie my shoelaces. The voice sounded very faint, but it was a young man speaking.
”Please help us. He’s got ten of us in here.”
At that moment I felt someone staring at me from the house. I turned around quickly and saw a vague figure inside one of the windows.
”I’ll try to get help.”
After saying that I couldn’t stop myself from running. I called frantically to my sister to drive off as soon as I was safely inside.
”What’s wrong? You’re as white as a sheet. It’s like you’ve seen a ghost.”
She broke off uncertainly. Like in that ghost story.
”I don’t know exactly what I’ve seen. It was horrible. In that house, there were two boys and a weird old man. You won’t believe what I just saw. That old guy got one of the boys to, how do I say this, have oral sex with him. Just like that. In front of me. I can’t believe he let me walk out of there.”
”But that’s – isn’t that illegal?”
”In some states, I think, but even it isn’t, it makes no difference. Those boys have to be underage. Why would he do something like that, unless he was totally insane? But he let me go. I’m going to call the police. If this thing will work.”
I did try, several times. As I was still doing that, the car began to make strange noises. It wouldn’t stop acting like that, so my sister had to pull to a stop by the side of the road. What a time to be stranded in the middle of nowhere. Finally I got through to the police. I was connected with the local police, I think.
”Officer, I would like to report something suspicious.”
I described the house and what I’d seen in it, thinking it would provoke some kind of response.
The sheriff appeared to be unimpressed, however.
”Yes, I do know the place. But what you’re describing isn’t a crime in this state.”
”Those boys have got to be under age. Aren’t you going to do anything about it? And what about those boys in the outbuilding? Locking people up and keeping them there against their will, must be against the law.”
”You didn’t see any of those boys, now did you, miss? It could be some sort of prank. Don’t worry, we will take a look at the premises, some time.”
He hung up, just as I was about to explain that we, too, needed some sort of assistance. After that, the phone refused to work at all. Now we couldn’t even call for a tow truck, or to our parents. At least they could have come to pick us up.
”What are we going to do now? Stay here and wait for someone to come by, or do we start walking? There must be some other houses somewhere.”
”I don’t know. What do you think?”
”I think we should get going. Wouldn’t you like to put as much distance between us and that place as we can?”
”Yes, I would, but what if we don’t find a house soon? What if we’re caught outdoors after dark? If we have to spend the night out here, maybe we should do it in the car.”
”No, let’s go. There has got to be a house somewhere.”
This couldn’t be happening. Right about then, I think we both began to believe in that ghost story. All the spooky things we had experienced, just couldn’t have a natural explanation. Although we were very much afraid we had made the wrong decision, we started walking along the lonely stretch of road. Just like we feared, daylight was already fading.
After a while, we thought we heard footsteps on the road behind us. For a time we kept hoping it was only our imagination. We were really frightened. In the end it became impossible to ignore. Someone was actually following us. As we looked over our shoulders we even caught a glimpse of a shadowy silhouette. The figure was holding some long narrow object, I thought it looked like a hoe.
That was it. Now I knew what had happened. We must have been in an accident. Right now we were probably lying unconscious in the wreck of our car. Like I had thought before, we must be hallucinating. This really couldn’t be happening.
Though come to think of it, could two people really be in the same hallucination? It certainly felt real. I was out of breath. My heart was beating much faster than usual. There was a metallic taste of fear in my mouth. All the classic ingredients of a nightmare. Except I had never had one that felt so real. All the same I made an effort to wake myself up.
”Do you think we could be dreaming, or hallucinating?”
”How should I know? Let’s not test that theory, though.”
”He’s catching up. What do we do now? Shall we get off the road? Maybe we could outrun him in that terrain.”
I hastily looked around. There was a stretch of wooded area a few yards ahead.
Ducking under the low-hanging branches, we ran as fast as we dared. The soil was not too wet and slippery. If it hadn’t been for the risk of hitting our heads against those branches we still could have kept up a good pace.
Suddenly we were out in a clearing. Although it was almost completely dark by now, some moonlight came through the clouds. Right before us was something that looked like a grave. Without any particular reason we both felt sure it was that undead killer’s resting place. There was a certain chill in the air, that couldn’t be explained by the hour. In September it was usually quite mild even late at night.
We both felt we were running out of time. Already we heard our unnatural pursuer crashing through the trees behind us.
”What are we going to do? He’ll catch us now. Think. What do people do in horror movies?”
”A cross? Fire? Do we have anything we can use?”
I was already looking around for some sort of weapon to at least try to defend ourselves. If anything material would help against someone who might not even be of flesh and blood. As I grabbed a stone, I thought of something I once read.
”Quick. Let’s start digging. We need to find something. I’ll tell you later what it is.”
Fortunately, the grave was very shallow. Within seconds we touched something solid. It appeared to be a small metal box. Frantically we hammered on the lock and it broke quite easily. I reached inside and snatched up what I found. It was a small black pouch of some kind. My fingers were trembling, so for a second I thought I wouldn’t be able to open it.
My sister hastily pulled at the string that was holding the pouch closed. Inside was the very thing I had begun to expect. It was a small grayish object. A bone from an index finger, I guessed.
”We have to break it.”
I grabbed the revolting thing and lay it on top of the box.
At that moment we heard a blood-curdling scream which cut through us like an icicle. Trying to shut it out, we started to pound the bone with our stones. It shattered into a powder. There was a blinding light, making us instinctively close our eyes.
When we opened them we were back at the place the car had stopped. We were sitting in our seats as if nothing had happened. Outside there was still some daylight.
”Did any of that happen, do you think? Wait, do you remember the same things I do?”
”I think so. The grave and the bone and that light. Now we’re back here. Did we fall asleep and dream everything? Both of us?”
”Try the car again. If it works -”
”I think we should turn back and take another look at that creepy place. Maybe none of this was real. Could we have imagined it?”
”Not both of us. Not the very same thing. You do remember that man and the boys, and the story the gas station guy told you?”
”Of course. Here it is. Stop over there. Look, it’s changed. You saw that barn, or whatever it was, too, didn’t you? It’s gone! How is that possible? Does that cell phone work again, too?”
”Are you going to try the police again? Last time it didn’t seem to work.”
”What else can we do? I promised those guys, if they ever existed at all. Anyway, you and I need some help getting out of this creepy place.”
This time the police officer on the other end of the line seemed to be much more concerned and eager to be helpful. Within half an hour, we could see a reassuringly real squad car, and two perfectly normal police officers.
”Good afternoon, ladies. Is that the house you were telling me about?”
”Ok. Please remain in your vehicle. We’ll investigate.”
They walked up to the front door and knocked. After a while they knocked again. Still no answer. One of them tried to look in through a window. What he saw apparently prompted them to try the door handle. The door swung slowly inward. After calling out something, the two officers made their way inside.
Then nothing happened for so long, we began to fear that something had gone wrong. At last the officers came out again leading the two boys I had seen earlier. They still seemed drugged or dazed. One of the officers walked back to our car.
”As you can see, we found those two, but there was no sign of a man.”
”He was there less than an hour ago. And what about those other boys?”
”What other boys?”
”There was a barn here. Right there. They were in there. I know it sounds crazy, but this place looked different a while ago.”
The older officer looked kind of funny at that.
”Maybe, maybe not. That’s the very place they found the remains of Allenby’s victims back in the twenties. Don’t be scared, you’re not the first to have seen that barn. It was torn down, when they dug up the bodies, in -27. This is the first time we’ve found any boys alive here, though. Strange. Anyway, will you come back to the station so we can straighten this out?”
At the station we had to tell our story over and over again. I was really shaken when I heard that the first call hadn’t been registered. No one could remember receiving it at all. But the worst shock of all, was finding out that over the years several boys had gone missing and eventually had turned up dead, as well as a number of other people. All found near that house, or the unmarked grave in the woods.
Questioning of the boys turned up vague references to some man, but the boys could remember practically nothing of what had occurred in that house. Blood tests didn’t reveal any traces of a drug. How the boys had ended up in that house or what had happened to them remained a mystery.
We were reluctant to tell how we had dealt with the ghost, if there was one. Finally we decided to reveal what we thought had happened out in the woods, by the grave.
The sheriff seemed not to know what to think.
”That’s a new one. I’ve heard of people trying to exorcise him using crucifixes, garlic and all sorts of mumbo jumbo. But crushing bones? Well, it worked. Who am I to question it? Just in case, I’ll ask the Reverend to go out there and take a look.”
After the interrogation was over, we were allowed to continue our interrupted journey. This time we were escorted to the highway by the patrol unit. Just after nightfall we arrived safely back home. I don’t think I’d ever been so relieved to be back in my own house.
A couple of days later the sheriff called to let us know that the grave in the woods had been exhumed. There was a complete skeleton, with no sign of any missing finger-joint and no trace of a box or a pouch.
”I don’t think you need to worry about old Allenby anymore. The Reverend did some exorcism out there, and he assures me there’s no trace of a presence left.”
”What about those boys? I mean the live ones. Are they ok?”
”They still can’t remember anything, but they are unharmed. We brought them home to their families, and that seems to be the end of it.”
If I learned anything from this experience, it was this: never take the scenic route. You might find more than you bargain for.