Favors From the Dead
A friend recently told me a story about a crying ghost in the house where she lives. This wasn’t her first brush with the supernatural. When she lived in a different house, she once woke up to see the spirit of an elderly woman sitting in the rocking chair in her bedroom. The ghost seemed to be benevolent, to her family at least. The spirit never did anything to frighten them.
When one of her daughters was seriously ill, my friend and her family had to make a temporary move so they could have better access to health care. The girl was on a list for a lung transplant. They ended up letting a friend and her partner stay there to house sit. The agreement was the couple could live at the house for free, so long as they paid the utility bill while they were there. The couple agreed, but soon after, my friend got a huge heating bill. She called the friend staying at the house, and the woman explained that she had cranked up the heat. She promised to pay the bill, but didn’t.
This was a huge problem for my friend. She was in the middle of a medical crisis with her daughter, and then she was burdened with a large, unexpected expense. She called her friend again, urging her to pay the bill.
Not long after that, the ghost intervened. The woman called my friend to tell her strange things had started happening in the house. Whenever the couple wanted to watch a show, the television would switch off on its own. They would turn the TV back on, and off it would go again. There wasn’t anything visibly wrong with the television set—it was plugged in and had worked fine before. There were also weird noises coming from the kitchen—like someone was walking around in there, rifling through drawers and banging cabinet doors.
Eventually the couple moved out of the house…and they paid their bill.
© Melissa Eskue Ousley 2016
This week a friend shared a story with me. She’s lived in a number of houses—some that are peaceful, where nothing supernatural happens, and others that will make the hair on the back of your neck stand on end. You can guess which type of house she lives in now.
Several nights ago, she woke to the sound of crying. It was kind of a sniffling cry, and sounded like a young girl. She opened her eyes to see a dark figure standing at the foot of her bed. Thinking it was her daughter, she sat up and asked, “Are you okay, sweetie?”
There was no answer.
She reached over to the nightstand to find her glasses. She put them on and looked at the foot of the bed. There was no one there.
Puzzled, she got out of bed and went to her daughter’s room. She opened the door and said, “What’s going on? Are you okay?”
Groggy, her daughter answered, “Nothing’s going on. I’m trying to sleep.”
“You weren’t just standing by my bed, crying?”
“No,” the daughter answered.
“What’s weird,” my friend told me later, “is earlier that evening, I could have sworn someone was standing in the doorway, but when I turned to look, there wasn’t anyone there.”
I asked her to keep me posted—I want to know if the crying ghost comes back.
© Melissa Eskue Ousley 2016
That’s One Way to Get My Attention
Bath time with a toddler can get pretty crazy. There’s giggling and splashing. Multiply that times two when you stick twins in a tub, and it gets loud and wet. Kneeling by the side of the tub when my boys were little, I usually ended up soaked.
That’s all right—my kids and I have fond memories of those times. I would turn on music and let the boys play. Sometimes we used bath paint or I would put a few ice cubes in the warm water because the boys thought it was funny to watch them melt.
Once, after my husband made a grocery run, I decided to give my children a bath. Since he was out running errands, I cranked up the music louder than he would have preferred, and we had a bathtub party.
The shindig was in full swing when something odd happened. My back was to the bathroom door, and just behind me was the sink. Sitting on the sink counter was a bottle of baby lotion. The lotion bottle flew over the toilet and hit the side of the tub, as if someone had picked it up and lobbed it. Startled, I whipped my head toward the door, fully expecting to see my husband standing there, trying to get my attention.
That was the explanation that first came to mind, because it made the most sense. The music was so loud, I would not have heard him come in. But he wasn’t there.
I rose and poked my head out the door, looking up and down the hallway. There wasn’t anyone there. Puzzled, I ducked back into the bathroom and studied the lotion bottle, lying next to the tub. It had not simply fallen off the sink. If it had fallen, it would have landed between the sink and the toilet. Instead, it had landed more than two feet from the sink.
Not wanting to leave toddlers unattended in the tub, I quickly rinsed the boys’ hair and got them out, toweling them off and getting them diapered before checking out the house. Then I went room to room, scared someone else was in the house. I saw no one, and my husband didn’t come home until later. So here’s the question: who—or what—was trying to get my attention?
© Melissa Eskue Ousley 2015
Christmas Eve Ghost
Merry Christmas! This is our fifth year living in Oregon, and we’re excited to celebrate the holidays.
Our first Christmas here was rough. We were in the middle of moving 1500 miles from Tucson, Arizona to the northern Oregon coast. My husband ended up moving here first for a job opportunity, while my seven-year-old twin boys and I stayed behind to sell the house and so I could fulfill my job contract. We missed each other and were grateful to be able to spend Christmas together.
At the time, my husband had rented a tiny one bedroom apartment in an old Victorian in Astoria. It was a cool building, even if the apartment was sparsely furnished. On Christmas Eve, we were in the middle of tucking our children in bed when one of our sons suddenly sat up and said, “Who’s that man in the hallway?”
My husband and I looked at each other and then stared out into the hallway. We couldn’t see anyone, and we knew no one but the four of us were there. The only other rooms in the apartment were the living room, the bathroom, and a small kitchen. We knew we had locked the front door and all the windows were closed.
We asked our son to describe the man, but he shrugged. “It was just a man, walking down the hall.” We turned to our other son and asked if he had seen anyone. He hadn’t.
I recently asked my son, now twelve, if he remembered this happening when he was seven. He nodded. “Yeah, that was so creepy.”
I wondered if, now that he was older, he could describe what he saw. “It was this shadowy man,” he said, “wearing a trenchcoat.”
I have no idea who our Christmas Eve visitor might have been, but it sure wasn’t Santa Claus.
© Melissa Eskue Ousley 2015
The Shadow Man
I’ve talked about seeing shadows at work, in Old Main and the Nugent building, and how co-workers shared their own odd experiences with me. I also had a weird experience seeing a shadow in my house.
After work, I’d come home, feed and bathe the kids, and get them to bed. Then, relishing a few hours for myself, I would write.
Sometimes I’d stay up late writing and pay for it the next day when I had to get up early for work. Sometimes my husband would go to bed, and then, hours later, would come out and remind me not to stay up too late. When I was into a story, it was easy to lose track of time. My husband worried about me not getting enough rest, especially because I often had trouble getting to sleep when we lived in that house.
I had experienced a number of unsettling things in the house, so I tended to be on edge, waking at the slightest noise. Sometimes the noises weren’t so slight. For a while, I’d wake up to someone screaming. When you have young children, your sleep is often interrupted, so I was already sleep deprived and hyperaware, listening for their cries. Once I was fully awake though, I’d realize it wasn’t my boys screaming. I would go check on them, and they’d be sleeping peacefully.
A few times I woke up thinking one of my boys was standing next to the bed. I’d sit up and slip off the covers, ready to take my son back to his bed, but there was no one there. Again, when I would check on the kids, they were in their own beds, fast asleep. Night after night of that was slowly making me nuts, and I needed more sleep than I got. That’s why staying up late writing was not the best of ideas, but it was a nice escape from other stressors.
One night I was sitting at the kitchen table, writing. It was late—probably eleven—and my husband had been in bed for about an hour. In the middle of typing a sentence, I stopped, struck with the feeling I was being watched. In the periphery of my vision, I saw someone standing in the hallway. I thought it was my husband, coming to tell me not to stay up too late.
I turned my head and saw a tall, dark shape standing in the entrance of the hallway. Motionless. Watching. Then the figure vanished.
I probably should have gone to bed at that point, but I was so unnerved, I just sat there, my fingers poised above the keyboard. Somehow it seemed like a bad idea to acknowledge the entity. I thought, “Nope. I did not just see that.” Then I kept on writing.
© Melissa Eskue Ousley 2015
There’s Something in the Basement
I’ve shared my experiences working in Old Main at the University of Arizona. I also had odd experiences working in the Nugent Building next door, which was built in 1937. When my department was moving our offices, I had to visit the storage room in the basement. The fluorescent lights were dim, making the room seem darker than it should have been. I got a strong feeling, like I wasn’t alone and I wasn’t welcome. Unnerved, I grabbed what I needed in a hurry and got out of there.
Later, after carrying a box of supplies to my office on the second floor, I headed downstairs and found myself alone on the first floor. Everyone else had left for the day. I walked down a darkened hallway, lit only by the glow of an exit sign. I could hear my heels clicking on the tile floor. Then I heard a second set of footsteps, like someone was following me. I stopped and looked behind me, but didn’t see anyone.
Sometimes I would work late, and I’d be the only person on the second floor. More than once, I caught a dark shadow out of the corner of my eye, like someone was standing there, watching me. When I would turn my head, there wouldn’t be anyone there, though I could see the faintest afterimage—a fleeting glimpse of a dark figure. I didn’t tell anyone what I was experiencing, but after that, I always kept the lights on when I was there alone.
Then I heard a story from some co-workers whose offices were located in the basement. They told me they had heard strange noises and the electrical equipment—copiers and fax machines—would often malfunction. One woman swore she’d taken a photo and could see the faint image of a person—one that could not be seen with the naked eye.
After a tragedy on campus involving the death of a student, our supervisors decided to have the building blessed. The student had been Native American, and even though she hadn’t died in the building, her loss had a huge impact on the close-knit community. The cleansing ceremony was meant to help everyone heal.
What is weird is that after the smudging ceremony, my co-workers said the strange incidents in the basement stopped, like whatever had been down there was finally gone.
© Melissa Eskue Ousley 2015
Haunted Rocking Chair
The following stories were shared with me by a reader named Cathee, about some creepy experiences she’s had. Aside from light editing, I’ve kept this post in her words. If you’ve got a spooky story to share, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Between 2004 and 2009, I was working at a child development center at a local community college in Kansas. I was a sub, so I worked in all the rooms with kids between the ages of one and five. A lot of times I worked in the toddler room (babies who were walking to two-year-olds). This age group is so fun and cute.
One day, I was working in the toddler room and sitting on a mat on the floor in one of the centers. I was by myself on the floor, knowing a few littles would be toddling over soon. I glanced at a lone car on the yellow part of the mat where a child recently vacated. All of a sudden, the small car moved about ten inches! Like I said, I was the only one in the center; there was no movement, breeze, or anything that would cause the car to roll across the mat. This is a fairly new building, and I’ve never heard of any out-of-the-ordinary activities happening. It didn’t creep me out; I thought it was pretty intriguing. You never know who may be lurking around.
This one is a little bit more on the creepy side.
In 2011, I went to my 30th class reunion at Notre Dame de Sion. Part of it was at the school. It had changed so much in these last decades. Additions had been built, walls torn out, rooms enlarged, you name it. As I was walking through the front door, I about freaked out. Nothing at all looked familiar, and I felt like I was in the Twilight Zone. Although there was a part of the building that still looked like it did back in the day, I had to walk around by myself and process everything.
One thing that had not changed one bit was the Grande Salle (a big room we used for assemblies, plays, etc.). There were no theatre chairs. We had (and still have) these orange-ish plastic chairs we’d set up and stack again.
Anyway, on my journey to familiarize myself with my past, I walk into the Grande Salle. Had I been transported into the late seventies/early eighties, I would never have known it. It was the same everything.
So, as I was looking and strolling around, I happened to go up on the stage, walk around to the back of the stage, and then down the stage steps again to the floor. There were three or four rocking chairs on the stage. As I turned back around to face the stage again, I noticed one of the rocking chairs was slowly moving. I hadn’t touched or bumped into any of the chairs, and I came back down from behind the curtain.
This school was built in the 1960s (although it was in another part of town until then). Obviously, there have been many an alumni student who died throughout the years, including a girl from my class named Sue, who passed in the mid-nineties at the age of 31. She was always fun and outgoing and friendly, and was on that stage many times. My first thought was that it would be just like her to haunt her classmates here at our old school. So…was it Sue or another alum? I guess we’ll never really know.
© Melissa Eskue Ousley 2015
The Ghost of Klindt’s Booksellers
I’m thrilled to be joining ten other authors for the Northwest Author Festival, to be held Saturday, November 7, from 2-5pm at Klindt’s Booksellers in The Dalles, Oregon. This will be my second year to attend, and I love visiting this charming bookstore and chatting with readers. If you’re in the area, please stop by and say hello.
The scenic town of The Dalles is located along the banks of the Columbia River, and as Oregon’s oldest bookstore, Klindt’s Booksellers is a gem in the community. They’ve been selling books, stationery, journals, and office supplies since 1870, and the original floors, cabinets, and bookshelves remain intact. They even have their own ghost, as well as the ashes of three cremated people. The ashes of beloved former owners, Philip and Linda Klindt, are there, in addition to those of a customer who had stated in her will that she wanted to be at the bookstore (not a shabby place to spend the afterlife). While it’s unclear if the former owners or their loyal customer haunt the shop, it is rumored that a former employee does.
Ingwert C. Nickelsen opened the store over 140 years ago, and then, in 1928, he sold the bookstore to the Weigelt family. Brothers Gus and Paul Weigelt, along with their spinster sister Edna, owned and operated Weigelt’s Bookstore & Stationers for the next fifty years.
Edna Weigelt was an important part of the bookstore’s history. When Philip and Linda Klindt bought the bookstore from the Weigelt brothers in 1981, Edna agreed to stay on for one year to help the new owners figure out how to run the business. However, her love for the store and the community turned one year into twenty. Edna worked at the bookstore until she passed away at the age of 91.
According to the store’s manager, many of the staff suspect Edna still hangs around the bookstore. She used to put down the toilet seat and stand on it so she could reach the high shelf above the toilet. She was petite, with notoriously small feet. Sometimes staff members find the toilet seat down, with a tiny, dusty footprint on it!
© Melissa Eskue Ousley 2015
Nosy Bathroom Ghost
If ghosts exist, how do they spend their time? Are they mindless apparitions, reliving the last moments of their lives, or self-aware, watching us live ours? I think they may watch us.
Last week I posted about seeing a shadowy figure in Old Main. That wasn’t the only unsettling experience I had while working in that building. There seemed to be a presence in the bathroom, which makes the idea of being watched all the more unnerving.
The ladies restroom on the ground floor of Old Main was small–it only had two stalls. The one furthest from the door was larger, designed to be accessible for people with disabilities. On the surface, there was nothing spooky about the room. There was a tall window set in the exterior wall, where the larger stall was. The window was frosted for privacy but still provided plenty of light. There was nothing visibly creepy about the restroom–the walls were painted a pristine white, so there were no dark and gloomy corners where something could hide.
However (and there’s always a however, isn’t there?), whenever I used the smaller stall, I always got the sense that the larger stall was occupied–that I wasn’t alone in the restroom, even though I could clearly see that no one was using the other stall. Still, the feeling of someone being there was so tangible, I’d find myself peering down, looking for feet in the other stall. It was an odd feeling, but one I kept to myself out of fear of appearing paranoid.
Then, one day, a co-worker came into my office and said, offhand, “You know, it’s the weirdest thing…” and went on to describe exactly what I’d experienced. We decided, given that our experiences corroborated with each other, and considering other ghostly rumors we’d heard about the building, that there could indeed be a nosy bathroom ghost, à la Moaning Myrtle. You would think the idea of being watched while doing our business would have caused us to use the upstairs restroom instead, but it didn’t. Hey, when you gotta go, you gotta go.
© Melissa Eskue Ousley 2015
The Ghost of Old Main
Academia is the last place I’d expect to encounter the supernatural. While working at the University of Arizona, a school dedicated to scientific inquiry, I had a number of experiences I can’t explain. Before I became a writer, I was a researcher there, and I worked in Old Main, the oldest building on campus. It was a beautiful place to work, with tall windows and a veranda that wrapped around the entire building. On one side was a lovely garden with a fountain. I worked on the first floor, which boasted gorgeous tin ceilings. The building had character, and I felt privileged to work there.
One Saturday I came in to catch up on a research project. The long hallways were dark. I turned on a few lights and checked out the place, locking the doors for safety, since I was there alone. I didn’t want to be vulnerable to having someone walk in off the street while I was working by myself. Certain that I was safe, I opened my office door and dropped my bag next to my desk. My desk faced the window, and normally, I loved looking out at the garden outside. That day, however, I felt uneasy about having my back to my office door. Even though I’d made sure the building was secure, I didn’t want to make it easy for someone to sneak up on me. As a woman working in a large city, I’d learned it was better to be safe than sorry. As an extra safety measure, I shut and locked my office door, and then fired up my computer and got to work.
Without the kind of interruptions that can occur during a regular workday, I was making good progress on my project. The quiet made it easy to focus. Then, without warning, I had the odd feeling that I wasn’t alone. I turned my head to glance at my office door, and out of the corner of my eye, I saw someone standing there.
Startled, I sucked in my breath. How had someone gotten into my office? I was sure I’d locked the door. How long had they been standing there, silently watching me? I swiveled in my chair toward the figure, but whoever I’d seen had vanished. I studied my door. It was still closed. I opened it and scanned the hallway. There was no one there.
Later, I told a co-worker about my experience, and she relayed a story the janitor had shared with her. Once the janitor was working alone in our building, when he heard knocking coming from inside the supply closet. I’d met the man—he didn’t seem like the kind of person who would be easily startled. This time, however, he was shaken up by the noise because he knew he was the only person around. It was late at night, and all the outer doors to the building were locked. No one could have gotten in and slipped into the closet. Hesitant to open the door, the janitor called out. “Hello?” No one answered, but the knocking continued. Finally, more angry than scared, he said, “Well? Are you coming out or not?” The knocking stopped. The janitor opened the closet door to find it empty—no one inside playing a joke, and nothing that could have made the knocking noise. I don’t know if he ever heard the noise again or experienced anything else that was strange, but he kept working there. So did I.
© Melissa Eskue Ousley 2015
A Tale of Two Houses
The house I live in now is lovely. It’s not my dream home (that would be a house with a wide front porch and a view of a lake), but it has beautiful features, like a coved ceiling in the living room and a gorgeous tree out back that explodes with white flowers each spring. The neighborhood is pleasant, and my family is happy here. I feel content living in our house, which we’ve rented for almost five years. More than that, I feel safe living here.
That’s a contrast to our old house. It looked normal enough—it was built in the 90s in a middle class neighborhood, and had a pretty front porch with brick pillars, a welcome respite from the sun. We bought it as a foreclosure, and quickly got to work renovating it, installing new appliances and cabinets in the kitchen, and countertops in the bathrooms. By the time we were done fixing it up, I was familiar with every inch of the place, having painted the entire house inside and out. I even taught myself how to tile.
I never had the same sense of peace in that house as I do in our current house, and I didn’t realize how edgy I felt until I moved. My sense of unease started when we first looked at the house with my in-laws. They had brought their dog with them. The poodle went everywhere—she was smart and house-trained, so there was little fear of her messing up the place. Still, when she followed us into the bedroom that was to become mine and my husband’s, she acted strange. She padded over to the wall where our headboard would eventually rest, and squatted down as though she were going to urinate on the white carpet. It was completely out of character, but there was nothing visibly unsettling about the house. It looked like a regular house.
A number of strange things happened in that house. I’d see shadows out of the corner of my eye, or get a sense of someone watching me. A year after moving in, I gave birth to twin boys. That was a tough time. Although I was thrilled to have my sons, I felt constantly overwhelmed and sleep-deprived. It was easy to blame the things that happened on a tired mind, particularly since my husband never experienced anything odd. That was better than the alternative, that what I was experiencing was real, or worse, that I was having a psychotic break.
Now that we live in a peaceful house, where I’ve never experienced anything remotely supernatural, I do believe that those things were real, and I wasn’t experiencing some kind of post-partem insanity. I may be eccentric and overly fond of ghost stories, but I’m sound of mind.
After the boys were born, we were drowning in baby gear. Some of it was electronic, with flashing lights and cute sounds designed to keep infants entertained. Sometimes those toys would go off by themselves. My husband blamed it on static electricity, or a button that got pressed and stuck.
One night, when he couldn’t sleep, my husband decided to go grocery shopping at a store that was open 24 hours. (When you have young children, you do odd things like that. It’s easier than dragging kids to a store.) Meanwhile, I was having a nightmare.
The dream was so vivid, I thought I was awake. I sat up in bed, and looked over at our closet. The door was open, which was weird, because I always insisted on sleeping with it closed. My room was dark, but I could make out the white louvered closet door, and the darker interior of the closet. There was someone—something—standing in my closet, a shadowy form even darker than its surroundings. Frozen in fear, I watched it for a few seconds, and I could feel it watching me. Then, it took a step toward the bed.
I jerked awake, breathing hard, my heart thudding in my chest. Immediately I looked at the closet door. It was shut tight. But my husband was missing from his place in the bed, and that’s when I realized he wasn’t home. It was just me and the boys.
I sat there in the dark, trying to calm myself, shaking off the nightmare. Then, out in the living room, one of the baby toys went off by itself, playing its happy little song in the middle of the night, in our otherwise silent house.
I stared into the hallway toward the living room and then looked back at the closet. I decided I didn’t want to sit there by myself in the dark, and I didn’t want my children to be vulnerable to whatever was paying us a visit.
I turned on some lights and checked out the house. There was no one in the living room. No one had broken in and tripped over the toy, setting it off. I went through the rest of the house and found nothing.
My kids were safe in their room, sleeping peacefully. I didn’t think I’d be able to sleep again, and certainly not alone. I grabbed some blankets and my pillow and made a bed on the floor of the boys’ room. Having other human beings near me helped, and somehow I fell back to sleep, this time with no dreams.
© Melissa Eskue Ousley 2015
The Thing in the Closet
My grandmother used to tell me stories about a ghost named Ella, who liked to fix things. Apparently the same spirit haunted my great-grandfather, following him from house to house. Can ghosts be inherited, passed along like a family heirloom? It’s a disconcerting thought. I don’t have an answer, but it’s always interesting to chat with my family and compare notes. We’ve had some strange experiences.
This week my aunt shared a story with me about something that happened to her when she was twelve or thirteen. She and her family lived out on a farm, and one night they were all sitting in the living room, watching TV. During a commercial break, she went to her room to get something. She planned a quick in and out trip since she knew just what she was after and where it was. She didn’t turn on her bedroom light (though she now says she always turns on the light, and I can’t say I blame her). She headed straight to her dresser, which was situated next to the closet.
As she reached out her hand to retrieve the item she had come for, she felt pressure on her left shoulder. She froze, and then heard a hissing whisper. “Suuuusssaaannnn.” What is weird is my aunt is deaf in her left ear, and yet, she clearly heard the voice. She said she remembered fighting back panic, and then getting angry. She thought, “I will not show fear,” even though her insides had turned to Jello. She drew herself up as tall as she could, squared her shoulders, and forced herself to stand there. She grabbed the object she had come for and then calmly turned and went back out to the living room. Her family was still sitting there, watching TV, completely unaware of her encounter with the thing in her closet. My grandfather is known for playful attempts to surprise people, so my aunt asked him if he had tried to scare her. He insisted it wasn’t him, and my grandmother and my dad backed up his story.
Oddly enough, I had something similar happen to me at around that same age. Nothing touched me, but one night when I was in bed, I thought I heard my dad call my name. Something about the voice wasn’t right though—it sounded like my dad at first, but then I realized it sounded hollow, more like someone imitating my dad’s voice. I knew my dad was downstairs, talking to my mom, but the voice sounded like someone was right there in the room with me. I got a strange feeling that someone was hiding behind my closet door, which was propped open. That freaked me out, so I went downstairs to see if Dad had called me. He hadn’t.
The question remains: what called out to us? Could it have been the same entity, even though our encounters happened decades apart and in different places? I don’t know, but it is weird that we had similar experiences. This is why neither of us sleeps with the closet door open.
© Melissa Eskue Ousley 2015
Out in the country, close to where I grew up, was a small airport. When I was a kid, I used to ride my bike out there. I liked seeing the airplanes—just small, personal planes—and I often wondered where they’d come from and where they were going. Our humble airport offered a glimpse of life outside a small town.
When I took Driver’s Ed, our instructor would have us drive out to the airport. It was a good place to practice driving, a gently curving swath of road with hardly any traffic. The only people who used the road were either going to the airport or learning to drive.
Once I finally got my license, I’d cruise there sometimes to take a peek at the planes. There was a waterhole in the pasture next to the airport. I liked the rumble my tires made when I drove over the cattle guard, a metal bridge with slats meant to keep the cows from wandering onto a busier road.
Not long after my sixteenth birthday and my newfound freedom to drive, I got roped into helping with prom. I was a sophomore so I wasn’t old enough to attend, and hadn’t been invited, but someone tagged me to serve refreshments. I wasn’t particularly thrilled about it—it was kind of embarrassing to go. One of my friends was dating a senior, so she’d been invited. In comparison, I felt like a fraud, crashing the party. I couldn’t back out gracefully though, so I put on a nice dress and a smile, and went.
After helping out at the dance, I decided to cruise for a while before heading home. This wasn’t a horrible idea, or at least, it didn’t start out that way. It was before my curfew, so it wasn’t like I was going to get into trouble.
I turned onto the road leading to the airport, feeling my mother’s minivan jounce lightly as I crossed over the cattle guard. It was a moonless night and nobody was on the road. That was fine with me. After hours of feeling socially awkward, serving drinks and watching everybody else have a great time, being alone was refreshing.
I cranked up the radio and sang along, enjoying my solitude. A favorite song came on, Joyride, by a group called Roxette. It was nineties bubblegum pop, but it was fun and fitting, lifting my mood considerably. The song ends with a trademark whistle.
I happen to be a terrible whistler. I can hold a tune when singing, but I can’t whistle to save my life. I’d been singing along to Joyride, and then tried to whistle that last part. Tried and failed—all the notes came out flat, with no power behind them. I figured I’d improve with practice, so when the next song began, I kept whistling. I was still way off. I took a breath to try again.
Then, from the back of the minivan, I heard someone whistling. Eight notes, repeated twice. It was the tune from Joyride, clear and strong.
I froze, the whistle on my own lips dying as my hands clenched the wheel. I wasn’t alone in the car.
I knew when I looked in the rearview mirror, I’d see a face staring back at me. Someone had snuck into the van, and here I was, a teenage girl on a lonely road in the middle of the night with whoever it was. I didn’t recognize the voice, which meant there was a stranger in my car, a stranger with bad intentions, no doubt. Why else would you sneak into a girl’s car? Then I realized that no one knew where I was.
I braved a look in the mirror, but saw nothing—no face, no movement. But I’d heard the whistle. I hadn’t imagined that, or the feeling that someone was in the car with me. Whoever it was had crouched back down, I decided. The van had a big cargo area behind the back seat, one large enough to fit a man. I mentally cursed at myself for not checking out the car before driving away from the school gym.
It would have been a bad idea to stop the car in a place where no one could help me, so I did the only thing that made sense. I turned the van around and drove home, less than a mile away. I tried the keep up the pretense that I still thought I was alone, pretending I hadn’t heard that whistle. I sang along to the radio like everything was fine, forcing myself to keep to the speed limit. If I drive too fast, I told myself, he’ll know.
I pulled into the carport of my house as calmly as I could, put the van in park, and leapt out of the vehicle. I slammed the door and pressed the lock button on the key fob. The minivan had child safety locks, so the person would have to climb to the front of the vehicle to unlock the doors. It wouldn’t buy much time, but enough to get in the house, I hoped.
I ran to the front door and unlocked it, keeping an eye on the minivan. Then I waited, ready to duck inside and close the door to the house if I saw a shadowy form rise from the darkness of the back seat. If I did, my plan was to lock the front door and go wake my dad.
I stared at the van, sure I’d see movement—at least a slight rocking as the person shifted positions. But there was nothing. No sound, no movement.
My curiosity outweighed my fear. I left the front door open, ready to run back inside if I saw anything. I walked along the side of the van, peering in the windows. The security light in the carport offered me a clear view of most of the vehicle’s interior.
As I neared the back of the van, I could feel my heart thudding in my chest. I imagined placing my face close to the rear window and seeing a stranger pop up like a Jack-in-the-box, his hands smacking the glass in front of me.
I kept my distance and gave the cargo area behind the back seat a tentative look. It was furthest from the security light and not as illuminated as the rest of the van, so it was difficult to see inside without getting closer. I gathered my courage and leaned forward, my face nearly touching the glass.
The cargo area was vacant.
I stepped back in surprise. Maybe he’d somehow crawled up front when I wasn’t looking? I slowly circled the van, looking in the windows. It was completely empty.
I don’t know who took a joyride with me that night, but I know one thing. He sure could whistle.
© Melissa Eskue Ousley 2015
The Old Hag
My dad is the first writer I ever knew, and he loves to tell stories. He’s a huge Teddy Roosevelt fan, so it’s no wonder our twenty-sixth president makes an appearance in his book, Tom Horn: Killer of Men and Monsters. He also enjoys tales of the supernatural. Although his novel is a nod to history, it features an otherworldly twist involving a shape-shifter.
Like my grandmother, my father told me scary stories, and I loved hearing them. He too had a ghostly encounter at the house where they lived when he was young.
When his family was moving out of the house, his mother asked him if he remembered to shut the front door. He hadn’t, so he got out of the car and hurried back up the front walk to close the door, before he and his parents drove away.
As he reached for the doorknob, he noticed a stray piece of newspaper, left behind from packing boxes. Suddenly, the paper rose up to stand on its edge, almost as though it had been lifted by a breeze. There was no wind.
Then the front door slammed shut. And in the front window, he could see a pair of eyes, staring out at him. He ran full-tilt for the car, and never looked back.
Another story my father told me was about the old hag. One night, as my dad was tucking me into bed, he asked, “Do you know why people have messy hair when they wake up?”
I thought about it. “Mom says I have a rat’s nest on my head when she combs my hair.” I had long hair that tangled easily, especially after playing outside all day. It was always a wreck in the morning.
He laughed. “Some people think the reason we have messy hair is the old hag sits on our heads at night.”
“What’s a hag?” I asked.
“A hag is a witch. She climbs in your window, sits on your head, and rides it like a hobby horse all night, gripping your hair like she’s holding the reins.”
This was a messed-up thing to say to a kid. Naturally, I wanted to know how to protect myself from being smothered by a witch’s buttocks. “How do I stop her from doing that?”
“Well, there are two ways to stop a hag. You could gather a handful of straw and put it by your bedside,” he answered.
We lived out in the country and had hay for our horse, but at nine years old, I wasn’t sure if hay was the same thing as straw and what effect substituting it might have. I felt it was really important to get this right. I did not want a hag to use my head as a rocking horse. “What’s the other way?”
“You could also pile some sand on your nightstand. The witch will be compelled to count it, and she’ll forget about you entirely.”
Sand I could do—I’d just grab some from our sandbox. But something troubled me. “What if she runs out of sand to count?”
“Ah.” He chuckled. “Witches are easily distracted, you see. She’ll lose count, and then she’ll have to start over, again and again. You’ll be able to catch her at first morning’s light, and she’ll never bother you again.”
I wasn’t sure what I’d do once I caught a witch, but I tried putting sand next to my bed. It must have helped, because even though I still had messy hair, I never woke to find the old hag sitting on my head.
The story, however, found its way into my own writing. It became the inspiration for the Wasteland in the Solas Beir Trilogy.
© Melissa Eskue Ousley 2015
My Grandma Is Cooler Than Your Grandma (Though I Might Be Biased)
I wouldn’t say my family is psychic, but we’re not exactly normal. Let’s just say we’re sensitive to certain things, and as a result, we’ve got a lot of creepy stories to tell. Maybe it’s because of our Scottish heritage, our ties to the old world. Or maybe we’re just tuned in.
The first thing you need to know about my grandma is she’s cool—I’d say cool for an elderly person, but she’s always been cool. Her signature color is red, and she can still rock a killer pair of boots, even in her eighties. She grew up in a poor family, but her father set aside money so she could take dance lessons. Vaudeville was giving way to cinema, and maybe he hoped she’d someday be a star. She didn’t hit the big time, but she retained a certain flair that set her apart from her peers.
She’s also the luckiest person I’ve ever met. If there’s a raffle to be entered, you can bet my grandma will enter and win. That’s not to say she hasn’t had her share of bad luck in life, or that she’s won the lottery, but she has an uncanny knack for winning drawings and finding help when she needs it. Hopefully that part of her Scottish DNA has been passed down to her grandchildren.
The third thing you need to know is that my grandma loves scary stories. When I was a kid we’d eat junk food and watch B horror movies together. There was one about killer bees, and another about a mummy’s hand that skittered about on its own, an image which likely scarred me for life. She had a fear of being presumed dead and then buried alive, and I remember there was a movie about this too. It was terrifying and I loved it. That part of her DNA definitely got passed down.
My grandma used to tell stories about living in a haunted house when my dad was a young boy. She said she’d wake up at night to see a strange mist swirling overhead. The ghost, who she dubbed Ella, liked to repair things. Once my grandma found a button sewn on a dress, a button that she swore had fallen off, that she set aside to sew back on. Another time there was a horrible banging noise coming from the laundry room. My grandmother had guests over, and they asked what the noise was. My grandma brushed it off and said, “Oh, my washing machine is broken. That’s just Ella fixing it for us.” After that, the washing machine worked just fine.
© Melissa Eskue Ousley 2015