I love scary stories. I read them, I write them, and I probably watch more horror than is healthy for the psyche. When I stumble upon a great horror book or film (I’m looking at you, Babadook), I want to shout about it from the rooftops. My poor book club has been bombarded with my suggestions for spooky reads, and I can’t blame them for backing away slowly, reminding me that my tastes run a bit darker than most. Having said that, I completely understand if you’d rather not spend an evening or two with me, talking about the supernatural.
If you’re feeling brave, however, join me on Friday, August 4, at 5pm at Book Warehouse (1111 N. Roosevelt Dr. in Seaside, OR) for a book talk on the paranormal. I’ll tell you some ghost stories (including something crazy that happened to me last week–shudder), and I’ll be signing my novels, Sunset Empire and Pitcher Plant, both of which are set on the north coast of Oregon and feature murder and restless spirits.
Then, on Friday, August 11, at 5pm, come back to Book Warehouse for a workshop on writing spooky and suspenseful scenes. I’ll share my secrets for scaring the socks off readers. You might not sleep that night, but you’ll learn how to write an engaging story.
© Melissa Eskue Ousley 2017
Urban legends never cease to interest me. There are the old standbys you’ve probably heard before, like the killer who escapes from prison and has a hook for a hand. Or the one about the girl who is driving on a lonely road one dark night when someone starts tailgating her, flashing their car’s high beams. When she finally gets home and runs into her house to escape the weirdo following her, she finds out the guy driving the car wasn’t a psycho after all, but actually saved her life. Because there was a man in her backseat, you see, a man with a knife. Every time the man was about to stab her, the hero flashed his high beams and the man ducked back down behind the driver’s seat. These stories get passed down from a friend of a friend of a friend, and they must be true, because they happened to somebody’s cousin or aunt.
Here’s one you might not have heard before. On the northern Oregon coast, where the Oregon Coast Highway meets the Sunset Highway (the junction of the 101 and 26), there lives a legend. “Lives” might not be accurate, because no one knows if the Bandage Man is alive or dead. Perhaps he’s undead.
As the story goes, one night a young Cannon Beach couple went out for a drive in pickup truck and parked in the forest near the junction. They weren’t paying a lot of attention to what was going on outside the vehicle because they were busy doing the kinds of things teenagers do in parked cars. You know, gaze at the stars. (Teenagers are really fond of astronomy.) Anyway, all of a sudden, the truck jounced a little, like someone had climbed into the bed of the truck. Then, BAM! Somebody banged on the back window.
The young couple turned to see a crazy man wrapped in bandages, slamming his fists against the window of the truck, trying to get in. So they did what any sane person would do. They freaked out. Then they drove off, back to the city of Cannon Beach. By the time the boyfriend got to the girlfriend’s house to see her safely home, the bandaged man had vanished. But when the boyfriend peeked into the bed of his truck, he found a piece of gauze much like the man’s bloody wrappings. And it stank like death.
So what is the Bandage Man? A reanimated mummy? Unlikely. A ghost? Maybe. Some people say it’s the ghost of a logger who was horribly burned and wrapped in bandages before he died. If you drive in that area at night, he might just hitch a ride, and you’ll find out who—or what—he really is.
© Melissa Eskue Ousley 2016
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