Bogleech.com's 2018 Horror Write-off:
Submitted by James B. Davis
Everyone knows about Howling Hall, it’s the urban legend in my town. Everyone and their grandma has been dared to climb the stairs or claims that they went up there and “totally saw some freaky shit, man!” Truth is though, there’s so many different legends about what goes on up there that no one really knows where truth starts and legend begins.
There’s obviously tons of stuff about there being ghosts and demons up there. Like the one about the girl who got chopped up by her boyfriend at the top of the stairs back in ‘55. People say she was pregnant and that’s why her boyfriend killed her. Now her ghost is said to haunt the tunnel at the top of the stairs screaming for her child. Pretty basic stuff.
There’s another legend that says there’s a mutant from the old uranium mine who lives up there and kills whoever goes in the tunnel. He’s said to have a face like a dog and run around on all fours. Apparently he lets out a big howl right before he kills you but if you hear it you might have time to run away.
There’s another one just like the mutant one only the guy’s a hobo who turns into a werewolf. If you go up there during the full moon he howls and you gotta run. It’s basically the exact same story.
The only other one of significance is the one about a demon named Mamot. Apparently the tunnel up there is some kind of gateway to hell and if you go there at 3 am he’ll appear and grant you a wish in exchange for your soul. You’ll know if it’ll come true if he howls before disappearing in a cloud of flames.
Basically there’s a lot of conflicting urban legends and they all have to do with howling, that’s why the place is called Howling Hall. Stuff howls up there and there’s a tunnel/hall at the top of the stairs.
Personally, I never put a lot of thought into Howling Hall. Every town has its urban legends, right? Every town has its Goatman, its Hookman, its Mothman, its Loch Ness Monster. They’re just stories to scare kids on Halloween and to pass time. Hell, our town has a whole other legend about a haunted Hot Dog restaurant. Nothing much to it.
Well, one day, the day before Halloween actually, my friend John says he’s heading up there with a couple of people and that he wants me to come along. Says it’ll be fun and that he’s bringing his girlfriend and another girl who was single like me. I figure it’d be fun and yeah, maybe I could ask this girl out, win-win right?
At the end of the school day we all sat on the curb outside the school. Jenny, John’s girlfriend, was having her mom pick us up.
“Ready to see the Howling Hall Wolfman?” John keeps saying, “I know this guy who says he’s seen it! Said he was eating an elk and he was all hairless and just fucking gross!”
“There’s no Wolfman,” Jenny said, “There’s no such thing as mutants. It's impossible,”
“Oh but ghosts aren’t?” John said back.
“There’s no known way to detect ghost or souls, that’s why there’s no evidence that prove or disprove it. But there’s no way for a guy to get turned into a dog from uranium mining,”
“He’s not REALLY a dogman, he just looks like one from the mutation. He got ran out of the mine by the other workers because they thought he was a deformed wolf. Right, Joe?”
I looked over at John and Jenny.
“Sorry, John. Gotta side with Jenny on this one,”
“HA!” Jenny yelled mockingly.
“So you’re saying you believe in ghost now all of a sudden?” John complained at me.
“I’m not saying I do or don’t believe in anything,” I said “but Jenny makes a better case. There’s no known way to detect or measure the paranormal, but we know uranium doesn’t turn people into dogs,”
“Ha,” Jenny said once again, calm and shortly this time, “I’m gonna go call my mom and make sure she didn’t forget to pick us up,”
Jenny walked away to a nearby tree.
“You really don’t think anything goes on up there?” John said quietly leaning in toward me.
“I really don’t know, man,”
Like I said, every town has its urban legends. Some have some kind of truth to them, like a real murder or missing person, but most are just legends.
“Well, either way, I’m excited,” John said.
“Yeah, same,” I said quickly.
“You’re just excited because you think someone might touch your wiener,” John said with a little bit of a laugh.
“Fuuuuck youuuu,” I said monotonously.
It really wasn’t like that. I’m not really that type. I’m not someone to try to just get some notches under my belt for the sake of it. I’d never really had a girlfriend at that point and was just kind of lonely. It wasn’t about trying to get my wiener touched, it was more just about having some kind of human contact with a girl.
I’m not gonna lie though, I was thinking about her. I didn’t even know what she looked like, but John told me she was cute and kind of my type which sounded pretty good to me.
“It’s weird to me that you’re not more into the whole Howling Hall thing. You’re the horror guy after all,” John said breaking the little silence.
“I’m just a pretty big skeptic. Unless there’s like a lot of evidence or convincing video or pictures or something I’m just probably not gonna believe it just for the sake of it,”
“Whatever, man. I want there to be wolfmen and tunnels demons,” John said as he laid his back on the sidewalk.
“I want wolfmen and tunnel demons too, we’re just most likely not getting any,” I said, also laying back on the cement.
The sky we were looking up at was grey, but still bright. One of of those cold days where you might still need sunglasses. The kind of of day where, if you’re like me, it makes you a little depressed just because the sky’s a little darker than you’d like it to be.
Jenny came walking back to the curb, “My mom’ll be here in a couple minutes,”
“Cool,” John said sitting back up.
Jenny’s mom was in fact there in a couple minutes and we were off. She dropped us off at John’s house and we continued our way in his car. If you're wondering why we didn't just leave school in his car, it's because John's cheap and he wanted to gas. Before we could go out to Howling Hall though, we had to pick up Madison, the girl I was pseudo-set up with by Jenny and John.
We arrived at her house at about 3:30. She was already waiting on the porch so we’d be off pretty quick. She was carrying a big bag over her shoulder when she go into the back seat next to me.
“Hey, Maddy!” Jenny yelled as Madison opened the back door and jumped in.
Madison put her bag at her feet, buckled up, and we took off.
“You’re Joe, right?” Madison asked.
“Yeah,” I said, “Madison, right?”
Yeah, John was right, my type pretty much down to the dot. Long red hair, tall, kinda thin, wore hipster clothes, really nice but also seemed like she could be sorta mean, but in a way you’d sort of like.
I’m not sure I ever hated my social anxiety as much as I did just then. I felt frozen but also like my temperature was rising to a point that someone next to me could probably damn near feel it. It made made me feel pretty awkward and it was probably noticeable.
Howling Hall was about 35 miles out of town. It’d take about an hour on the highway, but John decided to take the back way, so more like an hour and 45 minutes. The back way really was beautiful. It went through only really thick wooded areas till you got to Howling Hall, which was in a graveyard in a more fieldish area of the state. Part of what made that route so nice was the fact that it was fall which meant that all the leaves were brown and orange and yellow. The whole place looked like a really nice Bob Ross painting; you expected to see his big red afro and friendly smile poking out around the trees any time you turned a corner.
When we got onto the back highway, Madison was digging around in her bag. She got out an oversize, old camera. You could tell just by looking at it that it used film and that it took kind of dingy looking pictures, but in a way that was really appealing and aesthetically pleasing. She started taking pictures out the window as we went by the trees.
I looked out the window. It really was a nice a view, though maybe not as good as the one sitting next to me.
I looked over at her and she took a picture of me, blinding me with the flash.
“Oh... Jesus,” I said, rubbing my eyes.
“You didn’t say cheese,” Madison said, “Oh well, makes for a better picture anyway,”
She started putting her camera away in her bag.
“Yeah, I guess so,”
“It didn’t happen in ‘55 you know,” She said as she continued putting away her camera.
“What didn’t?” I asked.
“The murder of the Howling Woman,”
She put her bag back down on the floor.
“That’s just something that worked better for the legend, with the whole pregnancy and all," she continued, "That decade was a lot more strict. It was actually 1978, and it wasn’t actually her boyfriend,”
“Wait, so there was an actual murder?” I asked.
“Yup, just not like the legend says. The legend says she’s, like, an ubume type of a thing, but that’s not true. She was an African American journalist, and the murderer was part of this, uh, neo-nazi biker gang. She was taking pictures for an article about the lynchings that happened in the cemetery in the 30's. They didn’t want her telling people what their family did so they hung her at the top the stairs,”
“Holy shit. I didn’t know any of that, that’s insane,”
“Mm-hm. She really was pregnant though, that part's true. I think that’s really what spawned the whole legend in the first place to be honest. It's just such a common thing with ghost stories,”
“Wow,” that's really I could think to say.
“The Wolfman story isn’t correct either. There was this homeless guy and his dog that got killed by the same biker gang because they made the cemetery part of their territory for a while. They killed him and his dog in that same cemetery some time in ‘86, I think. Somewhere along the line the homeless guy and his dog became the same entity in the legends. I’m not really sure why,”
“That’s… that’s crazy. How do you know all of that?” I asked.
“I’m kinda into true crime stuff and urban legends. One day I found a book in the library about all the stuff that actually happened at Howling Hall. I also did a little more research on my own about it,”
“That’s cool. I knew that were actually murders that happened in the cemetery, but I didn’t know they had so much to do with the legends,” I said
It seemed like any anxiety I had with her had washed itself away. I felt comfortable talking to her at this point. She never stopped smiling while we were talking; I think that made me feel better about it. Still, my mind wasn’t really on that, now I was thinking about all the awful stuff that had happened at the place we were heading to for what was supposed to be a fun time. That kind of changed my feelings on the whole matter.
“Thanks for all the cheerful trivia, Maddy. Damn...” Jenny said from the front seat.
“It’s Halloween, Jenny,” Madison said and looked out the window.
“You know, Joe’s into all that spooky, weird stuff too,” John said turning on the radio.
I was more upset about John being in charge of the radio than I was about him putting me oh-so-subtly on the spot like that. John’s taste in music gave me a headache, mostly just because I’m just a big snob about music.
“Oh yeah ?” Madison asked.
“Uh, yeah. I’m more into, like, horror movies and cryptids and stuff than crime and murders. But, uh, that stuff’s interesting too,”
“Cool. I was kind of worried I was weirding you out,”
“Oh, you’re fine, I weird people out all the time with my stuff,” I said, followed by a little chuckle.
By the time we arrived at St. John’s Cemetery it was nearing dark. It was a big, nicely kept, green field with plenty of tombstones. We parked at the front entrance where everything was very nice and new.
Surprisingly, we were the only car there, except for one other. We figured there’d be tons of people considering it was Halloween. I guess maybe the gimmick of it all kind of worn off for our small town. Maybe we were the last people who really cared enough about the legends of Howling Women and Wolfmen to take the time to check it out on Halloween.
“The real place is up the trail a little ways. It's not too far, only about a 10 minute walk,” John said getting out of the car. It was more like 20 minutes really, but oh well.
We all headed down the trail. I’ve always been a little spooked by graveyards, especially ones were I knew gruesome murders had been committed by Nazi-fuckheads. However, this one was a particularly beautiful. Maybe it was the Fall time leaves and finely kept grounds, but it just seemed nicer than most graveyards I’d been in.
John and Jenny walked in front of me and Madison. I looked over at Madison as we walked, she had her camera bag around her shoulder. The falling sun made her red hair seem like it was glowing. It seemed to blend into the leaves on the trees around us; dark brownish red and lit by the sun. She was beautiful, like our surroundings.
“My father’s buried here,” she said looking over at. I think she noticed that I was staring.
“Mm-hm. He’s buried back near were parked. He died when I was 3,”
“Don’t be, I don’t really remember him. My mom says he was the nicest guy who ever lived, but you know, she kind of has to say that,”
“How’d he die?”
Madison looked me in the eyes. Her eyes were starting to water a little bit.
“I’m… I’m sorry. I should’ve-”
“No... it’s okay. He, uh, killed himself,” she swallowed “He was really sick and was gonna die anyway. He didn’t want to my mom to watch him die slowly so… he shot himself in his car in a parking lot in his car. A woman found him because the wind had blown the door of his car open,”
Madison fell silent. She was holding back tears. I felt bad about asking, I should’ve just minded my business. We walked in silence for a moment.
“Do… do you believe in the stories? That there’s something up at the top of the stairs in the Howling Hall?”
“Maybe. I don’t see why there couldn’t be something up there, but… I also can’t think of why there would be. Do you think there’s something up there?”
“I don’t really know,”
The two of us didn’t say anything else. We didn't need to.
It was dark by the time we reached the stairs. The last trail light was at least 15 feet behind us. The only thing lighting the stairs was the moon. Madison took a single picture of the stairs, low to the ground and pointing up their length, lighting everything up for a split second. The atmosphere felt appropriately spooky. Everyone was silent.
“Well… who’s going up?” John said finally breaking the silence.
“I’m not going,” said Jenny. John said the same
It was silent again for a moment.
“I’ll go,” Madison said and started walking up the stairs.
We all stood there for a moment.
“Wait,” I yelled “I’m going too,”
I ran up the stairs after her. Madison didn’t seem scared, but I felt bad about making her more upset than she needed to be. I didn’t want her to go alone. I walked next to her, we looked at each other and both shyly smiled.
The stairs weren’t as tall as the legends say. They didn’t take any time to climb up. We reached the top in under 30 seconds.
The hall at the top was pitch black. From inside, came the faint sound of air rushing by the walls. I won’t lie. I was scared looking in. Even if I didn’t think some mutant dogman or Mamot the wish demon was gonna get me, there was something that seemed not right about that tunnel.
Madison looked over at me. She seemed to be a little scared too at this point.
“Joe... can you hold my hand while we go in?”
I'm not even gonna lie, I was just about to ask her the same thing.
We grabbed each others’ hand and walked in. You couldn’t see anything inside of Howling Hall. You could only hear your own footsteps and that sound of air. I gripped Madison’s hand a little tighter as we ventured further in.
“I think I just figured out why they call it Howling Hall,” Madison said, cutting through the awful silence.
I little wave of realization went over me. I think she was right. I know that probably seems pretty disappointing, but that’s just how a lot of these things go with urban legends, there’s usually a pretty normal reason. No ghosts, no demons, no werewolves, just the wing.
We reached the end of the tunnel pretty quickly. Probably only about a 30 second walk in till we reached the end. The end was nothing but a stone wall, just like the walls of the tunnel.
“Well that was kind of disappointing,” I said.
“Yeah,” Madison sighed.
We stood there for moment and listened to the sound of the air around us. It seemed like it was coming from somewhere at the end of the tunnel, but you couldn’t feel it. It didn’t seem scary anyone, in fact it felt soothing.
“You know we’re still holding hands, right?” Madison said.
“Oh,” I said putting my hand in my pocket and tensing up a little, “yeah, sorry,”
“It’s okay,” she said.
Madison touched my wrist with the ends of her fingers. It tingled. I swallowed the forming lump in my throat. My hand slipped back into her’s. We didn't say anything for a few seconds.
“Do you wanna scare John and Jenny?” Madison whispered in my ear.
The whisper tingled my ear and the side of my face.
“Um… yeah, sure,”
“I’m gonna run out yelling okay? Come out in about a minute, I’ll tell ‘em something was wait'n for us” She said running off screaming.
I stood there alone in the dark, the sound of the wind rushing around me. It still felt calming, even while alone; maybe more so.
I heard a small sound in front of me. It sounded like a single step. I froze, my breathing stopping for a moment.
Its Madison, I thought, She was trying to scaring me the whole time.
“Madison?” I whispered, “I know that’s you,”
A few more steps and then a slow inhale and exhale.
“Madison?” I said again.
“You like her don’t you?”
It was not Madison’s voice, this was clearly the voice of a man. And it wasn’t John, it was too deep and too low.
“She’s beautiful isn’t she?” said the voice, slowly and deep.
“Who… who are you?” I whispered, barely audible.
“You’re a good boy. I can tell,” the voice said, “she’s a good girl,”
The sound of the air grew stronger. I could feel it now.
“Who are you?” I said, a little louder this time but still quiet.
“She likes you too,” the voice said, “be kind to her,”
“Who are you?” I said again, louder this time.
The voice chuckled softly.
“Please, just, tell her that... I’m sorry,” his voice cracked a little, “Tell her... tell her that we’ll meet someday and… and I love her,”
I waited, but the voice didn’t say anything else. The wind of inside the tunnel died down to a whisper.
“Joe?” John called from the entrance of the tunnel, “Joe are you okay?”
“I’m,” my voice squeaked as I yelled, “I’m fine. I’m coming,”
“What happened?” John asked as I came out of the Howling Hall.
I didn’t tell John or Jenny what had happened. They thought it just me trying to scare them and Madison just thought it was me hamming it up for the joke. The truth is that I was terrified and I felt like I was gonna puke. I wanted to go home.
We all got in the car and drove back. The breeze rushed past the windows letting in a chill and a faint sound. Those beautiful trees were all obscured by the darkness.
Madison gave me her number on the way back. The shadows of the trees and forest moving past my window calmed me. I looked at Madison and felt better. Her faces was cast in shadow as she looked out the windows. Her colors were muted and blurred by the dark, but I knew below that was something beautiful.
When we got to Madison’s house I got out of the car with her and we stood on her front lawn. I told her what happened in the tunnel. She looked at me in silence as I spoke. She didn’t say anything, she didn’t need to. I knew she believed me. We kissed and she went inside.
I walked home after that. It was cold, but I was warm. Everything was dark and drab, but I knew the colors were there.
I slept good that night. But... I was woken up by a tree branch knocking on my window. It scratched at the glass and scraped against the pane. It didn’t scare me. It calmed me. Like most things that seem scary, I knew it was just the wind.