The Hag – Epilogue

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Just a follow up to my previous post regarding my “hag” experience – the day after it happened, I was bitten by one of the dogs that acted so strangely. I’ve run past that animal almost every day for 9 months with no problems. The day after getting bitten, I ran a new route (to bypass that dog and its very apologetic owner) and was bitten by yet another dog. Mind you, I’ve been jogging outside for more than two decades and only had one other dog bite in my entire life. Two in one week seems a bit beyond coincidence.

After that experience, I was pretty nervous about what might happen next. Was this just a portent of things to come? I went riding with my father on his Harley that weekend and was sure I was going to die. But so far, so good….knock on wood. Perhaps the hag experience was a warning that I didn’t understand in the moment. Maybe my intuition or sixth sense was telling me danger was lurking. Maybe I had a genuine premonition and ignored it. The lesson in all this? When you get goosebumps for no apparent reason, when the chills shoot up and down your spine and leave you with a lingering sense of dread…listen to what your body is telling you. You may avoid something much worse than a dog bite.

The Hag

Today something very odd happened and I’m still grappling with it. After work, I went for a run, and it was fabulous – the weather was gorgeous, I physically felt wonderful, my pace was great – and then about a mile from home, I ran past a house where the dogs always come out and bark at me the whole way down the hill. As ever, they came barreling out of the yard, snapping at my heels, and then suddenly stopped, turned around, and ran away from me as fast as they could. All good; I felt painted with gold, like maybe someone up there likes me and got those yappy little pests out of the way. But moments later I ran past another house, this one with two big dogs who always greet me with joyful howls, and these dogs not only didn’t bark, but stared frozen at something RIGHT BEHIND ME. What’s more, at that moment the world became eerily quiet, with no traffic, no birds, just the sound of my own harsh, frightened breathing as I turned to see what the heck the dogs were looking at. In my mind, I pictured a hag-like, black-draped, twisted figure floating just behind me…but nothing was there. I even looked down at my shadow, thinking maybe the hag’s shadow would be visible trailing behind me on an invisible cord like a malignant balloon…but nothing. Still, I swiped madly behind me with one arm to sever any attachment, real or imagined, and muttered that nothing was allowed to follow me home. I ran that last mile with the hackles on my neck raised, half expecting an unspeakably cold hand to catch me around an ankle and drag me down to the land of nothing-good. Nothing happened, and perhaps it was pure imagination, but part of me wonders just what horrors do lie just behind the green and gold glory of spring.

Joy

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ImageThis afternoon I was running through mud and snow and had one of those rare moments of sheer joy – breathing the crisp air, feeling the pull of muscles warming up after a long sedentary workday, catching the last few drops of wintery sun before they fell behind the mountains. Moments like that are what keep me sane, especially during the holiday season when so many of the things that are supposed to bring joy, at least according to all those sappy commercials, just don’t. Some days there doesn’t seem to be much to smile about or look forward to, and some days carrying my behind out into the cold and wind seems like an exquisite form of torture, but there is nothing on earth that makes me feel quite as close to the infinite and divine as being outside, feet hitting the ground, just me and nature. I’ve run when it’s 20 degrees and when it’s 100 degrees, through broken bones and illnesses, through thunderstorms, snow, ice, and drought, and never once have I regretted getting out there and getting it done. I don’t always look elegant (okay, I never look elegant), but inside I feel like poetry in motion. Running realigns everything both physically and emotionally, at least for a little while. And as some people say about other activities that shall remain nameless, even a bad run is still pretty good.

The stretch between Thanksgiving and New Year’s is one of the hardest times of the year to stay committed to any type of fitness routine, but I’d encourage everyone to give it a shot. Seriously, it helps you cope with your weirdo relatives. It briefly replaces the need for a significant other, should you happen to be perpetually single like me. It makes you feel like you can kick the ass of anyone and anything that comes along and tries to stop you. And it occasionally keeps you from making bad choices. (Like hiding under the covers all day with a book and a bottle of wine, like I sometimes want to do. Instead I go running. If I still want the wine, well, at least I burned off some of those calories ahead of time!)  Even if you mostly walk and only jog a few feet at a time, eventually you’ll build up to jogging longer and longer. It really is the most efficient way I’ve found to stay in shape – doesn’t take much time, comparatively speaking, and you get a lot of bang for your buck. All you really need is a pair of decent running shoes. (Literally. Although I saw a man in England running through the woods in shoes and nothing else, and hope never ever to see anything like that again.) Sweat and fresh air – I truly believe they will cure most anything, from depression to a hangover (just in case that vat of chocolate martinis really is calling your name).

I’ve included a photo of me when I was 2 years old. Wonder Woman was (and remains) my idol, and I thought I was serious hot stuff in this outfit…even while standing on my own shoelace. Ha! Not much has changed; running still makes me feel like Wonder Woman on the inside (even when I trip over my own feet and face-plant in front of a bunch of strangers – doh!). It doesn’t matter how slow you go or how silly you look. Or if you’re bleeding or limping, and I’ve done plenty of both. What matters is that you get up and keep going. That, my friend, is the path of a true superhero and a good philosophy to apply to life in general – it’s an endless source of joy that is internally generated and therefore at risk from no one but yourself.

Poltergeists in Port Republic?

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I apologize for my lengthy silence – this hasn’t been the best of years. However, here is a short foray back into the world of blogging and the paranormal. For those who grew up near my neck of the woods in the Shenandoah Valley:

Did you know that in May 1865, near Port Republic, VA, a family was tormented by what appeared to be a rock-throwing poltergeist? It began one May evening around dinnertime, when stones began falling both inside and outside the house; the phantom attacker took a breather overnight, and began again the next morning at dawn. Windows were broken and items inside the house were moved by unseen forces. At around 4 P.M., the phenomena stopped, never to return (or at least not so far). This was reported in the Staunton Spectator at the time (and reprinted in an interesting book called Unexplained! by Jerome Clark).

I personally know folks who have experienced poltergeist phenomena in their homes not all that far from Port Republic.  Perhaps our charming valley isn’t as benign as first appearances might lead one to believe?

Hereafter

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Not long ago, I was chastised by a friend for not showing proper respect in a cemetery. It’s true that I was excited; it’s a beautiful graveyard and I’d just found the plot where the founder of the city and his descendants were buried. And no, I don’t (usually) lower my voice or act any differently in a cemetery than I do anyplace else, although I do have immense respect for those who have lived before me. I just don’t treat the dead any differently than the living, because to me, theoretically, they’re only in another stage of life. I tend to put myself in their position – if they are indeed still lingering nearby, if they are somehow cognizant of what is happening on this plane and in this time, wouldn’t it be nice to have someone come talk to them or at least read their names and show a modicum of interest in who they were?

I’ve thought about what my friend said and completely see his point, and therefore have determined to be more aware of my behavior around those who might not share my viewpoint. And perhaps the way I see it is purely selfish. I have no husband and no children and little hope of having either; 50 years from now, there will likely be no one who remembers me or knew me, and 100 years from now there definitely won’t be. I’ll be a name etched in marble, or listed as the old maid aunt in someone’s family tree, but no one will know who the real me was. This to me is infinitely sad, and it’s true for just about all of us. At some point, we’ll fall out of memory unless we’ve done something remarkable enough to be recorded for posterity. How many of us know the names of our ancestors beyond a generation or two? And even if we do, what do we really know about those people with whom we share the most intimate of bonds, our blood, our DNA, our distinctive features, personality traits, and quirks?

This is why I investigate the paranormal, at least in part. I’m interested in the stories that ghosts, assuming they exist and assuming they are what remain of us when we die, have to impart to the living. If nothing else, I would like to somehow validate them and perhaps even help them, if they are lost or lonely or confused. I’d like to discover their names and anything they want to tell me about their lives or deaths. I’d like to give them the chance to share who they were and what they loved and wanted in life, perhaps even what they still want. If I were a ghost, I would want someone to just talk to me as if I were still alive, to bring laughter and emotion back to me and remind me of what being human means. Heck, I want someone to do that for me now. Ha! I think it all boils down to human compassion and connection. We are all intertwined and all important, and that is as true in life as it is after death.

Soldier’s Christmas

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Tonight I opened this year’s Christmas card from my grandmother and it contained a poem many of you may have seen before, although I had not. It was written by Lance Corporal James M. Schmidt many years ago and, after a slight change in wording, became “A Soldier’s Silent Night.” Regardless of how you feel about war, we all owe an unfathomable debt to our troops and their families for their selfless courage and sacrifice. If nothing else, we can give them our sincere gratitude and at least take a moment to think about them during the holidays.

“A Soldier’s Silent Night”

‘Twas the night before Christmas, he lived all alone,
in a one bedroom house made of plaster and stone.
I had come down the chimney with presents to give,
and to see just who in this home did live.
I looked all about, a strange sight I did see,
no tinsel, no presents, not even a tree.

No stocking by mantle, just boots filled with sand,
and on the wall pictures of far distant lands.
With medals and badges, awards of all kinds,
a sobering thought came to my mind.
For this house was different, so dark and so dreary,
the home of a soldier, now I could see clearly.

The soldier lay sleeping, silent, alone,
curled up on the floor in this one bedroom home.
The face was so gentle, the room in such disorder,
not how I pictured a United States Soldier.
Was this the hero of whom I’d just read?
Curled up on a poncho, the floor for a bed?

I realized the families that I saw this night,
owed their lives to these soldiers who were willing to fight.
Soon round the world, the children would play,
and grownups would celebrate a bright Christmas day.
They all enjoyed freedom each month of the year,
because of the soldiers, like the one lying here.

I couldn’t help wonder how many lay alone,
on a cold Christmas Eve in a land far from home.
The very thought brought a tear to my eye,
I dropped to my knees and started to cry.
The soldier awakened and I heard a rough voice,
“Santa don’t cry, this life is my choice;

I fight for freedom, I don’t ask for more,
my life is my God, my Country, my Corps.”
The soldier rolled over and drifted to sleep,
I couldn’t control it, I continued to weep.
I kept watch for hours, so silent and still
and we both shivered from the cold night’s chill.

I didn’t want to leave on that cold, dark night,
this guardian of honor so willing to fight.
The the soldier rolled over, with a voice soft and pure,
whispered, “Carry on Santa, it’s Christmas day, all is secure.”
One look at my watch and I knew he was right.
“Merry Christmas, my friend, and to all a good night.”

Autumn Reflections

As for many people, autumn is just about my favorite season. Something about the changing leaves and crisp air makes me feel that anything is possible, that mystery lurks around every corner, and the world we see is teetering on the edge of revelation. Maybe it’s just the darkness of the approaching year’s end that calls to my blood, that hint of decay beneath the wild beauty of the trees and the slightly malignant moon. The gatherings of pumpkins and dried cornstalks on porches and at the end of driveways seem to be ancient offerings left for pagan gods. In the twisted, hidden places of my soul, I feel a tidal pull…when nature is at its most compelling, with the muffled beat, beat, beat of its heart calling a warning to those who choose to heed it. Get ready, it says, something wicked this way comes, a shadow in the gloaming….

 

Buried Treasure

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The area where I live is called Fort Seybert, West Virginia, and it has a story to tell. There actually was a fort here of that name, which was attacked by Indians in April 1758. Most of the male settlers were away on business, leaving the fort vulnerable. The settlers surrended, but the Indians, led by Chief Killbuck, massacred most of them anyway and took the rest captive, forcing them to march to Ohio. The Indians took as many of the settlers’ valuables as they could carry, but somewhere along the way, the booty became too heavy and it was buried somewhere in the mountains between here and Ohio. Legend has it that this treasure is still buried in these hills, perhaps in the very hollow where I live, which would have been the easiest route to take upon leaving the fort. This terrible event is commemorated each year during the Treasure Mountain Festival, which happens the third weekend in September. If anything were to bring the restless spirits of those murdered settlers back, it would have to be the staged burning of the fort at the culmination of the festival, where locals in loincloths wield tomahawks and reenact the final moments of that fatal day in 1758. Every year the fort is rebuilt, and every year it is burned down again. The settlers never win and never escape.

I have never seen any of the spirits of the settlers who died nearby or possibly crossed over my land more than 250 years ago, but I have heard what sounded like a Native American war cry. At the time, I rationalized it away as some type of animal cry…but I’ve only heard it one time in almost two years, and it made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. I had visions of ghostly Indian warriors descending on my house with phantom tomahawks. Luckily, no visuals accompanied the audibles, at least so far.

One of the many special events held during the festival is a historical walking tour of the nearby town of Franklin (est. 1794). This year I attended that tour, and learned many fascinating things about this area. The tour began on the steps of the county courthouse, which is directly across from a beautiful brick home built in 1848 that was used as the Union Army’s headquarters in 1862. From there, you can gaze up and down the main street and envision life as it was 100 or even 200 years ago. Franklin still isn’t that big (the population is less than 1000) and it isn’t that modern, either. Unfortunately, many of the oldest buildings in town were destroyed in a catastrophic fire in April 1924, so most of the buildings on Main Street, including the courthouse, post-date the fire. Still, the town has its charm, as evidenced in the photo below.

Right around the corner from the courthouse is a tiny stone building, tucked between two larger structures and hidden behind trees. This is the McCoy Law Office, built to replace the earlier building lost in the 1924 fire. The stones come from each of Pendleton County’s districts, and some say it has stones from every county in West Virginia, although that is impossible to verify. What is true is that at least one gravestone is incorporated into the walls, which makes this a strange and intriguing little building.

Farther back in the town is a somewhat steep, narrow street lined with old homes. Some of these homes are historically important, built prior to the Civil War and retaining their old-world allure. But to me the most interesting part is the former name of the street, Dirty Run – so called because the owners of the lovely homes lining the street all built their privies over the lane. At the top of the hill, a gate was used to hold back water from a spring. Once a day, the gate was opened, and the water would rush down Dirty Run, carrying that day’s offerings from the privies straight down into the river. Ugh. A young lady who lived along Dirty Run got accepted to my alma mater, Mary Baldwin College, and quickly realized that her social status would not be helped by listing her home address as “Dirty Run.” She therefore changed her address to the much more socially acceptable “Sparkling Spring Boulevard.” Ha!

Our next stop was the General James Boggs Home, also known as Rockdale, which was built in 1820. General Boggs was under the direct command of Stonewall Jackson during the Civil War. This home was once at the center of a huge plantation that stretched far up the mountain. Slaves lived on the mountain and would walk to the plantation along a path that is still popular with hikers today.

Next to the elementary school in Franklin (which is only the third school on that site since the original one was built in the late 1700s) is a small cemetery, part of the original plot given to the town by the first settler, Francis Evick, for whom the town is named. For many years this cemetery was lost and forgotten in a tangle of scrub brush and trees, but recently the land was cleared and the remaining graves, including that of General Boggs, are now cared for by the town. I have heard no ghost stories (yet) about this cemetery, but you can bet some of the folks whose graves were lost forever aren’t too happy about it.

The most exciting stop on the tour, for me, was the Anderson Home. If you ever drive into Franklin and come to the stop light (yes, there’s only one), look up on the hill and you’ll see a huge white house looming over the town. It truly looks like your classic haunted house, perhaps with good reason. It was constructed in 1900 by the great-grandfather of the current occupant and was once at the center of a 300 acre farm. Sadly, now it is surrounded by a mundane subdivision. But the glorious house remains, proudly rising above it all. The current owner, Dyer Anderson, who was born in the front bedroom under the cupola, stated that people often ask him about ghosts in the house. He doesn’t deny that he’s heard some odd things from time to time, but it doesn’t scare him, as he knows it’s family.

One of the things mentioned by Dyer Anderson, and also our tour guide, Tom Bowman, whose family also has roots extending far back in Franklin’s history, is the impact past events have even to the current day. Franklin took a number of hard hits in the early part of the 20th century, primarily starting with the Spanish Influenza epidemic of 1918. This epidemic wiped out entire families and affected many generations to come. In a community as small as this one, losing huge numbers of the population for any reason is devastating. Dyer Anderson told the story of a man whose brother died of the flu. Out of love for his brother, the man insisted on shaving the corpse personally before burial. This was a fatal mistake; he caught the disease from his brother’s body and, 10 days later, followed him to the grave. They were 34 and 36 years old. Many, many people died, leaving children orphaned and widows penniless and without the means to work their farms, and completely dead-ending branches of families that had been in the area for well over a century.

The next tragedy came with the fire of 1924, which began with an explosion at the Pendleton Times and spread rapidly in all directions. Tom Bowman’s family owned the hardware store on Main Street at the time and the only thing they salvaged was a few dinner plates – which the family still have.

Just a few years after the fire came the stock market crash and the Great Depression. People living in Franklin must have felt like they were living in the crosshairs of a very capricious God. It’s not easy making a living in West Virginia even now; I can’t imagine how hard it must have been during those times. Still, there are a hardy few who have managed to survive and even thrive here, despite the difficulties and set backs. If there is a “buried treasure” in these hills, I believe it can be found in the locals themselves, in their love of the place where they grew up, in their reverence for those who came before them, and in their determination to make it in this beautiful, wild land.  Should you get a chance to make a trip into the mountains, Pendleton County is well worth your time.

Return to the Asylum

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Anyone who knows me well will tell you that what I hate more than almost anything is being told what to do. Being bullied riles me up like nothing else in this world (or the next). Therefore, these last few months, with their fleeting and sometimes not-so-fleeting moments of abject fear of some otherworldly nemesis set on my destruction, have gradually pushed me toward full-scale rebellion. Perhaps it is dangerous to cast lures into the spirit world from time to time, but at the end of the day, we consist of both body and spirit, while spirits are only spirit, so who has the real advantage? So it was that, almost exactly three months after my car wreck and a couple days shy of my birthday, I found myself again crossing the threshold of a place I’ve written about before: the imposing, unsettling, and vaguely threatening Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum, located in Weston, WV. (If you haven’t read the previous post and are interested, it can be found here: http://vyxen74.wordpress.com/2012/03/30/the-scariest-place-on-earth/.)

While I may be defiant, I’m not stupid. I did some research on how to protect yourself as best as possible from spirits, and one of my friends had brought me a cross that I gratefully wore. It was with a weird mix of trepidation and excitement that I began this, my first real investigation in several months. And as always, TALA did not disappoint.

The first notable stop of the evening was the geriatric ward. This part of the building has a stifling, thick atmosphere and an unpleasant odor, as if the noxious miasms of despair, old age, insanity, and ill health have seeped into the very walls. Nothing too untoward happened, but I did feel an overwhelming sense of sadness, much like what I experienced upon first venturing onto the battlefield at Gettysburg. Of course, that could have been an empathetic reaction to the lives the people incarcerated here must have led. You could be put in the asylum for any number of capricious reasons, and I can only imagine the confusion and utter lack of hope the elderly inmates must have felt. Whether legitimately mentally ill or just unwanted, there was no chance that they would leave these walls alive. Bad enough to suffer the pains and indignities of age, but to do it in an environment of hopelessness with no love or light to ease your way is a fate no one deserves.

From the geriatric ward, we moved on to its opposite, the children’s ward. Here we heard something indescribably compelling and heartbreaking – the voice of a little girl. One of our group members, seated in the middle of the long wing, exclaimed that he had heard a child singing. We congregated near that area and shortly thereafter, the other female member of the group and I both heard a little girl speaking. For some reason, the male group members didn’t hear it, and it seemed that she would mostly speak while the guys were talking. We distinctly heard her say hello twice, along with several other indecipherable words and phrases. I tried to dismiss it as some kind of strange echo of the guy’s voices, but to be honest, even I have a hard time explaining how a man’s deep voice could create an echo that sounded like a tiny girl’s voice.

On the second floor of the asylum, we sat quietly in the pitch black corridor and conducted an EVP session. As we did so, we distinctly heard the sound of a door creaking open or closed. It was a metallic sound, and after hearing it for the third time, we literally opened and closed every door on the wing in an attempt to replicate the sound. Surprisingly, the old wooden doors don’t make any sound. The only door with a metallic squeak was the one leading into the ward – and it hadn’t moved at all. This was very similar to what happened to us in the children’s ward during a previous visit. On that trip, we heard the door right next to us moving – but it wasn’t actually moving. All I can figure is that it’s a residual sound, a ghostly replica of the millions of times these doors must have opened and shut when the building was in operation. Similarly, when we moved to the third floor, we heard what sounded like tapping on a window pane nearby; however, no source for the noise could be found. A former patient, perhaps, tapping a mindless tattoo on the glass while spending interminable hours gazing out at a world lost to them forever?

The final part of the evening was spent in the company of Copperhead, who may be familiar to some of you as a contestant on the TALA episode of Paranormal Challenge. Two of us accompanied him into the cavernous darkness of the old kitchen, which is supposedly inhabited by a male spirit who has physically scratched several females over the last few months. This was the ultimate final exam for me – if I was going to get over my fears of the unknown, this was the place. I even resorted to mild provocation, and felt vindicated when I emerged unscathed. We did hear what sounded like an exhale and some other odd noises coming from the very rear of the kitchen, but nothing outstanding and certainly nothing too terrifying.  At the end of the evening, on our way out of the wing, we stopped by the stretcher room, so-called because it’s filled with stretchers, natch. Copperhead did a quick-burst EVP session and actually thought he caught a male voice, although it was impossible to determine what it said while listening to it on the fly.

Driving along the broken paved road away from the asylum at 5 AM, I did experience a momentary spurt of fear – I faced a 2 hour drive along winding mountain roads after being up for almost 24 hours. If something were trying to kill me, this seemed an opportune time. But then I girded up my loins, cranked up my music, and hit the road, singing at the top of my lungs to keep myself awake. I will admit, it was a bit eerie when it got lighter and I realized there was to be no sunrise – the world was enshrouded in thick fog, obscuring the tops of the mountains and dropping down to enfold me and my car at unexpected intervals. But I lived to tell, and sometimes that is enough.

Audrey:

Ase

Originally posted on Ghost Grrrl:

As a paranormal investigator, the single most common question I’m asked is, “Where is the most haunted place you’ve ever been?” The second most common question is, “What’s the scariest thing that’s ever happened to you?” My response to the first question is always somewhat conflicted, because it’s so subjective. I might go to a place and think there is absolutely nothing there, while another person believes it’s teeming with ghosts. Personally, I believe anyplace can be haunted. Goodness knows there have been enough people dying in this world throughout time to populate it many times over should they so desire. And while “residual” haunts may be stuck in one place, replaying the same bit of history on a seemingly endless loop, “intelligent” haunts should theoretically be able to wander at will. Whether they choose to do so, or prefer to stay close to the places they knew in life, is entirely…

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