I don’t mind saying I’m a Halloween guy. Always have been. I know, I know — nowadays Halloween doesn’t seem like the sort of thing Christians should be associating themselves with. You have your zombies and your witches and it all seems so ... un-Jesus-y. While that seems true enough to me on one hand, on the other I’d argue that the spirit of Halloween serves an important purpose. It’s a reminder that not all is well with this world. That drifting along the outer edges of our bland, normal lives is a darkness that, but for the grace of God, would consume us.
I believe this. I certainly do. There is a value in being afraid of those things that go bump in the night. Because there are things. And sometimes, they do go bump.
Part of the allure of the South is that there are ghost stories everywhere. Every small town, every mountain, every holler, has its dark places. My town is no different. And so in the spirit of Halloween, I’ll give you my own ghost story, such as it is.
The Wenger home still sits in a wide expanse of overgrown grass that is surrounded by acres of corn, no more than a hundred yards from the railroad tracks. My mother grew up on the farm next door and still remembers when the home was occupied. A brother and two sisters, each of them completely insane. The story goes that they all got into a fight one dark night. Things happened, as they always do. All three were found dead. Knifed. I don’t know if that’s true. People still say there is blood on the walls of the Wenger home. I don’t know if that’s true, either. I never had a mind to go and find out myself.
The home has been empty ever since. Well, empty of people. The ghosts, though? Well, that’s another story.
The Wenger home is still a popular spot come Halloween, especially with teenagers who show no compunction about parking along the road and trudging through fields and over railroad tracks. There are stories a-plenty. Never believed them myself. Until I took a girl by there one night.
We never made it to the house (I wasn’t, and still am not, that stupid). In fact, the Wenger home was the last thing on my mind. But as we drove by, my eyes drifted across those fields to where the house lay, and I saw a light in an upstairs window.
A red one. And it wasn’t shining as much as it was ... glowing.
I stopped along the road, my date in the seat next to me and my car idling in drive, and I will admit I was scared even if I was determined to show her I was not. We watched that light for as long as it took for me to tell her about the Wenger family and their untimely deaths (and yes, the closer she got to me, the more I embellished). It was unsettling, seeing that light. But it was still okay, as the field and the tracks were still between us.
But then something happened. One minute we’re staring at that light, and the next we see a black figure ease its way from the right side of the window to the left. It stopped and turned. Facing us. Looking at us.
My date screamed. I screamed. My right hand jerked and I hit the gas, and what was once scary was now downright terrifying. Because my foot was to the floor and the engine was running, but we weren’t going anywhere. And that ... thing ... in the window was still staring out at us.
And I knew — without a single doubt in my mind — that we were both going to die.
Of course, we didn’t die. What smarts I had left were enough for me to see that when I jerked my hand I’d accidently threw the gearshift into neutral. I remedied that and we tore off, leaving whatever was in the window behind.
It was almost a year before I drove past the Wenger house again. And I made sure it was during the day. And I made sure that whatever I did, I would not look.
That’s my ghost story. Now sure, what we saw that night was likely nothing more than a hobo who’d jumped the train and decided to bed down in an old abandoned house for the night. That seems right. Seems logical.
But between you and me, I still like to think it wasn’t.