Author’s note: This reads way better with some creepy music in your headphones. :)
Everything has an explanation. Ghosts and monsters are fabrics of our imagination.
My name is Terry Williams, and I debunk claims that the supernatural exists. Forget the holy water, the salt, the silver, or iron, You don’t need that to deter ghosts; you just need science and logic.
My next destination on the debunk tour is the recently famous Witherbee library. There has been a lot of buzz about the viral video of a young girl, apparently screaming in one of the library windows.
I will prove that it is just hysteria, video editing, or a man behind a curtain, as so many are.
That is all for this week’s stream.
I sign off and begin packing for a flight in the morning.
Two flights, and a 3-hour drive into the rural south, I arrive in Cordsville, population 853. The summer humidity has me sweating in places I didn’t know I could.
Today is July 23, the 100th anniversary of the Witherbee library fire that claimed the life of at least one person, maybe more.
I find the town hall and introduce myself to the mayor, who apologizes for the old building’s lack of air conditioning. He is sweating more than I am.
He gives me the complete history of the town. I politely wait.
The cotton economy of the late 1800s brought work to Cordsville. The town was booming until the Boll Weevil ravaged the crops and reduced the town to poverty.
Parents worked long hours in adjacent towns and even as far away as the next county, leaving children to manage for themselves. The library was a place to escape the hardships of life for those children who could read. After the fire, the town just didn’t have money to rebuild, so the Witherbee sat blackened and rotting until the state reform bill of 1925 funded a renewal.
I need to cut the history lesson short before I melt.
“Do you have any pictures of the fire?” I interject.
“Oh, yes sorry, I carry on so.” the mayor says wiping his forehead and tucking his handkerchief back into his coat pocket.
“I warn you, they are not pretty,” he says as we enter a back room. He rummages through a filing cabinet and pulls out a fresh-looking manilla envelope, quite a contrast to the rest of the aged and stained folders in the drawer.
Apparently, this topic has been popular lately.
Inside the folder are several sepia-toned photos of the burned library, various documents, and one photo that strikes me as odd. It is a young man, possibly early teens he is severely burned, and next to him is a doll, her face and hair partially melted, the words McConnell inscribed in the photo.
“Who is this?” I inquire.
“The boy is Kenny McConnell, he died inside the library that night, he was a bit of a troublemaker according to the newspaper report. He probably set fire to the place and got caught up in it.” the mayor replies.
“And the doll?”
“We think a girl named Hazel Abbott was hiding inside. That is unconfirmed though because a body was never found. The cubby where they found the doll wasn’t in direct line of the flames, but the heat was intense. It peeled the varnish right off the woodwork,” he responds.
‘Did she ever show up?”
“Not that we know of.”
‘So this is the girl in the window, then?” I ask.
“That is why we asked you here, Mr. Williams.” the mayor says, putting his hand on my shoulder, smiling.
“I’d like to get started if I can?”
“Of course, the library will be closed promptly at 6. This will get you in after hours,” he says, handing me a key.
I dump my suitcase at the motel and walk across the street to the library. Strolling through the aisles, I plan for the night ahead, the camera placement, microphones, and everything I need to set up.
The evening brings a slight breeze as the last person leaves the library and the doors are closed for the night. I set up each of my cameras, motion detectors, and microphones.
The sunlight fades as the evening ferries darkness to the little town. The buzz of the cicada rolls in from the fields. It is a hot summer night in the south.
I sit and watch the camera monitors. The microphones report the creek of the willow trees outside and the ticking of an antique clock on the wall, but nothing more. The night is uneventful, like most investigations, it is a lot of sitting and waiting. An hour passes, then two, I almost nod off, then I see it, a book on the top shelf moves slightly.
Then there is the sound of a child laughing, distinctively female.
It all seems to happen on cue.
I’m awake now and searching the library for clues when I see her. A young girl standing at the top of the stairs in a plaid dress with a white doily collar. Her hair in ringlets and bows. The video projection is of exceptional quality. She is there for a moment and gone.
I turn on the lights in the library to get a better look around.
I find the book that moved; it was purposely set up high resting on a spring lever, I search the upstairs and find speakers hidden behind bookshelves, many other minor items. They wired the whole place for the ghost effect, most of it amateur, but that video projection was exceptional. That is where they spent their money.
Still, I have enough evidence to expose the ‘man behind the curtain’ as they say. I pack up my equipment and make my way back to my hotel. Some part of me wishes just once there would be something I couldn’t explain.
1 PM Cordsville, Mayor’s Office
“Why did you ask me to come here if you know I debunk these things?” I ask the mayor, “There are many people in this business who would have just accepted what they saw.”
“We just needed someone to validate our ghost. You are the premier ghost person, if you validated it then we would have been the next Roswell” he says, “When the girl in the window video came out, our tourism boomed, we were trying to keep the momentum going.”
“Look, I understand, and I am not trying to ruin this for you. I would be fine just dropping the whole thing,” I reply, “You have a beautiful town, continue to advertise it as a haunted destination.”
The mayor looks at me like I just pardoned him from death row.
“I have to ask though,” I say as I get up to leave “How did you project the girl, that was impressive.”
The mayor looks at me a bit perplexed.
“I’m not sure what you mean?” he replies
I smile and walk out. It’s fine if he wants to keep a few of his secrets.
I spend the rest of the day wandering the old town, many of the buildings a testament to the beauty of southern style and opulence in the cotton era.
After a long afternoon, I find my way back to my hotel. My flight isn’t until tomorrow, but I like to be packed and ready.
The room has the smell of cigarettes, unfiltered; I know the smell my grandfather used to smoke the same thing. Probably in the next room, these cheap motels have no insulation.
But something feels off.
The hair on the back of my neck prickles, uneasy.
Then I catch my breath.
In the mirror, I see the melted doll from the McConnell photo sitting on the table behind me.
Reeling around with the most defensive posture I can muster, I find nothing is there.
Turning back, it is now just me in the mirror.
My heart is racing. This was unexpected. They are playing shenanigans in my motel room too?
I immediately start probing, check behind the mirror, in the ceiling. If the mayor is trying to fool me now, then I’ll expose all of this.
I come up with nothing, no cameras, no hidden compartments, no two-way mirrors.
Rinsing my face in the bathroom sink, I cautiously peer into the mirror, not sure if I will be the only one there.
“Get a hold of yourself, Terry,” I mumble.
Then I hear a whisper, very close.
“In the cellar.”
I turn in every direction, trying to find a clue to how they are doing this; I rush out the front of the motel, looking for anyone who is lurking, but find no one.
Across the street, the library quietly stares at me, taunting me. I am now determined to debunk this entire damn town.
I walk over and up the stairs into the library. Several people linger, selecting books.
‘Hi, do you remember me from last night?” I ask the librarian.
“Why yes, Mr. Wiliams. Our latest ghost hunter.” She replies with a bit of sarcasm.
I smile politely.
“Does this building have a basement?” I ask.
“I don’t recall that I’ve ever seen one.”
“Do you mind if I look around?”
“We close in 30 minutes,” she responds dryly.
I look at all the places where there could be a basement entrance and come up with nothing. Then I see it, a raised section under the carpet. A lot of old buildings had hatchways in the floor, but they covered the entire library in red shag, I wouldn’t have noticed, but the setting sun revealed a shadow along the edge.
“I need to look underneath,” I mutter, rubbing my fingers around the protrusion, looking for a seam.
Are you insane? You need to go back to your hotel, get some sleep, get on that plane tomorrow, and forget all this.
‘Sir?” The librarian calls out, breaking my fixation, “We are closing up.”
“Oh, ok,” I respond, looking back at the strange formation under the carpet.
Sitting in my motel; I watch the night overtake the library as it drapes the building in gray and black. The full moon brings a blue wash to the town.
The lights of a passing car travel the street and then it is dark again, I think I see a glimpse of something moving.
No, I guess not, probably nothing. Everything is still.
Then I see it again, some kind of movement. In the second-story window.
I need to get back in there; I need to know how they are doing all of this.
I still have the library key the mayor loaned me.
Shutting off the motel lights, I wait until there isn’t a car in sight, the only streetlight is a block down the way.
Sprinting across and up the steps, I unlock the door and slip inside.
The light of the moon filters through the statuesque windows, every speckle of dust swirling and floating about. I pull out a pen-sized flashlight and a utility knife.
I find my way to the section and cut around the edge; peeling back the carpet reveals a hatchway door, locked with a latch bolt. A cross has been scratched into the wood.
Something brushes my neck, I swing around holding my knife ahead of me. Pointing it into the blackness.
What am I doing? Vandalism? Breaking and entering? This is crazy.
I need to leave. This place is bad for me. I step into the main foyer and I see her, Hazel Abbott holding the same melted doll, standing about 15 feet in front of me blocking my way to the outside.
“What do you want from me?” my voice is weak.
She chants quietly,
‘Hide in the woods, oh little sheep,’
‘The wolf is hunting, it’s you he seeks.’
Over and over, she fills my head with the rhyme. My skin is crawling. I stumble back. Running towards the stairs, I can see the storage cubby door is open. Was it open before? I don’t know.
My heart beats frantically, I try to find a way out.
I rush into the bathroom and turn on the light, The sound of her voice won’t leave me. Feeling dizzy, I grab the sink to steady myself as the library spins around me. The walls move and shift, the decor changes, the bookshelves rearrange and settle in place, and then I see Hazel with her doll unburned, firmly in her grasp. She runs into the library, followed by another young girl.
“Miss Turner, Miss Turner,” they say in unison
“Shhhhhhh!” a woman in a long, corseted dress hushes the children
“But, Kenny McConnell is chasing us.”
“If you can’t be quiet, go play elsewhere.”
“We aren’t playing Miss Turner, he won’t leave us be.”
“I won’t say it again.” the woman interjects sharply.
Hazel takes her friend’s hand and whispers, “I know where we can hide.”
Then I see him, the boy from the photo, a cigarette hangs on his lips, the dark impressions under his empty eyes convey his demeanor.
“Why Miss Turner, you look lovely today,” he says in a hungry sort of tone.
“There is no smoking in the library, Mr. McConnell,” she responds, without looking up from the book she is reading.
“Ok, ma’am. The wolf can wait.” Kenny says with an insidious smile as he flicks the end of his cigarette on the library floor and leaves.
“The wolf?’ I whisper.
I stare at my reflection, standing in the library bathroom, my head still groggy, but everything is back as it should be.
“Hazel,” I call out, my rational mind screams to run away “What are you trying to show me? Is there something about Kenny? Is he the wolf?”
Then I hear a loud banging, repeatedly out in the library
I run out to see the cubby door, still swinging, it slows to a stop, just beyond that Hazel is standing over the section of carpet I cut.
“You, you want me to open the cellar? Is something there?” my skin is crawling with an acute foreboding.
I pull the carpet back, turn the latch and open the hatchway. An updraft of cool air brings with it the moist smell of earth and mold. My flashlight barely penetrates the darkness in the hole.
Climbing down the ladder into the dirt cellar, my flashlight travels the wall, the willow tree roots vein through the cracks in the library’s foundation, I can hear water dripping somewhere in the dark.
There are old crates, a pail, and various tools left for a hundred years to rot.
My flashlight continues deeper into the cellar until it stops on two skeletons, one dressed in a dusty plaid dress with a yellowed doily collar.
“Hazel.” I gasp.
“You probably starved to death down here,” I whisper.
Then I see Hazel standing next to her friend, their faces pale and drawn to the bone. They hold each other with a look of horror.
“You let him in, you let the wolf in,” they say in unison.
‘What do you mean? You asked me to open the door?”
“It was him, it was him,” they say pointing at me. At that moment they both let out a blood-curdling screech and disappear.
And I smell the cigarette.
My senses are on fire, I turn to see Kenny standing right behind me. His skin is burned and torn, he still has enough of his face to produce the most horrific smile, he is holding the doll.
‘The wolf is hunting, oh little sheep.” he says as a black mist emanates from his gaping burns, floating like tentacles towards me.
I fall back to the floor and drop my flashlight; the mist flows closer to me.
I desperately draw religious symbols on the dirt floor around me, hoping it will help, screaming to Hazel to do something, anything.
Kenny dissolves into a black cloud that grows and fills the space,
Think Terry, think, what is the list, holy water, silver, salt, iron … wait, iron. This red soil is full of iron oxide. Like a madman, I scoop dirt and throw it at the black mass. It rears back and returns to the form that looks like Kenny.
“This is working!” I scream, “Kenny, you are not a wolf, you’re a demented shit!”
I grab the pail, scoop, and throw dirt as fast as I can. Kenny moves towards me but his skin burns, tears, and falls off. His face turns from a smile to one of horror as the rest of him dissolves into the dirt, leaving only the black cloud. I’m engulfed by it, but I continue to pile more dirt, dumping it on myself and everywhere. The sweat from my brow drips a mixture of water and salt, as I dig and throw until the black mist finally recedes into nothing.
I stop and try to calm my breathing, my arms feel like I moved a ton of dirt, maybe with the adrenaline I did, but Kenny is gone.
Climbing up out of the basement I lock the hatchway. The library feels right again;
Hazel is standing in the moonlight, her friend hides behind her.
“Don’t be scared, the wolf is dead.” I say smiling, “I hunted him this time.”
The girls step back and fade into the darkness.
I stumble out of the library, exhausted and bewildered. My entire perception of the supernatural, of the world, has changed.
My hotel is dark, I don’t mind the dark; it feels inviting.
I lay on the bed; the world is mine for the taking; I am so free.
For some reason, I really want a cigarette, unfiltered, and I don’t even smoke.
I am the wolf now.