Monday, June 2, 2014

Suburban Magic

October 16th was blustery but warm, with the heady wet feel of early autumn and the smell of leaves rotting in the gutters.  The overcast sky, mottled gray and white seemed to be making up its mind on the rain when it began to darken.  The shadows were long on Gareth Mountain, where Joshy's house backed up to what was then still the woods.  In the intervening years land developers flattened the top of the mountain, stripped the trees and bulldozed the rocks, as if giving a giant a buzz-cut.  But in the mid-90's it was still the woods.

It wasn't the real woods, not the "Big Scary" with primordial, ancient trees as big as skyscrapers, not the Great Northern Woods, not the Black Forest.  This was scrap woods, a line of scrub left too long uncut.  Less than a thousand yards from one end to the other.  But for kids that lived within spitting distance of Manhattan, that drove to school every morning with the New York skyline at their backs, it might as well have been the Redwood Forest.

The idea to wake dark spirits was Ellen's.  But it could just as easily have been Becca's or Joshy's.  The trio was very keen on the arcane and the forbidden.  The other kids at school called them Goth's, which they pretended to hate but secretly enjoyed.  To the other kids at school, they were as dark and mysterious as they imagined the forest to be. But this time they would pursue their interest too far and the result would haunt them forever.

The Coffee Table Book of Witchcraft and Demonology was the tome from which they drew upon.  It was originally given to Joshy's mom as a gift in the late 1970's and had graced the bookshelf of his parent's house ever since.  The dust cover, which showed a demonic shadow marching across a background of anonymous people, was still in tact and the spine had never been cracked until Joshy and his friends found it.  Inside the pages, the book was mostly a history of witchcraft from the middle ages through the colonial period.  However, at the back were several spells.

The spell to punish enemies.  That was the name of the particular ritual the trio chose to perform.  It required three items, a knife, a stone and a feather.  The stone was taken from the landscaping around the front entrance to the house, the knife from the kitchen and the feather was taken from an old Halloween, Robin Hood costume.  The target of the spell, Mr. Kowalski.

Kowalski was the type of teacher kids like Ellen and her friends hated, which is to say a teacher that didn't treat them better simply because they were his best students.  He was in his middle thirties with a paunch that hung over his khaki pants and a hairline that as it receded revealed more and more of the pink scalp beneath.  He wore gold rimed spectacles that were too small for his face and gave him the appearance of a beady-eyed rat.  His lips were overly large and liver colored, a fact which he emphasized by licking them repeatedly during class.  But worse than his looks was his demeanor toward the trio.  His was the only class the three shared and the only time they were all together during the school day.  But Kowalski cared no more about this fact then he did about their impeccable attendance records or their remarkable grades.  He yelled at them when they spoke in class, he refused to let them sit together and once read a note passed between Ellen and Joshy aloud to the whole class.

October 16th would be the night they had their revenge, and Paul Hudson's immortal classic would be their medium.  They gathered outside just after darkness set in, the temperature beginning to drop.  Lighting a fire in the fire pit behind Joshy's house, they formed a circle around the dancing flames.  Ellen held the book, Joshy the knife and Becca the feather and stone.  The incantation was in English, and as Ellen read the words she kept the book tilted toward the fire for light.  The first three stanza (for it was a rhyming spell as all good spells must be) called upon the spirits of the forest to assist them.  Joshy was the first to draw blood.  A single drop from his index finger (he would later think how silly it was to cut his most used finger) and dripped it into the fire.  After wiping the blade on his jeans he handed it to Becca.  She too cut her finger and watched as the drop of crimson disappeared in the flames.  Last was Ellen, who said the final lines, took the feather and stone, and after cutting her finger dropped the stone and feather into the flames with a drop of her blood to seal the pact.

It should be noted here, that the three never thought the spell would work.  Not really.  It was a coffee table book, not some leather bound tome inked in human blood.  There was no magic in the stainless steel paring knife.  The feather (if it was even a real feather) was dyed bright red and came from a costume hat made of cheap felt.  Even the stone was one of those gray smooth stones that was once purchased at a home and garden supply store in town.  Moreover, this was New Jersey. How could there be magic with these things?

The wind, which had been picking up in intensity, began to howl, making the flame flutter and spit sparks like a miniature fireworks display.  Snapping shut the book, Ellen looked at her friends and smiled shyly.  She opened her mouth to say something about how silly this had all been when something crashed through the line of trees at the edge of the woods.  It was a deer.  No, it was a buck.  A large male with gray around it's muzzle and more antler points than she could count.  It stood at the edge of the fire's glow and regarded the trio.  Walking slowly around them, it seemed to be contemplating the strange scene in front of it.  Unlike most deer, this buck was anything but timid. He stepped within a few feet of Joshy before walking, almost casually back into the woods.
Looking at one another Becca, Joshy and Ellen had no clue what to think or say.  Though later they would tell one another how cool it had been, how sure they were the spell must have worked, at that moment they were each afraid.  Perhaps they realized, however subconsciously, that they had tapped into some power they did not truly understand, some force beyond their knowledge and control.  The moment passed and they laughed about it.

The laughter died the next day at school however.  Mr. Kowalski wasn't in.  He didn't show up the following day either, but the reason for his absence did reach the students.  Mr. Kowalski had suffered a terrible accident the morning of October 17th on his way to school.  While leaving his house, the teacher had tripped on a loose stone on his driveway and taken a very serious fall onto his porch step.  The injury to his back rendered Mr. Kowalski restricted to a wheelchair for the rest of the school year.  It took many months of painful physical therapy before he could walk again, and he could do so only with a severe limp for years to come.  Ellen, Joshy and Becca never touched the Coffee Table Book of Witchcraft and Demonology again, nor did they ever attempt another ritual.

Monday, January 13, 2014

There's a Man in My Wall

The following is an email from a friend who answered the question.  I was going to re-write the post in my own language, but thought it was just too colorful to change it.

So...something kind of creepy I guess.  My daughter, who's six, told me there was a man living in her wall.  That's not the creepy part, she says shit like this all the time.  A few weeks ago she told me there was a castle behind the old stationary factory down the street (there's not by the way, it's a sub-development).  Anyway I started grilling her about the man in her wall.  This was her mom's idea.  She thinks that, though her imagination is great, it's getting out of control and bordering on lying.  I think it's usually cute, but that's a fight I lost.  Anyway I asked her what the man's name was, how he got into her wall and like fifty other things.  Mostly she said she didn't know (you can tell her mom's a lawyer huh?). 
So skip forward to three days ago.  My son, who's fifteen, is in geometry class.  His homework assignment was to figure out the square footage of our house.  I was helping him (you'll notice my mathematical confidence is high when I already know the square footage of the house).  He was told to measure all the rooms from the inside and then measure the house from the outside to give him a rough estimate I guess.  So there was a difference.  I figured it had to be because the walls took up some space.  But the difference between his measurements of the inside of each room was like twenty to thirty feet different than what it was supposed to be (i.e. what the real estate agent had told me it was).
At first I thought that the boy and I had something in common, we suck a math.  But I checked his measurements anyway, room by room.  Ready to be creeped out?  My daughter's room was the cause of the problem.  I still have a copy of the deed (I mentioned my wife is a lawyer right?) and it had a little blueprint of the house in it.  I checked the dimensions for my daughter's room 10 feet by 25 feet.  My son's measurements were 10 feet by 22 and a half feet.  So there's this extra twenty-five feet that's on the paper but not in the house and that seems not to jive with the measurements from the outside.
Check your math, I think, and measure the room from the outside.  I measured the hall that goes along the one wall and my master bedroom which shares the 10 foot wall.  Guess how long the hall was.  25 feet.  Still missing 2 and a half feet.  The shared wall is on the opposite side from the wall I'm pretty sure is 2 and a half feet too close, which is an outside wall.  I hadn't even thought about the man that my daughter said was living in her wall until this point.  What's a father to do?  I got a knife and a hammer.
My wife was not pleased with this development but by then I think she was pretty freaked out too (especially after I ill advisedly told her about the man living in the wall comment), so she told me just to make a small hole and patch it up right away (I'm Irish, of course I know how to patch drywall).  So, I make the hole in the wall, on the other side was another sheet of drywall.  Keep in mind this is supposed to be an outside wall. I'm freaking out at this point, ready to tear the whole wall down, but I restrained myself. I opened up the first hole and made a hole in the second drywall sheet big enough to stick my head in.  
I got one of those head lamps campers use so I could see and looked around.  It looked like a really narrow hallway.  Ten feet long about two feet wide hardwood floors (like the rest of the house) no doors, no windows, just cobwebs and dust bunnies.  The walls were drywall and looked like they were either perfectly mudded (which they probably weren't judging by the rest of the house) or painted white.  The ceiling too was covered and crisp white.  I was getting ready to make a man sized hole in the wall when my wife put the kibosh on the plan.  She made me patch up the drywall once I told her it didn't look like anyone was in there.
So, what do you think?  I've been trying to find a way into that little room from the outside or the crawl space or something but I can't find anything.  Why would someone do that?  The house was built in the seventies and we aren't the first or even the second owners but I can't figure out why anyone would cut out twenty five feet of floor space.  Also, man in the wall...young girl's active imagination or call the priest?

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Bake Run Beast

First off, the reason I call this blog “The Strangest Thing Ever” is because when I started asking my friends for stories it was difficult to explain what I was looking for.  I would ask about paranormal things or unexplained events.  But it was difficult to get my meaning across.  Eventually I started asking, “What’s the strangest thing that ever happened to you?”  The stories on this blog are the answers to that question. 

I decided to start off the blog by talking about my strangest ever.  I haven’t thought about this incident in close to a decade, mostly because it was easy to brush off as a trick of my mind (as you’ll see in the body of the tale, I wasn’t in the most lucid frame of mind).  But I think at least part of the reason I never think about it is because it creeps me out.  It makes me wonder how close I came to something that would have changed my life forever.

It was a warm spring night in Lower Macungie Township, the trees were bright green and the sky was clear.  My friend John and I were driving along the back roads, just outside of Macungie town proper, when we saw something I cannot explain.

In those days the unincorporated portions of Lower Macungie Township didn’t have a police force, but were patrolled by the Pennsylvania State Police.  The Staties, were, as you can imagine, stretched pretty thin (Pennsylvania is kind of a big place).  They usually didn’t bother with the back roads for two reasons.  First, the mountain roads are twisty, dark and don’t provide good places to catch speeders (mostly because it’s difficult to speed on the curvy roads in the first place).  Second, they don’t want to get lost.  The roads that run through South Mountain are labyrinthine and confusing.  I can tell you from personal experience, it’s not hard to get lost for hours back there with no highway for miles.

The reason John and I were on those roads was because the state police weren’t.  We were doing, what was called at the time (and probably still is) a “bake run.”  Meaning, we were smoking weed while driving aimlessly.  It was common knowledge that the State Police only patrolled parks, schools and parking lots, unless they were called to a crime or an accident.  So, as long as we stayed mobile and out of their way we didn’t have to worry about getting caught.

Mountain Road runs from Macungie town, past the tiny hamlet of Alburtis and stops just outside of Longswamp (for those of you unfamiliar with the area, none of those towns are much bigger than the average neighborhood.)  It was a serpentine road, with only a few scattered houses along the sides, but mostly bordered by thick woods.  We were coming down off the mountain, having just turned off of Mountain Road, and were heading toward Macungie when I saw the thing I can’t explain.

I drove a Saturn with manual transmission, it was dark green and the interior smelled distinctly of teenaged boy.  The ashtray was constantly full, the cup holders constantly sticky and the floors and utter mess.  But our windows were cracked after the bake run, since we both smoked cigarettes and the air inside the car was clear.

The road, which was called Gehman Road, was difficult to see from Mountain Road as it was crowed on either side by black walnut trees and thick shrubbery.  In the fall it’s an especially dangerous turn because the walnuts fall in the road where the rotting fruit causes slick spots and the nuts turn into wooden gravel at the edges.  But in the spring it’s still relatively safe.  The road cuts through the thick woods for perhaps a hundred yard and then breaks out onto a mostly deserted road.  A few houses lined the road near the tree line, but after a quarter mile the houses gave way to empty cornfields.

The last house on the left was a ranch home right next to a line of black walnut trees that served as a windbreak.  On the right, the houses were set back a little farther from the road and a dirt track used by the farmer to get between two fields ran between thick stands of trees.  Across from the dirt road was a driveway and next to the driveway, on the cornfield side, were two large pines, maybe fifty feet tall.

We were approaching the cornfield, and when we were about thirty yards away from the dirt road and the pine trees when I saw it.  I don’t know how best to describe it other than to say it looked like shadow given form.  It was a longish, roughly oval shaped object bigger than a man by at least half again.  It flew from the dirt track to the other side of the road, twenty to thirty feet above the road.  I didn’t catch it in the head lights, but could make it out as a darker shape against the sky (which was brighter due to light pollution from nearby Allentown).  I remember most clearly the impression I got when I saw it.  Graceful, like a deer in mid bound.  I didn’t see from where it jumped, nor did I see where it landed.  The trees on the right, next to the farmer’s dirt access road obscured my view, but whether because they blocked the light or because the object started from within and among the trees, I cannot say.  I didn’t see where it landed either, though I got the impression that it was heading toward the large pine trees.

That might have been the end to the story, and surely it would have been were I alone.  But I wasn’t alone.  I slowed the car down, as I mentioned it was a standard transmission, so the amount I slowed was tiny.  I was in third gear and I took my foot off the gas and let the engine slow me down for two to three seconds and then accelerated again.  I ventured a look at John, his face was drawn and pale in the dull glow of the instrument panel.

Looking at me, he said, “Did you just see that?”

I told him I did.

“What was it?”

I said I didn’t know and asked him what he thought he saw.

He described something very similar to what I saw, an oblong shadow moving over the road about thirty feet off the ground.  He said he thought it was “flying,” while I got the impression that it was leaping.  I remember thinking of an arc as it moved, though maybe just a barely perceptible one.

We spoke of it a few times afterwards and of course told all of our friends, but because we were completely stoned, most people didn’t believe us.  Until just a little while ago I marked it off as just a stoner delusion, some minor hallucination (it wouldn’t have been the first or last time someone dusted our weed.)  But I do remember hearing at least one other person saying they saw something, though it was a friend of a friend who told me about it.

Eventually I convinced myself that it was a trick of the light, or my mind playing tricks on me.  It was easier to tell myself that it was just the drugs and the late hour than to think about what I may have seen.  I’m still not sure I saw anything at all, but I do wonder sometime.

I’m curious if anyone else in the Lower Macungie/Alburtis area ever had a similar experience.


Until I was almost thirty, I was never really interested in the paranormal. That’s not to say I wasn’t aware of it, I watched TV and movies, I saw the “true” ghost stories. But I never really paid much heed to it. I knew of the paranormal, but I never had an opinion on the reality of it. Until a conversation with a friend, in which he told me that something “creepy” happened to everyone at least once in their lives. It occurred to me, that yes, in fact something pretty creepy, which I can’t explain once happened to me. I asked some other people I knew and, after some prodding discovered that they too had experienced something they couldn’t quite explain.

I decided to write this blog about those stories. At first I asked my friends and family if they had any creepy stories to relate, turns out they did. I’m also going to ask readers to submit, if they feel so inclined. I should warn you that I’m a writer by hobby so I tend to put my own spin on things. But the facts of the stories I will relate here are basically as they were related to me.  Keep in mind, I make no claim that the events described are true, but only the recollections of those who witnessed them. My only claim is that I will remain as truthful to the original story as possible. Oh, and I’m changing all the names at the insistence of those who told me the stories.

What follows are the strangest things ever...