By Will Johnson
GRAPELAND – Everyone likes a good scary story this time of the year. With a flashlight under lighting your face and the wind howling outside for effect, scaring your little brother or sister half to death is an age old Halloween tradition. Telling tales about the hook arm that was seen dangling from a car door or how some lunatic had escaped form Rusk and made their way as far Percilla, leaving a trail of death and mayhem in their wake, before being re-captured, are all fun and completely made up. But what happens when one of the tales is real? Sometimes truth can be stranger and scarier than fiction.
The events took place over thirty years ago in a house that no longer exists. But the people and places are real. Anyway, years ago there was an old Victorian-style house that sat on the corner of Maple and Orange Streets in Grapeland. I was new to the Grapeland world and made friends with a guy named Tim. He lived in this old house and invited me over one day.
I walked the two blocks over to where he told me lived and saw this imposing residence for the first time. As I climbed the stairs of the front porch, I was a little nervous. Maybe I was intimidated by the size of the house or something, but regardless, I was a little creeped out by it.
Tim and I spent the day doing what kids in the late ‘70’s of Grapeland do. We tended to his chickens, we threw a football around and we played a few games of pool. It was while we were playing pool, that nervous feeling started to come back. Plus, I noticed that the room where the pool table was, was surprisingly cold. Being that it was the middle of September and it was typical Grapeland weather (HOT), I asked him about this.
Off-handedly, he told me that his house was haunted. “Sure it is!” I said. He then proceeded to tell me that over ten people had died in the house and that the room where we were playing pool was the site of a suicide. Apparently the previous owner had hung himself in the room. He also told me that five or six other kids had died as a result of disease and that three or four others had been murdered. Of course, I thought he was just pulling my leg, but when I left that afternoon, I felt a tremendous sense of dread being lifted.
As the days turned into months, Tim and I became good friends. I spent a lot of time over at his house and we played a lot of pool. That room was always cold. Even as the winter months approached and a fire was built in the fireplace in the far corner of the room, there always seemed to be an un-natural chill that would creep in.
One day, during the Christmas break, I ventured over to Tim’s house to hang out. Remember that this was over 30 years ago and people were a little more trusting. Well, I went to the back door and knocked. Hearing no answer, I just went on inside calling for Tim or his mom.
Not getting an answer, I walked a little deeper into the house. I called his name again and this time I heard a noise coming from the upstairs. That old feeling of dread was starting to come back, but I was 14 and invincible so I decided to go see what the sound was. I made it to the foot of the stairs and heard what sounded like something walking towards the upstairs landing.
Suddenly, it was as if something started running and I could hear it’s nails digging into the hardwood floors. That was when I heard the most evil, guttural laugh I have ever heard. Needless to say, my courage and bulletproof ability beat me out the door and I ran out of that house and didn’t stop running until I got home.
Later that evening, I saw Tim at Smitty’s playing a video game. I told him that I had come by and he told me that he and his whole family had gone to Jacksonville for the day. When I told him what I had heard, he just stared at me. Being a kid, I really thought it was probably just one of his older brother’s playing a trick, but seeing the way Tim was staring off into space was a little weird. After what seemed like forever, Tim looked at me and said, “You’re lucky.” I asked him what he meant, but he didn’t say anything else and went back to playing.
As I got to know Tim and his family, I could tell that there was something a little strange going on with one of his brothers. His name was Robin and for the most part he was a decent guy. He was older than Tim, but he would hang out with us and play football. Tim told me Robin was a great guy as long as he didn’t spend any time in his room. He said that Robin would be just fine for awhile, but if he spent any time in his room by himself, when he came out, he would fly into a rage. I always found this a little odd.
As the year dragged on, I started to make more friends and Tim and I started to drift apart. Part of this was the house. It just started to creep me out more and more. We remained friends but we just started running with different crowds. Towards the end of our freshman year, Tim approached me at school one day and told me that his parents would be out of town for the weekend and that his oldest brother George was having a party.
Friday night rolled around and two of my other friends (James and Rowland) and I decided to go see what this party was all about. When we got there, the party had kicked into high gear with all that a late 1970’s party in Grapeland could offer. The music of Foghat could be heard coming from the living room, so we went inside.
Tim had told me about his attic months before and I had gone in their with him. It was strewn with assorted family things that would probably never see the light day again, but it was pretty much just like any other attic, except that it was on the second floor. I kind of exaggerated the spookiness of the house and the attic to James and Rowland before we got we got to the party and true to form, one of the two dared the rest of us to go into the attic once we got there.
After seeing who all was at the party, we crept up to the second floor and found the attic door. I went in first and much to my macabre sense of delight, the door responded with a loud creak as I opened it. Rowland was behind me and James was last. The light from the hallway cast a yellowish glow, allowing us just enough light to see.
In the corner, was a child’s rocking chair and in it sat a doll missing, it’s head. Above this, a crucifix was hung…upside down.
That was pretty much all we needed to see and headed for the door. Leaving the attic last, I pulled the door to and heard the latch catch. Nervous laughter and teenage questions abut the others’ manhood came from all three of us as we made our way to the head of the stairway. Just as we reached the steps, I heard James gasp. Turning around, I saw the door slowly starting to swing open with a low, almost painful groan. The three of us stood there, transfixed with either fear or wonder.
It was then, for the second time, I heard that laugh coming form inside the attic. I don’t remember who was first or last out the door of the house, but I do know that I never set foot in there again. After our freshman year, Tim moved away and the house sat empty for a number of years. Rowland, James and I would drive by the house sometimes and sort of nervously kid each other about it. But we never stopped.
Years later, when I was in college, I learned that the house had been destroyed in a fire. The house had remained empty after Tim and his family moved and there was no apparent cause for the blaze. The fire consumed everything. There were no smoldering support beams or wood framing. The brick chimneys were gone as well. It had burned completely to the ground, leaving only ashes and scorched earth.
Will Johnson may be reached via e-mail at [email protected]