Accounts of “haunted houses” are, of course, a dime a dozen. However, the following story, which was originally published in the January 1897 issue of the journal “Borderland,” has enough unusual--and unusually chilling--touches to make it worth sharing.
Besides, I can never resist an evil ghost cat.
A CORRESPONDENT in California sends me the following very weird story of a haunted house in Kansas. My correspondent has copied out the MS. of a friend, who had the somewhat doubtful privilege of living in the house for a year and a-half. There are elements in the narrative which raise it far above the ordinary average of stories of haunted houses. That fearsome white cat with the woman's eyes, which so mysteriously appeared and disappeared; the unwanted bed fellows who sometimes slept on the top of the bed-clothes, and who sometimes pulled them off in order to make themselves comfortable on the floor, to say nothing of the nameless brute which seemed impervious to rifle bullet, constitute congeries of the gruesome and the grim which are not often combined in one story.
THE HAUNTED HOUSE NEAR PILOT KNOB.
The remains of a two-storey house and a two-storey barn was all that was left of a once beautiful place. It was in a very dilapidated condition; over the door and window-spaces were nailed great thick boards. In the room I afterwards used for a dining-room, and also in the servants' quarters, I noticed a portion of the floor had been taken up and laid at one side of the rooms.
THE WHITE CAT WITH A WOMAN'S EYES.
Looking in through the front hall-door, I noticed a big bundle of bedding and the largest cat I ever saw, sitting on the roll. The cat was pure white, with big brown or black eyes; they looked to me like the eyes of a human. I called F. (my husband) to see the cat and bundle, as I thought some one must be inside; we called the cat, but it did not move, only looked steadily at us. F. said the house must be used by hunters, but we could not account for the great cat. We looked at the barn and a bit around the yard, but never went out of sight of the house. Before I stepped into the buggy, I thought I would take another look at that big white cat with the human eyes; when I looked in, cat, bundle, and all had disappeared. F. did not know what to say about it. However, we took the place; carpenters, painters, &c., set to work, and when we took possession of our country place all was very nice, cosy, and comfortable. We had fine large cellars, with all conveniences that a cellar could have; a huge cistern under the kitchen, and everything convenient. Besides the gardeners and other men-servants, I had a very large, strong English maid.
THE STRANGE NOISE IN THE ATTIC.
I thought I would be so content and happy there, and so I would have been had not it happened as follows:We heard so many strange noises that we could not account for; the attic I used as a store-room; often I would hear what seemed to be a number of people walking about in an excited way up there. One day when I was all alone but for my two babies, I heard what seemed to be heavy iron balls rolling from one end of that attic to the other, until it shook the whole house. When I was young, and neither nervous nor imaginative, I was not cowardly--not afraid of anything; I thought only, "Why, what can that be? we have no iron balls up there!" I locked the children into a room, and went up to see what was wrong. One of the boxes that had been stored away, tightly nailed up, was open and all its contents scattered around, and that same big white cat, or one just like it, with human eyes, sat in the box with its paws on the edge, looking at me just as it did the first morning I went to the house. I called it, “Pussy, pussy!" it did not move, but looked steadily in my eyes, I thought, "That is not a cat, at least, it is not a natural cat; and whatever it is it could kill me and then kill the children!" and I went down stairs and locked the doors. When F. and the servants came home I told him. To reassure me he said it must belong to one of the neighbours; the nearest lived about a mile away. He went upstairs and found the windows fastened just as we had left them; the things were all in the box and it was nailed up fast. No iron balls there, nor anything else that could make that trundling noise, although it had continued all that day.
THE SPECTRE WITH THE ICY HAND.
One night, not long after, or rather it was just before dawn, we were awakened by most unearthly screams. F. could not decide what it was, but I said, “Oh! it is Ellen!" (the English maid). He ran to her room, with his pistol, and I with the nightlamp. We thought someone was murdering her. She was standing about the centre of the room, looking like a ghost; her eyes looked as if they would burst from her head. F. asked her what was the matter; she said nothing but kept on screaming; I pushed her down into a chair; I told her to go to bed, that she had had a nightmare. She said nothing, but looked round with a wild stare, shaking all the while till her teeth chattered; she was holding her left wrist with her right hand; I tried to pull her hand loose, but could not move it. I at last got her to my room as best we could, and had her lie on the lounge the rest of the night. The next morning she told us that she would leave at once; that she would not stay in that house another night for any consideration. She said, the night before she had been lying awake for some time, looking out of the window at the flowers in my garden--it was bright moonlight--and thinking she had never seen such a lovely place, nor such flowers. She heard some sound in the room but did not speak, for she thought I had come there for her, and she would not startle me by suddenly showing she was awake. Then she felt someone touch the head of the bed and turned to see, and looked straight into the face of a woman who was bending over her. This woman took hold of her left wrist with a cold icy hand; then she "was sure it was a dead woman," and she did not know anything more until we were talking to her, but she could not speak to answer us. We could not prevail on her to stay with us, even until I could get another maid, although she had been devoted to me before that. She begged me to move into the city and leave that house, or I would regret it deeply.
THE SPECTRE APPEARS AGAIN.
The day after she left me, F. brought me a maid--an Irish girl--who had lived with me once before, for three years. Her name was Maggy. We, of course, told her nothing about Ellen's experience. She slept in the same room, and on the same bed that Ellen had used. F. and I had not mentioned what had happened, not even to any of my own family.
AN INVULNERABLE MONSTER.
One night soon after, F. spoke to me, asking if I could tell what noise it was we heard. I thought it sounded like someone filing iron; he thought the same thing. He believed that someone was trying to file the stable-door bars, to get to the horses; we had some very fine horses; the gardener and the other men were all married, and they slept at home, down in the hollow where their houses were. F. said he would go and see what it was; I insisted that he should not expose himself (this was soon after the close of the Civil War, when dubious characters were prowling about, who often drew out the men from a household by some noise, and shot them on sight,) but he should stand in the porch in the shadow, and I would go, as surely no man would be so mean as to shoot or harm a defenseless woman. He finally agreed to stay there and cover me with a rifle, while I should go, for if he went and anything happened to him, I would be left the worse off. I took a pistol and went; when I was about midway between the house and barn, an animal of an immense size came around the lower part of the barn and started towards me. F. said, "A bear! run to the house, quick!" but I could not move. I stood perfectly still and could only gasp, "What is that?" It came about half-way between me and the barn; F. cried, "Shoot it! shoot it!" as he ran to me. We both fired and hit it every time; I could hear the shot strike it each time; we shot six or seven times; when the balls hit it, it sounded like a dried buffalo hide. It walked leisurely along, did not increase its gait in the least, but went down into the bushes and out of sight. F. and I agreed that it could not have been any living thing, and stand all the shots we gave it. The next morning we looked to see the tracks its feet made, but did not find the slightest impression, and it always remained an unsolved mystery to us. It was not in the least like any animal we either of us ever saw, either in collections of wild beasts or in pictures.
THE SPECTRE OF THE ICY HAND RETURNS.
Maggy had been with us some time when, about the same time in the A.M. that Ellen had screamed we were aroused by screams from Maggy. F. snatched the pistol and I the lamp. When we reached her room she was standing in almost exactly the exact spot in the centre of the floor where Ellen had stood, her face white, her eyes wide open, shaking violently, her left wrist clasped in her right hand. She acted precisely the same in every respect as Ellen had done. We took her to my room and kept her on the couch. She did not speak that night. After she had done her work the next morning, she told us in almost the same words that the other girl had used, that she was awake and looking out of window, thinking about the beauty of the garden and the brightness of the moonlight, when she heard someone in the room; she thought it was I come after her, as the bells were not good, and turned to see, and looked into the same dead woman's face that was bending over her from the head of the bed; also how she took hold of her left hand with "a dead cold hand," and then she knew nothing more until we had her with us. She told us we would have to get another maid, as she would not stay in that house another night. She told me, the same as Ellen had done, "You would better move away from here, or you will be sorry some time."
THE GOBLIN BIRD.
Soon after this papa went out to Pike's Peak on business, to be gone some time. I invited mother to bring Mollie and Willie (my brother and sister) and come and stay with me, so neither of us would feel lonely, as father was gone also. She accepted and came. Mother insisted that she would sleep upstairs, as it would be cooler than on the ground floor. She chose a room directly over my room, and everything went nicely for some time. One morning, about the same time (hour) when the other things had happened, mother was awake with her face towards the window, when an enormous bird alighted in the window and filled it completely. She thought it was an eagle, but a very large one. Willie (the little boy brother) slept in her room near the window, and she was afraid it would jump on his bed and frighten him, but she feared it might be worse if she did anything to startle or anger it; so she lay still and watched it until daylight. All the time it sat looking into the room; it had a queerly shaped head and large brown or black eyes.
THE GHOST AND THE BED-COVERS.
The next morning, again about the same hour, she heard steps in the room; at first she thought one of the dogs had been shut into the house unnoticed, and had strayed into her room; she called the names of the dogs, and when none came to her, she knew it was not our well-trained dogs. She turned in bed and the bedclothes pulled tight, and she could not move them. All at once the covers dropped to the floor: she put down her hand to get them, and touched a person; she was not alarmed, thinking it was Willie. She let him lie, as it was warm, but as soon as it was light enough to see she saw Willie in his bed, and on her bed-covers on the floor, was the impression of a body large enough for an adult. She did not disturb them until F. and I had seen them. She said she was not frightened, but after that she occupied a room on the ground floor until papa came back home, and they went back to their city residence, and I was again left alone, but for my two small children and the servants. F.'s business often kept him in town until late, when he would always get Hillis (my younger brother) to come out and stay with me. We had now fitted up for a guest-room the chamber the maids had occupied, and would put gentlemen in it.
SEEN BY A FOURTH WITNESS.
Hillis slept in this room; one morning about the time that the girls had frightened us so badly, we again heard such frightful screams. We hurried to Hillis; we found him in the centre of the room, and exhibiting precisely the same peculiar appearance and actions that the others had done. We took him to another room, and the next day he told us exactly the same story they had. I asked him why he did not speak to the woman and ask her what she wanted. “Speak!” he said; he would like to see the person who would speak to the sight he saw then, staring straight down into his eyes. He urged us to move from the house.
POLTERGEISTS FIRING PISTOL SHOTS.
Often during the day I would call the gardeners and ask them what was the hollow pounding we heard; they always said they had supposed it was someone pounding in the house. It sounded like pounding on a big empty box. One night whilst Hillis and I sat together, a pistol shot sounded close to the glass-door of the room; we saw the flash, too; both of us ran to the door, and thoroughly searched the house and the dooryard, but not a trace of anyone could we find. Yet hardly had we seated ourselves again, when we heard the report again, and saw the flash, both much plainer and clearer than before. We ran out again, but could find nothing.
A WARM BODY IN THE CELLAR.
One day I went down into the cellar, having taken a sudden notion for some apples stored there; as I was raking away the straw from about them, I put my hand on what felt to me like the body of a woman. I had gone down without a light, knowing the cellar perfectly. Of course I flew up the stairs fast, thinking some tramp woman had found a way into the cellar; as I went, I heard the straw being tossed about wildly, and even after I reached the kitchen, the girls and I all thought we could even hear the straw tossed up against the floor of the kitchen, or the ceiling of the cellar. When the men went down to investigate, they found no sign of disorder, except on top of the straw the impression of somebody about the size of a woman's person; also the straw was very warm, as if from animal heat. This puzzled them greatly, as there was no way for a woman to get into the cellar without being detected.
THE SPECTRE SEEN BY TWO MORE WITNESSES.
One day Mollie (my sister) brought a friend out to make me a visit. They two slept in a room next to mine. Soon after they retired, the friend was heard to say, "Who is that?" and then Mollie cried out in an alarmed way, "S., is that you?" When I answered that I had not been in their room, they both rushed into my room, and said they were lonesome," and would not stay in the other chamber; next morning, they said that, while they were still awake, but not thinking of feeling fear, something moving in the room caused them to open their eyes, and they both saw a woman leaning over the foot (the italics are mine; the notes go on to say that the position of the bed was such that "the woman" could not take up her usual situation at the head) of their bed, looking down in their faces. This made the fourth time this same woman had been seen by members of my family. The door of the room wherein the woman had been seen by three different persons opened into the hall, where I had seen the big white cat, the first day I visited the house; so, too, at the door of the room where I put M. and her friend to sleep. I forgot to say that in every case where the woman was seen, she wore a white cap with a frill around the front. About this time, F.'s business called him to another part of the State, and he arranged for Hillis and Draper (another brother) to stay with me until his return.
THE CLIMAX OF HORROR.
One day I took the children and went to mother's to pass the day, leaving D. at home to oversee things, and take care of the house. We had no maid or cook at this time; it had become very difficult for me to get woman servants. I returned late in the afternoon; when arriving in sight of the house, I saw D. at some distance from the house, walking up and down the road, which I thought very strange of him. I told the driver to go faster; when we reached D. he looked very pale; I asked him if he were ill, but he said he was quite well. He said no one had called to see him, when I asked if any one had come. In the course of conversation during the evening, he advised me quite urgently to move into town; our town house was let, but, he said, I should give notice to the tenants, and forfeit the rental; or else take for the time one of our other houses, in the town. He was quite insistent, but I was sure he had some good and kind reason for his advice. He was a very quiet man, never became excited, even when he was most worried. I acted on his advice, gave notice to the tenants, and had our big town house renovated and put in order for our occupancy. When F. returned, D. met him and had a long talk with him before I saw him. We removed into town almost at once. It was quite late in the afternoon when we ourselves left the house, having sent all the people and things I was taking on before. I stayed to take a last walk through my beautiful garden. When we were some distance away, we heard, it seemed to be in the house, the most terrible noise. I cannot explain (describe?) it, or compare the noise to anything I ever heard before or since. Draper looked back, and I was in the act of looking back, when he caught me and pressed my face against him, and said, "Oh! do not look back! you will be so terrified!" and unlike Lot's wife, I did not insist on looking back. And never, so long as they lived, could I induce either Draper or F. to tell me what they had seen when they looked back; for F. also turned and looked; he and D. were both as pale as death, and F. whipped the horses into a run, till we were out of sight. I afterwards learned that D. had told F. what he had seen and heard, the day he spent alone at the house, and they agreed that I must leave it.
LIT WITH INFERNAL FIRE.
Whilst we lived there, one of the neighbours, living about three-quarters of a mile away, told Hillis that often at night the house seemed to be burning; the interior would seem ablaze, and he could see flames leap from the doors and windows, but, on approaching the place, it would take back its ordinary look. It had this appearance of burning, seen from his house, often after we were living in it. F. tried to rent the place, advertised it in all the papers, told his friends about it, and had a great many applications; but just so soon as he located it, or took the applicants to see it, they would say, "What! not the haunted house, surely!" and some said they would not live in it for a bonus of one thousand dollars per month. We found, after we left it, that the house had for years had the reputation of being haunted, and people were very indignant at the man who had taken advantage of our ignorance to palm it off upon us. Several months after we left, the neighbour who had told of the appearance of burning notified us that the night before the house had been burned in truth. He said that, although he was an old man, he felt so relieved over its being gone, that he felt like dancing for joy. We always believed that it was destroyed purposely, on account of its bad reputation. We lived in this haunted house a year and six months, and all the time the strange noises and other queer things were going on, and we were seeing that big weird cat every few days. I was not very much afraid then, but looking back now at it I feel very badly frightened.
So far my friend. On my own responsibility, writes my correspondent. I will add a few observations to the above. I have transcribed the story as it was sent me, except that I have left out a few repetitions of the same thing, or here and there some comment on details which have no bearing on the appearances, and which probably were introduced as a commentary, on account of my knowing so well the people and the matters. The writer was in poor health at the time of the later occurrences--it was just prior to the birth of her third child--and so her people kept from her many things that happened. I have often heard her mother tell of her own experiences. She it was, you remember, who had the experience with the bed-covers.
A HEAVY GHOST ON THE BED.
She told me that this pulling off of the bedding was of almost nightly occurrence; she did not complain nor leave the house, because she felt that she must accompany her daughter, and was afraid of frightening her by the story What finally drove her from the room was that every night, after hearing--and feeling--some creature moving about the room, it would approach her bed and lie down beside her outside the covers, which it held down so firmly that she could not pull them from under it. At first she thought it might be her little boy, who lay in the same room, but she could hear him breathing in his own little cot, across the room, and then the body was that of a heavy person. She saw the huge cat, time and again; it never made any demonstrations, but looked at her in a very bloodcurdling way, and would disappear in a most disconcertingly sudden fashion. I have heard five or six people, some not members of the family, but visitors to the house, speak of the immense horrible cat, and also describe the noise as of rolling or trundling cannon balls.
THE SPECTRE SEEN BY FIVE MORE WITNESSES.
Another scene which I have several times heard described by participants, evidently has been forgotten by the relator. One winter night a large party of young folk drove out to this house, bent on the festivity known in America as a "surprise party." During the evening a great snowstorm arose, and on account of the inclement weather, and the badness of one bit of the road back to town, the family kept overnight as many as the house could be made to hold. Five young ladies, including the sister "Mollie" mentioned, were put to sleep on pallets, spread on the floor of the par our, which was warmed by a large heater. In the middle of the night everyone was aroused by a chorus of screams from the parlour, and the five girls were found sitting up on their pallets, holding fast to one another and terrified almost into convulsions. They told exactly the same story related above, about the strange woman. They had lain awake to talk, as girls will, and all had seen her at the same time. I will say further, that I have heard six or eight tell their experience with this woman, and all spoke of her as wearing the cap described by my correspondent, but they also said she wore a dark dress--the women called it brown--with white flowers or sprigs, of an old-fashioned pattern. They all said, too, that she wore a most malevolent, not to say devilish, expression. This family was extremely conservative, and felt that there was a certain disgrace attached to the occurrence of such things in their household; this affords a good reason for believing their story, told by each and all, that they never told of these happenings even to outside members of the family--i.e., not in the house at the time--so that each successive one who witnessed the phenomena was ignorant of what had b-fallen his predecessors. Two of the men, "F." and Draper, were sceptical, rather hardened men, who had been in the army; F. was a captain; D. held some rank which I do not remember. The women were very religious, conscientious persons, who would not lie for their lives. They were far from imaginative.