My own additions to a classic collection.
|The following stories are loosely inspired by folkloric tales. I may add more eventually.
Never Push Over a Tombstone
This story took place in the town of Scagaweay, up near the Great Lakes, back in the 1970s. Now that I've told you where and when it happened, you'll know that it must be true.
In Scagaweay there lived some high school students who were of a bad, rough sort. Their names were Mike and Norman and Carrie and Jason and Rosie. They dressed in scruffy jeans and jackets and hung out in places where they weren't supposed to, like the old abandoned rock quarry, where they smoked cigarettes and drank vodka even though they were underage. All of them, that is, except for Carrie, who hung out with the other four because they were her only friends, and who only pretended to smoke and drink. She also couldn't swear like the others without stammering a little.
Halloween came, and at midnight these friends all went out to the local cemetery. Most people would go to the cemetery on Halloween to tell scary stories, but these kids went out to smoke and drink and swear. They wandered around with a flashlight, looking at the tombstones and making fun of the names they found. Except for Carrie, who only grimaced nervously at her friends' jokes.
Eventually they found the grave of the man who had founded and given his name to the town, John R. Scagaweay. He had been very rich, and could afford to put up an enormous monument over his grave: a tall, white obelisk made of marble. But the ground around it had softened over the years, so that it tilted like the Tower of Pisa.
It gave Mike and Norman and Rosie and the others the idea of pushing it over. So they knocked it to the ground. Then, after kicking at it and scuffing it—except for Carrie, who hung back—they all went home.
The next day, Jason was sitting out behind the winter cabin that his family owned, cleaning a rifle, when a bear charged at him from the woods. It clawed him across the chest and neck, and chased him back into the woods, where he bled to death before he could make it back out again.
The day after that, Mike was riding his motorcycle down the country highway, when a tractor trailer hauling some metal pipes overturned ahead of him. One of the pipes flew at him and knocked his head clean off. It bounced away so far it took the police almost six hours to find it, still inside the helmet he was wearing.
Then on the day after that, Rosie was taken to the hospital because her stomach hurt. As soon as she got into the emergency room she started vomiting up green sludge filled with white, wriggling things that looked like maggots. For hours and hours all she could do was vomit, and her belly and hips and legs and face got thinner and hollower until it she was only skin and bones, and when she died that night she looked like an old woman who had starved to death.
On the fourth day after Halloween, something pulled Norman to the bottom of the municipal swimming pool and held him there until he drowned. No one could figure out what he was even doing out at the pool, because it was closed for the season behind a high, chain-link fence, and the gate was locked up tight.
That night Carrie went back out to the cemetery, where she tried all by herself to push the obelisk back up into place. She must have got it part way up, but it slipped, because when they found her the next day it had fallen on her, crushing her head like a melon.
Apparently John R. Scagaweay didn't care that she only sort of went along with her friends when they got into trouble.
Drive with a Dead Man
The old man was dead when they found him, alone, propped up in the oak chair at the head of the dining table in the big house on the wooded hill that overlooked the town. They didn't know he was dead at first, because he was glaring at them with eyes like burning coal when they looked in the dining room for him. It was only when they got close that they found that his flesh was cold and hard and waxy, for he had been dead for almost a day.
They had expected to find him dead. They were the ones who put poison in his vitamin pills.
They were his doctor and his lawyer, and he was already an old man when as young men they had gone to work for him. But the years came and went, and they too grew wrinkled and lined, and the doctor's hair turned white and the lawyer lost all of his, and still the old man went on living, getting older and meaner and shrinking up inside his clothes and inside the great mansion where he lived all by himself. Some said he lived so long because he came from a family where the men all lived to be a hundred and twenty. Others said it was because he was a warlock who had sold his soul to the devil for a million dollars and a long, long life.
But the doctor and the lawyer finally got tired of waiting for the old man to die, because they knew that all his money would go to them, and they wanted to enjoy it before they themselves needed doctors and lawyers to look after them.
Afterward, they weren't very happy when they read the will. They got all the money, like they expected, but it also required them to drive the hearse that would carry the old man out to the cemetery. But it seemed like a small thing, so they went along with it.
The day of the funeral came, and all of the town turned out, because the old man had been so fabulously rich. It was a long line of cars that left the funeral home, following the hearse as it turned out onto the street leading out of town, for the cemetery was far out in the countryside.
The first sign that something had gone wrong came when the lead policeman on his motorcycle noticed in his side mirror that the hearse was going too fast and was creeping up behind him. He sped up, but the hearse kept speeding up too, until he and it were going over the speed limit. He tried signaling it to slow down, but it kept coming up on him, nipping at his rear tire, so he peeled off to the side and slowed up alongside to tell the lawyer (who was driving) to slow down.
That's when he noticed that the hearse's windshield and windows were fogged up. They were so fogged up that he couldn't see inside.
Still he sped alongside, trying to warn the driver off, but the hearse kept going faster and faster. Fifty, sixty, eighty miles an hour it was going. As they approached the bridge across the river, the policeman finally fell back and radioed for help.
But as he watched, the hearse swerved as it flew at the bridge, and it sailed off the embankment to plunge nose first into the river and sink without a trace.
The next day divers went down, and they found the hearse half buried (nose down) in the river bed, like a spike. They couldn't leave it like that, so the city authorities fetched a crane and tried pulling it out. But it must have been stuck very fast in the mud, for the crane couldn't move it, but only strained at it, until the chain itself broke and whipped around, killing half a dozen people standing nearby. So they brought in the biggest and strongest crane in the state, and with that they managed to lift the hearse out and set it on the riverbank, where it sank all the way up to its axles into the ground.
They opened it up, so that the dirty river water came gushing out. To everyone's amazement, inside they found only the coffin. Of the doctor and lawyer there was no sign.
Even stranger, the steering wheel was also gone.
They took the coffin back to the funeral home, to move the old man into a new coffin. It's when they opened the coffin up that they found the steering wheel. The old man—cold and waxy and very, very dead—was clutching it in his haggard hands.
And at the bottom of the coffin, wedged in at his feet, were the heads of the doctor and lawyer.
Come and Ride With Me
A woman and her daughter moved to a new town, and bought a small house out in the country. It was summer, and a few nights after they moved in, the daughter opened her window before going to bed.
She woke to hear a voice calling from outside. "Sarah," it said, "come and ride with me."
It was a man's voice, a young man's voice, and it was full of ardor and pain. But the girl (whose name was not Sarah) didn't answer, and buried her head under the blankets as the voice called again. Over and over it called to her, begging her to come out and ride with him.
But eventually it stopped, and she fell back asleep.
The next morning she decided it had only been a dream, so she didn't mention it to her mother. They had a few nights of rain after that, so it was a few more days before she again slept with her window open. As she opened the window, she wondered if she'd have the same dream again.
Sure enough, she woke to hear the same voice, full of yearning, calling from beneath her window: "Sarah, come and ride with me. Won't you come and ride with me?"
This time she knew she wasn't dreaming, and she sat up in bed, then crept to the window to listen as the boy continued to call. Still she didn't answer, and when the voice fell silent and she heard footsteps on the grass below, she crawled back into bed.
Still she didn't tell her mother what had happened. She wasn't afraid—the young man sounded nice if a little confused—and she thought her mother would be worried and angry if she told her about voice at the window. Besides, she doubted that the boy would come around a third time.
But some nights later she again heard the voice calling. "Sarah, come and ride with me. Oh, won't you come and ride with me!" It was filled with such sadness and longing that the girl got up and went to the window and peered through the curtains.
"I'm not Sarah," she called back, though the night was so dark she could see nothing outside. "You've got the wrong house!"
"Come and ride with me, Sarah," the young man pleaded from the shadows below. "You promised you would!"
"I'm not Sarah," the girl repeated. "Did Sarah use to live here?"
"Oh, come ride with me, Sarah," the young man said.
The girl hesitated, then shut and locked the window. Now she worried that the young man might be a little crazy.
So the next morning she did tell her mother what had happened. As she thought, it frightened her. "If it happens again," she told her daughter, "tell him you'll call the police." That evening, they went around making sure that all the doors and windows were locked up tight.
The girl tried shutting her ears against his voice when the young man came around after that. "Sarah, come and ride with me," he would plead, and his voice was audible even through the shuttered window to her bedroom. One night she did answer, to tell him that she had called the police, and that he would have to leave if he didn't want to be arrested, but he ignored her and continued to call, continued to ask her to come down and ride with him. "Where is your car?" she finally challenged him, for she had never heard the growl of motor, either before or after his arrival. He didn't answer, but only again asked her to come and ride with him.
Her mother finally went to the police to complain. They said they would investigate, and a patrolman came out to ask them some questions, but he didn't have anything useful to suggest.
For some weeks this went on, and the girl gradually lost her fear of the young man, who never said or did anything worse than wake her in the middle of the night to ask a girl called Sarah to come out and ride with him. She started to sit at her window and try talking to him. It did bother her a little that he never answered her questions or altered his own; it also bothered her that she never saw him, for he always hung back where the shadows were deepest, and never stepped out into the light, even when she asked him to. Once she woke and fetched her mother in, so that she could hear the boy for herself, but the young man was gone when she got back.
Summer faded into autumn, and still this odd courtship continued.
Then, one evening in October, as the mother was doing some late shopping, a woman approached to ask if she and her family were living in that house out in the countryside. The mother said that she was. The woman gave her a very grave look, and asked if a young man ever came out in the evenings to look for someone named Sarah. The mother, startled, said that he had.
The woman pulled her aside, and hissed at her furiously. "You and your family must get out of that house immediately," she said. "Do you have a daughter, a teenage daughter?"
"Then you must get her out of that house right now!"
The mother asked who the young man was, and what made him so dangerous.
"I don't know his name," the woman said. "No one does, they've forgotten it, and he never gives it. But a girl named Sarah lived in that house once, a hundred years ago, and he was her sweetheart. One night he came to her window and asked her to ride with him, and she went with him. He was never seen again, but her body was found in the river, and I can show you her grave in the cemetery if you want.
"Ever since," the woman said, "that young man—or what's left of him—comes to the house and asks the young girl who lives there to come ride with him. And if they do go down to ride with him, they're never seen again."
The mother paled. The story was fantastic, but she made straight for home. She found the lights on and the door unlocked and open, but of her daughter there was no sign, and she was never seen again.
Like Sarah, she had broken down and gone riding with the boy. What they did on that ride, and how it ended, no one ever knew.
The Ghost Car
There's a ghost car that travels the country highways outside your town. Didn't you know? Up and down it drives the highway at night. But it's nothing but a pair of high beams. There's no actual car behind it.
Be careful when you're driving on that country highway when its dark. You might see a pair of high beams coming up behind you. If so, drive like it was the Devil himself that was after you.
For the ghost car will try to follow you. With its beams turned up high it will chase hard after you, riding your fender and flooding the cabin of your car with a white, blinding light. You will see no car behind the beams, only the lights, glaring and blaring at you.
It will blind you as you fly down the highway toward that sharp turn just outside of town. You know the one. It's the one that so many people have missed while speeding in the dark. The one decorated with the little memorials of flowers and crosses that families leave to mark where a car went off the highway and into the trees with a terrific crash and crunch.
With the beams of the ghost car filling your eyes, you will miss that curve and plow through the memorials. Your car will fold up like an accordion when it hits the trees, and not even an air bag will save your life.
Then the ghost car will drive off. It has done what it had to do. It has passed the curse on to you.
Because now you are the ghost car. And you will never stop driving until you have blinded another with your high beams, and chased them off the highway and thrown them through a windshield into the trunk of a hard, unforgiving tree.
It Wants to Wear Your Skin
Not everyone who goes into high school comes out alive. There are the usual accidents and other tragedies, the usual memorial services.
But sometimes a high school classmate goes missing, and no one notices until it's much too late.
The football team and the cheerleaders were holding a bonfire at the start of the season. It was out in the country, in an open field with the river on one side and wooded hills on the other. The sky was clear and dark, and the weather warm. The coaches and teachers who were supervising couldn't keep an eye on everyone, and every once in a while some of the kids would slip off alone with each other to a dark corner of the field, and come back a little later looking like they'd been rolling around in the grass and leaves.
It was late—almost time to head back into town as the bonfire was burning low—when a couple of the football players with their dates took one last walk around in the darkest part of the field. One of them tripped and fell to his hands and knees, and when he came back up again he was holding something soft and leathery. At first they thought it was a sheet, or a set of discarded curtains. It was only when they got it back into the light that they discovered it was a bag of skin, still tangled up inside of some old clothes.
That ended the party in a hurry, and the next day the police were out combing the field.
"My uncle said it sounded like the work of a Yee Naaldlooshii," Michael Ironhorse told some of his friends later that week, as they were hanging out in his basement after school. Michael wasn't on the football team, but the players had told him and most of the rest of the school about the thing they had found out in the field. "It's a kind of Navajo witch or warlock," he explained to the others. "They can turn themselves into animals by wearing the animal's skin. And if they put on the skin of a person, they can turn themselves into that person."
"But doesn't that mean they have to take the skin off the person?" his friend Emily Wallace asked. Michael nodded. "Gross!" she exclaimed.
But the boys were fascinated, and they laughed and gagged as he described how the Yee Naaldlooshii would suck out and eat the insides of its victim—including the brains, which is how it would come to know everything the victim knew—then peel off its old skin and put on the new skin and go around pretending to be the other person.
For awhile no more was heard about the thing found out at the bonfire, and mostly it was forgotten about, though one of the guys did ask Michael if it meant that the Yee Naaldlooshii had taken the skin of one of the football players or one of the cheerleaders and was inside the school with them. Michael just rolled his eyes and replied that there wasn't any such thing as the Yee Naaldlooshii, and that his uncle was just a drunken old Navajo who was living with his family because he didn't have any place else to go.
The month passed, and it came time for the football squad's third game of the season, but the quarterback, Chad Yeager, didn't show up. He seemed to have just disappeared.
A few weeks after that, one of the girls on the swim team, Tasha Franklin, went missing. She left a suicide note, saying that she was having problems at home, but her body was never found. Two weeks after that, Justin Bell, one of the chess players, walked into the school building and never walked back out of it.
That time, someone did find something. Justin's clothes were discovered in a trash basket inside the janitor's closet. And inside those clothes they found a complete bag of skin—torso, arms, hands, and legs, and a face with a curly mop of black hair, just like Justin's, on top.
Now Michael's friends remembered what he had told them about the Yee Naaldlooshii, and they pulled him aside and plied him with all sorts of questions. He came back the next day with the answers that his uncle had given him. On how to spot the Yee Naaldlooshii by its red eyes that glow in a dark room, even when it is in disguise, and by the fetid breath it has after feeding. About its aversion to silver. And about how to kill it by making it breathe a burning compound of coyote dung and medicinal herbs.
They took Michael's reports very seriously, and started looking for those herbs and for some coyote dung. But they stopped a few days later, when Michael's skin and clothes turned up in a garbage dumpster in back of the comic book shop across the street from the high school.
Since then, the kids at that school have gotten used to the disappearances that happen every couple of weeks, and gotten used to the rumors that if anything is ever found of their missing classmates, it is only a soft, leathery bag of skin with nothing, not even bones, inside it. For almost thirty years it's been happening, and so far no one has been able to find a way to stop it.
And who knows? Maybe it's going on at your school too.