“Uhm, could you explain that again?” Mike asked. He let out a little laugh. Mike had obviously had a little too much to drink.
Barbara, ignoring the rude tone of Mike’s question said. “It’s pretty simple actually. The world of the living and the world of the dead are very close, perhaps just nanometers apart. Some of the dead easily bridge this gap. We call them ghosts. Some of the living can too. Politely we call them Mediums, but some call them crack-pots.” Everyone looked at Mike.
“Periodically the worlds merge, but usually it’s one sided,” Barb continued. “Almost yearly the world of the dead approaches the land of the living. Typically this happens in late October or early November, but it doesn’t follow a human calendar. As the world of the dead approaches, more make that transition and they are usually a little more substantial, less the shadow and almost solid. Thus we get the day of the dead in many cultures. The world of the living sometimes approaches the land of the dead, but it follows its own rhythm that few have learned to fathom. When this happens, more people can see into that land of the dead, even enter it. They can interact with those on the other side. Most people aren’t ready for it, so we see an upswing in murders and suicides. There are also more what some would call psychotic events. You know, people seeing things or hearing things, believing strange events. Our Western science has no explanation so attributes it to mental illness.”
“Yeah,” I said. “I have heard stories like this. By why is tonight special?”
“This will be the first time in a thousand years that the two coincide, that the world of the dead approaches the land of the living as the world of the living approaches the land of the dead,” Barbara said. “Not only that, this is the first time in almost three millennia that it will happen on Halloween.”
“Yeah, uhm, now how long has Halloween been around?” Mike asked. His girlfriend, Margo elbowed and shushed him.
“The day of the dead has been celebrated since humans have been capable of celebration,” Barb answered. “The issue tonight is that nobody knows what will happen. Will the dead freely walk the streets? Will normal people experience the land of the dead? Will some go to the other side and not find their way back? Nobody knows. We do know that there are what you might call ‘power centers’, places that will form even more of a portal between worlds than other places. These have a history of psychic phenomena.”
“Like haunted houses,” Jeremy said.
“Exactly,” Barb answered. “Something will certainly happen at these places. It’s best to stay away because there is no guarantee that you won’t find yourself on the wrong side when the worlds move apart.”
“I vote we go to Blood Hollow,” Mike said. There was some nervous laughter. “I mean, can’t get much spookier than that on a normal night. Tonight’s Halloween and whatever you call this collision of worlds. Triple whammy, we need to be there.”
Margo shook her head, but Jeremy and Trish both voiced their excitement. Aimee looked at me with questioning eyes. I realized the final decision was up to me.
“When is this supposed to happen?” I asked Barbara.
“They will slowly move together, so it’s already started. Can’t you feel it?” Barb answered. “However, between midnight and three in the morning will be their closest approach, when the two worlds will for a brief moment be one.”
“OK, so in about an hour and a half,” I said. I bit my lip. Why did I have to be responsible? If I said “no” I’d be called a coward but if I said “yes” and something happened, even if it was just an idiot doing something stupid, it would be my fault. There are plenty of idiots that hang out at Blood Hollow looking for trouble. On the on hand, I felt I would always regret not giving it a go but on the other hand if we did go and a member of our party was hurt the regret and guilt would be even greater.
Everyone was staring at me, waiting for my decision.
“OK, we go,” I said. “But we have to be smart. A lot of whackos hang out down there, and usually there are more at Halloween, going down to see if they can hear the babies cry, smell the fire or see the guy hanging above the road. I’ve never been there on Halloween, but I’ve been there on a warm summer’s night when more than a dozen cars were parked along the road.”
“Oh come on, don’t chicken out with all of this bull, let’s just go,” Mike said. “I’ll drive.”
“Are you sure you’re OK?” Trish asked.
“Oh, I’ve been watching, he’s fine,” Margo said.
“Yeah, let’s go,” Jeremy said. “Come on Trish, Mike’s a great driver.”
“I don’t think there’s enough room in your Civic, Mike,” I said. “Aimee and I will go on our own. Actually, Barb, are you coming? Do you want to ride with us?”
“Yeah, I should keep an eye on you fools,” Barbara said. “”Thanks, yeah, I’ll go with you.”
“Fine,” I said. “Let’s go, I’ll follow you guys.”
We hadn’t been driving for more than a minute when Mike accelerated out of sight. I slowed down and took it easy.
Theodore Blood was a rich eccentric who lived down in the Red River valley in a widening that was originally called Twist Hollow. His parents made a fortune in the steel industry at the turn of the 20th century. Theodore used his inheritance to build what some considered a bizarre mansion in the Hollow. He was known to be deeply involved in the occult and had events almost every week. People would come from as far away as Detroit and Cleveland to attend some of the grander gatherings. The other residence of the Hollow soon moved out, mostly abandoning their homes as nobody would buy. They told tales of strange lights and bloodcurdling screams all night.
Mr. Blood also invested in a school for disadvantaged children that stood on the valley rim almost right above his mansion. The proprietor, Mr. Dash, was known to be a cruel man and severely abused the children under his tutelage. The school was closed by the state in the early 1920s and Mr. Dash disappeared. There were rumors that Mr. Blood had used him as a sacrifice for one of his rituals.
Theodore Blood lost everything in the crash of ’29. With nothing to live for he burned down the school and his mansion. The flames could be seen for miles. When people arrived to try to put out the fires, they found his body hanging from a limb of a tree that was on the road at the end of his driveway.
It didn’t take long for the legends to start. Within a decade everyone just knew that the fire at the school killed all 125 kids in attendance, even though the school had in actuality been closed for almost 7 years before the fire. The school itself was moved in people’s memory and became located were the Blood mansion stood, the cellar hole being mistaken for that of the school. Mr. Blood himself was mostly forgotten, being called a caretaker who committed suicide after accidentally starting the fire. The legend had it that he’d chained the doors closed when he went out for a drink. When the fire started and he found he had lost the keys he hung himself. All wrong, but everyone knew and believed the legends anyway. Even more piled up around what became known as the Dash of Red School of Blood Hollow.
When we arrived Mike was leaning against his car drinking a beer. Jeremy, Trish and Margo were exploring the bushes around the entrance to where the school supposedly stood. Surprisingly there were no other cars around.
“What took you so long,” Mike said with a grin. He pushed away from the car and walked over to us. “No ghosts yet. Come on, let’s walk back to the school.”
I followed the others as they took the path towards the old cellar hole. I had just left the road when I felt something hit me. I let out a little shout of surprise and jumped forward. All of the flashlights turned towards me. There was a corpse hanging from the tree. It hadn’t been there two minutes before.
Trish screamed and ran off into the woods.
“Oh shit,” Jeremy said and ran off after her.
“Believe me now?” Barbara asked.
Mike smirked and pushed past us.
“This is obviously some stupid Halloween prank,” he said. He spun around and aimed a punch at the body’s groan. His fist went through empty air, causing Mike to stumble forward.
“See,” he said after gaining balance and composure. “There’s nothing there. There never was. Wimps.”
“Where’s Trish?” Margo asked.
Aimee pointed towards a cornfield just outside the woods. “She headed that way. Jeremy was close behind her. I’m surprised they’re not back.”
“Oh come on,” Mike said. “They’re hiding back there, trying to make us frightened. Let’s go.”
Aimee took my hand and we started to follow Mike, Margo and Barbara. A scream filled the air, a young woman’s scream. Margo screamed back in fright and grabbed onto Mike. A moment of silence. Another scream, this one from a young man.
Aimee had pushed herself close to me. “Trish?” she called out, loud, but not too loud. “Jeremy?” This one a little softer. “Guys, are you OK?”
“Of course they are, they’re just having fun at our expense,” Mike said. “Let’s go.”
We reached the monolithic finger of the ruined gate. But tonight it wasn’t alone, two fourteen foot tall columns of local sandstone rose on either side of the path. A wooden sign hung between them, the name “Blood” visible in bright red paint.
Aimee turned to run, but I grabbed her and held on tight. “It’s OK,” I whispered over and over again in her ear.
Mike and Margo pushed on. Barbara laughed and followed. I had no choice but to go after them, half pulling Aimee with me.
It took a minute to realize there was house in front of us. The gothic towers and spires were painted black so the building was more of an absence than a presence. I stopped. Even if I wanted to continue I knew there was no way in Hell I’d be able to drag Aimee a step closer. Barbara stepped back next to me.
“OK, the tour’s over, let’s go,” Barbara said.
“What? This is the coolest thing ever,” Mike said. “Come on, let’s explore.”
Mike stepped forward towards the mansion. Margo hesitated a moment before following him.
“No!” Barbara yelled. “You don’t understand. Once you enter there is no return. God, can’t you feel it? Can’t you feel the evil pouring out of the place? This isn’t a portal to the world of the dead, it’s a portal to Hell itself.”
Margo looked back. I could tell she was torn. She wanted desperately to come back to us, but Mike had been her world for too long. She loved him beyond everything even though he took her for granted. She turned and ran to catch up with Mike as he entered the house. She took his hand.
The force and heat of the flame knocked me down. I got up, trying to shield my eyes, trying to shield Aimee. I reached back for Barbara with my free hand. I felt her hand take mine. We ran blindly for the car, giant shadows grabbing us, trying to force us back, red tongues of flame licking our backs, tasting our mortal flesh, attempting to eat us and take us back to the mansion.
I could feel the body hanging in the path. I could hear Theodore’s laughter as I pushed it out of the way. I got in the car and sped off. The fire instantly went out, Mike’s car sucked into the vacuum with the flames.
Coming to the s lip on the far side of the valley I stopped.
“Everyone OK?” I asked.
Aimee nodded. I looked into the back seat. An older lady dressed in a short, tight fitting skirt and cloche hat, her 1920’s style costume was perfect, was there. Barbara wasn’t there. In my blindness I had grabbed the wrong hand.
“Hey honey,” the woman said. “Thanks for rescuing me from that dreadful party. But really, we should go back. Oh, there’s Theo now.”
Following her finger I turned.
There was a crowd of people in front of my car. Theodore Blood was at their head.
Without thinking I hit the accelerator. The people vanished as I ran them down. When I was pulled around five minutes later the police said I was going 124 MPH. Nobody was in the car with us. But there was the cloche hat and small purse.
My friends were never seen again. But in the latest legend of Blood Hollow, the ones the kids tell today, you can hear the screams of a couple being ripped apart by dogs in the corn field and they say there is an the avenging angel that will help save you if you truly believe.
Note – the backstory and legend in this story are loosely based on the backstory and legend of Gore Orphanage. The legend places the orphanage in Swift’s hollow instead of outside of it, and most people think the cellar hole of the old Swift mansion is the site of the orphanage. The Vermilion River flows through the Hollow. Google the name. I grew up less than three miles from Swift Hollow and Gore Orphanage and spend a big chunk of my youth playing in the area. I did make some changes, of course, but those from Northern Ohio will recognize it.
And the bird at the top? I couldn’t find a good picture, so…