Every town has one. The abandoned house that everyone hurries by, the cemetery everyone avoids, a local forest everyone’s afraid to go into. For this month’s October Fright I want to share with you the two local legends I grew up with. One that was invented by a peer of mine and another that goes back generations in the town I grew up in. I’ve changed the names of people and will not be disclosing locations because, you know, reasons.
The House on the Hill
When I was a kid, I went to an elementary school that bordered a hill. Comprised mostly of dry brush with a few large bushes that resembled overenthusiastic Chia Pets, the hill wasn’t much to look at, but at the top of this slope sat an old house. Closest to this hill was the field we did P.E. on, and flanking this field, running from one end to the other, was a line of trees. At the end of this column was the smallest tree of the lot. It was a sad little thing when you considered the other trees, but as it provided a certain amount of privacy from the watchful eyes of adults that you couldn’t get anywhere else on campus, it was the most coveted. It also gave you a perfect view of the house on the hill. This tree, along with all the others, was unofficially owned by the 6th graders, the oldest kids at the school who were much too big to play on the playground. When my friends and I were in 5th grade, we envied these older students, wishing we could hang out with them. When we finally entered 6th grade, we claimed these trees as our own. There were seven of us in all. We’d been in 5th grade together, we had slept at each other’s houses, and shared secrets.
And sometimes there was Jenny.
None of us knew her very well. She was the kind of kid who drifted from one group of friends to another, forever trying to find her place. She was a little odd, with straight-as-a-board brown hair and too-eager eyes. I’d never had a class with her but I knew her vaguely, in the way all kids at a small school know one another. Perhaps it was for the attention or maybe (though unnerving as it may be) she was telling the truth, but she used to tell us that her grandmother was a witch. Jenny didn’t talk much about her home life, but it was understood amongst us that she lived with her grandmother. Jenny claimed that her grandmother was a practicing witch and a good one, who had taken her granddaughter under her wing now that she was old enough. When Jenny wasn’t around, the seven of us would discuss whether or not we should believe her. None of us had met her grandmother or seen Jenny perform any kind of spell, and none of us was eager to ask to go visit her house. The next time Jenny brought it up, we voiced our skepticism. To prove us wrong, Jenny showed us the vial she kept on a string around her neck. Filled with a unknown liquid, she told us this was one of the potions her grandmother and her had made together. Perhaps it was because we were young or we secretly wished to be a part of something bigger, but some of us began to believe her.
One day while we were sitting at this last tree, huddled under the little shade it provided, Jenny glanced at the house on the hill. We weren’t allowed near the fence that led to the property. Our tree was the closest we could get without getting into trouble. The house might have been white once, but now it just looked run down. There was a garden in front, but none of us knew enough about gardening to discern just what was growing there. Jenny kept her gaze on the house and asked if we’d ever seen anyone come out of it while we were at school. None of us had. Jenny turned her gaze back to us and in a serious tone told us that the people who lived there were evil, that they practiced a bad kind of magic and that we should never get too close to the property.
As time passed, Jenny stopped hanging out with us. I don’t remember seeing her much afterwards, so it’s possible she just moved away. For the most part, we laughed off her story. After all, witches didn’t exist and if they did, why would they build a school right next to a house owned by one? Still, when we sat at that last tree we’d always keep one eye on the house, hoping to catch a glimpse of whomever lived there.
Darkness and Lunacy
It wasn’t until I was an older kid that I came across this local legend. On the outskirts of the city I grew up in there’s a small forest in the middle of nowhere. Rumor had it that in the midst of this forest there was an old abandoned building. This building used to be an asylum, but it had been abandoned years ago and it, along with the surrounding area, was home to quite a few ghost sightings. If you drove through the forest, you’d see strange things scratch into the trees and sometimes you could spot an apparition through the dense foliage.
One night when my brothers, cousin, a couple of friends, and I were exchanging ghost stories, this insane asylum came up. We had all heard the whispers, some of us even knew people who had swallowed their fear and took the drive through the forest. None of us actually knew anyone who had jumped the fence that surrounded the asylum’s grounds. Fear, which can sometimes manifest itself as adrenaline, can make you do stupid things and one of us suggested we go for a drive. Everyone reluctantly agreed. We jumped into my older brother’s car. He drove, with his best friend in the passenger seat and the rest of us squeezed into the back. My younger brother, who grew up with me scaring him at every opportunity, refused to sit near either door and his best friend, who was just as scared, also refused. So my cousin and I sat on either side of them pressed against the backseat doors, a couple of young girls protecting little boys. We never let them hear the end of it.
It was late and dark and no matter how brave we seemed on the outside, the fact that we were heading to a former asylum in the middle of nowhere was freaking us out. The further we went, the more afraid we became. We drove through several dirt roads, squinting into the darkness, actually hoping we’d find the right place because none of us wanted to get lost anywhere near the place. When we finally reached the dirt road that ran through the forest, we slowed down.
The road was small, the trees dense. The headlights lit the trees and as we passed by we saw that indeed there was writing carved into the trunks. There was a quiet challenge for anyone to get out of the car and take a closer look. No one spoke up. The air inside the car was hot with our quick breaths, but we refused to roll the windows down. We drove in silence, slowly inching forward, not knowing what to expect and afraid to find out.
We never reached the fence that led to the abandoned asylum. I don’t remember who first suggested we abandon the endeavor, but at some point the dread rattling our insides became too much. My brother pressed on the gas and we sped out of the forest a lot faster than we had entered.
This local legend goes back at least a couple of generations. My parents, who grew up in the same city I did, have their own stories to tell about the place. About white apparitions and dolls hanging from nooses and being chased from the property by a man with a shotgun. I no longer live in this same city, so I’m not sure if the legend still lives on today, but I do know that if you asked me to take the same trip I did when I was younger, I’d call you crazy and leave it at that.
I’d love to hear about your own local urban legends and if you were ever brave (or stupid) enough to investigate them. Share your stories in the comments below!