The unincorporated hamlet of Flush, Kansas was off the main highway about two miles on a tree lined two-lane paved country road. The road meandered through freshly cut wheat and clover fields following the curves and hills of the land in a lazy journey to places of no interest. At one time in the late 1800s, Flush had the only general store and Catholic church within twenty miles. The town could never have been called bustling or vital, it was just another forgettable stagecoach stop on the way to Dodge City.
An old German farming community in central Kansas, Flush had seen better days: days when the only church in town, St. Anthony’s Catholic Church, held a well-attended Sunday morning service. After Father Tom’s sermon and communion, the congregation would flock to the general store across the dusty street to pick up a Topeka Capital-Journal Sunday paper just to read the comics and check the weather forecast, but mostly just to chew the fat with fellow farmers. Sunday was the social day of the week and after mass, the general store was usually packed with the news and gossip-starved citizens clad in their homemade finery.
Directly across the road from the church and rectory, next to the general store, was the parish cemetery, populated with ancient moss-covered headstones and dusty bones. Enclosed by a native limestone and wrought iron fence, a few scattered long dead maple and elm trees displayed their bare branches and gnarled trunks. The withered branches seemed to be stretching their spidery fingers to Heaven itself. A rusted stamped-metal sign above the padlocked front entrance gate read: “St. Anthony’s Cemetery.”
Sitting next to the cemetery, surrounded by ancient oak and walnut trees, stood the only private residence in town, the McCauley house. Built by a prosperous farming family in the 1890s, the now rundown and abandoned ornate Victorian mansion was covered with cracked and peeling white paint. A few broken windows and overgrown and unruly vines winding through the front porch gingerbread trim, showed the years of neglect. The McCauley place rose from a knoll set back a bit from the road and loomed over the deserted town, foreboding, decrepit and seemingly in charge. With its enormous dark front doors, the house seemed to lean forward with a mouth open wide as if to accept into its bowels anyone who dared enter. A deep woods that had escaped the land clearing a century earlier, stood behind the house in a dense and dark backdrop. Dry and emaciated weeds of all sort grew in great bunches around the house. It had been a long time since someone had cared to keep the place up.
This was the house that presented itself to us on that late October day, just before Halloween, when my two best friends and roommates, Don and Ted, were riding with me on a Saturday afternoon drive. After feeling my steering wheel turn, seemingly with a mind of its own, onto the country road leading into Flush, we stumbled upon the McCauley place.
There was a “For Rent” sign posted on the weathered fence near the gravel driveway. The bottom of the sign read, “Furnished.” The place seemed at the time to be the perfect country getaway home for the three of us, despite its lack of upkeep. We were college students and decided we could live with the thirty-minute commute into town for classes.
After calling the number on the rent sign the next day, we met the landlady, Miss McCauley, at the front of the house. She showed no emotion as she mounted the porch stairs, unlocked the huge front doors and let us in. She remained on the porch while we entered the house for a quick inspection.
“Aren’t you coming in to show us around?” I inquired as I looked back while stepping into the front room.
“I’ve seen it all before. You guys take a look around. I’ll be out here.”
We walked into the front room and were met with stale and dusty air. The now rotting
and water-stained red flock wallpaper on the walls hinted at elegant days gone by. The entryway’s elaborate woodwork was dark mahogany and covered with years of dust, as was the heavy old Victorian furniture that populated the room.
There was an impressive curving staircase with frayed red carpet leading up to the quiet and dark upstairs landing. Taking the stairs up, we found a light switch that turned on the crystal chandelier overhead, now looking like a congenial home for spiders. Having to wipe cobwebs aside, we inspected the bedrooms and bathroom.
The bathroom plumbing was antiquated but serviceable. A claw-foot porcelain tub sat in the middle of the white-tiled floor. There was some old graffiti scrawled on the wall near the medicine cabinet that looked like someone had tried to paint over it with not much success. After finding the bedrooms to be spacious, if a bit dusty and dirty, we made our way back down the stairs and turned into the kitchen.
The kitchen was dank and dark and smelled of Pine-Sol. An old refrigerator and grease-caked gas stove stood alongside each other with adjacent rusted metal cabinets taking up most of one wall. There was an old set of cane-backed chairs around a Formica-topped table that sat in the middle of the room. The large chipped porcelain sink, sagging under its own weight, was mounted precariously on another wall. The whole room was dark, even with the one bare window. As dust danced in the sole shaft of sunlight, the window desperately seemed to be trying to cheer the room up with some sunshine, but without much success. Next to the window was a heavy over-sized door with a padlocked iron latch that spanned the whole width. The iron latch was held tight against the door and doorjamb with what looked like lug nuts. We assumed it led to the basement, but we were never going to be using the basement anyway, so we ignored it.
It wasn’t much, but the rent was unusually cheap, almost unbelievable, and it was in the country; our two main criteria. After a quick discussion in the kitchen, we decided to leave the dorm in town and be the new tenants in our newfound country estate. We all walked back out through the shag-carpeted living room, past piles of old newspapers and more dusty furniture, to the front porch where Miss McCauley still stood.
While writing out the check for the first months rent, I asked our new landlady why she didn’t live there anymore.
“Oh, it just got to be too hard to keep up what with me being the only one living here, and the only McCauley left,” she nervously replied.
She pulled a lace-trimmed handkerchief from her pocketbook and started dabbing perspiration from her forehead, even though it was near Halloween in late October. There was a definite chill in the late afternoon air. She seemed to be anxious as her eyes darted furiously back and forth between the house and the back woods.
Handing me the key, she continued,
“It got to be pretty lonely here, especially in the winter. I like it better in town. I think you boys will enjoy living here. You’re the first tenants in over ten years. The last renters just moved out one day and stiffed me with a month’s rent. They’d only been here for a few months. I guess country living didn’t agree with them.”
Clutching the check in one hand and seemingly in a hurry, she briskly walked to her car.
She then turned and slid into the driver’s seat of her 1965 Dodge Dart, turned the engine over and was out of the driveway in a cloud of dust.
“She sure seemed to be in a big hurry,” Don observed.
“Probably some bad memories of this place. The place does look rather sad,” Ted added.
“Well, it’ll cheer up some since we’re here now,” I enthused. “Time to move in, guys.”
The next afternoon, with cars loaded with belongings, we arrived at our new country home the day before Halloween. The strange and new fresh air made us heady with excitement.
The sun was making its slow descent over the mowed stubble of the wheat field on the other side of the house. The loose metal cemetery sign, just a few yards away, shuddered on its rusty hinges in the early evening breeze and made a low mournful grinding sound. The withered and dry late October leaves swirled around in the wind’s wake and crunched under our feet as we got the last of our belongings out of the cars.
“I don’t know if I like the idea of living next to a graveyard,” Don said confidentially. “It didn’t look this creepy in the daylight.”
“Cemeteries always look better in the daylight,” I replied. “You didn’t seem to have any objections before.”
“Well, the rent’s so cheap, I guess I kind of overlooked the distractions of a bone yard sitting right next to where I’m trying to sleep.”
“Get over it,” I said. “We live in the country now. That’s what we’ve wanted to do for a long time. We’ll just have to make the best of it, cemetery or no cemetery.”
“You know, with tomorrow being Halloween and all, maybe we should have a housewarming party,” Ted said as we all looked at each other and smiled. “I’ll go into
town tomorrow and invite all the guys from the dorm. We’ll make it a costumes optional party. It’s kind of late notice.”
Frowning at Ted and in a serious tone, Don said,
“Be sure they bring some girls.”
“Will do, boss!”
The three of us turned to the house and walked up the worn and creaking front porch stairs into our new home. The chilly wind started to gain momentum and the whole house seemed to be groaning under its gathering force.
The house now seemed cold, damp and much bigger than we remembered it being on our first tour.
“Let’s make some coffee and try to warm up a little bit,” Don said as we all headed to the kitchen.
As the wind outside gained momentum, it began to howl and echoed off the barren plaster walls. We all sat around the table waiting for the kettle to whistle, signaling the water was ready for the brew. I poured the hot water over the coffee grounds in the pot. As I was setting the pot back on the stove, a loud, intense and shuddering “WHOMP” came from the basement door. It rattled the coffee cups on the table and it seemed to shake the very foundations of the house. The door and latch didn’t move. The sound wasn’t like the wind blowing something against the door, or even an explosion. It was more like a whale’s tailfin striking the side of a boat with as much force as it could muster. The intensely loud sound wave hit our chests with the force of a sledgehammer, leaving us all gasping for air.
“What the..?” Ted yelled as he jumped up from the table.
“It must be the wind hitting the door,” I ventured
“The wind can’t hit a door that hard and make that kind of sound. Besides, the latch and door didn’t move. There’s something terribly wrong here,” Don said.
I felt the hairs on the back of my neck become stiff and erect. I felt a strange tingling in my back that crept slowly to my limbs, causing me to shake uncontrollably. I told myself, it was just the wind and nothing more.
I opened the back door to take a look around. The wind began to slow a bit as I walked with some hesitation down the four cement steps to the ground. The dry weeds around my legs rustled against my jeans as I looked in the direction of the graveyard. The bare tree branches were moving in the wind casting dancing shadows on the headstones in the moonlight. I was relieved to see that nothing was going on out there. I was thankful there was moonlight. The moon wouldn’t be full until the next night; Halloween night, night of the dead or “spook city.”
I looked into the deep woods behind the house, scanning the tree line. A soft red glow caught my eye. I blinked and tried to refocus. I looked again, and in the dim light among the shadows saw two glowing red eyes slowly moving back and forth between the trees. They seemed to penetrate my very being. I felt a deep sinking in the pit of my stomach. I quickly ran up the steps, went into the kitchen, closed the door and went over to the cabinet next to the stove and got out the bottle of brandy I kept for special occasions. With severely shaking hands, I tried to pour a shot into a glass. I kept missing the glass and splashed brandy all over the counter.
“You look like you’ve just seen a ghost,” Don said. “What did you see out there?”
Thinking they wouldn’t believe me and not wanting to make them any more anxious than they already were, I said,
“Nothing out there but the wind. It’s starting to slow down a bit. I just wanna have a drink and go to bed. No more loud sounds from the basement door?”
“No, haven’t heard a thing,” Ted said with some relief in his voice.
“I wonder what’s behind that basement door,” I said mostly to myself.
“We’re not going to find out. I don’t want to know. It’s time to get some shut-eye,” Don said with some authority.
We turned out the kitchen light and headed up the stairs to our bedrooms.
My bedroom had a large window that looked out onto the back woods. I took one quick breathtaking look, and not seeing anything, closed the drapes, hopped into bed and pulled the covers up over my head. I told myself what I had seen was just my imagination playing tricks. Tomorrow was Halloween. If anything bad were going to happen, it would be tomorrow and not tonight. The tree limb outside my window gently brushed against the pane making a tapping and scratching sound as if it were politely trying to be admitted into my bedroom. I fell into a restless sleep.
After a quick cup of coffee the next morning, Halloween morning, Ted headed into town to invite the gang over that evening for a housewarming party. I sat out on the front porch on a dilapidated rocking chair clutching my mug of coffee and surveying the adjacent graveyard for any signs of spooks or zombies. It was clear of any floating or walking dead. The bright early morning light was reassuring and just the thing to chase any ghosts away. As I looked in the distance, I saw an old battered Chevy pickup turning into our driveway. It rumbled up to the porch and choked and sputtered as the driver tried to kill its engine. A gray-haired old man clad in overalls with a straw hat slid out of the truck and sauntered up to the porch.
Looking up at me with quizzical blue eyes he said,
“Morning to you, sir,” I replied.
“You just move in here?”
“Yeah, yesterday with my two roommates.”
“Move out as soon as you can. Today’s Halloween. Tonight’s the night of the dead and it comes out on this night. Nobody’s safe. You don’t wanna be here.”
“What do you mean, “it”?”
Looking nervous and shifting his gaze to the back woods, he said in hushed tones,
“Some say it’s a large coyote or wolf, others say it’s some kind monster. I say it’s a beast from hell. Someone around here always goes missin’ the day after Halloween. They just disappear. Nobody finds no bodies, though. This place ain’t been rented for over ten years. The last people that lived here only lasted a few months. You better get out by sunset ‘fore you start hearin’ the howling.”
“Well, sir,” I replied, “I don’t know about any howling, but we’re having a party tonight. I think you’ve been reading too many ghost stories. There’s nothing wrong with this house, or the woods.”
I was thinking about the two blood-red glowing eyes I saw in the woods the night before and started to shiver. No way was I going to let this superstitious old fool of a farmer in on that story.
“You don’t know the history of this place. I’ve lived here all my life and I’ve seen what happens when someone moves in here. Three move in, but only two move out. They found old man McCauley, or at least what was left of him, hangin’ from a tree in the backwoods there. Some kinda animal had been gnawin’ on him. His head was gone. A few years after that, Mrs. McCauley went insane. They locked her up real good at the state hospital. Said she couldn’t get a howlin’ sound outta her head. They came and got her when young Miss McCauley found her in the bathroom upstairs bleeding from broken glass and howlin’ like a banshee.”
Almost in a whisper he said,
“Some say Mrs. McCauley kept the beast away from her family by feeding it human blood every Halloween night. That’s why she went coo-coo. There’s supposed to be some kind of dungeon or tunnel or somethin’ like that near the house where she’d lure some innocent body into the house and throw them in there for the creature.”
I thought of the locked basement door in the kitchen.
“They say this place was built on cursed ground, that it had been a place where somethin’ terrible happened a hundred years ago.”
“What do the say happened?” I said with skepticism in my voice.
He looked all around us as if someone were watching us. Almost under his breath he said,
“Right where we’re standin’ used to be some kinda place where the Sac Indians would execute wrong doer’s and such. The Indians believed some of these poor souls would turn into a Windigo and live in the woods waitin’ for a human body they could attack and feed on. One of old man McCauley’s kin settled this land over a hundred years ago and cheated the Indians out of some hunting grounds, so the Sac tribe executed him right where we’re standing.”
Thinking that this guy was a real nut case, I decided to humor him,
“What’s a Windigo?”
“It’s a creature, like a big wolf or somethin’ like that. It has to eat human flesh to stay alive. Seems it’s always Halloween night when someone around here goes missin’, so what else could it be?”
“So, it’s one of McCauley’s relatives in the woods?”
“Son, I don’t know what it is, but you better get outta here before dark.”
Leaning forward and looking at me with intensity, in a hushed tone he said,
“The thing will start howling in those backwoods, just after sunset.”
Wanting to shut him up, I said,
“Thanks for your advice, but we’re having a party here tonight. We wouldn’t think of moving out after just moving in.”
Looking a bit disgusted he backed away and said,
“It will rip your head clean off.”
I felt like laughing for his sake, but inside I was starting to shiver again and felt nauseous. I had to get rid of this guy.
“We’ll take that chance. Thanks for stopping by. I have to start getting the house ready for the party, so if you’ll excuse me…?”
The old farmer just shook his head, frowned at me and turned on his heel. He got in his battered old truck and was gone in a few seconds. I decided not to tell the guys about this. I really didn’t believe any of this baloney, but we didn’t need to be getting anymore paranoid than we already were from last night’s strange and otherworldly experience. Despite last night, I was going to have to find out what was behind that padlocked basement door.
After Don and I finished getting the house ready, Ted pulled into the driveway with a keg of beer in the back. We moved it to the back porch and iced it down.
“Well, Ted,” Don said. “How many are coming?”
“All the guys and some of their girlfriends. Should be a wild night.”
The guests started arriving in the late afternoon. We gave them all a tour of the house and there was usually only one question: why was that basement door so bolted up?
With beers in hand, Don and I stepped outside to watch the sunset. The air was starting to carry a chill. A gust of wind came up and blew dead leaves in a rapid circular motion spawning a small tornado around our legs. The wind then went completely silent as the sun finally sank in the west. There were no crickets chirping. Not a sound from anywhere. In the velvety dusk, an odd and intense stillness settled over us like a heavy cloak. The only sound was our rapidly beating hearts.
Out of the dead silence came a very faint and then louder forlorn guttural moan, like the sound of a dying animal. It swelled in volume and intensity until the sound was a howl that bore into our brains; the kind of howl you would imagine an unearthly creature to emit. It was not of this world. The hairs on the back of my neck began to tingle.
Don grabbed my arm. Obviously anxious and agitated he whispered,
“What was that?”
“Probably just a wounded coyote,” I replied. “Those woods are full of them.”
“That wasn’t a coyote and it wasn’t a wolf! Wait. What’s that along the tree line?”
Just like the night before, two small red glowing dots moved slowly through the trees seemingly watching us intensely. I knew then if Don saw it too, it wasn’t just my imagination. I felt my bowels loosen.
I then told Don about the farmer stopping by that morning while he was sleeping in. I told him the whole story of the Windigo and the McCauleys. His jaw dropped as I gave him every detail I could remember. He started to shudder.
“Let’s go back inside. I don’t think we should be out here,” he said.
“I’m with you,” as we both scrambled up the steps not looking back.
Once safely back inside, I noticed the party had gotten a little louder. It was the beer talking. The louder, I thought, the better. I didn’t want to hear another painful howl from the woods. As I walked into the living room, I heard a long piercing scream coming from the bathroom upstairs. Ted and I bounded up the stairs and threw open the bathroom door. There was Ted’s girlfriend in front of the mirror crying and shaking and pointing to the graffiti on the wall. With total horror we looked past her face. Scrawled on the wall in grade school handwriting with letters dripping in blood, we read the words,
GET OUT NOW
“I don’t like this one bit,” Ted said as he led his girlfriend out of the room. She was sobbing uncontrollably and still shaking.
After getting her somewhat calmed down, everyone wanted to know what happened. I told them. They all laughed and said,
“Halloween trick or treat, right? And this is the trick?”
“Laugh if you want. Go upstairs and see for yourself,” I said.
A few of the guys with their girlfriends in tow went up to the bathroom. When they came back down, they all were wearing ashen faces.
“This trick goes along with the loud scratching behind that locked up basement door, right?” asked one of Don’s friends.
We hadn’t heard about the scratching sounds from the door. That must have happened while we were upstairs in the bathroom. The writing on the bathroom wall put a damper on the party. Most of the girls, now all nervously shaking, told their boyfriends it was time to leave. They all obliged. There was a thunderous movement out the front door like a herd of spooked Longhorns. The party was now officially over leaving the three of us standing in the middle of the living room.
After telling Ted the farmer’s story, he became indignant.
“That’s all a bunch of malarkey,” he said, obviously trying to convince himself that we were lying and just trying to spook him.
I then told him of the red eyes in the woods and the distant.howling sound. This brought his attention, but he still wasn’t convinced.
“So, maybe old lady McCauley threw people in a dungeon in the basement?” Ted asked.
With some trepidation in his voice, but with beer-soaked bravado he continued,
“Let’s pry that basement door open and see what’s going on down there. I’ll bet there won’t be anything there but spider webs.”
Since I’d been wanting to do that, the three of us decided to break the door open and see if the farmer’s tales were true .
“Wait a minute, let me get my twelve-gauge just in case.”
“Sounds like a plan,” Don said. “We may need some kind of protection.”
Ted went up to his room and brought down the shotgun with a box of shells. We got a crow bar out of my car and started to pull the latch off the door. After three of us pulling on it, it came off. The door was now easily opened and I slowly opened it. It felt like it hadn’t been opened for years.
The smell was the first thing we noticed: old stale basement air. There was a cold draft coming up at us from below. I couldn’t see much; it was too dark. There were old cobweb-covered stairs leading down into the bottomless darkness below. I felt for a light switch and there was none. I pulled out a flashlight from a kitchen drawer and turned it on. The light beam penetrated the dark below, but it didn’t look like there was anything there.
“Ted, you go first,” Don said.
“You’ve got the gun.”
Holding the shotgun in front of him and taking slow and deliberate steps, Ted led us down the stairs into the unknown. It was dead silent. After stepping down onto the packed dirt floor, my flashlight danced on every wall and corner. There wasn’t anything here, only an opening in a wall, just big enough for an average-sized man to wiggle through. The draft of air was coming from this spot and had a putrid scent to it. Shining the flashlight in the opening, we saw a long tunnel draped in cobwebs with no end in sight. Lifting the shotgun and placing it in front of himself, Ted said,
Despite my better judgment and with much anxiety, Don and I followed Ted through the opening. The draft continued to assault our olfactory nerves with its rotted and decayed smell. I found myself constantly having to wipe cobwebs aside while black widow spiders scurried away. There were large rats-lots of them. They would gather around our feet with their jaws clacking, obviously wanting a live and breathing snack. We kicked as many aside as we could. They finally gathered in a bunch and ran ahead of us. Rounding a corner in the tunnel, we came into an open space. There was a small opening above us that let in the full moonlight. In that dim light we saw bones strewn around. They weren’t animal bones; they were too big. We looked above us and heard the howl again, this time closer and more immediate. Ted crawled up through the overhead opening.
“Come on, guys. We’re in the back woods behind the house.”
Don and I both crawled up through the opening and into a clearing. Dappled moonlight played on our faces. There was no sound. Not a branch stirred. There was no breeze or movement of air. The rats had deserted us.
I didn’t see it then, but I felt it. Drops of some kind of clear liquid like tree sap fell on my head and shoulders. I felt, but didn’t hear, slow deliberate labored breathing above me. The cold and damp breath smelled of rotting meat and all things dead. I became nauseous. The woods seemed to disappear. I felt like I was in some kind of trance or dream. Nothing seemed real. I started to shiver but I couldn’t move, even though I knew I needed to. I looked over at Ted. His eyes were wide open in a look of total terror and fear. I barely remember it, but he cocked and raised his shotgun. Then from above and in seemingly slow motion, a dark visage, with a kind of wolf’s head, opened its gigantic jaws. With barred fangs that glistened with dripping saliva in the moonlight, the giant jaws opened and clamped down over Ted’s head. The shotgun dropped to his side as his limbs went limp. His body fell with a thud, arterial blood still shooting out from his neck-his heart still beating as his body hit the ground. His head was gone. I was petrified and frozen. I couldn’t move. I vaguely remember Don shouting at me to grab the shotgun as he started to run away. I looked up. There, standing over me, was the beast-Windigo. His glowing red eyes pierced the moonlight. He was at least nine feet tall while standing on his haunches. He had the body of a wolf but was covered with long black and coarse hair. His arms or legs terminated in black and sharp talons. His gaze burrowed through me as he chewed on his latest prize, blood dripping from his jaws. His mouth made a crunching sound as he finished the last of Ted. The glowing red eyes were burning with passion and satisfaction. This hound from hell looked intently at me. I don’t know where it came from, but I found the strength and clarity of thinking to fall to the ground and pick up the shotgun. I rolled over clutching the shotgun as he came at me, fangs barred. With wildly shaking hands, I picked up the gun and aimed it at the creature just as he was starting to jump on me. I fired both barrels. The kick from the shotgun hit my arm and I dropped it. The beast raised his head in agony and let go a skin-crawling wounded howl. His abundant black chest hair was matted with blood as he fell, shaking the very ground and trees around him. Don was gone. Ted was dead and so was the beast. I picked up the shotgun and ran through the field toward the house as fast as I could, heart pounding all the way. I threw open the back door and ran in. I went to the open basement door, closed it and put the giant latch and padlock on it. I don’t know where I got the strength. Don was on the phone and with shaking hands was trying to dial 911. I took the receiver out of his hands and hung up the phone.
“What are you doing?” Don rasped.
“Nobody will believe what just happened, Don. It’s Halloween. We need to get out of here right now!”
“I’m with you. I heard a shotgun blast as I was heading for the house. Was that you?”
With a trembling voice I said,
“Yeah, I shot the thing-I think.”
“Is it dead?”
“Let’s hope so,” I replied.
We ran up the stairs and grabbed as much of our stuff as we could to load in our cars. As I ran past the bathroom, I saw blood seeping from the walls in sheets of crimson and heard a woman’s psychotic-sounding laugh. It echoed off the walls in ever building intensity. With my arms full of my meager belongings, I ran even faster down the staircase, almost falling to the bottom. Don was already outside hastily packing the trunk of his car, clothes flying in all directions. I threw everything in my backseat and trunk. As we were closing the trunks, I looked over at Don as he said,
The wind was silent again. No sound. Only stillness. The sound cut through the air like a knife, chilling us to the bone. Off in the distance, near the woods, came a low and mournful howl, barely perceptible, but distinct. Shivers ran up my spine.
“I thought you said you killed it?” Don said.
“I think I did, but I aint goin’ back to find out!”
We fired-up our engines and left the cursed house in a cloud of dust, wheels spinning as they tried to gain traction on the loose gravel. As Don followed me in his car, I kept thinking that what happened really didn’t happen. It was just too farfetched to be believable. We drove back to the dorm to find our Halloween party friends gathered in the lobby. They looked at us with quizzical expressions.
One of Don’s friends asked,
“What are you guys doing back here?” to which I replied,
“Country living didn’t agree with us.”