Happy Halloween Volunteer Times Readers!

This is our final spooky tale for 2020. We hope you have a safe, scary and spooktacular Halloween night!

Highway 25w between LaFollette and Jellico can be beautiful but also dangerous. Always be careful making that drive, especially on dark and stormy nights.

Janice Caldwell was leaving Jellico for her new job at LaFollette Hospital in 30 minutes. She was excited, she had graduated from TCAT with her degree in practical nursing last week. It was a glowing fall evening with the leaves in full color, spreading down the mountain sides. She was sad it was going to be dark as she wound her way down the highway between the two towns. There were beautiful views along the winding mountain road this time of year.

Janice had gotten a seven days on, seven off, 8pm to 8am shift. Typical for a rookie nurse, it meant she wouldn’t see much of her friends and family during work weeks but she would make up for it on her seven days off. Plus the night shift was a pay bump and she was excited. She’d worked her way through school at a restaurant by the interstate exit ramp. She’d now be making almost as much per shift as she was making a week at the fast food joint.

Life was good for Janice, even if she was missing going to a Halloween party for the first time since her early teenage years when she’d been grounded for soaping windows on Main Street. That had been when she was 12, her parents hadn’t laid down the hammer immediately, they’d waited until the next Halloween and grounded her then, preventing her from going to her first middle school Halloween party.

Thirty minutes later the sun was setting to the West of Jellico as she got in her car and headed towards the East. The sun was illuminating a large thunderhead that was floating over the mountain in the direction she was driving. She hoped it was benign and quickly drifting away, because the beautiful fall daytime trip was a dangerous winding trip at night in a storm. Especially the stretch between the turn to White Oak and the turn to Stinking Creek. There’d been a multitude of violent crashes in that area and it was isolated. A long way from quick help.

She passed under the interstate and waved at her former place of employment. She would miss the people she worked with and some of the sweet regular customers, but not the low pay and arrogant customers that treated fast food workers like dirt.

As she moved out of Jellico towards High Cliff a few splatters of rain hit her windshield, the sun was nearly gone behind her and the skies East and South looked extra dark, at least until she saw lightning crackle across the sky, briefly illuminating wicked looking bruise purple clouds around it. “Great,” she thought and pressed down on the gas to make up time now in case she had to slow way down in the coming storm that stood between her and LaFollette.

Janice turned on the radio as she passed the cutoff to White Oak, where highway 90 intersected highway 25. The road began to bear south in earnest here and the nose of her Toyota pointed directly into the storm. The radio crackled and popped with each flash of lightning, but she was able to make out that a severe thunderstorm had parked itself over central and Northern Campbell County. High winds, downed trees and flooding were all underway in the storm.

She pressed on the gas a little harder and edged the car up past 60 on the winding two lane highway. She reached the edge of the storm around three minutes later. It was a wall of water and frequent lighting that her windshield wipers couldn’t keep pace with. She had to slow down in what looked like a brown, yellow and orange blizzard of leaves.

The radio went completely away as she continued south, now only able to go around 25 miles per hour. She headed into the Jellico narrows near Chaska. A flash of lightning nearly blinded her, and she had to come to a stop. She was startled when a man walked into her headlights. She saw a bright splash of blood on his forehead. The nurse in her took over.

She put on her hazzard flashers and opened her door in the howling wind and ran towards him. Leaves plastered to her and she became instantly soaked. Another blinding bolt struck nearby and the thunder shook and disoriented her. When she opened her eyes and her vision cleared the man was gone. She stopped and stared at the spot where he’d been standing. His only exit would have been to have ran and jumped over the guardrail and into the creek. There was no way he could have went up the rocks on the right side of the road.

She went to the edge of the highway but couldn’t see anything down there. She ran back to her car and got her phone. No signal at all of course. She ran back to the rail with it and shined its flashlight over the side but it just wasn’t strong enough to reach anywhere. She tried calling out “Sir, sir, can you hear me?” The roar of the rampaging water below and the rain and thunder above completely drowned her out.

Frustrated and worried, she ran back to the car. Her only choices were to drive back into an area with phone signal and call 911 or head to the houses a few miles south and hope they had a working home phone. She was about nine miles south of signal outside of Jellico, she could get there in ten minutes and make the call or head to the houses five minutes south. The risk was that if the homes down the road didn’t have a landline she would be that much further behind. So she decided that turning around was her best option. She eased off the side of the shoulder to give herself room to maneuver between the ditch behind her and the guard rail. She swung left and then tried to back up. She couldn’t see anything behind her. The heavy rain and leaves flying was making this harder than it would ever normally be and she was anxious to get aid to the bloodied man.

She was thinking one more reversing of her car would do it when she went an inch too far. The racing rain water had weakened the edge of the ditch and the back of her Toyota dropped off the ledge. It high centered in the ditch and lifted her front wheels in the air. The car was a front wheel drive, so she was stuck. She pounded the wheel and let out a frustrated scream.

She didn’t know what to do now, she could start walking and hope someone picked her up soon or sit here and hope someone came and pulled her out. She was actually a little surprised someone hadn’t came along already. It was 6:50 on a Friday evening. There would normally be people buzzing by every minute or two.

After five minutes and no one coming back, she decided she had to start walking. She would walk to one of the houses just south and hope they had a phone and that the lines weren’t down in the storm. It may take her a while but she had to do something to help the man with the head injury. She pulled on a jacket she had in the back seat and began jogging down the highway.

She made it about two hundred yards down the road when another massive flash of lightning streaked down and hit a tree near the road. She tripped and fell forwards, palms out. The pain was intense and immediate as her skin peeled away on the pavement. She felt like crying. She sat up in the road and the lightning flashed again in a rapid series. This time she screamed. She was surrounded by at least thirty men, and they appeared to be bloody and mangled to a person.

After a 20 second period of darkness the lightning came again and she was by herself once more. She was really confused as to what on Earth was going on with her. Was she really seeing these people? Had she actually seen the first person in the road? She looked at her bloodied hands and actually did start to cry a little.

She got to her feet, feeling like she had already worked a 12 hour shift and began to walk down the middle of the road, following the two yellow stripes. Around ten minutes later (still not a single vehicle had passed) she arrived at a driveway that she’d never really noticed before as she drove past. There was a mailbox and the gravel drive went up a hill, she could see it curving left into some woods when the still frequent lightning lit the night.

She began to climb the hill, almost dragging now because her adrenaline from earlier was crashing. Once she reached the left curve she could just make out the shape of a house in the distance. There appeared to be candles or lamps burning inside, she could see the flickering light as she walked down the driveway.

She assumed the storm had killed the power, she just hoped these folks had a traditional landline phone that didn’t need electricity to work.

Had she thought about it, she would have noted there were no power lines in the area.

The home seemed to loom larger and larger as she got closer. It was practically a castle, complete with beautiful but foreboding gothic architecture. “How is this not as famous as some other homes in the county?” she thought to herself as she approached the grand double door entry.

The doors were ten feet tall and made of a heavy black wood and banded in iron. There was a large knocker centered on each door in the shape of a very ugly gargoyle or demonic looking creature of some type. She raised the heavy iron ring, wincing as it pressed into her already bloodied hands, and then dropped it against the door. A loud resonating knock echoed through the doorway, it was punctuated by a very loud crack of thunder that hit so close Janice’s hair stood on end.

A swirl of leaves blew across the yard before becoming tangled in a hedge. The door slowly began to creak open and Janice found herself facing a pretty woman, dressed as if she were transplanted straight out of a Bavarian castle in 1650. Janice quickly remembered it was Halloween, so the costume made more sense.

“Hello!” Janice said, trying to sound friendly and under control as much as she was able. “I need to use your phone and if possible, have you or your husband drive me back to my car. There’s an injured man up the road, maybe even a lot of them. Some kind of accident maybe from the storm!”

Janice could feel a rambling panic spilling out and she tried to reign it in before the woman slammed the door in her face thinking her crazy.

The woman didn’t look shocked at all by the rain soaked, jabbering woman who walked from the darkness and onto her stoop on this stormy night. That very unsurprised reaction should have triggered warning bells for Janice but she was too flustered to notice.

The woman merely stepped back and said “enter please” in a heavy Germanic accent. “I know nothing of this phone or car you speak of, but you are welcome to shelter in my home as this wicked storm rages into the evening.”

The home truly was a castle. The ceiling was at least 25 feet high here and Janice could see but not quite make out the fresco art on the ceiling in the candlelight.

There were sconces along the walls holding the flickering flames. There were portraits of grim looking figures along the walls and all the furniture appeared to be made of heavy old wood, similar to the door. These people had spent a fortune making this home into an authentic looking castle straight out of the Black Forest of Germany or some cliff top in Romania.

The woman rang a bell and a large and foreboding looking man answered. He was at least six and a half feet tall and probably close to 260 pounds. His hands were large and scarred. He was bald and looked somewhere between 30 and 70.

“Yes Mistress?” he said to the woman in the same heavy accent.

“Dolph, this traveler seems to imply her carriage may be stuck in the Narrows. Take a team of draft horses down and free it and bring it to us.”

“As you wish, Mistress.”

A very pale young woman entered the room, her eyes downcast to the floor.

“Mistress, how may I serve our guest?”

The woman looked over Janice and said “we must warm and dry our guest and clean her wounds. Attend her Katrina, as you would me.”

The young woman said “as you wish Mistress,” then rushed over to Janice and took her by the arm and led her up the sweeping staircase that dominated the center of the front hall.

They went down the hall and into a large bed chamber. The woman brought over a wash basin and took water from a kettle that was warming over the room’s fireplace. She mixed the water with cool water from a pitcher and indicated to Janice she should wash her bloodied hands in the basin.

Janice thanked her and began washing her hands, this experience was so odd that she had nearly forgotten she’d came in to call for help. The young maid, Katrina returned to the room with a long white night gown and slippers, as well as a towel for Janice to wipe her hands.

Janice began to refuse the clothes but looked at herself in a long mirror across the room, even in the candle light she could see that she was dirty, her scrubs were torn in a couple of places, they had blood stains and some oily spots on them from her fall, as well as a few plastered leaves.

The storm was a low rumble in the castle but the lightning was still flashing every few seconds. She remembered then why she was here.

“Katrina, do you guys have a phone? I don’t get any signal here at all.” She reached into her pocket to show Katrina she had no bars of signal but her phone was missing and her pocket torn. She must have lost it in the fall.

“I am not sure what you mean by “phone” young madam, perhaps you can ask the Mistress. She is very wise.”

Janice thought these people had to be joking. Maybe taking Halloween tricks too far given the situation.

“I’m serious,” she said to Katrina. “There’s an injured man or injured men down there near the road. They were bloody but I got separated from them somehow. I’m pretty sure one fell over the bank, maybe into that raging creek. We need to get help!”

Completely oblivious to the rising desperation from Janice the maid simply replied, “the Mistress will know the solution,” and she took the bloody water from the basin and poured it down a hole in the floor near the exterior wall.

Janice changed into the dry dressing gown and warmed herself for a few moments by the fire. She looked at herself in the mirror and thought she looked like someone out of the cast to one of those old haunted house movies from years ago.

She went out the door and down the hall but didn’t reach the staircase. She was sure she had went the right way once she left the bed chamber. Confused, she turned around and began to walk back towards the room she’d left. She walked for three solid minutes and still hadn’t gotten back to the room. She was somehow in a completely unfamiliar area. She couldn’t even see the lightning any more.

The hallway stretched a long way before her, there were islands of light and pools of darkness between candles that lined the walls. The floor was grey stone, and the walls were as well. There were more portraits of what Janice could only describe as unhappy looking people and even a few suits of armor along the hallway.

She came to an open door and stopped to look into the room. A very old woman was sitting in a high backed chair with a basket in her lap. She looked up at Janice and began to smile and wave her into the room.

Janice felt something not right about the woman but couldn’t put her finger on it. As she approached the woman picked up a fork and stuck it down into the basket and it came up with something whitish on the end. She quickly popped it into her mouth and chewed with a grin.

“Hello young miss,” she said with an almost leering grin, as juice from whatever she was eating ran down her chin. Janice began to feel sick, as the woman chewed and smacked her lips. She had but a few very unhealthy looking teeth and Janice could see the jellyish-like pulp in her mouth as she spoke.

The old woman swallowed and said “what brings you to our home this night?” She had the same German or Eastern European accent as the rest of the people in the house. Janice, not wanting to seem unkind, told the old woman she was lost, she left the bedroom on the right just past the stairs but somehow couldn’t find the stairs again.

“Heehee oh my, this place does like to trick new guests, but I asked you what brought you to our home, not my room!” the old lady said with a bit of mirth and menace in her voice.

Janice apologized and told the old lady the story of the man or men that had been standing around her in the road.

The old woman positively hooted with joy at hearing the story. Janice began to assume the woman had dementia with how she was acting.

“We trapped those fools here years ago. It’s nice to know they still wander the road on dark and stormy nights. I guess someone is still doing her job properly!”

When she said that she plunged the fork down into the basket again and there was a slooshy tearing sound. Something long and pinkish came up on the fork and the woman took another bite of it. With horror Janice realized it was a tongue.

She stepped forward and looked into the basket and gasped in terror. There was a human head in the basket, one eyeball plucked out, one staring blindly into space. There was blood all around the mouth and a ragged stump where the tongue had been before.

The old woman looked up at her and growled. Janice felt as if a strong windgust hit her, she was blown backwards, her bare feet sliding across the cold stone floor. She practically flew back out the door, the old woman flicked the fork with the half eaten tongue on it and the door slammed in her face.

She found herself back in the long dark hallway with no idea which way she should go. She only knew she was going to get out of this mad house. She began to run without thinking. She turned right or left at intersections based on whim. She wondered just how big this place was and how she never seemed to get anywhere but she also never passed anything familiar.

She was getting extremely tired. She couldn’t run any more. Sobbing, she slid down the wall by a painting of a man who looked just as unfriendly as all the others in the castle. She closed her eyes so she wouldn’t have to look at him. A few seconds later she heard a shuffling, squishy sound. She opened her eyes. The painting was still in place but the man was gone from it.

“What in the world have I gotten myself into?” she thought to herself. She began to think she had to be asleep and dreaming. She certainly felt the pain in her hands though. She felt the weariness from her travels on foot this evening and there were no skips or gaps. In her dreams she would find herself in situations but she had no before and after context for those situations. Here she remembered everything. Taking an afternoon nap to be ready for night shift, getting ready for work, the drive, the storm, the injured men, the walk to this place. It all happened and happened in linear fashion. No, she couldn’t assume this was a nightmare.

She stood up and walked down the hall in the direction she’d been going before. She heard a clanging sound ahead and low sobbing. The stone grew colder beneath her feet. She heard a low moaning, and then a meaty thud.

She got to a door that was slightly cracked. Another huge man was standing by a table. It looked like one of those funeral home tables that are used to drain the blood from the dead. But a much older version of it. On the table a twitching body lay. It’s forehead had been caved in with the large hammer the man was holding.

The room had cages around it and in each was a person. It wasn’t the usual dungeon scene. These people were all very plump.

The huge man lowered a wicked looking hook to the table and hooked the corpse by the ankle. He pulled a chain and the body began to rise above the table, blood pouring out of the head wound and out the holes in the table. The man put the hammer aside and walked to a wall of big, sharp looking knives.

Janice bumped into a vase on a stand by the door and it fell with a crash. The huge butcher grabbed a knife from the wall and spun around. Janice turned to run but coming towards her down the hall was the man from the painting. He walked with an uneven, almost jerky gait. He was dragging something behind him, it scraped the floor, throwing up an occasional spark.

Janice saw finally that it was a scythe. He grinned at her and began to raise the harvest tool. He looked almost flat and two dimensional as he came close. His face was even peeling in a place where the painting had been peeling.

She turned to look back at the door to the slaughter room, and the slaughter room was no longer there. So she ran for it it. She was able to out pace the man from the painting, after a few intersections she couldn’t even hear the scrape of the scythe any more.

However that didn’t solve her larger problem. She still had no idea where she was and no idea how in the world any home cound be so large. She must have walked two or three miles by now and couldn’t find any familiar areas. At this point she wasn’t even sure if she would recognize an area she’d been in if she came back to it. She was scared, tired and feeling completely hopeless when she spotted a flashing in the distance. She assumed it was lightning and that it was coming through the first window she’d seen in the last hour or more.

The hallway bore left and she arrived at the window. She looked out it into the still raging storm. More lightning showed her she was very high up in a tower. She could scarcely see the ground in the sky-breaking flashes that streaked through the night every few seconds. She had only went up one flight of stairs when she had went with the maid to clean up, she didn’t have any idea how she was so far off the ground.

She heard that scraping sound again from before and saw a shadow on the wall growing ever larger. It was the jerky, shambling movement that marked the man from the painting, he was still dragging along his scythe. A much larger shadow begin to grow alongside the 2d paint creature, this shadow had a wicked looking knife in its hand.

Panicked, Janice began to run again, she ran until the point of near collapse. She finally rounded a corner and found herself back in the shadows of the foyer. The beautiful woman whom the others called “Mistress” was sitting on a chair that very much resembled a throne. She was admonishing the old woman, the butcher and the very bizarre thing from the painting.

“I invited her into our home. You were not given permission to harm her. We are better than that one in LaFollette. She has no respect or values whatsoever. We still uphold the old traditions. Mother, you will clear your conjuration from the crash site for one year as punishment. Those dead will rest for now. Butcher, you will no longer be allowed outside your slaughter room without my direct permission.” When she said this she waved her hand and the brute disappeared.

“Great grandfather, you of all people knew better. It was you who said the family must always be better than your sister down in Glen Oaks. Yet here you are, acting as she would. You disappoint me. As Mistress of this home I command you to stay in your painting for a thousand nights.” When she said that he began to fold into a neat, flat square and drift away up the steps.

She then looked at Janice, who thought she was hidden in the shadows. “Come forward, dear.” Janice felt her body moving towards the woman but she had no control over her actions.

“I apologize on behalf of my family. We are better than this and they know better. We do not corrupt or harass the innocent and mother’s incantation should never have ensnared you. She has altered it’s magic, I can feel it now. Only those hiding dark crimes need fear passing our home on stormy nights.

We are not like that corrupt evil in LaFollette. While our nature demands we feed, we try and find deserving targets. My great aunt however tries to target those most innocent. I feel her evil reaching over the mountain and must take further precautions lest even our family fall under her sway. She’s already taken Well Springs to Red Ash. Early on Jellico eagerly eagerly became her ally. The dead stalk the innocent and unsuspecting in the middle of town there too.”

Janice had no idea what this woman was talking about but when she started talking about the dark heart of LaFollette a suppressed memory from her youth came back to her. She was a child at a Halloween event in downtown LaFollette. She’d been separated from her group and began walking up Tennessee Avenue towards Russell Towers. There was a large group of people out front and a man standing there was telling them a story about a monkey. Janice remembered looking up and seeing a young girl dressed in an old Halloween costume, like from the 1920s, standing on the edge of the roof. She stepped off and fell right beside the man talking. The girl had splattered across the rail, blood and gore covered the crowd and the speaker. The smell of a thousand rotten dead rats covered the whole street. None of them seemed to notice what had just happened. Janice ran away crying and gagging, back into the Halloween trick or treat event going on in the parking lot behind the Russell. She heard the man laugh and say “I guess she doesn’t like monkeys.”

That memory had been suppressed for years. Janice began shaking uncontrollably. “What kind of county is this?” she thought to herself. The woman answered the thought “the kind where things really do go bump in the night dear, and they want to eat you.”

Janice woke up suddenly, headlights were shining in her eyes and a shadow passed across them. Someone began knocking on her window. She rolled it down, confused.

“Are you okay in there?” the man said. The rain was dripping off him and into her car. She looked around, disoriented and noticed her car lights were pointed up in the air. “Looks like the storm got you and you ran off in the ditch! Did you hit your head?”

Janice began to remember, she’d been headed to work and it was storming really hardcore around Chaska. She had seen some kind of animal in the road and swerved and then woke up here. She was so mad at herself, late for her first day of work. “Yes, I must have, thank you for stopping.”

The man pulled her car back onto the highway, amazingly enough it didn’t seem damaged.

She finally arrived at the redlignt on Indiana Avenue and Central. She saw that big mansion looming behind the funeral parlor, and coming up the street was that man who does the ghost tour with a big group of people. She thought that she’d really like to check that out sometime. She had no idea about the history of the area really, haunted or otherwise. “It’d be neat to learn more,” she said to herself as she turned in to work at LaFollette hospita