Halloween Ghost Story Contest -- 2003
Adult Winners

Second Place

Our second place winner in the Adult category is David Hart of Madison, WI.

The House of Niebuhr

David Hart

Part 1

What... A body?... In this house?... Well, not exactly. There are no bodies in the house. At least not the kind you are expecting. I'll explain later. Come, let us get to the tavern, the fog is turning to rain.

I love these chilly, foggy nights of autumn. We do not have the fog often and I enjoy it when its here. I love how the street lights streak through the ebb and flow of the night fog and the air is filled with the smell of fallen leaves. It brings to mind certain scenes written by Shakespeare or Doyle.

Oh, listen. Do you hear the geese? Such a haunting sound in the fog. Lovely animals though. Did you know that geese mate for life? And did you know that if a goose is wounded and cannot keep with the flock its mate will accompany it and care for it until it is able to move on or dies? It is true.

Here we are. Let me get the door for you. No, please, I insist. Very well then, thank you.

Let us take a booth by the window. Oh, yes I agree, however I would much rather sit off to the side where we can gaze at the beautiful fog. I would love one. Thank you. I'm afraid I will need a light as well...  The waitress did not seem to notice us. I will just get our drinks from the bar. What would you like? That sounds good. I will have a Manhattan as well. No, no. You can buy thenext round if you like.

Here you are. What? Oh, of course. I am sorry my friend. I know I promised to tell you about the house, but I do get distracted with my environment, the fog, the geese and the like. I love to observe the pleasurable surroundings about me. No really, look about this smoke filled rumbling room. Observe the characters mulling about the brick and wood in bar light. So many stories here. More than you or I could hope to tell together. For example, the scar on the bartender's chin. Yes, I  agree. He is a handsome fellow, nor does he look like the brawling type. However, you never know and until you ask, or challenge, you may, and will, create whatever story you want as to how he acquired the scar. And some of the scars left by events can  be quite deep my friend. Sometimes the scar may not be visible, but it is there none the less. Sometimes the scar of a story is left as a nervous tick, or inappropriate laughter. Sometimes the laughter may be appropriate, but not understood by others. Other times the scar is merely a shadow. The point being, perception, my friend, is as individual and fleeting as anything we could imagine and yet so influential as to how we feel about things. Also, for reasons unknown to us, we are allowed to perceive some things in certain places more easily than others. Furthemore, we tend to disregard those perceptions that lack tangible evidence as figments of the imagination. We tend to explain them away with logic and scientific method so long as the method does not expose what we really fear.

Regardless of what we choose to perceive, scars from many different stories exist around us every day. Some places tend to collect more scars than others, for what ever reason, and sometimes for unknown reasons we perceive the unseen scars. Ill natured things that travel amongst the shadows. Such scars that house bears.

That house has been standing in town since before the streets were laid. It is a place of history and antiquity. The founder of the town built that home himself. Of course, additions were made through out the last three hundred years. I am certain therewas some remodeling after the original family left the house. But, I digress...

You see, there are no bodies in the house. Some may see one on occasion. But, whatever they see does not belong to our plane of existence. I know this to be true. I am not one to believe in ghosts. However, I do believe some places are scarred with the scenes of powerful events of thepast. I have been in the house myself my friend. I have heard the way the stairs creak under my feet as I ascend them and stop only to hear a second set of feet following me. I know of the strange tones and noises that emanatefrom vacant rooms. Screams, maniacal laughter, babies crying, coughing, unearthly in nature I swear. I also found it quite disturbing to be in a room, perfectly fine, when suddenly a cold overbearing presence is felt. This perception is theunseen scar I speak of.  And that house bears many such scars my friend.

That house has been abandoned for many years. I first learned of it a few years ago, shortly after I moved to town. One day a friend of mine at work mentioned the old Niebuhr house and its hauntings. Over lunch I inquired further about the history of the house. Through him I learned an unscrupulous businessman, by the name of Jonathan Niebuhr, gained possession of the house from widow Lancaster. The house was ill-gotten and left the old lady homeless. The widow tried to fight for her property and legal proceedings followed, but Jonathan Niebuhr's shady business won out in the end.

Widow Lancaster was quite distraught, as she had always planned to spend her last days in the house. What is more, she had nowhere else to go. So, before she was evicted, she poisoned herself. And there were witnesses who said she cursed the house with her last breaths. Jonathan Niebuhr disregarded the stories of her curse. After all, she was not known to be a witch of any kind, nor was she any sort of gypsy. So he moved into the home shortly there after.

Mr. Niebuhr was in the house for about a month when he was taken ill by consumption. His coughing fits were horrific. He would cough up a bucket of blood a day. He died in the house after having been there two months. His family and friends that were with him the eve he died said he begged them to get "that woman in the red dress out of my room." But none of the women present were wearing red. Even though Niebuhr was dead, the curse lived on.

The estate went for auction, but no one dared bid on the house for fear of the rumored curse. The house stayed vacant for a few years before it was purchased by a young couple with a new born child.

The couple was new to the area and unaware of the curse. The agent selling the house gave the young couple a splendid deal as he was in fear of keeping the property too long.

The young couple seemed comfortable in their new house.They were quite happy until the third month of their residence. That was when they found their child dead in his crib. There was no evidence of abuse or neglect. The couple did report to the Inspector that they had seen a woman in a red dress wandering about the property earlier that evening. The inspector insisted that there was no sign of foul play. The child had simply, mysteriously died. The couple were so upset they placed the house for sale and left.

Again the house stood vacant, this time for many years. No one wanted any part of it since the curse was re-affirmed with the death of a child. Finally, one day an investor bought the house and planned to turn it into apartments to rent. Though he himself never lived there, he spent many hours of many days toiling away in the forsaken building.

He was near completion and started to run ads for leasing the units. That was when he went stark raving mad. His violent rantings of a woman in a red dress were nearly uncontrollable. He claimed she was trying to control him. Most certainly everyone thought he was suffering from delusional paranoia. The poor man had to be locked up in a padded cell at the state facility. And though folks tried to find an excuse for his sudden departure from sanity, they could conclude nothing and assumed it was again the work of the curse.

Several years later his power of attorney was able to sell the house to a company that finished the remodeling and rehabbing. When completed they opened the home as a living assisted nursing home.

The place housed six residents with senile dementia. The remodeling was very well done and the building filled its empty beds quickly.  Despite its lovely aesthetics they bad great trouble retaining staff. Even the nurse manager left after only a month.

Rumors began quickly as former employees reported strange events within the house. At times they heard a wet congested cough coming from vacant rooms. Other times they heard a baby cry. Occasional maniacal laughter could be heard throughout the house. But it was the glimpses of shadowy specters, and the rare sightings of a woman in a red dress that forced most of the staff out.

A month and a half after the facility opened, one of the residents stole a carving knife from the kitchen. Staff was able to sub-due the resident, but not before the ill man was able to fatally wound two other residents. Though he was demented, he claimed a woman in a red dress convinced him to do so.

The state closed the facility almost immediately there after. I believe the company still holds the deed, but perhaps not. However, now one can also hear the blood curdling screams echo through the house from that murderous day as well. No one is willing to buy the house because of the history. Iwould not buy the house. How would it be listening to those sounds, witnessing those events daily until your time comes to join the rest of those lost souls? Waiting for the woman in the red dress to come and visit? I know I could not stand it.

I had never believed in ghosts before. I certainly looked at my friend when he first told me the story as you look at me with such disbelief right now. But I know these things to be true for I sneaked into the abandoned house one night. I do not recall how long I was there.  I did not see every room. I could not. The coughing, the screaming, the crying, the dusky forms that allow you to glimpse them for only a moment. The scars of that house are truly maddening.

What?... You want to see the house? Be my guest my friend, but do so without me. As I said I have been there once and that was enough... Alright, let me think on it over another cocktail or two...

Part 2

...I don't know if it's the alcohol talking, your persistence, or my fear of one going through that house alone, but I will accompany you...  No, I have made up my mind. We should leave after this drink. Very well then, let us go.

I should have brought an umbrella. This fog and drizzle is miserable. We will be lucky not to be soaked to the bone and catch pneumonia in this dank, dreary weather. See how the fog has enveloped the town as a giant death shroud. I am not sure if I shiver at its cold, or its sight. Come, we have several blocks to walk. When we get to the house we must climb the fence in the back by the alley. Then we shall have to enter through the back door. No, it is never locked. Those of us on the outside, with any sense, do not want to go in. Whatever is on the inside is either trapped or refuses to come out.

When we get inside the house try to remain calm as you perceive the scars. Do not make light my friend, it is not an easy task. But you will learn that soon enough. It is madness going through that house, particularly on a foreboding night such as this. Oh, the dreaded anticipation as we tread through this wet blanket fog to the chilling sounds and sights. And notice how eerie the streetlights now appear from only a change in mood.

See how foreboding the old trees; appear hunched over reaching down with long gnarled fingers. I fear the house will be quite active tonight. Come along, we must get to the alley and climb the fence in back of the house so no one sees us enter.

When we enter the house we will come into the kitchen. From there we must circle into the dining room and living room to find the stairs to second floor. It is on the second and third floors where the house is scarred the most. What? The basement and attic? I know where the stairs to the basement are, but I have never gone down there. I have never  been to the third floor of the house. There are too many horrible things to see in the house. I do not believe anyone could stay in the house for any length of time, other than a short stay, without losing control of his sanity. You shall see my friend, you shall see.

Here we are. This is a good spot to climb the fence, the hedge is thin here. Ready? Mind your step and grips as the iron fence is cold and slick from the mist.

Are you okay?

Yes, I am fine, thank you.

Can you smell the wet leaves that cover the ground, rotting and churning with worms? The trees in this yard appear frozen white silently screaming, guarding the house, warding off those of us foolish enough to enter.

Here is the back door. One last thing to remember when we enter, we must stay together at all times. There is strength and safety in numbers. And if you see the woman in the red dress get out of the house as quickly as possible. Ready? Let me get the door for you. No, please I insist... No, I insist...

Continue to the 1st place story

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