There are two kinds of people in the world- those who believe in ghosts and those who don’t.
Which one are you?
I was in the latter category. While the entire town believed in myths, legends, superstitions and more importantly, the ghost of Beth Allway, I didn’t.
Being brought up in an atheist household, my parents ensured that I never feared a benevolent creator or pondered about the supernatural remains of dead people. They taught me to think critically, to question conventional assumptions and never to believe anything unless I had proof of it. Thus, I never believed in a God, and I never believed in ghosts.
We moved to a Christian town when I was thirteen. Most people, when they discover atheism and realize that the world is inherently without meaning, without magic or any supernatural power, they get a strong urge to let people know about it. They’re usually out lecturing their friends and colleagues about how stupid they are for believing in things which have no scientific proof, but I wasn’t like that. I was taught to fit in, to never disrespect anyone’s beliefs and to try to always have good arguments when there was a need to do so. Because of these lessons, I wasn’t disliked as a know-it-all in school, but on the football field, however, I did something on the first day that won everyone over.
I was the hero, the brave soul who did the impossible, and since that day, everyone had a strange sense of respect for me. What I did wasn’t anything exceptional. Not to me, at least. But to everyone else, it was equivalent to jumping into hell and coming out unscathed.
What did I do? I jumped over the fence of Beth Allway’s house, a house believed to be so haunted that people were afraid to look directly at it, and I came back with the football that had been kicked over the fence.
Beth Allway’s house was near our football field, and if one tried to send the football over to her yard, they easily could. No one tried to do that, though. In fact, before I moved in that town, it was heavily frowned upon to kick the football over to her yard because that would instantly end the match. No one dared to jump over the fence and bring it back. Until I did exactly that.
I was warned, though. At first, no one could believe that someone was volunteering to get the football back from there. I was instantly told of all the tales associated with the damned place.
Beth Allway was a woman who lived alone and died alone in that house long ago. It was a small two-storeyed house, and everyone in the town agreed that it was haunted after she died. She was a strange woman, according to everyone. She didn’t attend the church, didn’t have any friends, and it was widely believed that she practiced witchcraft in that house. Some people claimed she had a daughter too, but that was never confirmed. She died mysteriously, killing herself, and the police found her body with two knives lodged into her eyes and one into her heart.
After her death, the municipal people wanted to demolish her house and build a public office there. But the workers sent to do that, could never work there for more than a day. Ever since her body was removed, it was believed that her spirit didn’t leave the house. This belief was so widespread that the entire town decided to forget about tearing down the place. They did try, though. The broken down doors and windows, the caved-in concrete in various places, the empty interiors indicated that a fair amount of work had been done before being abandoned. All the houses around Beth Allway’s house were either on sale, or put up for rent. Those who stayed in these houses had long left immediately after her death.
In a small town, rumors spread fast. The first wave of workers sent to demolish the house claimed they heard whispers and songs coming inside the house. Few of them swore on their lives that they saw the ghost of Beth Allway wandering down the stairway. They all left the job, and no amount of compensation would make any worker spend more than a few hours on the property. Many in the football field claimed to have seen her ghost through the windows of the house.
The municipal people, before giving up, tried sending more workers, immigrant workers who had no idea about the town’s myths and rumors, in the hopes that they’d finish the job. But they couldn’t, and they too had left with the same stories.
These tales were so well connected and consistent among all the workers and all the people who saw these things, that everyone started believing them. The town apparently gave up their desire of wrecking down the place after all that. Since then, the legends of the haunted place had solidified into the minds of everyone in town, starting from kids to grown-ups. Everyone believed, and those who didn’t, eventually did. It was also taboo to talk about ghosts or demons if you saw or experienced one, but that’s another superstition the people in the town made up, and I’ll get to that later.
Anyway, when I was told all these tales by the other boys, I could see it in their eyes that they wanted me to be afraid. They wanted me to be like them, to believe in these make-believe stories and give up the thought of bringing the football back even though bringing it back should’ve made them happier. Perhaps, they cared about me or perhaps, they were too afraid of me going in and disturbing a spirit I shouldn’t. Either way, they tried their best to dissuade me from going. I should’ve listened to them. But teenage blood is ninety percent adrenaline, and I felt like I had something to prove. After all, what good is not fearing ghosts if I don’t get to prove it once in a while?
There are two kinds of people in the world. Those who believe in ghosts, and those who don’t. Those who don’t, don’t fear them either. You cannot be afraid of something that does not exist.
So, like a heroic thirteen-year-old, I jumped over the fence and landed in Beth Allway’s yard. I saw nine footballs there, all of them abandoned by kids like me who were too afraid to get them back. The house was in front of me, its broken down windows showing its dark, empty insides that everyone in the town feared. I didn’t feel anything different, nor see anything different. I wasn’t afraid, despite all the stories I had heard about the place. It seemed like a normal, old house. A house that probably deserved better than being left to rot like that.
The yard was filled with broken remains of wood and concrete. Grass seemed to grow tall all around the place. There were tree-trunks climbing up from one of the corners of the house. Someone must have forgotten to tell these trees about the tales of Beth Allway’s ghost, because even amidst the haunted yard, life seemed to find a way of taking over.
I carefully waded my way through the grass towards the footballs. To be honest, I was afraid. Not afraid of Beth Allway’s ghost, but of snakes or bugs in the tall grass. It was difficult to see where I was stepping, but fortunately, I didn’t step on anything other than solid ground. I kicked the footballs back, one by one, as the boys on the other side cheered and applauded. I was a hero that day, retrieving back nine footballs that had no hope of ever being brought back. I jumped over the fence to a crowd of happy boys, all showering me with respect and congratulatory pats on the back. It felt good. I had never received that amount of attention, ever, and was always thought of as the quiet kid who was too shy to speak to anyone. So, being hailed as a brave hero was something that felt really nice.
I didn’t see or hear anything in the yard that day. But unfortunately, that wasn’t going to be the last time I would jump over that fence.
After that day, in every match, someone would deliberately kick the football over to Beth Allway’s yard. My duty was to bring it back, and I did that every single day. I don’t know why I was putting up with this. I’d like to think that I was doing it to prove a point, that ghosts don’t exist and to fear something irrational is useless. But I wasn’t.
I was doing it because I liked it. I enjoyed the respect and applause that everyone showered at me when I came back. It was as if I was doing what everyone thinks is impossible to do, and there’s a special feeling of accomplishment associated with that. Many of the boys in the field wanted me to fail. I could see it in their faces. It was apparent from the way they kicked the football farther and farther into the yard and looked at me with smug expressions on their faces, expecting me to admit defeat. I never did that. I climbed over, got the football, and returned every time.
I wasn’t afraid. Once, I did feel something unnatural. I felt an unusual cold wind hitting me on the back of my head when I was climbing up the fence from the yard. I turned around and saw no one there, other than the hollow remains of Beth Allway’s house. It wasn’t possible for wind, cold wind, to hit my head out of nowhere like that because the house should’ve blocked any wind coming from the other side. However, that didn’t scare me. I thought my mind was playing tricks on me and slowly climbed over the fence without any fear.
Another time, I heard someone talking behind me. A female voice, soft as a whisper, close and yet feeling quite distant. I turned around and saw no one. Again, I thought I was mistaken again. My primitive mind must’ve made it up, and that was the natural conclusion given all the stories I’ve been hearing. I went back to picking up the ball and returning with a smile on my face, as if I had experienced nothing. In hindsight, I should’ve taken these as warnings. I should’ve taken them for what they were, signs of Beth Allway’s presence, instead of rationalizing them away. If I had, I wouldn’t have climbed over the fence again.
But I didn’t. I continued climbing over and getting the football, proving everyone else wrong who thought I couldn’t.
One day, just to prove a point, one of the boys kicked the football so high that instead of landing in the yard, it went through the upper window of Beth Allway’s house. Everyone expected me to go get it. I didn’t hesitate to do it. I wasn’t afraid. Retrieving the ball from the yard countless times had instilled me with more confidence than I should’ve had. So, like all the times before, I climbed the fence and jumped over it to land in Beth Allway’s yard.
Walking around the corner, I found a window large enough for me to fit in. Climbing through it, I saw an empty room, dimly lit by the faint rays of sunshine coming from outside. There was a cupboard in the corner of the room, but I didn’t bother checking it. I had no business doing that. I was there for the football, and I was starting to feel a strange sense of dread just being there in the room. I can’t explain why I felt like that. Perhaps, it was human intuition. Perhaps, we can intuitively feel the presence of something unnatural near us. Or, perhaps, I was just being silly. There are no such things as ghosts, and every story I had heard was made up, I told myself.
The room didn’t have a door, but there were broken hinges on the wall which meant that the door was taken away, perhaps, by the workers. I walked outside the room and as I did, I felt the cold wind again, this time passing through my entire body.
Rooms can have weird passageways of air, I told myself. I should’ve turned around and ran away instead of convincing myself that everything was normal, but I didn’t. I walked until I found a stairway leading upstairs. The football was upstairs and if I had to prove to my friends that I wasn’t afraid, I had to go get it. I calmed myself down and took a few heavy breaths before starting to walk up the stairway.
Walking up the creaking stairs, I felt like someone was following me. It was as if the staircase wasn’t just registering my footsteps, but another set of footsteps behind me. I stopped several times to make sure that it was just me there, and each moment I stopped, the other sound ceased too. It was dark, almost too dark to turn around to see anyone, but I could feel someone else on that long stairway. I even called out, “Anyone there?” but no one replied.
The sounds on the staircase ceased after that, so I assumed it was my mind playing tricks on me again. I was relieved when it did stop abruptly, and I assumed that talking aloud did work to take me out of my mind and stop it from playing tricks on me.
I walked upstairs and turned left towards the room where the football had supposedly gone in. It still had a door, a white door, and it was almost closed except for a tiny bit of it, through which the dying rays of the evening sun shone through. As I walked at it, I could hear distinct sounds of someone crying softly inside. Each step that I took, the crying became louder and louder, to the point where it seemed like the sound was more inside my head than inside the room. My heart started pounding faster. I felt cold. I wanted to turn back, but the possibility of someone else there, someone who could be hurt or in trouble, forced me to keep walking on.
What was I afraid of? Wasn’t there no such thing as ghosts?
I walked forward as a solitary chill ran down my spine. I was afraid, but I couldn’t return without the football. Returning without it would prove to everyone that I too, believed in the same nonsense that they all did. That I chickened out despite entering the house and coming so far. No. I had to go on.
“Who’s there?” I shouted, while I was still a few steps away from the door. No one responded. The crying sounds didn’t cease.
“I can hear you!” I shouted. “Are you okay?”
My words fell flat. The only response I received was the woman’s incessant crying which became louder and louder. At that point, I wondered whether my friends in the field could hear the crying too. They must, I thought. Whoever was crying, was crying loudly.
Were the boys in the field playing a prank on me? Perhaps, they were, I thought.
I walked ahead and pushed open the door. What I saw as I did that is something that still haunts me every night. Even writing these words out is making my fingers shake, but I remember what I saw. I remember each tiny detail and I know that what I saw is deeply etched into my memory now.
I stood still, my eyes and mouth wide open, my legs shaking and the hair on my skin rising up instantly, as the door swung open.
A pale, thin woman floating was floating five feet above the floor. She wore a white dress that had crimson patches of blood all over it. The football that had flown in through that window was floating beside her, defying gravity just like she was.
She was smiling, a long toothy smile that stretched from ear to ear. But her eyes...
Her eyes were hollow. They were empty and dark. A thick, viscous red liquid was dripping out of these eyes, staining her cheeks red and dripping down her neck and throat, staining the collars of her dress red. It was as if she was shedding tear drops, but instead of tears, she was crying blood.
There are two kinds of people in the world- those who believe in ghosts and those who don’t. At that moment, I was sure I wasn’t in the latter category anymore.
My ears were ringing, listening to her painful cries. But her mouth wasn’t moving. It remained fixed in that toothy smile while blood dripped down her eyes and the room filled with the sound of her crying. I wanted to scream but I couldn’t. It was as if my voice was cut off, and I couldn’t move my jaw despite the screams I wanted to let out. I realized this first, and the fact that I couldn’t move any other part of my body either, right after that. I was stuck, without a voice, and there she was, the ghost of Beth Allway, smiling at her prey.
My skin crawled, and my stomach churned. I felt sick, and scared, and I could do nothing else but to stare at the abomination in front of me.
The sounds of her crying stopped suddenly.
Just then, the levitating ball flew out through the same window that it entered from. It must have landed back in the field, because I could hear the applause and cheers from everybody in the field instantly. They had assumed that it was me that kicked back the ball and were now cheering for me. I wanted to scream again and call for help. Their applause, their cheers, their undivided attention that I thoroughly enjoyed stopped mattering to me at that moment. All I wanted was to run away, but there was no way of doing that.
I was frozen like a statue, just standing there, witnessing a ghost in front of me that was now slowly floating at me. Within a second, I was face-to-face with something that I didn’t believe in. Something that I was sure that couldn’t exist.
For the first time in my life, I started praying to a God that I didn’t believe in. I screamed, inside my mind, at someone or something to save me. But my prayers weren’t being answered, and the ghost of Beth Allway was towering above my body.
Her long black hair floated behind her face as she stretched her neck impossibly forward towards my face. The tears of blood from her eyes dripped down her cheek and landed on the wooden floor now, each drop audible in the suddenly silent room. I thought I was going to die. And I guess I should have. I deserved it for trying to be foolishly brave, for trying to disturb what I shouldn’t have, for being in a place where I shouldn’t have been. But I was a child. I didn’t know any better. It wasn’t fair, and yet it was.
What happens when a monstrous ghost is inches away from your face? Does it eat you? Does it consume your soul? Does it kill you, make you disappear or drag you to Hell and keep you there for eternity?
I don’t know the answer to those questions. But they say that your entire life flashes before you right before you’re about to die. From my experience, I’d say that they are wrong. My life didn’t flash before my eyes. As she came forward and raised her thin bony arms around my head. All I thought about was all the ways I could have avoided being in that situation. It was as if every mistake in my life was suddenly small and solvable, except one- entering that house.
Her bony arms touched my head. Her icy cold fingers ran over my hair for a painfully long minute that felt like hours. I didn’t know what she was doing. She pulled her arms back from my face, her mouth still fixed in that toothy grin, and I saw her nails increase in size. It was slow at first, and then all at once as if she suddenly grew long, sharp claws. She raised her arms, as if to use them again, this time with more force.
I don’t know what happened, or what changed right then, but a flash of light beamed in through the windows.
My eyes involuntarily closed, perhaps because of the bright light, perhaps because of something else, but I couldn’t open my eyes anymore. When I did open my eyes, I was home, and the family doctor had finished just checking up on me.
Even he, while going away, warned me to never do what I did and said that I was lucky to still be alive. I waited for him to ask me what I saw, but he never did. My father told me that when I didn’t return, the boys called for every grown up in the street to come get me. Initially, they couldn’t find anyone willing to do it, until one policeman decided to swallow his fear and jump over the fence. He didn’t need to enter the house. He found me lying unconscious in the yard.
No one in school or on the field asked me about what happened that day. I was never told to get the football anymore. Everyone had silently assumed that I had seen something I shouldn’t have seen, and no one asked me what I saw.
My parents, staunch atheists themselves, didn’t want to know what I saw or experienced, and told me to not talk about it. I didn’t expect that from them. It seemed like despite raising me as an atheist, they suffered from the same superstitious beliefs that the people of the town had.
I didn’t need to worry about telling anyone about what I saw, though. For all I knew, no one would ask me about what I saw anyway because of the superstition I was talking about earlier.
This superstition is one which the town wholeheartedly believes, and it states that- if you tell a story to someone of your own personal experience with a ghost, you somehow transfer the curse of your experience over to them. Regardless of whether they believe you or not, the ghost will come and inevitably haunt them for a few days. That is how the ghosts travel, through stories and memories keeping them alive, passing them on.
I believe in ghosts now. I also believe in God. Soon, you will, too.
That is why I’m writing this down. And since you’ve been listening to me, you might see something or hear something or experience anything unusual over the next few days. You might hear soft whispers at first, or feel cold, or feel like you’re seeing something from the corner of your eye that disappears when you look at it directly. That is how it starts. Her name is Beth Allway. You will see her soon.
There are two kinds of people in the world- those who believe in ghosts, and those who haven’t seen one yet.
Which one are you?