Ever been to Ravensgate, Michigan? Let me tell you about a bizarre night I drove through that town. I haven’t experienced anything like it, before or after. Now, I’ve driven through it many times, but one evening in particular was stranger than a cat riding a bicycle.
Before I continue, my name is Ethan McBroom. Sorry to be rude. I’m fifty-two years old and a carpenter by trade. I’m not one given to foolishness and superstition, so what I’m saying is true. I don’t tell this story often, so please bear with me.
It was fifteen years ago. I picked up my kids, Jeffery, eleven, and Emily, nine, from mx ex-wife’s house later than usual. It was my turn for the week with the children and she decided it was a good idea to move way the hell out there to Ravensgate, hours from Detroit. Luckily, we took turns picking them up for the long drive.
So anyway, I was driving back home with the kids in the back seat of my Chevy Cobalt. Night had fallen and it was real dark. Not a streetlamp out in the vicinity. Ravensgate is not the biggest town but there are lots of rural areas like fields, farmland, dirt roads and plenty of wooded area surrounding the downtown and main residential spots.
The fuel gage on the Cobalt had been acting up recently, it wouldn’t give a proper readout on how much gas was in the tank. I had gotten it fixed but it malfunctioned again as we drove through the murky gloom of night. The car ran out of gas even though the gage incorrectly showed I had a quarter tank left. I didn’t have any spare gas because I used it up all the last time the car ran out.
My vehicle stopped on Pentegarn, a lonely dirt road. There was nothing but field to the left of our car, lots of it, a dark sky above with even darker clouds. To our right was more field and pitch-black woods off in the distance.
I tried to call the auto insurance company but couldn’t get through. As luck would have it, my cell wasn’t getting any service out there in the boondocks. None. I needed to get some kind of help.
Looking up ahead on the road, maybe three blocks or so down, I saw a light on my right. Looked like it came from the window of a house. Maybe whoever lived there had a land line, or a cell phone that got reception. I had to give it a shot and go there but wasn’t about to leave Jeffery and Emily alone in the car. Who knew what could happen when I was gone?
“Daddy, do we really have to go out there in the dark?” Emily asked after I mentioned the plan.
“It’ll be alright, hun, the house is just up the road. Shouldn’t take long to get there.”
“But what if there’s werewolves out there the woods?” Jeffery interjected.
“No such thing, Jeff.” I said chuckling through my words.
The three of us exited the Cobalt and treaded down the shadowy road together. Like I said, no streetlamps and it took a while for our eyes to adjust. The wind began to strengthen, and the temperature fell as a thick chill caught us. We didn’t have on any jackets.
As we got a bit closer to the house, I could make out some of its details. It was old style, only one floor, and sat far back off the road in a large field that surrounded it. Behind it were nothing but woods. A warm yellow glow came from the front window. Someone was home.
Now, this might sound cliché but when we stopped in front of the house, standing there on Pentegarn, it started to rain. Pouring down hard. Product of those dark clouds I mentioned earlier.
“Let’s go!” I said to the kids, signaling them with my hand. Down the path we ran, toward the house as we got soaked. We made it onto the porch and under its roof, safe from the violent downpour but still dripping wet.
The house was a mustard yellow. The door, porch banister and window frames were all painted black. The colors looked muted due to the bad weather. There was no doorbell, so I knocked. We waited a minute with no response, so I knocked again harder to make sure whoever was home would hear. In the middle of my pounding the door opened. A man stood there, in his seventies, the door cracked just enough to seem him. His wavey white hair was balding on top and needed to be cut on the sides. He had a scruffy white beard, wore glasses, dark blue overalls, and a red long-sleeved shirt. There was a yellow smiley face button pinned on the left breast of his shirt.
“Yeah?” the old-timer said.
“Hey there. Don’t mean to bother you. My name’s Ethan and these are my two kids. Our car ran out of gas out here on the road and I’m not getting any cell phone service. Do you have a phone that I can use to call my auto insurance company? Or would you happen to have any spare gas?”
“Nope, don’t have any spare gas. Don’t have any cell phone. I got rid of my land line years ago. Never used it.”
“Do you have the internet? I could contact them that way.”
“None of that fancy stuff either. Wish I could help you but don’t see how I can.”
“Any neighbors close by here on Pentegarn?”
“The Andersons, a few miles that way,” the man said pointing north. “They ain’t home though. Went down to Florida on vacation. Sorry, can’t help you.”
The man shut the door.
Great, just shut us out.
We turned to head back to the vehicle through the rain and the door opened again.
“Wait,” that man said. “I’ll tell you what I can do. Come on in.”
Shelter from the cold and downpour sounded good and the old fella seemed harmless enough, so I took the invitation. The front living room was toasty. A moss green carpet covered the floor, there was an old couch on the left wall, a fireplace on the right wall which looked as if it hadn’t been used in years with an old armchair in front of it. A single lamp sat on a small table next to the chair, dimly lighting the room.
But there was something odd. The front room was separated from the rest of the house. Long clear plastic strips hung down from the threshold of the arch of the doorway, just like in a walk-in cooler or freezer. The lights on the other side of the plastic were off so I couldn’t see what was in the next room or any of the ones after.
“My name is Orson. I’ll be right back,” the man said then separated the strips with both hands and walked through into the next room. He disappeared in the darkness. Moments later he came back with a few dry towels and then me, Emily, Jeffery dried off.
“Thanks, Orson. What do you say, kids?”
“Thank you,” the children said simultaneously.
“Ok, now, you can all stay the night here at the house, out of the elements and your welcome to leave anytime you want. The rain should be gone by morning, and it won’t take long to the get to town from here on foot. I just have one rule. Understand? You must stay in this front room the whole night. The rest of the house, beyond that hanging plastic there in the doorway is off limits. You are not to step foot back there at all. Do you agree to that, Ethan?”
I felt a little strange at Orson’s request. I understood that it was his house and his business to do with it what he wanted. But why the plastic separating the rooms? What was he hiding back there? How did I know that there wasn’t anyone else in the house? What choice did I really have with the rain coming down like that outside? If the kids caught pneumonia, then it’d be my fault and my ex could use it against me in court. Unfit dad.
I told myself that I’d let the kids sleep on the couch and I’d stay up until dawn, keeping an eye on things. Morning was about five hours away.
“Orson, you got it. We’ll stay in this room and this room only. We won’t go beyond that doorway with the plastic. We’ll be out of your hair as soon as possible. Thank you for helping us out.”
“Ok, I’ve got your word. Now, I’m leaving. I’ll be back in the morning.”
“Yeah. I don’t spend the night here,” Orson said as he walked out the front door, down the porch and into the rain. I followed and watched him from the doorway.
“Where are you going?” I called out. Orson kept walking away without a response as he got drenched.
“Dad, that man is weird,” Emily said. I didn’t disagree with her.
“Hey, dad. Look!” Jeffery said, holding the curtains aside, staring out the window. I looked back out the front door.
“That guy disappeared!” Jeffery said.
My son was right. Orson was nowhere to be seen. The rain was pouring down on no one. There was nowhere for him to go, just a stretch of lawn all the way up to Pentegarn and nothing but more grass to the left and right. I reasoned with myself that we just couldn’t see him. That his dark blue overalls weren’t visible in the shadows and rain.
“I’m sure he’s out there, kids. He’s just a weird old guy. It’ll be alright. Don’t worry, we’ll be out of here as soon as light hits. Have a seat on the couch there, just relax.”
“Why would he walk out in the rain like that?” Emily said.
“Like I said before, hun, he’s a weird old guy.”
The kids jumped on the couch and got as comfortable as they could. I sat in the armchair in front of the unused fireplace. My eyes kept darting toward the clear plastic of the doorway, trying to catch a clue as to what was on the other side in the next room. It was too dark. I couldn’t see a thing.
I got a better look of the front room though. It looked like it hadn’t been updated since the eighties. Brown wood paneling on the walls with pictures hanging on them of forests and mountains. An old clock hung above the fireplace.
To ease our discomfort, me and the kids sat and talked about when I would get time off from work to take our next vacation. The pitter-patter of the rain on the windows was not calming. It was sinister.
About thirty minutes later, the kids began to nod off, but a sound awakened them, the shuffle of clear plastic strips moving. The strips separated and standing there in the doorway was an old woman, nothing but darkness behind her. She was short, maybe just above five feet high. Her skin looked sick and a pale, full of deep wrinkles and lines. They stretched across her plump face and forehead. Crow’s feet spread back all the way to her temples. She had small beady eyes and barely a thin slit for a mouth. Her long grey-white hair hung down the front of her shoulders on her drab grey dress.
The little old woman said not a word, she just stared at each of us, one by one. We too said nothing, the sight of her left us speechless. All was silent for a moment or two. She then stepped backward, disappearing into the dark and closed the plastic strips in front of her.
“Daddy, who was that?” Emily said nervously, under her breath.
“I don’t know, sweetheart.”
I really felt the need to leave that house and was about to, but something tugged at me to stay. Tugged hard. I looked out the window, the rain was still coming down strong. A faint light turned on in the next room on the other side of the plastic. Then another lit up somewhere nearer to the back of the house. Through the clear plastic strips, we could vaguely make out what was on the other side.
A feeling of unease became thick in the atmosphere, almost other worldly. Despite the sense of dread, a strong urge came over me to go back there, check and see, find out who the old woman was. I promised Orson I wouldn’t do it, but the longing was irresistible.
The urge. Would not. Go away.
“Dad, I’m scared. I know we shouldn’t go back there but I really want to,” Jeffery said.
“Me too, Jeff.” I responded.
The temptation was powerful, and I resisted but rationalized that it would be best to go back into the rest of the house. Just to know if we were safe. I stood up from the chair and walked over to the hanging plastic. The lights were now on so there was some visibility through on the other side, but it was still blurry. I slid my hand between the hanging strips, moved the plastic over making a space to walk through then waved the kids over to me.
“We’ll go back there, just to find the woman,” I said. “It’ll only take a minute and we’ll come right back.
“Okay,” they said in unison, zombie-like. They wanted to go too. I could see the fervor in their eyes.
The kids got up from the couch and followed me through into the next room, a dining room. In the center was a wooden dining table, a china cabinet against the far wall and the faint light of a tall standing lamp in the corner. The walls were painted a dark plum with a framed picture of an elk on the right one.
As soon as we stepped into that dining room, I felt the presence. We were being watched but the old woman was nowhere to be seen.
“Hello,” I called out into the emptiness. “Where did you go? We saw you look into the front room.”
“She’s not back here, Daddy. But somehow, she is. I can feel it,” Emily whispered.
To the left of the dining room was another doorway to another room, the light was off. I peeked inside. It was a small pantry. Shelves aligned the walls with all manner of jarred and canned food, strawberry preserves, vegetables, bags of flower, grains, and the like.
We then stepped into the next room directly ahead, which was some other kind of living space, like a second living room. There was a brown couch with a yellow flower pattern against the wood paneled wall on the right. Another dimly lit lamp sat on an end table next to it. Across from the couch against the left wall was an antique television set, the big floor model kind.
The very last room at the back of the house was a small untidy kitchen with a tiny unkempt bathroom next to it.
“Hello”, I called out again. No answer. The feeling of being watched got stronger. It was the old woman. She wasn’t there in body, but she was there.
Back in the living space, to the left if the bulky TV was closed door. I opened it and peered inside, a faintly lit bedroom, the walls painted deep red.
The compulsion was strongest to enter the bedroom. And of course, I did, the children in tow. The headboard of a queen-sized bed with a wooden frame was against the left wall. A carved wooden bed post stood upright on each of the four corners of the fully made bed. Black sheets.
Directly ahead was a window with black curtains. The rain had finally stopped but it was still dark outside. To our right against the wall, across from the bed was a long dresser with a large round mirror attached. Next to that, near the far wall, was a closet which was totally empty.
I stepped up to the dresser, Jeffery and Emily by my side. On top of its surface were women’s clothes randomly strewn about. Next to them was an old wooden jewelry box. The lid was open revealing expensive diamond earrings, gold necklaces, lots of gold rings, bracelets, and other types of gems. Next to that were five stacks of cash, each one had to be about six inches high. The money looked old and worn. There were denominations of fifties and hundreds. At least fifty or so thousand dollars in cash and jewelry sat on that dresser.
Why would Orson let strangers in the house with all that money and jewelry left out in plain sight?
The ominous feeling of being observed became stronger, she was watching. In the room with us. Waiting for us to make a move. The urge to take the money was powerful, stronger than any other desire I’ve ever had. I wanted it. I needed it. And I knew she wanted me to take it.
I thought about what I could do with all that money. I could grab it and just get the hell out of there. The rain had stopped so we could walk down to the next gas station, they could call us a taxi, we’d go back to the Cobalt, fill it up and get the hell out of Ravensgate.
Orson would never know. But she would.
The temptation to take the cash was unnatural. It was set out on purpose. A test. With all I had, all my strength, I fought it. My resistance made her furious and she responded in kind. A deep animalistic growl came from the closet, the one that was supposed to be empty. Something was now in there and it was seething. The growling persisted, louder, the sound of something moving could be heard in the closet.
“Let’s get the hell out of here,” I said. “Right now!”
I quickly pushed the kids forward out of the bedroom, back the way we came and through the clear hanging strips of plastic into the front room. We ran out onto the front porch, and I slammed the door behind me. Down the steps and up the long lawn we ran, back to Pentegarn. I Looked back and there was nothing following us. Our car would give us some shelter until morning, so we headed back down the road toward it.
I still felt we were being watched, even though we were out of that God-forsaken house. That growling, it made the hair on the back of my neck stand on end. We made it back to the vehicle, cold and our shoes muddied up. The kids hopped in the back seat, and I sat in the front driver’s. I sighed, needed a mental break.
“Daddy, who’s that?” Emily said from the back seat right behind me. I looked through the watery windshield ahead and could see the dark shape on the road. Someone walking toward us. Turning on the wipers, I got a better look.
I saw the black silhouette of a man in the dark and he was heading toward us, not running, but walking fast. He carried something. I made sure all the doors were locked.
“Get down, kids. On the floor. Now!”
Emily squealed as the kids curled up into balls on the floor in the back of the car. The man got closer, and I could make out some of his features. I turned on the headlights to get a better look and maybe blind him some. He was in his mid to late thirties, had a full head of wavey dark hair and a long dark beard. With both hands, he gripped the wooden handle of a large, rusted axe.
“You son of a bitch!” the man cried.
I had no weapons. I didn’t know what to do. He got closer and I saw what he was wearing: dark blue overalls, a red long sleeve shirt and a yellow smiley face button pinned to the left breast of the shirt.
“I told you to stay in the front room!”
Orson. He looked just like Orson but forty years or so younger.
“You stole my mother’s money!”
“We didn’t take anything!” I screamed from inside the tomb of the car.
The man stood in front of the hood of my Cobalt and glared right at me. With rage on his face and derangement in his eyes, he raised the axe over his head and took a swing at the hood of my car. The sound of metal smashing ringed throughout the air.
“I said the rest of the house was off limits! You took her money!” he screamed.
“We didn’t take a damn thing!” I yelled back.
“Dad, I’m sorry! I did it. I took something.” Jeffery said as he popped up next to me from the floor next to driver’s seat. “I did it! Tell him I’m sorry!” My son handed me a wrinkled hundred-dollar bill.
“Dammit, Jeffery!” I said and snatched the bill from him. I had to get that maniac away from the car, away from the kids. I opened the car door fast and jumped out, slamming it shut, making sure the doors were locked.
“Aaargh!” the man screamed and swung the axe down at me. I dodged to my left and he missed me by an inch. I circled around behind him to get him to face me, away from the kids. He stepped forward, holding up the axe ready to swing again.
“We shouldn’t have gone back there! Here’s your money!” I threw at him the crumpled-up paper ball of cash. It hit him on his chest, bouncing off his overalls and onto the muddy ground.
The kids were crying from inside the car.
A bright light appeared from behind me in the darkness of the road and lit up the man’s face. He looked directly into it. I stepped back, further away from my Cobalt and managed to take a quick glance behind me, head lights. A car was approaching. When I looked back to the man, he was gone. I thought he might have gone after the kids, but he was nowhere on the road or surrounding fields.
The car pulled over on the side of the road, a black and gold sheriff’s vehicle. The driver shined a bright spotlight on me from the door window. I flinched at the powerful beam and was sure he could see that I was distraught.
“Officer! I need your help!”
He turned off the spotlight, flashed the red and blue emergency lights on the roof and got out of the squad car, his hand gripping the holstered firearm on his hip, ready, in case I was a threat.
“What’s going on here, sir?” said the imposing Native American officer.
“There was a man, he was just here. He attacked me and my kids with an axe. Look he struck the hood of my car.” I said pointing to the damage.
The officer aimed his flashlight at the hood and saw the destruction. He shined the light all around, down the road, both fields on either side and in the direction that he came from.
“I don’t see anybody.”
“He was just here a second ago. Took off when you showed up.”
“Ok, sir. What’s your name?” he said. I told him. “Now tell me what happened. Why’d this guy attack you?”
“I was driving with my kids earlier tonight and we ran out of gas right here. Fuel gage isn’t working.”
He shined the beam through the window in the back seat of the car. My kids’ eyes squinted as their young faces were illuminated.
“We walked up ahead on the road to that odd house over there then it started to rain. The old man who was inside said we could stay until morning, but we were only allowed to stay in the front room. He forbade us to go into any other room. Unfortunately, we did venture into the rest of the house and saw stacks of cash and jewelry.”
“The yellow and black house up the road there?”
“Yeah, that one. We heard a strange growl from an empty closet, got creeped out, so we left and came back here to the car. Turns out my kid took a hundred-dollar bill from a stack and then this man walked up on us, attacked us with an axe. I crumpled up the bill, threw it at him and it fell on the ground, over here. Then you showed up and he disappeared.”
“Here? He was standing right here on the road?”
“Yeah. Right there.” I said pointing to the exact spot.
The cop shined his light on the mucky road. Pebbles, sticks and scuffle marks were visible but no crumpled-up bill. There were two sets of muddy, indistinct footprints.
“There’s no money down on the ground here.”
“He was just here. I swear it. My kids saw him too.”
“Well, sir, I didn’t see any man here with an axe or any footprints trailing off anywhere. Just you and your car. If he was here just as I pulled up I would have seen him. I saw only you.” The officer sighed. “You said the house right up here on the road, right?”
“That’s the old Pentegarn house. This road is named after that family. Weird folk. They’ve lived there and in some other houses on this road, for generations. Not so much these days. Only one who lives there in that place is old Orson Pentegarn. His family is spread out around town now.”
“Yeah, that’s him. Orson. White beard and glasses.”
The cop nodded his head. “We still get strange reports about that house and the surroundings.”
“Does Orson have a son? The guy with the axe looked just like Orson but younger. He was wearing the same kind of clothes too. And the same pin on his shirt.”
“No, he doesn’t. Orson was the only one who never had children.”
“Well, if Orson doesn’t have kids, then the man I saw, was he O….?”
“I can’t say who or what you saw, Mr. McBroom. Best thing to do is just let it lie.”
I understood what he was trying to say.
“Did you say you ran out of gas?”
“Yeah, we did.”
“I’ve got some to spare. We’ll fill up your tank so you can be on your way home.”
He went to the trunk of his squad car, retrieved a canister then filled up my Cobalt. “Next time you run through here make sure that fuel gage is working right. Have a good night.”
I gave the cop my thanks. “What was your name, sir?” I asked.
“Sheriff Matthew Bearclaw.” He got in his cruiser then turned off the flashing blue and red lights.
“One more thing, Mr. McBroom.” Sheriff Bearclaw said from the open window of his vehicle. “If you ever get stuck here again, stay away from the house on Pentegarn.”
He took off. Me and the kids did too. After that night, I made sure that fuel gage was fixed, had spare tires, the car functioned properly and bought myself a firearm. Just in case.
I still took that stretch of road because it was the only way to get back and forth from my place to my ex’s. Each time we drove down Pentegarn, me, Jeffery and Emily couldn’t help but turn our heads to get look at that yellow and black house, thinking we’d catch a glimpse of old Orson. We never did.