Supernatural horror. In 1882, a young woman marries an eccentric railroad tycoon. She is plunged into a world of murder, witchcraft, and necromancy.
The horror that came to Rockland, Indiana in the year 1882.
This is a web preview of The Rockland Horror, which is available on Amazon!
Read more about the story here.
March 1882, Southern Indiana
Twenty-one-year-old Ellen Sanders was half-convinced that her older sister, Elizabeth, was calling out to her from outside the farmhouse. Elizabeth was using some primitive language, which seemed to be the only language she could muster in her current state. Elizabeth’s incoherent moans had continued for the better part of an hour, keeping Ellen awake.
The only problem was: Ellen’s older sister Elizabeth had died at the age of three, two years before Ellen was even born.
Ellen lay in bed, unsure what she should do—if anything. Moonlight shone in through the flimsy drapes covering the window just beyond the foot of her bed. The bare walls of her small bedroom looked drab in the moonlight, just like they did during the day. The room was cold. Sometimes her father woke up at night to stoke the fire in the front parlor hearth. But her father was an old man, and sometimes he forgot.
Ellen had no idea what time it was. Long after midnight, she reckoned, but a long way yet from sunrise. These were properly the hours of sleep, of dreams. Maybe late-night thoughts of young men, or the next day’s errands.
But not thoughts of your dead older sister, forever three years old, calling out to you.
The voice outside the walls of the farmhouse was high and ululating. It was impossible to discern the syllables, but there was no mistaking the volume. Ellen wondered why it had not awakened her parents, too. They were sleeping in the adjacent bedroom, and there was no sign or sound of them stirring.
“EHHH—! EHHH—!” the voice called out. Then a long moan, that sounded like a soul in torment.
If it’s a ghost, Ellen thought, then only you can hear it. Elizabeth is buried out there. She’s angry that you’ve lived to be twenty-one so far, and she only lived to be three.
And now she’s coming for you.
This seemed a blasphemous thought, but it was one that Ellen could not avoid. Ellen secretly resented Elizabeth. Why should Elizabeth, twenty-three years in her grave, not resent her in return?
Ellen pulled the single quilt on her bed up and over her chin, as if to ward off the intruder outside.
The moaning continued.
But there might be a logical explanation. Like…an animal.
There had been no wolves or bears in these parts for years—not since long before the War of the Rebellion, in the time of President Lincoln. But there were foxes, lynxes, and bobcats; and these were known to howl in people’s dooryards and inner pastures.
The wind was another possibility. This was March, the season when the weather changed. The time when the cold winds from the Dakotas and Canada were replaced by warmer currents blowing up across the hills of Tennessee and Kentucky, then over the Ohio River and into Southern Indiana.
Now Ellen heard a distinct word.
That was no lynx or bobcat. That was not the wind, either.
Her dead older sister was calling out to her, after all. By name.
Ellen now weighed her options.
On one hand, she could simply remain in bed.
But that was no solution, was it? The ghost—almost certainly the ghost of Elizabeth—was summoning her.
If she ignored the summons, then the ghost would escalate matters. Tomorrow night—or maybe even tonight—Elizabeth might come in through the window at the foot of the bed, instead of just calling to her from outside.
Much better to face the ghost of Elizabeth on her own terms, Ellen figured.
That was a thought that she could not completely get her arms around, even as it entered her mind. The idea was both absurd and terrifying at the same time.
There was another possibility, too, that compelled her to get out of bed and investigate: Maybe she would go outside and see a fox or a lynx skulking near the house, after all.
Or maybe it would, indeed, turn out to be the wind. She did not hear the shingles or the clapboard siding of the house rattling (as usually happened when the wind was blowing), but she might be mistaken. Or perhaps her father had finally gotten to some of those long-delayed repairs to the farmhouse.
“Ehhh!” the voice called out. “—Len!”
She would never know, she realized, so long as she remained in bed.
Ellen sat up, and pushed the quilt from her body. She swung her legs over the bed, and braced herself on the hardwood floor.
The floorboards were coarse and cold against the bottoms of her feet. She stood up, and her reflection came into view in the mirror above her bureau—one of the few pieces of furniture in her bedroom.
She had long, dark red hair, clear skin, a delicate nose, and high cheekbones. Her height and her slender figure made her comely, even in a plain cotton housedress.
She remembered that she was supposed to see Wilbur Craine this afternoon. That thought would have made her smile. But the meeting with Wilbur was many hours away, after she worked the early shift at Dixon’s General Store in town.
After she dealt with whatever was outside.
The moaning increased with a new intensity.
She heard her name again. She was sure of it.
Out in the hall now, Ellen paused before her parents’ bedroom. The door was partly ajar. What if the ghost had killed them? Could Elizabeth do that? Would she?
Surely Elizabeth was angry…after all those years in the dark ground outside. Twenty-three years of seasons changing; but nothing ever changed for Elizabeth.
Ellen was relieved to hear the gentle rhythms of her parents’ breathing. No harm had come to them—at least not yet. Ellen’s father, Abraham, breathed at night with a distinct wheeze. The wheeze of an old man.
Abraham was so different from Wilbur Craine’s father, who was still in his forties. Like most men around Rockland of that age, Wilbur’s father was a Union veteran of the War of the Rebellion. But Abraham Sanders was almost twenty years older than that. Ellen’s father had not served in the war.
Ellen crept past her parents’ bedroom. They might not hear the moaning outside, for whatever reason. But if she walked too heavily, she would surely wake them up.
Ellen knew how to walk silently, on the toes and balls of her feet. In the past, there had been times when she had snuck outside at night for clandestine meetings. Not with Wilbur, but with another young man last year, and another one the year before that.
She cleared the back hallway. The front portion of the farmhouse consisted of a small parlor and kitchen. Ellen could see fading orange embers glowing in the fireplace. Her father had not roused himself to stoke the embers, just as she had suspected.
Outside, the ululating moaning continued.
Ellen stepped over to the back door. She lifted the latch. Most people in and around Rockland did not bother to lock their doors during the day, but they did at night. Old, collective memories compelled them. Seventy years ago, in the time of Tecumseh’s War, the Shawnee had crept in at night and slaughtered entire families in their beds.
Even Abraham’s recollections did not stretch back that far, but his own father had been there, and he had told him all about it.
Ellen pulled open the back door, ready to confront the ghost of Elizabeth, or whatever else might be outside.
Ellen stepped onto the small back porch. There was an immediate drop in temperature, now that she was outside. But she barely noticed the chill.
She looked around, ready to face something horrible.
Nothing was there, though.
She gently closed the door behind her.
She looked around the rear dooryard, and then beyond, to her father’s inner pastures. She studied the dark block of the barn beyond that. Farther away still, the wooded slope of Washington Hill rose sharply. Impenetrable forest.
She looked to her right, and then to her left.
She had walked out here with bare feet, as country people often did. The fieldstones of the porch were rough, and slimy with a dew that was almost cold enough to turn to frost. This was not the ideal weather for going barefoot. A city dweller from Cincinnati or Indianapolis would have gone running back inside, Ellen thought. But people out here in the country were different, tougher.
Then Ellen noticed something: The ululating voice—or voices—had fallen silent.
When had that happened, exactly? She was not certain. But the moans had stopped, as inexplicably as they had started.
With the end of the ghostly moaning, the night was completely silent. In the summer, there would be the sounds of crickets and nightbirds. But not now, in the very early weeks of spring.
Perhaps she had imagined the moaning, after all. The enunciation of her name.
She allowed herself one more scan of the distance—past the barn, and all the way to the beginning of Washington Hill.
There was simply nothing there.
She should go back inside the house, she knew. But now that she was out here, she felt an inexplicable desire to linger—just for a minute or two. She wasn’t sleepy, having been stirred and agitated by the moans.
The cold, moreover, felt oddly stimulating. The March-bare landscape was covered in the glow of the full moon. This was a different world at night. It seemed a little dangerous, too; and that made its lure difficult to resist.
She looked to the south, away from the barn and Washington Hill. Beyond several more pastures and a belt of forest, the unseen Ohio River rushed toward Illinois and the Mississippi.
Most of the farms immediately outside Rockland occupied a fertile floodplain between the Ohio River, and the steep glacial hills to the north of town. Ellen knew what glaciers were. She could not imagine a sheet of ice pushing flatland into hills, even over thousands of years. But they said it was possible.
Go back inside, an internal voice told her. Leave well enough alone. You have to work tomorrow morning. You’re going to see Wilbur in the afternoon. Forget about all this—whatever this is.
Then her gaze fell on Elizabeth’s headstone. That was what had made the moaning so terrifying. The nearness of Elizabeth. The idea of her. The notion that her ghost might have been the source of the voice.
Elizabeth’s headstone was located at the far edge of the dooryard, just beyond the spot where her mother planted flowers when the weather warmed.
She did not know why Abraham, and her mother, Mabel, had decided to bury their first child here, rather than in the churchyard, where most of the town’s dead were interred.
Ellen did know that both of her parents had had a hard time letting go of their first daughter. Her parents sometimes spoke of Elizabeth as if she had been here just yesterday. At the same time, they said little about her death.
You should go back to bed now, Ellen thought.
This was true, she should go back to bed, really.
What she actually did, though, was to begin walking toward Elizabeth’s headstone.
Halfway to the grave, she stopped.
She had the feeling of being watched, possibly from afar.
She looked again toward Washington Hill. The promontory towered over her father’s farm in the distance. Although it was called a hill, it would have more properly been called a small mountain. (Not that Ellen had ever seen any real mountains.)
At the crest of Washington Hill, an eccentric railroad tycoon named Theodore Briggs had spent the last several years constructing a huge mansion.
Ellen had never been up to see the mansion, which everyone in Rockland now called the Briggs House. But she knew it was there. Last week she had discovered that when she looked toward the top of Washington Hill during the daylight hours, she could make out one corner of the roofline. Just barely. But she could see it. When the trees got their leaves in a few months, though, she wouldn’t be able to see it at all.
She looked away; no one was watching her from Washington Hill. That was ridiculous.
Finally she reached the headstone. She did not get too close. But she was close enough to read the inscription in the moonlight, even though she already knew what it said:
Born 1856, Died 1859
The headstone was rough around the edges. It had likely come from one of the nearby tributaries that fed into the Ohio River. The stone had been shaped and sanded. Then the inscription had been roughly chiseled in.
Ellen had not been alive then, of course; but she suspected that Abraham had chiseled the inscription himself. He may also have retrieved and sanded the stone. He had been a much younger man then, after all.
What are you doing, standing out here, in front of your sister’s grave? Ellen wondered. You’re alive and she’s dead. What of it?
Go back inside, that internal voice told her again. Now the cold was starting to get to her. She shivered.
That internal voice of reason was right. This had gone on long enough.
Ellen started to turn away, finally, when a figure rose up from behind the gravestone.
The figure was about Ellen’s size, and vaguely female.
The woman—if you could call her that—had long, dark stringy hair. Her skin, which looked nut-brown even in the moonlight, was like wrinkled leather.
She must be very, very old. Impossibly old.
The woman’s clothes were a mystery. They appeared to be…rotted buckskin? The crone’s own desiccated skin was visible through tears in the primitive fabric.
Her most disturbing feature, however, was her eyes. Little traces of yellow light gleamed around the irises, even as the eyes themselves had a dead, unfocused appearance.
It was the ghost of Elizabeth, after all!
Ellen was too terrified to even cry out. She forced herself to turn her feet around on the wet ground.
Then she sprinted across the dooryard, back toward the house.
Back in her bed, Ellen shivered uncontrollably. It wasn’t the cold that made her shiver now.
She had actually seen Elizabeth’s ghost. It was all real—everything she had feared.
Somehow she had managed to fumble her way back inside the house. When she’d passed by her parents’ bedroom (still tiptoeing, but a little less silently this time) both of them had stirred briefly in their sleep. But neither of them fully awakened.
Now that Elizabeth’s ghost had shown itself, would it pursue her into the house, and into her bedroom?
She held this thought for a long time. All the while, she watched the door of her little room. She waited for Elizabeth—Elizabeth with her glowing yellow eyes—to push it open.
After a long time—she did not know how long—Ellen managed to go to sleep.