We’re counting down the hours now until I pick up Alistair Cross at the airport and we begin our week-long roadtrip. Our first night will be spent in a very haunted northern California city, where we’ll cram in as many of my favorite on and off-the-grid haunts as possible and have what is possibly our last decent sleep for several nights to come.
The bulk of our road trip is mainly about the three nights we’re spending in a remote, allegedly haunted cabin in Gold Country, a 250-mile stretch of beautiful, often wild, land to the east. This is where the Mother Lode was struck in 1849, and the evidence remains today in the guise of small towns that usually appear lost in time. There are many ghost towns here, resorts, and plenty of people still living in the more accessible areas. As I child I spent lots of time in one of the little towns because my aunt and uncle lived there. That’s where I met a girl I’ll call Ellie. We’ve traded birthday and Christmas cards and then, not too long ago, I got a very interesting e-mail from her.
An acquaintance of hers, a man we’ll call Mr. P, bought a small log cabin for a very good price. He intended to use it both for his own vacation home and to rent it out, but things aren’t working out as planned. As I understand it, Mr. P took his family there and they had a very scary night full of phantom footfalls and what sounded like jumbled voices coming from an empty room. He and his eldest boy tried to spend a second night but left quickly. Ellie told me some details about what happened — garden variety anomalies we associate with haunts — but I’ve purposely garbled them in my mind by reading accounts of other hauntings. It’s best not to have expectations when you’re going into an alleged haunt.
And that is exactly what we are doing. Ellie called me because I’ve done this kind of thing forever. I used to call it “soaking up atmosphere” — something I continue to love to do for my books and for simple pleasure — but this trip, like many of my ghosting trips, is also an “official” sort of investigation; Mr. P wants someone to tell him whether his house is haunted or not because he either wants to sell it or solve the problems.
Ellie recently spent an afternoon and evening there with Mr. P and his son, and tells me it has “major vibes.” While it just felt “a little uncomfortable” to her by day, once the sun went down, she says it was “very creepy.” She heard some noises she doesn’t think were made by rodents or groaning wood, and said that they left early and quickly, after all three of them heard what sounded like someone walking in the little hall between the bedrooms and bathroom. Classic!
If you’ve read Haunted, you know that the protagonist, horror writer David Masters, absolutely loves exploring hauntings and that he’s a skeptic through and through. Well, I gave David all of my own thoughts and feelings on the subject. He accepts that unexplainable things happen, but he isn’t afraid of them because he holds no strong beliefs. He simply becomes more interested in mysterious events. He’s forever searching for something that will take him into that fear zone. In the book, Baudey House does that for David. I’m still waiting for it to happen to me — and who knows, maybe this cabin will provide those thrills. I’m not holding my breath, though.
Alistair is going with me, in part, because he is also a skeptic, something of a requirement for walking into a place like this without going into a panic. While he’s only had a few experiences with anomalies, he also hasn’t been as immersed in non-fictive ghost lore so he’s less apt to jump to conclusions (squirrels in the walls, rats in the ceiling) than I am. Plus, what better way for horror collaborators to find inspiration than being holed up, all alone, no other inhabited cabins for at least a mile around, without electricity or anything else to do but brainstorm and eat, and laugh, wait and watch? And eat. Lots of eating. Sixers of Mt. Dew and Pepsi Max, an ice chest full of deli food, deserts, and crackers and Twinkies. And cheese. Lots of cheese.
But on with the story of the cabin. It was originally built in the late twenties or early thirties and is about 600 square feet, one story, with a tiny kitchen, bath and two little bedrooms. The main room is good sized and one wall is all fireplace and river rock. We’ve seen photos and it looks pretty sweet. There are a couple of big sofas where we’ll roll out our sleeping bags, and a table and chairs where we’ll work and eat and play cards — and hold a séance or two.
The history of the cabin, such as it is, includes some Prohibiton-era tales of wild parties complete with gangsters, rum-runners and murders, but there’s no way to reliably verify any of this. It’s legend, but there is often truth in legends.
Ellie sent me more information, which may or may not be verifiable. It came from a very elderly lady who, with her husband, oversaw the cabin off and on for more than fifty years. (After our visit, we will speak with her ourselves and try to find backup via newspaper and police records.)
Evidently there were two suicides committed there in the 1950s, but a more reliable story the lady told concerns a man who rented the cabin for the summer in the early 70s. One night he shot his wife and kids in the bedrooms then blew his brains out in front of the fireplace. We’ve been promised bloodstains are still visible on the rocky wall. The whole family allegedly haunts the cabin.
After that, the cabin was vacant for a long time. Very occasionally, the caretakers found squatters or evidence of them. Then, in 1987, during an eight year period when our source wasn’t taking care of the cabin, she says there was another suicide. An unidentified man, a drifter, hung himself from the cross beam in the front bedroom. Just a couple years later, a young woman died in the back bedroom. Her wrists were slit all the way to the elbow. There was evidence of cult activity — a pentagram drawn on the floor, a dead chicken, candles — that means it may have been homicide, though it was eventually ruled suicide.
That’s all we know at this point, other than a little about the anomalies. I managed to keep Ellie from giving me too many details, but we can expect the whole enchilada, everything from poltergeist activity to footsteps, voices, phantom lights, cold spots and faucets turning on by themselves. Evidently a few apparitions have been reported. Who knows how much of it is true, but we will be prepared for anything.
We’re told that batteries drain suddenly and rapidly in and around the cabin, so we expect to keep our laptops safely locked up in the car. We will take in our phones (no reception, but we can use them for photos and recordings), our cameras, a set of dowsing rods, my antique Ouija board for fun, and lots of pens and paper. We’ll also take in all my lanterns, battery and kerosene, flashlights, all that good stuff. For the record, I really don’t care about electronic ghosting equipment: I’d rather use my senses.
We are also bringing plenty of salt and rare earth magnets. Both act as neutralizers (I’ve seen them work many times, but I’ve no idea how) and if things get too exciting, we’ll employ them early. If not, on the third day, we’ll begin using them to “clean” the cabin and then leave Mr. P instructions on how to continue.
To read about more haunted places in southern California, follow the link to my newspaper feature: