Your True Stories of Encounters with Ghosts, the Unexplained, and Small-Town Folklore, from America and Beyond

Home Sweet Home

My sincere thanks to Kay McDowell for recounting her experiences to me.

Setting: Gladewater, Texas. The mid-1980s.

When Kay was hired as an evening shift supervisor for a local hospital, she was delighted. She found a darling little house with a cute front yard in Gladewater, Texas — it was the perfect place in which to raise her children. It was close to the local schools, and it was fairly close to her work. The only drawback was that it was tiny enough that she decided to share the master bedroom with her daughter, managing to squeeze two beds into the room. But really, why complain? The house oozed charm. The best part: The landlords, an older gentleman and his wife, were kind enough to lease it to her for a fraction of what other local houses were going for. She couldn’t be happier, and said to herself frequently, “I have a winner!”

Since Kay worked evenings, she was home during the day. After a while, she began to notice that during the daytime, an overpowering yet pleasant floral aroma seeped into the rooms. She knew that her own yards didn’t grow flowers. She also realized that the scent dissipated towards evening.  Curious.

Coming home late at night, Kay retired to bed, but she would soon wake to the sound of footsteps and rummaging in the kitchen. She would mentally review her routine before bedtime, locking the doors and making sure the windows were locked, too. Perhaps she was dreaming. She knew the little house was locked tight, and that she and her children were safe, so she would fall back into her slumber.

One night she was stirred from sleep by her daughter. “I had a nightmare,” the girl told her mother. “There was a man. He was dressed all in black. He was standing, right there.”

“Where?” Kay asked sleepily.

“Right there, at the foot of my bed,” her daughter answered, pointing to the spot. “He wanted me to go with him.”

Kay folded back a corner of the covers and urged her daughter to climb in. So her daughter curled up in Kay’s bed and fell back to sleep in the safety of a mother’s protection, while Kay puzzled on it for a moment, deciding that it must have been a nightmare.

Some time later, Kay sat out on the living room sofa, passing the time reading, when out of the corner of her eye, she thought she saw cigarette smoke, curling and drifting to the ceiling. She frowned, turning the recent events over in her mind for a while. It’s not spirits, she told herself. I just have an overactive imagination. It’s not spirits, it couldn’t be.

One morning, Kay woke with optimism to a perfect Texas day. The sky was clear, the air was fresh, and the temperature was nowhere near boiling. She sat on her front porch, enjoying the weather, when her next-door neighbor stopped by. Kay happily poured her neighbor a glass of sweet tea, and as they sat together on the porch, her neighbor suddenly asked, “So. How do you like living in a haunted house?”

Kay’s forehead wrinkled in a frown. She knew she couldn’t be hearing right. “I’m sorry, could you repeat what you just said?”

Her neighbor smiled. “How do you like living in a haunted house?” she repeated.

Kay asked her to explain. The neighbor began detailing a list of events…the scent of flowers, footsteps in the kitchen, the illusion of smoke wafting around the house, and, most disturbingly, she recounted stories of a man in black. The neighbor concluded the story with a question. “Why do you think you’re paying so little in rent?”

“I just thought my landlord was a kind old gentleman,” she replied. But she knew, then and there, the truth of it.

It only took a day for Kay to find another house to rent. She didn’t care about price or condition. She just wanted to live in a house that was not haunted, for the safety of her children. She was afraid for them. If the man in black was trying to persuade her daughter to go with him, it couldn’t be for any good reason.

Kay packed up the house in large, black yard waste bags. She finished packing the entire house into the moving truck by late next afternoon.

The last thing Kay did was to call the landlord. She told him that she was moving that evening. He sighed in resignation, and then he said to Kay, “Well. You lasted longer than anybody else. Forget about the lease agreement. We won’t hold you to that.”

Kay climbed into the truck, put the keys in the ignition, and it rumbled to life. Her mind went back to the final grisly details that her neighbor had revealed to her.

A few years before, the family who lived in the little house were murdered. The father, who only wore black clothing, came home one night after work. He shot his two children and his wife in their heads and then turned the gun and killed himself. The house had no air conditioning. Their bodies littered the inside of the house, decaying in the Texas heat. Almost a week passed before they were found.

As Kay drove away in the moving truck, her eyes glued themselves to the reflection of the little house in the side mirror, pulling away from her and growing smaller as she put distance between it and her family.

She forced her eyes onto the road ahead of her and didn’t look back.

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