Tuesday, March 27, 2012
The Haunting at Loon Lake
It was the summer of ’94, and I was in Northwestern Iowa visiting my grandmother for a couple of months. I had just purchased my ’68 Plymouth Fury and was working as a dish washer at a local restaurant. I was nineteen years old. My buddies and I had bought a few beers (that’s another story, all together: since I was from CA, I had the locals convinced I’d lost my ID but was 21 years of age...) and headed toward Loon Lake, Minnesota, which was only about a twenty-minute drive, to visit the oldest graveyard in the area, Loon Lake Cemetery.
The cool part about the graveyard was that a witch named Mary Jane Terwillegar (several different spellings have been used) had been burned at the stake in the late 1800s and was buried there. That part is true, not local folklore –at least about her being there. I’ve never confirmed the lynching. The legend, however, stated that if she was disrespected, the clown who did the disrespecting didn’t make it home. Ever. There are a ton of stories of cars overturning, catching on fire, people falling asleep at the wheel, etcetera. Of course, I attributed all those tales to teens having ingested too much booze or parlaying with a few too many pills.
I’m kind of a joker, as in, I like to play pranks. A couple of the guys I worked with were taking their vehicles that night, as well, and we were packing as many girls in all the empty seats as we could possibly fit. Before we left, I told the guys to leave their transmissions in Neutral when got there, which they did. I hadn’t told them what I had in mind yet, though; I didn’t want to risk any of them going soft and spilling the beans.
The small two-rut dirt road we had to pull in on was adjacent to a great big field – I’d say it was a couple-hundred yards across, at least. The graveyard was on the other side of that field in a thicket of giant trees, so we’d have to hike it on foot. It was probably ten P.M. on the night in question, and the weather was fine – clear and still. It had been a warm day, but it was cooling off quickly, as Midwest nights often do.
View from the road:
As I had suspected, not a single girl wanted to accompany us on our graveyard trek. So we told them to stay close to the cars and headed off into the direction of the giant trees and the ancient burial ground. The night was abuzz with excitement. I was nothing short of giddy.
I had a bag of Cool Ranch Doritos with me, I’ll never forget that. I kept chomping away at them as we traveled. We walked across the massive field and finally arrived at trees. The graveyard was rumored to be in them somewhere, so we just had to look.
We all had flashlights and were searching arduously when someone yelled, “Over here!”
We went in the direction of the voice and, to our surprise, we were looking at a very old, very worn headstone. Closer inspection revealed that it was indeed from the 1880s. I was really impressed because I *love* freaky stuff like that. We looked further and the headstones kept popping up. Most of the headstones were from the mid-to-late 1800s. The graveyard was over one-hundred years old at the time. I was bombed out of my mind with excitement.
That’s when I began acting like a dumb-ass kid.
I wanted to scare the local yokels who believed in the legend of the witch, so I walked around moaning like a zombie, I laid down and got back up whenever I saw a headstone, as if I were a vampire, rising from the grave. Then I directly challenged the witch to come and get me. I was really just doing anything that could be seen as remotely scary or disrespectful so that the backwoods nerds could see that the legend was just a fairy tale.
Remember I had everyone put their transmissions in Neutral? That comes into play here, in a second. After we were done thoroughly disrespecting the long-hidden bone yard, I organized one hell of a scare party for the girls waiting for us across the field.
I sent the boys back, one at a time, and told them to scream their fool heads off. I told them to say they saw horrible things, wicked things, and to just make it up as they went because nobody would really be listening to the words anyhow.
It worked like a charm.
I sent them back in about 30-second intervals in between and they were yelling bloody-murder, running as fast as their legs would carry them. I was pumped. I was freaking really pumped. This was the gag to end all gags.
When I had dispatched the last of them, I threw down the empty Doritos bag and blasted across the field myself, also screaming like I’d just seen the end of the world. About halfway across, a mean wind picked up. I looked around, though, and none of the trees were swaying even the tiniest bit. The wind, it seemed, was in the field alone, with me. I remember thinking how lucky I was that such a strong wind kicked up just then, because it would add to the effect of my mini-horror story.
Oh, it added to it, all right.
The girls were freaking out, brothers and sisters, and I mean freaking out bad. It was complete pandemonium, and I couldn’t have been happier with my creation. We all agreed that we’d better get the heck out of there, and fast, so everyone piled into the cars. Because they were all in Neutral, however, none of them would start. Neutral-safety-switches, for the win.
The girls were, by that time, screaming and knocking around in the back seat of my Plymouth, all the while casting backward glances toward the graveyard, hoping they didn’t glimpse the awful things we had said we’d witnessed. One of them (I swore it wouldn’t happen, but it did; I hope this girl went on to become a detective) actually noticed that the gear shift was down, and told me to put it in Park so the damned car would start.
Once the Plymouth’s big engine roared to life and my headlights were blazing, the others followed suit and before long, tires were spinning and we were fish-tailing down that lonely dirt road toward the highway.
Well, by the time we hit asphalt I couldn’t take it any longer, and I started laughing. Hard. I was absolutely loony with laughter. The same girl who noticed the gear shifter being in Neutral noticed this first, and began kicking the back of my seat when she realized she’d been had.
We all pulled over, and no less than three girls got out of my Plymouth and refused to get back in. I tried to convince them that they were being silly, I’d give them a ride home, but the hatred, at that moment, ran pretty deep. So, they piled into my friend’s old Ford pickup and the other non-descript ‘80s ride my other buddy had driven, and it was tail lights. C-ya, wouldn’t wanna be-ya. So, I climbed back in my Plymouth and headed off, alone.
That’s when the world went weird.
Everything was fine for about ten miles, and then the blasted engine began sounding funny. It was making a noise like it was only running on three cylinders, and the car lost almost all power. I pulled over and checked under the hood, but nothing was visibly awry, so I motored on.
A few miles later, it did it again. I pulled over, and the car died. Now, I don’t know if you’ve ever seen a Midwest back-road at one-thirty-in-the-morning, but it isn’t fun when you are alone. There was *nothing* out there, friends and neighbors, save for myself and a huge expanse of blackness.
It took a while, but the darn thing started again. I was only eight miles or so outside of town by then but because the engine was sputtering so badly, it took me quite a while to cover that ground. The car simply acted like it didn’t want to go anywhere. At that point, the witch had never entered my mind; I wasn’t freaked out in the least. I was more concerned about the healthy mechanic’s bill I was going to incur because at nineteen, I knew as much about V8 engines as I did about how the Egyptians built the pyramids.
I finally ambled into town and stopped for gas. In Iowa, it’s pump *then* pay, so I filled the tank and then accidentally drove off without paying. It was late and I was upset at the car and distracted by the evening in general, so I didn’t purposely rip someone off, I just left because I was done pumping.
Well, I got pulled over.
I explained to the cop my situation, sans graveyard, and he chuckled and told me to go back and give the guy his twenty bucks which I did, with an apology.
I finally parked the car in my grandma’s driveway and made my way inside. I had to be back at the kitchen at seven the next morning, and it was close to three already; it wasn’t going to be fun.
That’s when things got real weird.
I kept thinking my grandmother had died. Not once or twice, but over and over. I couldn’t sleep. I kept going downstairs to check on her. I had this real, real bad feeling inside that I couldn’t explain and couldn’t shake. It was a cold, aloof, distanced feeling, like something was very wrong. I just couldn’t put my finger on what it was.
All I could do was keep returning to my bed, hoping for sleep.
Instead of sleeping, I got a visit from a young woman. She was dressed all in white, she had flowing, jet-black hair, and she was hovering outside my second-story window. There was a ledge there, but she wasn’t standing on it; she was maybe ten or fifteen feet out, and above my window by another three. I had stood up in bed and was looking directly at her. I was not asleep. I was not dreaming. Or maybe I was. What happened next, though, scared me badly.
She was summoning me to go with her. She wanted me to climb out the window. She kept motioning her arm, beckoning me to join her. Her face looked kind.
By the time I “came to”, I had removed the screen and was halfway out. I don’t know what kind of mental state I was in, or whether I was awake or asleep, but had I gone another two feet, I’d have taken quite a fall. Maybe a deadly one.
Needless to say, I purposely neglected sleep from that point on. I just sat on my bed in the dark room, scared out of my mind, and waited for the small white alarm clock to tell me the day had officially started.
That’s when things got real, real weird.
I dropped the car off at the garage across the street from the restaurant, told them what it had been doing, and headed over to clock in.
When I got to work nothing, and I mean nothing, went right. Sure, I was tired and had experienced a rough night, but I was nineteen; teenage kids can function after a single bad night.
But that feeling. That feeling inside the pit of me that something was horribly wrong wouldn’t leave. In fact, it got stronger throughout the day. I can’t describe the feeling, but “pure evil” comes close. It was something black, and something much, much larger than the world we know and recognize. It was the size of a tidal wave and the color of Hell.
First, I cut myself pretty badly on the meat grinder. Then, I fell down the stairs when I was on my way to get something in the basement. Next, a glass broke and cut me further. I was tough, though, and I wasn’t about to lay down.
Not until the weirdest thing that has ever happened to me before or since occurred, that is.
I was putting a plate away on one of the shelves. There was already a stack of identical plates there, so all I had to do was put mine on top. Well, one of them fell down on my head and shattered on the floor. Only, it wasn’t the one I was holding. No, this plate came from the *middle* of the stack. I watched it slip out and fall while I was putting the other plate on top.
I’d had enough. I waved the white flag. Good game. I’m out.
I went to the break room, lit up a cigarette, sat down, and cried. I literally cried. Between the lack of sleep, my car being on the fritz, the injuries, the evil feeling, and the weird stuff going on, I just couldn’t take any more.
One of the chefs came over and sat down beside me.
“Hey,” he said. “You okay, man?”
I told him that I was far from okay, and relayed to him the activities of the night before. By that time, I had put it together that the witch was coming for me, and it was anything but fun. It was the worst feeling in the world. If you ever have the chance to be completely consumed by evil, I suggest passing; it’s highly overrated.
“Dude, I saw what happened,” he said.
“What do you mean?” I asked, and looked at him through tear-filled eyes.
“That plate. It fell from the middle of the stack, man. What the hell is going on? I’ve never seen anything like that.”
“You saw it too?” I said, eyes wide.
“Yeah. I saw it plain as day, man,” he replied.
At that point, I began crying harder. Now that it wasn’t a figment of my imagination, or just a bad day, and that others were witnessing the weird crap going on, I completely lost it. I told him that I was going to die, and soon; I could feel it with every fiber of my being. I really could. Death was very, very near. I wasn’t being dramatic. My card was punched.
He told me that I shouldn’t have messed with the witch, and he hoped for the best for me. He believed fully in the legend, as I should have before I decided to act like a fool and test her. At that moment, I’d have given anything in the world not to have visited that graveyard. Anything.
It was near clock-out time by then, anyhow, so they told me I could just stay in the break room and smoke my fool head off, if I wanted, which I did. I was scared, and not a little. I was scared for my life; for my soul. I work with words for a living, now, and I still cannot find the right ones to convey how terrified I was. That black feeling was overwhelming and it was eons deep.
When I clocked out, I opened the kitchen door and walked down the three wooden steps that led to the dirt parking area. The *instant* my foot hit the ground, the black feeling went away. I don’t mean that I felt a little better, either; it was completely and totally gone. I felt 100% like my old self again. It was as if it were never there.
Confused but relieved beyond belief, I walked across the street to the garage, and asked them what they’d found out about my Plymouth. The guy shook his head and handed me the keys.
“Ain’t nothing wrong with that car, boy. I drove it all over today.”
And he was right. The thing never gave me an issue like that again. Not one, single time.
To this day, I do not know why Mary Jane Terwillegar chose to spare me, or even *if* she did. Maybe she couldn’t beat me. I don’t know. What I do know is that I don’t screw around in graveyards anymore and if someone tells me about a ghost experience, I think twice and three times about what I’m going to say before I respond. The afterworld is no joke.
There are things out there, gang. Things that go bump in the night, things that catch the corners of our eyes when the light’s just right, things we see in dreams, and things that take over our souls after we’ve challenged the dead to a duel. Don’t do it.
You wouldn’t believe the power they have. You really wouldn’t.
** NOTES **
Here’s a great website put together by an actual descendent of Mary Jane Terwillegar. It suggests that she wasn’t burned at the stake at all, but died of diphtheria in 1880. I personally tend to believe that latter but either way, I also believe that she harnessed powers in life that she quite possibly brought to the grave and beyond. Whatever happened to me in the Summer of ’94 wasn’t natural. I can tell you that much.