I’m extremely proud to announce the release of a new horror anthology, The Horror Society Presents: Forgotten Places, featuring my short story “Moonville.” In it, a family goes searching for a ghost town in Southern Ohio and stumbles upon a century-old murder scene. Then they get a hands-on history lesson.
Moonville is a real location in Southern Ohio, which I’ve visited several times. The town itself no longer exists except for a few building foundations if you know where to look, but the tiny town cemetery and the train tunnel are still there, landmarks for the curious. The train tracks that used to pass by this fly-speck of a town (there were scarcely more than 100 people living there at its peak in the 1870s) are long gone, as is the trestle across Racoon Creek. Where the tracks used to run is now a designated hiking/riding path that takes you right through the locally well-known tunnel.
The area was particularly dangerous, especially as residents had to walk the rails in order to get anywhere. This was made exponentially more dangerous by two long trestles and the tunnel itself, which was just wide enough to accommodate a train. It’s estimated that no less than 5 or 6 people, including a 10-year-old girl, lost their lives to locomotives along that stretch of tracks. In addition, it’s known that several men who worked on the railroad lost their lives as well. Back then, it was a difficult and dangerous profession, as there were few, if any, safety protocols in place. Working as a brakeman, for example, required one to traverse the top of the train as it was moving. One unexpected turn or jolt could send him tumbling between the cars or beneath the wheels of the locomotive.
And then, of course, there was the murder of David “Baldie” Keeton (or possibly “Baldy Keaton” — there’s some disagreement on the spelling of his name), who liked to get drunk at the local tavern and start fights. One night he picked a fight with the wrong men and was told to leave. He left eventually — with some heavy persuasion — but then on his way home, Baldie was waylaid outside the tunnel entrance. When he was found, it looked as if he had been hit by at least three trains. No one was ever convicted of the murder. Baldie’s angry spirit is said to rest atop the tunnel and throw rocks and pebbles at those who pass underneath, which is consistent with his bullying personality in life.
Other ghost stories naturally surround the place as well: an engineer with a lamp, a woman in white, a female ghost who smells of lavender, an 8-foot tall black figure, among others, are all said to haunt the place.
With such a rich and interesting history — not to mention the fact that my mother’s side of the family is originally from the Athens area, which isn’t a far drive — it was just too good an opportunity to pass up writing a horror story about the place, incorporating the history, the people, and the spirits. I consider myself lucky that I was able to find such a perfect home for it.
Below, I’ve included a short excerpt from the story itself. For orientation purposes, Dan and Laura are the parents, Erik and Jennifer their teenage kids. We pick up just as Laura enters the tunnel and decides to test its unique acoustic properties.
Laura stood in front of the tunnel entrance, which dwarfed the short, stocky woman. She raised her arms, palms upward. The tunnel beyond was lost in darkness. The opening at other end was a small spot of bright light that could easily be blocked out by Erik’s fist held at arm’s length.
“Can you feel it?” The excitement in Laura’s voice was clear.
“Feel what?” Dan asked in a bored tone.
“The energy! It’s so…vibrant! It’s like the ground is humming. I can practically feel the trains passing by us, the spirits of the people who used to live here. It’s amazing!”
“Mm-hmm,” Dan said.
“So much energy here,” Laura said to no one in particular. Then she stepped forward. As she passed through the entrance, a shower of pebbles fell around her. Laura jumped and gasped, then turned excitedly to her family. “Did you see that?” she said. “That was Baldie Keeton! Baldie Keeton just dropped stones on me!”
Dan shook his head. “Laura,” he said. “It’s an old train tunnel in the woods. It was probably an animal or maybe the ground settling.”
“Oh,” Laura replied. “Yes, I’m sure that’s it. Still, though. The timing was odd. It was just as I entered the tunnel.”
“Yes, Dear. That was odd.”
“Hey!” Laura exclaimed. “Stay here, you guys! I want to try something.” Dan, Erik, and Jennifer all exchanged puzzled glances as Laura made her way to the other end of the tunnel, but they did what she asked and waited. Once at the other end, Laura, a small, dark silhouette against the bright daylight beyond, spoke. And the others heard her clearly, just as if she were standing right next to them.
“Can you hear me?”
“Yes!” Dan shouted.
Laura shouted back, “You don’t have to yell! Just talk in a normal tone!”
“Okay,” Dan yelled. Then he dropped his voice. “Can you hear me?”
“I heard you!” Laura exclaimed. “That is so cool!” Erik had to admit it was a neat trick being able to talk to one another from better than fifty yards away without raising their voices. They each tried it. Once they got bored with that, they made their way to the center of the tunnel. As their eyes adjusted, they discovered that it wasn’t as dark as it looked from outside. Again, vandals had tagged the brick walls. There was also evidence of at least one campfire. A pentagram had been spray-painted on the ground in the middle of the tunnel with arcane symbols around it. Melted candles suggested a séance, or perhaps something more nefarious had been attempted in this spot. Erik wondered aloud if whoever was responsible had actually made contact with the other side. They four of them then moved on toward the other end of the tunnel, pointedly ignoring the more explicit graffiti.
At one point, Laura, Dan, and Jennifer all jumped and brushed off their faces and shoulders, saying something about walking through a spider web. Looking for it, though, they were unable to see it. Erik felt it, too, as he walked forward, a sensation of tiny fibers catching on his skin and clothes. He likewise brushed at his face and shoulders, but he couldn’t find the spider web either.
Suddenly, Laura stopped, her curly hair bobbing as she did so. “Did you hear that?” she asked. The others listened.
“Hear what?” Dan asked.
“Shhh! Listen!” They did. And then they heard it too—a far off train whistle. “There! That! Did you hear it?”
Dan replied, “It was just a train.”
“But there aren’t any trains within miles of here,” Laura said, frowning.
“The way the acoustics are around here,” Dan said, “It could be echoing off the hills, for all we know. There certainly aren’t any trains out here, though, that’s for sure.”
“But then why can I hear it running on the tracks?” Laura asked.
Dan frowned, listening. Then his eyes widened. At that moment, Erik and Jennifer heard it, too—the distinct sound of a train running on rails. The whistle sounded again, louder this time.
“Uh, guys?” Jennifer said, her voice quiet.
“What, Jennifer?” Dan replied, the annoyance plain in his voice. “We’re listening to something.”
“I hear it, too,” she said. “And it sounds like it’s getting closer.”
“Yeah,” Erik said softly, starting to freak out a little. “It does. It really does.”
“And were these tracks here before?” Jennifer asked.
Startled, they all looked down. At their feet was a set of train tracks that Erik was certain hadn’t been there a moment before.
“Okayyyy,” Erik said, stepping away from the rails. “Those definitely weren’t there a second ago. I’m getting pretty freaked out here.”
“No,” Dan said in a quiet voice. “No, they weren’t. However, I’m sure there’s a rational explanation for this. There has to be. But it doesn’t matter, because we’re leaving.” And he started walking back the way they had come. The others followed.
But they didn’t get very far when they heard the train again. And this time it was close. Very close. In fact, it was coming toward them.
Just beyond the entrance of the tunnel, on the very same tracks they were standing on, an enormous black steam locomotive was bearing down on them, a great black cloud of smoke belching from the smokestack. The cowcatcher on the front grinned malevolently. The whistle screamed again. Carried to them by the perfect acoustics of the tunnel, the sound was deafening.
Erik shouted “Run!”
The Horror Society Presents: Forgotten Places is available on Amazon.com in both paperback and Kindle formats.