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Fossberg is a joker. That's the first thing you have to understand, and that's what I want to make clear before you read my account of the occurrence. I'm sure he'll go to his grave chuckling over jokes no one ever got but him. He's sick that way. I'll find out years after the fact that things he told me were utter bull, and he thinks it's so damn funny that I never realized he was kidding.
I first met him at one of Chuck's parties. I asked him what he did for a living, and he said he was a doctor. Of course that much is true. When I asked him what kind he said he was an animal psychiatrist. Then he said to me with a straight face, "I work with collies who are borderline." Eventually I got it, and thought it was hilarious. It set the tone for our friendship. Anything serious he's ever said to me might only be a joke I haven't gotten yet.
So don't believe anything he tells you about "Izzy's Ghost Story." I can tell you the true whole story. You need look no further than this message, because there's nothing for him to supplement. His slant on the whole thing is probably much more entertaining than what I've typed out here. I'm not going to deny that. But if you want your book to be about the facts of actual hauntings, you should ignore it. He's not a reliable witness. He's a joker.
This is my story. I don't have any interesting tales of self-realization or coming of age like most people I know. I'm still a spinster at twenty-nine, and have no wonderful love stories to tell. I never got in a fight with Ron Howard at the Ames straw poll or got dug out of a snowbank by my trusty dog. No, this is my only story. I tell it well, and I tell it accurately.
For reasons that should be obvious by now, I didn't believe Fossberg when he said he'd seen ghosts in the house before. I was on a stretch of country road somewhere between Waukon and Decorah. It was pretty long odds that he'd been in the same abandoned house my car stalled next to, even if it was famous in local folklore.
I thought he was just playing off the spookiness of the situation. It was after dark, my car was dead, there was no sign of the solid obstacle I thought I'd hit, and the keys got locked inside when I was just sure the door wasn't locked. So I was already slightly freaked out when he started telling me creepy stuff to try to ramp up my fear even further. I think I did believe him for a moment, or at least I kept an open mind. But his description of being inside the house was what did it. I burst out laughing when I heard him say the ghosts were dancing flamingos. The signal was wavering, but he said he was coming to get me before we got cut off completely. He was a good hour, maybe hour and a half away from this place, and that was in good driving conditions. So I had a lot of time to kill.
I didn't want to wait in the rain, so walked up the gazillion steps up the hillside to take shelter in the house. I think Fossberg made me less scared of the house than I was to begin with, since the nonsense about it being haunted by flamingos just lightened my whole tone of thinking.
It wasn't that creepy a house either. It looked pretty modern. Of course it was run-down, but it wasn't bad enough that I thought the floor would collapse under me or the storm would bring the walls down or anything like that. I was in a big open room, like a living room that seamlessly turned into a kitchen toward one end, and I assume was a dining room somewhere in between. There were a total of five windows in various states of brokenness, and I could see a staircase and the entrance to a hallway. I was standing on a polished hardwood floor that had taken a beating. I still had a flashlight with me, which I'd been using to try to locate whatever it was I'd hit, so I wasn't in total darkness. It really wasn't that bad.
Things started to get to me pretty quick, though. There were odd creaking sounds. Nothing too unusual, but they set my nerves off every time. I kept thinking I saw something moving out of the corner of my eye. I was trying to look around this old house to pass the time, and all I was doing was jolting back and forth at every noise and shadow. Moving away from the walls and windows and door helped, because I couldn't worry that something was about to fall on me or jump out and ambush me. I decided to wait in the center of the giant room, where nothing could harm or scare me. Of course that didn't work out too well. I wouldn't be writing this if it did. Since you're reading this, you know it's gonna get scary. So I'll cut to the chase.
A bell sounded in the distance, and it struck me like a syringe to the spine. Now this wasn't necessarily paranormal. I've never been anywhere where a church or anything else rang a bell at midnight, but it's certainly conceivable. Still, it terrified me to hear it, so loud and clear and ominous.
As the sound faded away and I was trying to let my anxiety do the same, I heard something else. It was hard to make out from the rain and wind, but it sounded like whispering. I strained my ears to make it out. I walked around to try to find its source, but I was still too scared to go close to the walls. The sounds were coming from more than one place anyway. At least it sounded like they were.
I know things like that can be funny. One night at home I almost went nuts trying to find which room a tinkling sound was coming from. I followed the sound, but every time I went into the room it seemed like it must have been coming from I'd hear it coming from somewhere else. It turned out it was my neighbor's wind chimes, like 60 or 80 feet from the northwest corner of my house.
That was a real detour, but my point is I know acoustics are a strange thing. But it really did sound like there were weird little noises coming from all around, and that started right as the bell died away. The more I listened, the more it sounded like people were whispering. It sounded like just nonsense syllables at first. Sibilance and nothing else. But then I heard "Isabel." Then I couldn't hear anything but "Isabel." These horrible voices from every direction were calling my name.
I tried to talk to them. I felt crazy doing it, but it was all I could think of to do. I asked who they were and what they wanted. They just kept whispering "Isabel" over and over and over until the hail started.
The hail beating on the house either silenced the voices or just masked them. I kept sitting in the middle of the room, afraid to go anywhere else. I didn't want to be in this house, of course, but I didn't want to stand out in the storm either. It was around this time I noticed a rhythmic thumping noise. It was just one notch above being inaudible in the din of the hail. Just like the whispers were one notch above being drowned out by the sound of the rain. I felt like the ghosts were trying to make sure I heard them even as they were losing out to the storm outside.
I tried to find something to look at to take my mind off all this. The house was totally empty. No furniture, wall hangings, nothing. A couple light fixtures here and there, and screws and things that things used to be mounted on, but basically nothing to look at. The walls were painted white, and the blue pattern stenciled at the top were the only decorations or features of any kind.
This pattern was a bunch of vague, sort of flowery and clover shapes that ran along the wall just before it met the ceiling, and formed pairs of half-arches over the front doorway and the entrance to the hall. I watched them, trying to understand the pattern. I couldn't tell you how it went now, but when I was in that empty room all alone I analyzed that stenciling to within an inch of its life. It had two main segments that alternated, but were thrown off every so often by a third segment that looked like a bunch of confused butterflies. I figured it went ABABCABABC, but after a while that didn't work either.
I was pondering this when I thought I saw the pattern move. I should mention that the whole thing was askew. You could really tell that at the corners. So I thought that when I followed it with my flashlight like I was doing my brain tried to correct those imperfections. Like it was all an optical illusion. But things kept twitching and adjusting themselves. First it all happened in one place two segments out from a corner, but then all over the place. Then I saw one segment of the pattern crawl like an inchworm and replace another. I felt my whole body shudder and twitch involuntarily at the sight. I couldn't keep looking. I had to get my mind on something else.
Like the noises. There was still that thumping noise, and my ignoring of it failed as soon as I was ignoring the stenciling. The thumps came about once a second, and seemed to be grouped into fours. I don't think I noticed that right away, because it was faint at first, but it definitely had a sort of pattern to it. I connected them with the shadows moving in the hall.
You see, there was this light coming from what I assumed was a window at the end of the hallway. There was faint light coming in each of the windows. But I hadn't looked into the hallway. I was now sitting in the middle of the big room in total terror. I could just see the dim light coming out of the hallway, and there were shadows moving in it. They could've been trees or climber roses or something outside, but they looked less mundane the more I saw them move around. I shined a light at the entrance to the hall, but saw no movement, and of course that made the light from the window invisible. I called out and got no answer. I turned the flashlight off completely to let my eyes adjust. It began to look like people were pacing up and down the hallway, just out of my sight. I was scared, but I was more curious than scared. You'll find that's a recurring motif in this story.
But this time my curiosity didn't lead me to anything awful. I got up, walked over to where I could see straight down the hallway, and there was nothing. The noises continued, but they weren't being made my marching ghosts in that hall. I was never clear on what was casting the shadows, but that didn't bother me for long.
After I'd sat back down in my safe place in the open, I saw another thing moving. I was seeing lots of things like that out of the corner of my eye. It was my whole night, pretty much. But this was a more distinct sort of something, and it was coming right at me. I scrambled off the floor. I heard my scream echo through the big empty house, joined by the sharp thud of something striking the wooden floor. A series of smaller thuds followed as it hit the edges of boards while sliding across the floor.
It was a rock. Somebody had thrown a rock right at me from outside a window. I shined my light in each of the windows, but saw nothing. I was too afraid to walk up and look outside. Afraid somebody or something would pop up and scare me. I wasn't even sure which window the stone had come from, since when I traced its direction backwards it led to a blank wall. I wondered if it even came from outside. It wasn't wet.
I left my spot for good, because I didn't feel safe there anymore. I decided to see what other rooms there were. I walked down the hallway that sometimes had shadows. There were a couple bedrooms and I suppose a bathroom, but I didn't get to investigate them. I got hit by another rock.
By the time I realized what had happened, two more had pelted me. It was a shower of stones from above. I shined my light up at the hole I assumed they were falling through, only to see a solid ceiling. Besides some moss or mold or something it was totally intact. But these little grey-white stones were coming down on me, not hindered by the fact that they had no place to come from. They just kind of appeared at or just below the ceiling, popping up out of nothing. It was like watching popcorn pop. One hit my flashlight and it went off.
As you can imagine, I only stayed in the hallway a couple seconds. The rocks weren't falling in the big room, so I scampered back over there and watched the downpour while my breathing and heartbeat gradually slowed to normal operating pace. The flashlight was still semi-useful. I would hit it and it would go on for a moment at a time before dying again. It was enough to see what was going on.
Here's another odd thing: The stones weren't falling very fast. If they'd been dropped out of the ceiling under normal circumstances they'd come down and hit the floor in a second. A fraction of a second even. And it looked more like they were falling through the ceiling thanks to some kind of crazy Star Trek physics, so they were starting out much higher and should be falling even faster. That makes sense, right? They should've looked like streaks to me until they bounced off the floor and settled down. But instead I could see each individual stone falling in slow motion in the light of the inconstant flashlight. I'm sure it wasn't just a trick of the light.
This still didn't account for the rhythm I'd been hearing. It was starting to really bother me that I didn't know what was making it. I figured I'd covered this floor, so I walked up the staircase to investigate the next. I proceeded slowly, using the blinking flashlight to see if the steps ahead of me were broken or sloping. Sure enough, the rhythm got louder. At one point I thought I'd have to stop because the flashlight would just not work, but then it came back on.
I was on the second floor (which I think was the top floor) when my light died completely and utterly. I'd been banging it harder and harder without results, and finally threw it against the floor in frustration. I heard rolling batteries and realized I no longer had the option of trying it again. But before it went out I got an idea of the layout of the second floor. With the way the house was cut up, most of the floor was closed off in a single room. With the flashlight out, I saw there was a light coming from under that door.
This should have been impossible since the house didn't seem like it should have electricity and every fixture I'd run across had had the light bulbs taken out. What's more, there were moving shafts of dark in that light. The thumping was very loud now. There was something in that room. I froze at the thought of what that something could be.
Losing my light had taken its toll on my spirit, and the episode with the stones had convinced me that something had it in for me. The situation was more chilling than ever, and I imagined it would only get worse if I went into that last room. I was thinking about leaving the house and waiting outside despite the foul weather. As terrified as I was of the house, I was also afraid of living the rest of my life without ever knowing what was making that noise. As you can guess if you've read this far, curiosity won.
I forced my hand to turn the knob. I could have opened the door slowly, peeking through the crack, but I didn't. Not wanting to prolong this anxious uncertainty, I threw it open. It opened into a big dusty rectangular room illuminated by a sourceless light, completely empty except for five ghostly birds.
They looked like Thanksgiving turkeys straight out of the fridge. They had no heads, but their size, shape, and hints of pink told me they were flamingos. They looked solid and ethereal at the same time. They glowed, and I could partly see through them, but I could also see the textured flesh of a preserved dead animal. They danced in perfect unison to music no mortal ear could hear. Their featherless wings and long, goosebump covered necks beat and twisted to the same rhythm as their scaly feet. They hardly seemed to touch that unpolished wooden floor. Gravity wasn't doing its job right. But they were coming down with enough weight that the floor shuddered under them, and the steps to their dance could be heard far and wide.
I stared in awe for a while. It could have been a couple seconds or a quarter of an hour for all I know. Thinking back, it was strange how little I reacted. I didn't scream or gasp or shudder or fall down as my knees weakened. I just stood there transfixed.
The flamingos didn't react to me either. The dancing didn't screech to a halt. Nothing rushed at me or lunged at me or glared at me or shouted at me to get out. No phantom band materialized. None of the missing heads ever showed themselves. Nothing happened at all besides what was already going on when I opened the door. It continued on and on like a screen saver.
I don't know what it was that finally jarred me into action, but once I was going I didn't look back. I slammed the door and tried to run downstairs despite not being able to see the stairs. I overshot the whole staircase and sailed over the railing. I found myself back on the ground floor. I would find out later that I'd bruised myself badly and pulled the hell out of a muscle in my left arm when I caught my fall, but I didn't notice any of that at the time. There was nothing in my mind except the flamingos and the haven from them that existed outside the house. So I pretty much hit the floor running and didn't stop until I'd made it to my car. The rain and hail hardly slowed my pace. I couldn't see anything past a couple yards, but I still ran, falling and picking myself up a few times until I stumbled upon the road and traced my way to the car.
Then I waited there getting more chilled than I thought a living body could. I thought hypothermia would shut me down, but I could still feel my heart beating frantically. I don't think it had slowed down one bit when I saw lights coming toward me. Of course I was expecting it to be a ghost as much as a car, but it turned out to be the second option. I was so happy to see the freckly weasel face of Mark Fossberg illuminated by the dashboard light.
I climbed in and immediately started babbling about what I'd just been through. I tried to see if that supernatural light was still glowing in the house, but couldn't find anything behind the sheets of dark rain. So there was nothing to point out. But I told Fossberg about it and everything else. He didn't say a word until I came to the part about the flamingos.
"Knock it off," he said. That threw me for a loop because I didn't know he was doubtful at all. I guess I can't read him.
"You don't believe that house is haunted?" I asked.
"Oh, I believe that much. I know it for a fact."
"Then why don't you believe I saw the ghosts too?"
"I saw real ghosts," he said with an anger I'm sure was feigned, "ghosts of people." After a pause, he added, "Those ghosts were dancing the flamenco."
I'm sure I yelled something at that point, but I'm not sure what.
Fossberg continued. "I told you about the ghosts and the flamenco dancing. You misheard that and so you made up a story with the wrong kind of ghosts. Everything else in your story is taken from other haunted house accounts, too." He started listing what he thought were clichés until I yelled at him some more.
"You must have seen dancing flamingos! Those are the ghosts in the house! I saw them!"
"Just shut up," he said. "I don't believe your ghosts exist."
We said nothing for the rest of the car ride.
Since then it's come up a few times between us. He mocks me over it. He tells people about "Izzy's Ghost Story" in an insulting way. Lots of folks think it's funny, but I can tell that he can tell that it's true.
I just know he said "flamingos," and I sure as hell know what I saw. You can put that in your book, and I hope you throw out whatever Fossberg told you. I'm sure he could give you a fascinating prequel to my experience in the haunted house if he'd tell it to you straight, but he won't. He's too much of a joker.
Written by Floyd Pinkerton (Lee Sherman)