The Davis Curse
Christina Symelidis, NY, USA
I have never doubted the power of evil, but it is still a miraculous horror to think of its potency when its name is called upon. Although many a reader may approach the following tale from an agnostic perspective, please open your mind to heed one person's experience. The following story is true; although I choose not to disclose the particulars of its settings herein, the situation that has occurred is as real as the terror that it still brings me today.
There is a congregational church not ten miles from my home. The church is the oldest within a forty mile radius, and on its grounds is a moderately sized cemetery. The church is small, rather inviting, and the graveyard is a well-kept landscape of fresh verdure and neatly rowed tombstones.
A narrow dirt path running the perimeter of this cemetery widens as it approaches a deep wood just northwest of the church. The path leads to a crumbling, abandoned estate situated on the burial grounds of a large Indian tribe. It was built circa 1775 by the wealthy Davis family, who owned a great portion of land in the area.
It was passed on through Davis generations, later through the Willises (leaders in the shipping industry)and finally, in the 20th century, became a pleasant guest spot for getaway retreats.
Marilyn Monroe courted the playwright Arthur Miller while staying at this estate (for them, a summer home). The estate went on to serve as grounds for children's summer camp from the 1950's to the early '90's. The mansion sat on a cliff within the woods, overlooking the harbor. To walk fifty yards to the cliff edge at night and observe the ships docking from this lofty view, with the starlight twinkling in the still waters below, must have been a truly breathtaking sight.
Throughout the woods on the abandoned property, junkies would get their fixes and many homeless found the seclusion they desired to literally drink their lives away. Several overdoses - some intentional- occurred in these "woods of vagrancy." The most notorious corruption of the estate, however, took place at the edge of the cliff.
Here there is a clearing. There stands today a large wooden stake - perhaps it may be called a totem pole - driven into the ground and cemented at its base to ensure its erection through rough weather. Large stones are scattered in a wide sketchy circle around this stake, and remains of wooden planks around these stones rest atop boulders - clearly to serve as benches. This clearing was used as a gathering place for the occult. Black mass was held in this open field, and small animals were captured from the surrounding woods, then ritualistically tortured and burned as sacrifices. The members of this witchcraft cult would call upon names from the Necronomicon (Book of the Dead), a partner to the Satanic Bible. Spirits were conjured through what may be most mildly termed "seances."
I did not discover this property behind the church until a year after the Satanic rituals had ceased. As a curious and quite lonely teenager at the time, with an unquenchable thirst for the supernaturally macabre (and a die-hard fan of Stephen King tales), I was intrigued after stumbling upon the estate.
The mansion was located just short of one mile into the woods from the cemetery grounds. When I first looked at it, it was like looking into a tired and old face. The face was genderless, yet it conveyed strong emotions of loneliness and weariness - but certainly not emptiness. The cracked and missing windows were many black and melancholy eyes. Filthy white paint peeled from concaved beams and dead branches stuck the collapsing roof like permanent intravenous needles. Upon entering the main doorframe, I was confronted by a scene of greatness lost. The giant room that was once a sunny living area was now a mess of scorched debris and past tenants' garbage. The grand spiraling staircase to the second and third floors was now littered, on nearly every riser, with animal excrement. This wealthy Davis home had been reduced to a wasteland of unspeakable neglect.
Drawn by the palpable yet unseen presence of a beckoning inhabitant, I timidly inspected each room of the giant house. Two corridors were impassable. In one, the walls had swelled and broken inwards so that little more than a forearm could enter the narrowest opening. The other, on the third floor, had no floor in many places. As I toured the home, I discovered that there were many more rooms than the house seemed it should hold. Some doorknobs would turn but the doors were stuck shut. Other doors had been ripped free from their jambs. Some were even bashed in the center as if a very impatient person had taken an axe to them (quickly my mind references Kubrick's take on The Shining).
I would leave the home but its image would burn itself in my mind. I would have nightmares of the house almost every night in which some unimaginable evil crouched behind closed doors like a hungry cat ready to pounce. And each time I visited the estate, I would have the strangest bad luck the following day.
Some incidences were minor - flat tires, my windshield was bashed over night, et cetera. Other times were more serious. Shortly after introducing the property to a close friend, her brother took his own life. I also knew past tenants of the estate who were terminally ill, some who committed suicide, and some whose loved ones died suddenly and most tragically.
Despite the misfortune around me, I felt comforted by thoughts of the old Davis Estate when I was depressed, or lonely, or just a bit lacking in self esteem.
So I would return to the home, sometimes several days in a row at a time, and I would bring large black trash bags to fill with garbage (it was a neverending cleanup). While I cleaned, I spoke to the house, assuring it that I loved it and that I would never leave it or let it be torn down (as if I had any control over executive county decisions). It became my project, my pet, and - most disturbingly - my beloved.
Yet as much as I was called to that old property in the harboring woods of the congregational church, I was also discouraged from its very paths. Often I would drive, jittery with nerves that build from thoughts of overriding quiet fears, and park in the church lot. I would hurry to the main path, excited to see the mansion, but was in some extrasensory way deterred at the mouth of the wooded entrance. Each time, not four feet into the path, I was wholly overwhelmed by the sense that I was being shunned. I was not welcome to the estate I cleaned and cared for and spoke to. Screaming bounced off the walls in my head as soon as I began walking the path, and though the shrieks had little cadence, the message was as clear as the keyboard before you - TURN BACK NOW!!
Maybe it stems from low self-confidence during my outcasted adolescent years. There were so many long days in high school of being mocked and teased, and my inclination to antisociality didn't encourage any normal conformance with peers. But psychology aside, there was something in my soul - in my guts - that made me persist. I could press on down the path to the estate, like a lone sailor beating his ship against the gusts of some treacherous hurricane. I could take it on. Here is man at his weakest - the vulnerable sad fool - ignoring the warnings of a more powerful world beyond to satisfy the pride that no fear may lick him.
My desire to just be around the house intensified over time. Some nights I would find myself standing thirty feet before the house's mainframe, wondering what I was doing there and what I expected to accomplish by paying this visit. To defend my nerve and prove that my fears were not unfounded ones, I will need to bring up memories of the supernatural events I have witnessed there. It is not unlike a middle-aged man forced to retrieve memories of childhood abuse from some cavern of repression in his mind. It is the voice of experience piping up through a mountain of suppressed thoughts.
Early in my visits to the estate, I was attempting to clean a large ground-story room that had once served as a sort of playhouse. Behind the simple stage was a pitch-black hallway and two small storage rooms. In curiosity, I opened one room to find nothing unusual - paint cans, dropcloths, power tools, and lots of graffiti. On the other room's door, someone had crudely drawn a skull and scrawled "Death to All" over it. This graffiti was no surprise - there was an abundance of significantly crueller messages written throughout the house on walls and doors. Yet within that room I found piles of bones. Perhaps they were no more than stage props. Yet they splintered and discolored as if they were real. In damper corners, the bones were in curling piles, as if the humidity and time worked together to create some bizarre works of architecture.
The room stunk of decay - not like wet wood or excrement, but a more spicy and pungent smell like the atrophy of flesh. Just as I meant to shut this room's door, there was a terrific bang, one that made me jump and emit a small shout. Stepping out from the backstage hall, I discovered that I could not see a thing. The heavy double doors were shut tight. The doors had chains and pins at their tops to keep them open. In addition, large boulders and a couple rusting car batteries had ensured that they stayed open. In fact, when trying to budge one door earlier to push aside some litter, I discovered that the doors would not move an inch. Now they were sealed together, I was swallowed in a blind absence, and light ceased to enter the windows that lined each side of the room - although it was noontime on a bright (and windless) summer day.
In a silent panic, I managed to push out a door and run from the estate. I ran until the house was out of sight and stopped on the dirt path, trembling to light a cigarette, with tears of fright brimming my eyes. I walked fast down the path - for some reason, I felt that I would be "captured" by some predator if I broke into a run - until I saw the end of the path approaching and the sunlit tombstones of the manicured graveyard beginning to rise over the slope of clear land ahead. I knew I was being watched as I walked out of the woods - as if a triumphant angry mob was crying "Farewell!" to my hurrying figure. I did, however, glance over my shoulder.
When I did this, I saw darkness take shape. It wasn't like a low thundercloud, but like a black amoebic tunnel racing towards me at a dizzying speed - yet not able to reach me despite its velocity. Looking to the ground, I saw many black shadows scurrying towards me - they were no larger than overfed raccoons - and they changed directions suddenly as they ran at me from a distance. I saw one shadow slip into the ground like oil spreading into the sandy dirt.
My gaze fixed in horror, I still caught something peripherally. A long, gaunt torso hung from a high tree branch near the path's end. It waved at me like a wind- tossed handkerchief before melting into the trunk, quicker than my eye could blink it away. Despite these visuals, I continued to journey - usually alone - to the old mansion. Some days I stood outside of the house, studying second and third story windows. One time, a young girl in a white nightgown stood at one of these windows. When it seemed that she noticed me watching, she disappeared immediately. [In one daytime photograph of the house - I took many rolls on disposable cameras - a picture's development revealed five human forms, constituted of bright light, that posed on the porch like some formal family portrait].
Other times, the windows would bang open and shut furiously as if being beaten ruthlessly by the whirls of a tornado - yet I would not feel the slightest of breezes on my cheek while I watched this. Sometimes, when on an upper floor of the house, I would hear a maddening rush of footsteps bombarding up the staircase like a heavy adult being chased. And then there were instances when my hair was yanked or my sleeve was tugged by an invisible playing hand while I walked through the rooms. Even when the house was still and quiet, I knew I had a great deal of company. There was a sense that a large family watched me from all different heights and perspectives as I walked through the house. In the woods, it felt that legions were banded together, watching me come or go with small crafty eyes. Time passed and I went away to college. I would often visit friends in dorms late into the night and walk back to my apartment across campus just before dawn broke.
One night I was walking up the metal stairs to my apartment door. There was a short upper-level walkway from the stairs to my door. From a corner of my eye, I saw something quickly following me, yet pausing from time to time. I thought little of it - it was common to see skunks by the apartments. I turned around and saw a shadow, encased in the night, slipping up the stairs like a puddle defying its gravitational properties. It started rushing towards me - this indescribable black blob moving in the ground, rather than on it. I slammed the door on it and could visualize it splattering against the painted wood in a cartoonish defeat. This was one of several occasions where I noticed odd shadows scampering over and in the ground on campus. Although friends laughed at my "visions" - some attributed them to hallucinations - I quietly knew. The presence of the Davis Estate had followed me.
After college, I returned to my parent's home and didn't visit the estate. One night, however, I succumbed to the whispered beckon of the old property. I had broken up with my boyfriend (really, it was just another brawl we had had before finally parting ways). It was about 1:00 a.m. and I was driving back to my house - except I took a little detour. I found myself standing at the mouth of the path to the estate and suddenly felt like some ignorant victim-to- be in "Pet Sematary." The internal screams were especially loud that night. The dense woods were full of shadows - God knows if there was anything to create those shadows - and though the path was wide enough for a car and the branches did not close anywhere over my head, I could not find any light at all. The orange shine from the parking lot's lamps was unnaturally cut off on this path. The moon was quickly veiled by thick clouds. And despite the warnings moaning in my head, I could not hear a single insect chirp. The abysmal silence was deafening.
As I walked deeper into the woods and followed the turns of the wide path, black shapes jumped about within the woods as if propelled by giant springs. I saw luminous shadows fly above the treetops and fall back inside the towering trunks as if a child were throwing her rag doll as high as she could. There was terribly thick evil watching me. Yet it was having fun while it did so. Perhaps it is paranoia, but it seemed as if it knew my greatest weaknesses - being laughed at - and took great sadistic joy in this. Suddenly I was walking in a high school hallway again - except the power was out this time, and the magnification of my fears was spread around me like exhibits in a grotesque art gallery.
There had never been electricity in the mansion since I began visiting it. In fact, I didn't even see traces of electrical work within the gaping, half-eaten walls. Yet the moment I rounded the path and could see the side of the mansion beyond some foliage, I was startled by the high- pitched wailing of an alarm! I could not identify the source of the sound immediately. I only looked around in shock, trying to comprehend what was taking place. I wanted to cover my ears from the brilliant electrical shrieking, but I was too frightened to bring my hands to my head. I could only stand in place, then cautiously took a step forward as if trying to cross over quicksand. I realized that it was the house that was issuing the cry of the alarm. Not an electrical system, but the very structure itself.
A man stood in a wide-brimmed hat not twenty feet in front of me. I had seen this shadow a few times before. Once had been the first night I had visited the estate. I had watched him approach me, walk by, and then disappear into the night. He had been wearing that large old-fashioned farmer's hat. Having had a few too many drinks that night, I had blamed the apparition on my own carelessness with alcohol. Now my doubts vanished. All the fears logic and reason consistently pushed aside came running at me full- force. There was no more "playing" in the woods. My surety to overcome all internal fears was cowering somewhere in the pocket of my windbreaker. The "farmer shadow" I had dismissed stood before me. He stood very still, and I couldn't tell if he was staring at me or something else. I knew that if I ran, he would surely try catch me. What was worse, he was not quite human. He was somehow larger and more translucent, yet he was also black as a cutout and his features were equally undefined. I realized that he would not need to run in order to catch me. As long as he existed, he could control me. He would not give chase, he would just BE.
And the alarm continued its intermittent shrieks. I bolted out of the woods. I didn't see the ground or the woods or the sky or my own feet. I just knew that my body was getting forward and that I would be able to stop when I was inside my car.
Since then, I have stopped paying visits to the old Davis Estate. I have had more haunting experiences there than I can recount in this tale, and my bad luck has followed me like those odd scurrying shadows for every visit I have made. I cannot muster the courage to even walk to the entrance of those woods on the harborside cliff. Yet from a safe distance, I have spent hours in numerous local libraries digging for some scrap of history on the property. Little is spoken of that piece of land. However, I recently read a couple of articles from the online County Executive's newsletters that local officials were considering turning the estate grounds into county parklands.
I picture children holding the hands of their parents and strolling through the woods that had once chased me out with their own shadows. I thought of families and young couples smiling up at the trees as they carried on lighthearted banter and walked easily down the sandy path. Perhaps an innocent eye would fall and linger on a particular tree - the one where I had seen that skinny and demonically bent torso swaying.
I cannot be so bold as to confront my fears when evil has been given a formal invitation. It had not taken long to make the connection between those past Satanic rituals and the horrors I incurred thereafter. I knew that although evil could not chase me if I did not follow it - not in so outright a form - it is something to avoid when it can be avoided. I still hear it calling for me and I have the occasional nightmare, but I have learned how to resist its twisted pleas. Sometimes you need to eat a little of your own pride to protect your life.