I’d like to state up front that I have never sought evidence of supernatural occurrences out of any conviction such phenomena were possible, or any desire to prove any point regarding the existence of supernatural beings. Any discourse on metaphysics is likely to bore me. It was art and art alone that compelled me to seek out sites reputed to be haunted. Such places usually gained these reputations due to an unfortunate occurrence or due to their otherworldly ambiance. It was the latter I sought from those forlorn and dismal sites where I could set up my easel and capture the mood. The only ghosts I expected to encounter were the ones I created on the canvas.

I had for some time been in a slump, having seemed to have exhausted my supply of abandoned asylums and ancient cemeteries. It was, therefore, a cause for celebration when I learned of a supposedly haunted house located on the outskirts of Bogalusa, Louisiana, not more than an hour’s drive from where I was currently staying. The house had a history involving several mysterious disappearances, but upon seeing photos of the place, I determined these tales to be myths created after the fact, and that the true origin of the rumors was due entirely to the macabre ambiance of the house and surrounding grounds. Situated on a blighted patch of ground surrounded by a dense thicket extending for several miles in all directions, the clapboard house was of the shotgun variety usually inhabited by the poorer residents of the region. Even from the grainy photographs I could perceive a sense of unparalleled desolation, a perfect encapsulation of lives long forgotten.

The article I read stated the photographer had no small amount of trouble reaching the site since all paths leading to it had long ago been erased by the encroaching wilderness, but I had braved far more arduous terrain and had no doubt I could make the journey fairly unscathed. Loading my backpack with the necessary supplies, I set out immediately. Normally, I don’t bother myself too much about the history of my subjects, but I felt a curiosity about that sad little hamlet where men had laughed and struggled and lived their lives, ultimately to be forgotten. On my journey, I listened to a podcast spotlighting local legend, hoping it would provide some glimpse of the actual people who had resided there, rather than just the usual ghostly tripe. In this, I was disappointed, though the tales of mysterious doings were at least entertainingly told. I did learn that, at least according to legend, the house had been home to several generations of sharecroppers and bootleggers, the first of whom had been slaves on the cruel sugar plantations before the coming of the Union army, which had made their plight only marginally better. According to the lore, the last inhabitants of the house had mysteriously disappeared in the early 1960’s, after which time it became, briefly, a favorite haunt of local delinquents. It was in this period that the area got its evil reputation. Nobody had apparently given much credence to the tales of kids who had gone out there with the specific intent of getting high, and when some of those kids failed to come home, people just assumed they had run off to the more exciting environment down in New Orleans, or out west. While the podcast suggested the roads leading back into those woods had been closed off because of the apparitions that swayed to the beat of spectral drums, I suspected it had been done simply to keep the kids out.

The concrete barriers were still there, though the road itself was not. Having to hack my way through about a mile of sticker bushes, poison oak, and tick-infested weeds left me little time to worry about ghosts. Several times, I almost became a ghost myself after nearly impaling myself on my machete when I tripped on tree roots or got tangled up in vines. It was taking me a lot longer than I had anticipated to reach my goal, and I cursed myself for not heading out earlier. By the time I came to the edge of the blighted field, the light had already started to fade.

It was just as it had been described in the article and the podcast. The blight radiated out from the shack, leaving the earth barren for about a hundred yards in all directions. According to the legends, it was because the ground held the bones of sinners and Voodoo priests, or, in one version, because of all the blood that had been spilled there. I suspected it was more likely some deficiency in the soil, or perhaps due to the presence of the stills that used to operate in the vicinity.

It was the house itself that interested me the most. By all rights, it should have been reduced to rubble decades ago, yet the rotting timber had refused to yield to the elements. While parts of the roof had collapsed, the walls still stood, held together by the moss and vines that would, no doubt, eventually grow thick enough to crush the ruins. Seeing one section of wall was charred, I thought of the teenagers, huddled around bon fires while telling one another spooky tales about witchcraft and evil spirits, and I hoped my painting would inspire similar sensations. I would capture everything about the scene that made it mournful, or terrifying.

I painted quickly, making the most of the remaining daylight, but I knew I wouldn’t be able to complete the work. Even before it had become too dark to see, the shadows shifted, throwing off the mood I had set out to create. Trying to make my way back through the woods in the dark was out of the question, and I wouldn’t have relished making the trip twice in any case. Fortunately, I had had the foresight to bring a blanket, and I was far enough from the road for a fire not to attract the attention of the police, or anyone else who might object to my being there. I didn’t like leaving my car unattended for so long, but I doubted anyone would notice it. Besides, it would be worth the risk. The house was the perfect subject, evoking the sorrow and loneliness of the people who had lived there. Even half-finished, I already felt this painting would be my masterpiece.

I built my fire back far enough to prevent the light from the flames from marring the shadow the house cast upon the barren ground as the moon rose behind it. The moonlight streamed through what was left of the roof, and out the windows, making the house seem more alive than it had during the day. The shadow itself seemed even more real than the house, for the light fell in just such a way to make it appear that the windows on the shadow house were illuminated. I thought it was a marvelous image, the black house with the white windows, until I noticed one of those squares of white contained a peculiar shape. I stared at it for a moment, at first thinking perhaps it was a fallen rafter from within the house, blocking the moonlight, but as I studied it, it became clear it was the shadow of a man in the window. Startled at the realization, I looked up at the actual house, and saw there was indeed what appeared to be a man peering out of the window at me. I thought perhaps it was some vagrant who had been sleeping in the house and who had been awakened by my fire.

Trying to think of a reason why anyone would choose to squat in such an unaccommodating locale, I imagined the man might be a drug addict, or worse, a fugitive. Just a few miles to the north in Angie, there were signs warning motorists not to pick up hitchhikers because of the close proximity of the Rayburn Correctional Center. While I doubted I could get a signal this far out, I took out my phone and pretended to make a call. Perhaps the stranger would be less likely to cause trouble if he thought people knew where I was, or that I had summoned help.

The figure in the window did not stir. For what seemed nearly an hour, I stood there, staring up at it, unsure of what to do. Then, at last, it moved. The man raised his arm. I cowered behind the fire, thinking I was about to be shot at, but then realized he was pointing at the trees behind me. I turned to see a line of white-robed figures closing in upon me. I remembered reading that the Klan had been active in the area and cursed myself for getting into such a situation. Most likely they were after the man in the house, but what would their attitude be toward the witness to what they were about to do? As more of them appeared on my right, and still more from the woods ahead, I realized I wouldn’t be able to out run them. I was surrounded.

One of the Klansmen lit a torch and threw it through a window on the right side of the house. As the others advanced, ignoring me as they passed, I saw four figures exit the house through the front door. Another leapt from a window and tried to run, but was quickly overcome and dragged to the porch with the others. I wondered where they had all come from. I’d seen no sign the ruin was inhabited while I had been painting it. Now it appeared three men, a woman, and a young boy had been inside the whole time. They stood there shivering as the Klansmen lined them up before the house.

The attention of the Klansmen was entirely focused on their captives. Seeing no one was paying attention to me, I stuffed my painting into my backpack and inched toward the trees. I paused as I reached the edge of the woods, watching as they tossed five ropes over a beam of the porch, and saw one of the captives fall to their knees, pleading for their life, only to be kicked to the ground. I ran, plowing through the mass of tangled branches that raked at my eyes and reduced my shirt to rags. Finally reaching my car, and finding no one waiting there, as I feared there might be, I tossed my pack in the backseat and sped off.

I knew there was a chance I would be putting myself in danger by going to the local police since I had no idea who might be involved. The FBI had a facility just south of Lake Pontchartrain, but what would I tell them? I went over it all again in my mind, trying to form a coherent narrative. I thought about how everyone had seemed to appear from nowhere, and, as I reflected on it, I realized they had done it in silence. Throughout the entire ordeal, I had heard not one foot fall. The only sound had been the crackling of the fire I had made.

Home at last, I collapsed onto my bed and, before I could decide upon a plan, fell asleep, my face and arms still bloody from my race through the wilderness.

I never went to the FBI, or told anyone what had happened, until now, and I never again sought out the haunted places as subjects for my art. Upon awakening the next day, I had my suspicions that what I had witnessed had not been real, or at least had not been real in the time I had witnessed it. It was my painting that confirmed it. Worried it had been destroyed; I took it from the backpack to examine it. I’d been lucky. It hadn’t been damaged, but I saw it contained a detail I didn’t remember painting, and could not have seen at the time. In my painting, suspended from the porch beam, were five nooses.