Grave Sights

It’s the time of year when summer departs and the nights start getting longer. More night means more darkness for things to hide in…are you ready for the spookiest of seasons?

Your Rowan County Public Library invites you to come along on an adventure not for the faint of heart—a series of tales from throughout our community that’s sure to give you thrills and, perhaps, even a few chills! Below are a collection of scary stories curated and read by your very own RCPL staff, featuring local legends, monsters, cryptids, strange events, and classic Eastern Kentucky haints from all over Rowan County. Some of them were even written especially for this event! Can you tell which are fact and which are fiction? We may never really know for sure…but then, that’s part of the fun, isn’t it?

Enjoy our very first series of Grave Sights, with more to come. Simply click the play button below each title to hear one of us present that story, or feel free to read them all for yourself. If you shiver, laugh, or look behind you, let us know on Facebook or on our other social media, or tell us which entry was your favorite when you visit us in person! Maybe you’ve even seen some Grave Sights of your own…

Beware! These are, after all, spooky stories, so some parental discretion may be advisable.


1. Penelope

 

There are a lot of places in Rowan County where people claim to have seen things. Heard things. Maybe things they shouldn’t have. Things that weren’t meant to be seen or heard. Some of it is just stories, but some… Some of it may be something more.

The university is home to plenty of rumors and legends; all the students hear them. The professors usually say it’s nonsense, but they also walk quickly, with their heads down, when they pass certain places. One of those—the one everyone knows—is Nunn Hall, tucked at the very back of campus. Why? Because, sooner or later, if you spend enough time around the dormitory, you’ll run into Penelope.

Some people say she was just depressed. Depression makes it hard enough to live a normal life, but on top of school? You can understand why she was a bit of a loner, and why it didn’t end well. In a different version of the tale, Penelope’s parents didn’t like her boyfriend, and when there was talk of starting a family, they disowned her, and that’s what caused her despair. Nobody really knows for sure.

What we all know is that she jumped from the ninth floor. They didn’t find her for a long time, but the worst part is, when they did? She was still alive…for a little while, anyway.

Ever since, Nunn Hall has been a little strange: Sometimes the lights flicker for no reason, and the balcony will get cold enough to see your breath, even on hot summer nights. Students on the ninth floor say the handrail along the balcony is always warm to the touch, like someone else’s hands were just there a moment before. The elevator goes up very slowly, but it goes down a little too fast when you ride it alone—and occasionally, you can hear somebody crying.

You could probably ignore it all as superstition. College is stressful, after all. Stress can lead to depression—especially if you live on the ninth floor, they say—and depression can make you see things. Hear things. Things like the girl in outdated clothing who sometimes leans against the railing, looking sad and even talking with fear in her voice about how she can never go home, how she feels stuck. Trapped. Alone.

It’s bad enough seeing her jump, they say, even when you know it’s coming. Even when you’ve seen it before. But the worst part? The worst part is the way she screams on the way down, like she changed her mind. You can hear it as she passes all eight floors, below, and people turn their music up and let the lights flicker and try to ignore it. Because she’s alive again, down there at the bottom. For a little while, anyway.


2. Interior Design

 

There’s a house in the middle of town that looks like any other house. You know the kind: One of those buildings that’s a few years out of date, but well-kept by whoever lives there. It could use some fresh paint, but the garden is tidy, and the windows are clean. It’s totally normal…except for the way it feels.

The place has had several owners, over time. You could probably look up who built it, but that’s not really important, because that strange feeling wasn’t always there. It started somewhere along the way—no one knows exactly when. There was a woman living there, once, who acted a bit strange, but what was even stranger was the next person who moved in: Everything started out normal, until they began to change little things here and there, like when their alarm went off or what kind of milk they kept in the fridge. Bit by bit, they even moved their furniture around into almost the exact same spots as the last owner.

It might have been unremarkable, except that whenever someone died there, the house was sold, which meant real estate agents had to take pictures. And people died there quite a lot, over the years—enough that their neighbors started to notice. The realtors noticed, too, that each and everyone one of them had shifted everything from their couch to the pictures on the walls until it all matched wherever the previous occupant had placed them…and the one before that…and the one before that…

This happened two or three times before anyone really mentioned it, and two or three more times before people started talking, and rumors began making the rounds. Of course, nobody really knew anything for sure except that it was odd, so those who gossiped about it made up their own reasons: The house is haunted, or it used to belong to a cult. It’s a ghost trap, and all the restless spirits of those who have lived there are stuck in its walls, their presence influencing everyone who moves in. All kinds of stories.

Only one of them is true, as far as anybody knows—and even that one is hard to prove without going inside, which no one wants to do, after they feel that cold, dark, strange feeling you get just from walking by the place. But back when the realtors were taking pictures, one of them noticed something: A single door at the back of the house, right at the end of the central hallway. Funnily enough, nobody could remember taking pictures of the inside of that room, or even that it was there, until they saw the photo.

What wasn’t funny at all, though, was how the door was sealed up with more than a dozen locks—all of them on the outside, like whoever put them there was desperately trying to keep something from getting out…


3. Scratches

 

Your home is supposed to be where you feel the safest. It’s your retreat, at the end of the day, a space that belongs to you and nobody else. That’s why they use home invasions and ghosts so much, in horror movies: Because the idea of not being safe—of not being alone—in your own home is terrifying.

Places always make funny little noises, or have that one room you don’t like going into—the basement, maybe, just because it’s dark or old. But you get used to it, when it’s your own place. The strange creaks and squeaky stairs become like roommates, and you learn either to live with them or to ignore them. When a new sound starts creeping in, you notice it, because it’s out of the ordinary. It’s an intruder.

A friend was living in an apartment in downtown Morehead; he was just renting, but it was still his home: His first place during college, where he had his own space and everything was just how he wanted it. The building was a bit old and it occasionally grumbled, but he tried to get used to it. His cat, however, refused to settle down, always prowling around and doing that thing cats do, where she would watch things that weren’t there. He thought it was just the move; the sudden change in surroundings was a trial for both of them.

Over time, though, he remained uneasy. He noticed that the noises he couldn’t get comfortable with also seemed to really upset the cat. She’d follow them with her eyes rather than her ears, sitting dead still with her tail puffed up, watching as faint scratches moved along behind the walls. He thought it was a mouse, which would explain her interest. It was in the ceiling, too, and she’d sit on the bed and stare up at it as he slept. But nowhere was it worse than in the living room closet: The cat was always sniffing around the bottom of the door, so that’s where he put traps to catch the mice or…whatever it was.

He tried to tune it out, doing his best not to pay attention to the way his cat was obsessed with the scratching. The sound was just part of his home. Then, one night, he fell asleep watching a movie; the sudden silence when it ended was partly what woke him, but mostly…it was the faint creaking sound, like someone opening a door. No matter what other noises your home makes, you always recognize a door opening.

Looking around, he saw the closet standing ajar. His cat was growling, inching toward it like she was stalking another feline, ready for a fight. Then she pounced, racing into the closet and setting up a wild caterwaul as she seemed to attack something inside.

And the door snapped shut.

He really didn’t think about it; he just reacted, leaping to his feet and lunging across the living room. The knob was blazing hot as he jerked the door back open. His cat scrambled back outside, ears flat and tail low in terror as she ran for cover. But that wasn’t what had his attention, anymore: He looked into the closet, and there, in the darkness, he saw…something. Something that shouldn’t have been there. Something with eyes that faintly reflected the dim light of the television, like an animal’s, and the faintest suggestion of claws on too many long, long fingers.

Slamming the door, he snatched up his frightened cat and his keys, running barefoot to his car, and spent the night at a friend’s. The very next day, he moved out, enlisting his buddies to help and refusing to be alone in the apartment, or to still be there by nightfall. He expected an argument from his landlord when he told the guy he was breaking his lease, but to his surprise, the other man seemed fairly sympathetic.

“Well, it’s rough,” the landlord admitted, “but college students come and go. Nobody stays for long in that apartment—they always complain about weird noises—so…I’m used to it. At least you didn’t lose your cat! Kids can be so irresponsible, leaving the door or the window open or whatever. Pets disappear all the time around that place. You have to be careful; never know who’s hanging around that might just pick them up.”

The words stuck with him as he went shopping for a new place, and for a long time afterward. All he could think about was, it was no wonder the apartment never really felt like home…because it was already somebody else’s.


4. Buried Treasure

 

Anyone who’s ever gotten in trouble with the law over a petty crime will tell you that it doesn’t pay. The rush of stealing a man’s wallet from his back pocket only lasts a few moments. Sometimes it’s sooner, sometimes later, but more often than not, small-timers get caught and realize that the consequences are much more than they bargained for. Some people only learn the hard way.

Standing before an eroded, illegible headstone in a Rowan County cemetery were two men, each with a shovel in their right hand and a lantern in their left. The night sky, overhead, was mostly clear, but the new moon hid its light from the world below. They placed their lamps atop the crumbling headstone, broke the first patch of soil, and got to work. 

Their goal would’ve been clear to anyone watching: They were about to disturb the everlasting slumber of the body, below. Those who know the story often speculate that the men believed something valuable to be hidden within the casket, but when the pair, themselves, were asked, the men were too distraught to explain. They always only ever talked about one part of the story: The part where they claimed to have met one of the Devil’s pets.

That night, they exhausted themselves shoveling six feet of dirt up into two mounds on either side of the grave. The moment their shovels hit against something hard was met with whispers of victory. Their celebration was short-lived, however, for they noticed something unusual about the exposed casket. Coffins are our final beds—a last earthly sanctuary, sturdy and protective of the occupant, and not easily trifled with. Yet, this particular casket had a hole the size of a dinner plate haphazardly cut in one corner. It was strange, indeed, the two graverobbers thought, but they had already put so much work into uncovering it, and they weren’t about to waste it.

Mustering his courage, one man pried open the lid. The pair expected to see a dolled-up corpse, of course, but inside the coffin they found not one, but two bodies. One was human, though not a single speck of flesh was left on its bones—only once-fine Sunday clothing, now shredded and stained. The other body, though, was much more lively. 

The thing inside the casket looked like a common groundhog, but even in the dim light the men could tell that something was amiss with this creature. Its beady black eyes darted between the men as it hissed, revealing two rows of dagger-like fangs. Its front teeth extended much further than the rest, but most horrific of all, its mouth opened wider than it should have, like a snake unhinging its jaw. It stood up onto its hind legs and raised long, sharp claws toward the graverobbers. 

Being in such an enclosed space, the two men had few options; one gave a mighty swing of his shovel that should have laid any mortal animal out, dead or stunned…but to hear it how they told it, the thing all but tore the shovel from his hands. They had made themselves into a threat, and the creature attacked.

When questioned, the men never would say more than that. Their eyes always turned distant and their hands would shake like leaves in the wind. Even without the details, however, it was obvious to anyone that the graverobbers came a bad second in their meeting with the monster: Between the two of them, they had only seventeen fingers and three legs.

No one else we know of has claimed to have seen the beast, since then. Maybe any up-and-coming looters of the dead just…took the tale to heart. After all, unlike the monster, potential criminals have to worry about biting off more than they can chew.


5. Book Return

 

It was exactly one year since the passing of her best friend that Jessaline found herself in the music center, down on First Street. It had taken that long before Mindy’s mother was ready to go through her things, and Jessaline thought she would be fine to help out, until they both inevitably started crying over the memories. At least they could comfort each other; the loss was easier to bear when they shared it.

Among Mindy’s possessions was her favorite book, long overdue at the library. Jessaline agreed to return it, no big deal; in a way, it was kind of a step toward closure: She thought of it as taking the book home, and maybe she could learn to think of Mindy as having gone home, too. It was strangely comforting.

On the way, Jessaline found her thoughts drifting back to when she and Mindy had first met, when they were both volunteering at the old library building, back before it had moved uptown. The original location was the music center, now, and she figured…why not? It was kind of on her way, and she missed going there. She parked outside and, when she saw the center was still open, she left Mindy’s book in the car and went inside.

They changed the place a lot, when the library moved out, but Jessaline could still feel the library’s presence in its hallways and walls, even if they were different now. It was nice—a beautiful way to grant the structure a second life—and she could hear sounds and music coming from everywhere and nowhere as people practiced, inside. Since she obviously wasn’t alone, she also wasn’t surprised to hear voices, too…until one of them called her name: “Jess, I miss you…” it said.

Frowning, she turned a corner into a room lined with bookshelves. Strange, she thought, it’s just like when the library used to be here. She wondered if they were music books, but her curiosity was interrupted by a thud, extra loud in the quiet room. Turning, Jessaline bent to pick up the volume that apparently fallen from the shelf—a copy of the same book she had left in the car, Mindy’s favorite. No, not a copy… She looked closer at a small stain on the cover. It looked like the exact same book.

She jerked her head up at the clack-clack-clack of footsteps, just in time to see a shadow pass by the end of the shelves. It sounded like the heels Mindy always loved to wear. Jessaline hurried to catch up, heading out into the hallway, but there was no one in sight. When she turned back, she had to blink in confusion; the room with the books was nowhere to be found, replaced with a blank wall. I must have gotten turned around because they’ve redone the place, she told herself.

Again she heard the heels: Clack-clack-clack on the tile floor. Hurrying toward the sound, Jessaline saw an open office door, and through it, a figure with hair pulled up into a ponytail just like Mindy’s, black against the bright pink of a familiar sweater. She pushed the door open, catching sight of an open green glass bottle on the desk—her friend’s favorite soda. Painted nails typed along a keyboard in that fast, uneven rhythm Mindy always used.

She must have gasped, because the other woman turned in her chair. “Can I help you?” she asked. It was unmistakably not Mindy; probably somebody who worked for the center, and Jessaline had just barged into her office.

“Oh, sorry… I just got turned around,” Jessaline excused herself awkwardly. Heading back into the hall, she caught sight of a restroom sign, and ducked inside to splash some cold water on her face. I must be more upset about returning that book than I thought, she figured. When she raised her head, there was a figure behind her; ready to apologize again, she turned to face the stranger—only to find no one there.

“It’s been too long since we hung out…” the walls whispered, and Jessaline hurried out of the restroom, looking for the exit. This had been a bad idea, apparently; her visit had dredged up the wrong kind of memories. She stumbled to her car, fumbling for her keys, and wiped tears from her face with the back of her hand as she tried to catch her breath in the driver’s seat.

Calming herself, she looked over at Mindy’s book: Kentucky Ghosts. They had read it together a thousand times. Now it scared her a little, and her car stank of bologna for some reason—Mindy’s favorite sandwich. Jessaline’s hand shook a bit as she reached for the book, and she accidentally knocked it into the floorboard. Leaning and straining, she picked the small volume back up, inspecting it for bent corners or other damage. When she turned it over, she saw a familiar face on the page…one that hadn’t been there any of the many times she had read it before. Even more than her dead friend’s photo, what terrified her was the glimpse she caught of the words on the page: …Mindy’s best friend, Jessaline…

She didn’t want to know any more. She drove uptown as fast as she dared and practically threw the Kentucky Ghosts into the new library’s book return. They were good at handling mysteries, and this one belonged to them, anyway. As for Jessaline, it had never been her favorite genre.


Credits

The narrations on this page incorporate the following music, licensed under Creative Commons:

Lightless Dawn by Kevin MacLeod
Link: https://incompetech.filmmusic.io/song/3982-lightless-dawn
License: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

Gathering Darkness by Kevin MacLeod
Link: https://incompetech.filmmusic.io/song/3798-gathering-darkness
License: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

This House by Kevin MacLeod
Link: https://incompetech.filmmusic.io/song/4525-this-house
License: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

Gagool by Kevin MacLeod
Link: https://incompetech.filmmusic.io/song/3794-gagool
License: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

Tenebrous Brothers Carnival – Prelude by Kevin MacLeod
Link: https://filmmusic.io/song/4475-tenebrous-brothers-carnival—prelude
License: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/