The Caldera: A Halloween Ghost Story

Oct 24, 2020 | 2020 Articles, Margaret Mendel, Mysteryrat's Maze, Terrific Tales

by Margaret Mendel

Bev trusted her instincts, always had. So far she figured that’s what had kept her out of harm’s way all these years. Her mother moaned and complained about all the crazy schemes that her daughter had come up with. Though this time her mother said that none of her other ideas sounded half as ridiculous as this one. “You’ll end up a pile of bones,” were her mother’s last words as Bev closed the door behind her and descended the steps of the front porch.

Come hell or high water, Bev was determined to get to the desert of southeast Oregon. Back in the 1800s folks flocked to that area in search of gold. Bev was not looking for gold. Her quest was ghosts. Bev had been a spirit chaser for years, and recently she thought of nothing else since reading an article about the strange apparitions occurring in one of the calderas somewhere in a little-explored area in the high desert country in Oregon.

People had gone missing, hikers staggering out of the area, dazed, disoriented, claiming to have encountered strange beings. That was all Bev needed to hear. Making a call to her supervisor at the warehouse where she worked part time, Bev gave her notice. “Nope,” Bev said to her boss. “Got no idea when I’ll be available.” Bev wasted no time packing up her trusty four-wheel drive Jeep with supplies, and it didn’t take long before she was out of Fresno and on I-5 heading north.

Bev knew most folks thought she was a bit loony. She figured her looks probably had something to do with the way people responded to her. Being extra tall for a woman, and blessed with extremely long feet that made a slapping sound as she walked, made her stand out in a crowd. And then inheriting a long narrow jaw and the heavy boney brows of her grandpa, who she called Poppa Jake, no one ever thought of her as pretty. But Bev didn’t give a lick what anyone thought of her looks or her ghostly endeavors as she went about her business, feeling just fine about her self.

Poppa Jake, Bev’s favorite person in the whole world,
had been kind of a novelty in the neighborhood. Most folks called him a sensitive, which Bev figured out when she got old enough to understand how people judged one another, that was a polite way of calling the old man a bit crazy. He frequently talked about seeing spirits and encountering dead relatives caught in the in-between-world, confused about which way to go. That all seemed normal to Bev and she took pride in thinking that she too was like Poppa Jake, a sensitive.

Bev had been driving around on the back roads of the Oregon desert for over a week when on one particularly hellishly hot day, Bev thought maybe her mother’s premonitions of ending up a jumble of bleached bones might come true. Fresno had some pretty hot days, but Bev had never experienced anything quite like this blistering heat. Desert heat or not, no way was she giving up, and she knew that Poppa Jake would not have given up either. For years Bev listened to the old man talk about the frustration of not being able to convince people that there was an afterlife.

It was mid-autumn, less than a week from Halloween, a time when Poppa Jake said spirits became restless, and those souls unable to figure their way out of this world, rambled around making havoc in the dark. Bev was now as determined as Poppa Jake to find proof that there were ghosts. If people wanted proof, she would give it to them.

The unseasonable heat was not making things easy, but Bev figured there would be cooler temperatures on the way. A couple of days later, the heat broke and the weather became totally unpredictable. Icy pellets beat down on her. Huge winds roared across the hills and valleys. There would be days when it rained so hard that flash floods, real gully washers, poured down from the cliffs of the surrounding mountains. Within the hour, the sun would burst through the clouds and the land sparkled in startling bright wetness just before the rain was sucked into the parched desert soil.

Early one day while driving up a nasty old road that looked ancient enough to have been a leftover wagon train trail, Bev sensed something extraordinary was up ahead. The area was like nothing she had seen so far with outcroppings of jagged, pitted rocks glistening in the blinding sunlight like shards of glass. The few trees spread across the top of the hilly range above her looked like sentinels standing guard. Though it was still early in the day when Bev reached the crest of the hill, the light in the sky had turned a dark ominous grey, as though night was about to descend. Clouds gathered in black strips across the horizon. An odor of electricity filled the air, as though a thunderstorm was approaching.mountains

Bev’s heartbeat quickened. This was a familiar sensation. There was no doubt in her mind something special was up ahead, and Bev knew that Poppa Jake would have felt it too. Shifting the four-wheel rig into a lower gear, Bev eased the vehicle up and over the steep incline. This was the place. There was no doubt in her mind. This was where the tales of ghosts and strange apparitions had emanated from.

Bev looked down into a valley, a caldera that had been formed by a volcano thousands of years ago. Several tumble-down shacks were nestled together in what looked like the exact center of the caldera. An unholy light glowed through the clouds onto the silent village, while a fearsome darkness ringed the top of the mountain range surrounding the valley. Slowly easing down the embankment, Bev brought the vehicle to a stop near one of the broken-down shacks.
Getting out of the truck, she took a couple of photos of the area with her cell phone before approaching one of the buildings. The smell of rotting wood and dried weeds filled her nostrils. Except for a few trees and clumps of green growth along the edge of the encircling hills, everything around the buildings looked dried and dead.

Bev cautiously walked across the field and pushed at the door to one of the buildings. The wood of the door was still warm from the desert heat. The rusted old hinges squeaked and resisted. After a couple of heavy shoves, the door opened with a groan. Giant spider webs hung down from the rafters. They clung to the rickety old boards and fluttered slightly as Bev walked past. The smell of moldy hay, heavy layers of desert dust, the decomposing manure, and God only knows what else that had been left behind in this old abandoned building, made the air thick and heavy to breathe.

The only light in the place came from the open door and the scanty glints of sunlight that seeped down through slits in the shrunken boards of the roof. Bev had just made her way to the back of the building when a flash of lightening ripped through the sky. A deafening crack of thunder shook the dilapidated old building and then a huge wash of rainwater poured down on her.

Something small scurried nearby. Another crack of lightening sounded. Then the light was completely gone from the sky. Bev stood in total darkness as if the afternoon had turned to midnight. Cautiously, easing her way back out of the building, Bev rushed out into the rain. Thunder rumbled overhead. As Bev ran to her vehicle a brilliant flash of lightening struck the ground not from her feet. It could have been her imagination but it felt as though the heat from the lightning penetrated the sole of one of her shoes.

The storm raged for the rest of the day and into the night. In one flash Bev saw something run between two of the buildings. It was hard to tell if it was an animal or human as it hunkered close to the ground and then disappeared into the stormy night. Bev thought it was most likely a coyote, or what one travel guide called a prairie wolf. Eventually the deafening sound of the rain subsided. Thunder continued to boom in the distance as the storm retreated. The clouds lifted. A full moon glowed on the horizon like a golden hole in the night sky. Several more drops of rain pinged against the roof of the vehicle and then there were a few moments of deathly silence before a burst of desert insects called out into the darkness. moon

Tomorrow was Halloween and, hunkered down in the back seat of the Jeep, Bev had strong memories of walking with Poppa Jake on Halloween nights. She sensed his presence now as though he was there with her, a spiritual guide from the beyond. Poppa Jake believed that the veil separating the here-and-now from the spirit world was thinnest on Halloween night, and his words never rang more true in her mind than at this moment. And Bev knew if there were going to be any paranormal activity, it would happen tomorrow.

The storm passed, but for several hours there was an ever so slight rumble of thunder way off in the distance, and the faint periodic glow of a lightning bolt on the horizon behind the surrounding hills. Bev snuggled into her sleeping bag and remembered when she and Poppa Jake headed out on one Halloween night, her mother calling after them, “Now Poppa Jake don’t you go filling my girl’s head with your crazy notions.” That was many years ago. Poppa Jake had been gone for some time now, and Bev was certain that he easily figured out which way to go, and, as he promised, Bev knew that he’d left a piece of himself behind just for her.

Somehow during the night Bev managed to grab a couple hours of shut-eye. In the morning, a beautiful sunlit Halloween day, the caldera glistened in the fresh air. Gobbling down an energy bar, Bev was too excited to make a proper camp breakfast, she decided that before hauling out the ghost detecting equipment she’d brought with her, it would be best to do a bit more exploring.

She ventured into the building with the fallen-down porch. The back of the place looked relatively solid and she pushed opened the door without much trouble. Before entering Bev stood very still in the doorway for a minute attempting to get a sense of the place. She felt discomfort and detected anger. The ragged curtains hanging in the broken window fluttered in a slight breeze. The floor was covered in mounds of sand blown into the building through the broken windowpanes. A heap of debris was piled in one corner with a tarp thrown over it. Bev stepped into the building. The floorboards creaked as she made her way across the room. Bending down she lifted one corner of the tarp. A pair of hiking boots and a bulging backpack lay next to a musty smelling sleeping bag. Torn papers and several paperback books poked out from under the pile.

Bev opened the backpack. A pair of socks and a sweatshirt were rolled up neatly on top. She pulled them out and laid them on the floor. She stuck her hand back into the backpack, felt around and took out a small point and shoot digital camera rolled up in a sweater. She turned on the camera. There was still a bit of battery life left. Bev clicked through the images; mostly they were of the landscape in the area.

Then a confusing image came on the screen. It had been taken with the flash and it was the close-up of some kind of animal. A claw with long sharp talons appeared to be reaching for the camera as the flash went off, and in the background Bev saw the opened mouth of the animal with its jagged razor sharp teeth. It was a disturbing image and Bev turned off the camera.

Bev wondered where the photographer was? A great deal of desert dust had collected on top of the tarp so she knew this stuff had been there for some time. And that moldy-smelling sleeping bag—no one had slept in it for a while either. Bev turned on the camera once again. She stared at the frightful image wondering if she had stumbled onto the filming of a mauling. As Bev looked at what seemed to be a possibly horrible situation, she felt a tingle of fear rising up her neck. She turned the camera off again; the image was too monstrous to look at.

Sitting on the floor, Bev’s initial instinct was to travel as far away from this place as she could get. But then she thought, what would Poppa Jake do? He wouldn’t run. He’d stick around and think this was an adventure. Though Bev had not expected to see such horror in an actual photograph, the fear she initially felt quickly turned to excitement. Poppa Jake had told her about some pretty harrowing experiences he’d had in his spirit hunting days. One particularly frightening hunt occurred in a bayou in Louisiana. He laughed and said, “Nothing like being chased through the swamp by spirits in alligator country.” He made it sound funny, but Bev knew it probably wasn’t funny while it was happening.

“Well, Poppa Jake,” Bev said. “I might have got me some pretty rough looking devils to deal with out here in this caldera.” Bev knew she was on to something big and turned her attention once again to the backpack.

Reaching deeper into it, she pulled out a small black notebook and a newspaper clipping. She took up the notebook first. It automatically opened to the last entry and Bev read, “I spotted it again tonight.” It was not written in a steady hand, but with a trembling uneven grip of the pen. notebook

The previous pages, written with an even, steady script, told of looking for unearthly beings, creatures of the night. But there were no clues about the owner of this book. Bev read the entry on the first page, “Waiting!! Watching!! Quiet as hell!!” There were no dates, no mention of sightings of anything on any page except for the last page. The newspaper clipping told of strange apparitions in the desert, but the scientists that were asked to comment on the sightings, explained them away with heat exhaustion.

A sudden gust of wind blew through the building. The door banged closed, the rags hanging in the window whipped furiously. The sandy mounds on the floor shifted slightly as the wind howled through the weatherworn cracks in the building. Bev felt something touch her shoulder. Nothing was there. But she knew she was not alone. There was a brief aroma of tobacco. She did not panic. Poppa Jake had taught her well. Today was Halloween and there was no doubt in her mind that the spirits were getting restless.

Gathering up the newspaper clipping and the notebook, Bev stuffed everything into the backpack. The wind howled. She stood. A strong gust of wind came through the window and pushed against her. Walking to the door, her feet made a crunching sound on the sandy floor. She stepped out into the doorway. Dried bundles of tumbleweed rolled past her. The sun was now hidden behind a heavy cloud-filled, grey sky. Sand, whipped up by the gusts of wind, struck her in the face. And then Bev got another faint odor of tobacco before she stepped out of the shack and rushed to her car to get out of the wind.mountainstitle=

She sat for several minutes watching the tumbleweed rolling across the landscape before taking a couple swallows of water to wash down the sand that had gotten into her mouth. The wind roared so fiercely it shook the vehicle. Bev figured it was best to wait out the weather before doing any more exploration of the area.

Poppa Jake never believed in detection devices to hunt spirits. He was a purist, using what he called his earthly-given senses to do the job. But recently Bev had been trying new things. She’d read up on several gadgets that other ghost hunters recommended. Some rather notable ghost trackers swore by Geiger counters, baby monitors and infrared digital cameras to get a glimpse the spirit world. Bev didn’t understand how this science worked. But she had seen squiggles and odd movements that had been picked up by these devices, and these actions could have only been explained as supernatural.

Bev took out the Geiger counter first. Turning on the device she moved it across the backpack. Nothing. She took everything out of the backpack and tested them individually. Again there was not a flicker of the needle. Bev was not sure how she would use the baby monitor, but tonight she had every intention of putting the infrared camera to good use.

The relentless howl of the wind had begun to get on Bev’s nerves. She had been stuck in the Jeep for an hour. The vehicle shook and rattled every time a big burst of wind slammed against the Jeep, and once in a while she was startled when a bundle of tumbleweed was blown against the windshield. But the newspaper clipping and the notebook kept her attention. Other than several entries in the book complaining about waiting, there was no indication who owned the book. Bev knew Poppa Jake would have had some interesting ideas about all this information and she wished he were with her now to share this experience.

Then something scraped against a back fender. Bev looked behind her. She saw nothing. The wind whipped up so much sand that it was impossible to see even a couple feet in front of her, though she thought something moved across her back window. Then there was another scraping sound and Bev quickly made sure the doors to the Jeep were locked.

The howling wind grew louder. Thunder sounded overhead and a lightening bolt flashed seriously close, illuminating a huge figure standing in the entrance of the shack. Even in the thick sand filled air, it was possible to see that the image was that of a big man. He did not move, but stood looking at Bev. When the lightning subsided and the day once again turned dark, the figure was no longer visible. Sand slowly built up on the windshield blocking even more of her view.

Bev sat in the vehicle for hours, waited, anticipating. Then there was a scream, a scream so shrill it tore through the sound of the roaring wind. The sand swirled around Bev as though she was in the middle of a tornado. Looking out into the storm she could vaguely make out shadowy images moving, and convinced that this was the beginning of a serious haunting, Bev took out her infrared camera.

She turned the camera on and pointed the lens out the side window. Bev had only used the camera a couple of times but she had learned the basics; humans and warm objects would show up orange, amber or yellow, while the cold dead would be black. The image of the shack even through the thick sand filled air was bright with an orange glow as the building was still warm from the heat of the desert sun. Scanning the camera across the landscape everything was orange, pink and flashes of amber. Even the old rotting tree glowed an orange from the burning temperature of the desert sun earlier that day. Then a huge swath of darkness moved across the infrared screen, a quickly moving human like figure. At first it appeared to come toward Bev, and then it quickly retreated behind the old shed.

The wind let up slightly. The air was less thick with sand, though the light in the sky remained oppressively dark. Bev looked at her watch; she had not realized how much time had passed. It was now evening. Halloween night. As Bev looked through the viewfinder of the camera at the open field, she saw dark crouching shadows slowly moved through the landscape of the caldera. She counted four, five, more than half a dozen dark images appearing in the infrared camera lens, and they were all moving toward her. The wind grew less and less strong as though it was retreating. A rumble of thunder echoed in the distance, but there was no lightning strike. All the while the shadows came closer and closer.moon

There was a scream. And then another scream, this one louder, closer. These were not human screams but the shrill cries of animals. Bev again scanned the camera across the field. There was another scream so close it startled her. One of the creatures leaped at her vehicle. A sharp claw scraped against the window.

The camera caught only a quick glimpse of the creature and it was enough to turn Bev’s curiosity into terror. The image in the viewfinder showed a snarling long fanged beast, the likes of which she had never seen before. Its red eyes flared at her like burning embers in a fire. Another beast flew onto the roof of the shack, screeching as though in triumph.

And then a huge shadow figure, perhaps the same one that had earlier appeared standing in the doorway of the shack, came from behind the old shed. It stood tall, taller than any man Bev had ever seen. The beast on the roof let out a blood-curdling scream and jumped down onto the giant figure.

Bev saw the creatures fighting through the lens. She could hear the screams and howls, so ferocious they vibrated on the steering column. Frightfully snarling, hugely fierce figures came from all directions. The reflection of the hot orange sand illuminated the dark figures as they tore into each other, ripping off limbs, slashing out with sword sharp claws, even when decapitated the enemies fought on.

The fighting went on for hours. Bev in a trance-like state sat watching as though viewing an unholy horror. And then the batteries in the camera went dead. The howls and screams continued throughout the night but she could see nothing. At one point, a shadowy figure limped across her vision and fell to the ground as though devoured by the earth.

Then when a hint of light began to show in the early morning sky, the screaming and howling stopped. The creatures, vaguely visible, faded into the night and drifted away as though disintegrating. Bundles of tumbleweed piled up against the shacks teetered in a slight breeze. There was no sign of the horror of last night. There were no torn limbs, no heads rolling across the open field, nothing looked out of the ordinary.

Yeah, right, Bev thought, nothing was out of the ordinary, except she had captured the mayhem on the infrared camera. She had proof, evidence of a bizarre, unearthly happening. This was something that Poppa Jake had been seeking all his life, proof that there was a spirit world. Though Bev wondered if he would have been as surprised as she was to see how violent it was.

No longer fearful of being attacked, Bev rolled down the window. The sunrise was magnificent, with a brilliant array of colors. A desert songbird sounded nearby. The sagebrush smelled extra strong this morning and Bev thought it was most likely the result of the bruising the bushes endured in the wind last night. As she opened the car door to step out and stretch her legs, she saw a vehicle way off in the distance coming toward her, kicking up a long trail of desert dust behind it.

Quickly getting back into the car, Bev worried that the unearthly was perhaps going to take place again. She prepared herself for whatever it was headed her way. As the vehicle got closer Bev could see the driver was a guy wearing a cowboy hat and was not the monster she saw last night.

The driver pulled next to Bev’s Jeep. The vehicle had U.S. National Parks written on the door. The driver got out of the vehicle and walked toward Bev.

She rolled down the window.

“You’re pretty far off the beaten track,” he said.

“That I am,” Bev replied.

“A local rancher spotted your vehicle from the ridge up there.” The park ranger pointed up into the hills. “He thought you might need help. So he contacted us. Lots of folks get lost out here.”

“No, I’m fine,” Bev said, and wondered what to tell the Ranger. Should he be her first witness to what she had captured on the infrared camera? The battery was dead and with no way to recharge it, there was nothing to show. So, Bev only told the ranger about the backpack, the notebook, the newspaper clipping and the camera that contained the horrific photo of the beast.

The Ranger took the items from Bev, and then he said, “I think I’ll go inside and take a look around. We have had a couple hikers reported missing in the area. This might be their stuff.”

He tossed the backpack into the front seat of his rig and then went into the house. Bev followed him wondering what she would see. But nothing looked any different than it had the day before. Even her big footprints on the dust filled floor were not disturbed. The Ranger lifted the tarp and pulled out the sleeping bag. He looked around for other evidence of human habitation. “Well, I don’t see anything,” he said and then dragged the sleeping bag out the front door and tossed it into the back of his SUV.

The Ranger got into his vehicle, closed the door and rolled down the window. “We get a lot of folks thinking they’ll find gold out here, some even come looking for ghosts.” He furrowed his brow and asked, “What brought a fine looking woman like you all the way out here?”

Bev smiled. She knew bull when it was being thrown around. “Looking for property,” she said. “I’m contemplating setting up a beauty school. I hear the desert air and all this sand and sagebrush is good for the complexion.”

He chuckled. “Okay, but sure as heck, trust me, you don’t want this property. Anyone who has tried to tame this part of the desert ends up either crazy or dead. I think you’d best look elsewhere.” There was something in his tone of voice that made Bev think he knew more than he was saying. “Follow me,” he said, “I’ll show you the best way out to a main road. You’re a lucky lady. More than a few folks end up a pile of bones out here.”

Bev smiled and said, “ Poppa Jake wouldn’t have let that happen.”

The Ranger gave her a sideways glance. “Poppa Jake?” he asked. “Is he out here too?

“Not really,” Bev said. The Ranger had not started up his engine. There was something about this guy that made Bev think he could be trusted. She suspected he knew more than he was saying and wondered if he knew about the hauntings?

“You know,” she said. “I could sure use a cold beer about now. You know of a place close by where I could charge my camera and get a beer, too?” It was a long shot, but she thought, what the heck.

“Yeah, it’s not exactly down the road, but I’m off duty in an hour and we’d be at the bar by then.” He turned on his engine. “You got enough gas?” he asked.

“I don’t have enough to get back to Fresno, but I’m sure there’s enough in the tank to get me to the bar.”
Bev got into the Jeep, started up the engine and followed the Ranger out of the caldera.

Check out other mystery articles, reviews, book giveaways & mystery short stories in our mystery section. And join our mystery Facebook group to keep up with everything mystery we post, and have a chance at some extra giveaways. Also listen to our new mystery podcast where mystery short stories and first chapters are read by actors! They are also available on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, and Spotify. A new episode went up this week.

Margaret Mendel , an award-winning author, has published two novels, Fish Kicker and Pushing Water and a short story collection, Patches. Many of her short stories have appeared in literary journals, anthologies and e-zines. She has also written numerous food columns, newspaper articles and travel pieces. Margaret was born in California and now lives in NYC. She is an avid traveler and photograph who not only drags her laptop with her wherever she goes but takes her Nikon as well. To learn more about Margaret go to her website.


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