Scary stories in virtually every form of media take place at night, or on cloudy, gloomy days. In reality, though, the scariest things can happen in broad daylight. They can happen any time, really. Even right now. When I went with two of my brothers, Andrew and Matthew, and my cousins Stacy and Chrissy to Bronx Park one sunny summer afternoon in 1991, we definitely weren't expecting anything to happen.
Bronx Park - I have so many fond memories of playing there as a child. For example, when my brother Michael bought me and Matthew skateboards, we would go to the small slope leading out from the Bronx Botanical Gardens and ride them down it over and over. I still have a scar on my right knee from falling off of the skateboard on that slope.
Then there was the gazebo. We discovered it only days after we moved in across the street from the park, and it soon became the de facto meeting place for my brothers, cousins and me. Andrew told us stories about how it was used for Satanic rituals. There were large black burn marks in the center, as if someone had made a huge fire, perfect for ritualistic sacrifices. The center was divided into five sections, forming a pentagram, so to the rest of us this seemed possible.
Those stories didn't stop us from meeting there several days a week, where we would hang out and reminisce about events from our earlier childhood. Stories of Stacy and Chrissy's mom, my late Aunt Martha, were chief among those recollections. She had died in August of 1991 from throat cancer, causing our two cousins to move in with us for a while until they were of age. Aunt Martha's loss was still fresh to us all, and talking about her felt like our way of eulogizing her.
One sunny summer day, we were hanging out at the gazebo as usual. Andrew and Matthew were talking to Stacy and Chrissy on one side of the structure. I was feeling a bit out of sorts and was keeping to myself on the the other side of the gazebo.
There was an old car wreck about a dozen or so yards away from the gazebo back then. From the looks of it, it had been there since long before we had begun frequenting the park. Once or twice we poked around it, looking for clues as to how it had come to be there. We never found anything but old rusted metal.
As I was leaning over the stone railing, peering into the underbrush, I noticed something. At first I didn't realize what it was that I was seeing. Movement near the old car wreck. It was too much movement for a squirrel or any other animal that we knew lived in the park. Thinking that it may have been a raccoon or something, I called Andrew over and pointed out what I saw.
Sure enough, that familiar sense of dread washed over us. I say "us" because the mood of the group changed suddenly and simultaneously. Happy chatter was silenced like it was cut off with a hot knife. Chrissy stayed back on the opposite side of the gazebo, a look of dismay on her face. Stacy and Matthew joined Andrew and me at the railing, also peering into the brush, looking for what Andrew and I had noticed.
This thought echoed in my head so intensely that I staggered. I noticed what seemed to be a skeletal figure with tattered, singed pieces of cloth hanging off of it moving toward us, the skull completely exposed. Perhaps a victim of the accident that had caused the wreck? Regardless, the sight of that thing was more than enough for me to do what I was told.
Every instinct that I had told me to run. So I did.
I ran as fast as I could, shouting over my shoulder for everyone to follow. Fear gripped me so hard that I didn't even look back to see if anyone had followed me until I was back at the entrance to the park. When I finally stopped, panting and gasping for breath, I looked back, terrified that this figure would be only feet away from me. Fortunately, all I saw was Matthew, followed closely by Stacy, then Chrissy. Andrew wasn't in sight.
Moments passed like hours. The fear that had ebbed as I had run from the gazebo returned. I turned to Matthew.
"Where's Andrew!?" I demanded.
"He was right behind me!" he gasped between breaths.
I started to gather myself to go back. Perhaps only ten seconds had elapsed, but it seemed like 10 minutes. Just as Matthew and I had started to head back up the path in search of him, Andrew came trotting down the path, his eyes wide and his face paler than usual.
"What happened? What did you see?" I asked, dreading the answer.
"I dunno. An aura of some kind. Like a light. It was this sickly yellow color. It made me feel gross. Why did you guys run like that?"
Perplexed, I replied, "I saw something very different. Like a skeleton with burned clothes hanging off of it. Plaid. Red plaid. I heard something scream in my head, telling me to get out, so I ran. You didn't feel that?"
I again turned to Matthew. He said, "You scared the crap out of us. I felt something weird, like sudden panic, so I ran." He shrugged.
After consulting with our cousins, we determined that we all had an odd, unsettling feeling. Something didn't want us there. I don't know why it affected me so much, or why I saw the image that I did.
We went home, freaked out by what had happened, but excited. Despite this incident, or maybe because of it, we continued to hang out at the gazebo for several years. Nothing like that incident ever happened there again.
Around 1998, the Department of New York City Parks and Recreation towed away that old wreck and trimmed away most of the underbrush surrounding it. The gazebo still stands, though, last I saw, and with a fresh coat of paint.
The center is still blackened though, as if from a fire.
Here are some pics:
The year was 1996. I was two years out of high school, and was working in White Plains, NY. From time to time, I'd hang out with my brother Matthew and our friend Joaquin, and through them, I met an unusual person named Ana*.
She was... yeah, unusual. She had an accent that I was unfamiliar with, as was evidenced by the fact that she had to repeat her name about 10 times in a row for me to get the proper pronunciation of her name. She always wore 99% black clothing. She smelled like herbs. She intrigued me.
We hung out a few times, and started dating soon enough. It turned out that the accent that I couldn't figure out was a Russian one. Her parents liked me, her little sister was adorable, and for the first few weeks, our relationship seemed to be going well.
One fine summer day, Ana and I were walking towards the train station in Riverdale, an exclusive and upper-class section of the Bronx. There was a pizzeria around the corner from her apartment building, so we figured we'd stop in for a slice. The next store down from there was a video rental store, and between them was a small staircase that we hadn't really ever noticed or paid any mind to before.
After we finished the pizza, as we were walking by I saw that this small staircase led to what looked like a small courtyard surrounded by trees. Intrigued, I motioned for Ana to follow, and I headed up the staircase.
Two steps beyond the staircase, I knew that I had made a mistake. An intense feeling of fear struck me like a hammer in the gut. I stopped so abruptly that even though I was holding Ana's hand behind me, she bumped into my back.
The sunlight seemed to dim, like someone had thrown a cloth over it, despite the cloudless sky. The fear that I was feeling was palpable - it seemed external, practically humming in the air. It appeared to be coming from a copse of trees within the courtyard ahead of us. It felt like a warning. I backed away slowly, turned, faced Ana, and told her that we had to go. I remember the juxtaposition of this bright, beautiful day with the stark malevolence which seemed to emanate from those trees.
Once back on the sidewalk, she asked me what happened, and I could see fear in her eyes. I asked her if she felt anything. She said yes, and seemed relieved that she wasn't alone in that feeling. We both turned back, peering into the alleyway that lead back to the courtyard and resolved not to let it scare us off.
Being the mid-1990s, we were under what I have come to call The Craft Effect. I'll elaborate on that in another post, but suffice to say for now that witchcraft and New Age ideology was quite in vogue at that point in time.
After we had ruminated over what had happened, Ana and I thought that we had stumbled upon a herd of faeries. We had found a mutual interest in them in the first few days of our relationship, and to us, eerie feelings plus trees must equal faeries.
There are two types of faeries, you see; the seelie court, and the unseelie court. To put it succinctly, the former are considered the "good" faeries, while the latter the "bad" ones. Both groups are said to be mischievous, and good and bad are relative. Therefore, Ana and I thought we'd hit upon a gathering of unseelie faeries who were nonplussed by our intrusion.
This belief held us back from re-investigating the place for a week or so. Then we decided one night, while walking around her beautiful neighborhood, to poke our heads back in. This time we got all the way to the middle of the courtyard, hand-in-clammy-hand, before the feeling of dread hit us both again.
It was much stronger this time, as if the prior incident had indeed been just a warning. I didn't budge though. I stared at the trees, Ana pulling on my arm, almost daring whatever was causing this miasma to come out and show itself.
Movement in the trees. Pitch-black, shapeless. It moved closer to the low stone wall dividing the courtyard from the trees. We were wrong. It was a single entity. And it was moving closer to us.
Ana and I did the only sane and rational thing that we could think of -- we hauled ass out of there as fast as humanly possible. I felt like it was chasing us. Once we got to the sidewalk, we stopped and looked behind us. We didn't see anything, but we felt it there, lurking in the deep, post-midnight shadows. I stood there transfixed, staring into the blackness. This time, the blackness seemed to be staring back.
We headed back to her apartment building in a hurry. I escorted her up to her apartment door, where we tried to figure out what had happened. It was clearly not a herd of faeries, seelie or unseelie. We thought that it could have been a singular, large faerie, such as a bogey. Or it could have been something even more sinister - something demonic.
Those possibilities should have been enough to keep me away from that alleyway. My curiosity usually outweighs most of my other concerns, though.
I brought my brothers Kenny and Andrew there along with Ana a week or so later. Nothing as exciting as what had happened to us happened with my brothers in attendance, but everyone did report feeling creeped out by the place. We didn't tell them what had happened to us beforehand, because we wanted to see if they would experience anything without being influenced by our story.
After that, I did stay away for several years, but mainly because I broke up with Ana a week or two later. I would have loved to go and check the alleyway out more often, but Riverdale is on the extreme northwest portion of the Bronx, and was thus very far away from my usual stomping grounds in the Pelham Bay area.
I took a friend of mine there in 2014, expecting to show them the site of one of the most intense incidents that I had experienced up until that point in my life. We were disappointed to learn, however, that the video store had been torn down, and the alleyway with it. The last I saw, there was a green wooden wall obstructing the site. I did see that the trees were still intact, though. Perhaps whatever made itself known to Ana and me is still there.
* I changed her name for this story, since we're no longer in contact and I can't get her permission to use it.