My two favorite things are road trips and horror stories. So when my cousins living in Maine invited me to come up and spend a week investigating some allegedly haunted sites of New England, I jumped at the chance.
As I drove through northern Pennsylvania, I turned off Interstate 81 near the New York border. I would be spending that night at the Wood Hollow Inn. While I could’ve driven several more hours, I wanted to get started on ghost hunting. While planning my trip, I searched online for “haunted hotels in the northeast” and was most intrigued by Wood Hollow. While the stories I read all varied in the details, the gist was the same: The inn was haunted by the aggressive and vengeful spirit of a young woman who had been driven to suicide. While the premise seemed a tad cliché, I preferred to think of it as classic. It couldn’t hurt to check it out, right?
The inn itself was nondescript and unassuming. I very easily could’ve stayed there during a previous summer road trip and completely forgotten about it. Though I was disappointed that the place didn’t quite have the Edgar Allan Poe feel I had been expecting, the seemingly normal atmosphere of the place made the possibility of a malicious presence all the more exciting to my warped mind.
I rang the bell at the front desk and was greeted by a grandfatherly looking man who I placed in his early 70s. Though his warmth seemed genuine when he spoke, there seemed to be something else behind those watery blue eyes. Something he was trying to suppress — or forget.
“Of course, of course,” he smiled as I gave him my name. “Here’s your room key, some information about our local restaurants and things to do, and a map of the area.”
He paused for a moment, his smile fading slightly as an inexplicable gravitas crept into his voice.
“And these, are the rules for our pool. Please make sure you read them before you swim.”
His pale blue eyes held my gaze for several seconds, as though pleading with me to understand some unspoken message. Then the smile returned.
“If you need anything at all, I live in room Number 1. If I’m not at the desk, feel free to knock.”
Part of me wanted to press the innkeeper about his strange emphasis on the pool rules, but a larger part of me was starving. I wanted to get some takeout in my stomach so I could begin exploring the place. Thanking the man, I ran to my second floor room, and began scanning the pamphlets he gave me for food options. While I flipped back and forth between the Thai and Italian menus, the old innkeeper’s handwritten list of “pool rules” fell from the stack of papers and landed on my lap. My curiosity momentarily outweighed my hunger, so I turned the page over in my hand.
There were four “rules” on the page. The first three were pretty standard.
1. Please shower before using the pool.
2. No glass or alcoholic beverages in the pool area.
3. No lifeguard – swim at your own risk.
The fourth rule was different not only in nature, but because unlike the others, it was written in all capital letters.
4. KEEP EYES CLOSED WHILE UNDERWATER.
While sound advice, it seemed a little strange that it had to be a rule. And even more strange, it seemed to be the most important rule. A rumble in my stomach caused me to shrug it off. Maybe the water was extremely chlorinated and he didn’t want anyone burning their eyes. I put the rules aside and dialed the number for the Italian place. It was hot in my room, although, not surprising for late August. The pool actually sounded inviting. After placing my order, I threw on some trunks and decided to wait for my pizza poolside.
Even though it was late in the day, I wasn’t alone at the pool. There were a few girls in their later teens or early 20s trying to catch the last meaningful rays of sunshine. Three kids, seeming to range in age from five to nine, loudly shrieked and splashed in the shallow end, while two middle-aged adults that had to be their parents periodically looked up from their books to bark a warning of some kind. Standing at the gate, watching it all with a sad smile, was the innkeeper.
I found a vacant lounge chair near the center of the pool area, stretched out and let the scene play itself out before me. I couldn’t help but notice that the same “Pool Rules” I was handed upon my arrival (I can only assume the others had been as well), were posted in several places along the fence surrounding the pool. Each time, the fourth rule, “KEEP EYES CLOSED UNDERWATER” was written in the same bold, block capitals. I was intrigued. Why was that rule the most important one? Could it have something to do with the girl who supposedly haunted the place? I didn’t remember reading anything about the pool in the stories, but then again, you never can quite trust strangers online. The more I thought about it, the more convinced I became the rule wasn’t about high chlorine levels.
A loud wail snapped me out of my thought process. One of the kids in the pool, the older one, clutched his hands to his face shrieking.
“My eyes!” he shouted. “My eyes!”
His parents shared a sidelong, half-amused look and casually strode toward the commotion to help the poor boy.
The innkeeper was a different story. In mere seconds, he cleared the several yards from the gate to the shallow water, lifted the boy out of the pool and held him by the shoulders, desperately trying to make eye contact with the squirming child.
“What is it?” he asked. “Did something hit you? Something underwater? You didn’t open your eyes did you? What did you see?”
The boy stopped squirming and composed himself, though he looked as confused as I felt. “I…I couldn’t see anything…” he stuttered. “T-T…Tommy splashed me in the eyes and now they burn real bad!” The boy started to cry again, just as his parents reached the end of the pool.
“He’s fine, Mr. Haskins,” the boy’s father said reassuringly. “We’ll take him to the room, get him rinsed off, he’ll be good as new.” He waved to his kids. “Come on, who wants ice cream?” A chorus of high pitched cheers erupted.
I watched the look of relief spread first across Haskins’ face. It looked like he had been saved from sudden and terrible death. With some effort, he straightened himself and cleared his throat.
“Yes, well, just make sure the little ones keep their eyes closed in the pool. And that goes for all of you,” he said, raising his voice and glancing at each of us onlookers. “Eyes, closed in the water!”
Without another word, he strode off toward the office.
That did it, I decided. Forgetting all about my hunger and the soon-to-be arriving pizza man, I ran after our strange host. It was time to get the story on this pool.
As I entered the hotel lobby, I saw Mr. Haskins sitting on a plush red armchair, looking like he had just run a marathon.
“Mr. Haskins?” I asked.
He slowly turned to face me, as though he had been too lost in thought to realize that anyone had spoken.
“What’s the deal with the ‘eyes closed in the pool’ rule?”
Not wanting to give him a chance to make something up, I jumped right to my suspicion.
“I’ve read that this place is haunted. Now, does it have to do with that? Is there someone…or something in the pool?”
To my surprise and excitement, Mr. Haskins didn’t laugh at me, or look at me like I was a lunatic. Instead he stood up from his chair, and after ensuring that we were the only ones in the lobby, motioned for me to follow him into his room. Once inside, he had me take a seat at his small circular kitchen table. He locked the door behind him and sighed.
“I’ve never seen her myself, obviously,” he started. “But I’ve gotten far too many phone calls from people who have. People demanding to know who she is. People…people in all stages of madness.”
Haskins must have sensed my confusion as he sat down across from me at the table.
“The truth is that I don’t know who she is, and I probably don’t know much more of her story than you’ve been able to find, but I’ll tell you all I can.”
He folded his hands on the table.
“In the late 70s, shortly after the pool was put in, a young girl, maybe 22-years-old, showed up at the hotel wearing a wedding dress. She paid for a night, but wouldn’t give the clerk her name. She wouldn’t tell him anything other than that her lover was coming to pick her up that night so that they could run off and get married. Classic story. Mom and dad didn’t approve, so she wouldn’t give anyone any information that could tip her folks off before they could escape to happily ever after.
“Well nobody’s quite sure why, but her fella never showed. Story is that the manager went to clean the pool the next morning, and found the poor girl floating in it…face down. Still wearing the wedding dress. With no I.D., they had no way to send the body home. Coroner came to pick her up, and that was that. Or so they thought. A few years later, stories started going around that the girl’s spirit still haunted the pool. That if she managed to look you in the eyes she’d…attach herself to you. Follow you around until she made you as crazy as her lost love made her.”
I always believed in ghosts, and I loved a good ghost story as much, if not more than the next guy, but I struggled to keep the smile from my face as the story ended.
“Come on man, you can’t really believe that can you?” I asked. “Sounds like an amateur campfire story. Or a bad rip-off of one. Why not just close the pool?”
But there was no mirth in Mr. Haskins’ face as he looked back at me. Not a trace.
“I’m just the manager,” he said. “I don’t own the place. It isn’t my call. And like I told you, I’ve gotten the phone calls. The ones from former guests are bad. The ones from their family members are worse. The ones demanding to know what the hell goes on at this place. Who this woman their husband had seen was. Why their son or daughter can’t stop rambling or screaming. Why mom kept insisting someone was following her…”
Mr. Haskins trailed off, physically shaking. After a moment or two he composed himself, and a steel expression replaced the old one. “Young man, I can’t make you believe anything, but I CAN make the rules in this hotel. And you WILL keep your eyes closed in our pool.” Showing me to the door, he gripped my arm. “You must!”
I knew what I had to do.
Around 1:00 in the morning, satisfied that everyone would be asleep at this time, I slipped on my trunks and crept down to the pool. I was surprised, and more than a little creeped out, to find the pool light still on. I tried to tell myself that Mr. Haskins had simply forgotten. It wasn’t like someone was…waiting for me. But with the way Haskins obsessed over that pool, I really doubted he’d forget to switch the light off. My chest tightened as I waded into the cold water. I told myself I hadn’t jumped in all at once to avoid waking anyone with the splash, but I had a hard time convincing myself of that either.
My heart started pounding as the water reached chest level. I closed my eyes, took as deep a breath as I could, and submerged myself in the deep end of the pool. With more effort than I care to admit, I forced my eyes open and scanned the depths of the pool. Nothing. An intense mixture of disappointment and relief flooded me as I broke the surface for air. I dunked under a second time.
This time I saw it. At the far end of the pool. It looked like a large white mass with a black circle in front…like a black-haired girl swimming in a wedding dress. And it was moving closer.
In a sheer panic, I launched myself out of the water and out of the pool. From the safety of the concrete, I stared into the water. There was nothing there.
I don’t know if it was belief or disbelief that compelled me to get back into the pool. Whether I’d convinced myself that my mind was playing with me, or that I needed more concrete evidence to relay to my cousins later. Whichever it was, I lowered myself into the deep end of the pool. Taking as deep a breath as I could muster, I submerged myself one more time.
The figure was there again. Closer this time and closing in quickly. It was definitely a girl in a dress. She had her head down so I couldn’t see her face. But the closer she got, the colder the water became. A moment later, she came to a stop less than a foot from me. She slowly lifted her head.
She was beautiful. Big sad green eyes, porcelain skin, and full, crimson lips. She reached out with her hands, the coldest I have ever felt, rested it on the side of my face, and smiled. It was the strangest thing because, even though I knew I had to have been underwater for well over a minute, I didn’t feel myself needing to breathe. As long as I stared into her eyes, I was completely content.
In an instant, her green eyes went completely black. Her smile became something…predatory. As she opened her mouth, I could swear her teeth became more like fangs than any human teeth I had ever seen. Then she screamed. A long, loud, eardrum rupturing sound that was somehow completely unaffected by the water around us. A sound that shot dread through my soul.
I leapt out from the pool and sprinted to my room, not daring to look back. Locking the door behind me, I collapsed on the bed, my head spinning out of control, trying to process what had just happened. It wasn’t real. It couldn’t have been real. But I knew, I knew it was. I knew I’d never get that face or that scream out of my head. I shook my head to try and clear my thoughts.
It’s alright, I thought to myself. I’ll shower, get some sleep, and be out of this place first thing in the morning.
As the hot water from the shower rinsed off the chlorine and sweat, I almost believed it. Nothing was happening. I’m okay. That story was only a story. And then I stepped out of the shower.
There she was, staring at me in the bathroom mirror. Her eyes dark as midnight, and her smile…that same predatory smile. There was no scream this time, just the smile. Like she knew something I didn’t, like she owned me. And those eyes, black as they were, they seemed to burn directly to the core of my being, like she could see every secret I ever had. Then, she started to laugh. A cold, hollow, chilling sound just as horrifying as her scream had been. The sound of death itself.
That was enough for me. I sprinted to the bedroom and threw on the first clothes I could reach. I frantically grabbed the rest of my things and stuffed them into my luggage. I raced down the stairs, taking them three to four at a time. I flung my room key at Haskins’ empty desk, barreled through the door and into my car. I stepped on the accelerator until the Wood Hollow Inn was well out of sight.
But here’s the thing – even though I left the hotel, she hasn’t left me. I know. I drove nine of the last ten hours to Maine without using my rearview mirrors. Every time I risked a glance, she was there was with those eyes of hers. I couldn’t see her smile, but I knew it was there. Whenever I’d stop for gas, she’d be there standing behind the clerk, daring me to react, daring me to acknowledge her.
I’m now in the guest room of my cousins’ house, way too afraid to sleep. I can’t see her, but I know she’s here. Even though I’ve showered twice, I can still smell chlorine. My cousins don’t have a pool. There’s a voice out in the hallway. It’s calling my name. I’ve never heard this voice before. My cousins went to bed hours ago. It’s getting closer.