Thirty-six minutes southeast of Manistee, Michigan, rests the tiny town of Irons. A small, quiet place, boasting three restaurants, one church, and a real estate office, Irons is known for their yearly Flea Roast and Ox Market (a fascinating event full of misplaced Southern accents, carnies, dollar store goods for resale, and fried-everything).
My aunt and uncle have had a cottage there since I was eight, and almost every summer since, my aunt, mom, sister, cousin and I have gone on our annual “scary ride”. I cannot remember the origin of this tradition, but once a summer, we get in our pajamas, gather some candy and stuffed animals, and pack ourselves into the car. My aunt then drives us around the densely wooded, and eerily under populated surroundings. We spend the next hour or so scaring ourselves with what we imagine we see in the woods. The spooks have changed as my sister, cousin, and I have grown up—when we were kids, it was glowing red clown noses (reflectors demarcating the road), the imaginary guy wearing an “I Heart Preteens” shirt, who came looking for preteens to cut up with his chainsaw (my mom and aunt are evil…), and the search for floating elbows at Elbow Lake (real name).
But as we grew older, the haunts grew more terrifying—more real. We had grown into the habit of driving down Bass Lake Road, to examine two houses there. On the right is a burnt-out shell of a house, with a red pick up truck in the front yard, and a trailer in the backyard. On the left is an old, red and white brick house—normal looking albeit for a few anomalies: a giant KEEP OUT sign, the lack of electricity (there are a few candles burning in the window), and most disconcertingly a large cross that is painted on the side of the chimney. That would be fine, except for the fact that the cross is placed differently every time we see it. Like the owner is manically painting and repainting it, shifting it to the top and then to the bottom of the chimney.
One night was especially bad. A new burnt out car was added in the front yard of the burned down house. On the left of the road, the cross had shifted again. We continued to drive down the street, and every single house was for sale except for the cross house. Spooked, we continued to our usual haunt—an alcove at Elbow Lake. We watched as green fog rose from the water, twirling ominously. It curled and blew against the wind, not with it. My cousin looked out the window to the right and screamed. Something was hanging from the large oak tree. Many things. We waited for our eyes to adjust better to the darkness—my aunt turned the headlights off. Hanging off the tree were dozens of tiny crosses. Two crisscrossed twigs, dangling from the branches like a macabre Christmas tree. My mom and aunt lost their composure—they were terrified. We sped back to the cottage.
I know that this is not a strong narrative, but I can attest to our shared eerie events. This is not a traditional ghost story—one with an origin story, a beginning, and an end. But what is scarier? A ghost flitting through the trees, or a figure, resolute in their humanness, spending hours twisting twine around twigs, trying desperately to recreate an image that they can never get just right on their chimney?