r/NoSleep - If You're Stopped in the Woods by a Human Chain...Well, DON'T Stop
This happened a few years ago, when Robb, Joe, and me were just starting out in college together. We’re all from the Chattanooga area in Tennessee, which is only a few hours’ drive to the Bell Witch Cave.
If you’re not familiar, the Bell Witch is “the only documented case of a ghost killing someone.” Truth be told, it’s a popular legend in the South, and by “ghost killing someone,” they mean that a ghost apparently bothered someone to death. If someone ever died after their siblings teased them, I guess that would count.
Still, it’s a real place. You can visit the cave in Adams, TN. We did. We came to regret the trip, and not just because of how shit the cave itself turned out to be.
It was at least a five hour drive up the middle of Tennessee. You would think that it wouldn’t take very long given that Tennessee is narrow from top to bottom, but it’s all surface roads. No real highways or interstates go near Adams.
“This is it,” I said as we passed the “Welcome to Adams” sign, adorned with a cheesy addition.
HOME OF THE BELL WITCH
Below the pair of signs was a hand-painted rune of some kind. It didn’t make sense to us. It was a sort of stick figure holding something in one hand, like a stick or wand or something. It was in a messy black paint, slapped on there, let to drip all over so it seemed as if the character was melting.
“Robb, that some kind of Klan sign?” I said.
“Fuck you, Jeff,” replied Robb with casual ease.
“I just wanted to know in case the locals discover I have a black great grandmother,” I said.
“Aren’t you from the South?” asked Joe.
“Nah, he’s a carpetbagger,” said Robb. “Came here to take advantage during Reconstruction.”
“Shouldn’t-a lost the war,” I replied.
“Fuck you,” Robb repeated.
“I love you,” I said in a sing-song.
As we drove down the main road of Adams, we took in the sights. The single stop light. The cracked, pale grey road sealed with criss-crosses of poured tar ran below the car. We passed at least half a dozen signs for local churches, all with messy graffiti and plenty of bullet holes. One church was off the main road we were driving down, boarded and burned up.
“Here’s the next turn.”
A sign indicated “TURN HERE TO BELL WITCH CAVE.”
The road went from the ubiquitous light grey to a crumbling road.
“No more cell signal,” said Joe. “Try not to have any emergencies until we get back to the main road.”
“Hand me some of those pretzels,” I said.
“Don’t choke,” said Robb. I made fake gagging sounds and he punched my shoulder.
The road turned to gravel, and then a dirt track as we pulled into a clearing. There was a small house in the distance and a small trailer near the track with signage for the Bell Witch Cave and admission. We were apparently the only customers to arrive in the mid-afternoon, around three.
“Sumptuous accommodations,” said Joe.
“Unforgettable views,” I opined.
“I didn’t realize roadside tourist traps existed in Tennessee.”
“Especially when the road isn’t near anything,” I said.
We got out of the car and walked up to the admission trailer. A bored-looking redneck eyed us. He looked to be in his forties or so, portly, ripped up John Deere baseball cap with a hook on the bill, threadbare tank-top. We were probably lucky we coudn’t see his pants. No doubt he had enough crack exposed to send in a survey team.
“Yeah?” he drawled.
“Um. How much to go see the cave?” I asked.
“Twenty,” he said. His lower lip bulged with dip, and he spit into an old Coke bottle, about half full of dark fluid.
“For the car? That’s not too bad,” I reached into my pocket.
“Per person,” he said. He grinned. His teeth were splattered with bits of tobacco. I looked back at my friends.
“Twenty fuckin’ bucks?” I said.
“This was your idea,” said Robb.
“Yeah, and we already drove up here,” said Joe.
I shrugged and turned back.
“All right. Here,” I held out my credit card.
“Y’ain’t got cash?”
“No, sorry. We spent it on gas.”
He rolled his eyes, then picked up a phone.
“Yeah. Bring up the credit card reader.” He hung the phone up. “Be a minute.”
I put the credit card back in my wallet and looked around the property.
“Slow day?” I asked.
“Everyone’s at church,” said the worker. He spit into the Coke bottle.
“Most of the church signs were messed up,” said Robb.
“There was one burned down, too,” said Joe.
The guy shrugged.
We stood in an awkward silence for a minute, the redneck sucking and spitting, the cicadas singing, the sun wandering towards the horizon. The sound of footsteps announced the arrival of a short woman in a Mickey Mouse shirt and black sweatpants with a card-reader under one hand.
“For three people?” she complained at the guy.
Me and the guys exchanged looks.
“Yeah. Give it here,” he said. He plugged the machine in and inserted a phone line.
I handed him my credit card again and he punched the pad.
“You want a receipt, too?” he asked.
“No, thanks. I don’t want to put y’all out,” I said.
The redneck squinted at me, but grunted in response.
Joe and Robb paid as well, and we were milling around waiting to be told where to go.
“Follow them signs down,” said the redneck, pointing. “Tours go every fifteen minutes.” We walked down a dirt path, hard-packed by feet. Signs pointed towards a sloping area behind a stand of trees, where the path turned to rocks. We followed this part for a moment, and then a wooden walkway lead to the mouth of a cave.
“For a minute there I thought I’d have to force that guy to take the money,” I said.
“Yeah, what the hell was that about?” said Robb.
“The Bell Cave in Adams, Tennessee caters to only the most exclusive cash-only crowd,” said Joe.
We sized up the cave entrance, which was about ten feet tall and at least as wide. The wind blew gently behind us as the trees rustled overhead. The sound of the cicadas and tree frogs singing faded, went silent. The only sound we could hear was wind in the open cavern. The wind blew, and a reverberation made it sound like the cave was moaning.
“That’s creepy,” said Joe.
“Yeah,” said Robb. “We paid twenty dollars for a glorified kazoo.”
“I thought,” I began, “that you were about to say ‘glory hole,’ and I was going to say that would at least be worth twenty bucks.”
“Oh, we got fucked all right,” said Robb.
“No joke,” I replied.
“Shut up, here comes someone,” said Joe.
A guide came out of the cave and approached us. She was younger than the other two people, probably late teens or early twenties. She was dressed in a white Fudruckers shirt and jeans. She looked bored.
“Hey y’all, I’m Tammy. Wanna see the cave?”
“Sure,” we said. Tammy turned on a flash light and turned to lead us into the mouth of the cave. The wind kicked up and moaned again, making the air vibrate and causing a sense of unease settle on our hearts.
“So, like, in colonial times there was a man named John Bell who moved out this way. There were some problems around the house. You know, knocking and all that. Knocking on the windows. Knocking on the roof. Cows gave sour milk. Chickens laid rotten eggs.”
She sighed and ducked under the low ceiling of an outcrop in the cave. We ducked under it with her and the light danced over a small antechamber. Water lapped at the dirt floor, and there was just enough room for the four of us.
“So, shitty farmers, then,” said Joe.
“Shhh,” I said.
“Crops failed,” she droned on. She went through the obviously canned story while we looked around the dank, dripping cave. When she wound down, she said:
“It’s said the ghost of the Bell Witch still haunts the area, and especially this cave where she used to live. Any questions?”
“Have you seen or heard the Bell Witch since working here?” I asked.
“No. Not really,” she replied. We all looked at each other.
“So, you haven’t seen anything or heard anything?”
“Nah,” she said.
“Gripping ghost story,” said Robb. “Are you going to turn off the flashlight and let us sit in the dark?”
“Sure,” she said, and snapped the light off.
We were quiet for a few moments.
“Jeff,” said Joe.
“Why are you holding my hand?”
“I’m not, stop being an idiot,” I said.
“Someone is. It’s not furry enough to be Robb’s.”
“Har har, Joe,” said Robb.
“Tammy, are you messing with him?”
There was no response from our guide.
“Jeff, let go of my hand,” said Joe.
“I’m not holding your fucking hand, Joe,” I said.
“WELL SOMEONE FUCKING IS!” he yelled.
There was a rumble deep in the cave.
“Tammy? Turn the light back on so we can go. Fuck this bullshit,” said Robb.
Again, there was no response from our teenage guide.
I stuck my hands out in the dark and stumbled into Joe, who started throwing punches and flailing his arms.
“Fuck dude! You poked me in the eye!”
“Quit holding my hand like a psycho.”
“I don’t have your hand dummy. Let’s go,” I said. “Robb. Follow my voice. Grab my shoulders. There we go. Let’s go guys,” I said. I turned slowly in the dark and put my hands on the low ceiling of the cave. I could feel the slope of the rock and followed it to the outcrop we’d had to duck under.
“FUCK!” yelled Robb.
“-ceiling.” We crawled under and could see the pale light trickling in from the open cave front.
We ran out like our lives depended on it, and collapsed on the wooden walkway out front.
“Fuckin’ rednecks,” said Robb.
“Who the fuck just leaves people in a cave?” said Joe.
“Fuckin’ rednecks,” I said.
“Think we could get our money back?” said Joe.
“Nah, they’d have to hit buttons,” said Robb. “If the button doesn’t drop a pack of Camels, they won’t know how to work it.”
“Let’s get going. Sorry about this guys, I really thought there’d be more to it,” I said.
“At least we can say we’ve been. I guess,” said Robb.
“I can’t wait to huff your farts for another five hours in the car,” said Joe. “Which of you was holding my hand, you fuckers?”
“I wasn’t,” I said.
“I’m not into you,” said Robb. “You’re too scrawny.”
“One of you was, dammit.”
“Ghosts, man. At least one of us got our money’s worth,” I said.
We climbed the wooden walkway and entered the field. The sun was now just behind the horizon, and twilight crept across the sky. Darkness was falling.
“Let’s stay somewhere tonight and grab some beer,” I said. “We’ll play cards or something.”
The other guys agreed.
As we walked to my car, we saw that the admission booth was closed up, and dark. Even the lights at the house were out.
“They turn in early,” said Joe.
“That way customers don’t try to pay them,” said Robb.
“More convenient this way,” I said.
The animal sounds I associate with a night in the South - cicadas, tree frogs, whippoorwills, were all silent. There wasn’t even a whining of mosquitos. We got into the car, doors slamming, and I turned the key in the ignition. The car rumbled to life, and I turned around in the dark.
“Something ain’t right out here,” said Robb.
“Yeah, phantom hand-holders are a real problem,” I said.
“No, it was too quiet,” said Robb. “Nothing singing.”
“And?” said Joe.
“Ain’t no night in the country quiet like that,” said Robb.
“Well, we’re on the road,” I said.
“Wish you’d let me bring my gun,” said Robb. “I feel naked.”
“As long as you feel naked and aren’t naked, we’ll all feel safer,” said Joe.
We pulled onto the dirt road headed back to town, and it slowly transitioned to a gravel road. My headlights flashed on something light colored around the next bend.
“What’s that?” said Joe.
I pulled around the bend, taking my time because deer are at least as numerous as anything else in the South, perhaps moreso, and especially at this time of the evening.
My lights played over a lot of white shapes, standing shoulder to shoulder, arms interlinked. A group of people in white robes were blocking the road, forming a human chain. I looked from right to left and saw they actually blocked the sides too, right up to the treeline, where I wouldn’t be able to drive.
“What the fuck is this?” I said.
“No,” said Robb, real quiet, his voice brimming with horror. “No, no, no no no….” he just said that over and over. Joe didn’t say anything, not yet. I slowed the car to a stop, about twenty yards from the human chain. The people didn’t say anything, didn’t move, just stood there, arm in arm. My lights illuminated those in front, making their robes bright, and somehow, menacing.
Then, they started to walk forward, maintaining their human chain. They took a step, and waited. They stepped together, then waited. They followed an unheard beat, moving in unison.
“What do I do, guys? What do I do?”
“Run them down,” said Robb. “Run them down. They want us for their own don’t let them take us Jeff, don’t let them take us.”
“We can’t just run people over,” said Joe.
“You’d be glad to run down a hundred of them after they got you,” said Robb. He lurched forward from the back seat and yelled into my ear. “DRIVE, DAMMIT! They’ll take us!”
“Robb, I-” I started to respond but he started to try and crawl from the back to the front, trying to somehow steer the car and get me to depress the gas. The chain continued its slow movement forward, but at another unseen signal, they let go of each other’s hands and reached into their robes.
Each of the people in front of us raised something in the air. A long, sharp-looking spike. Some were still shiny and polished, others, stained dark red and brown.
“They’ll stake us to the ground for their wood gods to come and consume us,” said Robb, all the more horrifying that he was halfway splayed into my lap. He looked up at me, and he was crying. Real, genuine tears. He whimpered.
“Stake you to the ground and let the wild eat us alive. Drive, Jeff, drive….”
I looked at Joe and his mouth was open, a dull look on his face.
Outside, the line was almost on top of us. I looked at Robb, and out at the crowd. A man lurched into view. His stake was covered in thick, dried blood, and his expression was one of zealous worship. I suddenly felt like Abraham’s son, waiting for my father to drive his knife into my heart as I baked on a rock in the sun.
I put my foot down. I felt the car lurch forward and I closed my eyes. The car thumped, the engine roared, the belts squealed. For a second, for just a sick second, the car stopped and the tires spun. My window was smashed in and someone clubbed me across the face with their metal stake, and pain bloomed in a flash of blinding light, but I kept my hands on the wheel, my foot on the gas.
I ran over a large speed bump, then another. Who puts speed bumps in the middle of nowhere? I heard screaming from someone inside the car, but whether it was me or the others, I didn’t know.
The car broke free of the line of people and I wrenched the wheel to keep us on the track, gravel flying. The tires screamed as we slid onto the main highway and turned back to civilization. It was full dark now. The wind from my broken window buffeted me, but somehow felt refreshing. I looked and saw that Robb had been thrown into the back. He was covered in broken glass and cuts. Joe was sitting slumped in the seat.
“What. The. Actual. Fuck,” he said.
We drove in silence the rest of the night. We only stopped for gas, and that was when we’d gotten to I24, coasting on fumes. Joe went into the gas station to see if they had a simple first aid kit for sale, to patch up our cuts and bruises. My car looked like shit. Two huge dents in the front bumper and indented the hood. Red, Southern clay, mud, and...something else was flung up on the sides of the doors. My windshield was a spider web, and my driver’s side windows had been smashed.
I noted the nearby 24 hour carwash and figured we’d have to endure a soaking. I wasn’t driving anywhere else with a car covered in dents and with blood flung up on the doors.
I stuck my head in the back when I finished pumping the gas.
“You okay, Robb?” I said. He was laying in the back, his legs folded up on the seat, which had pulled them up past his ankles. I saw, for the first time, a ragged, round scar in his right leg, just above the ankle.
“Stay out of the woods,” he said. He looked at me, and the light in his eyes was feverish, bright, wild.