I am an author and paranormal enthusiast who has published numerous books and articles on the subject of true unexplained phenomena.
Paying the Piper
My maternal grandmother was the middle of three sisters. She was a good woman who raised a family during hard times, sacrificing everything for them. Her younger sister was also someone who was devoted to her loved ones. The eldest sibling, however, was cut from a different cloth.
I never met my great-aunt, but I have heard many stories about her. Those who did know her described her as having been nearly impossible to get along with; something her husband knew all-too-well.
The couple had married young and, according to those who witnessed their interactions, it was an unhappy union from the start. Due to her domineering personality, her mild-mannered spouse lived in a constant state of shell shock.
In the 1920s and 30s, life in rural West Virginia was a day-to-day struggle to make ends meet. Jobs were scarce and farm life meant toiling from sunrise to sunset and then some. Most families suffered through those years thankful to have a roof over their heads and food on the table.
My great-aunt was the exception. Her long-suffering husband was the town's accountant and earned what was considered a decent wage at the time. His efforts provided a comfortable life for himself and his wife.
Although the couple was married for over thirty years, they remained childless. Her husband was a generous soul, but my great-aunt was frugal and made a point of pinching every penny. Children, as far as she was concerned, were an unnecessary expense.
My mother remembers her aunt as a notorious germaphobe who was constantly washing her hands and insisting that others do the same. She didn't like to be touched and recoiled from any attempt at physical contact. She didn't welcome company which meant that visits to her home were infrequent.
Family members who did associate with her recalled being ushered outside onto the porch to talk since she didn't like people sitting on her furniture. A cool drink on a hot summer's day was not an option. She never offered refreshments of any sort, even though she was known to keep a well-stocked pantry.
One thing she did like to do was gossip. She apparently never missed an opportunity to talk down one of the neighbors or someone in town who she felt was beneath her. She was what people called 'big feeling,' meaning she thought she was better than everyone else.
When my great-aunt was well into her seventies, she suddenly took ill and was bedridden for weeks before passing away. Despite how they had been treated in the past, relatives whom she hadn't seen in years stopped by to pay their respects.
No one seems to know for certain with what ailment she had been stricken. Some say that it was cancer while others swear it was blood poisoning. Whatever it was, the sickness resulted in her rapidly wasting away.
My mother was one of the relations who paid a visit to the dying woman in her final days. They had never been close, but when all was said and done they were still family.
When my mother sat down beside the bed and took her aunt by the hand, she says that the elderly woman's eyes widened with fear. Rather than greeting her niece, she blurted out, "Do you see them?"
Since there was no one else in the room, my mother didn't know how to respond. Puzzled, she asked her aunt who she meant.
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Trembling and obviously in distress, she replied, "The devils." She went on to describe wicked-looking creatures that she claimed were climbing on the bedposts and taunting her.
Even though she was skeptical, my mother asked what they were saying. At that point, her aunt began to cry. She said that the imps were whispering that they were there to take her away. She was so convinced that they were real that she was scared to go to sleep. She feared what was in store for her if she failed to wake up.
My mother tried to calm her down by explaining that it was just the sickness playing tricks on her. Her aunt wouldn't hear of it. She insisted that she could see and hear them the same as any other visitors. They were real and they were waiting to claim her soul.
My mother's side of the family have always been deeply religious people. They are all, including my mother, firm believers in Heaven and Hell. As much as they have faith in God and angels, they believe just as strongly in Satan and his demons.
The longer my mother was in the presence of her aunt, the more she became convinced that something was indeed tormenting her. Others saw it as well. One of whom was my grandmother who was with her sister when she took her last breath. What she claimed to have witnessed is the stuff of nightmares.
She said that her sister was so frightened in her final hours that she had been almost unrecognizable. She was weak and couldn't raise her head off the pillow, but her eyes were wild and her features contorted. She whispered to my grandmother that the demons were in the bed with her, hitting and kicking her legs. She pleaded with her sister to make them stop.
Since she couldn't see them, all my grandmother could do was to offer comfort in the form of prayers for her sister's salvation. The beleaguered woman's ordeal ended later that day, her husband and sister by her side. Neither of them ever forgot the expression of sheer terror she had worn as she departed this world.
It is always possible that my great-aunt was so racked with pain that she was hallucinating in her final days. If that was the case, then the demons she claimed haunted her existed only in her mind. This would mean that the most dastardly among us have nothing to worry about.
Those who knew her well, however, held the belief that she was finally being held accountable for the years she spent making life hell for nearly everyone she encountered. In their words, "The old devil came for her."
A Good Man
An eerily similar story was related to me by a friend of my husband's whose grandfather was also visited on his deathbed by what he claimed were demons.
Bill Jennings*, whom those close to him called Bub, was a farmer all his life. He and his wife had raised six children together before she passed away in her forties, leaving him to tend to the farm and family alone.
By all accounts, Bub had been a kind man and a good father to his children. He gave them the best life he could and they all adored him. When they were grown and living on their own, he decided that the time had come to slow down and enjoy life.
When he was well into his sixties, Bub married a woman he met at church. He was a loving and devoted husband who spent many a Sunday afternoon hosting family gatherings where the children and grandchildren would come to play horseshoes and eat fried chicken with all the fixings.
Bub hadn't been feeling well for a while when his wife finally talked him into paying the local doctor a visit. An examination, blood work and x-rays revealed that he was suffering from advanced lung cancer.
A lifelong smoker, the news wasn't entirely unexpected. He had been coughing up blood for some time. He was told that treatment would not save him; the disease was too far gone.
Rather than wallowing in self-pity, Bub opted to live the remainder of his life to the fullest. He took his wife to the beach while he was still well enough to travel. Upon their return, they spent as much time as possible in the company of their grandchildren. Watching them laughing and having fun helped take their minds off the inevitable.
In a matter of a few short months, Bub's health deteriorated to such an extent that he could no longer leave the house. It wasn't long before he was confined to his bed, unable to walk or even stand without assistance.
His wife stayed by his side as his condition worsened. His children and grandchildren stopped by regularly to keep him company. On one visit, my husband's friend Jeff* walked in and gave his grandfather a hug before taking a seat at his bedside.
He was a bit taken aback when Bub immediately asked who he had brought with him. Jeff expressed that he had come alone that day. Bub had given him a funny look before pointing towards the foot of the bed and asking, "Who's that?"
There was no one there. Jeff again assured his grandfather that it was just the two of them. The ailing man would not be swayed. He insisted that someone was standing at the foot of the bed. Intrigued, Jeff asked him to describe who he saw.
Bub said that it was a smallish man with dark skin and gleaming white teeth. Jeff questioned if the man was saying anything. Bub replied that the stranger had not uttered a sound. He was simply staring at him and occasionally shaking his head.
Jeff told his grandpa that the heavy-duty painkillers were probably making him see things. Bub seemed to agree and the subject was dropped.
As he was leaving, Jeff offhandedly mentioned the incident to Bub's wife. As it turned out, she was already familiar with the presence in her husband's room.
She told Jeff that his grandfather spoke frequently of the smiling man who stood near the bed. From what she could gather, he rarely came alone. Bub had told her that there were also little men resembling devils that would often climb around on the furniture.
She hadn't put much stock in the claims, attributing the visions to the high doses of medication being used to keep him comfortable.
As the days passed, family members began calling each other with stories of the strange things that Bub would say during their visits. By that time, he was seeing groups of tiny demons on a regular basis. No longer content with jumping on the furnishings, they were now crawling onto the mattress and poking at him.
At all hours of the day and night, Bub would yell for his wife to come get them off the bed. When she came running, she would find her husband frantically flailing around at a menace only he could see.
No one could understand why Bub would think that he was being besieged by demons. He was a good man who had always treated people right. Or, at least, that had been their experience with him. It wasn't until Bub's brother came in from out of town that they learned of their beloved father and grandfather's dark past.
After hearing of the bizarre events supposedly taking place in the house, Bub's brother decided to share some truths he had been keeping to himself for decades. According to him, Bub had been a rebellious teenager; always getting into trouble for one thing or another.
He had been picked up several times for breaking into local establishments. On one occasion, he had administered a beating to a shop owner who caught him in the act. As a result of that incident, Bub had served time in jail for assault and battery.
These revelations surprised those close to him, to say the least. He had never mentioned anything about having been in trouble with the law. Even so, they figured that it wasn't unheard of for people who acted out in their youth to eventually settle down and become productive citizens. They assumed that Bub had been one of those people. The rest of the story, however, wasn't nearly as easy to dismiss.
While in his early twenties, Bub had been a suspect in a rash of attacks on women in the neighboring towns. The communities were terrorized for months by the unknown assailant who prowled the streets at night in search of prey.
Law enforcement officers thought they caught a break when one of the victims provided them with a name. Although she hadn't been positive, she believed that the man who assaulted her was a casual acquaintance she knew only as 'Bub.'
It wasn't long before the only Bub they knew was brought in for questioning. He claimed that he had been staying miles away at his parents' house on the night of the attack. Unfortunately, the girl had not gotten a good look at his face and there were no other witnesses.
With nothing substantial to link him to the crime, Bub was free to go. He had been their one and only suspect. He, nor anyone else, was ever charged in her case or any of the others.
The attacks came to a halt shortly after a young nurse vanished on her way home from work. She had walked out of the hospital one night and was never seen or heard from again. No one knew if she was the victim of foul play or if she had left the area willingly. What was known was that, following her disappearance, the wave of assaults ended.
The brother said that he had begun to suspect that Bub was somehow involved after he provided disturbing details that only someone who had been present at the scenes would have known.
In those days, Bub had been a rather intimidating character who struck fear in those around him, including his sibling. Instead of sharing what he knew with authorities, he chose to keep his brother's secrets. He reasoned that the attacks had stopped by that time and it seemed pointless to open up a can of worms. Besides, Bub wasn't the same person he used to be.
It was around that period that he met a woman and asked for her hand in marriage. After the nuptials, Bub's personality had undergone a dramatic change. No longer content to be a hellion, he had matured into a responsible family man.
Jeff and some of the other family members wondered if perhaps Bub's conscience was starting to bother him now that his time on earth was nearing an end. With the clock ticking down, he asked his grandfather if there was anything he would like to get off his chest.
Bub, who could still communicate when he wanted to, chose to stay quiet. If there were skeletons in his closet, he was taking them with him to the grave.
The ailing man continued to be plagued by demons, real or of his own making, right up until his final moments. His wife later told Jeff that, no longer able to speak, he would point to different areas of the room as tears rolled down his cheeks. She knew that whatever he was seeing must have been horrifying for him to react in such a way. She reported that his death mask had been one of abject terror.
It could be that Bub was simply a terminally ill man whose imagination got the better of him while under the influence of painkillers. Then again, perhaps past deeds are not as easily forgotten, or forgiven, as we would like to believe. Sometimes, it would seem, justice is only sleeping.
*Names have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.