Cindy is an author and paranormal enthusiast who has published numerous books and articles on the subject of true unexplained phenomena.
A Place to Call Home
The source for this story is a woman named Cheryl Hanes, who sent me her harrowing tale after reading one of my books on true paranormal phenomena. She had kept her family's story a secret from all but her closest friends for over two decades. Her tale is one that illustrates a family's perseverance in the face of fear.
The Millers had been struggling financially and were living with relatives when Cheryl's father announced that he had found a house for them on the outskirts of Athens, Georgia. As luck would have it, he had been able to negotiate a deal whereby he would pay a small monetary fee every month and work off the rest of the rent by performing odd jobs for the landowner. Cheryl, who was around nine years old at the time, remembers how overjoyed she was at the news that they would finally have a place to call their own.
It was sometime in the spring of 1989 that the family packed up their belongings and headed to their new home. Cheryl and her four siblings were eager to leave the cramped space they had been sharing. Soon, for the first time in their young lives, they would each have their own bedroom.
A Palatial Estate With a Suspiciously Low Price
Cheryl remembers the house as being larger than any she had ever seen before in real life. The exterior was painted white and sported a large front porch that the family could sit on and observe the lush scenery that surrounded the palatial estate. The day that they moved in was the first time that anyone, except for her father, had seen the house, and they were all amazed that they would be living in a place of such beauty.
Cheryl remembers her mother questioning her father about the arrangement he had made with the owner, but he hushed her and quickly changed the subject. It was only after she was grown that Cheryl would also question why they were allowed to live in the house for practically nothing.
Whatever the circumstances, the Miller children were thrilled with their new surroundings. They ran inside the house and began laying claim to bedrooms right away. It turned out that they would each have a place to call their own with one room left over. Cheryl says now that she felt like a princess who found her very own castle.
A Huge Yard—and a Tiny Cemetery
After the family had moved their meager possessions into the house, they set about exploring the grounds. The yard was expansive, with plenty of room for the kids to run and play. The area around the house was wooded except for a stretch of land that had been cleared away to make room for a small cemetery.
The tiny graveyard was separated from the house by a fence that had been torn down in several places. Cheryl remembers that only a few of the markers were still standing. Most of the gravestones had been smashed, probably by the weather, and the remnants were scattered on the ground. Weeds had overtaken the area, making it difficult to tell how many graves were present. Judging by the names that he could decipher from the remaining stones, Cheryl's father guessed that it had probably been a family cemetery.
Cheryl recalls her mother being shaken by the presence of the graves that were situated so close to the house. She also remembers that, even though it was in late spring, her mother had shivered and wrapped her arms around her body as she voiced her concerns. For his part, Cheryl's father had not uttered a word in response.
Nothing more was said of the macabre garden as the family headed back into the house. Later that night, they prepared to settle in for their first night in their new home. Cheryl drifted off to sleep, thankful for this gift that she and her family had been given. It would be one of the last peaceful nights she would have for quite some time.
In the Eye of the Storm
In Cheryl's mind, the period of adjustment to her new life was an easy one. She and her brothers and sisters took right away to the large stretch of land that was now theirs to explore. The five of them spent countless carefree hours playing on the grounds.
The house itself was also a constant source of wonder for the youngest members of the family. Having previously only resided in small dwellings that had allowed them little room to move about, they now had an entire house at their disposal. Life was good, at least, in the beginning.
A Sudden Wind Rises
The first inkling that the family would have that something wasn't right came several weeks into their stay. Cheryl remembers sitting on the front porch with her father and siblings when a sudden wind enveloped the property.
Cheryl says that they watched in amazement as cyclones of leaves and debris began whirling around in the yard. The sky was blue and clear, yet breathtaking winds were bending the trees so violently that she feared they would break.
When clouds of dirt began blowing up onto the porch and into their faces, Cheryl's dad had motioned for them to get inside. As they scrambled for the door, they were stopped dead in their tracks by a thunderous bang that had shaken the entire house. In that instant, the leaves that had been dancing around the yard fell to the ground, and the trees stopped swaying as the wind came to an abrupt halt.
Eerie Silence After the Storm
The eerie silence that followed was something that Cheryl says she will never forget. The area around the house was usually teeming with the sound of birds and insects, but not one creature seemed to be stirring in the moments following the freak windstorm. It was almost as if all of the living things that inhabited the woods knew instinctively that something terrible was in their midst.
At the time, Cheryl remembers being more excited by the events of that day than frightened. It was only when other mysterious occurrences began to take place that her awe would turn to fear.
A Place of Unrest
The Miller children had been warned from day one that they were not to set foot in the cemetery that was located in such close proximity to their home. Even so, they had played among the graves on numerous occasions without their parents' knowledge. She relates now that, as kids, they hadn't put much thought into the fact that the remains of people who had probably once inhabited their house were lying just beneath their feet.
Cheryl's bedroom was located on the side of the house that faced the cemetery. When they first moved into the house, it hadn't bothered her that the view from her window was that of the overgrown graveyard. As time passed, she began to feel the same uneasiness that had plagued her mother over the years.
Blackbirds and Unearthly Noises in the Graveyard
One thing that had always been a curiosity for Cheryl was the ever-present blackbirds that seemed to flock to the cemetery day in and day out. Nothing would deter the birds from gathering among the headstones, not even the presence of rambunctious children.
During the day, the cemetery was just another place to play, but at night it became something else entirely. The graveyard would come alive after dark as the night creatures emerged from their daytime hiding places. Cheryl reports that the noises that would emanate from the burial ground were like none she had ever heard before.
According to Cheryl, unearthly noises would be intermingled with the sounds of crickets and other insects that called the woods home. She says that she often heard what she thought was an owl screeching from somewhere near the cemetery. It was only after she actually saw a screech owl on a nature program that she realized that what she had heard bore no resemblance to the bird's call.
Besides the high-pitched cries, Cheryl also remembers hearing what sounded like a baby in distress. The frantic wailing would go on for hours, only to come to a halt when daylight approached. Other family members made it known that they, too, had heard the myriad of odd noises that seemed to originate in the cemetery.
Unexplained sounds of weather were another phenomenon that the family experienced over the course of their years on the property. Cheryl remembers many times when they would hear the sound of a sudden downpour beating down on the roof, only to look outside and see that the sky was clear and the ground dry. Even though they had all heard the pounding rain, they would discover that not a drop had fallen.
Who Is Sarah?
The strange goings-on were not limited to the outside of the house. Cheryl's oldest sister spoke of hearing someone whisper, "It's Sarah," as she lay in her bed one night. She heard the voice as plain as day even though she was alone in the room. When she turned on the light, she saw that the picture of an angel leading children across a bridge that normally hung facing her on the wall had been turned around backward.
When her sister told Cheryl what had happened, she understood the experience all too well. Cheryl had also heard the name "Sarah" whispered in the house on various occasions. Oddly, they couldn't identify the voice as male or female. It had an odd cadence that no one who heard it could describe. Nonetheless, the name "Sarah" was unmistakable.
Cheryl and her siblings had spent many a day trying to decipher the names on the headstones that remained in the old graveyard. Although most of the etchings had faded with time, the surname "Carter" was still visible on several stones. A marker that was lying on the ground had born two names, one of which they thought was "Sarah."
Each member of the family had, at one time or another, experienced things they couldn't explain in the house and on the grounds. Their reactions had run the gamut from mildly annoyed to thoroughly spooked. Even so, it wasn't until the noises that had plagued them for years manifested into visual beings that the real terror set in.
They Only Come Out at Night
As Cheryl explains it, her family realized early on that something wasn't right about the house and the land on which it sat, but they were powerless to do anything about it. The Millers were well aware that they had nowhere else to go. This was their home, for better or for worse. The idea of packing up and finding another place to live, to her memory, had never been mentioned as a viable option. And so, the mysterious happenings became something they had grown to accept.
Cheryl recalls that on more nights than she could count, she would hear what sounded like tree branches brushing against her bedroom window. That wouldn't have been disturbing in and of itself had it not been for the fact that no trees were close enough to make contact with the house.
She admits that there had been times that she was tempted to run to the window in the hopes of catching a glimpse of whatever was making the scratching sounds on the other side of her wall, but she held back for the sake of her own sanity. Cheryl knew instinctively that she might see something that would make her question everything she had learned in life up until that point. She chose to remain, quite literally, in the dark.
A Tapping on the Windowsill
Cheryl wasn't the only one who felt that something was lurking around the house in the hours from dusk till dawn. Her sister, Carmen, had also seen and heard things that she couldn't explain.
One time, when Carmen was around sixteen, she claimed that she had been awakened in the middle of the night by the sound of something pecking on her window sill. She remembered being half-asleep as she rose from her bed and made her way across the room toward the source of the hypnotic tapping.
When she reached the window, Carmen pulled back the sheer drapes and saw a face staring back at her from the other side of the glass. For a moment, she stood frozen to the spot, unable to make a sound.
The face that she had locked eyes with was that of an elderly man. Carmen said that he was painfully thin and that he had glowed blue in the moonlight. She would later tell family members that he was tapping on the glass with long, thin fingers that had all of the skin peeled away from the bone.
It was when the old man opened his mouth and she saw that he had the tongue of a serpent that she let out a bloodcurdling scream. As she did so, she claimed that her tormentor flew backward in the direction of the cemetery. It was only then that she saw that the man had been accompanied by two dark-colored goats that had remained behind after he had fled. She would never forget their eyes, which glowed an eerie red.
All of the events that Carmen reported happened in a matter of moments. Her father had run to check on her after hearing her frantic screams. He had not witnessed the man that his daughter had encountered, nor did he see the goats that had been his companions. He attributed Carmen's outburst to a nightmare, that is until he had a look around the property the following morning.
Chipped Wood and Cloven Hoofprints
Cheryl says that, upon inspection, her father discovered that most of the paint and some of the wood had been chipped away from the area outside of Carmen's window. Stranger still, he found cloven hoofprints that encircled the house. Although Carmen had reported seeing two goats on the previous night, her father felt that there had been several times that many. Cheryl remembers seeing with her own eyes that the entire yard had been stomped by dozens of animal hooves.
No one could explain how a large group of creatures, presumably goats, had circled the family home without waking anyone inside. Also, considering that they didn't own goats and didn't know of anyone who did, there was no telling where the animals had come from or where they had gone.
Although the family would experience many odd events in their years in the house, the incident involving the elderly night visitor and his herd of hooved minions would be the one that left them fearing that they were in the presence of something evil.
A Frightening Reality
The Miller family lived in the house in the country for eight years in spite of the constant reminders that they were not alone. In that span of time, they experienced things that cannot easily be explained away.
Cheryl remembers that there would be times that one or more family members would be in the living room when they would hear the front door open and close even though they could clearly see that the door had not been disturbed. She also reports that the same thing would occur in the bedrooms, making for a restless night's sleep.
The Millers Finally Move
In the end, the Millers did move out of the house, but not for the reasons one might expect. The landowner had informed the family that he had sold the property to a developer who was buying up all of the land in the area in order to construct upscale homes in the area. This meant that the family had to find a new place to live.
In the time that they had lived virtually rent-free in the house, Cheryl's parents had managed to save up enough money to allow them to purchase a small house in the city of Athens. When asked why the family had not moved out sooner since they had the means to do so, Cheryl could not answer. It's possible that the family had become so accustomed to the bizarre phenomena that occurred in and around the house that it had become a way of life that an outsider could never understand.
I have come across scores of stories of haunted houses over the years. This one was unique in that it involved not only the house but the surrounding property as well. This is probably attributed to the fact that the family at the center of the activity lived only a stone's throw from an abandoned cemetery.
It is worth mentioning that neither Cheryl nor anyone else in the family experienced anything of a paranormal nature after moving out of the country house. Whatever had plagued them in the past had been left behind when they moved.
What Became of the Old Cemetery?
Cheryl does not know what became of the cemetery on the old property. She does believe that the main source of the hauntings they experienced stemmed from the long-forgotten residents of the graveyard. Since they had almost certainly been former tenants of the house, perhaps they were eternally tied to the property, which would account for their constant presence.
Unfortunately, the man the Millers had rented from had purchased the house at auction and had no ties to the original owners. When asked, he claimed to have no knowledge of the property's history.
Whoever the Carters had been in life, things had not ended well for them. Souls that leave this world in peace don't normally feel the need to remain Earthbound. Some unfinished business or perceived wrongdoing had prevented them from finding eternal rest and, perhaps, still does.
The impending demolition of the house marked the end of an ongoing nightmare for the Miller family. Whether or not it finally brought closure to the property's otherworldly residents is a question that, for now, remains unanswered.