I’ve been chasing ghosts since I was a little kid. I was sneaking off to graveyards, abandoned houses, dilapidated barns, and forgotten places from about 8 years old on. Round about third grade, my friends and I had formed a group, based loosely on John Peterson’s Secret Hide-Out, called The Monster Club. Of course, Brent was a member.
We did what kids normally do. We read spooky books and comics (Charlton’s Monster Hunters was our bible), made comprehensive lists of monsters and cryptids and ghosts and such. We constructed campfires in the local woods and told scary stories. And we kept our eyes and ears out for haunted places we could explore.
Our hometown was full of them.
One thing I can impress upon you after 43 years of friendship, give or take, is that Brent Smith had no fondness for haunted places. He did not care for ghosts one bit. Unfortunately for him, he was my chum and partner in crime and thus I drug him into places he had no desire to be in.
But brave them he did.
We used to clamor around the old Miller place and wonder over the dark magic of the statue there on the side lawn and we prowled around his grandparents’ two story brick and my grandparents’ place on Aleck, sure there were ghosts residing there with them. There were other places too – the old pond past the trestle, the train depot, the granary, numerous buildings in various states of disrepair along Jefferson, Pence Cemetery, the shack out at Old Belgium Town, and the Withered House on Wabash.
That was Brent’s name for it. The Withered House. Not sure where he’d plucked that from, but the Withered House it was. It may not have been my first or last ghostly encounter, but it was one of the more memorable.
Brent and I, and a couple other of our Monster Club cronies had ridden our bikes down Wabash Street to the old place down that way. It was all gray wood, with long chipped away and faded paint. The porch was broken down, windows busted… Oh, we were sure, if ghosts could be found anywhere, they were there… waiting for us, probably hungry to devour us, because what other purpose might such fiends have.
We slipped in, with our flashlights and backpacks, armed with crosses and salt and water we pretended was holy. Well, frequent visitors to The Occult Detective have heard this story before. The creaking footsteps, the old broken-down rocking chair and how it began to move of its own accord and how we screamed and ran, falling all over ourselves to get away, eager to return and do the same the first chance we got.
Not Brent though. He would have been more than happy to never enter that place again, or any of the other old haunts we prowled. But prowl them we did, because he may have been afraid of ghosts, way back then and until his dying day, but Brent Smith never left me hanging. He always had my back. Always.
Granted, he incessantly would say things like, “Damn it, Freimensch, let’s get the hell out of here.”, “I got a bad feeling about this”, or “If you get me killed I’m so going to haunt your ass”, but he was still there, for damn near 40 years, going places he just knew were crawling with things that meant us no good.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to stories like that. Remind me to bring up the hockey stick sometime. That was a weird one, to be sure.