My great-grandmother had the best, if sometimes creepiest, stories. She was born in 1908 and my cousins and I in the 70s and 80s. We would spend the night with her bundled into bed listening to an old radio mystery show and the noises from the street just beyond the window. Always full of energy, we were not ready to go to bed at the same time as an elderly woman. “Encouraging” us to behave, my grandmother would tell us stories from her childhood and those she had been told as a child. One of the stories my grandmother told was about an uncle who went to a camp meeting back in the early twentieth century.
News spread around the East Texas town: a travelling preacher was bringing a week-long tent revival to the field outside of town. When the tent was raised, people began to gather. A small group led gospel songs. The preacher was a fire and brimstone kind, a man you often find a little intimidating but also more than a touch fascinating.
He stood at the front of the tent. The crowd was divided by a long aisle, so that anyone inspired could make their way to the altar. At first, only a few were brave enough to accept the invitation of the Lord. Night after night, the preaching grew more insistent until the last night of revival when the preacher issued a challenge. He held up a glass of clear liquid.
“My faith in the Lord is so strong that I can drink this poison and no harm shall befall me. Anyone who believes in the power of the Lord, come, join me, drink of this liquid that everyone may witness the power of the Lord!”
At first, no one moved. Then a man in the audience stood.
The uncle walked to the front of the tent. He took the small glass from the preacher’s hand. On the count of three, both men would drink.
“God will protect us if our faith is true and strong,” declared the preacher.
As her uncle raised his glass, he gazed into the bottom and was startled. At the bottom, prancing on the liquid’s surface, he could see the pale horse of Death. He lowered the glass without drinking. In the same moment, the preacher, who had not hesitated, stiffened and then fell to the floor, dead. The uncle dropped his glass and walked away as the helpers rushed to the preacher’s side. He vowed never to test the Lord in such a manner again.
Whether the story was true or not, it is one I have never forgotten. I can still see the crowd, the pale horse in the bottom of the glass and the stunned look of disbelief on the preacher’s face as he died. Part of it is that the story was told to children in the dark of night, but part of it, too, is that it was one of her stories. The library has a place for stories like hers. It has room for a story like yours.
Like my great-grandmother’s story? Try some of these:
- Scary Stories by Alvin Schwartz
- The Turn of the Screw and Other Ghost Stories by Henry James
- Six Scary Stories edited by Stephen King
- Poe’s Children edited by Peter Straub
- Behind You by Brian Coldrick
- The Red Garden by Alice Hoffman
- Unexplained : real-life supernatural stories for uncertain times by Richard MacLean Smith
- Ghost Stories of an Antiquary by M. R. James
- Supernatural Short Stories by Charles Dickens
- The Scary story reader : forty-one of the scariest stories for sleepovers, campfires, car & bus trips-even for dates! edited by Richard and Judy Dockery Young