Fall Fiction: The Haunted Hunt At Asbury Manor Part 1
Tyler Wood couldnʼt believe his luck. A great piece of Georgia property to hunt with a Civil War mansion and a monster buck. But who — or what — was behind the mysterious events taking place on the property?
The old buckʼs head snapped to attention, ears and eyes scanning, searching for something that had alarmed it. For an hour the buck had grazed in a hayfield in the middle of night undisturbed. To the buckʼs left, a mile over the treeline, a single-cell summer thunderstorm raged beyond the Ocmulgee River. The thunderhead, black with a luminous gray lining, towered into the otherwise clear sky, blotting out the stars. A rippling flash of lightning churned through the lower tiers of the cloud and was followed closely by low rumbling thunder.
To the right, gray in the dim light of a half moon, a recently cut hayfield sloped upward away from the riverbottom. The field, studded with a random pattern of round hay bales, ended in a black wall that was a line of oaks, hickories and sweetgums at the base of an out-of-place hill jutting up abruptly from the flat riverbottom. At the top of the hill, half buried in trees, the black silhouette of the abandoned mansion, Asbury Manor loomed.
The buck turned, and long rows of thick, velvet-covered tines pivoted as the deer watched an orb of light flicker to life in the dark woods below the house. The uneven yellow halo of light moved slowly, flashing and flaring as it passed behind unseen tree trunks and foliage. Whatever held the light was moving toward the hayfield and the buck.
The eerie light projected from a lantern fashioned with reflectors to shine light only ahead. It was held aloft by a dark, poorly illuminated figure draped in a long coat that reached to the ground. In the figureʼs other hand was a long rifle.
The buck turned and took three stiff, stomping steps away from the approaching light, then stopped and watched over its shoulder as the light appeared at the edge of the field 100 yards away.
The dark figure raised the rifle, the lantern held against the stock, the long, octagonal barrel pointing toward the buck. But the buck was gone, bounding across the hayfield, its white tail flashing dimly in the moonlight as it ran.
A white-hot, jagged bolt of lightning ripped within the thunderhead, illuminating the interior of the cloud, and as the reverberating boom and threatening rumble reached the hay field, the glowing light at the edge of an empty field faded away by degrees to darkness.
• • •
On a hot, mid-August Saturday afternoon, Tyler Wood stood drenched in sweat on the wide front porch of the two-story, Civil War era mansion. He had parked his battered Silverado just off the county road and plowed his way 200 yards to the house following a deer trail through overgrown thickets of privet, sweetgum, and chinaberry. The original grand entrance to the house was clogged with ancient pecan trees and oaks and their seedling progeny. The forest was slowly reclaiming the neglected property and the old mansion that belonged to Tylerʼs aunt.
Four, floor-length bedroom windows separated by a window to the central hallway lined the upper floor. The lower level also had two windows flanking either side of a tall single door in the center of the house.
Tyler crossed the creaking porch, gripped the front door handle and pushed. As the door swung inward, Tyler was certain that he had seen a long shadow flash down the hallway wall like some specter fleeing the opening door. No sound accompanied the movement.
“What the…,” he thought.
He stepped back, closed the door, then reopened it to see if he could recreate some reflection that would account for the motion. But when he reopened the door, no shadow moved on the wall. He shrugged off the incident to his imagination and stepped into the house.
For a home constructed in the 1850s, the structure was in remarkably good condition. Six downstairs rooms, three on each side of the hallway, each opened to the central hallway. Each room contained a crumbling brick fireplace, and they all stood completely empty except for leaves, old scraps of newspaper and other small debris.
Tyler tested the steps that led upward from the central hallway then climbed to the upstairs hallway. The two bedrooms at the back of the house were empty, the doors standing open. So was the room on the left as he approached the front of the house. The door to the room to the right was shut, the only door in the entire house that he had found closed. Tyler turned the doorknob, pushed, and the door swung open on screeching rusty hinges.
The room was much like others in the house, two windows on the front wall, one on the side wall, and a fireplace and mantle on the interior wall. This room contained a few pieces of relic furniture. An old square, wooden table stood in the center of the room, a single straight-back chair beside it. Squarely in front of one of the windows facing the front of the house sat a black wooden rocking chair. Like other rooms in the abandoned house, the floor was littered with debris, mostly leaves and twigs that appeared to have blown in from the empty, blackened-brick fireplace.
Tylerʼs eyes were immediately drawn to an incredible whitetail-deer rack hanging on the wall above the fireplace. The ancient rack, secured by a piece of wire wrapped around two nails, was huge, with an inside spread of more than 20 inches, more than six points on either beam, and on the right beam the second tine was deeply forked.
Tyler dragged the chair to the fireplace, stepped up and removed the rack, unwinding the wire that held the massive beams in place. He stood in the center of the room admiring the rack. A name had been scrawled into the back of the skull plate: WM. A. WOOD — Tylerʼs great, great uncle.
The rack was the largest Tyler had ever held. He was turning the thick, rough beams over in his hands when he heard the door downstairs creak.
“Tyler?” a voice nervously called.
Tyler set the antlers on the table, walked out through the open door to the top of the staircase. Peering up from the landing was Lee Holloway, a local real-estate attorney.
“Quite the place, isnʼt it,” said Lee as Tyler descended the stairs.
“You could say itʼs got a character all its own, all right,” said Tyler.
“Could we talk outside?” said Lee. “This place gives me the creeps.”
They walked out onto the porch.
“Your aunt notified me that you have been given permission to hunt deer on this property,” said Lee. “I have written permission for you, and I need you to sign a waiver.”
Tyler signed the papers.
“Tyler A. Wood,” said Lee, looking at the signature. “Does the A stand for Asbury?”
“It does,” said Tyler.
“So you are related somehow to William Asbury Wood who built the house?”
“He was a distant uncle,” said Tyler.
“I guess you’ve heard that this property is supposed to be haunted,” said Lee, who was clearly eager to leave. “Well, I hope you donʼt run into any ghosts or goblins or things that go bump in the dark,” he said. “One real warning, however; there is an old hand-dug well somewhere on the property, but its location wasn’t marked.”
At that moment a thump resonated from somewhere up inside the empty house. Then another scraping thump, a sound like something bumping against a wall.
Tyler looked up at the house.
“Mice?” he said, grinning.
Lee didn’t appreciate the attempt at humor.
“I need to get back to town,” said Lee, hurriedly gathering his papers.
“Good luck,” he called as he left the porch and disappeared on the deer trail toward the road. Then, under his breath, “Youʼre going to need it.”
• • •
After spending two hours exploring the property around the old house, Tyler was certain of one thing: What he had stumbled into was a deer-hunterʼs paradise. Asbury Manor had been built at the highest point on the 600-acre property. While several gigantic, aging oaks had blown down over the years, the house was still surrounded by majestic white oaks with branches sagging with green acorns.
The woods adjacent to the house were a smorgasbord of a deerʼs favorite fruit. Apples, pears, and plums gone wild intermingled with the white oaks near the house. Luxuriant grape vines draped the privet thickets.
The deer population, judging from the profusion of tracks, was high. Each muddy spot was pocked with deer tracks of all sizes.
Behind the house, the woods sloped steeply before stopping abruptly at the edge of a long hay field that paralleled the river. The hay field was broken into three separate fields, each about a quarter mile long, by wooded wet-weather drains, each about 25-yards wide that crossed from the wooded hill to the riverbottom.
“Deer funnels,” thought Tyler as he walked across the center hayfield.
Halfway across the field, Tyler found, muddy four-inch-long slashes in the dirt where a buck with very large hooves had scored the ground as it sprinted from the field.
“Wonder what spooked a buck that big,” thought Tyler. “The tracks are fresh, maybe from last night.”
He followed the tracks across the wet field to the point they disappeared into the riverbottom swamp. According to his map of the property, the swamp extended another 300 yards or so to the edge of the Ocmulgee River.
It was 30 minutes before dark, and the shadows were lengthening by the time Tyler picked another route up the hill toward the old house. Fifty yards inside the treeline he stumbled upon the wreckage of what had once been a sizable barn. The old structure, built with two-inch thick, rough-cut oak planks, was snared and being dragged down by a heavy net of kudzu, ivy and grape vines, but a quarter of the original barn was dry under the remains of an old metal roof not as old as the original structure. Tyler bent over and peered through a low window into the one room that was still intact. Ancient rusted farm implements cluttered the floor along with old bottles and jars, fencing wire, rusted-out buckets and other worn farm tools.
Tyler stepped in through the window and stumbled over something buried in the pine straw and leaves on the barn floor. He knelt and used his hands to clear the thick rectangular object. It was a granite tombstone.
Tyler brushed the leaves and dirt from the face of the stone, stood it on its base and turned it to the fading light. The two-line inscription carved in the stone read, Sarah Octavia Wood. Born 1835. No date of death had been chiseled into the marble.
When Tyler emerged from the broken-down barn, it was nearing sundown. He weaved his way up the hill toward the old mansion, finding old rubs, deer tracks, and deer droppings nearly everywhere.
“This is unreal,” he thought. “This place should be called the Asbury Deer Farm.”
The summer sun had dropped to the horizon as Tyler passed 50 feet in front of the old house. A hint of movement from an upstairs window that he caught only out of the corner of his eye stopped him cold — it had looked like a thin person in white standing at the side of the window, half hidden.
When he looked directly at the upstairs hallway window, there was nothing there.
“Must be seeing things,” he said.
Curiosity can be a compelling affliction, and Tylerʼs curiosity demanded that he disprove — or prove — what he thought he had just seen. He turned and walked toward the house, which was now deep in the shadows of the trees hanging over it. He pushed the front door open and stepped into the gloomy hallway.
There was nothing. No sound, no movement greeted his entry. No shadowy figure capered down the clapboard hallway wall.
Tyler crossed to the stairway and climbed the creaking stairs, his boots ringing hollowly on each oak step. When he reached the top tread he stopped. Over his shoulder at the front hallway window, remnants of a sheer white cloth curtain hung to the side of the window. The cloth fluttered weakly in the draft. To the rear of the house, through the back hallway window, Tyler could see the sun setting, and a beam of light angling through the window cast a long shaft of golden light down the long hall.
“Must have been the sunset on the curtain,” he thought.
Pleased that he had logically explained the glowing light he had seen at the window, Tyler turned on his heel and descended the stairs. He stepped off the porch, and in a few steps he had reached the deer path that led to the road. He walked on, without looking back. But as he disappeared into the woods, a pale white light flared in the upstairs bedroom to the right of the hall.
Had Tyler turned to look, he might have seen what looked like a dark-haired woman in a flowing white gown standing to the side of the window, shimmering with the breeze, watching him leave.
• • •
“Look at this!” said Bill Gentry, Tylerʼs hunting buddy. He bent over and pulled a massive shed from the tall grass and held it aloft for Tyler to see.
“Can you believe that? Itʼs huge!”
The shed was the right beam that had belonged to an exceptional buck. Six tines lined the heavy beam, several of them shortened by the gnawing of rodents.
“Yʼknow, if the shedʼs here, thereʼs a darn good chance this buckʼs still here, too,” said Bill. “This is going to be a deer season to remember!”
Tyler and Bill had hunted together since they had met in high school. They had joined hunting clubs together, hunted a series of small private tracts and hunted WMAs and Piedmont Refuge. Tyler, 35, and Bill, 37, both lived in Macon, an hourʼs ride away. Tyler was single, an electrician, and owned his own small company. Bill was married, and worked long hours as a framing carpenter.
Work demanded most of their time. They called themselves weekend warriors, hunting most Saturdays during the fall. Now, for once they had a large tract of excellent land to hunt. The return letter from Tylerʼs aunt in Florida after his request to hunt on her property had provided exclusive rights to the property for Tyler and his friend. Better still, it was free.
That morning they had parked at the end of a washed-out, two-rut road that ended at the Ocmulgee River bank and spent three hours scouting the riverbottom below the Manor. Eight or nine deer, including a fair-sized 8-pointer in velvet, had scattered in front of them during the morning as they walked in the shade of giant swamp-chestnut oaks and towering sycamores. They had also found several hog wallows.
BillЉ found the heavy shed as they emerged on the edge of the hayfield. Across the field the roof and chimneys of the old mansion could be seen above the trees. The aging house was a commanding presence over all that took place on the property.
“Look at the size of these tracks,” Bill called as he followed the field edge. “You sure we arenʼt going to be hunting elk here?”
They walked the field edge for a half mile until it cornered. Forty yards inside the treeline was Crooked Creek, the northern boundary of the Asbury property. Upstream, the creek meandered a mile before it crossed under the county road that fronted the Manor. Downstream, a quarter mile through the river bottom, it emptied into the Ocmulgee River.
As they stood in the corner of the field, they heard the rhythmic, diesel chug-chug-chug of an old tractor cranking up from across the creek.
“You presentable enough to meet the neighbors?” Tyler asked.
“Sure,” said Bill.
They pushed through head-high cane and privet to the creek, dropped six feet to the creekbed by sliding down a well-used deer crossing and splashed through ankle-deep water. When they emerged from the cane thicket on the opposite side of the creek they stood at the edge of a plowed field. The old farmer driving the tractor finished his round of the field and stopped in front of them.
“Well, if it ain’t two young apparitions out and about in broad daylight,” the farmer in bib overalls cackled, after he had shut down his tractor.
Bill and Tyler introduced themselves to 81-year-old Noah Huffmaster, whose family had owned the adjoining farm for three generations.
“Whatʼs the possibility of hiring you to help us plant food plots on the Asbury property?” Tyler asked.
“I got permission to bale hay over there,” said Noah, squinting down at them from the tractor. “Might plant for you, but I ainʼt gettinʼ near that olʼ house — ʼspecially after dark.”
“Whyʼs that?” Bill asked.
Noah leaned to the side and launched a long stream of brown tobacco juice into the field.
“Cus theyʼs a hʼaint lives there.”
“A what?” said Tyler.
“A hʼaint,” Noah returned, impatiently. “A ghost. The house is hʼainted, plain and simple, ain’t you heard? Theyʼs lights in that house at night. Ainʼt electricity.
“You two plan to deer hunt? Well, good luck to you. Them deer are hʼainted, too. Same buck over there for long as I can remember. Big ʼun, too. Lots of long points, and one of them like a pitchfork. Thatʼs olʼ man Asburyʼs buck. Nothinʼ there but air, not a deer tʼall. Cainʼt be kilt, Asbury wonʼt let nobody kill his deer, and heʼs over there to see to it.”
• • •
Coyotes were on the prowl that night. Just before midnight the screeching of a freight-train across the Ocmulgee caused a half-dozen coyotes to light up, their high-pitched yipping, barking and yowling echoing through the river bottom. As if conjured up by the coyoteʼs calls, a faint glow appeared in the front bedroom window of Asbury Manor.
The unsteady orange light was as weak as the flame of a single candle. Flickering faintly behind the windows, the low light burned for five minutes before faltering, fading and going out.
An hour passed without further incident, then from an area next to two big hickory trees just inside the treeline of the hay field below the Manor a pale yellow light appeared. The dim circle of light bobbed low to the ground and slowly floated up the hill blinking through the tree trunks as it moved toward the house. For 10 minutes the slowly swinging light seemed to search the woods near the house, then it dimmed and went out, and the manor was again shrouded in darkness.
• • •
Saturday morning of Labor Day weekend, Tyler drove to the regional library in town. The building appeared closed, but when Tyler went to the door to check, a black woman opened the door for him. The frail, stooped woman appeared to be in her 90s. She wore a black cotton dress framed by a white shawl that lay across her shoulders. Her grandmotherly face was weathered and wrinkled, but her eyes were bright and penetrating. Her long white hair had been braided and pulled back in a bun on the back of her head.
“Good day, Mr. Wood. What can I do for you?” she said.
The greeting surprised Tyler.
“How do you know who I am?”
“You have been out at Asbury Manor,” she said. “You are related to William Asbury Wood.”
It was a statement, not a question.
“Yes, thatʼs right,” said Tyler. “Actually, I was here to learn more about the history of the property.”
“I can help you, Mr. Wood. My name is Azalee Hanner. I have lived here a very long time, and I am familiar with the history of the Manor.”
She motioned to a sofa.
“Please sit down, Mr. Wood, and I will tell you the story,” she said.
Tyler sank into the corner of a soft sofa. Azalee sat in a wing-backed chair across from him.
“William Wood bought the property in 1850 and named it Asbury Manor. He married Miss Sarah the same year. He built the house and outbuildings himself. They had a prosperous plantation for a few years until the Civil War. When word came that the war had begun, William wasn’t about to stay at home and miss it. In 1861 he went to Augusta and enlisted in the Third Georgia Infantry. The Third Infantry was sent to join Gen. Leeʼs Army of North Virginia. Mr. Wood was in the thick of the fighting. He took a ball in the hip at Fredericksberg in December 1862. He was shot again at Chancellorsville in April 1863. The bullet hit him in the throat — nearly killed him. When he recovered, the wound left him with a wheeze when he breathed.
“William had quite a reputation as a marksman with a Springfield rifle musket, and he was a skilled scout, because he was an accomplished deer hunter.
“After Lee surrendered, William came on back to Asbury Manor and to Sarah, but the economy was poor, and the property in disrepair. The Woods had no help and no money. William made coffee and sugar money by hunting deer and selling the meat and hides in town.
“William wasn’t much of a personality. He was bitter over his fate, and mean-spirited to everyone, with one exception: he cherished Sarah. He truly worshiped the ground she walked on. They had been sweethearts since childhood.”
“What happened to them?” Tyler asked.
“There was a tragedy,” said Azalee. “On a Saturday evening in October 1866, a neighbor heard a volley of shots at the house. He went to the Manor and found three carpetbaggers dead in the yard. William was near death on the porch, shot twice, once in the head. He was delirious, and calling for his precious Sarah. He died on the porch and was buried somewhere on the property.
“What happened to Sarah?” Tyler asked.
“They never found Sarah,” said Azalee. “The next day another carpetbagger stumbled into town. He had a grievous knife wound and was dying. He admitted to being involved in the mayhem at Asbury Manor the evening before. He claimed that while they were robbing the house a man had stormed out of the woods — that would have been William. When William saw that they were holding his Sarah on the porch, he went completely crazy and attacked them. He killed them all despite his wounds — armed only with a hunting knife. The dying thief claimed that when the woman saw her husband shot and fall, she broke free and ran into the woods. He said he heard her scream, but he said he didn’t know what had become of her.
“Thatʼs where the story ends,” said Azalee.
“Is Asbury Manor haunted?” Tyler asked.
Azalee leaned forward, and looked Tyler straight in the eye.
“Mr. Wood. Ghosts are the product of idle minds. I donʼt believe in ghosts, and neither should you.”
• • •
Tyler lowered his binoculars from his face and stared in amazement across the hay field at the four bucks grazing on the far side of the field. For an hour, as the sun set, he stood buried in a bamboo thicket just inside the field edge below Asbury Manor. A week before bow season opened, he hoped to see the buck that was leaving the outsized tracks.
The four bucks had appeared minutes before and since then Tyler had been repeating one word over and over: “Awesome.”
The bachelor group included a thin-tined, 2-1/2-year-old 8-pointer, two heavy-racked 10-pointers, and another buck with a rack that was approaching unbelievable. From 200 yards away an accurate count of the points was difficult, less because the light was fading, and more because there were so many tines to count. Tyler counted and recounted and kept coming up with either 15 or 16 points.
The buck was easily the biggest of the group, with a long, low-slung body, but the width and height of the rack still seemed out of place atop its head. On the right beam, Tyler could see a forked tine, an unusual trait for a whitetail.
“Asburyʼs buck?” Tyler whispered to himself. “Unreal.”
Closer to Tyler, 100 yards away, a half-dozen does and three fawns grazed. Two more fawns raced in circles, orbiting the does.
The sun had already set and light was fast leaving the field. As Tyler took one last, long look at the buck, he heard a coyote yip then squeal behind him in the direction of the old house. It had sounded like an alarm call.
Tyler pulled a small flashlight from his pocket and started up the hill toward the house. He had gone only 25 yards when he heard the sounds of something running. He flipped the flashlight off and listened to the sounds of running steps in the leaves quickly intensify. Whatever was coming was coming at a dead run, and it was crashing through the brush straight at him.
Tyler thought he heard a high-pitched whimpering as the animal closed on him, apparently racing down the very trail he was on. At first, his flashlight refused to shine. He shook it vigorously, nearly panicking in the dark, and the flashlight beam snapped on just in time to light up a coyote in full flight as it burst into view 20-feet away.
Confronted by the light, the coyote planted its front feet, slid nearly to a stop, its eyes glowing ruby red in the light. Then in an instant it leapt sideways and disappeared into the bushes. A second coyote following in the tracks of the first, whimpered as it dodged out of sight.
Tyler stood in the dark listening, his knees trembling, his heart pounding, until the sound of the fleeing coyotes faded before starting up the trail.
“Wonder what that was about?” he thought. Both animals had been running with their tails tucked.
As he walked on, the black outline of Asbury Manor gradually rose out of the dark woods before him. Tyler was surprised to see a dim white light in the upstairs bedroom window. This time, the light was clearly not caused by the sunset.
The hair on Tylerʼs neck stood on end, his chest tightened, and his heart, already flush with adrenaline from the encounter with the coyotes, pounded even faster. He felt alone, standing in the dark a long way from the safety of his truck.
Despite his trepidation, Tyler was determined to prove to himself that his fears were unfounded, that there was a logical explanation. He walked up to the house, climbed the steps and crossed the porch. His flashlight cast erratic, moving shadows of the columns that moved away from him on the front-porch wall as he approached.
The front door creaked as Tyler pushed it open. He stepped inside and was swallowed up by the dark, empty hallway. The doorways to the adjoining rooms were open, silent, and the darkness impenetrable.
Tyler climbed the stairs, the thin beam from his flashlight leading him. His breathing had become shallow and more rapid.
“Scared as a schoolgirl over an empty old house,” he chided himself. Thereʼs no one here.”
Tyler reached the top of the steps, crossed the hall to the bedroom door and paused. He used his hand to hide the light from his flashlight and saw a line of pale white light on the oak floor beneath the door.
When he had been in the room earlier, he had left the door wide open, he remembered. Tyler took a deep breath and gripped the brass doorknob, which was cold to his touch. He twisted the knob, heard the latch click, and he pushed the door open.
As the door to the bedroom swung open, a bright-white light shone into Tylerʼs face from across the stone-still room. Tyler blinked and breathed a sigh of relief as he realized that the round light in his face was the full moon hanging above the horizon and shining through a gap in the trees outside and through the side window.
Tyler moved into the room toward the table to move out of the shaft of light. Then he saw that the chair he had left at the fireplace had been returned to the table, and the top of the table where he had left the antlers was bare.
Someone, or something, had been in the room.
Tyler held his breath as his narrow flashlight beam crossed the floor to the wall above the fireplace. There, wired securely to the two nails in the wall was the rack he had removed earlier in the day. Shining upward, his shaking flashlight beam created long, fingerlike shadows of the tines that seemed to shimmer, reaching up the wall behind the rack.
A chill raced up and down Tylerʼs spine, and he began to shake with an overwhelming sense of dread that he was not alone in the house.
Behind his back, the door hinges of the half-opened door creaked and Tylerʼs knees weakened in fear as he spun to see the door slam shut. In the last instant before his view of the hall ended, he saw someone standing in the hallway.
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