It’s night in the desert, and you and a group of friends are gathered in a half-circle around a fire, the fire’s orange-red flames coughing sparks into the blackness above. Behind the fire, a friend is standing, facing you, telling your group the story of a ghostly orb, and every one of you is tense, poised on the edges of logs and upturned coolers, feeling the night at your backs, feeling that anything at all could be in it—lurking, waiting, watching.
The firelight distorts the storyteller’s face with a ghastly unreality, and with every word he speaks your teeth clench tighter, your skin grows clammier, and your heart beats more and more rapidly.
“…And then,” he says, his voice hushed, “we examined the lens of the digital camera that we photographed the orb with—and it was dusty. …So it really wasn’t a ghost.”
This, it seems, is the problem with ninety-nine percent of all ghost stories: they just don’t hold up. Almost as soon as you start looking into one, the ghost in question turns out to be something else, something much less exciting. Make two phone calls, and it becomes apparent those dead campers actually didn’t keep a journal of being terrorized by blue lights, and the camp doesn’t actually have it on file. Spend ten minutes in the allegedly haunted cemetery, and you’ll discover that ghostly glowing tombstone is actually reflecting a traffic light. Talk to neighbors of the woman who saw those spirits in her kitchen, and you may find that she also reported seeing leprechauns, as well as happy little kitties wearing pants and pulling wagons.
This is why people hate scientists. This is why to be a “debunker,” in some circles, is considered not much better than being, say, an e-mail spammer, or an IRS agent, or a morning show DJ. And it’s kind of understandable. After all, the truth is great, but people ultimately want stories—and that’s what we have for you here: stories.
These are not the extensively researched accounts one might expect from “My Strange New Mexico,” but simply spooky stories, ghost stories for the Halloween season. Put almost any one of them under a microscope, and you’ll most likely find you’re looking at nothing, that they’re little more than folklore. But, tell almost any of these around a desert campfire, make them your own, and swear they’re true, and you just might get the gleeful thrill of making your friends, or your kids, or those Boy Scouts the court ordered you to watch, squirm uncomfortably in their seats, hesitate to walk alone to their tents, or suffer through some of the scariest nightmares of their lives.
All of these stories allegedly took place not far from Albuquerque—in central and northern New Mexico—and if they do turn out to be true, it may well be that none of us are ever truly alone—and that none of us are ever truly safe.
Ghosts for Dinner
La Placita Restaurant, in Old Town, in Albuquerque, is part of a building more than 130 years old—a building loaded with unfriendly ghosts. There’s a man there who calls out people’s names from behind them, when they thought they were all alone. There’s a young girl who appears only in mirrors in the women’s restroom, in a late-1800s-style dress. There are inexplicable cold spots that people can’t seem to walk through fast enough. And there is the malicious spirit of an old lady who seems to absolutely loathe women. Employees who have spent time here after hours claim to have felt strong presences hating them, wishing them away, wanting to hurt them. And just next door, in a building with a large picture window looking out onto the plaza, a gaunt little girl has frequently been sighted by passersby, when the building is dark and closed. She comes to the window as if needing help, then contorts her face into an evil grin, puts her hands on the glass, and crawls directly up the window, sometimes turning around and crawling backward, before disappearing just below the ceiling.
The Locked Room
At the Carrie Tingley Children’s Hospital, in Albuquerque, there is a mysteriously locked room that the hospital’s staff has been ordered never to be opened. The room is not to be cleaned, is not to be used for storage, and is never, under any circumstances, to be used to house patients. The room once held a couple of beds, and over the years numerous patients stayed there, some of whom recovered, and some of whom didn’t. Several years ago, one of the room’s sickly guests began complaining that all was not well there. The walls, he said, kept glowing blue. Depressions would appear on his bed as if someone was sitting there—but no one was. Over the next weeks, other patients began complaining as well, some of them obviously terrified. Doctors and nurses noted that vital equipment would become unplugged, patients would stumble panicked into the hallway saying they’d glimpsed evil spirits, and soon the hospital’s staff reported seeing things as well, until it got where nearly everyone feared that if they continued using the room, someone was going to be killed—if they hadn’t been already. In a hospital, in a place where death can and does occur, doctors don’t usually think to consider ghosts as a reason for it.
Ghosts of a War
It was sometime in the mid-1970s, and two men were driving home along State Highway 14, through the Sandia Mountains. It was late, and the narrow road was empty, and all the windows of the homes they passed were dark. The men talked as they drove, but their conversation ceased immediately—when they saw something unexpected in the trees just off the road. There, on the outskirts of the village of San Antonio, a large group of men were gathered around a fire. Some of the men were feeding or unsaddling horses, and all of them were dressed in the gray uniforms of Confederate Civil War soldiers. The two men slowed down in shock, gaping; one of the soldiers lifted a hand and looked at them, and the car’s driver hit the gas and sped away. Later, the two men told their story to others and were told that, as unlikely as it seemed this far west, a group of Confederate soldiers had camped right there, on their way to the battle of Glorieta Pass.
The Unburied Coffin
About thirteen miles south of Albuquerque lies historic Isleta Pueblo. Isleta’s church dates back to 1612, back to the days when it wasn’t uncommon for people to be buried inside of churches, beneath hard-packed dirt floors. In Isleta, centuries ago, a priest died and was buried in a wooden coffin deep beneath the church’s floor, and for years that coffin would mysteriously, inexplicably resurface—somehow working its way up through feet of solid dirt, popping up without warning. Some accounts have gone as far as to claim the coffin’s lid would roll open and the desiccated skeleton of the priest would stare out at them—his robe in tatters, his remaining skin leathery and taut, his eye sockets wide and seemingly aware of them. The first time this happened, it was considered unusual. The second time: frightening. The third time: pretty terrifying. And when it continued happening, over and over, for no apparent reason, the church was forced to cover the dirt floor with concrete. Ever since then, at times a strange knocking can be heard, as if something large and heavy was banging at the floor from underneath.
Teeth and Fire
This story is said to have taken place not far southeast of Santa Fe, in the Pecos Valley. Stories abound in this area of evil spirits working all sorts of harm to locals and travelers alike, so many that it seems as if the entire area might be haunted—or cursed. Many years ago, a man was riding a horse to an area dance, riding alone through a black desert night. No moon hung in the sky, and even the coyotes and nightbirds seemed to be silent. Suddenly, the man heard a baby crying nearby, crying loudly, evidently abandoned by the side of the road. Concerned for the child’s safety, the man rode over to it, cautiously climbed down from his horse, picked up the baby, and took it with him, hoping someone at the dance might know whose it was. The man rode on down the empty road, until the baby looked up at him and said, “Look daddy, I have teeth.” The man stared at the child, the color drained from the man’s face, and without warning, a blast of fire shot from the baby’s mouth. The man hurled the demon child to the ground, kicked the sides of his horse, and didn’t stop galloping until he reached home.
A Gateway to Hell
In the northeastern part of the state there stand a high, wooded plateau known as Urraca Mesa—a place considered by many to be the supernatural capitol of New Mexico. Urraca Mesa may be among the most haunted places in the entire world, as it’s become something of a portal, a gateway to Hell, a door through which every sort of malevolent being imaginable passes freely. Photographs taken there almost inevitably develop with distortions marring every image. Hordes of angry ghosts have gathered to hunt down unwary campers, some of whom have disappeared forever. A shadowy dwarf, devoid of any color but black, has appeared in the tents of sleepy hikers, sitting on their chests. Ghostly horses, ghostly blue lights, ghostly blue lines, the ghosts of missing Boy Scouts, and the ghosts of bears and ravens, have all been spotted here. Even scarier, these apparations seem to be contained on this mesa only by a series of ornately carved “cat totems” placed all around Urraca Mesa by a medicine man—and scariest of all, lately, these protections have been disappearing. If you think New Mexico is haunted now, just wait until some unknowing collecter removes the last protection between you and the doorway to Hell. Just wait until Hell’s every spirit decides to come through—to come through for you.