Ghost story from Alabama of a wandering traveler who stumbles across the terrifying secret behind a spooky backwoods church.

Listen to storyteller John Gentile narrate “Stranger in the Church”

Now this story happened long before there were cars, or highways, or motels. Back in the old days, folks would travel or haul things by wagon, riding miles down long dirt roads to get from one place to another. And the wagoners – that’s what the old folks used to call guys who hauled things – would get mighty tired after being on the road so long, and were always looking for a place to sleep.

That’s the dilemma Joe Bates found himself in. For two days, he’d been steering a wagon full of farm equipment destined for Red Springs, Alabama. Night was falling fast – as were his drooping eyelids. The last thing he wanted was to fall asleep and steer his team of horses into a ditch. So he figured he better find a place to catch a wink or two, even if it was on the cold, hard ground.

As luck would have it, Joe passed an old farmer walking home from a long day in the fields. Joe stopped him and asked where he might find some lodging. “There ain’t nothin’ between here and Red Springs,” the farmer said. He then pointed toward a small dirt path that split away from the main road into a dense pine forest. “That there’s a short cut that’ll git you there in half the time. But I wouldn’t travel on that road at night.”

“Why’s that?” Joe asked.

The old farmer spit a stream of tobacco juice into the bushes and said, “‘Cause ever’body knows that road is haunted.”

Well, Joe had been traveling through Alabama long enough to know that country folk made up a lot of tall tales to pass the time. So Joe grinned, patted the old man on the back and said, “Thanks, old timer, but I’ll take my chances, ghosts or no ghosts.” And with that, he steered his wagon into the forest.

A couple of hours went by, and Joe was starting to think that this so-called “short cut” wasn’t so short after all. All he could see around him in the darkness was thick, impenetrable forest. His lantern cast eerie shadows on the stark pine trees. Strange night creatures chattered amongst themselves in the shadows, as if waiting for the forest to swallow Joe alive.

Finally, the trees broke on one side to reveal a small, white clapboard church sitting on a small rise. The windows were dark, but Joe knew the door was probably unlocked. After all, preachers encouraged their flock to pray whenever they could, even at odd hours of the night. So Joe tied his team to the front post, walked up the stairs, and opened the heavy door with a loud creak.

Sure enough, the church was empty, So Joe stretched himself out in a pew in the back and chuckled to himself. He couldn’t believe his luck, finding this place so far out in the woods. It was almost enough to make him consider going to church again on Sundays! But he quickly shook that thought off and fell into a deep, much-needed slumber.

Moments later, Joe awoke to a sudden thumping sound coming from the front of the church. He lay quiet for a moment, thinking an animal had crawled inside. He heard it again, louder this time. Joe reached for his extinguished lantern, but couldn’t find a match to light it with. Cursing under his breath, he peered over the pew in front of him. His eyes took awhile to adjust to the darkness.

But when they did, he saw something that made him jump. Standing by the pulpit was a small figure in white, rocking back and forth on her heels slowly. “Who’s there?” Joe called out, only to be answered by a low, painful moan.

Stranger In The Church - Girl's Ghost Scares Joe
Illustration by Madison Henline

Joe found the matches in his pocket. He tried to light the lantern, but no luck. He looked up, and a chill ran through him as he saw the figure had moved closer. He could see it was a woman in a torn white dress, her long, stringy hair hanging over her face. She was moaning louder now as she approached him. Joe found himself backing away toward the door. He tried to light the lantern again, but still the flame wouldn’t catch. He looked up and saw that the woman had moved even closer. He noticed that the front of her dress was stained with mud.

“Wh…what do you want?” Joe asked her, his voice cracking with fear.

He backed up against the door, but it was closed. The woman moved closer and closer, her moans growing louder and louder. Joe fumbled with the lantern again, striking another match. This time the flame caught, and as he lifted the lantern in the air, he gasped – the woman was standing right in his face, her eyes crazed and bloodshot, skin pale and cracked like some long lost china doll! She reached for his face, and even in that split second, Joe could see that her fingernails were broken and dirty.

Joe flung the door open and ran to his wagon. He could hear the woman’s bare feet thumping down the church stairs behind him. He frantically untied the horses and leapt into the driver’s seat. And right before he sped away, he swore he felt the woman grab his shirt, trying desperately to pull him off the wagon.

Joe rode swiftly away from the church and did not stop until he reached Red Springs, just as the morning sun cracked the horizon. He found a local restaurant and collapsed into a chair. With trembling fingers, he lit a cigarette as the morning breakfast crowd stared at him strangely.

“You all right, Mister?” the Manager asked as he poured Joe a steaming cup of coffee.

Joe shook his head and told him the story of the ghost he’d seen in the church. The Manager stared at him for a moment, then sat quietly beside him and said, “That weren’t no ghost you saw. I think you saw Mary Ann Finch. And the Sheriff’s been looking for her for days.” The Manager went on to explain that Mary Ann was a young woman who’d escaped from a nearby mental hospital. Seems she had delivered a baby girl out of wedlock a year or so ago. She was so scared that the townsfolk would shun her that she killed her baby, and buried it deep in the forest where no one would find her. But her guilt only festered inside her, eventually making her crazy. So much so that her family put her in the hospital. But while she was in there, she cried out that she had had a change of heart, and wanted to dig up her baby, lying somewhere out there in those piney woods, cold and alone. Problem was, she couldn’t remember where she had buried her.

Stranger In The Church
Illustration by Madison Henline

One night the doctors went to Mary Ann’s room to give her her nightly sedative, but she was gone. Most folks figured she had run off into the forest, but nobody was too eager about going in there and finding her.

After Joe told the Manager his story, the police went back to the old church, but all they found were a bunch of muddy footprints. But Joe didn’t stick around long enough to find out what ever happened to Mary Ann Finch. He delivered his equipment as promised and rode back home, swearing never again to take a questionable short cut, no matter how much time it saved.

And he also learned that he shouldn’t easily dismiss the tall tales that older folks might tell him. ‘Cause there may be a germ of truth in them after all, if you listen hard enough.

-THE END-

Stranger in the Church – Story Credits

Adapted from folklore by Craig Dominey

Directed by Craig Dominey

Told by John Gentile

Sound Design by Henry Howard

Illustration by Madison Henline, Savannah College of Art and Design

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This Post Has 73 Comments

  1. Marli de Castro Santos Neres

    The story is interesting, with a little scary suspense , but at the same time it is not a story so terrifiyng as to terrify the viewer . The point of this story is the fact that there is not really a ghost but a mad woman, full of pain and regret for everything that happened because she murderest her own baby,which is very painful and very difficult to overcome . I believe that this may have been the way the author intended to lead readers to curiosity.

  2. Isaac Persi

    I liked a lot this short story. The man had a dilema to solve but he didn´t listen to the old man. He thought it was only a fairy tale, then he had a experience he will remember for all his life. Being in front of a woman wearing white with a terrible face during the midnight seems to be so scary. Churchs and people wearing white are classic elements used to tell stories about ghosts, devil, exorcism and so on.

  3. Débora Santos

    The story is really scary and suspense the fact that the girl is not a ghost does not make the story any less scary after all she lives like a ghost looKing for her already dead baby.

  4. Sandra Messias

    Interesting! Shows that we must not undo popular beliefs, however coincident they may be with the real facts. But fear can make everything scarier! I expected more sense in showing the character as a scary being, but only at the church site. Was it related to the church itself?

  5. Elzira Dourado da Silva

    The story at the beginning is very interesting, but in development, in the main event it is not so exciting, it is like any other legend or horror story, what really surprised me was the final outcome of the story, when the revelation is made behind of the events, and the strangest thing is when the farmer, when speaking to the traveler, does not clearly explain why it is not advisable to take the shortcut, it is somewhat vague in the way he speaks to the traveler. But I believe that this was the author’s way of leading us through curiosity to the end of the story.

  6. ANA CAROLINE

    This tale is quite interesting and scary. With the mystery in its content it manages to hold attention. Often we don’t take the stories of the oldest people seriously because we think they are just made up legends, but this story has shown us that you always need to be with a pug behind your ear. In these moments, trusting too much is not good. An important aspect that must be emphasized is the judgment of society when a girl has a child without being married, this is something that is still recurrent today.

  7. The story is interesting and well produced, with sound effects and precise characteristics of the young woman, expressing the fact as if it were real, but in the course of the report there are details that arouse some analysis. Initially with the city, for presenting places and professionals that did not yet exist at the time, the case with Mary Ann Finch, for having a child out of wedlock, since at that time the conventions of society were demanding. But because it is an adapted story, the author supposedly instigates the reader to such reflections, being the fear that influences people not to think about what really exists, as well as the question of not being deceived by shortcuts as a form of smartness or profit and not ignore the advice and warnings of experienced people. But I liked the story is very attractive.

  8. Elaine Costa Cardoso

    The story is interesting and well produced, with sound effects and precise characteristics of the young woman, expressing the fact as if it were real, but in the course of the report there are details that arouse some analysis. Initially with the city for presenting places and professionals that did not yet exist at the time, the case with Mary Ann Finch, for having a child out of wedlock, since at that time the conventions of society were demanding. But because it is an adapted story, the author supposedly instigates the reader to such reflections, being the fear that influences people not to think about what really exists, as well as the question of not being deceived by shortcuts as a form of smartness or profit and not ignore the advice and warnings of experienced people. But I liked the story is very attractive.

    1. themoonlitroad

      Hi Elaine, thank you for your comments. Are you reading the story as part of a class project? If so, could you ask your teacher to contact me? We like to highlight class projects in our Schoolhouse. Our address is themoonlitroadfeedback@gmail.com

  9. CAROL ALVES CHAVES

    very good, I really liked it, the story is really scary. the author was very wise in writing it, as it shows readers that we cannot always go to strange places simply because they are easier and also that we must listen to the elderly.

  10. Angela

    The tale is very good. And the fact that the “ghost” is a real person, was what made the story more interesting. Sometimes if Joe had listened to the old man and gone for another walk, he wouldn’t have known about the girl and her story. But neither would it have taken that much fright. In the end he learned a lesson in listening to the oldest and not going the shortest way.

    1. themoonlitroad

      Hi Angela, thank you for your comments. Are you reading the story as part of a class project? If so, could you ask your teacher to contact me? We like to highlight class projects in our Schoolhouse. Our address is themoonlitroadfeedback@gmail.com

  11. Thais Pereira

    The story is frightening and very convincing, the narrative follows a sequence of facts and for a moment the horror story reveals the secrets that reveals a murder of a child, and even makes a reflection on the character.

  12. Josiane Pereira Silva:

    The story starts with a good dramatization, but because it has a suspense character (terror), it would be plausible to present more suspense in the outcome of the story the moment the character Joe enters the haunted forest. It is important to note that the short story brings a lesson, when addressing that it is important to listen to the elderly, and that the shortest path is not the best option, as the saying goes “Rush is the enemy of perfection”. Often the easy things are not signs of success, but of failure. Anyway the story is very interesting, it is worth remembering how fear influences the human being, because the character was so afraid that he did not realize that the young woman was alive, in his thought the poor girl was a soul, a ghost.

  13. Queila Neves

    the story is frightening, with suspense, and it’s amazing how the reading passes these feelings on to the reader. And the issue of the main personagen not believing in the stories of the elders also speaks in the outcome.

  14. Fernanda Anjos

    I found the story quite attractive and the fact that using sounds with ghost voices made it seem even more real, it made everything very creative.It is observed that when Joe describes Mary inside the church he implies that they make a certain connection between Mary’s characteristics and the white dress,all stained,bloodstained and hair thrown on her face, to the modern horror film “The Call “. Where there is a main character who have the same descriptions.Another very cool point in the story is the moral lesson, that we should always listen to our elders and that the shortest path can often be the question at that time is, was there really a manager in a restaurant? I think they are a little modern for the period when the story takes place.

  15. Josiane Pereira Silva

    The story starts with a good dramatization, but because it has a suspense character (terror), it would be plausible to present more suspense in the outcome of the story the moment the character Joe enters the haunted forest. It is important to note that the short story brings a lesson, when addressing that it is important to listen to the elderly, and that the shortest path is not the best option, as the saying goes “Rush is the enemy of perfection”. Often the easy things are not signs of success, but of failure. Anyway the story is very interesting, it is worth remembering how fear influences the human being, because the character was so afraid that he did not realize that the young woman was alive, in his thought the poor girl was a soul, a ghost.

  16. Luciana

    I enjoyed the story!

  17. Liz

    Story quit playing right as he got to the diner. Most of the other audio’s won’t play as well. What do I need to do?

    1. themoonlitroad

      Hi Liz, sorry you are having problems. I listened to this story and others and didn’t have the same problem. Perhaps there’s an issue with your connection. Try again with this story and let us know when the story quits.

  18. Boyd

    I enjoyed the story. I have been to some small, old churches that resemble the one in the story.

  19. Karen

    I liked it, I think it was just the right amount of scary, not too bad to give you nightmares but enough to make you look around and make sure you’re really alone! The reader and the sound effects are really good.