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.


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

Leave a Reply

This Post Has 73 Comments

  1. Lupe


  2. Robin

    I liked the story, it is was really good, but just a couple of things concerning the time line. First he said it was before there were cars, then the main charactor was looking for a place to stay, there wasn’t a lot of places like that unless you were in a big city during that time. 2) During the time small towns like that didn’t have restaurants, 3) they didn’t have police departments either. But it was still a good spooky story. 🙂

  3. sarah

    it was ok but interesting

  4. Devonte Dubois

    boooooooooooooooooooooooooo, scary huh it was not bad to me

  5. This story is amazing, not as scary as other ones I have heard on this website but a amazing piece of work.

  6. austin petty


  7. Kjeff19

    wow the beginning was good to!

  8. austin

    i loooooooooooove this story

  9. keonnistephenson

    i bet he was scared. iwouldnt be ever to sleep

  10. Maria

    the story was weird and creepy

  11. mu naw pai

    love this story cause not scary story..

  12. chuki

    good but short

  13. HAWA

    this story is really interesting. i liked it because it’s really telling as how dangerous short cuts are. it’s really a very interesting story i liked it especially becaues the innocent young lady was really alive but not a ghost.

  14. stefanie fry

    this story was good but could have movement to the story where u could see the coming and joe moving away from her.

  15. Raz

    Sounds a little like a La Llorona story, only without the river and the ghost.

  16. melissa

    that scared the life out of me!!!!! it reminds me of the movie the orphan!!!!! 🙂 <3 it was good!

  17. Cindy in Georgia

    I disagree with some of the comments above. I thought there was just enough detail and action. Think about it. If true would there have been anything else to tell? Joe would not have stayed any longer in the church and the poor woman would not have had the energy to chase. It’s perfect!

  18. Hannah Laird

    it was pretty good and i agree with Hayley and Suzie it could have been better but other than that it was a good story:)

  19. RandomPerson

    It was an okay story… lacked MUCH detail and needed more action. But over all, a pretty decent story.

  20. Toby

    Great story, I love the twist at the end where it was pointed out that she was alive!

  21. I’ve heard scarier storys. The ones that scare me are bigfoot stories. *shivers*

  22. James

    Im home alone and its raining and thundering outside. I got the chills from this story. So creepy.

  23. Sammi:)

    spooky, man! i totally loved it!

  24. CHRIsBEK

    gREat story..welldone.

  25. harry happerson

    this story was creeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeepy. it gave me the heeby geebies. the twist was rad. the church was far out man. i ain’t grooving for joe p.s. obama is bad for your health

  26. Dr. M. R. Moriole'

    . . . Still lovin’ this story. As one who works in higher education, I devote at least one hour of my day to uninterrupted reading — not related to research, etc; Not only “reading”, but reading ALOUD.

    This website is wonderful for developing that skill, so much so that I’ve this entire story practically memorized by heart. Many read, but to read aloud and to read aloud WELL is both a skill and a talent that must be developed and maintained.

    Thank you, Mr. Dominey. 😉

    — Dr. M. R. Moriole’

  27. this is a creeeeeeepy story but while it is getting godd in ghe middle it i s making it making it creepy and i like this story.

    Even though it was creeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeepy this did not creep me a lot.

  28. Airlia

    Loved it…. Kinda makes you think that its possibly true!!!!!!!!!

  29. Dr. M. R. Moriole'

    Correction: I know of SEVERAL churches that fit that description. 😉

    — Dr. M. Moriole’

  30. Dr. M. R. Moriole'

    . . . I’ve been frequenting this website since 2003 and this story and “Green Eyes” never fail to give me chills. I’m a college professor and I’ve a great love and respect for well-written literature.

    The funny and ironic thing is that I live in East Texas, and know of a small church that almost exactly fits this description (one in this tale.) Too eerie, lol. 😉

    — Dr. M. Moriole’

  31. Fatima

    A lovely Southern-Gothic tale. It was suspenseful and chilling, but more horrifying in the revelation of the truth behind the “ghost’ than in the actual confrontation at the church. This genre is a subtle one, and Mr. Dominey has done a great job in adapting the folk tale.

  32. It was scary but I think it could have been scarier. But it was still good.

  33. Madison Hill

    It wasnt really scary but it did give me a chill.when i found out it was a real lady from a mental hospital who killed her own baby

  34. jeffb1

    I thought the story was entertaining, maybe a little short, but frequently short stories are exactly what I’ve been looking for. The main character learned to avoid making hasty decisions. And having a moral to the story was a nice touch.

    I try to find ways of closing a story with a little humor. Having a little laugh is always good for you.

  35. this story is good i read it to my family and they were scared and i was scared too!

  36. Robbie Scifres

    Very good. I wish the story had continued long enough to find out if poor Mary was caught or if she ran around in the woods until Lord knows what happened to her. Other than that it was very good.

  37. dk rizzs

    I liked the twist 2

  38. Aaron

    This story was stupid it wasnt even that scary

  39. Isaac

    that was not that scary to me. you could have had more details in that story!

  40. tim

    i agree with hayley a lil more action would have been nice but all in all a good story

  41. the story was in fact creepy. I can see were nina can see the twist as being cool. but ,as wanting to be entertained goes. I think more should have happened at the cherch. The story going on to add “home boy’s” torment even further on his travils to Red Springs would have been pritty cool too. Being the road was haunted, not the church.

  42. nina

    I liked the twist. The fact that the so called ghost woman was an actual person made it more scary.

  43. Lemuel

    Guys, travelling alone in the middle of the forest at night is really scary.

  44. drei


  45. Oliver Santos

    I’m strongly agreeing to Hayley & Susie… This story is quite good & scary but it lacks more action to be expected by the readers. It could have been very spine-chilling if Mary Anne had followed him to his wagon & chased him down the road. But still, this story is great!

  46. Pretty good, but it could have been scarier. Mary Anne should have chased him down the road.

  47. Hayley

    It was okay but could have been better. I think the writer should have involved more action when Joe was in the church.