Lightning flashes filled the bedroom, followed seconds later by booming thunder, rousing 10-year-old Dave Barsalow from sleep. The autumn storm rolling through New York State’s Hudson Valley engulfed the 100-year-old farmhouse, a strong, moaning wind piercing the night.
As Barsalow lie in his bed on the first floor, his parents and sister asleep upstairs, he realized something was outside his window.
“With the wind there came this other sound,” Barsalow said. “It made goosebumps race over my body. It was an ungodly howling. A wailing that didn’t, couldn’t have come from human lips. No animal I knew could wail like that.”
This noise, from what Barsalow later called “the Howler,” came from outside his first-floor bedroom window. His parents and sister slept in bedrooms upstairs.
“I was terrified,” Barsalow said. “I jumped out of bed and raced to my grandmother’s bedroom.”
When Barsalow reached her first-floor room, his grandmother was sitting up in bed. He climbed in next to her and pulled the covers tight.
“What is that, Grandma?” he asked.
Barsalow’s grandmother assured him the noise was just the wind.
“I knew it wasn’t the wind,” he said. “And I knew she knew it wasn’t the wind.”
The wailing came around the house, its scream sounding even closer.
“It had to be right on the front porch, right outside Grandma’s window,” Barsalow said. “Grandma put an arm around me and held me tight. The howling was right outside her window now, just a few feet away from us. I buried my face in her shoulder.”
Eventually the sound moved away, merging with the storm that worked its way down the valley. Barsalow finally dropped into sleep. When he woke, sunlight streaming through the window, his grandmother was already up.
“I climbed out of bed and peeked out the window,” he said. “I saw her outside already with a mop and a bucket, cleaning the porch floor.”
Barsalow ran to the front door and stepped outside.
“From there I could see what my grandma was cleaning,” he said. “There were muddy footprints all over the floor.”
The muddy footprints were small – like those of a toddler.
“They were little, tiny footprints,” Barsalow said. “I got goosebumps again. I asked Grandma what made the footprints. She didn’t answer and she kept cleaning.”
Barsalow’s nine-year-old sister walked from the house and onto the porch. She saw her grandmother erasing the tiny prints.
“She saw the footprints, too,” Barsalow said. “Thirty years later when I was telling my wife this story, my sister was able to confirm seeing those tiny footprints.”
However, Barsalow’s sister didn’t hear the Howler in the storm. Barsalow hasn’t heard that howl since, but two years after the first encounter, he saw the footprints again.
“It was a bright, clear morning after a nor’easter had dropped close to two feet of snow on us,” he said. “I was out walking around the yard, thigh deep in the fresh, cold powder. I noticed something odd. There was a set of footprints in the new fallen snow.”
The footprints surprised Barsalow. They were tiny – like the footprints of a child. There were no other marks in the fresh snow.
“This was the morning after a major winter storm,” he said. “There was little or no chance that anyone would have been out roaming in the snow-filled blackness of the previous night.”
The tracks came across an open field, through Barsalow’s yard and into the woods.
“I got a chill when I got close to the footprints because I realized that they were small, like a toddler’s feet,” he said. “I knew those tracks. They were the same ones that were on the porch on the morning of the visit of the Howler.”
Barsalow followed the tracks down the hill.
“There I stopped dead and my heart jumped into my throat,” he said. “At the bottom of a small rise the tracks seemed to split. The left foot went in one direction and right in another. That scared me just looking at it. The tracks, each foot on its own path, disappeared into the woods.”
Barsalow just stood in the woods dazed, looking at the tiny footprints.
“I tried to puzzle out what I was looking at,” Barsalow said. “I was 12 at the time, not a small child. I could think. And I couldn’t find an explanation for what I was seeing. Soon enough, I ran back to the house and went inside. I never mentioned the tracks to anyone. They scared me too much.”
Although Barsalow hasn’t seen similar footprints since, knowing the Mohegan, Pequot, Mohawk and Iroquois tribes that lived in and around the property all had legends of little people – some of which were tricksters associated with storms – makes some sense to him.
“Both times I encountered those small footprints it was the morning after a major storm. One in winter and one in summer. Coincidence?” he said. “I never did ask my grandmother about the Howler again. I think part of me was afraid to know what it really was outside the window that night.”
Copyright 2010 by Jason Offutt
Got a scary story? Ever played with a Ouija board, heard voices, seen a ghost, UFO or a creature you couldn’t identify? Let Jason know about it: Jason Offutt, P.O. Box 501, Maryville, Mo., 64468, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Your story might make an upcoming installment of “From the Shadows.”
Jason’s newest book on the paranormal, “What Lurks Beyond: The Paranormal in Your Backyard,” is available at Jason’s blog, from-the-shadows.blogspot.com.