“The Washerwoman’s Passenger” (A Creepypasta Reading & Appalachian Ghost Story Retelling)
“THE WASHERWOMAN’S PASSENGER”
(told to me by my great-grandfather, and originally posted under the name Phantasmal Poppy) Many years ago, there lived a widowed woman.
She had no family save for her son. While everyone back in those days worked as soon
as they were able, her son was still far too young to do a grown man’s labor. When the
woman was not tending their small homestead, she would take on odd jobs to keep herself
and her son fed. Now, this woman was friends with most everyone
in the community, including a well-to-do family that lived not too far away from her. Since
the young mother was proud and would not accept charity, the wife of this particular family
found a way around it by paying the widow to do the family’s laundry. This was back
in the day before our modern washing machines, so laundry was often an all-day task. In exchange
for lessening the workload of the wife, the widow was paid a lot more handsomely than
most of her odd jobs afforded. The widow would head up to the wife’s house
early in the morning to collect the heavy bundle of laundry, return to her home to clean
it, and then return it later in the evening. Or at least, she would try to have it returned
before dark. You see, this house was way up high on a hill
and, since the woman had no other way up than by her own two feet, the fastest way up would
be to scale this rather steep slope – a journey that would take her at least fourty-five minutes
one-way. Most would think that returning the bundle
of finished laundry before dark was just common sense, what with some of the rockier pitfalls
and wild animals that might be less noticeable at night. After all, despite the pay she received,
she tried to be frugal with her resources – which meant she wouldn’t use a lantern unless
she absoultely had to. Even if she had a lantern, she would not have been able to hold it aloft
as she needed both arms to steady the burden upon her back.
Her main reason, however, was that she always felt uneasy when she passed this one particular
tree about a third of the way up the hill. She didn’t understand why, but a few of her
neighbors had used the route she had and they, too, felt something was off about that strange
place. The tree was strangely thick for the sole tree that had carved a niche for itself
on that rocky, barren slope, and its branches hung full of thick foliage. The leaves were
so thick, in fact, that it was easy to believe a panther or bobcat might stow itself away
within them. One day, however, she spent so much time trying
to wrangle livestock that had knocked down a fence that by the time she was able to finish
her hired task, the sun had already disappered well over the hill. By the time she approached
the tree, there was just barely enough light out to see.
As she stepped closer and closer toward the tree, her heart began to race. The silhoutte
formed an almost demonic shape against the darkened hill, with its leaf-covered branches
rustling eerily in the creeping chill of the night. She had always felt something off about
that tree, but tonight, it felt as though the air was thick with a tension she had never
felt before. And though her gaze looked ’round the hill for the strange feeling boring down
upon her, she could not help but feel as though the uncomfortable pressure was coming right
from the tree. She tried to steady her breathing, to tell
herself that it was just a tree and that perhaps her imagination was getting to herself (after
all, nothing had ever happened to her upon the numerous times she took this route before).
But a lifetime of living in the mountains made her alert to the eyes of wildlife around
her, and that is what she felt upon her. It was as if this mysterious feeling was a
predator, and she prey. She tightened her grip on the bundle as she
neared it, and wondered if she could manage to run up the slope without tumbling off the
path and bashing herself against the more jagged rocks.
She soon found out, for the moment she passed under it, she realized that the rustling she
heard was far more than a gentle night breeze would have caused.
What landed on her, she didn’t know, only that whatever it was, it made absolutely no
sound when it fell. No growl, no hiss, no scoundral’s threat. But whatever it was was
heavy and nearly doubled her over. Had it been a wildcat or bear cub, she might
have struggled to fling it off, but the moment she fell the long, warm fingers grip her by
the shoulders, she froze. They were like human fingers, only longer, thin and spindly. They
did not claw at her, but merely gripped, as if it had fallen upon her and was merely content
to just cling to her. She could not tell the color of the flesh in the dim light, only
that they seemed too dark, too unnatural to be any human fingers.
A strange feeling flooded her senses, and she felt that if she tried to throw this thing
off, she would come out the worse for it. Instead, despite the added weight, she marched
as quickly as she could up the side of the hill, the thing still clinging tightly to
her shoulders, and the bulk of its likely crouched form pressed firmly against the bundle
on her back. Many a time, she nearly took a tumble and fell, which would have scratched
her up horribly on the rocks over the side of the hill at best and sent her careening
down them at worst. The whole way up, she prayed, wishing away
her mysterious passenger, as her mind raced to think of what it might be.
Could it be a demon? Was it the Devil himself?
Though the trip was only a little slower than usual, she felt as though it was the longest
night of her life. All the while, she could feel the eyes of
whatever was clinging to her burrowing into the back of her head, its bulk swaying now
and then as she neared several drop-offs in the road, as if it were both toying with her
and daring her to fall over and let it hit the ground.
Finally, she could see the light of lanterns in the distance, and she praised God. The
household had not gone to sleep just yet. She only prayed that some of the family might
see her horrible burden and be able to fetch a rifle in time to scare it away.
As she neared the top of the hill and the slope began to get less rocky and more grassy,
she could see several other trees up ahead – ones marking the edge of the property above.
The moment she reached them, she felt the fingers leave her shoulders and was nearly
forced to the ground as the creature kicked off her back, sailing up into the canopy of
a nearby tree. In an instant, she was back on her feet, the
laundry forgotten, as she tore off toward the house to safety.
Thankfully, the family had relatives that had dropped by because the lady of the house
had just given birth, so there were about fifteen people milling around on the porch
when the washerwoman crested the hill. The moment she saw them, a terrified scream left
her mouth, putting them all on alert. Upon telling the party what happened, the
men grabbed lanterns, armed themselves, and whistled for their hunting dogs before tearing
off in one ferocious mob toward whatever creature lingered at the edge of their property.
All they found, however, was just a bundle of laundry scattered about on the hillside.
And while the woman never again ran across the thing that had hitched a ride that night,
she never again took that route up the hill again at night, either.