The Old House By the Cemetery

Image courtesy of Google Street View.

Sunset Memorial Gardens & Funeral Home in Odessa, Texas1 is a typically sedate funerary garden spot for the city’s deceased. Quiet and tranquil (or as tranquil a place can be when it’s located near a major highway), the meticulously-maintained cemetery seems like the perfect place to lie in repose after a long and storied life in West Texas.

Of course, no matter how tranquil, every place — even cemeteries — hides its secrets. This cemetery’s secret was the size of a house!

Set the Wayback Machine to 2006 or 2007. My cousin (he’s a photographer; let’s call him “Shutterbat”) and his ex-girlfriend were headed to Sunset Memorial to create some etchings from some of the headstones there late one Saturday night,2 and they asked if I wanted to tag along. Typically self-isolating and perpetually bored without my own car, I immediately jumped at the chance for some cemetery socialization. “Wouldn’t it be rad if we met some cemetery ghosts?” I mused.

That was how I wound up in the rear passenger seat in my cousin’s car, whirling around the cemetery like a dervish with ADHD just before Midnight.

When we arrived at the cemetery, all thoughts of making etchings of tombstones were completely forgotten once my cousin spotted a roadrunner, which we chased around the cemetery like a hunger-crazed coyote. Then he and his ex spotted a jackrabbit and we began chasing after that. The whole time, I’m sitting in the rear passenger seat doing my best to defend myself against the forces of vertigo.3

Courtesy of OpenStreetMap.

After chasing the jackrabbit for a few minutes, Shutterbat suddenly pulled to a stop. His vehicle headlights came to rest on an old, abandoned ranch-style house just behind the cemetery, right on the corner of Newell Road (the cemetery’s westernmost border) and Pike Lane (a nearby residential street). Every window and external door on the old house was boarded up except for the rear entrance, which was missing the door entirely. The kitchen refrigerator stood in its place as a makeshift barrier, but one far too easy to move aside if necessary.

As soon as he saw the old house, Shutterbat knew he had to get photos of the place, as decaying urban structures were one of his favorite photography subjects. His ex-girlfriend, though, was someone who claimed to be attuned to spiritual matters, and she had a strong urge to remain safely inside the car. As the group’s cowardly “Shaggy”, I, too, had a strong urge to remain in the car. Shutterbat vowed not to go inside the old house, but to remain outside and take whatever photos through the gaps between the doorframe and the refrigerator using his long-distance lens. He quickly grabbed his camera and hopped out to snap whatever images he could get in the low light.

Behind the old house sat a rusty corrugated metal maintenance building that we assumed was being used by the Sunset Memorial groundskeepers. Shutterbat crept up to this building as quietly as possible so he could lean against it for stability when snapping his photos of the house. Shutterbat’s ex and I watched him intently through our windows, my face almost pressed against the window glass of the rear right-side passenger door in anxious anticipation. Something was going to happen, I knew it…

Suddenly, Shutterbat bolted back to the car before he could take a single photo, leapt inside, gunned the engine, and pushed the car forward as fast as he could get the car to move. As we passed by the old house, his ex-girlfriend glanced back at the edifice, then immediately burst into inconsolable weeping. Panicky and wondering what the hell was going on, I looked back myself… but all I saw for a brief moment was an old ranch-style house with boarded up windows. We quickly sped off into the night for the safety of Shutterbat’s family home.

We whiled away a few hours watching scary movies and conferring about what we had just experienced. For some reason, it’s far easier to digest bizarre occurrences when comparing our shared reality to filmic fictions.4

Courtesy of Canva, edited in Adobe Photoshop.

When Shutterbat moved close to the maintenance shed earlier that night to take his photos, he suddenly heard a loud, rapid, rhythmic banging noise from inside the shed that scared him away from the place.5 As our car passed by the old house, his ex-girlfriend looked back at it and saw what she described as a faceless entity wearing black robes and a black hood at the window. The entity appeared human and likely wore a mask without a face on it, but it radiated pure malice.

For her, the entity’s intentions were easy to discern: “Get out. We do not want you here, and we will make you leave.”

After we finished watching our scary movies, Shutterbat broached the idea of going back to the old house to discover what had caused the noise Shutterbat heard and to possibly get the photos he couldn’t take earlier. Shutterbat’s ex-girlfriend opted to go with him. Unwilling to be the lone holdout and hoping something spooky and paranormal might happen, I joined them in their second foray to the old house.

I stood on the dirt road at the edge of the property the old house stood on, one foot on the dirt road and one foot hovering over the grass on the other end of the property line. Dare I set my foot down? I asked myself, sweat forming in my palms and on my forehead. Dare I disturb this universe? All the while, Shutterbat and his ex-girlfriend sat in his car parked in the dirt alleyway directly across Newell Road from the old house by the cemetery, waiting with baited breath to see what I would do.

As soon as we arrived in the general vicinity of the house, Shutterbat and his ex suddenly lost their nerves. Shutterbat and his ex both believed that the malevolent force she saw and felt earlier had vacated the area, but neither of them felt like heading up to the old house. That eerie “Stay away!” vibe still hung in the air, and they were too keen to obey that feeling.

I, on the other hand, wanted to shed the reputation for cowardly behavior in paranormal situations I was well-known for. Idiot that I can be at times, I volunteered to leave the safety of the car and walk up to the old house’s front door.

Yet, once I actually reached the property line, I could not will my foot to touch the grass. I was feeling that “Stay away!” vibe myself now, and its voice resounded loudly in my mind like a klaxon. After several tense moments with my foot in the air like I was considering membership in the Ministry of Silly Walks, I finally gave in to that feeling and headed back to the car, hanging my head in failure.

After Shutterbug had dropped his ex-girlfriend and I off at our respective dwelling places, he claimed to have seen a strange orange light hovering in the night sky.6 While he could not state for certain that this object was of non-terrestrial origin,7 he felt the sighting was strange enough to ask a nearby police officer if he had seen the object as well.

The police officer began asking Shutterbug if he was drunk. Not wanting to trouble the officer further, Shutterbug backed off and went home.

We both had work the next Sunday at 14:00, so Shutterbug awoke early that morning and went to the old house by himself. No one was there and he felt no malicious presence in the area, so he moved the refrigerator aside and stepped inside the decaying old edifice. In what used to be the house’s old edifice, Shutterbug found candlewax, a dead cat that appeared to have been slain in a ritualistic manner, and the body of an infant bird with its head severed.

Soon after these events, the old house was torn down, likely under the direction of the nearby cemetery staff.8 The plot of land was left undisturbed afterward as an ex-girlfriend and I verified in October 2010, though the rusty old metal maintenance building still stands behind where the house used to be. Nothing has been done with that plot of ground as of December 2023, as can be seen from the Google Street View image below, and I’d wager that the cemetery prefers the plot to remain unused. If they salted the earth afterward, I wouldn’t be surprised.

Courtesy of Google Street View.

  1. Sunset Memorial is one of the city’s two principal cemeteries, not counting local family cemeteries or funerary columbariums at the city’s Catholic congregations. Our city’s other final resting places are the Ector County Cemetery — which is divided into the Ector County Cemetery proper, the Odessa Cemetery, the Los Angeles Gardens Cemetery, the Rose Hill Cemetery, and the Peaceful Gardens Cemetery — and the Pets At Peace Pet Cemetery & Crematorium.[]
  2. This is what Goths consider an “arts & crafts project.”[]
  3. I am proud to report that I won the fight and did not throw up all over the car’s back seats.[]
  4. If I’m not mistaken, we were watching the not-so-stellar 2005 reboot of Hard Candy and the half-decent Silent Hill, both rentals from a nearby Blockbuster.[]
  5. I cannot corroborate this experience as I did not hear the banging noise myself, but Shutterbat’s car had really great soundproofing. You couldn’t hear road noises with the windows rolled up unless the noisemaker was really loud and right next to the car.[]
  6. According to the works of amateur ufologists John Keel and Gray Barker, paranormal or occult happenings and UFO sightings often go hand-in-hand. However, Barker was probably a hoaxer and Keel might’ve hallucinated some of the things he experienced, so take their words with a grain of salt.[]
  7. Shutterbug never verified if what he saw was a manmade satellite, a planet in our solar system, or an airplane light, but he did say that the object he saw did not move like a manmade object. Keep in mind: drone aircraft were not yet available to the public back in 2006 – 2007.[]
  8. Would you want a place where some goofballs were sacrificing animals to Satan or whoever standing near your serene, well-maintained graveyard?[]

About Dunebat

Sole specimen: Desmodus desertus. Judeo-Christian anchorite/scribe/scribbler. Lover of nerds, Goths, creatives, & outcasts.

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