top of page

"That Night At The Abandoned Church" by Justin Carter

Sometimes, I wonder which stories are really mine to tell. Take, for instance, the night Raul thought the devil had climbed inside his cross necklace. The two of us were at this abandoned church out on FM 134, on the outskirts of Newell, next to a creek that’s been dried up since before my grandparents were born, even though it still shows up as a faint blue line on all the topographical maps. The church didn’t even look that much like a church—from the outside, you’d think it was an abandoned barn instead, with mildewed wood on each side and corrugated metal covering what had once been windows.

It was a tradition in our town—going back to at least the 80s—to drive out there, pry the metal out of the way, and crawl inside. The rumor was that little ghosts were floating through the place and if you took a picture, you’d see the proof in the little orbs dotting the photo. The illuminated eyes of the dead, a girl at school said once. I didn’t believe it—it was pretty clear to me those “orbs” were just specks of dust reacting to the camera flash—but Raul did. It had to be haunted, he said, and we had to go check it out, experience it for ourselves.

That wasn’t the only rumor about the place, though. My friend Christine, her older brother had told her that satanists sacrifice goats inside the place, that it was some kind of portal to hell. Someone else said that the Klan met out there and used the ghost story as cover to keep people away. Still others said it was just a building. The truth’s probably in there somewhere.


Months before that, I was with Raul and his family at Mardi Gras in Galveston. His parents had been collecting beads for seventeen years, since the first Fat Tuesday after he was born. Raul told me a lot of crazy stuff went down on the Strand, but they weren’t there for any of that. Ignore all the debauchery. We were there for beads, and we’d be crawling under parked cars and sticking our hands into storm drains to get as many as we could.

“All we do is collect things,” Raul said. “We’ve got a whole cabinet full of those free AOL disks that used to come in the mail. Dad says one day they’ll be antiques and we can get rich selling them.”

“Is that why y’all are getting all these beads? To sell?”

“I don’t know. I think we’re going to put together a Mardi Gras tree. It’s like a Christmas tree, but you take all the ornaments off and throw a bunch of beads on. Mom keeps talking about putting it up one of these years.”

“My dad used to collect baseball cards. We have like six years of full Topps sets in the closet. He says it's my inheritance.”

“It runs in our blood. My nana collects crosses and rosaries. She took them all with her a few years back when she went to the Vatican. Stuffed her pockets full and went to the Pope’s daily address, so when he blessed everyone there, all of ‘em became sacred.”


I drove that night. Raul was conflicted about going, even though it’d been his idea in the first place. I guess he was scared something would go wrong out there. I told him we needed to have this experience together, before we graduated and went our separate ways. When we got there, we pulled into the ditch, right outside the fence that surrounded the land, and sat in the car for fifteen minutes, trying to psych ourselves up to get out. I don’t know about Raul, but my mind was going every which way. I didn’t believe in ghosts, but I did believe in things, like, getting arrested for trespassing, or getting shot if there really were some redneck satanists inside.

Finally, we exited the car. There was a cemetery beside the church, with broken headstones dotting the night. I didn’t know it then, but years later, visiting home for the holidays, I’d go back to that church and scoop up dirt from that graveyard to give to a friend I met in college who collected unique jars of dirt. It was daytime when I did that though—the whole place looked different, freed from the pall that night throws over everything.

We barely took note of the cemetery that night, though. Instead, we walked over to the church itself and stared at the metal that covered the windows. I wanted to climb inside, get it all over with. I looked over at Raul and he was shaking a little. It wasn’t cold out. I couldn’t tell what that meant until he finally said something.

“I think I’m doing it. I’m going in.”

“Alright,” I said. “Let’s get this window open.” I grabbed a fallen tree limb and started to pry at the edge of the metal. It moved easily—we weren’t the first people to do this. Probably not even the first that week. Raul asked me if I had a flashlight. I didn’t, but I held my phone out to him, the blue screen glowed enough to give us at least a little bit of light. He put the phone through the hole in the window, lighting enough of a space to ensure we knew what we were crawling into. Once we both made it through the window, he turned to me.

“I’m scared,” he whispered. “I’m fucking scared, bro.”

We moved the metal slab mostly back into place, leaving just enough of an opening that some of the moon could shine through, giving us a little more light. Even though I’d seen some of the pictures people took, none of them had been expansive enough for me to get a real sense of that room. To even know if it was really an old church. But there were the pews, all hammered together out of wood that had long been rotting.

“There’s an energy here,” Raul said. “I think Christine’s brother’s right about the satanists.”

“Just kind of seems like an abandoned building,” I said. “I don’t see goat blood or anything.”

“Bro, they probably cleaned it up after.”

“My dad hunts. Blood ain’t easy to clean up.”

“There’s some weird shit here.” He started to shake and it was clear something about that space was freaking him out and that we’d quickly reached a point where there was no use trying to reason with him. He turned toward me, then suddenly put both hands on his throat, the cross necklace held between his index finger and thumb. “It’s not strong enough.”

“What are you talking about?”

“My cross. It ain’t strong enough. I’m not blessed enough, man.”

“Maybe we need to get out of here.”

I stepped toward the window, but Raul wasn’t moving. His hands were still at his throat and he was looking up at the ceiling. I grabbed his arm and started trying to pull him. He was just dead weight. It took all the strength I had to shove him back out the window. He crashed to the dirt below, then sat up.

“Take it off,” he said, pointing to the necklace, so I pulled it over his head and tossed it to the ground. Almost instantly, his body relaxed.

“We’re leaving,” he said. “Right the fuck now.” He took off running toward the car, leaving the necklace there on the ground.


I dropped Raul off at his parent’s house. He was silent the entire drive—didn’t even say bye when he got out of the car. It was weird. I knew he was pretty religious, but I didn’t know he was thought-the-devil-was-possessing-a-necklace religious. I hadn’t seen a thing inside that church, but he seemed to have felt something. I don’t know if he was just scaring himself or if there really was something else there, some kind of spirit.

I was a couple blocks from home when I remembered we’d left his necklace back at the church. I figured that since it was one of the ones that his grandmother had gotten blessed, I should probably go get it back. Once he got over whatever had happened, he’d probably still want it, so I pulled a U-turn and headed back toward FM 134. When I got back to the church, it was just as quiet as it had been before. I pulled back into the same ditch and got out of the car. Went back over by the window where I’d thrown the necklace down. The only light I had was my cell phone screen and the moon but I was pretty sure I remembered exactly where I’d tossed it, so I thought it’d be easy to find. I was wrong. After ten minutes, I started to wonder if Raul’d been right. If it had been possessed and had just drifted away. The image of that was enough to make me laugh out loud, right there in front of this abandoned church. Then came five more minutes of fruitless searching before I gave up and left.


Raul wasn’t at school Monday. Or Tuesday. When he finally showed back up Wednesday he acted like he didn’t want anything to do with me—he sat with a different friend group at lunch and when I asked if he wanted to head over to Nighthawks to grab a burger after school, he said he was busy. It wasn’t until Friday that he finally started to act like himself.

“Everything good?” I asked him when he came up to my locker after history class.

“Sorry about this last week, bro. I’ve just been out of it.”

“Want to talk about it?”

“Yeah. Can you give me a ride home?”

I waited for him at my car after the final bell, and for a couple minutes, I started to think he wasn’t going to show until I saw him shuffling out of a side door.

“I’m nervous ‘bout getting back in this car,” he said. He hesitated for a second, then finally pulled open the passenger door.

“You got real spooked when we were out there.”

“I never want to talk about this again after today, okay?”

“No problem, man.”

“I just knew as soon as we stepped inside that something was wrong. My necklace was getting real heavy. And then I looked over at you and I could just see it.”

“See what?”

“I don’t know. Some, like, dark red mist sneaking up behind you. I thought the devil fucking had you, man. Like you were a goner. I touched the cross and just thought about being strong and I guess whatever entity that was there heard me, because it went past you and came right for me. If you hadn’t been there to drag me out and cast that shit off, who fucking knows. I could be dead. Or possessed. It was scary.”

I didn’t tell him I went back to find that necklace. I could tell then that he wouldn’t have taken it back anyways. We spent the rest of the ride back to his place talking about football. We never spoke of the night again—just moved forward like it never happened.

I don’t want to say it was that night that made Raul and I lose touch. We hung out off and on for about a year after high school. But at some point, we just stopped meeting up. I’d come home from Austin and I’d forget to tell him I was in town, and then I’d do the same thing again, and again. He was working at his parent’s construction company then. He was going to run it one day. He used to tell me if I ever needed work, I could come drive a backhoe. I don’t know if that’s still the case.

On my twenty-third birthday, I got a text from Raul, the first one in probably two years. All it said was “mom finally put up that Mardi Gras tree, happy birthday dog,” with a picture of a tree covered in beads. I texted back “haha, looks good, how you been,” and he didn’t respond. I was sitting in a bar that had a giant crucifix on the wall, but instead of Jesus’ hands being nailed to the cross, there were little Coors Light cans in each one, and that coupled with hearing from Raul took me back to that night. If his family was still collecting the beads, were they collecting the crosses too? And whatever happened to the one he lost—did he think about it still? I almost called him, but I didn’t know if there was anything else left for us to say. 


bottom of page