Based on a piece of artwork by Kimmy Smith
Me, my girlfriend Kimmy, and our friends Ryan and Jackie (also a couple), are what you could call horror aficionados. We go to new horror movies opening night, we go to horror conventions together, we all collect different kinds of horror memorabilia. Even more, I’m on my way to becoming a successful horror author, and Kimmy makes the horrifying artwork that accompanies my writing.
We’ve all been friends for years, but only recently have we all become financially stable enough to do what it is we really want to do: find the true origins of modern American urban legends. Make no mistake, we don’t attempt to be “ghost hunters” or “paranormal investigators”, we just have a deep rooted interest in scary things, and wish to find where they come from.
We don’t look for the sources of the more common urban legends; we look for ones that you have to search for, the ones you have to seek out and talk to the right people who know the people who are related to the people who know the legend firsthand to learn. As such, we were very interested when we were told, via email, the story of “The Man With The Lantern”, from a small town in the Midwest. This email came to us after we posted an ad looking for lesser known urban legends in the country.
According to the email, every 40 years, the small town would experience inexplicable blackouts for 4 nights in a row; not all electricity, just lights. Not only would the lights go out, but logs wouldn’t burn and candles wouldn’t light. Refrigerators would keep food cool, and freezes would continue to freeze, but the lights inside wouldn’t operate. Flashlights were rendered useless. Streetlights never turned on. Cars wouldn’t operate. For 96 hours, anything that produced any kind of light becomes inoperable.
The only light seen in this small town during those 96 hours is a lantern. This lantern is being held by someone, and that someone is only ever seen as the silhouette of someone wearing a long coat and a brimmed hat. This mysterious figure walks up and down the town’s streets, and on the first night, one person goes missing. On the second night, two people go missing, three on the third, until the fourth night, when four people are never seen again. Every 40 years, 10 people allegedly go missing in this small town, and no one has any clue where they go.
It is said that when someone tries to approach the man with the lantern, they are overcome with fear, and find themselves unable to advance towards him, with those that get close enough to see his face in the light of the lantern essentially losing their minds, causing them to be placed in psychiatric facilities for the rest of their lives.
In this email, the sender, unsurprisingly I might add, claimed that this year would make 40 years, and that in roughly a month’s time, the four days would begin. It seemed a little convenient that of all times, we were approaching the 40 year mark now. A little too good to be true. But we decided to check it out anyways.
We waited the three and a half weeks and the set out to the small town that the urban legend purportedly originated, for our first hands-on legend investigation. On our drive there, we made a few stops for restroom breaks, food, etc., and inquired along the way to see just how far this legend had spread over the years. It wasn’t until we stopped at a gas station about 80 miles outside of the town someone actually knew what we were talking about.
He was an older man who went by the name of Dennis, and Dennis claimed to have been around for the last time The Man With The Lantern came to town. It was 1976, and Dennis was getting ready to go to bed when all the lights in his house went out. Not only that, but his fireplace stopped burning as well. It was as if someone had sucked all the oxygen out of the flames; one moment it was burning, the next it wasn’t.
Dennis claimed he wasn’t one to believe in any kind of ghost story like The Man With The Lantern, but he was a little taken aback when he looked out the window of his house and saw nothing but darkness up and down the block. He decided to stay up and see if anything else in the legend came true.
Sure enough, a few hours later, he saw a lantern turn the corner at the end of their block and slowly yet deliberately make its way down the middle of the street in their direction. Dennis stepped outside and yelled to it, but it ignored him and continued walking. He said it looked like a black mass carrying a lantern, just like the email had described it. It passed their house then stopped at one a little bit down the block on the opposite side of the street. It slowly walked up the sidewalk to their front porch, up to their door, and then suddenly, as if in the blink of an eye, Dennis saw the light from the lantern coming from inside the neighbor’s house.
He kept his eyes glued on the house down the street as the lantern illuminated its way throughout, making its way to the second floor of the home. Then, as quickly as it had gotten into the house, the light vanished. Dennis couldn’t believe what he had seen, but fatigue got the best of him, and he found his way to bed.
The next morning he was woken up by the sounds of police sirens flying past his house. He later came to find out that the 8 year old daughter of the family that lived in the house he had seen the lantern go into had gone missing the night before, leaving no clue of where she could have gone.
Dennis said he put his house up on the market that very day, and moved outside of the town, where he has lived and worked ever since. He claimed they never found the little girl.
While the story was certainly unsettling, we took it with a grain of salt. After looking around the gas station for a moment, we saw an advertisement that read “2016: The Year The Man With The Lantern Returns”, almost as if they were treating it as an entertainment event of some sort, which of course further solidified that it was, in fact, just a legend. Either way, we wanted to get to the town and find out what elements of it were based on truth and what had been embellished for the sake of the story.
We finally entered the town, which by all accounts looked just like any other small town you might find in the Midwest. It was the only place you’d find anything in any direction for nearly 40 miles. We made it to what would be our lodging for the next four days, a small Bed & Breakfast located near the center of the town (the town didn’t have a proper hotel or motel, as it as by no means a tourist destination). Upon making the reservations, the woman who helped me told me the days I was choosing the town would be without power, which I said I understood. She then essentially tried to further dissuade me from making the reservation and to postpone it, which I obviously did not.
We entered the B&B and were greeted by who I presume was the same woman I had booked the stay with. She asked us, as non intrusively as the question could be asked, what our visit to the town was for. I made up a story about how we were working on a book and wanted to get the true story behind the legend of The Man With The Lantern, and thought that the best time to do that would be during a time that “he” was supposed to be around.
The woman claimed she had moved to the town in the late 80’s, so she didn’t know much about the legend besides the story itself. We asked who we might talk to regarding it, someone that might be extra familiar with it. We were directed to the town library, where we should seek out the assistant librarian, a woman in her late 70’s named Ruth, who had lived in the town her entire life, and whose family had been there for generations past. And so, to the library we went.
It was around 7pm when we got the library, which wasn’t much more than a one story house absolutely full of books; it wasn’t a large classical building that one might think of when conjuring up images of a “library”. Under the same guise that we were authors working on a book, we asked the man behind the counter to speak to Ruth. As luck would have it, Ruth was about to be done with her shift, and agreed to sit down and talk to us.
From her, we found that the legend originated in 1856. It was based on a man named Ronald Drexler, a killer from the area that would later become the small town which we were currently in. As the story went, it was the night of Ronald’s 40th birthday when something inside him snapped.
Without the luxury of light bulbs and electricity we have today, nights were illuminated by moonlight. On this night, it was particularly dark, so after his family went to sleep, Ronald lit a lantern and walked outside, never to return to his house again. That night, a young boy went missing from the area. The following night, a husband and his pregnant wife vanished. On the third night, a father, mother and their daughter disappeared. The night after that, a young girl went missing from her family, a brother and sister in their teenage years were never seen again, and a man who ran a small business in the area vanished as well.
People who were asked about the disappearances all had one thing in common to report: they saw a man with a lantern walking down the middle of the road around the time the people went missing. The following day, the groundskeeper at the nearby local cemetery came across the body of Ronald Drexler, who had taken his own life via a shotgun to the mouth. His corpse was lying on top of a freshly dug grave in an unmarked spot, which upon inspection revealed his lantern. The bodies of the people who went missing were never found.
It was always generally assumed that Ronald was responsible for the disappearances, but they were never definitively linked. Ruth explained that every 40 years, for that same four days, people go missing in the town. When we asked why if it was true, people wouldn’t just leave the town during the four days, Ruth believed that since so much time passed between the instances, people simply believed it to be a scary story and nothing more, so they didn’t take it seriously. She then said she needed to go, because she was doing just that: getting the hell out of town before the lights went out.
We went to one of the restaurants in town, a place called Daisy’s Diner, and spent the next while there talking about what we’d learned. We then got in our car and were headed up the road to the B&B when the clock read 9:56 and all the lights in the town around us shut off, and our car stalled. We were absolutely stunned. There was no way someone could have planned this. We got out of the car and ran the short distance back to the B&B, who locked the doors behind us and warned that if we left again, we wouldn’t be getting back in until morning.
We headed up to our rooms, which were essentially joined, separated only by a wall with a door, which we left open as we stumbled around in the darkness. We hadn’t anticipated the rooms actually being without power, so we were much more alert now than we had been before. If it hadn’t been for the car dying at the same time as the rest of the town’s electricity, we would have attributed it to an elaborate prank played by the town to scare everyone, but it felt different. We were all suddenly regretting coming here.
It was absolutely mind-blowing. Our lighters wouldn’t work to light candles, matches wouldn’t strike. Our cellphones and laptops were completely non-functional. The three flashlights we’d brought that we’d put new batteries into at our last stop wouldn’t turn on. It was as if the possibility of light had been rendered an impossibility.
It was nearly 4am when Ryan, who happened to glance out the window at the time, uttered under his breath, “No. Fucking. Way.”. The other three of us rushed to the window, where far down the street, a ways away, a dim, solitary light could be seen a few feet off the ground. It slowly moved down the middle of the road, so slowly and so far away, in fact, that we couldn’t initially tell what direction it was heading. Soon, we realized it was coming closer, but before it was too close for comfort, it turned down a side street, and we didn’t see it again for the rest of the night.
We all eventually fell asleep, if even only for a very short time, and when we woke up the following morning, we went to the front desk and asked if anything had happened the night before.
We were shocked to hear that around 7am, a friend of the woman who ran the B&B came and informed her that a woman a few houses down from her own had disappeared. There were no witnesses to the actual abduction, but numerous people reported seeing a light wandering down the middle of the street before finally being inside the house at about 4:15am.
The following two night were very similar. We saw the light both nights, heading in one direction or another. Two and three people went missing on those nights, respectively. Were it not for the fact that we were essentially in the middle of nowhere with no vehicle to get us out, we undoubtedly would have left.
On the morning of the fourth day, I got the idea to ask about the cemetery where Ronald Drexler was found dead. It had apparently been in its very early stages of existence, and as such, when more people came to the area, the caskets were transported to a larger cemetery in the next town over. That is to say, there simply was no cemetery there anymore. The land it was formerly built upon was now occupied by houses, and as legend would have it, nearing dawn on the fourth night of The Man With The Lantern’s return, the man would always make his way to the backyard of one particular house, bury the lantern, and simply disappear.
We patiently waited the fourth night for everything to be over so that we could leave. It was around 2am when we saw the lantern that night, and it was in the same spot we’d seen it the first night. For the next two hours, we saw it crisscross between streets, apparently collecting his victims. Then, at about 4:30am, we saw him again, at the same place he’d started the first night once again. This time, however, it kept coming towards us. It made its way closer and closer to us, never turning down any of the numerous side streets between us and it.
Within minutes, it was nearing the doorstep of the B&B, and we were thoroughly freaked out. We could finally see the outline of a man holding the lantern. It had the brimmed hat and long coat we’d read about in the email and heard about from the people we’d spoken to about the “legend”. Before long, he was almost flush with the B&B. I quietly opened the window to stick my head out and see what the man with the lantern was doing, and caught a glimpse of it for a split second before it vanished.
I brought my head back in and turned around to tell my girlfriend and our friends that it had disappeared, but when I did, the man with the lantern was standing inside our room, with its back against the closed door. By all standards, it would have been impossible for him to make it inside the building and up the stairs and into our room within the second and a half I couldn’t see him. Even moreso, there’s no way we wouldn’t have heard the door open and close.
I gasped, and my friends sat there, facing me in pure terror, too afraid to turn around and see what I was seeing. They all slowly turned around, and I could feel the anxiety and tension in the room rise as The Man With The Lantern stared us down from behind the shadow cast by his enclosed candlelight.
The room was nearly silent, with the only noise being the sharp breaths we were taking while trying to hold back screams, and the nearly inaudible crackle emanating from the candle within the lantern. There were a few seconds where it seemed as if time stood still; it was like everyone was truly frozen in the moment. The silence and tranquility of that moment was shattered when The Man With The Lantern advanced towards us, seemingly sliding on the floor beneath his feet.
We all let out a cry as he opened his arms and encompassed Jackie, closing his arms around her. And with that, he was gone. The lantern was gone. There was no more light in the room. From the moment he moved, it was no more than a second and a half until the entire ordeal was over.
The remaining three of us sat there bewildered, unsure of what had just happened. Then we all just sort of snapped out of it and began panicking. We rushed downstairs and pounded on the door to the owner’s room. She opened it, and asked what was going on. We asked her where the house that was built on the spot where Ronald Drexler died was, but she didn’t know. She rushed to her phone and called Ruth, who was apparently already awake. We got the address and the B&B woman gave us directions. We weren’t very far; after all, it wasn’t a that big of a town.
Kimmy, Ryan and myself all ran down the stairs and out the front door of the Bed & Breakfast, which had to be unlocked before we could exit. We ran down the main road and turned down the street we were told to turn down. From there, we ran two blocks up and made a left. When we did, we stopped in our tracks. We were standing maybe 40 feet away from The Man With The Lantern. It was slowly walking away from us, directly down the middle of the road, lantern in hand, with Jackie nowhere to be seen.
We all stood there for a moment, silently debating on what move to make next. Ryan apparently came to a conclusion, because he suddenly shouted out “HEY! WHAT DID YOU DO WITH HER?!” and took off running towards him. I shouted “NO!”, recalling the part of the urban legend that said that anyone who ever got too close to The Man With The Lantern would essentially lose their mind.
Kimmy and I ran after him, but Ryan was determined to get the love of his life back. He ran up behind The Man With The Lantern and opened his arms as if to tackle him, but when he tried, he fell clean through him, landing flat on his stomach. He quickly turned over, and even in the dark, from where Kimmy and I were, we could see the color drain from his face. He didn’t scream, he didn’t even move. The Man With The Lantern just stood over him, motionless, and Ryan was resting on his forearms, looking up. Ryan then seemingly fainted, his head making a loud *crack* sound when his head hit the pavement. The Man With The Lantern then continued his stroll down the middle of the street.
When he was about 20 feet past Ryan, we ran to our friends side. He was unconscious. After a few moments, we were able to wake him up, but he wouldn’t make a sound, and he was as stiff as a board. I looked up from him, and under the light provided by the rising sun, saw The Man With The Lantern turn to his left and head through the front yard of the last house on the block, making his way to the backyard. I told Kimmy to stay with Ryan and promised I would be back. I sprinted to try to see what really happened to The Man With The Lantern when his reign of terror was finally over.
I made my way around the side of the house that he had gone behind and stuck my head around the corner, peering into the backyard. Just as Ruth had told us, The Man With the Lantern dug a hole with his hands and placed the lantern inside, then replaced all the dirt, covering the lantern. He then simply laid on his back, covering the hole he’d just dug, and with that, he simply dissipated.
I ran back to Kimmy and Ryan, the latter of which was just silently laying there. Suddenly, numerous porch lights flickered on on the houses that surrounded us. It was over. We pulled Ryan to the sidewalk; someone came out of their house and said they would call the police. I grabbed Kimmy and we ran to the house where The Man With The Lantern had gone, and when we got to the backyard, I dropped to the ground and used my hands to dig up the freshly packed dirt The Man With The Lantern had used to cover his lantern, and found nothing. No lantern was there.
Ryan was committed to a 24 hour care psychiatric facility, and hasn’t said a word since the night everything happened. He simply stares off in front of him, into seeming nothingness; the life has long been drained from his eyes, just as the color has from his skin. He looks as if he has always just seen a ghost.
That fateful night, after the ambulance had finally arrived and taken Ryan, we went and retrieved our car and headed back to the B&B. We paid our fees, which were heavily discounted as a favor from the woman who ran it. We talked to the police, who fully believed in the legend, and were terribly sorry that someone in our group had fallen victim to The Man With The Lantern. We stayed with Ryan until he was transferred back to our hometown.
We don’t know what happened that night, but Kimmy and I have dedicated a lot of our time and resources to trying to find out what happened to our friends, and have vowed to look into other small town urban legends, in an effort to try to help anyone that might be harmed in the future.
One thing we know is that in 40 years, we will be ready. By that time, we will have uncovered the secret behind the legend that took our two closest friends from us. In 40 years, we will be there to confront The Man With The Lantern, and we will find the answers we need.