I’ve known Colleen for almost half my life (NOW THAT’S SCARY, COLLEEN!) and I never heard her tell the ghost story below. It gave me shivers. I love her stories because they always incorporate some element of ghostly encounters or verge just on the edge of something creepy, something terrible. We also have a mutual obsession with Bunnyman Bridge, and she was the first person to ever drive me there to see it. So excited to have her chat with me on Friday the 13th about what scares her.
What is your greatest fear?
Not being as interesting as some of the people you’ve already interviewed. Just kidding. I have a real problem with heights, and it translates into other terrors like bridges you can see through as you are driving over them. Why would someone make something like that? And really steep escalator stairs like with the Washington, D.C., Metro. I’m pretty sure the Dupont Circle stop is a hellmouth. Can’t do it. Nope.
Do you believe in ghosts? Why or why not?
Of course, but I don’t know why. It just makes sense to me on some level. Whether there is life after death is a theme in some of my work. I want to believe that there is more than to this experience than we are capable of seeing and sensing. If there aren’t ghosts, I’ve had experiences that are difficult to explain.
What is your favorite urban legend?
I grew up in Philadelphia, and I can remember my grandparents teasing us kids about the Jersey Devil. But I could never really picture him/it, and I guess I felt safe being on the other side of the river from New Jersey.
Here in Virginia, near where I live, we have the Bunnyman. The Bunnyman legend has never really scared me, but those dark country roads are always creepy. It is a good story with violence, an escaped criminally insane person, and a spooky wooded area where there is this strange little bridge that is nicknamed the Bunnyman Bridge. There is some basis for the legend—a hachet was thrown and the attacker described as wearing a bunny suit. It is fun to see the legend get picked up by various podcasts and other shows, and it is interesting to see how the legend gets retold and embellished. It is a source of inspiration. I have written a story about Bunnyman Bridge that is forthcoming from Heavy Feather Review.
Have you ever had any paranormal experiences or premonitions? How did you deal with it?
When I was an undergraduate at Virginia Commonwealth University, I worked on the school newspaper as a photographer. At VCU, many of the offices are in these old houses in Richmond. The newspaper’s dark room was in Ginter House, which is this fancy mansion built about 1880. The dark room was at the very top of this house in one of the gables. It may have been the servant’s quarters because there were two rooms up there, and it had its own staircase.
One day I was developing some prints, and I could hear someone coming up the staircase and walking toward the door. I called to them “just a minute” and then worked on getting everything into the fixer so none of the prints would be ruined. Then I unlocked the door. No one was there. It freaked me out a little, but it was daytime and there were other people in the building. The other floors were filled with administration offices and cubicles.
The newspaper had keys to the building, so at night and on the weekends, we let ourselves in. It was on one of these weekends that I brought a friend with me. I’m printing as fast as I can so I can get on with my weekend, and we hear footsteps. I don’t say anything this time, but my friend gets down on the floor and tries to see under the door. She didn’t see anything despite what we were hearing. Again I wait until everything is in the fixer and then open the door. No one is there, but it is helpful to have a witness who hears the same things I do. I know it is not my imagination.
Then one night I’m up there alone. It was a Saturday night, and I was on deadline. Again I’m working as fast as I can so I can get out the hell out of there. No footsteps this time, but as I’m leaving, standing at the top of that staircase, I hear a squeak so I turn around. The door to the crawlspace is opening so so slowly. At this point, part of me is thinking this is the guys fucking with me. There were four or five photographers, and I was the only girl. So I stood there with all my stuff waiting because I wasn’t going to let them prank me. And it is opening so slowly and I’m thinking… what if it isn’t the guys, what if someone is living in Ginter House illegally, what if this is the moment in the horror movie when you are telling Laurie Stokes not to put down the knitting needles… so I run down the levels of the house until I get to the door, which I lock behind me. I then head over to the newspaper offices and count the keys. They were all there. No one had taken out.
I went back the next day in the daylight to look at the crawlspace. The door was closed. I looked in there, and it was full of antique desks. So what was it? Was I being pranked? Was it a spirit? I don’t know. I switched over to just writing for the paper so I didn’t have to go up there anymore.
VCU has written about the haunting.
“The door to the crawlspace is opening so so slowly…and I’m thinking… what if someone is living in Ginter House illegally?”
Do you have any horror movie dealbreakers?
I don’t like anything with little kids getting hurt or being put in danger. Both Pet Sematary movies are hard for me (and they always seem to be on television), and I’ve skipped parts of them. I know what happens. I don’t need to see it.
What’s the scariest book you’ve ever read? Is there a particular scene that really haunts you still?
It is hard to pick the scariest. Stephen King has terrified me at different stages of my life with different books. I can remember reading The Shining for the first time in high school, and the scene in which Wendy kills her husband, but he keeps coming after her, and the narrative switches from “he” to “it.” I had never read anything like that before. It was shocking and terrifying, and I still remember that moment. Then there is Danny Glick scratching on the window in Salem’s Lot. So hard to get that image out of your mind.
Colleen Kearney Rich is the author of the chapbook Things You Won’t Tell Your Therapist (Finishing Line Press, 2019). Her writing has been published in SmokeLong Quarterly, Wigleaf, matchbook, and Pithead Chapel, among others. She lives in Virginia, and you can find her on Twitter at @colleenrich.