By Randy Chandler & Cheryl Mullenax
Todd Sullivan, Videographer
The guys called me when their regular videographer ended up in the hospital. I’d worked with Sam and Tessa once before, couple of years before their YouTube channel took off and started making money. It was a one-night gig, typical ghost-hunting crap, but I figured what the hell. Networking, bro. The whole thing was a bust, them prowling around a spooky location, going “What was that?” at imaginary sounds and me shooting the silly charade in night-vision green.
So, this time Sam says they’re going to investigate a monster sighting in West Virginia, some coalmine ghost town. And I’m thinking, if it’s a ghost town, then who’s around to see the monster? The ghosts? But I say I’ll do it because I need the gig. I figured anything was better than chasing ghosts with these bozos because, hey, you can’t shoot a fucking ghost. If there was some kind of critter there, he would show up in my viewfinder. Not that I expected there would actually be a real monster.
Sam Hanson, Hunting Monsters Co-Host
I was against it from the beginning. I told Tessa I wanted no part in babysitting her brother while we’re on the job. But she stuck to her guns and insisted, saying it would be rude to just leave him back in Atlanta while we go traipsing off to Bumfuck, West Virginia. He was our houseguest, after all, so I had to agree it would be rude. And it wouldn’t really be babysitting ‘cause Billy was a big boy, a former middle-linebacker for the Crimson fucking Tide and could certainly handle himself. That wasn’t the point. I just didn’t want to have to worry about having an extra along on the shoot, especially since this time we would be working without our regular cameraman. See, Billy wanted screen time too. I think he thought of himself as a celebrity guest for our show. So. That’s how he ended up along for the ride. Against my better judgment, which in hindsight was dead on.
Tessa Mooney, Hunting Monsters Co-Host
I don’t really want to do this. I don’t want to talk about it at all. But I know I have to. Sam says it will help me come to terms with it, and maybe it will. But I doubt it. What happened will haunt me the rest of my life. But we’re supposed to be professionals, and that’s why I’m doing this now. Like they say, ‘The show must go on.’ Right? What they don’t say is that the nightmare never fucking ends. But you know what? I can blame nobody but myself. Because of me we ended up in that place, because of my family ties to the area. But you can’t call yourself a monster hunter if you aren’t serious about the hunt. We were very serious. And seriously fucked when we found one.
Tessa got the call. One of her relatives from West Virginia. Her family tree has deep roots in coal country. You’d never know it to look at her now but she has that salt-of-the-earth hardscrabble heritage. Sweet as she is, she’s one tough cookie. I know ‘cause she bloodied my nose one time when I stepped over the line. Anyway, Tessa’s second cousin called her from an unincorporated area called Booger Hollow. I kid you not, that’s the name of the place. Google it. The place has a long history of disappearances, murders, and ghost stories but it was news to me. I’d never heard of it. When I asked Tessa why she’d never told me about it—I mean, after all we were ghost hunters back then, right? She said she’d never been there and she’d always been told by her family that none of it was true, not the ghost stories anyway. The murders and disappearances were matter of record.
But that’s not why her cousin called. She called to tell Tessa that a monster ate her kid, her eight-year-old son Jasper. No shit, that’s what she said. When Tessa told me about it, I thought she was yanking my chain, you know? A boogieman in Booger Hollow? Give me a fucking break. But no, she dead serious.
I wasn’t upfront with the real reason I’d never mentioned the Hollow to the guys, to anyone really. Skeletons in the family closet. The rattling-them-bones kind. I mean, when your half-sister is an honest to God witch, you don’t brag about it to your circle of urban friends. And I damn sure wasn’t going to broadcast it on the show. Not that Vonda ever called herself a witch. To hear her tell it, she was simply a healer and a spell-caster, a conjurer of helpful spirits.
But that all changed after my cousin Bertie called from her home near Booger Hollow—the “Holler,” as she called it—to say something attacked and mostly devoured her Jasper. It had to come out then so I fessed up to Sam. Told him pretty much everything. The shocker being that my sister the witch supposedly murdered somebody with her black magic, though nobody could ever prove it. A hundred years ago they might’ve burned her at the stake or hanged her and then burned her. But you can’t do that in this day and age, not even in the hills of Good Olde West Virginny.
I have to admit, I was a bit was shocked when Tessa told me about her half-sister Vonda, witch and alleged murderer. It wasn’t the witchcraft thing that bothered me so much as the fact that she had been keeping that part of her life secret from me. I mean, we’d been living together for three years and by then you think you should know most all there is to know about a person. Now that I do know, I feel closer to Tessa than ever, like I understand why she’s the way she is, her basic motivations and such. You can leave your family behind but your family never leaves you—they’re always with you in some way, even if it’s just in your nightmares.
Bottom line, Tessa and I lit out for West Virginia coal country with a deeper understanding between us.
So there we are, me, Sam, Tessa and her brother Billy the jock, crammed into their van like we’re the Scooby-Doo gang, off to hunt a monster. I generally don’t care for jocks, so I avoid looking Billy in the eye, like you don’t look a dangerous dog in the eye ‘cause it might piss him off. I feel sort of bad about that now, given what happened to him. What happened to Billy shouldn’t happen to a dog, as the saying goes.
We rolled up in Booger Hollow just before sunset. If you’ve never been to an abandoned town, let me tell you, it can creep you the fuck out big-time. Like goosebumps, man. The hairs on my arms and neck stood up and saluted. Empty buildings, deserted stores with broken windows, weeds growing in the sidewalk cracks. And the crows! I shit you not, there were crows everywhere, like something from a horror movie. Tessa just about freaked when she saw those crows. Me…man, I was digging it! This place was the perfect cinematic setting for our show. As soon as I hopped out of the van I got some great footage of those crows perched on tree branches, rooftops, crooked streetlights, rusted-out dumpsters. Shot it in the dying light of the setting sun. A murder of crows keeping watch over a ghost town? Awesome. Right out of Hitchcock. Cawing their feathered asses off like the Crow Choir From Hell. Absolutely fucking awesome! At the time, I thought it was a good omen for the shoot. But of course it was just the opposite.
My half-sister Vonda was supposed to meet us at the old train depot. Trains didn’t stop there anymore, she would be driving herself. She said she’d be there at five that evening but when she hadn’t showed by five-thirty, I tried to call her cell but I couldn’t get a signal. None of us could. I wasn’t too worried at that point. Vonda lived on Vonda Standard Time, never a slave to a clock or social niceties. She could be the poster girl for In The World But Not Of It—except that she would never allow her image to be captured for a poster. Or for anything else. She didn’t let anyone photograph her. Our substitute video guy Todd wasn’t too happy about that because he’d been all set to shoot his first witch, especially after I’d told him about her exotic looks, the long silver-streaked raven hair, the intense green eyes and the hawkish nose, all attached to a shockingly slim wraithlike body. Todd made a smartass remark about her being afraid a camera might capture her soul. But I’m not sure he was wrong about that.
So, anyway we left Billy there to wait for her while Sam and I and Todd went to find a place to sleep before full dark. Naturally, there’s no electricity in a ghost town and all we had were flashlights and lanterns. We ended up laying out our sleeping bags and gear in what used to be the drug store. It was pretty cozy and cleaner than the old hotel with its rat droppings and roaches and general filth.
Back when we were doing the ghost hunter show, we would always spend the night in whatever room or building that was said to be haunted, and now that we’re monster hunters we follow the same pattern and usually sleep in whatever area the alleged monster is supposed to range. It adds suspense and atmosphere, and it’s fun if you’re the outdoor type, which Tessa and I are. Because, you know, to be honest, we rarely come across a real monster.
According to Tessa’s cousin, the Booger Hollow beast likely had its lair in an abandoned coalmine. None of us wanted to spend the night in a mine inhabited by a beast of unspecified origin. The plan was to go into the mine in daytime. It would still be dark inside the mine so we wouldn’t lose the ominous atmosphere. If things went to shit and we had to beat a hasty retreat out of there, at least we’d be running to daylight rather than into more dark.
As we say in our disclaimer at the beginning of each show, we’re monster hunters, not monster killers. We shoot with a camera, not guns. I mean, you don’t kill Bigfoot if you’re lucky enough to find him. But we did have firearms for protection. Tessa packs a Taurus .357 Magnum on her hip, and depending on the nature of whatever beast we’re hunting, I sometimes carry a deer rifle slung over my shoulder. Strictly for self-defense against wild animal attacks. Todd brought a .38 Police Special he got at a pawnshop especially for this gig. For some reason he wore it in a shoulder holster. So we weren’t what you’d call “loaded for bear” but we thought we had adequate firepower. Packing guns made for good drama. It gave us a certain amount of gravitas.
I feel sort of bad now for the way I snubbed Billy. He wasn’t really that big of an asshole, not the obnoxious jock I expected him to be. He was wearing his old football jersey, number 47, Alabama Crimson Tide. I remember thinking when we left him to wait at the train depot that with that red jersey he was like a Redshirt crewmember on Star Trek, the expendable dude that usually gets killed off while Kirk and Spock and the rest of the regulars always manage to warp-drive their lucky asses to safety. I don’t know if that’s what you’d call a premonition or just the free-associating imagination of somebody who watched too many TV reruns in his youth. What happened to him in the end was not something they could’ve shown on Star Trek. Or anywhere else.
But that didn’t happened until the next day. The day we went into the mine.
Vonda rode up in her beat-to-shit pickup truck at 6:30, about the time we were ready to give up waiting and go back to our basecamp in the drug store. Sam called it Basecamp, like we were on some military operation. He tends to get dramatic like that, all macho and full of bravado, especially in front of the camera. I usually just grit my teeth and go along with it. Anyway, Vonda made it, and we all went back to the drug store so she could fill us in on the background info we needed to know, and most importantly, to give us the location of the mineshaft. I thought it odd at the time that she was very cool to Billy. Though they were blood relatives, she seemed to avoid him like a plague victim. No greeting hug, no handshake. Just a casual nod.
Vonda and I share the same father but we have different mothers. And like mother, like daughter: Vonda’s mom was a witch too, a real hillbilly conjure woman. We’d never been all that close and rarely got to spend much time together back in Ravenswood, because my mom and I moved to Wheeling before I graduated. But I knew Vonda well enough to see that she was as skittish as a cat on hot bricks about this monster business.
Vonda was a striking individual. She had this aura about her that somehow didn’t go with her physical appearance, which was a bit theatrical, otherworldly even, the streaked hair, the eerie eyes, but I got the sense that she was more than she appeared to be, like she had another personality inside her, or maybe the real Vonda, hidden from sight. Meeting her for the first time, I was convinced there was much more to her than meets the eye.
As soon as I saw Vonda, I knew I had to get video of her. And I had to do it surreptitiously because of her aversion to being photographed. I reached into my gear bag and pulled out my HD Hat Cam, an ordinary ball cap with a hidden camera in the front. Federal regulations prohibit hidden video cameras that record audio (cops are exempt) so I’d unlawfully paired mine with an audio recorder with a tiny mic I could wear in my lapel or shirt buttonhole. While the rest of the group made the short hike to basecamp, I hung back at the depot and suited up to illegally record witchy Vonda.
I caught up with them at the drug store and Vonda was already into her monologue. The video quality wouldn’t be very good in just electric lantern-light but at least I would have it. And I knew the audio would be fine.
Vonda Mooney, Ravenswood Witch, Tessa’s Half-sister
…expect you to believe it but I saw all what wuz left of the boy. You could tell it wuz Jasper cuz his face was still there but the top of his head wudn’t and his brains wuz all gone. He wuz gutted–heart, lungs, liver, kidneys, all gone, but the critter didn’t go for his intestines. Reckon it don’t like to eat shit. Went hell-bent for his ass cheeks though, like they wuz prime cuts. Nothin’ left of poor Jasper’s backside but his asshole.
Now I never seen the beast myself but I know a few lucky ones what did. Lucky cuz they lived to tell it. I don’t wanna see it. Don’t want no part of it and I’m tellin’ you right now you should all pack up yer shit and git the hell out from here.
But I know you, Tessie, I know you’re hardheaded like yer Diddy, God rest his soul, and I know you liable to git yourself et up too. I ort not to tell you where the fucker lives but I promised I would cuz cousin Bertie’s took the crazy notion that you and yer monster hunters here can somehow set thangs right. Don’t ask me how. Didn’t show up in my tealeaves. So if you’re damn fool enough to wanna git et by the monster, then waltz on into old Number 9.
I’m here to tell you, they say the thing moves fast as lightnin’. It’s hard to see cuz it’s black as night. You ain’t likely to get nothin’ with them cameras but a black blur but it won’t matter no way cuz you’ll be dead.
Todd tipped me off on the sly that he’d shot Vonda’s speech with a hidden video. I wasn’t sure at the time if we would be able to use it without her consent but I was glad we had it for the record. I was thinking we might be able to get her consent later if we blurred out her face. So I just gave Todd a wink and a sly nod.
I left it to Tessa to question her sister for details. Honestly, Vonda scared me a little. I’m not sure why. Maybe it was the eyes or the severe look she constantly wore on her face. I’m not usually intimidated by women but she was something else. Spooky as hell.
Vonda told us about Jasper’s death, describing in graphic detail the mess that was left of the poor kid’s body. It nearly turned my stomach. The last time I’d seen Jasper, he was six years old. Hearing what happened to him hit me pretty hard.
Apparently the boy had ridden his bike the three miles from his home in Widow’s Ridge to Booger Hollow on a dare, to prove to his pals that he didn’t believe any of the tall tales of ghosts or monsters in the Holler. He was going to shoot a selfie with the No. 9 mineshaft as background. When Jasper didn’t come back his father went after him and found his mostly eaten remains in front of the mine. There were no witnesses to the attack but because of the previous sightings of the creature, it was assumed that the Beast of Booger Hollow was the culprit. The one pic they found on his bloody phone showed the out of focus mouth of No. 9 with a blurred streak of black in the corner of the shot.
Vonda advised us in no uncertain terms to call off our monster hunt and get the hell out of there if we wanted to live. I think that’s why she drove all the way from Ravenswood to talk to us in person instead of over the phone. She thought she could be more persuasive face to face. But of course she couldn’t talk us out it. We had a show to do and nearly a million subscribers we didn’t want to disappoint. And this time we believed we would have a real live monster to show them.
So Vonda stayed the night with us in the drug store so she could take us to No. 9 the next day. She lit a few candles in some kind of ritual, off to herself, and then hung a leather necklace with a pendant of crafted coal around Tessa’s neck as a charm to ward off evil. Then she kissed her full on the lips. I have to admit that with all the melodrama I was wishing she’d had one for me too.
Nobody slept too well that night. Not after we heard this god-awful screeching howl off in the distance. I asked Vonda what the hell it was and she said, “That’s what you shouldn’t go lookin’ for. The sumbitch that’ll eat yer ass for breakfast.”
After some decent campfire coffee for breakfast, Vonda led us to the mine, said a hurried goodbye and left. I felt bad for Billy, for the way she’d ignored him, but knowing what I know now, I think Vonda foresaw his death and was already distancing herself from him. With her gone, I felt vulnerable, exposed. And afraid. Even with all her doom and gloom warnings, I felt safer when she was with us.
We arrived at the mine at 9:30 that morning. The day was overcast, gray and dreary. An early autumn chill in the air. We shot the intro, Tessa and I doing our usual Hunting Monsters spiel, giving a capsule history of the abandoned coalmine up to the recent monster sightings, and then laying out the grisly details of Jasper’s death. Tessa introduced her brother Billy as the guest member of our team. Billy grinned and gave the Bama war cry: “Roll Tide.” It worked since he was wearing the Crimson Tide football jersey and looked the part of a middle-linebacker. Like he was ready to sack the monster.
We donned our miner’s helmets with attached headlamps and I signaled Todd to keep shooting as we made our entrance into No. 9. That was when hell broke loose.
I was zooming out a little for a wider shot as they were about to enter the mine when the thing came flying out of there. It moved so fast you couldn’t tell if it was touching the ground or actually flying. Billy was still turned toward the camera when the thing swept past him, right in front of him. I guess I was too startled to try to track it with my camera. Couldn’t have anyway because it moved too fast. My attention was riveted on Billy, on the look of shock and surprise on his face, and then right in front of my eyes his belly opened up and his guts started spilling out from his shredded jersey. He tried to hold them in but it was no use. His insides splattered on the rocky dirt and he slumped and sagged, already shrinking like a deflating balloon, this big strapping boy unmanned in the blink of an eye. He dropped to his knees, face gone ghost-white, then just toppled over on his face. If he wasn’t dead already I knew he soon would be. All this happened in the course of, say, five or six seconds. The thing that had done it to him was long gone from my viewfinder and was probably behind me but my training and experience took over and I kept shooting. Sam and Tessa had their guns drawn as I did a speedy 360-degree pan trying to get a better shot of whatever the hell that thing was.
My brain was telling me I should be fearing for my life. The adrenaline surge had me immediately hyped for flight or fight. No way was I running away. I was standing my ground, ready to fight for good footage, the objective observer in me whispering that this was going to be great stuff if I kept my head and kept shooting. The stuff careers are made of.
But the thing—the monster or whatever the fuck it was—was gone.
I focused on Sam and Tessa, on their stunned faces. Their guns were searching for a target. “Where the hell did it go?” I half yelled.
And I kept recording the scene. I moved in for a close-up on bloody, gutted Billy, knowing that at any moment I could be hit from behind—hell, from anywhere—and just as quickly gut-fucked as Billy was.
I had the crazy idea that as long as I kept doing my job and kept shooting, I’d be okay.
I saw it happen but I wasn’t sure what I’d just seen. I mean, all right, it had to be the monster we’d come looking for, but it moved so fast–and just that quick, destroyed a human life—I still had no idea what it was.
I had my pistol out but it was useless on something moving with such speed. I went to Billy, knelt beside him and watched the light go from his eyes. He died right in front of me. I felt a sickness in my soul like I’d never felt before. How pitiful and weak we humans are! How pathetic life is! That’s what I was feeling. Instantly demoralized in the face of such a dark force of nature—or supernature. I hadn’t even got a good look at the monster.
The thing was black as coal. Hell, it might’ve been made of coal for all I knew. It streaked past me and swooped by Tessa’s brother and then Billy’s belly opened up like it had been unzipped. The thing disemboweled him without even slowing down to do it.
Then I lost sight of it as it went behind Todd. By then I had my rifle unslung and was looking for a clear shot. I was like, where’d the fucker go? You know? Then here it came again, charging out from behind our van. I got off a shot but how do you hit something that fast? You fucking don’t. I figured we were all fucked then. It was going to slaughter every swinging dick and Tessa too.
When it went for Todd I thought he was as good as dead and I would probably be next. But Todd got lucky somehow and it only knocked him down. Maybe it bumped into his camera, I don’t know. Whatever happened, it stopped then and stood over him and I got a good look at the thing. It’s hard to describe and I wish Todd hadn’t dropped his camera but he did and we never did get a clear picture of the monster.
It looked like a charcoal sketch come to life, nearly two-dimensional. It was bipedal and had two arm-like appendages with jagged sawtooth blades for hands. Its facial features were indistinct, like the rest of its body, like a kid’s stick figure drawing filled out with lots of spiky black pencil lines and scribbles. If it had eyes, I couldn’t see them. But I did get a look at its gash of a mouth. Its teeth—if that’s what you can call them—were jagged like its hands.
When Sam fired his rifle I remembered the gun in my hand and I shot it too, now that it was no longer a moving target. We didn’t miss. You could see little puffs like black coal dust with each hit. We must’ve hit it six or eight times but nothing seemed to hurt it. It made a hollow rumbling sound as it looked at us and I got the feeling it was mocking us. Then it turned back to Todd who had his pistol out by then and shot the thing pointblank. It swept its sawtooth claws down and took Todd’s gun-hand off at the wrist and sent it and his pistol flying. Todd screamed, his stump gushing blood.
I emptied my .357 into the monster and then just threw it down in total defeat. Had I been a religious person, it would’ve been time to say my last prayer.
My last-ditch chance at survival was making a run for the van but I knew I couldn’t outrun this monster. I’d shot all my ammo into the thing so I would be reduced to swinging the rifle like a bat. A lame defense against this unstoppable motherfucker.
What happened next I don’t expect you to believe. Hell, I wouldn’t believe it if I hadn’t been there. But Todd and Tessa will tell you the same. The three of us lived through it. Thanks to Tessa’s sister Vonda. I’ll let Tessa tell it. I don’t even know how to begin to tell that part.
Vonda was all at once just there. She materialized out of nowhere. The silver streaks in her hair were actually glowing. And so were her green eyes. She was making a high-pitched keening sound in the back of her throat that I’d never heard any human make. But it got the beast’s attention well enough and the thing rounded on her, moving in for the kill, I was sure.
It charged her. And as it did, a bright blue ball of fire appeared in Vonda’s hands. It was about the size of a basketball, maybe a bit bigger. The monster, Vonda and the ball of fire came together. Violently. And with a blinding flash of blue light. Then they both burst into flames, locked in a fiery embrace.
And Vonda simply disappeared. Dematerialized.
We watched the coalmine monster burn to cinders.
The whole ordeal was like the world’s worst acid trip. Except that for me it was a whole lot worse because I lost my fucking hand. Thanks to Sam and Tessa, I didn’t bleed to death after I passed out.
As we drove away in the van, on the way to the nearest hospital, we came upon Vonda’s beat-to-shit truck on the side of the road. We stopped to see why she was just sitting there. And to thank her for saving our asses with whatever witchy magic she’d wielded.
But Vonda couldn’t tell us. Vonda was fucking dead. Burnt to a crispy critter, charred as black as the coalmine monster, her hands fused together in front of her as if in prayer. Miraculously, the truck was untouched by fire. Whatever hillbilly magic she’d used, she gave her life to save ours.
Sure, it was hard on me and it took time to make any kind of peace with losing my brother and half-sister. Vonda was the easiest to get over because she knew what she was doing, what she was dealing with, and she willingly sacrificed her life to do it.
My little brother Billy was a different story. But you know what? He was always a team player, football, basketball, whatever. He was happy being on our team of monster hunters.
The irony is, Billy always loved monsters. As a boy he had plastic model monsters and movie posters everywhere. Well, he finally got to meet a real one. He died knowing there are real monsters in this world.