A drawing of spooky landscape with a purple sky and a full moon.

Absaraka Fright Night: A (Mostly) True Ghost Story

I always wanted to have a personal ghost story. As a child I was fascinated (and a bit frightened) whenever anyone retold a supernatural experience. But things as they were, I had made it to the age of twenty without an encounter.

Then one day at school, something happened.

A group of cheery students walking across a green campus.

I attended a small Lutheran college in northwestern Minnesota. It was a wonderful place and time, which in my memory appears like a classic film about college. The students wore clothing with the college logo, had generally sunny dispositions, and were serious about learning. It was a fairly idyllic place, which made what happened that night even more bizarre.

On a Rainy Night

It was a Saturday evening in the fall of our sophomore year and the weather was just beginning to turn cold. The rain came down steadily and lightening occasionally flashed with an accompanying thunderclap.

It was one of the few nights of the week when we had “intervisitation hours,” which were the only times when men could visit the women’s dorms and vice versa. Three of my female friends shared a room in one of the oldest and most beautiful dormitories on campus. Another male friend and I had gone to their room for a visit. We were sitting on the floor getting ready to play a board game. We were innocent and cheery.

Suddenly a flash lit up the room and a clap of thunder startled us all. Just then, there appeared in the doorway the shadow of a robust young man. He was tall, broad-shouldered, and seemed to be our age. He had a wet mop of wavy blond hair and wore neat but outdated clothes. Once the fright had passed, however, a vague impression of familiarity hovered around him.

“Do you want to go to Absaraka, North Dakota,” the stranger asked?

“What’s in Absaraka,” returned one of my friends?

“A haunted church. It was featured on that old show Unsolved Mysteries.”

Admittedly, this could have been the beginning of a slasher film, but somehow in our innocence we all agreed to go with him. My four friends, the stranger, and I made our way to the parking lot of the oldest men’s residence hall where the stranger said he lived. We all piled into his big boat of a car. I don’t remember the exact make or model, but it was like the car my grandfather used to drive: a Ford LTD, a Lincoln Town Car, or some similarly classic model that seated three not too snugly in the front and three more than comfortably in the back.

Into the Void

It rained for most of the hour-long drive across the border into North Dakota and out to our mysterious destination. Music from the oldies station and small conversations about everything and nothing filled the time. Just as we got off the main road to continue toward the little town, the heavy rain let up to nothing but a mist. 

I am from a rural town, and even I was surprised at the smallness of the place: it was little more than a crossroads, a few houses, and an abandoned church in the middle of large expanse of farmland.

The stranger pulled the car up in front of the church. “Here we are.”

“But what are we supposed to see,” I inquired, surprised that the subject hadn’t been discussed before this point.

“People report seeing mysterious glowing objects inside,” clarified our strange driver as he exited the large automobile.

We all approached the church. Planks had been used to board up the doors and windows of the abandoned structure. I trembled as I looked in the first window on the left side of the building. I am skeptical by nature, but as I peered between the boards, I spotted the hovering shape of a hazy cross about a foot inside of the window. “I see something,” I said in hushed tones.

A photo of silhouette of prairie church on a misty night.

I heard a woman’s voice confirm the same. Other raspy voices joined the whispering chorus. Everyone was seeing something. We walked around from one window, to the door, to the next window. It was always the same: the glowing figure of a cross seemed to levitate just a foot or two in front of the person peering. It was clearly not the same cross, as it was always a frontal view of the hazy figure and always just a little way in front of the spectator.

We didn’t say much else. What could we say? Something was there, but it didn’t inspire fear. The appearance of the stranger in a flash of lightening at the dorm room threshold had been much scarier than the supposedly haunted structure. After fewer than twenty minutes of circling the prairie church, we made an unspoken consensus to return to the car.

Out of Sight

The drive back to school was quiet. By the time we crossed the Minnesota state line, it had stopped raining. When we pulled back into the campus, it was after midnight, and intervisitation hours were over. The women went back to their dorm room and the men went off in separate directions to our respective residence halls.

A nighttime photo of a wet sidewalk on a college campus.

Did all this count as a supernatural experience? Had we seen a ghost? If we had, it wasn’t inside the church in Absaraka. What would become clear over the next several weeks was that the broad-shouldered stranger, his mop of wavy blond hair, and his big boat of a car would never materialize on our homey little campus again.

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