Paranormal Carolinas: Stories of unexplained encounters

By Claire Perry

Devil’s Tramping Ground Road may scare some, but Tamara Dowd Owens was not afraid as her Honda traversed its dirt that sunny afternoon.

The road is named for her destination: the Devil’s Tramping Ground, a circle of land outside of Pittsboro where nothing will grow, rumored to be the home of Satan himself. 

But Tamara has been driving that road since before the swaths of tourists and reporters, back when it was named Dowd Road for the century of ancestors that have lived in its stead. When she reached the tramping grounds that day, she tied up her hair with a blonde hair tie and told her middle son, Jackson, to get out of the car. It was time to pick up trash. 

The beer cans and chip bags that litter the tramping grounds are covered in a thin dust, salty — so salty that scientists think it is the cause of the circle’s antipathy to the parasitic kudzu that surrounds it.

Today, there are no goat sacrifices sitting in the circle’s center. The trees surrounding the barren glen are not covered in spray-painted pentagrams; no Ouija Boards litter the ground. Today, there is only a hornet.

She warns Jackson.

“Honey, be careful.”

Tamara takes his hand, and meanders away from the circle out to the paths in the surrounding forest. She remembers walking these paths as a girl, getting lost in their spiraling curls until the time was as matted as the briars.

Even now, she refuses to go to the Tramping Grounds at night. She never forgot the warnings of her father, the custodian of the grounds until his death in 2015. He had heard stories of coyote visits, whispers of an ancient native burial ground amplified by the arrowheads he found.

Today, though, there are no coyotes to be found. There is only a hornet, seemingly trailing the pair, stuck on them like one of the path’s stray briars.

She was at the circle a week before, shadowing a group of paranormal investigators. Tamara always watched the people the site attracted from a distance, but that time, she stuck around. She watched the investigators communicate with whatever lived in the circle—or more likely, died — from a paranormal communicator.

“Is anything there?” 

“Yes.”  

She drove home pretty soon after.

Tamara believes in things unknown, but can’t decide if they are bad or good, lost or found. She doesn’t know what spirits haunt that circle. She does, however, know what haunts the circle today, resting on her car’s rear view mirror until she turns onto Devil’s Tramping Ground Road — a single hornet.

Just a dream 

Barry Landrum struggled to maneuver his hands, pushing in vain against a feather-stuffed Sisyphean boulder that was slowly smothering him. 

Landrum woke up to his pillow in his lap.

He was staying in The Inn at Merridun, an antebellum-era bed-and-breakfast in Union, South Carolina, while covering the infamous 1994 Susan Smith infanticide trial for a local news station. Landrum put the pillow back under his head and tried to drift back to sleep, the thunder that rumbled outside the floor-to-ceiling windows an unsettling lullaby. 

“That was a really vivid dream,” he said to himself. “I’ve never had a dream like that before.” 

It was just that, he thought: a dream. Barry Landrum didn’t believe in ghosts. 

A pair of ice cold hands grabbed his knees, and pulled him almost to the end of the bed. 

Landrum didn’t look around. He didn’t want to look around.

For half an hour, he stared at the ceiling, caressing the masonry with his pupils to distract from his fear of spotting an unknown silhouette. Silent and still, as the lightning cascaded on the bed’s patchwork quilt, he drifted back to sleep.

What Barry Landrum didn’t know before that night was that the mansion housed a mysterious figure who lurked at the tops of stairwells and in the corners of eyes, gone by the time one could get a good look at it. As he scoured the guest book in his bedroom for its mention the next morning, he found nothing, but a clerk confirmed that he wasn’t the first person in. 

Barry Landrum drove back to Charleston the next morning. He wouldn’t tell his wife what had happened for four years, when his daughter Megan was born. Barry Landrum didn’t believe in ghosts — until he did. 

 “Go toward the light”

It was March 17, 2016, St. Patrick’s Day, when 55-year-old David Baxter Long drove his Jeep Cherokee outside of Winston-Salem to Union Cross Road. 

His sneakers hit the pavement. They walked into I-40. By the time the driver realized he had just hit a man, it was too late. David Long had committed suicide.

Julie Faenza was stuck in traffic on a work drive from Raleigh to Boone, her Silver Ford Escape reflecting the thick white sky.  She was talking with her coworker when she saw the firefighters leaning down to check a pulse, and Jones’ feet poking out from under a semi truck. That’s when her stomach started to sink.

Faenzi identifies as an empath, which means she was familiar with feeling others’ feelings, even their pain. This feeling was different.

“It was what I imagined somebody going to commit suicide would feel, that they were in so much pain that suicide would be the only way to end the pain,” Faenza said. “Depression, soul-crushing agony — it was one of the worst things I’ve ever felt.”

Faenza is no stranger to death. Her mother was a trauma nurse, and a childhood friend of the Warren Family, the paranormal pillars of “Annabelle” fame. So as she cried, her eyes stormy like the clouds above as her partner pulled into a gas station outside of Kernersville, she dialed her mom’s phone number.

“What’s wrong?”

“Someone’s dead,” Faenza sobbed. “I feel him, and it’s agonizing and it’s awful and I don’t know what to do.”

Through her tears, she explained the traffic, the feet, the pit that was sinking to the bottom of her gut like a leaden Titanic. Maybe by instinct, maybe by luck, her mother knew what to do. 

 “Julie, you need to tell him to go toward the light.”

“Mom, I can’t.” 

 As her mother kept talking, Faenza thought back to her first interaction with death, shadowing her mother in an operating room when a person coded blue. She remembers crying while taking off the woman’s rings, and her mother’s ever-important words.

“This is a person. They’re not breathing anymore, their heart isn’t beating, but it is a person. That’s what you need to understand. It’s nothing to be scared of, it is a person.”

 Reflecting on her mother’s words, Faenza was not afraid. What happens next, she doesn’t remember well — her memories are fogged with tears. She remembers a one-ended conversation. 

“I’m sorry you’re hurting. Your family will find your body, and they’re not mad at you. It’s okay to go toward the light.”

 The feeling wouldn’t budge.

“Go toward the light.” 

And just like that, the feeling left, plopping out of her like Jell-O, and melting into the gas station parking lot’s iridescent shimmer. Just like that, David Baxter Long went toward the light.

Edited by Claire Tynan

‘An amazing feeling’: UNC men’s club volleyball is back on the court

By Jordan Holloway

The UNC-Chapel Hill men’s club volleyball team competed in a tournament at UNC Charlotte on Feb. 29, 2020. Little did they know, that would be their final competition for the next 19 months. 

The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic forced club sports at UNC-CH to pause practices and games for an unknown amount of time.

Sports clubs were given the green light to resume regular practices and competitions in the fall 2021 semester.

Despite a lengthy hiatus, the men’s club volleyball team seemed to not have missed a beat or lost any skills, with their “A” and “B” teams placing first and third in their first tournament of the semester on Sept. 25, 2021.

Strong chemistry and strong relationships 

Drew Campbell, the club’s president, speaks highly of the players’ passion for the game. Despite the pause in practices and competitions, he thinks both teams were successful in the recent tournament because of their great relationships with one another. 

“I think that since we have had such great chemistry over the years and seeing it carry over into this year, that is definitely one of the reasons we were victorious in our first tournament,” Campbell said. 

Despite men’s volleyball not being very popular in North Carolina, the club is still able to draw players who are eager to learn more about the sport and have fun at the same time.

Campbell thinks the players’ eagerness and dedication have allowed them to gel well together and be successful on the court recently.

“At the end of the season, I hope the guys on the team will be able to look back and be confident that they got better at the sport, but also built strong relationships with their teammates,” he said. 

Because of the lengthy pause in both practices and competitions, Campbell hopes the team enjoys the time they have together playing the game and becoming better teammates. 

“We learned a bunch about how much we all love playing volleyball when we weren’t allowed to play during the pandemic,” Campbell said. “I told the guys to enjoy every second because it could be taken away at any point if COVID cases begin to spike again.”

 Practice makes perfect

Jalen Johnson, a senior and four-year member of the club, did not play volleyball before coming to UNC-CH. However, he had a strong interest in the game and wanted to develop his skills. 

Johnson did not try out for the club team the first semester of his freshman year. Instead, he joined an intramural team that played once a week to help him learn more about the sport.

“I wanted to try out for the team my first semester, but I thought I didn’t know much about the game so I wouldn’t be quite ready,” he said. “Joining an IM team was awesome because I got to gradually learn more and more about the sport every week, while also having fun with friends.”

Johnson believes the practice he received playing intramural every week allowed him to hone the skills needed to join the club team.

Now, he is the starting right side attacker for the club team, but he’s also a leader that the younger players on the team can look up to.

“I think the story of the team’s success recently really aligns with my story and how practicing really does make you better,” Johnson said. “I’ve noticed in the past that some guys haven’t really bought in to the team and missed several practices. This year I think it’s different because we have guys that are always consistently at practice, and I think the results from that were seen at our first tournament a few weeks ago.”

 A fresh start

Creed Mainz, a junior on the men’s club volleyball team, believes that the return to normalcy from the pandemic has been no easy task, but being able to play volleyball again has made the transition much easier. 

“Putting that jersey on again is such an amazing feeling that words cannot describe,” Mainz said.

One of the aspects that Mainz thinks is unique about the club team this year is the mix of older and younger players.

“We have an interesting mix of guys this year which allows everyone to create new friendships,” he said. “As an older player, I have already made great friends with some of the younger guys on the team, and I think that has allowed us to grow not only on the court, but off the court as well.”

Mainz believes the mix of younger and older talent has allowed the team to develop new plays. It also creates a better offensive and defensive threat, which was noticeable in the recent tournament.

“In previous years, I think some of the more local teams like State and Duke were knowledgeable about what plays we ran and who our better players were,” he said. “After the COVID pause, we not only were able to create new plays but we got new weapons in the younger guys that we could implement into our game plan.”

Trust in your teammate

Andy Jin, one of the underclassmen on the team, is no stranger to the sport. He played consistently prior to college, both on his high school team in Maryland and on an AAU club team.

Jin believes an important aspect of any team is trust. Although it is still early in the season, he thinks the team members have already developed a strong reliance on one another, evident in tight sets during the first tournament. 

“One game that really sticks out in my mind was the ‘A’ team’s final game against UNC Wilmington,” he said. “We were in the final set and we were down two points. We took a timeout, and the guys really stepped up and placed trust in one another to come back from the deficit. And we did that, scoring four straight points to take the victory.”

Jin is thankful to be able to play volleyball in college. Because of the pandemic, his high school seasons were interrupted. But now, he is able to continue playing the sport he loves so deeply. 

“I am so glad to have a great group of guys that I can continue playing volleyball with in college,” Jin said. “The older guys have been so welcoming and have made this transition from high school to college — but also pandemic life to a more sense of ‘normalcy’ — worthwhile.”

Edited by Claire Tynan