The Old Man in Yellow is a scary true ghost story about a man who sees a ghostly severed head when he is walking along a lonely country road at night. The story was recounted by Bernard J Hurwood as part of A Quartet of Strange Tales in a book called “Ghosts, Ghouls and Other Horrors”.
There is hardly anything more unnerving than being followed by a hideous stranger on a lonely road at night. When the stranger proves to be nonhuman… but that is getting ahead of the story…
It happened a few years ago to a young man named Elwyn Thomas, who happened to be visiting friends in a small village in South Wales. It was a warm June night and darkness was just beginning to fall when he left his friends to return to the country inn where he was staying. Judging by past experience, he reckoned on reaching it by about nine o’clock.
It was exactly eight-thirty when he said goodnight. He was completely alone in the gathering dusk, and the only sounds were the occasional cries of night birds and the crunch of his own footsteps on the gravel road. Being neither superstitious nor afraid of anything he walked briskly along, glancing now and then towards the banks of an old canal off to one side of the road.
After about ten minutes he began experiencing a peculiar, creepy sensation, as if he were being watched. On an impulse, he stopped, turned around and gasped involuntarily. There, no more than a yard behind him, suspended in mid-air at eye-level, was the most hideous face he had ever seen.
The putty-coloured skin was drawn tightly over the features, except for the forehead, which was lined with deep wrinkles. Thin, seemingly bloodless lips formed a crooked grin over a half-open, toothless mouth. The cheeks were hollow and corpse-like and the eyes were wild, luminous, and piercing. Wrapped around the ghastly object were two pieces of old yellow calico, one under the jaw and tied on top of the head, the other over the forehead and tied behind.
Unable to help himself, Thomas turned and began running as fast as he could. After having covered about 100 yards, he stopped to catch his breath and turned around again. To his horror, the face was still there as if he hadn’t moved an inch.
On an impulse, he dropped down, grabbed a handful of gravel and hurled it at the face, then turned again and ran. When he finally reached the inn, he stopped at the path leading off the road and looked back again. The head was still behind him.
Cautiously, he backed up in the direction of the inn and was surprised to observe that, this time the head remained above the road grinning somewhat contemptuously. Taking courage, he decided to go on back and confront the apparition.
But as he approached, the head began receding, its glowing eyes fixed almost malevolently on his own. Now he felt as though he had to follow. Down the road he went slowly, like a sleepwalker until the head disappeared over a stone wall surrounding a little graveyard not far from the inn.
Suddenly, he felt everything begin to spin. Then he lost consciousness. When he came to again, it was late at night. He had lain at the foot of the churchyard wall for more than two hours.
Groping through the darkness until he found his way back to the inn, it was with great relief that he finally retired to bed and to a restless night filled with bad dreams. When he told the innkeeper about his experience the next day he learned that he had not been having hallucinations.
An eccentric old recluse fitting the exact description of the apparition had once lived in a cottage whose ruins were quite near to the place where the face had disappeared. No one could remember exactly how long the old man had been dead, but they knew it had been many years since he had been last seen alive.