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Wednesday, April 2, 2008

This Old Haunted House

Taking a little break from speaking about horror fiction, I would like to talk a little about horror fact. Don’t hold this against me, but I used to live in a haunted house. “A haunted house?” you say? Yeah, a haunted house. Two story, full basement, fully attached, single bath, on 77th Street in Brooklyn. For 19 years.

How is this possible, you say? I don’t know. I don’t really believe in the supernatural [though I do not affirmatively deny it, either]. But the house was haunted, and you don’t have to take my word for it. You can ask just about anyone who ever lived there, or even anyone who ever spent a little time there.

Like I said, it is a pretty nondescript house. In fact, the only thing that can really give any credence whatsoever to this series of vignettes is that fact that the house is rather old for our part of Brooklyn, built sometimes during World War I, and probably before America’s entry into it in 1917.

When I was a kid, my mother’s parents lived there, and we moved in when I was 4. I don’t recall really any strange experiences when I was that young, or any stories, but I didn’t like the basement. The stories would come later, which would only confirm events that I was around for. In the spirit of full disclosure, I never actually SAW anything. But my sister and my parents both did. My experiences with the haunted aspect were just amorphous feelings, instincts, hackles.

See, this house, which I loved dearly, and had many great times in, was the seat of my family’s warmth and love. But, for whatever reason, the shadows in certain corners were darker, more inky, than in other places. And there were certain parts which just didn’t feel right – a closet in a bedroom, corners in the basement – and at times it seemed like there were places light didn’t, couldn’t, or wouldn’t, penetrate.

Like I said, I never affirmatively experienced anything. But I can remember being in the basement [which was always disorderly, chock full of stuff in random stacks] as a child, either playing with electric trains set up down there [it was the only area big enough], or looting though the vast, moldering library for many hours at a time, amusing myself with finds from the magical to the titillating. And at first, when I would turn on the lights, and the shadows would flee, I would be fine, and I would set to doing what I planned. And sometimes, after an uneventful while, I would feel something. I would feel it on the nape of my neck, or the base of my spine. And the little hairs would rise. And suddenly I realized that beyond the light lay the shadows in the corners. And then I didn’t feel so safe and secure, and when the opportune moment would arise, I would bolt back up the rickety stairs to the safety of the upper floors.

Then there would be other times, when I was old enough to be home alone [I guess around 12 or so], and I would come home from school, and my sister and brothers were at the sitter’s house, and I would, as just about every kid would do, watch TV. I would start watching at 3:30pm, watching GI Joe, the Transformers, Voltron, and maybe some other half hour long commercials. As the hours crept by, the house would get progressively darker, the shadows slinking ever closer. But me, being in front of the boob-tube, would seldom notice until maybe I was thirsty for more Sunny Delite. As I would turn to get up, it would dawn upon me that the house was, aside from the pale TV glow, entirely dark. And I mean COMPLETELY dark. And that is when I would feel like I was on display, out in the open. I cannot say I felt any overt malevolence, but it was certainly no attention I wanted. Again, instinct would take over and I would freeze until I could summon the will to move, and when I moved it was with the speed I could muster, and I would bolt to the nearest and brightest light I could. Once that light was on, I would then systematically turn on all the lights in the common areas of the house, and again breathe a sigh of relief, for once again I was delivered.

Okay, you're thinking: “Alright, this guy says he lived in a haunted house, and all he is telling us is he is a little wussy who was afraid of the dark.” But I said I never saw anything. However, when I was about 13, and my sister was about 8, and my whole family was home one weekend evening, my sister out of nowhere begins to scream bloody murder. She was upstairs in the bathroom, my mother preparing the usual Saturday feast, and my Dad and I in the living room, probably watching some type of sports. My father and I run up to see what’s wrong, and she related the following: she was taking care of business in the usual fashion when a silhouetted face appeared in the window of the bathroom door [there was an old style, fogged window on the upper third of the door], and the handle began to rattle. She realized it was too tall to be any of us, and thought there was an intruder, so she began to scream at a volume and pitch only achievable by 8 year old girls, and as she did so, the face disappeared.

My Dad and I [mostly my Dad, I was only 13], checked the upstairs, and nothing was amiss or out of place. My sister was not one to make such stories up, and she was clearly shaken from the event. That night we had my aunts [my Mom’s sisters] coming for dinner, and we told them about this strange story, and how silly my little sister was for scaring herself.

Instead of sharing in the laugh, they both looked at each other, and then at my Mom, and with knowing smirks, they each began to tell tales of when they were girls it the house, and of strange goings on, etc. One story they told me was of meeting an old lady after Church, named Mrs. Loughlin. Mrs. Loughlin and her husband lived in the house before my grandparents and sold them the house. Mrs. Loughlin, according to my aunts, told them that one day, years after her husband had died she walked into the bathroom to see him standing there shaving, only to disappear after he turned around to look at her. She then told of a boy, in his teenage years, who had lived there before her, and had died tragically while riding the train to a school dance, and was said to still inhabit the walls. This was the first time I realized that I lived in a haunted house.

Time passed, and the house remained in its usual state – shadows darker than usual, corners that remained uninviting, yet we were all living happily within. My parents had two more kids. While I still never saw anything, I would mark how objects would occasionally disappear, and reappear later in unexplained fashions. In fact, I named this effect “Fred” and joked with friends that Fred lived in the basement.

Then one summer evening before I went away to college, I came home late from hanging out with the guys. My parents had had company for dinner that night, and were still awake talking after the company had left. As I come in my father calls me over to the dining room, saying they has something to tell me, which turned out to be the definitive ghost story from 77th Street.

The story went as follows: after the usual large Saturday night feast of steaks and all the sides, and after the company left and the boys [then 8 and 5 years old, respectively] were put to bed, Mom and Dad stayed up, talking over a glass of wine. Both my sister and I went out. At one point, when all was quiet, they hear a snuffling, a whimpering, of a child, and cautious footsteps one at a time coming down the stairs. My Mom said she called out to the footsteps, thinking it was one of my brothers upset at something, maybe not feeling well, or had had a nightmare. When she called the footsteps stopped. My father told me he called out next, this time using their names, but there was no response. At this point they both realized something was amiss, and my Dad got up and started towards the stairs. He then told me that as he approached the stairs he heard the footsteps go up, one at a time but quickly, and as he got the foot of the stairs, he saw a shadow turning the corner of the landing. He went up the stairs, and there found both my brothers both sound asleep, wrapped tightly up in their blankets. They had never gotten out of bed.

It was clear they both were disturbed by this tale, though also somewhat exhilarated, in that they felt that they were privy to something truly mysterious and otherworldly, or at the very least, weird. They asked what I thought, and I didn’t have a good answer for them.

Years later, the year I graduated college, our family moved out to a new house. My Dad and I spent many hours cleaning out the various corners of the 77th Street house, including the most forbidding of corner and closets. It was in more ways than one a cathartic activity. The next Spring, while we were waiting to sell the old house on 77th, I was using the all but empty house as a study hall for me and my study group from graduate school. We were there daily, and we even made up keys for them in case they had to get in and I wasn’t there. During our finals that Spring I was going to meet my fellow students one day, and for whatever reason I arrived a few minutes after they did. I found them both sitting on the front stoop, with the front door open, and the both of them wide-eyed and ashen faced. I asked what was wrong, and Pat said that he didn’t know what was up, but they both had no idea what was going on. I turned to Cheech, and he said that they were sitting there, talking about the day’s study itinerary, when there was a flash of light from nowhere, and a set of bongos that Pat [a Deadhead] had brought over on another day began to play by themselves. At that these two fully grown men, in the middle of broad daylight, ran out of the house in fear. I am not making this up.

At that point I was constrained to explain the history of my soon to be former house, and after that it took a little reassuring to get them back inside. I had to say it was a little creepy, but nobody ever got hurt. After a little while, we reconvened our study group, but they were never able to just let the random sound of the house settling go without a furtive glance.

I swear to you, gentle readers, that the events as set forth above are 100% true, and that I only changed some names for the sake of privacy in these electronic days.


Mr. Karswell said...

I tease my sister all the time about the house she lives in being haunted. The previous owner was a lonely elderly woman who died in the back room and wasn't found of course for a few days so it was all quite disgusting I'm sure. My sister's family moved in shortly after without any fear and it wasn't long after that my niece began talking about weird sounds and voices and stuff. So, having grown up with my sister and the endless trauma a ghoulish monster kid brother like me inflicted upon her in our younger years, it only seemed right to capitalize on this newfound element to further torment her now in our later years. And the old lady ghost doesn't seem to mind, mostly cuz now she's not so lonely.

Anonymous said...

The hair on the back of my neck stood up while reading your story. I used to live in a house where audible sobbing could be heard at off hours of the night coming from the basement. For the longest time, I thought it was just my roommate, and it turns out -- she had been hearing it too, and thought it was me. After we had one of those awkward "Is everything okay?" conversations, we realized that it was neither of us. Cue the Twilight Zone music. We moved out soon thereafter, and I wonder if the new occupants ever hear it.

Unknown said...

This was a really interesting read.

My girlfriend's house seems to be haunted. Her brother and sister have both seen things in their back room, in the mirror, and it is much colder than all of the other parts of the house.

My girlfriend often hears creaking noises on the stairs and voices coming from downstairs at night, and her mom had never experienced anything before, but she was upstairs in her room, and both her and her friend heard a girl's voice downstairs, and the door opened. They called and called, thinking it was my girlfriend, and when no one answered they went down to check on who it was, to find no one.

Dove said...

Thanks for sharing this, it was a good and creepy read. I've heard things in the night and felt things in a couple of places I have lived but I always manage to put it down to my overactive imagination and have never actually seen anything.

I can never, however, write off the possibilities of what lies undiscovered in this world.


Anonymous said...

You forgot the exploding gum ball machine!

-Doctor X.

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