Friday, October 28, 2005

 

An October Moment...


October 1, 1980


Three months earlier, we had moved from Kansas to southern New Jersey, an area of unexpected rural beauty. Many fields and leafy old villages, tangled forests and swampy marshes. My parents purchased a monstrous old green farmhouse with black shutters. On the front porch was a sign mounted by the local historical society, bearing the name of the original owner, and the date it was built--1785 (we learned later that it was likely built much earlier, but the date came from the first tax or church roll taken in the community).

The house had three stories plus a dank old stone-lined cellar, and when we arrived there in the middle of the night that summer, I delighted in exploring it. It reminded me so much of the old abandoned houses my friend Shawn and I had snuck into in Kansas, only this house was quite a lot more structurally intact.

On the first floor was a kitchen with a low ceiling. It dated from the original part of the house and the original door was still there too, a black-painted wood-slat door with massive square-head nails holding it together. A black, hand-tooled iron latch held it shut, although above this someone crudely drilled a hole for a deadbolt.

The kitchen led off to several rooms--a breakfast bar on one end opened up to a family room and a small den. To the left was the door that led to a rickety old back staircase and a dilapidated room full of shelves, which we would come to call the pantry (although the room itself was actually larger than the kitchen). To the right was a low doorway that led to a massive, high-ceilinged formal dining room, which marked the most ambitious extension of the house. In the 1850s a sea captain had owned the place and had done well enough for himself to add the dining room, a grand foyer with winding staircase, and an equally grand parlor dominated by a giant mantelpiece, wide windows, and a huge chandelier. All the doors down here were about four inches thick and sporting ornate brass and glass doorknobs and locks.

Upstairs on the second floor was the master bedroom, a small nursery and the one bathroom in the house. A second smaller bedroom was nearby. To the right of the landing was a small odd set of steps that led down into the original part of the house again: a low-ceilinged bedroom just above the kitchen. In the back of this room was an 18-inch wide doorway that led to one more bedroom with a walk-in closet that contained the door to the back stairs.

On the third floor, under the eaves, the grand staircase petered out into a series of narrow, rickety steps. Here, the small space was illumined by one window at the end of the house. On the other end was a small latched door leading to dusty room that served as the attic. My brother had his room up on the third floor, where he slept in a narrow brass bed--the only bed frame we had that fit under the eaves--and his desk. It was a creepy place, with dark, groaning floorboards and iron hooks embedded into the ceiling. My dad said they were for hanging things--perhaps people, I wondered. My brother came to hate the room. So did I. It just had bad vibes.

But we didn't feel any vibes that first night, just an ebbing excitement giving way to utter exhaustion. After I exploring the place, I chose the low-ceiling room as my room and my brother and I slept there that first night, in the oldest part of the house, lying on the hardwood floor in our sleeping bags (the moving van was not to arrive with our furniture for a few days).

We finally turned in that night around 11:30. I could hear my parents settling in on an air mattress in their room. My brother and I were still whispering excitedly to one another when I was interrupted by a sudden noise:

Rap. Rap-rap-rap.

It was coming from the wall just behind me.

"What are you doing?" my brother asked in the dark.

"Nothing," I said. "I--"

Rap. Rap-rap.

"What IS that?" my brother asked.

I sat up now, but my hand on the wall.

Rap. RAP-RAP.

It was louder and harder now, hard enough that the rapping caused my hand to vibrate as it rested on the wall.

My brother turned on his flashlight and played it around the room before resting on me.

"Sounds like a woodpecker," he said.

Rap. Rap. Rap. Rap.

Now the knocking was coming from his side of the room, from a spot on the wall directly over his head. He squawked and got to his feet.

I came over to his side of the room and as I did, the rapping sounded from both places. It was like listening to someone beating a drum in stereo.

"Maybe it's water pipes," I said, remembering my father had to turn the water on when we arrived. "Might just be air in the pipes."

My brother, who was much more mechanically minded than I, said, "What pipes, ass-wipe? There's no water up on the third floor and no radiators either."

Rap. RAP. Rap. RAP. Rap. RAP.

There seemed to be a definite cadence now, but this time the rapping had returned to my side of the room. What was on the other side of the wall?

I walked up the short flight of stairs to the second floor landing. Just down the hall was a doorway to the room next to mine, a small room with a wide, flat, built-in table. The previous owner has been a seamstress and had used this as a sewing room. My mom was planning to as well. I flicked the light on and looked around. Nothing.

And the rapping had stopped.

Shrugging, I went back down the steps to my room.

As soon as I stepped in my room, the rapping started again.

Now my brother and I both went to our parents' room. My father was already sound asleep but my mother got up and investigated. Of course, when she got to the room and waited with us, there was no rapping. She eventually dismissed it as the house settling, or perhaps a branch outside was hitting the roof, some acoustical trick causing the noise to be conducted into my room. She trudged off to bed and my brother and I lay back down.

"That was weird," I said.

"Yeah," my brother agreed. "It--"

Rap. RAP. RAP. RAPRAPRAPRAPRAP

It was so loud now I had my hands over my ears.

"What the fuck is that?" my brother cried, and he didn't swear then like he does now, so I knew he was worried.

"God. Stop it!" I said, to no one in particular. Then, in frustration, I pounded on the wall, BAMBAMBAMBAM

And instantly the rapping ceased.

That had been the first incident.

***


Now it was October and I was a month in school. We were all moved in and despite that odd knocking--which had not happened since-- I still decided to stay in the room I had picked. It had three nice windows that gave me a view of the street and the yard beyond. I had plenty of room for my bed, my typing desk, my five strongboxes full of comics. It was the first time I had a room of my own and I was thrilled. I spent hours up there after school, typing away at some story or letter to a friend, reading, sitting on the wide windowsills and looking out on the acre of field behind us.

It was warm that afternoon, and I had the windows open. I was at my old black Royal typewriter, clacking out a letter to my pal Shawn, when I heard my mom call me for dinner. I finished typing the sentence I was on--"Don't worry, I'll definitely send you some pictures of the house this time"--then got up. I walked up the short flight of steps to the second floor landing, walked across the hall to the main staircase and turned to go down.

To my right was the open door of my parents' bedroom. I saw movement out of the corner of my eye and so, even as I was already taking a couple steps to go down, I turned and saw my mom sitting on her bed, with her back to me. She seemed to be looking out the window onto the old King's Highway that ran by on that side of the house. I almost said something, but it was my turn tonight to set the table, and I was already late, so I called out something to my mom like "I'll have the table set before you get downstairs." She didn't move. She just continued to sit there in her long blue dress, staring out the window.

I bounded down the steps, strode through the parlor and into the den, then came past the breakfast bar, intent on grabbing silverware out of a nearby drawer.

And that's when my mom stood up from behind the bar, where she had been stooped, picking up a measuring cup she had dropped.

I yelped. "Jeez! You startled me!" I cried, then froze. "Hey, did you come down the back stairs?"

My mom looked at me. "No. I wasn't upstairs. I've been making dinner."

Then I saw that my mom wasn't wearing a long blue dress at all, but a beige one.

"What is it?" she asked.

"Upstairs!" I yelled, grabbing her hand and pulling her back to the stairwell. I dragged her up to the landing two steps at a time, jabbering the whole way about seeing her--seeing someone, something--in her bedroom.

Of course, nobody was there.

"Now stop it," said my mom, as I babbled. "This isn't funny."

"I'm not joking!" I cried as we stood in the doorway. I walked into their room. "Someone was right here, looking out the---Aaaaaaa!"

As I said this last, I stepped to the very spot where I'd seen the woman in blue, and as soon as I did I felt my first cold spot. It was like being electrocuted by ice cubes. I leapt back, my arms instantly goose-pimpled. My mom thought I was having some kind of fit and dragged me out into the hall.

She and my dad slept in the guest room that night.

The next morning, I was still a bit shook up and so found lots of reasons to stay outside. I had my old 110-film camera and as I had promised Shawn, I was taking snaps of the long back yard we had, the unusual old sheds, and the massive trees that had been growing in our yard since the place was built. Finally, I turned and took a picture of the house as seen from the back yard. Here it is. It's not a great shot of the house, but it's the only one I have left.


220housefin


You can see what a big house it was. Behind that hedge on the right was the porch off the kitchen. The two windows above it are the ones in my room. That white clapboard structure in the center is the outer wall of the pantry. No idea why it wasn't painted green like the rest of the house.

Eventually, I used up the roll of film, got the pictures developed and sent them to my friend.

Around the end of October, he sent one back with a note indicating something in the picture. On the note he wrote:

What the heck is THAT?

This is what he was talking about:



220houseselect




Here's a closer look:





220housecu




"What the heck IS that?!?" I asked my mother when I showed it to her.

She didn't know.

I sure didn't know.

All we could be certain of is that we were in the presence of a mystery.

One I would spend many more Octobers--and the rest of my childhood--trying to solve.

Yours,
From Somewhere on the Masthead


Comments:
Heh...my husband and I were looking to buy an old early 1900's home when our lease is up, mostly so I can take it on as a fixer-upper project. I made a joke about ghosts, and he said I was smoking crack.

I emailed him a link to this entry :)
 
There's a house not too far from mine that has been abandoned for years. Word going around is that there were some really strange things happening in there.

Apparently the owner and his wife went to sleep one night and woke up in their beds the next morning and realised that they were outside the house's front gate on the driveway.

Which was still locked.

They moved out in a hurry the same day.

The house has been up for sale ever since, and there have been no takers 'till today. The weeds growing there now are so tall and thick you could throw a dead body in there and no one would notice.

Hmmm...

Happy Halloween everyone!
 
Jeeeeeeeeeeeeeesus. 36 years old and I'll be sleeping with a night-light tonight...
 
ghosts are a strange things.

They used to be alive you know ... and frankly they think they still are.

have my share of conversations with them.

sad things these spectres.

all they want to is to move on, but they can't. Don't know whats keeping them here. its like being stuck on the same game level and not able to level up because you can't find a door or missed a clue or something.

oh, don't freak out too much.

most of them are just trying to find the light.

yes, I see and talk to dead people.

don't you?
 
Tell me you posted this on Oct. 28th. It's not All Hallows night yet
 
How long did you live in that house? Cause I'm thinking those were some pretty sleepless years. *shiver* Great story MM. Do you scare your kids with these stories too, or just us?
 
You wouldn't believe how envious I am, MM. Not only are you the best damn writer on the 'net, but you're also prolific. How in the hell do you do it? Great stuff.
 
Love the ghost stories! What do Thomas & the Brownie think of these stories?
 
Good Story...creepy picture. It looks like some sort of hooded being.

I grew up in a haunted house as well. My brother was supposed to start blogging all of his stories, but never got around to it. Oh well.

By the way, Your story scared the hell out of my girlfriend and she had trouble sleeping last night!

I got a laugh out of it.

Haha!
 
wow, spirits and spooks sure do seem to be attracted to you. I bet they seek out creative types with wonderful imaginations cause those kinds of people are probably more open to the extraordinary. So I'm sure later on you researched the house and it's history...Did you ever learn who the lady in blue was? Or is that a post saved for Oct. 31??
 
It's the REAPER!!!

Just tell me that you eventually did solve the mystery. I want to know who it was and what happened in that house.

Just keep typing, typing, typing.
 
Oh, for Pete's sake. It's Bigfoot dressed up as a sunflower. Duh-huh-huh!
 
That was a great read and perfect for the time of year. That photo is well eerie.
 
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