Wednesday, October 04, 2006


An October Moment...

October 24, 1980

It was a blustery Friday. From my bedroom window up on the second floor, I could hear the hedge in the yard below creaking under the weight of the wind. As elemental forces go, wind had always been my very favorite. The sound was exhilarating and soothing at the same time, especially in the fall, when the sound included the rustling of a million leaves swept up by the breath of the world.

I sat at my desk and stared out across the acre-and-a-half of yard behind the old green farmhouse where we lived. As I watched, the wind created small trails in the long grass. For a moment, it looked like the blazed footpaths of a dozen invisible beings as they strode through the grass, heading for the house.

I was 12 years old and all alone in the house. My father was working late at the plant. My mom and my brother were over in Delaware at the mall. They'd left as soon as we got home from school and I wasn't expecting them back until after supper. Being home alone like this was still a novel experience--it was only this year that my mom felt I was old enough to be left on my own, so I was excited to have the place to myself.

Except, of course, that I didn't.

It had only been a few weeks earlier, after all, that I had first seen the woman we had all come to call The Blue Lady. She had been sitting in my parents' bedroom, staring out the window. The first time I'd seen her, I had mistaken her for my mom. But she wasn't. For one thing, you couldn't see through my mom, but the Blue Lady was most definitely transparent. I discovered this the second time I had seen her, just 10 days ago. I'd come upstairs to change clothes after school, and there she was, back to me, sitting on the bed, staring out the window. As soon as I saw her, every hair on my head and neck stood straight up and I had to bite my thumb--hard--to resist the urge to run back downstairs. I managed to fight that urge for a full five seconds.

And in that time, I saw something I'll never forget: I saw that the Blue Lady wasn't sitting on the bed, but in the bed. Her body seemed to end at her waist, as though she was sitting in a chair that no longer existed.

Then I turned tail and ran.

Sitting in the house now, with the light waning and the wind rising, you'd think I'd be freaked out about being alone in a--well, what else would you call it?--a haunted house. But the truth is, up to that time I'd had a very good vibe about our new home. It was the kind of house I'd always dreamed of living in: lots of neat old rooms with twisting stairs and winding corridors. It wasn't a creepy house; it had character. My overarching emotional state was one of curiosity, not apprehension. More than anything, I wanted to learn more about the house and its nearly 200 year history. I wanted to find out something about the people who lived and died here. The idea of being in this place seemed like an adventure, certainly not a fearful experience.

Those notions ended with a sudden


I snapped out of my reverie, shifted my gaze from outside to the dimming interior of my room. The muffled noise had almost certainly come from within the house. My first thought was that a breeze from one of the other open windows had knocked something over. Which would have been a good thought indeed, but for one small problem: all the other windows in the house were closed. I had closed them myself.


Louder now. And it seemed that the noise was coming from above me. Up on the third floor, under the low eaves, were two rooms: First, my brother's room, with his desk and the narrow brass bed he slept on. Then, on one wall of that room, there sat a small wooden door, about four feet square. When you opened it, you immediately descended a rickety step-ladder into the dark room that served as our attic. It was a drafty, unfinished room that smelled that high, sweet smell of dust and decay. That was the only room in the house that unnerved me, partly because it was so dark--there was only one wire in the room, which terminated in a single light socket for a feeble 60-watt bulb. But the other problem was the window at the end of the room. It wasn't a proper window with glass panes, but just an open square that was sealed only by means of a single wooden shutter and a rusty hook-and-eye latch. Because of the age of the house (it had been built in 1785) and decades of settling, the shutter no longer closed quite square on that window. On windy days, you could hear it rattling against the frame, like a crazed person jiggling a locked door in a vain effort to break in--or get out.

Sometimes, one edge of the shutter would blow open just enough to admit small animals. As a result, since our arrival just 3 or 4 months earlier, my parents had had to remove 2 or 3 sparrows, a few chipmunks and several bats from the confines of that dark room. Occasionally, the animals were still alive when my parents found them, but often they had died, especially the birds, which often as not broke their little necks by flying headfirst into a low rafter. And once, my father had found a luckless bat whose head got caught between the shutter and the frame, where it strangled to death.


I leaned across my desk and lifted the screen on my bedroom window, then craned my neck out to look up. The attic window was just a dozen feet above me and in a blink I saw the cause of the noise: The shutter had finally broken free of the old latch and it was now swinging freely against the house. Each time the wind blew it, the heavy old shutter flung itself against the clapboards and made that deep, frame-shaking whump.

The noise didn't bother me.

The idea that I was going to have to go upstairs and into the attic to close that window did.

But there was no one else to do it, and I couldn't very well leave it open til my mom came home. The weather was calling for rain and if enough rain blew into that open attic, it could cause a leak in my bedroom ceiling. I was 12. I was in charge of the house while everyone was away. It was my responsibility.

I opened a footlocker at the foot of my bed and rummaged until I found the webbed Army belt that contained my Mobile Crime Lab from my days as a boy detective. In one pouch, I found my pocket flashlight. The batteries were old, but the light was strong enough. So, with a deep breath, I started up the stairs, ducking as I went to avoid clocking myself on the hard plaster of the eaves.

Although it had been a fairly warm day and the topmost part of the house tended to retain heat, I was surprised to discover the third floor was several degrees cooler than the temperature in my bedroom. It wasn't that I felt a cold spot; it was simply cold up here. And windy. With the attic window open, a surprisingly strong draft was coming from under the crack of the attic door. It made a strange and decidedly eerie moaning sound as the air was forced through the narrow space. I grabbed the old wrought-iron handle of the door and thumbed the latch.

At the same time, there was a sudden gust of air and the force of the wind blew the door out of my hands. It swung wide and hit the plaster wall, making a teeth-rattling BANG! as it did. Dust flew up from the attic floor and caught in my hair, my eyes, my teeth. Down the step ladder and across the dark room, the old shutter flailed ever more wildly, like the blinking eye of a blind old giant.

Flashlight on, I scuttled down the steps and turned on the single bare bulb, illuminating the room in a thin, gray light. Here were several old moving boxes, plus some of my parents' antiques that they hadn't yet found a place for: an old butter churn, a battered pine dresser, a small stack of ornate picture frames, some of them gilded in gritty, flecked gold paint. I stepped over these to the window and caught the worn, black-painted shutter as it swung back to the house again. I looped a finger under the hook and pulled it toward the eye set into the frame. I started to secure the shutter, then noticed that the eye catch had twisted in the wood, so that as soon as you latched the hook into it, it simply fell back out. I gave the eye a couple of hard twists until I felt it bite into the wood, then I latched the window securely.


I whirled at the sound and was just in time to see the attic door swing shut, cutting off the light from my brother's room. Now my heart was beating in my ears and I half-expected the bare bulb above me to blow out, or my flashlight to go dead. Neither of those things happened, but I still felt very much in a dark place, surrounded only by the weakest cone of light.

I started back for the stairs and immediately tripped over the stack of picture frames, landing across them and scuffing my hands on the hard floor. The flashlight skittered from my grasp. A couple of the topmost frames made cracking sounds and later I found flecks of gold paint ground into my pantlegs. I rolled across the floor and jumped to my feet. Flashlight forgotten, I crossed the attic in three quick steps and jumped up the stepladder, feeling for the latch. After a lively moment's scrambling, I found the cool metal catch and lifted it. I heard the latch on the other side.

But the door wouldn't open.

Any good vibe or comfortable feeling I'd had about the house evaporated in that moment.

I pushed hard, thinking that surely the wind must have jammed the door into the frame, causing it to stick. The damn thing wouldn't budge. I took one more step up the ladder and pushed harder, this time throwing my shoulder into the door. It creaked, but still didn't open. Now just a wee bit desperate, I began beating the old door with my hands, pummeling it so hard I later discovered blood on my knuckles. Finally, I made a fist with both hands, raised them, and brought them down as hard as I could in the center of the door. There was a brief lurch, then the door flew open and I flopped onto the floor of my brother's room.

I crawled the rest of the way out and stood, swaying there under the eaves. My teeth were chattering so violently, I shredded my lower lip. It wasn't just cold up here, I realized. It was freezing.

And then I felt it.

It was like a large something, had brushed by me, and brushed hard. It was no errant gust of wind. What brushed by me had moved with a will. I staggered to my right as whatever it was came from behind me--from the direction of the attic--and headed straight to the other side of the room where my brother's bed and desk sat. Right before my eyes, the brass bed began to shake, jangling like a dozen broken bells. Next to the bed, my brother's sturdy secretary's desk sat, stacked high with papers and boxes of model parts. Between the bed and the desk was a heavy oak chair that we called the Railroad Chair. It had belonged to my great-grandfather, who was a signalman for the railroad in Boston. He found the chair in a scrap pile behind the signal house and brought it home to fix up. How he ever carried it back to Watertown, I'll never know. It weighed at least 50 pounds and at that age, I could barely lift it. Even my brother, a big strong kid, found it quite the chair to hoist. Of course, its heft gave it stability and strength, more than enough to support my brother's larded ass.

Abruptly, the bed stopped shaking. For a second, everything was quiet.

Suddenly, in one swift and violent motion, the oak chair flipped over and hit the floor with a deafening CRACK!

The chair had a rounded back and it rolled on that rounded back now, like a topsy-turvy rocking chair. I stood, rooted to the spot and watched it rock back and forth on the floor, making a hideous squeaking as it did.

Then I heard a strange rustling, rasping noise, almost like a hoarse voice whispering words I couldn't make out. The noise seemed to rise and fall, like an awful wind. And as it filled the attic, the railroad chair suddenly began rolling straight toward me.

For an awful instant, time seemed to go all dream-like and slow, too slow. I understood that I was not going to be able to get out of the chair's path in time. My limbs were impossibly heavy, as though attached to lead weights.

Then I half-jumped, half-fell across the floor and down the first flight of strairs, my hands and elbows juddering against each step as I went. Behind me, the railroad chair hit the banister with force, leaving a deep gouge in both the banister post and the hard wood of the chair. I flopped down the steps, all the way to the second floor landing. The rustling, rasping noise I'd heard earlier was replaced now by a loud, shrieking cry which, it took me a second to realize, was coming from my own mouth. I got to my feet and took the rest of the steps three at a time, all way to the front hall and out the double doors of our house.

I stayed on the porch, huddled against the steps, until my mom and my brother returned. It was well after dark when they got back and when I told them what had happened, my mom's first reaction was to accuse me of trying to freak BB out. He had never much cared for his bedroom. He hated the dark, close confines of it to begin with. Now to hear my story, he turned a shade of pale I would have found satisfying in any other circumstance and if you were my mom, it would have been all too easy to suppose this was just another mean trick I was pulling on my brother. But then I said something that made my mom realize that I was telling the truth: I turned to my brother and asked him--begged him--to sleep downstairs in my room. Granted, I wasn't that interested in his well-being--I just didn't want to spend the night in the house by myself. "But you'd been bitching to have your own bedroom for so long, I knew something had to be wrong for you to voluntarily invite your brother to move in downstairs with you," she said later.

So my brother ended up sharing a room with me again. And for the rest of that long fall and winter, our good vibe about the house had been replaced by a heavy dose of unease. Several other strange and almost sinister things happened over that cold season--too many for me to relate here today. But by the time next spring rolled around, I had come to the conclusion that the Blue Lady wasn't the only spirit in the house. Clearly, there was something else in occupation in the rooms at the top of the house. Something not altogether friendly. Something I needed to learn more about if I was ever going to feel at ease in my own home again.

Thus it was, on that blustery night in late October, I quietly resolved to get to the bottom of what would turn out to be the greatest mystery of my life.

Which I'll tell you more about as this month progresses.

From Somewhere on the Masthead

Great Oct. moment, MM. This one gave me chills. I look forward to hearing more of the mystery.
Yes, that certainly kept me on the edge of my seat. A perfect story for the season. I'll also be looking forward to much more!

I don't know if I'm upset that I've never had a supernatural experience, or glad I haven't!
So I get all excited, right, seeing a post titled "An October Moment.." thinking "ooh! Another ghost story from MM!! Master story teller!" Then half way through you have me so freaked out I'm sure I've have nightmares tonight. Thanks a pantload. But I will have forgotten this for sure when the next installment comes around :)
Of course I had to find this blog and read it just before hopping into bed. Great story - I think I'll sleep with the lights on tonight. Thanks.
Part of me wants to wait so I can the entire story in its entirety by the end of the month... I realize, however, that I'm way too intrigued to do that.
Fantastic story. Probably not ideal to read at home on a windy night - I've got chills now. Thoroughly enjoyed it. Now I want to know what happens next...
eep! the others in my parents' house are friendly. i can't imagine having to deal with unfriendly ones.

great story for this time of year!
First, to repeat myself, thank you for these posts. They are dead brilliant, giving me the willies as much as any story from Night Shift.

Second, juddering! I love how you introduce me to words that are new to me. You are a fantastic passive teacher.

Third, I read this, word by word, thinking "It's the wind, it's the wind", until I just couldn't rationalize it any more. You have the uncanny ability to scrape away years of cynicism from my imagination. Go raibh maith agat.
Ooooh!!! I love ghost stories! I've never experienced one...I don't know if I'm open enough to that idea or not. But a friend and I are planning to visit the Lemp mansion in St. Louis sometime this that'll be interesting. I can't wait to read the next story!
Maybe the ghosts are just misunderstood. Maybe they knew how much you liked playing tricks on your brother and thought it would be fun to play one on you.
I think this story freaked me out just a bit more than the spooky story you told last year about this time. Your stories send goosebumps...when Brownie gets a bit older and has slumber parties, I can totally see you as the dad that freaks the little girls out with a ghost story before bed. That's what my dad used to do and some of those stories still chill me today, twenty years later.
Have you checked with the current residents of house, if it's still there? You can always write them, Im sure you remember the address.

My house was built in the 1960s on former pasture land and we're only the third family to live here.

all but one of its residents is still alive. One died of cancer when she was about 20, I don't know whether she died at home or in a hospital, but this house was her home at the time. When I learned about this I visited her grave which is in the same town. And the height marks of that person and her sister are still marked opn my cellar wall, and I plan to keep them forever.

Nothing creepy to report, but in one of the bedrooms Mr Gator and I have both felt
a wonderful feeling by one of the closet doors-as if a child had once been very very happy while standing in that spot.
Not every time we're there, but fairly often.

Karen was one of only 4 children to live in this house and the others are all alive. I hope it's her happiness Im feeling.

another house I once lived in was odler, and I while living there I had repeated nightmares about an angry short thin bald man with a big nose, who didnt resemble anyone I can think of. at least 6 or 7 families lived in it since it was built in the 1930s. Nothign much ever happened in those dreams but i always woke up scared.

And the house I grew up in was built fresh just before my parents bought it and nothing happened there. I used to think it was haunted when I was tiny, but only beacuse the doors creaked, and I thought that only ghosts made doors creak. I got over that one while fairly young.

Note to everyone: creaking doors usually have mundane and unscary causes. Make sure your kids knwo this, cause I felt better once it was explained to me. Kids think weird things sometimes.
glad to say I read this on a Friday morning before work and not a late evenign by candlelight. Brilliant tension - it has put me on edge.
woohoo! can't wait!
Ah, nothing says "October" like a good ghost story from MM. :)

I don't have any good ones, myself. There was one time I ended up walking past the cemetery in Key West about 1 AM...but I didn't see or sense anything out of the ordinary. Guess I'm not sensitive in that regard.
I am so glad that I read this post in the morning and not before bed!!! Oh wow, MM do you ever tell a good story. It's the first time in a long time that I've found myself leaning forward in wide-eyed anticipation as I read something.

Looking forward to the next chapter.
I love a good Ghostie story. I have some too...What fun, what fun...were going to have some fun!
That was simply marvelous. Cannot wait until the finale rolls it's way through October. We'll be on vacation next week, so I'll have to catch up on my return.

I love that the date of this first installment is Oct 24th. That's my son's birthday. Sure, it took place 12 years before he was born, but the coincidence made my day.

Thanks MM, for another brilliant post.
When will you be putting out a book of your best blog entries? I wait for that day. :-)
Great post, as usual! I've been reading through your archives, and enjoying them thoroughly. I must admit that my husband and I often laugh at dinnertime as I regale him with your tales.

I heard a story tonight that sounded like it could have happened to you. I had to blog about it, so of course I took that as a chance to plug Somewhere on the Masthead:
Perfect! And I too grew up in a spooky old farm house (Kansas) and I so remember how petrified I was by our attic and storm cellar. Pure, cold blue fear.
I can't wait for the rest of this, MM. At first, I was convinced all of the odd things were an incredible practical joke orchestrated by BB. But I guess not! Ooooh, I love ghost stories.
Oh my goodness! I was just bored and surfing the web for something interesting to do but... wow, I got more than I bargained for. WAY more. I wish my life was that interesting, then again, maybe not...
Absolutely HAVE to read the next bit, well done
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