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I’m about to describe a series of events that occurred several years ago, when I was around six, in an older home my family had recently moved into. The house was in one of the oldest still-standing neighborhoods in Indiana, just outside downtown Indianapolis.
The neighborhood was quite pretty, contained about 60-70 houses, none of which was less than 70 years old, and was located where a pretty good amount of Native Americans had previously lived before settlers forced their way in.
I can remember seeing a totem pole marked by a “historical location” sign a few hundred yards away from my house. Anyway, I digress. The story I’m about to tell genuinely frightens me, in fact I’m getting goosebumps as I sit here years later and type it out.
The events that occurred in that house greatly disturbed me as a child, and to this day every now and then I wake up in a cold sweat after being retold the story in a nightmare.
My family wasn’t having the greatest time financially. My dad was old for a parent of kids the age of my sister and I, and out of work. My mother was a heavy alcoholic who was beginning to experience symptoms of what I believe other alcoholics call a “Wet Brain”. Anyway, my father worked in college administration, and it was his habit to move, usually cross-state, when he began to get bored with his job. We’d lived in Tennessee for about two years when he decided it was time for a change of pace. After several months of him being out of work, he announced we were moving to Indiana. As a small child, I was frightened of change, especially one as great as a move. I’d moved a few times before, but I couldn’t really remember them as I’d been so young when they’d occurred. At that time, I didn’t know there were much greater things to fear than change.
The necessary preparations were made and we finally moved. We ended up finding a great looking house in a greater looking neighborhood for a bargain price. As I described above, the neighborhood we moved into was quite quaint, even pretty. The neighbors were friendly, and we were in a good location. This being said, I found the house itself quite foreboding.
Although I can’t remember this, my mother has told me that, upon seeing the house for the first time, I asked why we were living in a house that “other people hadn’t moved out of yet.” I wonder if hearing those words unnerved her as much as it unnerves me just thinking about them years later.
The house had four floors. The first floor had a nice little living room with a fireplace, an open kitchen that would end up needing substantial renovation, a dining room, a more formal living room, and a very dark back room that my mother took to drinking in. I remember there was a sliding glass door to our back yard in that room covered by great dark shades. Something about this door bothered me. It absolutely refused to open, even after Dad tried for hours one day with a tool kit and WD40. Anyway, the second floor was where my bedroom was located.
There was a grand staircase leading up from the ground floor to my parents, my own, and my sisters’ rooms. My room shared a wall with my sisters, but was tucked into the very back corner of the house. It had its own bathroom, a luxury that seemed almost unheard of to me at that age. Right outside of my room was a spiral staircase that lead up to the attic, which had a great big window on the front wall and a carpeted floor.
There were two doors on the opposite side of the room from the window that lead to a dimly lit storage room that scared the daylights out of me. Although the attic and sliding glass door both made me uneasy, the basement was by far the most ominous part of the house to me. It had a concrete floor, next to no light, and an extremely loud, ancient radiator. It often became infested with rats, and once, locust, which no exterminator could justify logically.
As we settled into the house over the next few months, I grew somewhat more comfortable with it. Dad was gone all day because of work, and often didn’t get home until around eight or nine in the evening. I was in school until four every afternoon, though, so this was mostly of little consequence to me. Mom was always drunk or passed out, so my little sister and I were alone for the most part after school until Dad got home. When I look back on this, it seems as though the house began its bid to scare the living shit out of me only after I started to feel comfortable with it.
After a few months of living there, we got my first dog and named it Handy. Handy was a really playful and sweet dog. He also acted rather strangely, as I recall. He was perfectly fine in most areas of the house. However, he refused to even come near the door to the basement, and the few times he was forced to enter the back room with my mom, usually when she was in one of her drunken stupors, he would whimper and hunch himself up in a corner until we’d let him out. He also seemed very hesitant to enter my room as well as the attic.
One of the very first strange things that took place in the house happened one day after I got home from school. Things were going pretty routinely, I’d get home, plop down on the couch, and watch cartoons until dinner-time, while Mom would retreat to her back room, and drink herself to sleep. On that particular day, I heard a loud banging coming from the room after she’d gone back to it. I was worried she’d fallen or broken something, so I ran into it to check on her. I was astonished to find the sliding glass door wide open with Mom nowhere to be found. I peeked outside the sliding glass door to see her fixed upon a large Pine tree that was in our yard, the top of which leaned against my bedroom window. I approached her.
“How did you get the door open?”
“What are you doing?”
“Trying to find the thing in the tree.
Even though I didn’t know exactly what she meant, something about those words disturbed me. I tried to communicate with her further, but got nowhere. Scared and saddened, I went back inside, through the back door rather than sliding glass door, I might add, and went on with my routine. When Dad got home later that evening, I explained to him what had happened with Mom that day. While he was surprised that she’d managed to get the sliding glass door open, which she couldn’t recall in the slightest after the fact, he decided that “the thing in the tree” fiasco was a consequence of her alcoholism, although he tried to comfort me in explaining that
For a while after that little incident, nothing out of the ordinary happened. I was eventually able to dismiss “the thing in the tree” as a delusion brought on by Mom’s alcoholism, just like Dad had explained. Every now and again I’d hear a bump, or a creak, but in an older home, noises such as those are to be expected. Then they began to get louder.
The next strange occurrence happened one night as I was lying in bed. I remember Dad had something or other going on at work that night, so he wouldn’t be getting home until late. Maybe that was what caused me such loneliness that night. Then again, maybe it wasn’t. I began to hear the routine creaks and bumps of the night as the radiator in the basement roared to life, but something seemed odd. A scraping sound could be heard outside my room, maybe by the spiral staircase, or in the attic. Needless to say, being a little kid, this frightened me, and I contemplated running downstairs and removing Mom from her back room to offer me some sort of company.
As I considered this, I began to hear loud, thudding footsteps coming down the spiral staircase, which made me reconsider leaving the room at all. They seemed to go on for much longer than they should’ve, covering more stairs than the spiral staircase contained, me hiding under the covers all the while. Whatever was coming down the stairs had now finished the climb, and could now be clearly heard approaching my door. Obviously, I was terrified.
The thing seemed to be right at the door, it couldn’t have sounded any closer, when there was a brief pause accompanied by a scraping noise, and it stopped altogether. I can’t recall what happened after that, whether or not I simply fell back asleep that night remains a mystery to me, but my mother seems to have no memory of me telling her of that terrible night. However, years later my sister recalled hearing banging or stepping noises frequently at night that seemingly came from the spiral staircase.
Life in that house became miserable for me. Strange things such as footsteps, other noises, and the great Pine outside my room rustling as if someone were climbing it became routine. I relished the time I spent in school, and towards the end of a school day dread would wash over me as my inevitable return to the house neared. Other than school, my only relief from the house was when Dad returned from work in the evenings.
Mom was never completely coherent, even when she wasn’t piss drunk, so she offered little protection or company. Dad must’ve been experiencing strange things sometimes to, or at least have sympathized with me, because as many nights as he could he’d remove my sister and I from the house to eat dinner or go on an “adventure” and simply drive around.
I don’t know if I would have made it through my time at the house if it weren’t for that. Teachers began to report to my father that I seemed totally tired and drained, that my behavior seemed like that of an introvert during class. I rarely talked to other kids, and often fell asleep during class. Dad tried to help me with that too, calling other parents and arranging play dates, but other kids were always hesitant to spend time with me, so it didn’t end up happening much. My sister refused to talk about “weird things”, as I referred to them at the time, and if I so much as said the word ghost or monster, she would often break down into tears. Till the day he died Dad wouldn’t tell me he ever saw or heard anything strange in the house, though I never believed him.
Strange happenings continued to occur as the first year went by, from the routine noises to the locust invading our basement over the summer. I can’t remember many specifics after the spiral staircase scare, the days all became the same to me. Finally, after months of living in that place, Dad was finally considering moving again. He wasn’t planning on moving cross-state either, or even quitting his current job, just a home-change, which further leads me to believe he also disliked the house. It was around the time that we finally put up the for-sale sign outside the house that I begin to remember specifics again, although I wish I didn’t.
One night, which ended the same as any other night with me falling into a restless sleep, didn’t end the way routine predicted it to. I was awakened for some reason. I looked to the foot of my bed, where I saw the dark figure of a man wearing some sort of hat. I buried my face in my pillow, staying as quiet as I could so this mysterious presence might think I was asleep and leave me alone. I have no idea how long I hid my head in that pillow, but it felt like hours.
Finally, the courage to look up from the pillow and check the room for the man came to me. I surveyed the room and saw nothing. I saw this as my chance to escape and ran to Dad’s room and told him what had happened. He told me what any parent would tell his son in a similar predicament: “You were just dreaming, it’s okay.” I didn’t believe it for a second, and insisted I be able to stay in his room that night.
Sometime later that week, possibly the very next night, I heard a scream from my sister’s room. Dad ran in to make sure she was alright, and I followed. She explained to Dad that she’d seen a ghost. Dad told her the same thing he’d told me, though when I look back on it I feel like I noticed concern, maybe even fear in his voice. She tried to explain what the ghost looked like to me, but was at a loss for words. The greatest level of detail she could go into to describe him was to say he had a “funny hat”. That night we all slept in Dad’s room.
While I was still afraid and depressed anytime I was in the house, I began to feel hope and excitement; the date of our next move was approaching. I’d gotten a TV in my room for my birthday, which had happened recently, and began to sleep with that on as well as the lights on occasion, which helped to take my mind off of the terrifying nightly routine. Unfortunately, the worst had yet to come.
The last night in that house I can remember with vivid clarity was also the worst. It was another night in which Dad had to work late, and that feeling of loneliness that accompanied his absence was present. I went through my daily routine, and went to bed a little early, wanting to be unconscious for as much of that night as I could. At some point during the night, I woke up. What I saw in that room so many years ago I don’t think I’ll ever forget. A man in a business suit with what appeared to be a fedora on stood in my room not two feet away from me, flipping the lights on off.
My eyes widened with terror, and I tried to look away, but to no avail. At first, I couldn’t make out his face very well, but I soon found there was nothing to make out. He had no face, just a blank slate. I don’t know how to describe this feeling, but it was almost as though it was looking right at me, looking into me, even though there were no eyes for him to look at me through. I buried my face in my pillow for a long time, such a long time, before I passed out.
I have no memory of the next day, but years later Dad explained that I was so afraid of something I’d seen in the house, that I refused to enter it again, even kicking and biting him when he tried to carry me in. Evidently we ended up staying in a motel that night, and moved into our new house a day early the very next day. From time to time, I still find myself wondering what would’ve happened had we stayed another night in that house. It’s more than likely better that I never find out.
I used wonder why Mom drank so heavily, even though she had a family, and people that loved her and needed her. Maybe she gave into the social pressures brought on by kids when she was younger, maybe she had alcoholism in her blood, and was just unlucky. But maybe there was something else, something she needed to forget.