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The Unwanted Occupant

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In 1964, Eddie and Frances were a young couple with a 10 month-old daughter. They had recently begun renting an old two-story house in Egg Harbor City, NJ, and almost immediately Frances began complaining that something about the house wasn't right. Eddie was a truck driver in those days, and he was often away for several nights at a time. On those nights, Frances told her family, the house was occupied by more than just herself and her daughter Debbie. When Eddie was away, something would play—and it was scaring her half to death.

After several months of increasingly frightening and flamboyant disturbances, Frances announced that she wouldn't stay in the house alone any longer. Eddie, who had never experienced anything unusual in the house on the nights he spent there, chalked up his wife's hysteria to post-partum depression, but felt helpless to do anything about it. He could neither afford to move nor to give up the extra income of his long hauls. A compromise was reached: my mother would stay with Frances.

Thus far, the ghostly occurrences had only taken place when Frances was alone with the baby. Eddie hoped that my mother would be a calming influence on Frances. My mother was—and still is—a hard-headed and pragmatic woman. She didn't believe in ghosts, wasn't frightened by the idea of ghosts, and generally agreed with Eddie that the only thing strange in the house was Frances. According to her, that belief system crumbled forever at around 11:30 pm of her first, and only, night in Frances' house.

It was about 7 pm, an hour or so after sunset, that the scratching in the walls began. Frances, on hearing it, paled noticeably My mother assured her that it was merely the scratchings of mice they were hearing, but Frances would have none of it. "We've had exterminators here three times in the past two months. There are no mice. This is how it starts."

At around 9:30, while watching TV in the living room, they heard three sharp raps on the front door. Mom waited for Frances to answer the door, and was surprised and a little bemused to see her sitting rigidly erect in her seat, frozen in fear. "For god's sake, Fran," she said, "There's someone at the door."

"No, there isn't," Frances replied, and refused to go to the door. Exasperated, my mother went to the door, flung it open, and found the front stoop empty. "You see?" Frances asked. But my mother believed that it was merely kids screwing with them, and said so. Turned out, Mom was wrong.

The evening wore on, and though Frances grew increasingly jittery, the house was quiet. At 11:30, after the end of the local news, my mother announced that she was tired and ready for bed. Frances agreed, and after they had taken a quick trip around the first floor making sure that all doors and windows were secure, they went upstairs to their rooms.

The guest room was at one end of the upstairs hall, the nursery at the other. Between them was the master bedroom. The guest room and the master bedroom shared a walk-in closet, so with both closet doors open it was possible to look from one room into the other. My mother was to sleep in the guestroom, but Frances insisted that they keep the closet doors open so they could see each other. By this time, my mother considered Frances to be something of a twit, but she agreed to humor her.

My mother went into the bathroom, got herself ready for bed, then returned to her room and climbed into bed. The lights were on in Frances' room, and she could see the lower half of the bed, where Frances was lying down with her leg dangling over the side and swinging to and fro. Mom watched her, hoping Frances would fall asleep soon so this adventure in ninnyness could come to an end.

"Goodnight, Frances," she called through the closet.

"Goodnight, Anita," Frances replied. . . from the guestroom's hall door.

My mother started in surprise at Frances' voice. She looked at Frances in her doorway, then looked back through the closet at the master bedroom. The leg was still there, swinging back and forth. My mother jumped out of her bed and slammed the closet door, telling Frances to get the hell in out of the doorway and lock the door behind her, because there was someone in the master bedroom.

Frances did as she was told, all while asking my mother what she was talking about. My mother explained what she'd seen, and Frances said that she hadn't even lain down yet, because she had been in the nursery changing the baby. The two women stood huddled together, trying to decide what to do next, when something made the decision a helluva lot harder.

Terrible noises suddenly filled the house. It sounded to the women as though someone was throwing every breakable object in the basement against the cinderblock walls. They could hear glass breaking, wood splintering, and repeated low banging that sounded as though someone was pounding the basement steps with a sledgehammer.

The women hugged each other in terror, as the noises seemed to build to some horrible crescendo of destruction. Then, as though a switch had been thrown, they stopped. And the small, mewling cry of Debbie could be heard from the nursery.

Frances moved automatically for the guestroom door; her instincts guiding her steps. She was brought up short, however, by the loud bang of the cellar door slamming open. She stood, eyes wide, hand on the doorknob, and listened as heavy footsteps moved through the first floor, toward the staircase to the second.

Debbie's cries became more insistent. And the heavy tread fell on the first step. Then the second. Frances moaned in a soul-freezing terror of indecision. She knew three things. There were 14 steps. The staircase was between the guestroom and the nursery. And something was coming steadily up the stairs.

My mother, hard-headed no more, whispered frantically, "My God, Fran, it's coming up the steps. And the baby's crying..."

The footfalls thudded relentlessly up the stairs. Third step. Fourth. Fifth. Sixth. Frances screamed, and to this day neither woman can say whether that scream was of terror or anger or both, but it was primal and nearly savage. She tore open the guestroom door and raced for the nursery, where her daughter's cries were growing louder as she waited for her mother to come.

Still screaming, Frances flew past the upper landing, hearing the thudding footsteps fall on the seventh, eighth, and ninth risers, then Frances was in the nursery, my mother hot on her heels. Mom slammed and locked the nursery door as Frances scooped Debbie from her crib and held her tight, soothing her cries, all the while staring wild-eyed at the nursery door, beyond which something was on the tenth step, the eleventh, the twelfth. . .

Then the eleventh. The tenth. The ninth. Both women stood, shaking with combined fear and relief as whatever had been approaching retreated to the first floor. The cellar door slammed shut. And the whirlwind of destruction resumed in the basement.

My mother hissed at Frances, "Do you go through this every time Eddie's away?"

Frances almost managed a laugh. "No, it's usually not this bad."

Frances had insisted on getting a telephone extension placed in the master bedroom, and the women decided to risk going there to use it, despite the thing in the basement and the leg in the room, reasoning (not very well) that whatever was in the house was busy downstairs.

They gathered a few supplies for the baby, and peeked out the nursery door. The noises continued unabated from the basement, so they dashed down the hall, past the landing to the master bedroom's closed door. There, they hesitated, terrified of what they might find inside, but seeing no other alternative, they steeled themselves and slowly open the door. And found the room empty. They rushed inside, locked the door, and called the police. They then sat at the bedroom window, watching the street for the squad car.

After a short time, which felt like hours to the women, the black-and-white arrived, and two officers approached the front door. Frances had explained that there was an intruder of some sort in the house's lower floors, and had instructed the responding officers to let themselves in using a spare key that was hidden in a planter near the door, as neither she nor my mother had any intention of going downstairs to let them inside.

The sounds of crashing from the basement had gone on for so long that Frances wasn't certain what else could possibly remain to break, but they suddenly ceased the moment the spare key was inserted in the lock of the front door. The officers entered the house, and called out to Frances that they had arrived. Frances ran downstairs to them, baby in tow and my mother just behind her.

The two women related, as best they could in their state of mind, what had happened that night. The officers, both young, burly men, weren't sure what to make of their story, but they believed the fear in the women's faces, and when they went to the basement to investigate, they went with their guns drawn. After several minutes, one of the officers called upstairs, asking the women to come down. So Frances and my mother walked down the wooden stairs to the basement floor.

And found it in perfect order. A little dusty, but otherwise completely undisturbed. The officers questioned them: What did they hear again? Were they sure about the sounds they had heard? The women were mystified and frantic. They had heard everything they described, the sounds were unmistakable. They were desperate to be believed. The officers were courteous, but ever-so-slightly condescending. Perhaps the ladies should try to get some sleep, they suggested. Everything was in order; they would be fine in the morning. Helplessly, the women stood in the foyer and watched as the two officers prepared to leave. And, just before the door latched shut behind the second policeman, the sounds of a destructive frenzy exploded forth from the basement again.

And the front door quickly swung open again. The sound instantly cut off, but not before both policemen had heard the crashing from downstairs. They quickly raced past the women, again drawing their guns and swiftly descending the basement steps. And again, they found the basement unoccupied and undisturbed. When the two officers returned to the first floor this time, they were both visibly puzzled. They strongly suggested that the women spend the night elsewhere, and offered to stay in the house with them while they gathered whatever they would need. The women returned upstairs, grabbed their things, and left the house with the officers. They spent that night in my mother's apartment, and neither of them ever set foot in that house after dark again.

As a postscript to this story, Eddie and Frances fought bitterly over her refusal to stay in the house at night anymore, even when Eddie was at home. They nearly divorced over it. Eddie stubbornly insisted on keeping the house, feeling that it was the nicest home he would ever be able to rent for the money. He stayed there whenever he was home from his long hauls. Then, his trips became more local for a while, and he started spending more time in the house.

A month later, he broke his lease and moved, reconciling with Frances and buying a smaller house in Hammonton. At the time, he said he had changed his mind because he loved his wife and wanted to make her happy. But years later, he admitted the truth:

He never heard any of the sounds of chaos from the basement. But one night he awakened to find he was sharing his bed with a strange woman. A woman who dangled one leg over the side of the bed, and swung it to and fro. He leapt out of bed with a grunt of surprise, and watched with increasing horror as the woman slowly faded from view.

The next morning, there was a moving van parked in front of the house.



Credited to Bangulzai 

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