Blogoween Day 30 – True Terror Tuesday: The House That Mom Built

blogoween ttt

Most ghost stories take place in houses that have histories, have been well-lived in, that have seen tragedy and death. So imagine my surprise when I moved into a brand new house that my mother built and had my most paranormal experience ever.

I think a lot of pre-teen and teen-aged girls have paranormal experiences because their worlds are changing so drastically in a very short time. That is to say, either the supernatural is drawn to people whose lives are in turmoil, or people who are experiencing turmoil cloak those experiences as supernatural. And turmoil is relative: what seems like no big deal to you could be life-shattering to someone else.

(Side rant: I’m always amazed at adult-aged people who think teenagers are over-dramatic and hyper-emotional. Yes, of course they are, their hormones are a mess, and this is the first time they’re experiencing heartbreak and betrayal and stress. Do you not remember having these experiences? If you lost a finger, you’d freak out, but to someone who’s lost two limbs, your experience is nothing–that doesn’t actually diminish your experience, it’s just relative. Fuck off, olds, and be nice to children for goodness sake!)

Anyway, I think the dichotomy of something monstrously supernatural vs monstrously human happening to a teenager is very interesting, and I’d love to find some research that looks at the psychology behind that with views from skeptics and believers alike. That is all to say, Dear Reader, that I recognize at this point in my life shit was capital F Fucked Up, and there could be a real life explanation, like my god damned brain just breaking, for what I’m about to tell you here, but this will be long enough without my telling you about all the horror that was my real life at this time, so I won’t bore you with that. Disclaimer out of the way, let’s get into the sPoOpInEsS…

Without getting too into the nitty gritty, my mom and her boyfriend at the time built a house on about seven acres in Bumfuck, Ohio, a village we’d moved to from a much more populated Florida a couple years prior. When I was little, one of the things I swore I would be when I grew up was a “farmer.” I didn’t know back then that farming actually meant raising animals to slaughter, I thought it just meant I would get to take care of a bunch of cows and sheep and cats, but when faced with a lot of open land, I realized “farming” was not all it was cracked up to be.

On the back of this swath of land was a few acres of forested area. Then-me was simultaneously more cowardly and braver than current-me, and I sometimes went on walks in the woods alone. This is where the weirdness started. The woods are isolating, even when you know home is a short sprint away, but then-me was very interested in nature and finding my, let’s say, tribal roots? I wanted very badly to belong in the new place that I lived, but I knew that I didn’t, so I searched for that inclusion in the earth itself, and in some ways I found it. I wasn’t afraid of snapping twigs and sudden rustling, of freakish silence and breezes that sounded like whispers. I was home.

But the house itself instilled a very different feeling. There was nothing creepy about it, and I was very happy to live there as opposed to the cramped, one-bedroom apartment we’d just been in, but it was…off. We had a landline then, but I don’t think many people had the number. I was home alone a lot and at a distance from the couple friends I had, so I was quick to answer the phone any time it rang. I got some prank calls from time to time, or I thought they were pranks, but there was a series of them that made me feel much stranger than any others.

I’d answer and there would be only breathing on the other end. Okay, fine, a creeper, just hang up. This went on for a couple weeks, a few times a week, then it escalated to a voice, a sort of strangled, breathy static voice. They’d only say one word, “I” or “eye”, and repeat it. Sometimes I’d say “Hello?” repeatedly before hanging up, but I was always quiet and calm. My mom would sometimes answer the phone but never got these calls, just me.

Simultaneously, I started having these odd experiences at night. Only my mom and I lived in the house. There were three bedrooms, but my mom opted to sleep on the couch in the living room at one end of the house, and my bedroom was at the exact opposite end of the house. There was a bathroom in the hall before you’d get to my room at the very end, so if my mom were to use the bathroom at night, that’s the one she’d go to.

For most of my life I fell asleep with the TV on. I was and am afraid of the dark, and the buzz of a tube TV and its dull, blue light were a great comfort, but I always kept the volume as close to being muted as possible. I also slept a bit strangely. I had my bed in the corner of the room with the headboard against the same wall the doorway was on. Between the doorway and my bed, I had a pretty big desk with built-in shelves, so when lying down, if I looked to the side, I’d just see the side of this shelving unit, and not the open doorway, and anyone looking in couldn’t see me. This was optimal to my emu-like brain.

One night after hanging up on the “I” caller earlier in the evening, I was laying in bed, staring at a silent TV, when I heard something from the hall. I knew exactly what the sound was: footsteps on carpet. It’s a very specific, soft padding sound and had the cadence of someone carefully and quietly making their way down the hall. My first suspicion was, of course, my mom headed to the bathroom, but she never went in, opened or closed a door, turned on a light, flushed a toilet, or ran any water. Instead, the footsteps just sort of stopped round about the bathroom. I still thought it was her, and she was just being expertly quiet, and I fell asleep.

The following night, the same thing happened. Quiet footsteps, no bathroom sounds, stopping randomly in the hall, then nothing. This went on for a few nights, and even in all my paranormal paranoia, I always thought it was just Mom taking a silent nighttime whiz, as improbable as that was. Then I noticed the steps getting closer to my room until they were stopping right at the threshold to my door. Now, remember, I couldn’t see the doorway from where I lay, so this was all on hearing alone, but I think we’re all familiar with that “someone’s in here with me” feeling, and it was pretty strong.

This went on a few more nights, and teen-aged me was like “enough!” because I was convinced it was my mother coming to check on me in the middle of the night, every night, and there was no need. So I confronted her, asked her why she was doing it. She had no idea what I was talking about. I didn’t believe her, and told her so, asking her to not do it anymore because it was waking me up. At this point, I was waking up every single night to the quiet padding of feet on the carpet, and my brain was assigning it to my mother checking on me, despite her insistence that she wasn’t. I figured, even if she denied it, if I told her it was waking me she would stop. It didn’t stop.

I confronted her again, that this had to stop, and again she told me she wasn’t even gong to the bathroom at night, let alone going to my door. Her conviction was pretty intense then, and I started to entertain believing her. That night when I heard the footsteps and I felt the presence, I started to get genuinely creeped out. I don’t know the span of time this went on for. It could have just been a few weeks or a few months, but it feels very out-of-time to me now looking back on it, like a perpetual autumn into winter.

The phone calls had been going on this whole time intermittently. I’d accepted that the footsteps were not related to my mother, and when I’d wake to them, I’d lay frozen in bed until I just fell back to sleep, but I didn’t connect them with the calls until I got the last one. My mom and her boyfriend were out in the barn which you could see from the house, about a football field away, and I was alone inside. This time when I answered and that familiar static buzz and staggered breathing sounded, I felt enraged. I shouted “Hello?” a few times to be answered with a long, drawn out “I” in a scratchy voice, and I finally responded, “Fuck off!” and hung up, incredibly unsatisfactorily with the click of a button on the portable phone. My heart was pounding–I’d never told the caller off before–and I was just staring daggers down at the phone as I stomped down the long hall to my bedroom. I wanted to reach through it and strangle whoever it was, and my sleep deprivation wasn’t helping my mood, and I flopped down on my bed with the phone in hand. Then something happened that hadn’t before: the phone rang again.

I answered immediately because I knew: even though the mystery caller had never tried multiple times or even days in a row before, I knew this was them. I was feeling angry, but also at a loss–no one else ever got these calls or was even around when they happened–and I shouted into the receiver, “What do you want?!” In return, over the static and the breath, a raspy but clear whisper-shout answered: “I WANT YOU!”

I screamed, the anger terrified out of me immediately. All my bravery drained away, and I suddenly felt very alone and totally panicked. I was probably having an anxiety attack, but didn’t know the name for it. The walls seemed to bow in on me, my vision tunneled, and I started to see things flitting in the corner of my eyes. I fled from my room, down the hall, the feeling of something on my heels the whole time. I passed by a sliding glass door, the forested area on its other side, and I swear I saw figures there amongst the trees. I flew out the front door, barefoot, and raced my own fear across the yard to the barn, bursting through the opening hyperventilating and on the verge of tears. My mom and her boyfriend just sort of stared at me, and I shoved the phone at my mom. “No one’s there,” she told me, and I didn’t bother explaining. I just sat on the ground and refused to go back inside by myself.

That night when the footsteps happened again I’m not sure exactly what happened. It was a bit like my mental state had deteriorated, and I just left my own body because I got up out of bed, under just the glow of the TV at 3am, and walked stoically toward my bedroom door. I don’t think I wanted to do it, but my body just did it, so I turned my mind off. I didn’t let myself be afraid–I didn’t let myself be anything–I just did it because I had to know, to confirm if I was crazy. When I got to the door, there was nothing there, so I went out into the hallway.

Standing at the hall’s end, my eyes could make out in the darkness all the way up the hallway, through the kitchen and dining room, and into the living room. My mom wasn’t there, presumable she was lying on the couch beyond the wall and asleep, but there was something. Something I could see through, but was definitely there in a sort of white sheen. It was bigger than a person and without features, but it was person-shaped, and it filled up the hallway, standing just by the bathroom door. I was still in my brain-broken state, and my feet took me toward it, absent of fear or dread or anything at all. Then I sort of just fell through the apparition, and in that moment I snapped back into myself, wholly aware of what I’d just done.

I stumbled, I grabbed the edge of the bathroom doorway, and I fumbled for the bathroom light. Fear came rushing into me, but it was that feeling you get when you’ve been frightened by a friend–your heart’s pounding but you know you’re not in danger because it was a joke. I wasn’t anxious. I was, in fact, feeling strangely warm and almost happy, but I was scared that I’d just not been myself at all in the moment prior. I didn’t think about what I’d seen while I stood in the bathroom, I didn’t even look to see if it was still there because I knew it wouldn’t be, and after a minute or so, I returned to bed and fell asleep.

I never got another creepy call or experienced the disembodied footsteps or strange presence in the hall or my room after that. We only lived in that house for a year or so, and when we left it I was both distressed and relieved. I have my theories about what it was, both purely psychological and human as well as supernatural, but without being able to confirm anything or to go back to that place, I feel like they’re all sort of useless. All I know is what happened, Dear Reader, and this is just that.

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A Nice Story About Death

I used to work for a company that did maintenance work on properties that were foreclosed upon and had become bank-owned. Our company contracted with vendors who would do lawn work and maintain the interior of these non-lived-in homes all over the country. Among other things, we also did clean outs of homes that the previous tenants or owners had left their stuff in for one reason or another, typically for the most depressing reasons. I didn’t feel particularly good about that work, but this post isn’t about that.

This post is about one particular clean out a few years ago. Crews would send photos of the interiors and the debris within before removing it so we could determine if there was anything of value–specifically something we called “personal belongings”–left behind. Of course, “of value” has a different definition in that world, and very few things (among them mostly irreplaceables like family photos or obviously expensive jewelry) constituted stopping a trash out and holding up the bank from getting their hands on an empty and marketable house. But one day a crew called me with one of those very few things.

Typically we identify this kind of stuff prior to beginning the trash out, and then put the whole thing on hold as when one thing is identified as a “personal belonging” then everything in the home falls under that jurisdiction, but in this case, the crew was halfway through when they called me. Dear Reader, you don’t want to get a call from your crew saying they’ve already brought a load to the dump and then found “personal belongings.” And you definitely don’t want them to tell you that what they found was a fucking urn.

To make this news doubly stressful, my manager was out of the office that day, so I had to go to another manager who I did not know that well for help. (This other manager had, in fact, trained me when I first started at this company, but I have always been incredibly forgettable most of my life, and she didn’t remember me though she seemed to remember literally everyone else. So I guess it wasn’t that I didn’t know her that well, but more that I felt very small and embarrassed that she didn’t know who I was and I had to do that whole introduce myself to her even though we’d met and worked together a lot already thing that only you other poor, forgettable fuckos understand.)

So I went to this manager, reintroduced myself, and explained my predicament. Her eyes went wide. “An urn?” she asked with both the horror and excitement of the realization we almost threw away human remains and now we’d have to deal with this. “An urn,” I told her with a solemn nod, holding back laughter because humor is how I deal with everything and this was, at its core, kind of ridiculous.

We shut the trash out down, obviously, and the manager set to contacting everyone she could in regard to the house in question. Somehow, through the long line of everyone who had handled the house thus far, she had gotten in contact with the former owner of the house. This was unprecedented as, in my particular position and department, we were typically very far removed from the former occupant of the houses. Talking with people who think you personally are taking their home from them is particularly terrible–I would learn this a year later when I picked up overtime by answering our emergency phones after hours and got yelled at and threatened by all sorts of people who didn’t pay their mortgages–but speaking with someone who has lost their house AND the remains of their family member? Horrifying.

So the manager called the woman (thank the gods) who was now residing on the other side of the country, and when informed we had found an urn amongst her abandoned belongings, do you know what she said, Dear Reader?

“Well, I thought we left someone behind!”

As it turned out, the remains were not human, but of the family dog, and we were all a little relieved this wasn’t someone’s grandma, but still, right? You see, a lot of people, when they’re foreclosed upon, leave behind a bunch of stuff sometimes out of necessity and sometimes out of spite. I don’t blame these people, I basically had a job because of this, but very rarely was something of this caliber discarded so thoughtlessly.

So the manager asked the lady what she’d like to do. This was, after all, all that was left of a beloved pet, and the family had already been through enough losing their home and packing up with little they could take and relocating, so we were willing to send the ashes to her–something we wouldn’t have done for any other belonging–and the manager was going to pay for it out of her on pocket.

But to our surprise she said no, and for a moment I was particularly upset and not just because I like animals more than people. First she forgets Fido, and then when given a second chance through an incredibly kind gesture, she blows it off! But her reasoning was thus: that house we found the ashes in had been the dog’s home its whole life, and that was where she belonged. Not tinned up on someone’s shelf or, worse, in the back of a closet, but there, at home. So she asked us if we could bury the ashes on the property so the dog could “watch over the house forever.” Those words will stick with me my whole life, Dear Reader, and I don’t think I will ever be able to tell this story without crying.

The crew completed the request and sent me pictures, digging the hole, putting in the ashes, filling it in, and even placing a handful of wildflowers on top of the spot. We sent the photos to the woman and received a heartfelt thank you. People who clean out houses for a living are incredibly tough, foul-mouthed, strong people. Often they lied to me because the system was a game and they needed to win so they played dirty, and to be honest I respected that, but I think in just about everyone’s heart there’s enough room to get it together to bury someone’s pet with the love and honor it deserves.

I like to think that even though she was abandoned for a bit and never reunited with her family, that dog is very happily haunting that yard to this day, raising the hair on the back of the mailman’s neck and chasing off the errant squirrel, and, pleased with a good day’s work, she curls up on the back porch every night to sleep. So yeah, I helped trash out foreclosed houses–I don’t feel great about that–but I know I did right by that ghost doggo.