I bought my house at the beginning of this year. It’s been a long search to find just the right place, everything I found would have that one little thing that wasn’t quite right, and was either completely un-changeable, or far too expensive to alter. Even doing my best to reduce my must-must haves, I wasn’t happy with the choices. I was just about to give in and choose something less-than-perfect when this house materialized onto the market. It had everything I wanted, nothing I didn’t. Of course I jumped on it immediately.
The sale itself was fast and smooth. The sellers were eager to sell, though not anxious about it, so they accepted my offer after meeting me in person, without even looking at any others. It seemed to me that they wanted to find the right fit, put someone in the house that they liked, who would treat it with the same love they’d come to have for it over the years. At first, I was nervous buying directly from them, worried that it would muddy the process somehow, but there were no hitches. My inspections came back spotless, too. A testament to how well they’d cared for the structure and surrounding property.
I got to be pretty friendly with the couple, Mark and Betty, who told me they were only moving out because they no longer wanted to be in the city – they’d found a house way out on a county road, away from bright lights and traffic noise. Initially their daughter was supposed to move in, a job offer had taken her to the other side of the country instead. While they were sad about losing the family home, they were happy for her opportunity. When we were finalizing paperwork, I decided to familiarize myself with whatever eccentricities there might be, and asked them if there was anything quirky about the house that I should be aware of, anything that maybe the inspection wouldn’t have picked up on, those elements that only a resident would know.
They informed me that with the house’s concrete construction (built in 1952, when everything was practically made to withstand bombs) the extreme desert weather changes cause cracking noises as the house settles; it’s fairly freaky the first few times, but they’d come to find it endearing. Much like the hourly sounds of bells from the nearby Catholic church; or reveille from the Air Force base at 7 every morning. Mark threw in that the concrete also required WiFi setups to be a little more elaborate than normal.
Smiling, they went on to describe their enjoyment of all the local wildlife I would encounter. Despite being a high traffic area due to the amount of businesses, nature tends to thrive in the neighborhood. It was sweet, though honestly, I doubted it. Especially when they said they’d even begun to see rabbits recently. Their “urban herd”, Betty called them.
Our conversation ended with a nonchalant mention that the house is haunted. It was said as such a light-hearted aside that I laughed. They laughed, too. Mark assured me that nobody had actually died in the house. Nevertheless, it was definitely haunted.
My first month in, I was really busy getting settled. I didn’t really have time to notice anything they’d told me about. Not the creaks, not the animals I was supposed to be sighting, certainly nothing resembling ghost activity. I was running myself ragged, keeping up at work, poor attempts at maintaining a social life, and trying to get everything in place to my liking in the house. When I was there, it was either while blasting music to keep my energy up so I could work as long as possible, or experiencing the sleep of the dead (seriously, I don’t think I’ve ever slept so solidly in my entire life).
Settling in, being finally content and satisfied, really being in the space, those little things began to reveal themselves to me. How the water heater will tick as it refills itself after I shower, which doors stick a bit as humidity rises. The sigh of the cooler meeting the temperature set on the thermostat.
The first time I actually witnessed the house settle almost gave me a heart attack. I was sitting on my couch with a book and a snack, enjoying a moment of peace. The sun had long since disappeared, but the desert night was still quiet, patiently waiting to assure all human activity was done for the day before emerging. When Mark and Betty had warned of the sound, I had imagined it being pretty subtle, maybe only noticeable if there was nothing to mask it. In reality, it was lough enough to startle me, provoking an actual bodily movement. The sound itself was – best way I can think to describe it – similar to somebody taking a roll of super duty bubble wrap and twisting it to make all the bubbles pop together. One after another, in rapid succession. Or as if some massive beast had stretched to crack it’s back the entire length of its spine. The sound moved from the northern corner of my living room to the southernmost.
I momentarily thought the house was breaking. When I was finally able to assure myself that all was okay, I tried to remind myself how the previous owners had eventually thought of this little aspect as charming, but I found that concept difficult to embrace immediately.
As March rolled around, I started to notice all my animal neighbors. After seeing the first appearance of a hummingbird, I added a feeder to my yard, by my front picture window so I could watch. A birdbath was not far behind, which encouraged an influx of sparrows, so I got them a feeder too. Pretty immediately two dove species rolled in, trailed by finches. I had a teeming aviary within a week. I started to see lizards too, as the weather warmed. Several types; geckos, some with super long tails, others that were huge and spiky. The rabbits would hop by at night, stealing whatever morsels the birds left behind. I was delighted that there had been no wildlife exaggeration.
And yeah, by March, I can admit, I was actually thinking of the house noises as outright comforting. It was a signal that the last of the heat of the day was gone, the nocturnals were about to spring to life. Those once creepy (freaky was a bit too mild a word for me at the onset) shriekings were incorporated into my life. I could tell the time by a bugle and bells, I was soothed by birdsong and house creaks.
The house was truly my home.
But this isn’t really what I’ve come to talk about, my idyllic home life.
Little occurrences that I couldn’t rationally pin on a ghost started happening. A cupboard being open, a light left on. Those are things that a distracted me could very easily have done while engaged in another activity. Sure, I didn’t remember opening the closet door, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t me.
Like a child testing boundaries, incidents began to escalate. A bathroom tap turned on while I was in another room one day. I spent twenty minutes trying to determine if seals had failed. I naturally found nothing amiss. The next day, it turned on while I walked past, the action of the handle turning and flowing water were something I couldn’t ignore. As if it had been done purposefully, planned for the exact right moment so it couldn’t be reasoned away. After a week long activity lull, the toilet spent roughly six hours flushing, refilling, flushing itself once more. I was not only able to watch this, but when I tried to interrupt it, I felt the pressure on the handle as it tried to lower. Something was definitely manipulating the mechanism.
I was spooked, for sure. But. Well. None of it was malicious in any way. I never got the raised-hairs-on-the-neck feeling. None of it was ominous. It felt playful, actually. Sometimes merely a proclamation of existence. I could see not why both Betty and Mark were so jovial toward the concept of sharing their space. Maybe the house is haunted, but it – whatever it is – just wants to play. I decided I could easily live with this, I even began to interact with it, going so far as talking to it as I would a living being. Even now, I share funny stories, I scold it if it’s particularly annoying, a few times I have brought it things from outside and let it know they are for its enjoyment (sometimes they go missing, I have no idea where it’s putting these things, it’s never the plants though, only the items that will last). Sometimes I come home to the television being on. Once, I returned from the gym to discover my CD player on, but buried in a mound of bedding and pillows, as if the music had been played, thoroughly disliked, but unable to be stopped.
A few weeks ago, I was up super late. I got caught up in a game, and lost track of the time. I was about to go to bed when I realized I’d forgotten to switch my laundry over to the dryer. Not wanting to have to rewash them, I decided I could take the detour to my laundry room. This isn’t a huge deal really, but it’s in the opposite end of the house from my bedroom. Not the direction I wanted to be going. I can’t just go from the living room to the laundry, either. I have to go into the hall to the dining room, through there into a spare room I’ve turned into an art studio, then the laundry. This is a lot of movement for somebody ready to crawl into bed. Only the possibility of musty smelling clothes motivated me. I would resent myself in the morning if I didn’t do this.
The immediate shock of cold I felt upon crossing the threshold I attributed to the bare concrete floor and lack of insulation. The room wasn’t made for constant habitation, after all, and desert nights can get cold. Again, just a quick chore, and I could go warm up in my bed. The cold seemed to worsen as I got closer to the machines, but I was also getting closer to the window. Logic won out, obviously.
As I began to move the clothes to the dyer, something else started to feel wrong. Really wrong. The air no longer merely felt cold, not it felt outright oppressive. The room felt too small, like it was filled with too many bodies, even though mine was the only one there. A subway car after work on a Friday would have contained more room to move than I felt like I had then. I was being pressed to move out of the way, but I was alone.
I tried to ignore it, to finish my task. I couldn’t do it. The longer I stayed, the worse I felt. All of it was exterior to me, too. Something didn’t want me in the laundry room. I could sense how much it hated me. Not just that it hated me being in the space, it loathed my very existence. Vile abhorrence tightened noose-like around my throat, animosity surging through every fiber of my being.
I turned to abandon the room, and felt that hostility press against my back. Looming over me. Drilling into the base of my skull. The lights became dimmer as my vision tunneled, and a cold sweat broke out over my whole body. I’ve never actually felt anything like that before, cold sweat. Then again, I’ve never genuinely feared for my life before, either. I could sense that it – this entity, whatever it was – wanted to do me great harm. I had an understanding that if I didn’t hurry, if I didn’t get out, I was going to be hurt.
I found myself pulling on the chain for the light in the studio as I passed, as if that could dispel the sensations I was experiencing. The brightness did nothing to help, it didn’t even grant me peace of mind. Still, I turned on the light in the dining room as well, then the kitchen. Irrationally hoping it would break me away. The presence continued at my back. I left the laundry room, I wanted to scream. Why was it still there? But I couldn’t find my voice, my throat felt closed up, filled with thorns. I was sure that if I opened my mouth, blood would pour out. I cannot say now why I was so positive then about this, only that I was certain in that moment.
I darted into the bathroom, instinctively wanting to put a closed door between myself and the entity. I slammed the barrier into place, and just like that, it was all over. Relief washed over me with the sudden disappearance of intangible burden. I realized then that I’d been holding my breath. Only seconds had passed, the walk from where I’d been to where I was took under a minute, and I’d been near jogging, yet thinking back it seemed to be so much longer. Gasping in air as my body remembered it needed oxygen to continue, I broke down. I curled up on the floor and cried. The next thing I remember is the phone ringing.
Maybe they knew somehow, or maybe it was mere coincidence. When I picked up, it was Betty. She and Mark were checking up on me. She asked first about the animals, which was such an amiable topic it was almost disorienting. I told her what I’d done to encourage more wildlife, she responded positively. We laughed together about my first experience with the house settling. Made a bit of small talk on other subjects. Betty rolled around to the matter concerning home haunting awkwardly, harboring next to zero tact.
Admittedly, I had no intention toward discussing what I had endured. Ever. With anyone. I did not want to think about any part of it. Aside from waking up on the bathroom floor, I was willing to discount it all as a nightmare. Betty, however, pressed. While speaking, I’d made my way out to the living room, where I could look onto the real world through the giant window, now I moved outside, into the sun. Despite the warmth of the day, even early as it was, I still felt a deep chill, which grew while I recounted my incident.
Betty was quiet for a few beats after I finished. Her sigh was deep. Sad. Her voice tight and small when she finally did speak. She had hoped I would never discover that one, she said. The laundry room isn’t part of the main house, and with such singular purpose, she thought perhaps I’d escape an encounter. Whatever it is in the laundry, Betty told me, is not the same as the one that likes to play. She asked if I noticed how the impish one stops after a certain time of day. I took a moment to recall, and noted that thinking back, yes. Betty told me that Mark realized pretty quick how the dark specter operated. If they stayed out of the laundry between midnight to five A.M., they never had trouble. If, for some reason, they had to, the only way to stop it following was to get to a room where they would close the door. Betty apologized. The line grew stagnant between us for too long.
We exchanged goodbyes weakly. Determined to verify, I made my way to the back of the house, turning off the lights now that daylight streamed through the windows. At the threshold of the laundry room, it took a terrific amount of self encouragement to cross over. Honestly, I was still scared. Sure enough, however, there lingered only the memory of my encounter. The space was benign again.
It doesn’t take any work to stay out of there at night. I know Betty said it’s okay to go in as long as it’s before midnight, but I’ve decided to avoid it completely past sundown. I think everybody is happier with this arrangement.
(crossposted to /nosleep)
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