But I've decided: 'Tis the season! And what's the season without a little old ghost story?
In this case, a ghost story that's roughly 40 years old and still going strong.
Now, I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, "Liz! What's with the woo? You're all about the science!"
To which I must answer, "Indeed. I'm a hard-core skeptic, especially when it comes to claims that some place is haunted."
The irony is this: If I didn't grow up in a house that was haunted, I'm pretty sure I'd be much less of a skeptic about these things. And honestly? That's not at all unusual for people who've grown up in for-reals haunted spaces. They tend to be the biggest skeptics of all when it comes to claims about hauntings (and by extension, all things woo — like UFOs and pyramid power).
It's because we know, man. We know.
So, I offer myself up for questions about growing up in a haunted house.
But first, I'll try to get some of your questions out of the way with a FAQ of the ghosts that still (un)live in the house in which I grew up.
I noticed you used the word "ghosts". That looks suspiciously plural to me. Typo, yes?
Nope. Ghosts. Two. One we've taken to calling "Jimmy", who appears to be a child. The other we call "the Farmer Who Lives in the Basement", mostly because we never did get a name.
Ummm, "Jimmy" for the ghost described as a child? Where the hell did that come from?
From me, actually. Okay, I was a toddler at the time, but it appears I was the one that came up with the name. According to my mother, when I was a wee tadpole, I had an imaginary friend named Jimmy. Apparently, my interactions with the invisible Jimmy was so intense and my conviction that Jimmy was real was so insistent that my mother was >>thisclose<< to calling a child psychiatrist.
The weird part? Jimmy never left the house. In all my mother's research (pre-Internet, remember), the imaginary friend always followed the imaginer everywhere. Not Jimmy, though. Whenever we left the house to go anywhere, I would wave good-bye to Jimmy and that was that. Once I left the house, Jimmy (from my parents' point of view) ceased to exist for all intents and purposes.
Eventually, Jimmy disappeared as a playmate, right around the time my younger brother was old enough to start babbling on this own. And no. He didn't play with Jimmy.
Has anyone actually seen these ghosts?
If you're talking actual full-body, full-color apparitions, there are 2.5 people who qualify. (I'll explain the 0.5 in a bit).
Dad!Marcs is the high scorer here. He's actually seen both Jimmy and the Farmer Who Lives in the Basement. Before you roll your eyes too hard, he's seen both exactly once. And the occurrences were several decades apart to boot.
The first appearance was Jimmy and it was when I was a baby (as in almost pre-verbal). At the time, I was quite sick, the way babies sometimes get. My dad was coming home from work at 2 a.m., got out of the car, and headed for the back stairs.
Suddenly this kid who looks about 6 years-old shows up at his right elbow (essentially between him and a solid wall) and asks, "Is [Liz] going to be okay?"
Now my dad, who's half-asleep mind, answers automatically as he's walking by the kid, "The doctors say she'll be fine. Give it a few days."
He walks five more paces before his brain does the waitaminute mental whap, which consisted of the following in the 1.5 seconds it took him to spin around: 1) It's 2 a.m., what's a 6 year-old doing outside? 2) All the other kids in the neighborhood are either way older or much younger. 3) The only kid with long, blond hair is a girl, and she's a few months younger than my daughter. 4) Why's a boy wearing a nightgown? 5) I think that kid was barefoot.
By the time he's done with the turn, there's no sign of that anyone was ever there. Plus, if the kid ran off, he ran off without a sound. Cue every hair on the back of his neck standing up. He turns around and flees upstairs.
The second event took place only two months ago. My parents were waiting for someone to come to the house. They hear heavy steps on the back stairs. My dad quickly looks up from the kitchen table and sees the face of a man with round cheeks peering in through the door window. He automatically goes to the door to the let the guy in. As he reached for the door handle, he realized a few things in quick succession: 1) Whoever this is, he's standing between the screen door and the wooden door and the screen door is firmly closed. 2) I can see the screen in the screen door behind this guy's head. He freezes, the face disappears like there was nothing ever there, and my dad shakily makes his way back to the kitchen table.
The other person who's seen a full-body apparition is the 4 year-old daughter of my high school girlfriends. She was visiting, and my mother, myself, and my friend were talking in the parlor while she gathered her things to leave. It's right then that we realize her daughter has kind of disappeared. My friend calls her daughter and, to her utter embarrassment, said daughter comes trundling out of my mother's bedroom.
Before my friend can say, "Going into people's bedrooms are not polite," her daughter excitedly says, "Mommy, can we stay a little longer so I can play with the little boy?"
"What little boy?" my friend asks.
"The little boy sitting on the bed."
Now, my friend had heard about Jimmy for years. So I want you to picture this. Three women momentarily freezing, and then booking it for the bedroom. Also picture three grown-ass women trying to get through the door at the same time.
Naturally, there was no little boy.
But the absolute kicker for this story is this: My friend's daughter followed us into the bedroom and, seeing the same empty bed that we did, let out a wailing, "Where did he go?" Then she burst into tears. It took us 10 minutes to console the poor girl.
I'm actually the 0.5, and it happened 6 months ago.
At the time, the apartment downstairs was empty, so there was no one inside. I had parked my car next to the house, got out, looked up, and saw a distinct human shape (white in color) flit by the window. My brain read it as, "Oh, there must be a car passing by the street that runs perpendicular."
Then the needle scratched in my brain as I realized: No car had done so (I had a clear view), it was daylight so it wasn't headlights, and given the angle I was at there was no way it was the sun's reflection off a car. Then a car actually did pass by, and there was no reflection at all.
Needless to say, the hair stood up on the back of my neck and I raced from window to window to find out if there was anyone in the apartment.
I go upstairs and spill what I've seen.
My mother's response? "We've been hearing lots of noise downstairs since the apartment's been vacant. It sounds like someone's moving around furniture."
We immediately went downstairs (I was adamant about this) to check. Naturally it was empty. I also realized that for me to see what I had seen, the white figure had to walk through a wall.
As for human-shaped shadows, and low-to-ground grey blurs: Way too many instances to count. But there are a few good stories there.
Aaaaand, next question...
Did you guys always know the house was haunted?
In my favor (and in the favor of my family), no. We didn't catch on.
The "how long did it take you guys to figure it out"...well, that's actually embarrassing.
It took us 8 years. Why did it take us so long? My parents, and a cousin who was living with us at the time, didn't want the other family members to think they were crazy. My brother and I were taught (very firmly, I might add) that there was no such thing as ghosts.
Then, one day, my mother tripped over a grey blur in front of witnesses. (Let me pause and explain the grey blur. The grey blur is basically this round thing that's about kitten-high and moves very fast. It comes out of nowhere, you see it peripherally, and disappears almost as quickly as you've seen it. I've lost count over how many times we've nearly tripped over the grey blur.)
That's when it all came out. The grey blur. The human-shaped shadows we'd see. The footsteps in parts of the house where there was no-one. The whole enchilada.
At some point, we had to face the inevitable. We had a ghost.
By the way, it took us another six years to figure out that we had a second one.
Like I said. Really embarrassing.
How'd you find out about the Farmer Who Lives in the Basement?
Mostly by feel. I know, it sounds very woo, but there you go.
See, when Jimmy would skip his way around the house, the footsteps were very light (as you might expect for a child).
When the Farmer Who Lives in the Basement walks, it's always up the back stairs, it's always a very heavy tread, and the shadow that comes with it is always very tall.
By the way, I have no idea where we got the name, the Farmer Who Lives in the Basement. We just spontaneously started calling him that.
Fine. Your immediate family is willing to make this claim, and possibly a 4 year-old girl will back you. Any other witnesses?
If you count several tenants, a distant cousin, a number of carpenters who worked on remodeling the house over the years, and a complete stranger as witnesses, then yes.
The complete stranger one is the funniest story. My parents were stopped by a woman looking for directions. When they mentioned that she needed to go past the street where we lived and take the next right, she piped up that she knew that street since she had a girlfriend who'd lived as a tenant in the first floor apartment at my parents' address some years before. My parents brightly answered that they owned the house now.
The woman gave them a wide-eyed look and, completely unprompted, said, "Oh my God! Did they tell you that the house was haunted when you bought it?"
As for the carpenters? More than one had to play find-my-tools. As in, they'd put a tool down right next to them for a moment, and then when they reached for it again it would disappear. Vanish. Gone. This would result in a lot of noise and swearing as the hunt was on. Invariably, the tool would show up in a completely different part of the house a few hours later. Out in the open. On top of an uncluttered surface (on top of the television, on top of a table). And in a weird position.
That's just some examples.
Halloween must be a big day, right?
Look. I love Halloween. My family loves Halloween. The ghosts? Not so much. Not a big day for them.
Christmas on the other hand...
Seriously. The Christmas tree gets played with. The Christmas ornaments get played with. Paper on presents start mysteriously crinkling (like someone is touching it) even though there's no one nearby.
And at night? When we're all in bed and the lights are off, we can sometimes hear the light footsteps of someone dancing around the Christmas tree.
And, yes. It kind of breaks my heart, too.
Have you tried telling them that they're dead?
Yes. Many times. My mother, more than once has explained to an empty house that it's okay if they want to move on. The house will be fine. We will be fine. Go to the light. Go be happy. I've done it. My father has done it. My brother has done it. Multiple times.
And yet, they continue on. We don't know why.
Have you tried communicating?
Once. My mother with a dowsing stick. We were playing with it (and not really believing that it worked), and my mother jokingly asked for it to find the ghost. The damn thing started spinning like Linda Blair's head in the exorcist.
That night, my mother woke up out of a sound sleep, saw a man-sized shadow leaning over her (a sure sign that it was the Farmer Who Lives in the Basement), and very clearly heard a deep voice say, "Don't ever do that with a water stick again."
It was literally the only time we ever felt any genuine anger directed at us. Weirdly enough, not threatening anger. More like pissed-off anger.
And no one wants to live with a pissed-off housemate, right?
Needless to say, dowsing rods, Ouiji boards, and anything similar has been banned from the house. My mother has threatened to set fire to people who've offered. Not set fire to the boards. Set fire to the people.
Ummm, I saw the phrase "genuine anger directed at us". Does that mean they've been angry at other people?
Well, there was that Thanksgiving where, for some reason, one of the ghosts (we tend to blame Jimmy for this one, but we're not sure) kept throwing a white candle at an uncle of mine.
Imagine the four of us, my aunt, my uncle, and my cousin all sitting around the table. The relatives were sitting with their back to the candle, which was on top of a microwave and a good six inches taller than the seated throng. Suddenly, this tapered candle manages to fly out of its holder, travel a foot forward, and bop my uncle on the head.
We all laugh it off. Clearly my mother hadn't seated the candle correctly. We actually believed that when we said it.
My mother gets up from the table and puts the candle back in the holder.
She sits down.
Then, right in front of our eyes (keep in mind that my aunt, uncle, and cousin had their backs to the candle), we see the candle pop straight up into the air by a good six inches and then fly forward, once again boppng my uncle on the head.
Cue my family's silent, Oh shit!
My mother, laughing more nervously now, gets up from the table and makes the excuse that she did it again. Clearly her brain is not in her head.
She jams the candle into the holder, giving it a twist for good measure, and places it on top of the microwave.
She sits down.
My family nervously watches the candle.
Right on cue, the damn thing starts wiggling, like someone wants to get it out of the holder really, really badly.
My mother flies out of her chair with a, "Son of a bitch!", grabs the candle and candle holder, and shoves the whole mess into a drawer with a, "Stop it!"
My uncle, aunt, and cousin stare at her like she's nuts (they don't know about the ghost because they'd never buy it).
My mother made up some lame excuse, I forget what.
After they left, my mother discovered that someone (we presume my uncle based on the Candle Incident, as we've come to cal it) had gone through her jewelery box. Nothing was stolen, but things were definitely out of place.
We also had a Costa Rican tenant that had young children. Since his wife worked nights, he was the parent-in-charge after 4 p.m. According to him, the same thing would happen. He'd tell the kids to go to bed. They'd whine. He'd make them go. Two minutes after they were settled down for the night and the bedroom door would close, a kitchen cabinet or kitchen drawer would fly open.
His wife didn't believe him, so he came to us and was relieved when we believed him.
Thankfully for us, he chose to view the nightly mini-temper tantrum was charming. Weird, but charming.
He didn't necessarily want it to stop. He just wanted confirmation that he wasn't crazy.
There are other instances where Jimmy has had mini-temper tantrums, most of which occurred during house remodeling, but these usually took the form of him stomping around and, in a couple of memorable instances, kicking the wall so hard that things on that wall shook.
But my favorite one? The Week of Mysteriously Opening Doors, which occurred about a year ago.
See, the activity isn't constant. You'll have periods of really high activity, about a month or two of nothing, and then months of low-level activity.
During one of the months of nothing, my mother made the mistake of saying to me on the phone, "I haven't heard Jimmy in awhile. He's probably not around anymore."
This kicked off the Week of Mysteriously Opening Doors. Bedroom doors opening with a creak loud enough to wake the dead in the middle of the night. Closed closet doors mysteriously becoming open closet doors if you left a room for even 5 minutes.
Eventually my mother threw up her hands and apologized to Jimmy for being a dunderhead.
The doors immediately stopped opening.
Look, some of this stuff sounds creepy. Why aren't you guys scared?
We've never been scared. Startled at times, but not scared. It just is, you know? Pets are always chill in our house. Kids seem to like our house. Most adults handle the weirdness with a blink and a, "A ghost? Hunh. That explains a lot."
Plus, there's some genuinely funny shit that goes down.
Like how Jimmy loves electronics. Seriously. Bring a new electronic doo-dad in the house and walk away, and you'll hear (I swear to God) someone tapping on exposed surface. More than once we've seen new microwaves, VCRs (back when VCRs were big), and new digital clocks suddenly start flashing 12:00, despite the fact that all the other electronics in the house are keeping time just fine.
And video games. No shit. More than one of us has walked into the room to see a child-sized shadow peering over the shoulder of the person playing the video game. And the weird part? The you get this feeling of...I don't know...excitement. Joy. And it comes out of nowhere.
And it seems like all of a sudden the shadow notices you're there and is gone, in less than two blinks. But somehow the feeling remains behind.
Keep a sense of humor.
Many's the time over the years when the whole family is gathered around the television or around the kitchen table and suddenly we hear light footsteps over our heads, like someone is skipping.
In unison, we look up.
Invariably, one of us asks, "You hear that?"
And just as invariably, the rest of us answer. "Nope. Don't hear a thing."
And then we go back to whatever it was we were doing.
Wow. That went on longer than I thought. And I'm sure there are lots of questions out there.
So have at it. I will answer questions as they come in between now and November 1, 2011.
I will answer all of them (it just may take me awhile).
I'll tackle them in the evening, when I actually have time to respond.
And no, this isn't a joke. I'm not making anything up. I'm being deadly serious.
But it's okay if you laugh.
I'd laugh, too.
If, y'know, I didn't grow up in the house that I did.
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