So a couple weeks ago I had every intention of sharing a classic haunted house story with you. Way back at the beginning of the summer I met with a young woman named Lydia who’d nannied for a family on Nantucket and experienced a crazy haunting. It seemed like a great story for October. Nothing like a good safe scare to kick off the high holy season.
But I’ve been distracted. You know, I honestly considered ghosting out on the blog and podcast. Just walking away from it without explanation and hoping that somehow everyone would understand. But it didn’t feel right and at the same time I didn’t know how to move forward with this project.
Please indulge me for a moment and let me have a middle class white girl break down. My day-to-day stresses me out enough. I have my hands full without having to manage creepy shit in my home on top of everything else. For example, am I messing up my children? Am I causing irreparable damage when I lose my mind because they took Sharpies and methodically blacked out page after page in my day planner? Defying all parenting advice, I allow them to watch more than two hours of television every day – without exception. And God help them, they are like me. They like Scooby Doo and the scary parts of Disney movies. They’re drawn to it and, in all honesty, I can’t wait to watch Ghostbusters with them in a couple years, then Gremlins and Jaws…
But, what if they end up where I am now, too damn close to darkness and unable to look away?
And what about my marriage? I love my husband more than life. I quite literally could not exist without him. Despite that, most of the time now I am a complaining whiny bitch and he is so strong and kind that he can take it and still love me. But how long can someone put up with that before they just simply can’t?
What about the damn house and the cars and the dogs and the groceries and the twenty-percent-off coupon for Pottery Barn (do I really need any more throw pillows? Yes). How about the extra fifteen pounds that I have to lose and what in the motherfuck am I supposed to bring to an “upscale potluck?” I mean give me a small break. Then there’s my back and our families and the fact that one of my sisters isn’t even talking to me right now because she thinks that I am channeling a fucking demon who is influencing me to interview people and record their ghost stories.
She hasn’t spoken to me since last Spring. She said that the last time we were together the demon latched on to her for a bit then made her dog depressed.
So I have regular, mundane, relentlessly boring, Groundhog Day level issues that I’m already trying to navigate. I despise the term but they are “First World” problems and most days I feel like I am barely treading water trying to stay ahead of them.
Do I deserve this absolutely charmed life that I live? No. I did nothing to earn it, I just lucked out and got it. So why did I peer into the darkness? Was I daring it to come and get my lucky self? Maybe. Was I really thinking that it was all simply a fairy tale, nothing that some creaky floorboards and an overactive imagination couldn’t explain? I admit it, yes, I thought it was all way too good to be true. Like those “You’ve been pre-selected for a free cruise” postcards. Complete bullshit, but fun to imagine.
The problem was that when I peered so dismissively at the darkness it looked back and laughed.
And now, there is tapping in my home. It is steady and persistent and intelligent.
Look, I admit it, for the last podcast I layered EVPs into the recording of Eric’s story. It was schtick-y, I know, but kind of creepy, right? And around that time I began to entertain the idea of somehow writing these stories; I mean just making them up instead of actually interviewing people. Truth be told it takes a ton of time to meet up with people and hear their stories. Transcribing the interviews and then adding in all the side commentary takes an even bigger chunk of time that I simply don’t have. I thought that it would be just so much easier to make everything up, and frankly, I was beginning to really get spooked.
Something had to give for time’s sake and for my sanity’s sake. I toyed with the idea of continuing with the podcast, but dropping the blog. I simply am not at a time in my life right now where I can be relied upon to consistently use proper punctuation and tense. I’m not proud of it, but it is what it is. As for creating these stories rather than collecting them, I imagined that it might offer a certain level of protection. I still love a good scare, but not a real scare. God bless the Internet; I can’t tell you how thrilling it has been to discover that there are other people out there who like this stuff too. In real life I don’t have anyone to talk to about ghosts or the last episode of The Dead Files. But sharing these stories connected me with people who are actually as enthusiastic about Ghosts Adventures Aftershocks as me.
Anyhow, the idea of making ghost stories up or somehow distancing myself a bit from them is moot. Apparently I was too late. The tapping in Emily and Chad’s interview? That was real.
I didn’t even know about it until a listener tweeted, “Tapping! I heard tapping!”
I went back and listened to Emily and Chad’s story and there it was. Persistent, intentional tapping. It was undeniable and it was what I had been hearing in my home for several weeks. Easily explained away, until it wasn’t.
Of course, we’ve all heard of this paranormal tapping. The taps in sets of three that always seem to be on the list of things plaguing a haunted home. I’d heard about these taps on countless reality television shows but, trust me, it is different when you hear them in your own home.
So, after I listened to my recording of Chad and Emily’s story I Googled “paranormal tapping” and came across a Wikipedia page for the Fox sisters. I’d forgotten about those ladies. Leah and Maggie Fox claimed that the raps and knockings in their family home weren’t random and they weren’t some sort of elaborate trick. No. They were the workings of Mr. Splitfoot and through him Leah and Maggie claimed they could communicate with the dead. The women travelled the country and then the world to prove that the dead remained near the living and they had something to say.
It was the late 1800s and people devoured their message. The women had a major role in the development of Spiritualism – the religion that began with table raps, expanded to automatic writing and graduated to the Parker Brothers Ouija Board we know today. They made it OK for people to contact the deceased. Their revelation hit just before thousands of people lost loved ones to war and it was through their method that countless people attempted communication with those who’d crossed to the other side.
The Fox sisters gave people hope. No longer did one have to rely on blind faith to be reunited with loved ones after death. The Fox sister’s otherworldly communication techniques allowed the living to reach out for answers to what is (ironically) the most important question in life – what happens after we die?
These women made people believe in the unbelievable, and then… they confessed that it all had been an elaborate prank. They admitted that the mysterious rappings began with an apple, some string and a gullible mother. But then, strangely, the siblings recanted their recant. As they reached old age they admitted that they had actually lied about lying. I don’t know what to believe, but like most things in life I assume it was complicated.
Perhaps the women had begun their communications with Mr. Splitfoot as a childhood prank, but Mr. Splitfoot didn’t take kindly to be called a fraud. He kept speaking to people and he kept rapping and that kept people seeking answers. What had begun as an apple on a string bounced against the floorboards became modern Spiritualism.
The Fox sisters aside, other people heard knocking in response to their questions. So who or what were all those people really communicating with? I suppose we could find one clue in the fact that Mr. Splitfoot was a nickname for the Devil.
Like the Fox sisters, my ghost story began with tapping. Not so much on the walls but inside them. It was unsettling, sure, though denial made it possible to ignore for a while. But after I saw a shadow figure in our basement, Chris had an ADT security system installed.
It was like bringing a knife to a gunfight.
Almost as soon as the installation team left the alarm began to randomly go off without any apparent cause. The system sent us a text every time the alarm triggered and without fail, the texts indicated that the sensor attached to the basement window, the one under our porch (which is only about a foot high), had been tripped.
No one could possibly fit underneath our porch to trip the alarm.
ADT replaced the sensor twice, but it kept happening. I finally told them to just remove it since no one could break into the house that way anyhow. The problem was, the alarm kept going off and we kept getting those damn texts;” ADT Pulse Alert: 3:30 AM Burglary Alarm. Basement Window 3. Proceed With Caution.” The company returned to the house four times trying to “diagnose the problem.”
Chris insisted it was a fixable issue. I knew it wasn’t. I knew exactly what the problem was. I saw a shadow figure near “Basement Window Three” while I was doing laundry. I couldn’t very well tell the kind people from ADT that so every time they came I pretended to be just as perplexed as they were and thanked them for trying.
Something followed me home and it’s wasn’t a friendly ghost. I’m almost certain that the dark entity at Emily and Chad’s house latched onto me and hitched a ride to our house. I never told Chris that I wasn’t wearing my blessed medallion that night. I haven’t admitted that all of this is my fault, but I know that it is.
At first the tapping was only occasional. Three little taps, just loud enough to catch your attention. Then they began happening throughout the day. At random times, sort of, but at times when the thing doing the tapping was almost trying to distract or add to the chaos. Like, when I was trying to get the girls ready for school in the morning and rushing around and the dogs were asking to be let out and the microwave was beeping and we were already fifteen minutes late. Right in the middle of all that craziness, right when I simply couldn’t handle one more thing. That’s when I’d hear the tapping.
We’d only lived there for about four or five months and we’d had a lot of work done to the house. Our old radiators had been ripped out and we put in a new heating system and central air, so I figured it was all that new stuff settling. Like pipes or something. But then this one rare morning when I had the house to myself it became obvious that it wasn’t pipes.
I was in our upstairs bathroom tweezing my eyebrows and leaning right up to the mirror when I heard three knocks right behind the mirror. Like, right behind the mirror. It startled the hell out of me. I jumped back and stood there staring for a moment trying to explain it away when I heard another three taps, this time above my head. On the ceiling. With just one tweezed eyebrow I ran out of the house and sat in Starbucks until it was time to pick up the kids from daycare and school. I took them to Perrin Park until Chris got home. I didn’t mention any of it to him.
Later that week I was in the basement doing laundry. There’s a carpeted play area separated by a door from the unfinished part of the basement. There we store unopened moving boxes and other unnecessary junk, and that’s where we have the laundry hooked up.
I’d left Kat in her bouncy seat in the playroom while I switched the load over. Next to the washer and dryer sits the boiler, behind which is a cramped little storage space that is too spidery and damp to actually store anything. I compulsively listen to podcasts during the day as I complete all the menial tasks that are parenthood. I only keep one headphone in, though, so I can hear Kat if she fusses. Anyhow, I was listening to Last Podcast on the Left with one ear, keeping the other ear out in case Kat needed me while I transferred towels from the washer to the dryer. Just as I slammed the dryer door shut I heard a little, like, hum. It sounded like, hmmmmmmmm.
I stood very still for a moment then took out the earbud. I wasn’t sure if the noise had come from the podcast, or Kat, or the dryer, but it was strange. I didn’t hear anything more so I went to clean the lint trap and as I pulled it out of the machine I saw something move behind the boiler out of the corner of my eye.
Look, I acknowledge that I was three-kids-and-two-dogs-and-a-move sleep deprived. I also admit that I was taking nerve pills and valium for two herniated discs in my back. Regardless, I saw something and it wasn’t one of the dogs.
It was a shadow in the shape of a small person. A small man. He was sort of hunched over, and he was looking back at me.
Honestly, I just stared. I didn’t move. I didn’t understand what I was seeing and my mind was trying to create an alternate reality. Because there couldn’t really be a shadow shaped like small man crouched behind my boiler. That would be fucking ludicrous. So I stared and I stood very still and refused to believe my eyes, until he lifted up one of his small arms and his tiny hand pointed to the door. And then, I mean even if I was somehow imagining the shadow man and hallucinating, I didn’t hallucinate the fact that the fucking door started to slowly close. By itself.
A chill like I have never felt went through my body. Actually, it wasn’t a chill, it was more like the feeling that you get when you’ve stayed in one position too long and your arm falls asleep and it’s all pins and needles until it wakes up. I had that feeling from head to toe. I was frozen in place for way too long and when I finally did bolt for the door I was certain the shadow thing was going to stop me.
But it didn’t do anything. It let me leave.
No one believed me and really, I didn’t blame them. I even let Chris half convince me that I must have hallucinated. Which, really wasn’t out of the realm of possibilities what with my back problem and all the medication I’d been on.
I was able to put most of my fear away and pop it on the denial shelf in my brain but there was this one nagging detail. The door. Mistaking a shadow for a tiny man, sure, maybe that is possible. But that fucking door started to close by itself after the thing pointed to it.
I didn’t see anything else for a while. So I convinced myself that I hadn’t seen what I knew that I saw because no one else really believed it, and if I really did see it then there wasn’t enough nerve pills or Valium in the world to numb my panic. Denial became safety in the make-believe.
Chris didn’t believe me until he saw something for himself. He didn’t see the little shadow man though; he saw an actual man, or the apparition of a man I suppose.
We’d been arguing over nothing all morning. Which had pretty much become the norm. I hated not getting along with him, but it was like every single little thing that he did drove me insane. Anyway, that morning he was bringing up a bunch of stuff from the basement. I’d refused to go back downstairs and I wouldn’t let the girls go either.
He was stomping up and down the stairs carrying up toys and laundry up and I was trying to give him some space, but I was worried. I was scared really; I didn’t want him down there either. I was in the kitchen, near the door to the basement. Chris was headed back down the stairs when I heard him yell, “Hey!”
Immediately, I had that pins and needles feeling all over. I went to the top of the stairs and was about to call down to him when he appeared at the bottom of the steps and yelled, “Press the panic button. Now!”
I stared down at him as he sprinted up the stairs two at a time. He pushed past me and hit the panic button on the alarm system.
The girls were all in the living room watching television. He ran in and grabbed Max and Joey, and I scooped up Kat, who was screaming and red faced from the loud alarm.
“What is happening?” I called over the din.
“Someone broke into the basement!” He yelled back. “Get the girls outside!”
We brought the girls out through the front door and across the street. Chris went back inside the house even though I begged him to stay with us. I stood there with the three girls, helpless watching him run back into the house.
Two police cars pulled in front of the house just as Chris walked back out our front door.
“He must’ve climbed back out through a basement window,” he said.
“Was it broken?” I asked.
No, it hadn’t been broken.
Chris told the police that he had been coming around the corner to collect laundry when he saw a guy, a really tall guy, walk into the bathroom. Chris said the guy hadn’t stopped when he yelled at him so he made the decision to get us out of the house before going back in to find out what the hell the guy was doing down there. But by the time he’d gotten us outside and returned to the basement the man was gone.
We have those tiny little quarter-sized ground-level windows in our basement. Someone could not climb into one of those windows without breaking it. It would be impossible, especially for a big guy. And if they’d opened a window – let alone broken one – the alarm would have gone off.
But Chris was insistent that he’d seen a man – a very tall man – walk into the basement bathroom. He said he watched his hand come out and reach back to pull the door closed behind him.
The police didn’t find anything. As chance would have it our backyard neighbor was out planting mums. She didn’t see anyone come past the fence. The man simply disappeared.
After that, I set up sleeping bags for the girls to sleep in our room. When we talked about it that night after the girls were asleep Chris mentioned that the guy’s arms had been long. Too long for his body. He also told me the man had been so tall that he had to duck into the bathroom to avoid hitting his head on the frame. He hadn’t mentioned either of these details to the cops.
So a tiny shadow person and a big long-armed apparition lived in my home.
I became a sort of prisoner to the house. I couldn’t leave the girls there alone and I couldn’t take them out many places. There was only one of me and three of them. It was too much, especially with my back. I didn’t want to go to friend’s houses because I didn’t want to contaminate them. I’d become almost pathologically afraid of being alone, yet I was becoming increasingly isolated.
The tapping became constant. It was to the point that I almost didn’t even notice it anymore.
There were other things. Strange things. There was this one drawer that refused to stay shut on a side table in our family room. I’d come down every single morning and the bottom drawer of this two drawer cabinet would be open so far that it was about to fall out. The girls couldn’t open it by themselves, it sticks and you have to – well, whatever, they couldn’t open it. I’d never opened it in the middle of the night and neither had Chris. It simply was open every morning.
The batteries in the television remote went missing. No matter how many times I replaced them, they disappeared. The first few times that it happened I tore the house apart and couldn’t find them anywhere. At first I blamed the girls, but then I started hiding the remote from them. It didn’t make a difference. When I’d dig it out in the morning the batteries would still be gone.
All of these little things add up to family life, right? Just weird annoying things that happen when you have small children. Sleep deprivation could make me lose batteries a million times over. One of us could be opening a random drawer in our sleep. The shadow figure could have been a figment of my imagination or of my lack of sleep. Chris could have seen a burglar that had a super villain level ability to escape through tiny windows. The taps? Just taps. And none of it is particularly scary. Just strange.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t just family life and sleep deprivation.
The tiny shadow man waits just around corners sometimes so that when I’m not paying attention I almost run into him. He’s there then he’s gone faster than I can process it. It is truly terrifying.
Twice Chris saw the outline of a man in our bedroom window as he pulled into the driveway in the evening. We didn’t call the police the second time; we knew they wouldn’t find anyone.
The upside to all of this was that terror – true chilled-to-your-core, catch-your-breath, try-not-to-wet-your-pants terror – beats the Atkins diet any day of the week. Bye bye baby weight. Another good thing about hearing unexplained tapping noises in your home and/or seeing a tiny shadow man traipse around your house tends to put things in perspective. Traffic couldn’t stress me out anymore and I thoroughly enjoyed a long wait in line at Roche Bros. or Starbucks. I liked being surrounded by normal people and I tried to distract myself from my own worries by imagine theirs.
The woman in the LuLu Lemon workout gear was counting the calories she’d had for breakfast and trying to decide if she could treat herself to a skim milk latte or if she should save all her calories for wine. The middle aged man in the sport coat who was still wearing his sunglasses couldn’t remember if he’d cleared the search history on his laptop. His daughter had brought it back to college with her and he couldn’t let her find out that he’d recently searched for a divorce attorney. The teenage girl was hoping that she didn’t run into any of her mom’s friends because they would ask her how the college search was going and she didn’t know how much longer she could keep lying to everyone. Her mother thought she had a chance at Brown, but she’d secretly signed papers for the Army. I wished for these normal worries.
I should have called Biddy when I first saw that thing in my basement. I should have asked for her help immediately, but I didn’t. It wasn’t until Jenn dropped by unexpectedly to welcome us to the neighborhood and check out our new digs that I accepted my desperate need for help. The second she stepped into our entryway she turned to me and said, “You let something in didn’t you?”
I didn’t even try to pretend. I told her everything and then I called Biddy. I don’t have the mind space to wonder how Jenn knew that we had a malevolent spirit in our home the second she walked in and right now I don’t want to know.
So, do I believe in ghosts now? It’s complicated. I don’t know about ghosts, but I know for sure that there is darkness. I know what I’ve seen in my home. I know what my husband saw. I know what I’ve heard and I know what the people that I’ve interviewed have experienced. But ghosts? They’re a red herring.
“When did you begin to notice a problem in your home?”
“Well, we, I mean my husband and I, we heard the tapping noises first.”
“And when did you hear them?”
“First it was only at night and only once in a while, but then it began happening when I was home alone during the day.”
“What did the tapping sound like?”
“It was faint, always three taps in a row, evenly spaced. Sometimes we’d hear it once, sometimes we’d hear the tapping for an hour or so. It’s sort of inside the walls, but no matter where you are in the house is sounds like it is close by.”
“And you had the house checked out for plumbing issues, yes?” He asked, turning towards Biddy for confirmation. She nodded her head in affirmation.
“Good, that’s good,” he said and smiled reassuringly. “What was the next occurrence that caused you concern?”
I hesitated before answering him, “I saw a shadow. In the basement. I was doing laundry and just out of the corner of my eye I saw movement. When I looked I saw a tiny man, I mean, not an actual man, it was a shadow shaped like a man and it was looking back at me,” Chris reached over and took my hand. “It made the basement door close by itself.”
“And you are certain this wasn’t a person, an intruder, perhaps?” The man asked.
“Yes,” I said, unwilling to elaborate.
“I’m sorry that happened, dear,” he said kindly. “Did the shadow man try to engage you? Did he move toward you, or, perhaps did you hear any noise or words come from him?”
“No,” I replied.
“And Chris? Have you seen this ‘shadow man?’”
“No, not the shadow guy, but I’ve seen something else. It’s a tall man with long arms. It had to duck to walk into the basement bathroom and I’ve seen it in the windows.”
“Tell him about the scratches too,” I prompted. Chris looked at me and gave a small head shake.
“It’s alright,” Biddy prompted, “he’s heard just about everything before.”
Chris sighed and said, “I’ve been scratched on my back several times. A couple of times in my sleep so we might explain that away, but it’s happened during the day too.”
“I think it was the shadow man that was doing it, but I can’t be sure, of course,” I added.
“Were you ever scratched?” Asked the man.
“No, never scratched,” I said.
He nodded his head and exchanged a look with Biddy.
“What?” I demanded, looking between them. “Is that significant?”
“It would be more significant if you had been scratched, yes. So the fact that you have not been touched is a good thing. Other than you being scratched, Christopher, the paranormal activity has been just visual and auditory, yes?”
“Yes,” Chris answered firmly.
“Good, good,” the man replied while making a note in his bi-fold.
“Don’t you think that the entity is amping up to aggressive contact, Father?” Biddy asked.
The priest removed his glasses and sighed. He said, “Unfortunately, yes. I feel strongly that your home needs an exorcism. I believe there is a demonic entity in this home and that your family is under oppression. Without swift action your family could be in serious physical and spiritual danger.”
I reached for Chris’s hand and looked at him, “I am so sorry, it’s all my fault,” I began, but Chris shook his head and put his arm around me.
“What do we need to do?” He asked.
The exorcist closed his bi-fold and said, “Have faith. Things are going to get much worse before they get better.”