Monday, April 5, 2010

Ghost Story

This isn't a topic I want to write about at 2 in the morning, when I'm sitting on my couch in the dark, wishing I felt more tired. Unfortunately, I often can't sleep, and I've learned that those early morning hours are in fact my best writing times. So we'll see how it goes this way, because it's bright and shiny right now at 2:05 in the afternoon, the doorwall is open, letting in a spring breeze, and there's no way I'm writing about this at night. Seeing the sun shine in fat patches on the deck outside the doorwall, hearing the birds chirping in the trees, I wonder, really, how can I be scared of ghosts at a time like this? Except, when I look too long, I begin to see shadows blowing over those patches of sun, and I start to remember why I didn't want to write about this in the first place.

So, my house is haunted. A bold statement and somewhat melodramatic I know. Let me emphasize first, I'm not often scared of our ghost. It's only when I've just watched a scary movie, I'm home alone at night, or I indulge in thinking about it for too long, like now when I'm writing about it, that it bothers me.

You don't believe in ghosts?

I admit, before I moved here, I didn't either. And I can tell you, my husband took even longer than I did to convince. But things happen here that we can't deny or explain away.

The explain-awayable things are varied but not unexpected in a description of a haunted house. We hear sounds that don't always belong. Sometimes, things fall upstairs when we're down in our living room with our cats sitting in our laps. Items are easily moved or misplaced. (For example, I leave my cell phone on the charger every night on the mantle above the fireplace, and yet most mornings, I find it unplugged and without a charge.) Our house has a black hole where things disappear constantly, like important papers, tools and clothes. Sometimes the stereo or television will turn off by itself. On occasion, when I'm alone, I will hear footsteps and windows or doors opening and closing, but when I walk around the house, everything is as it should be. The doorbell rings, but no one is there when I look. And the doorbell ring is an old-fashioned "ding-dong" sound, though we have a doorbell ringtone device that plays music when one pushes the doorbell from outside. My husband wakes up at the exact time of night, every night. He never did this before we moved here.

But all of these things are easily explainable, right? Old houses shift; sometimes things fall down. There's no black hole; we're just disorganized. Things turning themselves off and the funky doorbell are electrical problems. The sounds I hear are my mind playing tricks. My husband has a weird internal clock that causes him to awaken at exactly 3AM without fail.

But I invite you try to explain this one away.

One night, my husband and I watched a movie in our living room. When our movie ended, it was time for bed. I walked around and blew out the candles on the fireplace mantel, in the wall sconces, and on top of the television while my husband folded blankets and closed up the entertainment system. We went upstairs together and, as usual, I tried for a good hour to fall asleep without success. Not wanting to disturb my husband's sleep with my tossing and turning, I returned downstairs to sleep on the couch. I flipped on the television and watched old recordings on the DVR of The Tonight Show, and then The Late Show, and then part of the Late, Late Show. Eventually, I felt sleepy and turned the TV off.

I let myself fall asleep on the couch.

An hour or so later, I awoke to a loud pulsing sound, like a deep bass drum. It sounded like it was coming from the attic, or maybe outside, or maybe downstairs. We'd heard this pounding sound before and hadn't been able to locate the source or explain it. I'd even asked my dad what to do about it. I mean, we couldn't just call the police and say we had an unidentified banging sound in our house. And we couldn't call a maintenance person, because we didn't know what to tell them to fix.

But it wasn't the banging sound that freaked me out. I'd heard it before. It was the fact that all the candles were lit. On the mantle. On the television. On the wall sconces above the fireplace. I jumped up, my blanket falling to tangle at my feet, and tripped my way over to the foyer. I called upstairs to my husband at the top of my lungs. He came stumbling out of the bedroom, pulling his robe on, and came down the stairs. I wasn't sure if it was my calling for him or the sound that had awoken him.

"Did you come down here and light the candles?" I asked him.

In his post-sleep haze, he was eloquent. "Huh?"

I pointed at the lit candles. "Did you light those while I was sleeping?"

"Why would I do that?"

Why would he do that? He wouldn't. Even if he had wanted to mess with me, I couldn't see my frugle, safety-first husband wasting candles or leaving them unattended to burn while we were sleeping.

The sound suddenly stopped as soon as it had started. I blew out the candles as I told him what had happened. We reluctantly went back up to bed. It wasn't as if there was anything we could do. I'm pretty sure we both laid awake for a good while.

We've shared this story with a few friends. Theories abound. Perhaps I didn't blow the candles out fully before we went to bed. Sometimes, a candle can re-spark. (Sure, maybe one candle. But ten of them? And don't forget, I sat and watched TV for hours after I'd blown them out, and they never re-sparked while I was watching.) The other popular theory is that my husband lit the candles himself to freak me out. Well, if he did, it totally worked, but I sincerely doubt it. We live in an old, historical home. We have creaky hardwood floors, and the stairs are even louder. There's no sneaking in our house. Our cats can't even sneak. I find it unlikely that my husband could creep down, light the candles, and return to bed without me waking.

Aside from that incident, there have been a few others, though nothing as dramatic as spontaneously lighting candles. Our cats often stop in the middle of the room and seem to walk around something, or get spooked for seemingly no reason and go tearing off though the house, running sideways like little monkeys. One of our cats sits for hours on end and stares at the dishwasher when it's not running. It was funny at first, but it's a little creepy when you walk into the kitchen at night for a glass of water and find him staring at the dishwasher in a pool of moonlight. We've checked the surrounding cupboards. There are no mice, or bugs...nothing that would make a noise or smell that attracts him to that location. This activity runs in spells, sometimes he'll do it every day for a week, and sometimes he will go months without doing it. We joke that the dishwasher tells him to do things.

Most of the time, our ghost doesn't bother or frighten me. In fact, the more often we blame things on the ghost, or simply acknowledge him and his role in our household, the less often things seem to happen. I don't believe we have a mad or vengeful ghost. I think we have more of a prankster who likes to tease us whenever we start to forget about him. Still, I feel strange writing about it. I worry that if I actually admit that it's not just a family joke, that things will escalate. And despite the fact that the sun has slipped behind the clouds, and the breeze from the doorway is cool now, I'm very glad I didn't write about it at night.


  1. We did eventually figure out the booming noise, but there have been some strange things.

  2. Yes - we did figure out the noise eventually...though it's weird that it happened at the precise moment of the candles in the middle of the night for no apparent reason!(Readers: We found out the noise was coming from the sub woofer for the stereo. Funny how that sound seems like it's coming from somewhere else in the house, even when you're standing next to it! It took a long time to figure it out.)

  3. Update: Last night, slamming sounds at about 2AM. Husband searched the house. Nothing out of place. Cats were asleep on our bed.

  4. Update: Several times in the last few weeks, we've heard the sound of a phone ringing - an old-fashioned jingle. It's not coming from our home phone or cell phones. When upstairs, it seems to be coming from the basement. When it the basement, it seems to be coming from upstairs.