Tuesday, October 24, 2017

The Ghost at Mamaw and Papaw's House

I don't initially strike people as the kind of person who might believe in the paranormal. After all, I'm a big believer in science and I like to base my beliefs on evidence, and there's scant evidence out there to support the idea of the paranormal. 
The thing is, though, that I've had several of my own experiences that leave me questioning. Presented for your pre-Halloween pleasure, here's one of my very own ghost stories. 
Growing up, I practically lived at my grandparents’ house. They were Mamaw and Papaw to me. They never had much money, so they bounced from rental home to rental home in Bonnieville, KY – whatever they could afford and whatever was available – and that usually meant something small and ramshackle.

When I was around 6 (the early 1980’s), they moved into a different home. It had an enormous front yard with a gently sloping hill. There was a beautiful old oak tree with a tire swing. There was an ancient stone stove leftover from the original property that my grandfather cleaned out and turned into a grill. There were fragrant bluebells everywhere.

But inside the house, things were… off. It was minor at first. There would be a faint rustling in the attic, which was odd, since everyone was strictly forbidden from going up there. (Normally Mamaw gave us free reign, so this in itself was odd.) Papaw would check it out, but could never find any animals. We would swear we could hear footsteps going up the stairs, but when we all got quiet to listen, there would be nothing. My aunt, who was around 18 at the time, said she thought she could hear chains clinking when she was trying to drift off to sleep.

Papaw’s behavior changed, too. A typically jovial, easy-going, loving man, he became easily agitated in the house. He’d complain that he was “frozen to his bones,” and couldn’t stop fidgeting with the furnace downstairs.

The dog, Lady’s, behavior changed as well. She was a sweet, mellow girl, but in the house she was anxious. Not long after they moved in, she’d often go to my grandparents’ bedroom and bark at the window, usually at night. My grandfather was convinced that someone was outside, but he could never find anyone. So they started shutting the door to their bedroom to keep Lady out.

As a child, none of this really bothered me. But I remember that I couldn’t stand being alone in any room for any amount of time. I’d trail my grandparents, often making them incredibly annoyed. Mamaw, specifically, tired quickly of accompanying a growing child to the bathroom each and every time.

But things escalated quickly on one particular evening. I’d been out with my grandparents and my aunt, and we pulled into the carport, Papaw noticed that the basement door was slightly open. He quickly jumped into protector mode.

“Y’all stay here. I’ll be right back.”

He descended into the basement and then… nothing. Silence. We stood there, terrified. Eventually, Mamaw yelled out, “LESTER?!”

Papaw came back up slowly, pale and shaking. I’d never seen him vulnerable like this before, and it made my knees give out.

He took a few breaths. “It’s OK, it’s OK. Just don’t go down there.”

Well, if you tell a woman in my family not to do something, we are absolutely compelled to do it. So the three women stepped past Papaw and down a few steps into the basement.

It took us a moment to realize what we were looking at. As if our brains couldn’t actually comprehend the input. But there it was. On the wooden steps leading down, there were footprints. They moved across the cement basement floor and up the cinder block wall. They stopped at the furnace. They were deep red. They looked like blood.

The adults immediately launched into logical explanations.

“The dog has to be hurt. We got to find her. That’s a lot of blood to lose.” Papaw’s voice was barely above a whisper.

“Lester, you know those’re too big to be from a dog!” Mamaw, like every woman in the family before and since, showed her fear through irritation and anger.

“Well then somebody broke in here and is trying to scare us.”

I was just a kid. I stood there, looking at this impossibly creepy scene, having no idea what caused it, but knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt that whatever had been in this room was bad. Very, very bad.

We went upstairs to find Lady still in the house, cowering. “See, I told you she was hurt,” Papaw sighed, obviously happier to have an injured dog than to entertain other ideas.

But when we inspected her, there wasn’t a scratch on her. No blood. Nothing. She was fine, just terrified.

After that, the quirkiness of the house no longer cute to anybody. To this day, I don’t know if it was really blood. My grandparents cleaned it, and then stopped talking about it. But every little scuttle we heard from the attic sent shivers down our spines. Every time a door closed on its own, we jumped 10 feet. And when Lady seemed to be afraid of something we couldn’t see, we all silently moved away.

As much as it pained me, I stopped coming to my grandparents’ house very much after this, and I didn’t spend the night at all. My grandparents had a magnetic draw to me. Their very presence brought me peace and contentment, and it was typical for me to beg to go to their home so regularly that it drove my mother crazy. But every time I’d feel that longing, I’d remember those footprints. And I wouldn’t say a word.

Time passed. Creepy happenings happened less and less frequently, at least according to my grandmother. She missed my siblings and me coming around, and she tried to assuage our fears. “Someone was just messing with us, honey. We ain’t gonna let them scare us.”

It was several months later that I came to their house for Easter. The small home was bursting at the seams with extended family, all in our pastel finest. I was around 8 by this point, and I felt tremendously old and wise. I decided this would be my year to hide the Easter eggs.

My two older brothers were not on board with this. “You’re too little. You’re supposed to hunt them.”

Tell a woman in our family that she can’t do something, and suddenly that’s all she can think about doing.

It was a very warm, windy spring day. The tire swing would dance wildly in the wind for a moment, then slow into a gentle rocking. I was very proud of my hiding ability. I color coordinated eggs – putting red eggs near red flowers, green eggs in bushes, blue eggs on the blue car, etc. I hid some right out in the open grass, knowing they’d never think to look under their noses. I was going to get the better of my brothers, and boy would they eat their words.

I was about ¾ of the way through the eggs. I’d made my way to the back of the house now, crossing from the rabbit pen toward the basement door. That’s when I heard the footsteps.

My feet would crunch, and there would be a slightly overlapping crunch, a few yards behind. The overlapping crunch was louder, indicated the large body of one of my hulking, sports-obsessed brothers.

Crunch-crunch. Crunch-crunch. I walked slowly, hiding an egg here and there, not turning around, just to make sure I was correct. If one of my brothers was, indeed, trailing me, I was going to have to get back at him. He – whether it was Jason or Kerry – was probably trying to take note of where I was hiding the eggs, so they would be instantly victorious, showing what a terrible hider I was.

Crunch-crunch. Crunch-crunch. Crunch-crunch. Crunch-crunch. Yes, he was definitely there. Could I hear him breathing, too? I was pretty sure I could.

And then, suddenly, the pattern changed. The footsteps were no longer in line with mine. They were independent, and they were FAST! That jerk was trying to run up and scare me!

Righteous indignation flared up in me. I was not going to be scared by one of my brothers!

I waited until the footsteps were right behind me, then I jumped around, my chin pointed up to where my brother’s face should be.

But there was nobody there. Nothing.

I dropped the basket and bolted to the door. I didn’t have a single thought in my head, just a knowledge that I should no longer be alone.

I snaked through the crowd and sat on the couch. People eventually found out I was finished hiding the eggs, and went out for their hunt. I trailed my grandmother around, obsessively. I refused to tell anyone, because the idea of someone doubting me after getting that terrified seemed too awful for words. And all I could think was, “Was THAT the thing that made those footprints?”

My grandparents moved out not that long afterwards, and eventually stories about their “haunted house” became fun tales we told around Reese’s peanut cups after trick-or-treating.

But I’ve never stopped thinking about it.

I reached out to my mom and aunt (sadly, all of my grandparents are deceased) recently to confirm my memories and see if there’s anything I didn’t know.

And boy, was there.

First off, this wasn’t the first time my grandparents had lived in the house. They’d lived there decades prior, in the 1950’s, when my mom was a little girl. Nothing paranormal had happened in the house, but the experience was still strange.

The previous owner, I’ll call him Mr. Smith, lost his wife in a tragic accident. He became mentally ill afterwards. After the house was sold (probably for financial reasons), he didn’t want to leave. He’d come around the property on occasion, and my grandparents would have to ask him to leave.

The attic? That contained all his late wife’s belongings. Yes – even in the 80’s. That means here things had been up there for 30 odd years. My grandmother was creeped out by this, which is why she forbade us to play up there.

Mr. Smith died not too long before my grandparents moved in the second time. I vaguely remember Mamaw whispering that she thought Lady was barking at Mr. Smith, or maybe those were his footsteps. But I had no idea who he was or that he was dead.

My aunt told me that one night, when I was not there, Mamaw woke up to find a man standing outside their bedroom. She got up to see who it was, and he walked away. She followed him into the living room, where he walked through the front door. The CLOSED front door, that is.

When my grandmother had moved into the house the second time (the time I experienced), she lost one of her favorite shoes. Seeing as she didn’t have much money, she didn’t have a lot of shoes, and this annoyed her greatly (there’s a strong chance she suspected me of robbery, since I loved to wear her shoes). At some point, she gave up the search, even after going through the forbidden attic, and threw away her other shoe.

Years later, after they’d moved out, she came back to the house to give the key back to the owner. She heard a loud rustling in the attic, and assumed the owner was there, tidying up. Then she heard footsteps descending down the attic stairs. She went to meet him, but there was nobody there. Just that lone shoe she’d lost years ago.

About 12 years ago, when I was visiting my mom, she, my little sister, my aunt, my cousin, and I all decided to visit the “haunted house.” No car was in the driveway, so we figured nobody was home. (This is a small town. You can do things like hang around someone else’s property without getting in trouble.)

As soon as we got out, my 5 year old cousin, Kaitlyn, pointed at the basement window and said, “He’s in there.”

“Who?” We all asked, worried it might be the owner, wondering who all these people were in his driveway.

“The bad man. He has blood on him.”

I wanted to get in the car and drive away right then. This wasn’t fun anymore.

But we inspected the property. Did someone move the curtain in the attic? We couldn’t tell if we really saw it, or if it was just a trick of the light.

We peered through the windows, and I experienced the very strange mixture of nostalgia and fear. So many good memories here, yet so much… so much what? Darkness. Not just the way it looked, but the way it felt. Like pure darkness.

As we stood there on that large, sloping yard, the porch swing began to move. This was in the dead of summer, when a breeze in the 95 degree heat would have been a blessing. There was no breeze, though.

The swinging got bigger and bigger, despite the still air. We all held our breath. And then my aunt spoke.

“Mr. Smith? Is that you?”

The swing stopped. Just stopped, even though it was swinging widely just moments before.

I could hear my heart pounding in my ears. No, I thought. It’s just the wind. This is not Ghost Hunters. We cannot conjure up paranormal activity at will.

And then slowly, imperceptibly at first, the swing started moving again. Wider and wider swings, until it looked like someone was making their stomach flip while sitting on it.

“Was that…WAS that you, Mr. Smith?” The rest of us looked at my aunt with a mixture of shock and admiration. How was she not afraid?

And again – it stopped. And it felt – I swear to you – like someone was looking at us. Angrily.

This time, I was done. When you watch a horror movie, moments like these send a tingle down your spine, a thrilling and delightful feeling of fear. What I felt in that moment was doom. This was wrong, very wrong, and I needed to get away from it.

I took my cousin back to the car and tried to enjoy her adorable chatter. As long as we weren’t near the house, she didn’t talk about “the bad man.”

I have no clue what was going on with that house. I find it hard to believe in the traditional idea of ghosts as the spirits of the deceased wandering the Earth.

But I can tell you that I’ve never – and will never – go back to that property again.