Folks seemed to enjoy my Green River Killer Nightmare story, so I thought I’d regale you with the other creepy tales from my childhood. You could put this under the heading of ghost stories, but I don’t know how accurate that title would be.
The house I grew up in was a two story white colonial. My parents built it when I was three years old. I know some sort of structure was torn down in order to build it, but I don’t know what that structure was. I remember the demolition, though, and at the time, as a three year old, I thought it looked like a chicken coop. I also remember my mom telling me there were wasp nests within the structure, so I couldn’t explore it, even though I wanted to. I have no idea if these memories reflect reality.
Years later, I realized an old road ran through our horse pasture, and the hundreds of acres of forest behind our house still had some enormous trunks that bore evidence of springboard logging. The point of this is, while I had a notion our house was built on pristine, rural land, in fact that area had been logged, lived in, driven over, and otherwise occupied throughout the twentieth century, and maybe before.
My first supernatural experience that took place in that house was when I was somewhere between five and seven years old. I was taking a bath, and the rest of the family was downstairs watching tv. I happily played with my bath toys until, out of nowhere, came a knock on the bathroom door. And when I say knock, I really mean fist slammed into the door at maximum velocity. Initially scared and startled, I then quickly realized it had to’ve been one of my sisters. I called out for them to reveal themselves. They didn’t. Slowly I came to the conclusion that while my sisters might play a prank on me, they wouldn’t leave me hanging like this, they wouldn’t leave me to shrivel in the bath until the water turned cold. I didn’t know what was on the other side of that door. Ultimately, I decided it had to be my sisters, who, apparently, were meaner than I first thought. Scared, cold, and angry, I raced out of the bath, dried, got on my nightgown and ran downstairs to accuse my family of torturing me. They all sat in the living room. They all insisted none of them had left the living room throughout my bath. My mom said she was wondering what took me so long. I cuddled up with my family and put the bump in the night behind me.
In the fourth grade it came back, with a vengeance. The first night, I was reading in bed, as per usual, and it came softly as first. By the time I realized it was there, I knew it’d been going on for some time. Once the sound registered, I couldn’t make sense of it. We did not have an attic in our house. The only thing up there was rafters and insulation. And yet what it sounded like was someone slamming their fist into the floor above me. As with the bathroom door, some of the punches were extremely loud and violent, powerful enough to rattle the little objects I had on my desk.
Too scared to move, I listened for about an hour before I got the courage up to race downstairs and tell my parents. They came up with me. The sound, of course, stopped. And so it went on for not only months, but years. Those sounds terrorized me. I’d lay in bed and just listen, unable to sleep for hours. My Granny, who had experience with such things, came and visited. Sleeping in the adjacent bedroom, she said she heard the sounds, too. In her estimation, they were squirrels. A.) I never saw a squirrel in all time I lived in that house and B.) those were some big, invisible squirrels. But, my malady now had a name – squirrels. That was the official position and it wasn’t changing.
In the sixth grade, the squirrels figured out how to open the front door of the house. The first time this occurred coincided with the first time I was allowed to be at home alone. My mom had gone to the grocery store, and I, feeling grown up and independent lounged in front of the tv. It was a sunny summer day, and I wore shorts and a t-shirt. It was my habit to lay on the floor in front of the tv, my chin propped in my hands. This is where I was and what I was doing when the room turned unnaturally cold. I kept checking my back, wondering where on earth this cold draft was coming from. Finally, I got up and followed the draft to its source – the front door of the house was swung wide.
We rarely used the front door. The garage or the side door was how we got in and out of the house. Certainly no one had used the front door on this day. I closed it, and rattled the handle to make sure it was properly shut. I returned to my tv. Fifteen minutes later, the cold draft returned. This time I knew exactly where to go. I went to the front door. It stood wide open.
This time I turned the bolt.
It didn’t stop those squirrels.
The third time I found the door open, I gave up, and sat on the front porch until my mom got home. This was not the last time the front door would find a way to open itself when I was home alone. For the record, our front door was quite nice. Big, wide, solid, well made. It never opened by itself on any occasion other than when I was home alone.
While these events scared me, I don’t remember becoming hysterical or crying – except, perhaps, for the very beginning of attic thumps in fourth grade. My feeling about the door opening was more along the lines of, “well, this is deeply unpleasant.” The last time I heard the attic thump I was a senior in high school, filling out my application to USC. I remember looking up at the ceiling and thinking, “back atcha, buddy.” (Read with sardonic tone.)
As an addendum – years later, my mom confessed to me that she didn’t like being in my room when I wasn’t there, and on one memorable occasion, she heard the full glory of the impossibly loud thump while in there alone. This was my reaction: “?!?!?!?!?!?!” She said, “I didn’t want you to be scared of your own bedroom.” She had a point… I guess… I did learn to disregard those thumps, and I think that’s part of what made them go away.
A second addendum – for those of you familiar with, for lack of a better term, poltergeist theory, you may recognize that I was a perfect candidate. Poltergeist activity frequently surrounds one person, most often an adolesecent, most often a female, experiencing psychological trauma. In the fourth grade, I transferred schools, gained a ton of weight, and embarked upon the most difficult two and a half years of my life, thanks to the fine young citizens of Grass Lake Elementary. The theorists split on whether such individuals attract dark spirits, or whether they, themselves, are the generator of the phenomenon, either as a halluncinatory product of an overwrought mind, or through actual activity, created in an unconscious external expression of internal turmoil. Stephen King’s Carrie is an example of the latter, although she gains control of her powers.
What this Carrie experienced, I cannot say for certain.
(For a better version of the “ghost in the door” pic go here. Thanks again to Axel, Murphy, Dan, Maggie, Drue, and Evan for hanging in there at the end of a long, long day in order to get that still photo. I still appreciate it!)