My parents’ current house, as I mentioned in the last entry, backed up against the woods. The house itself had been built in 1995 and only saw one previous owner. There were no mysterious deaths or anything like that, the previous owner simply moved when he was remarried. My room was to be in the basement. It had originally been a large gym area with a media room at one end, bathroom at the other. The media room was giant, and easily fit all of my furniture from my previous room which had been half the size at least. I had the entire basement to myself, and since it came with a bathroom it was basically its own apartment.
The first night we set up inflatable mattresses and sleeping bags in the family room and spent our inaugural full day in the house cuddling with our dogs and watching movies together. My family loves dogs. There’s really no other way to say it. During my lifetime living with my parents, they have adopted seven dogs from animal rescues. All of them ended up spoiled and with the run of the place and the new house had enough room for them to chase each other around. They seemed happier even with the lack of a backyard, and oddly enough, calmer. First night passed perfectly, and while the official move wasn’t until a few days later, the second day we stayed with the air mattresses and sleeping bags in our own rooms.
The basement was a walkout, surrounded by windows looking out on to the deck and the trees that will probably overrun the house in 30 years. So, there I am, young kid in his brand new, completely empty room. In a completely dark basement. I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face with the lights off. It was that kind of quiet where you can feel it in your ears while your brain tries to figure out if the sensation is the sound of nothingness, or if nothingness even has a sound. Lying against the wall with a flashlight, I settled in for what I figured would be a bit of a nerve wracking night as I adjusted to the unexpected noises of our new house while separated from the rest of my family by two floors.
I was asleep about the time my head hit the pillow, and slept like a baby.
I didn’t understand. I felt more comfortable in this new house on the second day than I had all my life in our previous house. How come I wasn’t scared of the darkness anymore? I was several floors beneath the next living soul but that didn’t bother me. It was a very strange sensation that as I’ve traveled, camped, and eventually moved in to a house of my own stuck with me. With the exception of being eaten by bears while camping, I didn’t regard the darkness as something to be feared.
It took me time to figure it out. This is a pretty big claim to make, but I grew up in a haunted house.
Our first house was built sometime prior to 1922. We don’t know exactly when, but those were the first definitive dates we could find. It was originally a small farmhouse; one of the first in the area before the 1950’s brought suburban life to the areas south of Chicago. It had been added on to over time and renovated by so many different owners I have no idea how much of the house was still built with the original materials by the time my parents bought it in 1987. I’ve heard stories of my dad holding my aunt upside down by her feet in the attic while she pulled ruined insulation and newspapers out of the inside of the walls. Outside and inside were a hodge-podge of different eras. New rooms added, walls torn down and rearranged, a brand new wooden fence that by the time we moved out looked older than the house itself.
The second floor, where the bedrooms were, consisted of a single hallway. My room was at one end, my parent’s room at the other, and the stairs, bathroom, and door to my sister’s room on the sides. My sister had the larger bedroom, but that was offset by the fact that the stairs to the attic were on the opposite wall from her bed. And this wasn’t a pull down ladder or anything like that, but just a stairway open to the attic, no doors in between.
The basement was dark and dank, and absolutely infested with the spiderwebs of those still living and those long passed. The foundation was made of uneven concrete, the ceiling kept in place by adjustable supports added sometime after the house was built. Huge wolf spiders would hide under random bits of furniture and workout equipment, choosing the absolute best moment to scare the hell out of someone. Thanks to that basement though, I’m no longer scared of small or large spiders so I guess that worked out in a way.
I would often go down there to explore or try and workout. As a child, working out consisted of doing a set of pull-ups and incorrectly using the weight machine while listening to Bruce Springsteen and Chicago on my parent’s record player. That basement also got me in to Springsteen at a young age, as well as my habit to half ass it while working out. I am not ashamed to say my dad owned a Bee Gees record, nor that I would regularly listening to it and singing along to “Staying Alive.” Listen, I was a pretty cool kid, okay?
Even though it looked like somewhere you could re-enact the basket of lotion scene from Silence of the Lambs, I loved that basement and it never scared me too much.
The attic was a simple, single room with some boxes, bookshelves, a door, and a single window that looked in to the backyard.
That place scared the shit out of me. The doorway opened to a small ledge in my parent’s room. They had torn out the ceiling of their room, cutting the attic in half but getting a beautiful vaulted ceiling in the process. The attic itself was always well lit, and rarely ever filled with giant spiders. Being up there though came the feeling that you were being watched. I still remember the look on my babysitter Heather’s face when we heard a metal plaque that was sitting on a box, somehow move a foot off the box and crash to the floor, terrifying us in the process.
At the new house my fear was someone or something looking inside at me through the windows at night. Inside the house was the safe zone. At the farmhouse, the outside felt safe because inside you never felt alone. Whether it was the feeling of someone watching you or the sound of an extra set of footsteps, there was just something that was there. My sister would often sleep on my bedroom floor because at night we could hear the heavy, deliberate footsteps of a man wearing boots walking from one end of the attic towards her stairs, stopping just before the steps. That was probably the mildest strange occurrence that happened in that house. More was left to come, and even now I’m hearing stories from family or friends who spent time with us in that house.
Because this post is getting a little overly long though,I’ll be a tease and save the best stories for the next post. Thanks for reading!