Some weeks ago, I received an e-mail from my niece in Texas who was requesting some family information. To paraphrase her: "Could you send me a copy of all the family ghost stories? I don't want to forget any of them."
Out of context, that request could sound like half of a conversation between two crazy people. Seeing as how it pertains to my family, however, that is only partly true. We might be crazy. But the house I grew up in was haunted. What my niece was asking me to send her was a written account of the weird, freaky, and sometimes downright scary things that happened in that big old house on the north side of Chicago. For instance:
There was a very nice old lady in the living room. She liked to listen when my sister practiced the piano, kissed fevered little faces when we were home sick from school, and also was seen by a guest during one Thanksgiving celebration.
There was a not so very nice entity of sorts who permeated the entire house, from basement through attic, and mostly on the west side. Go figure. It wasn't always there, but when it turned up, everyone left in a hurry. No words were ever spoken. We simply evacuated to get away from the cold, almost hostile presence that would suddenly flood the room we were in.
There was the routine haunting that started every night at 10:30 and ended every morning at 1:30. I would never have known about this except that in college I started pulling very late nights/all nighters and became aware of the shifting furniture in the next room and the rush of air that sometimes passed by like a hurried, cold caress.
There was a prankster that hid things and brought them back weeks later. Losing the Beatles album covers for three weeks was the worst, but at least they came back. The same cannot be said of my favorite suede fringed vest (hey, it was the late '60's) and some of my favorite books.
And then there were the unseen children, the ones who played and called out and sang in our bedroom.
Lots of people will not give credence to any of this but there were some physically strange things about my old house. For one thing, there were two rooms in the basement that were always kept locked. I think in all the 23 years I lived there, I only saw the inside of one of them once. I never saw the inside of the other. My mother told me they were "too dirty" to enter. But my mother and my aunt, who lived with us, were cleaning fanatics. What couldn't they get clean? The staircase going up to the attic had a bottom step that creaked any time someone used the stairs. My sister-in-law decided she couldn't stand it anymore and decided to fix it. That's when she discovered the compartment hidden away in the step itself. It was empty, but it made us wonder. Worst of all was the garage with the coach house apartment on the second floor. The staircase leading up to that apartment as well as the back room at the top of the stairs were bricked off. I never would have known that back room existed until a college friend who was studying architecture pointed out to me that we could see a window from outside the building, but not from inside. We could still gain access to that second floor by way of a trap door and a ladder, but I never knew until college that the space upstairs had been quite a bit larger before that additional brick wall was built.
I never researched that house, and now I'm curious about it. I've asked for information on how to learn more about it, but that would be almost a full-time job and I haven't got the luxury of chasing around the city and looking for old records. Not yet, anyway. Sometimes I wonder about it, but most of the time I just have memories that hang around in the background. Not enough to disturb me anymore, but certainly enough to influence all the fiction I write.
Ghost story, anyone?