A Halloween tale about slamming doors and sleepless nights.
Thursday, October 31, 2002
Photo by: Randy Tunnell; House of the Spirits: Was it the heater? Was it the pipes? After months of things going bump in the night, the infernal Peninsula rental market was less frightening to our reporter than her house.
It started with footsteps. Not reserved little creaks and thuds that could be accounted for by the ancient heating system, but thunderous stampeding. The first week in the large old house I couldn''t sleep from the noises all night long.
"Damn heater," I muttered as loud bangs jolted me from sleep.
The third night, I heard my kids running around and giggling downstairs. I bolted down the stairs, yelling, "What are you doing out of bed?"
I checked their rooms. My two-year-old son was in his crib, breathing deeply. My four-year-old daughter had the covers up to her chin. I lifted her arm. It flopped down limply.
Confused, I trudged back up the steep staircase to my room and sat down on the edge of my bed.
A slam echoed up the stairs. Over and over again, the sound of wood banging rudely. Now I was pissed-my toddler must be up slamming the kitchen cupboards. I tore back down the stairs, careful not to trip on the narrow risers that had sent the last tenant to the hospital.
I felt a swelling of anxiety in my throat. I got on the phone to a friend.
"I''m sure it''s the pipes," he said. I hung up and tried to go back to sleep. It wasn''t easy.
One Friday night, I went out to a movie. My babysitter and her boyfriend pounced on me when I returned.
"We heard people walking around and talking upstairs," my babysitter panted. "We were sure somehow you had come back early and we hadn''t seen you. Finally we went upstairs to check and no one was there."
I glared at her and sighed. "It''s the pipes," I said.
The bad dreams started suddenly one night, months later. A horrid, vivid series of nightmares of doppelgängers inhabiting the house. I was running through the house, unable to reach my children. Someone in the house was blocking me.
My boyfriend had almost the same dream that night: there were two of us upstairs and another set of us roaming about downstairs. Which was really us? In his dream, a pair of legs ran up the stairs into my room before exploding into oblivion.
The next afternoon, I confessed my dreams to my babysitter. She stared at me.
"Don''t you remember?" she said slowly. "I told you a few months ago about that dream I had. I dreamed that I was babysitting the kids and I had to leave. I called you at work and you asked me who was going to take care of the kids. I told you not to worry. I said that ''they'' would be watching them."
I squinted at her uncomfortably.
"It''s a man and a woman," she shrugged. "It''s okay. I think they like the kids."
As I slowly opened my mind to the possibility-simply the possibility-of otherworldly inhabitants, my ability to ignore the sounds stopped. And it got really noisy.
First, my son got hysterical being in his room. For two weeks I tried every parenting technique in the book. He screamed uncontrollably unless I was actually holding him. After two weeks of no sleep, I put him to bed in my daughter''s room. He slept soundly through the night. The next day we switched the furniture around permanently.
Several weeks later, the kids were in their PJs getting ready for bedtime. My daughter walked over to my son''s former bedroom and looked into the darkness. She turned to us and put a finger to her lips.
"Shhhh, be quiet," she said. "They''re sleeping."
"Who''s sleeping, honey?" I asked, amused by her game.
"The distants are sleeping," she answered in her clear little voice.
"What are the distants?" asked my babysitter.
"They''re what you are when you are scared," she answered, walking closer to me. The babysitter and I looked at each other uneasily.
"Honey, who are the distants?" I said.
My daughter looked at me sharply, standing in the center of the living room in her blue rabbit-footed pajamas.
I broached the subject carefully at dinner with some good friends one Friday night.
"Umm, I need your help, guys," I said nervously. "I think my house is, well, haunted."
The table got quiet, then one deeply religious friend spoke up.
"You need an exorcist," she said. "Don''t try to do it yourself. I''ve been to an exorcism and it isn''t pretty."
The next day, two of my friends showed up with members of their church. Bearing Bibles, they walked around the house praying. When they left, I felt like a beam of positive energy was vibrating through the house.
But that night was the worst yet.
I went to sleep early, exhausted. Soon after I fell asleep, a large bang sounded through my room. I flipped on the light, positive something had fallen off my dresser. I searched the room carefully. Nothing had moved. I got back in bed as crashes sounded through my bedroom. As I frantically dialed a friend for support, my lights turned slowly on, then off, on, then off. The power to my clock radio remained on.
"I cannot take this anymore," I screamed into the phone. "This is friggin'' ridiculous!" Bring in the exorcists.
It''s hard not to sound nuts when you tell people your house is haunted, and yet, to my complete surprise, most people not only took it in stride but confidently offered advice. In the space of three days, I was referred to a Cuban Shaman in Florida (unavailable due to knee surgery), a local Native American psychic and a Southern California ghostly communicator. I consulted with the local psychic. I was told to spray the house with salt water, burn sage, and light pink candles. But he refused to try to get rid of them for me.
"I''ve got one that keeps me up at night in my house," he confessed. "I''m looking for someone to help me, too. You need a woman healer to get rid of them. Women operate at a higher vibration than men."
As I asked around discreetly for the name of a woman spirit cleanser, my friends rallied around me for support. Finally, I was given the name of a psychic who could help me over the phone.
"You''ve got a young woman in the house," she said. "She''s been following you around, trying to learn from you, and she''s upset that you''re leaving."
"Learn what from me?" This sounded the most preposterous yet.
"She thinks you''re like her mentor," the healer continued. "But I''m going to talk to her right now and tell her that she needs to learn her lessons on her own."
There was a pause in the connection, as apparently the healer had her conversation with the spirit world.
"Oh, it''s a done deal," she said. "I told her never to frighten you and your kids again."
And whether my imagination was simply quelled or the spirits were coaxed into submission I can''t truly say. But I didn''t give ghosts another thought after that conversation.
I did, however, start packing eagerly as soon as my lease ran out. The last night in my house, my boyfriend was helping me move boxes.
"You hear that?" he asked. "It sounds like someone is bouncing a ball downstairs."
I stopped and listened. A door slammed somewhere, deep inside the house.
"Don''t say anything," I answered. "It''s the pipes."