A few years after my family and I left our little cabin in the woods to move to a new house a bit closer to town, I had my very own room and spent a lot of time in it playing alone and reading in it.
Every now and then, I would hear what sounded like footsteps or banging coming from below my floorboards. I guessed it was just normal house sounds, maybe pipes, and I got used to it. After a few months of pretty non-stop banging – which no one else could hear – things started to escalate. Heavy furniture started falling down on its own. A solid oak dresser simply toppled over as I was sitting on my bed, across the room, reading.
A few days later, I was playing with my Teddy Ruxpin doll when it suddenly drained of batteries. I asked my father to put new ones in, only to find that they ran down again almost immediately. We assumed the toy was broken and forgot about it.
From the day we had arrived in the house, I had known I wasn’t alone in that room. I had grown up in isolation and know what that felt like – this was different. I started responding to the knocking sounds, “Stop it! I’m trying to read.”
My mother was moderately concerned, but assumed I was just playing with an imaginary friend. A few months later, I had started to experience odd dreams in which I relived very commonplace memories in the house. For example, I remembered in vivid detail walking between the laundry room and my mother’s art studio, sliding my little body between the framing. I knew for certain that the framing had been up for some time before they got around to sheet rocking. I asked my mother over breakfast one morning when it was that we’d finished the basement. She looked at me, puzzled, and responded that the basement had in fact always been finished.
The banging sounds got louder, nothing battery powered would last more than a few minutes in my room and things were constantly moving around. Small items – diaries, stuffed animals, keep sakes, would rearrange themselves on a near daily basis. I felt that whatever I was sharing my room with was angry, scared – like the puppy we had adopted years ago. I started speaking to ‘it’ more, and at this point started to feel strongly that whatever it was I living with, was female. The more I spoke out loud, the less things moved about. I felt a kind of longing, like I had knocked on a door and was waiting to be let in.
One night I woke from sleep inexplicably. I decided to get up to have a drink of water, and walked across the hall into the bathroom. Now, I should mention that this house had been built in the 1970s and there were many small mirrors, gold flecked, throughout. The bathroom, however, had an entire wall of mirrors that you looked into as you sat to pee. Bleary eyed I shuffled into the bathroom and sat down. Suddenly my skin turned to gooseflesh and I felt as though cold water had been poured down the back of my neck. I stood up, panicked, only to line my reflection up with a figure standing to face me. A figure that wasn’t mine.
I tilted my head to the right and to the left. Our reflection did the same. It was me, but it wasn’t me. She had shorter hair and slighter features. She wore blue pajamas where I wore a long sleeping shirt. We regarded each and I lifted my hand slowly to wave. She smiled and faded out. I waited for an hour, sat on the bathroom floor, waiting for her to reappear. Finally, I crept back to bed but couldn’t sleep.
The next morning I was riding along in the car with my mother and asked, “Do you know who lived in this house, before we did?” My mother answered nonchalantly, “The woman who lived here before us was a reporter.”
I asked, “Did she have a daughter?”
My mother tensed, “Why would you ask that?”
I didn’t answer.
“She didn’t,” my mother went on, “but she was convicted of a crime that involved a little girl.” My mother trailed off.
She knew that I was a strange child, and I suspect at this moment she realized that in fact my imaginary friend might be something entirely different.
“What did they do to her?” I asked cautiously. “Well,” my mother began, “the woman who lived here helped her boyfriend to abduct this little girl, and she was never found.”
I sat quietly for a moment and then, as my mother reports it, said very slowly, “She never left our house.” I watched my mother’s knuckles turn white on the steering wheel. I thought I was in trouble.
You see, when my parents looked at our new home they had wondered about the low price. The house had been foreclosed when its previous occupant had been sent to jail. A few families had come to look at it, but in a small and very religious community, people were hesitant to move in to a house associated with so much darkness. We were poor, and my parents had two children living on top of one another in a cabin with no central heating – they didn’t have the luxury of worrying about the stigma of living in a house with a complicated history.
A few months later we moved into a condo on the other side of town. My parents never explained the move to us, as children, but I always suspected that it was because my mother was afraid of my relationship with the girl in my bedroom. In the few months we lived in the house I had never been able to look in the crawl space, a dark, meter high area that ran the length of the house. It had clay, dirt floors and a small light you had to crawl to on all fours. The day we moved our things away, I went down to the basement to say my good byes. She had been kept there, I was sure of it. How else would I have had her memories of the basement unfinished? As I turned to walk up the stairs, the lightbulb in the crawlspace flickered on, swinging. Just for a second. She was reaching out one more time, telling me where she was, asking me to free her, too.
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