Monday, October 6, 2014

Autumn and Things That Go Bump In the Night: PART ONE By: C.P. Stringham

Country roads, take me home.
Autumn is my favorite time of year.  Always has been since my earliest recollection. The changing of the leaves, fresh apple cider, fall recipes with anything pumpkin, and Halloween. Maybe it’s the little kid in me, but Halloween is still my favorite holiday. I love the TV specials from It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown to The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (from 1980 and starring Jeff Goldblum as Icabod Crane), and the more modern tale Hocus Pocus (especially the cameo role with brother and sister team Gary and Penny Marshall playing a bickering husband and wife). I’m forty-three and I still tune in when they broadcast the specials on TV. In fact, I even follow ABC Family’s 13 Nights of Halloween on Facebook so I can keep up with their programming schedule.
Love these Halloween Classics!!

As a child, we lived in a large mobile home park in Southeastern Pennsylvania. Hereford Estates had, easily, 150-plus trailers. Trick-or-treating there was incredible. My father would take my little brother and me out each year and, instead of plastic Jack O’ Lanterns, we used standard-size pillow cases to collect our candy loot while my mom stayed home to hand out candy. We would come home and dump everything out and sort through it. I would stack mine by like kinds and my brother and I would swap things out if one of us liked a particular candy more than another. I was never fond of Clark Bars and O’Henrys. He hated candy corn and Heath Bars. Mom permitted us to eat as much as we wanted on
Always nice to find treats inside my Charlie's Angels lunchbox!
Halloween night and then she would take the rest away from us. She would give us two pieces a day until it was gone. Often times, she’d put our two pieces in our lunch boxes. My school friends were always amazed at how long our candy supply lasted, so much so, that by fourth grade, my closest friends began spending Halloween night at my house so they could go trick-or-treating with me.

And this is sort of what my haul looked like only with full 
size candy bars! (Internet Photo)
Over the years, I have enjoyed all the tales and folklore that come along with the Halloween season. There’s something about that spine-tingling feeling one gets while hearing a particularly chilling story or from watching a scary movie. I’m not a fan of slasher movies. I’ve never watched any of the Freddy Krueger, Jason Voorhees, or Michael Myers franchises. I prefer the supernatural stories the likes of The Amityville Horror, TheShining, and Poltergeist. I like when we are teased by the lead up as they stretch out a scary scene and the music works to elevate our pulse rates as it builds to a crescendo of suspense—try watching the original Psycho without the sound and you’ll see that the movie isn’t nearly as suspenseful. Hitchcock knew what he was doing. Over the top gore isn’t necessary. If a film has a thought-provoking and believable plot, with capable actors, and everything is paced just right, it’s what the viewer doesn’t see that can make the fear factor even worse. The best scares are achieved when the film makers allow their viewers the opportunity to let their own imaginations run wild. It plays off of our own fears. The Blair Witch Project (if you could get through the jerky handheld camera movements) had some great elements including this amazing back story that had moviegoers believing the film was based on true events. The website is still set up to look that way as seen here using this link. While it’s a film worth seeing, nothing will beat the experience of seeing it in a dark theater on the large screen.

Harry's too harmless to cause nightmares!
After admitting to getting enjoyment out of such tales, how ironic would it be to learn that my family and I live in an honest to goodness haunted house? We began having paranormal experiences shortly after moving in back in 1998. The family member most effected in the beginning was our oldest daughter. She would run screaming from her room, all of two years old, to tell my husband and me that “Harry” was in her room. We didn’t know of any Harrys. My only thought was that she was referring to Harry from the Harry the Dirty Dog book series she loved having me read to her. When I questioned her, she adamantly told me it wasn’t a dog but a man coming into her room at night. I shrugged it off as an active imagination. And then other little things began to happen. Noises, voices, and lights switching on by themselves. Little things.  

Our ranch-style house was built in the 1950’s. We bought it as a fixer-upper because, more than anything, it was extremely outdated and in need of lots of TLC, but that old adage about location, location, location is what really worked for us. A week after the closing, our contractor came in to build an addition, fix the wiring, install modern insulation, and replace the roof on both the house and garage. We also had a smaller list of things to do that involved replacing flooring, priming and painting walls and ceilings, and such. Most of these projects were completed by my husband, my father-in-law, and me. At one point, my husband’s nickname was Spackle Boy. In old houses, one uses lots and lots of spackle.  Our house has had three previous owners: Mr. and Mrs. Davis, Mr. and Mrs. Grondon, and Mr. Aloi. Since my husband was born and raised in the area, he knew the house’s history. None of the previous owners died in the house. Sounds like a silly fact to be concerned with, but we’re both superstitious. My husband had always referred to the original owners only as Mr. and Mrs. Davis while talking about them. It was a respect thing since they were both advanced in years. He fondly remembered them coming in to shop at the local grocery store he worked at as a high school student. He never once mentioned their first names and recalled that they were both on the short side.
Skip ahead to daughter number two who was born a year after moving in to our house. She was our ten to twelve-hour a night sleeper. An angel at bedtime. If I didn’t help her to bed by the time she was ready, she put herself to bed. One late summer night, all four members of our family turned in early after a pretty exhausting day. It was so early, that at 8:30, it was still reasonably light outside. Not long after our heads hit our pillows, we began hearing our youngest, age three at the time, over her baby monitor. She started by giggling uncontrollably. You know that giggle kids get when you are tickling them and they can barely catch their breath and laugh at the same time? Well, that’s what Mackenzie was doing. And then she began saying, “No. No. Stop it. No more.” Followed a few seconds later by, “Okay. Nite. Bye.” My husband and I sat up in bed and he said to me, “Who is she talking to?” Convinced someone was in our house, I left both him and our oldest in our bed and took off to check on Mackenzie. I opened her door, flipped on her light switch, and found her room empty except for her as she sat upright and blinking away from the harsh light. I asked her who she was talking to and she pulled her covers up and told me goodnight. I checked under her bed and in her closet before turning her light off and closing her door. I still wasn’t convinced it was nothing so I thoroughly searched the entire house. With living on a main road, we had installed slide locks on the tops of both the front and back door to prevent our children from opening them and wandering off if we were still sleeping. During my search, I found both locks slid in place, proving that no one had exited the house. The locks couldn’t be slid closed from the outside. The next morning, I relayed the story to my mom. She urged me to question Mackenzie using open-ended, non-leading questions. I did. What she told me scared the hell out of me. This was our conversation:
Me: Honey, you know when mommy came into your room last night? Who were you talking to before I came in?
Mackenzie: (as she played with her toys) Oh, you know. The little girl that is old and the little boy that is old.
Me: They were talking to you? About what?
Mackenzie: Stuff. They are mad at us.
Me: (I think I began perspiring at this point) Why are they mad at us?
Mackenzie: (she shrugs) They said we broke their house.
As I mentioned, we built an addition on our house. This involved tearing out the kitchen/exterior wall, a portion of the back porch, and a nice spring bulb garden with hyacinths, daffodils, and tulips. We saved what we could, but they were in small batches everywhere. And then, our most recent project came that particular summer—replacing our septic system. It entailed having to move it to a new area on the property in order to accommodate a costly sand mound system with its septic tank, pumping tank, and sand leach mound. Basically, when the gentleman from the county came in and told us where to put it, we really had no choice. You do it because you want to be able to enjoy those simple modern conveniences again since the alternative sucks. After it was finished, my husband began the chore of getting the surface ready for grass seed. My husband is obsessed with our yard. As we were picking rocks from the dirt, our next door neighbor came over to offer us his dragging tool to make quick work of the rocks. Before leaving us to get it, he said, “It’s kind of ironic they made you put your septic system here. This is where Harry and Phyllis had their vegetable garden. They loved their garden. In fact, when he died, that’s where he wanted his ashes spread.” As Joe walked away from us, my husband and I stood there, rooted in place, with our mouths gaping open, as this latest news registered. Harry. Ashes. Garden. Septic System. I asked my husband how he could forget that Mr. Davis’ first name was Harry. He reminded me that he was a kid and taught to address adults by their last names. It was an honest omission on his part—especially since he has the world’s worst memory.
Getting back to my conversation with Mackenzie:
Me: Was last night your first time talking to them?
Mackenzie: No.
Me: (gulp) How many times?
Mackenzie: (as she starts getting aggravated with me) A lot.
Me: What else do they talk about?
Mackenzie: Stuff. They play with me.
Jesus, Mary, and Joseph! Everything started coming together. Sydney’s nightly visits from Harry. Mackenzie’s conversation with “the little girl that is old and the little boy that is old.” The Davis’ were on the shorter side—unlike our family. To a child like her who is used to looking way up to everyone, her visitors would be just as she described them. I called my mother and told her. That’s when she told me about the strange experiences she’d had at our house while babysitting. Experiences that our dog, Star, reacted to with initial curiosity and then fear. My mother confessed to me that our house freaked her out from the moment we purchased it.
We had the house blessed. I wish I had this suspenseful story to share with you about some strange event that happened while it was being blessed, but I have nothing. Nothing out of the ordinary took place. Prayers were recited, Holy water squirted, and nothing. Six years passed and all was well. My oldest had even returned to sleeping in her own room. No more weird visits, no voices from thin air, nothing. It was great. The lightness we felt was unimaginable unless you've had a similar experience to understand.
And, then, Easter Sunday 2009 came. Around 2am, my husband and I found ourselves awake at the same time. Disoriented. He asked me if I had heard something and I, honestly, told him I didn’t know why I was awake. That’s when we heard it. Something was moving a thick plastic bag. The crumpling noise was quite loud. It only lasted a few seconds. Silence and then it happened again. We listened to it happen a handful of times. My husband got up and switched on a light to investigate. I told him it was probably a mouse and he cursed our two lazy cats for not doing their jobs. We decided the noise was coming from my side of the room and he made his way around. The bag turned out to be a refill package for baby wipes. It was sealed with nothing able to get inside it. He moved it and I watched to see if I saw a rodent scamper off to hide, but nothing presented itself. Chalking it up to the package “settling,” he turned off the light and returned to bed. The noise started again. And again. And again. He repeated his earlier actions only, this time, he put the package on top of my dresser. Take that, Mr. Mouse! He climbed into bed again. Not even two minutes pass when the noise happens again. He decides to turn on his bedside light and watch. He witnessed the plastic move--I heard it. But that’s not the worst of our experience. While waiting for it to happen, we could hear the distinct sound of feet shuffling along on our thick carpet. Step, drag, step. Step, drag, step. On my side of the bed. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t breathe!! That night, we knew our reprieve was over.
A few days later, I was home watching television and talking on the phone with our elementary school’s secretary when something in the hallway caught my eye. At first, I figured it was nothing and went back to my conversation. There was no mistaking it the second time I saw it. A full size human shadow was cast along the hallway wall and making its way towards the living room. Where I sat. I told the secretary what I was seeing. I didn’t care how crazy she thought I was because I had to tell someone. She explained to me the experience she and her husband had at their former house. Still feeling like I imagined it, I refrained from telling my husband or anyone else about the event. The next day, my husband and I were watching TV when I saw him look in the hallway and react to something. I asked him what was wrong. He told me nothing. Five minutes later, he exclaimed, “I knew it!” I shocked him when I said, “You saw the shadow, didn’t you?” The two of us discussed our experiences. We then proceeded to try and figure out what could be causing this “illusion.” Was it a reflection? Did it happen when cars were going by the house? Was it one of our pets casting a weird shadow from a distance away? We did everything we could think of to prove it was something commonplace causing the effect. We were unsuccessful.
A few days later, I received this email from one of Mackenzie’s teachers:

Sent: Wednesday, April 15, 2009 8:21:44 AM
Subject: Kenzie

I wanted to let you know that Mackenzie has mentioned a couple of times about having a feeling that someone or something is watching her while she sleeps at night.  She had mentioned it to me prior to Easter and to Mrs. A***** yesterday.  I did not comment on the matter, but I wanted to let you know what she had mentioned.

My response (in part):

Sent: Wednesday, April 15, 2009 9:38 AM
To: ***** ******
Subject: Re: Kenzie

…Kenz has a bunk bed and, for months, put up blankets around her bed to act as curtains.  She said it was to stay warm.  I made her take them down a month ago.  It's all making sense now that you say she's been talking about someone watching her.  It seems to almost coincide with when things began happening around here again.  We've tried to not talk about things in front of her, but when she's involved with some of the stuff going on, it's hard not to especially after you read my e-mail to J***.  Kenz is sort of a main character.  I guess I'll let her put her curtains back up…found her asleep on the sofa with her blankets up over her head this morning…

Her response:

Sent: Wednesday, April 15, 2009 12:54:50 PM
Subject: RE: Kenzie

I remember you had told me about the ghost when it happened before.  I am sorry that I did not tell you prior to Easter.  I just got so busy working on progress monitoring it slipped my mind.  Have you had a chance to bless the house again?  Is it better?  I will let you know if Kenzie says anything about it again.

So, yeah, that was going on, too. I’ll finish up this tale in my next blog post the week of October 20th. It includes real life ghost hunters, Scooby Doo, and a Big Mac.

Check in for Autumn and Things That Go Bump In the Night: PART TWO in two weeks. 

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