Jaye and I spent our first three years together in a cramped little apartment in the congested, rundown city of Fall River, Massachusetts. Although accused ax murderess Lizzy Borden having lived less than a mile away back in 1892 had originally been an interesting topic for conversation, the less-than-perfect conditions of the city weighed increasingly on our annoyance level as time passed. Loud neighbors, constant traffic, and frequent police sirens all contributed to us ultimately making the decision to find a new place to live. Convinced we were destined to spend the rest of our lives together, we decided to leave Fall River behind us in pursuit of the American dream.
We began looking for a property to buy as soon as the last of the winter snow left the ground in the spring of 2010. Finding houses in our price range in nearby towns proved futile, so we decided to expand out geographical options, which eventually led us to hunt for a house on Cape Cod. There, houses were often on or near lakes and the seashore, and neighbors weren’t piled on top of one another. The houses also tended to be older—there’s very little new construction on Cape Cod except on large, private estates—and at the time we felt that a vintage home would possess more character. Little did we know just how much character.
The first few houses we looked at on Cape Cod had been on the market for a long while. More often than not, the homes were in need of too many repairs for our liking. One house, which was located on Fearing Street (no joke!), had some charm but felt extremely “heavy” inside. There were crucifixes placed throughout the house, and the basement made us feel claustrophobic and trapped. Very old furniture was all still in place, although it was obvious no one had lived in the house for a long time. I walked into one room in particular and immediately needed to leave the house. I cannot explain fully what I felt, but it was as if someone was still there, as if I had walked into a place where I was positively not welcome. Jaye had the same impression. Even our real estate agent, a sensible guy who didn’t seem at all the type to believe in woo-woo stuff, admitted to experiencing an odd sense of “presence” and expressed relief once we exited the house.
Purely by accident, after taking a random drive down a winding road, we found a cute little house on a corner lot at the crossroads of two dirt roads, well within the view of a huge, beautiful lake. The interior of the house turned out to be every bit as charming as the outside, and after only one visit, we decided to make a move on the place. Other people were clearly interested in the property (we visited during an open house), so we wasted no time in making our best offer. The house came “as is,” but the issues were all cosmetic things Jaye and I felt we could manage ourselves over time. Unlike most of the other homes in the area, this one had only been on the market for six day when we made our offer. The seller accepted our offer the next day, the speed of which might have been our first clue regarding what we were in for later. With the number of people expressing extreme interest at the open house, there could have easily been a bidding war for the place. In retrospect, it’s not surprising that the seller wanted to get out fast.
We moved into our new home on October 1, 2010.
For the first few weeks, everything seemed normal. We were so busy unpacking boxes and cleaning, I think a freight train could have gone through the house and we wouldn’t have noticed. The first odd occurrence I can remember is the night I came up the stairs from the main living level toward the bedrooms and smelled a distinct odor of cigarette smoke. Neither Jaye nor I were smoking tobacco at that point. I hadn’t smoked anything for years save the occasional clove cigarette, and Jaye had quit smoking regular cigarettes two years earlier. The closest thing to a cigarette we’d smoked after that were electronic (vapor) cigarettes, which don’t leave any smell in the air or clinging to fabric, and even those we’d packed up several weeks before moving. Even so, I didn’t think too much about it. The new house had been closed up for over a month when we’d moved in, so maybe the scent had been locked up inside from the previous occupants.
Excited about our new place at Halloween and finally having a large property to decorate, we went all out: a graveyard on the lawn, purple and orange lights in the windows, cobwebs on the back porch, and a huge bowl of candy for trick-or-treaters. We didn’t realize at that time that the majority of the neighborhood kids were as seasonal as the boaters and beach-goers.
By eight o’clock on that first Halloween night, we still hadn’t had a single knock at the brightly lit, overly decorated door. Disappointed, we settled into watching a movie. Not long afterward, we heard at least two sets of feet running up our wooden steps outside. We’d left the porch light on and figured that we had attracted some stragglers, so I grabbed the candy bowl and opened the door. No one was there. I stepped out onto the porch and looked around. Nothing. No one had actually knocked at the door and we don’t have a doorbell, but we’d clearly heard footsteps approach yet none retreat. Strange, like the smell of cigarette smoke in the house, but not something either of us fretted over too much.
Nothing else happened until the end of November. For some reason, the events in this house always seem to occur in the latter half of the month. From November 19, 2010 to December 1, 2010, we experienced more footsteps, sometimes outside, sometimes in the kitchen. On occasion, we heard the laughter of children and small, quick footsteps running up the stairs from the living room to the bedroom level. Our cats began to act strangely spooked, seeming to see things that weren’t visible to us. Soon after, Jaye had an experience in the kitchen pantry which mirrored one I would have months later.
We have a large, walk-in pantry in our kitchen. One afternoon while Jaye prepared dinner, he opened the door and stepped into the pantry. A hand grabbed him on the left shoulder, and thinking I had come home from work early, he spun around only to find no one there. A few months later, I experienced a similar event. On the opposite side of the kitchen from the pantry is the door that leads to the basement stairs. There’s a landing at the top of those stairs and built-in shelving on the walls. We usually keep the fancy nozzle for the garden hose on one of those shelves, and I opened the basement door to fetch it. I hadn’t realized that Jaye had used the nozzle earlier in the day to water the garden, and he’d left the nozzle on the edge of the kitchen sink to drain before putting it back in its usual place. As I looked at the shelves, I felt someone tap me on the shoulder and when I turned around, Jaye was standing near the kitchen door and well out of reach of me. Over my shoulder, I saw the hose nozzle on the sink, so it was almost as if an unseen visitor had tapped me to alert me to that fact.
Additional peculiar events happened throughout the winter and into the spring and summer of 2011. We kept a log of our experiences, and we did notice a continuing pattern where there seemed to be a higher level of unusual activity during the second half of each month, and in particular during the final week. Nothing outrageous, and as time wore on we became accustomed to the small disturbances. That all changed in late September 2011.
After drinking like we normally do on Friday nights and watching a movie in the living room, we headed upstairs to bed. Pretty drunk, we crashed quickly and slept through the night. In the morning, while Jaye was making coffee and breakfast, I opened the door to our sunroom, which is behind an old, wooden exterior door connecting the living room. We had three wooden dining room chairs with cushioned and upholstered seats in the sunroom. One of these chairs, which had been in the northeast corner of the room and piled with books, had moved to the south side of the room, centered perfectly in from of the three side-by-side windows. The books had been moved to the writing desk, still in a neat pile. The seat of the chair was soaked with water, and there was a puddle of water on the floor surrounding the chair. It had rained the night before, but there were no leaks anywhere in the room, and the windows were all closed. After cleaning up the mess, removing the seat from the chair to dry in the bathtub, and returning the chair to its proper place in the corner, we left the house to run some errands.
Upon our return, the chair had moved again, this time to the exact center of a small rug in the middle of the sunroom, tipped over forward and lying face down. Given the distance from the corner and the perfect, exact placement of the upended chair, there is no way that it simply fell over into that position. Thinking about the night before, it dawned on me that we had watched “The Rite” with Anthony Hopkins, a movie about exorcists. We had to wonder whether that movie had disturbed our resident guests.
The house has been inordinately quiet since that event, but we’re not assuming that was the last of it.
How about you? Have you ever experienced something in your home that you can’t explain? If you knew a house had a scary history (e.g., the awesome new TV show “American Horror Story”), would you shy away from buying the house or would that gruesome history attract you to it even more?