As a young adult I lived in house with seven adults and one little girl, Abigail. When I first moved in, the house seemed cheerful and warm. The eight of us would gather round the table to play cards and relive the day's events. Abigail basked in the attention of so many adoring grown ups. I thought of her as my own little doll baby, often holding her in my lap and tickling her chubby little knees. She had long straight blond hair, like corn silk, and deep soulful eyes. She did not speak much, which I thought odd, since most little girls are chatter boxes. She simply listened and observed the adults around her. Her little hands were constantly gripping someone's skirt or pant leg. She seemed to crave the security of touching another person. She even refused to close the bathroom door when she used the toilet. I lived there for weeks before I realized that the little girl simply could not stand to be left alone.
I spoke with her older brother, Henry, about her clinginess. He explained to me that she had suffered some unspeakable abuses at the hands of an older brother. This child did not live in the house and had been sent away to live with the estranged father. I kept this knowledge to myself and tried to be more aware of her subtle pleas for attention and reassurance.
Henry and I began spending more and more time together after that. He needed to speak with someone about the terrible family secrets. He spent many nights in my room talking to me and seeking a confidant. He had been Abigail's only ally when she began talking about what went on in the bathroom with the middle brother. He had watched her behavior change over the months this abuse had occurred. She was angry and threw violent tantrums. She had broken a window in her bedroom during one of these rages. She had thrown a piece of child sized furniture through the window pane. He said that often he was frightened of her when she was enraged. Eventually he confessed that he believed her because he knew that his brother had been abused by their father, as had he. He feared he too would become an abuser, because he had been abused. He said that after scores of visits with many family counselors and child psychologists, their mother had been made to see the truth. It tore the family apart. She had taken Abigail and Henry and left. She was forced to file a restraining order on the middle child, to keep him away from Abigail.
As our relationship began to grow beyond the constraints of a platonic friendship, we spent more and more time together. Admittedly, both of us were guilty of giving one another more attention than we should have in front of Abigail. Her big hungry eyes gathered up each lingering look, hugs that lasted a bit too long, and hands that did not pull away when they happened to touch. She began to wedge herself between us. Often she turned her back on me entirely and tried to regain all of Henry's attentions.
Weeks wore on and the late night talks eventually led to a few occasions where we fell asleep on my bed together. Abigail, who never ventured down the stairs to the basement, would be waiting at the top of the stairs with a furrowed brow and reproachful looks in the morning. We let her fits of jealousy pass without comment.
One afternoon, I came home from work to find I had the house all to myself. Abigail was at pre-school, her mother was at work and everyone else in the house had miraculously vanished for the afternoon. I grabbed a bottle of beer from the fridge and went down to my room. The cold gray cinder block wall needed me to complete the mural I had been working on. I turned on my stereo and set my bottle of beer on one of the speakers. I sat it precisely in the middle of the speaker. (I am compulsive about some things, especially about things being centered and balanced.)
I opened the can of black paint I had been using to outline with and went to work on my project. A few minutes later, I crossed the room and sat down on the bed to get perspective of my work. I heard the front door open as Abigail and her mom came in. The beer bottle, just visible in my peripheral vision, hit the floor with a loud crash. It landed almost three feet in front of the speaker. I sat for a moment, shocked into stillness. My mind raced for a logical explanation.
I tried to convince myself that it had been the vibration from the door closing, or the throbbing of the bass coming through the speaker. Of course, neither of those things would have caused it to land so far away from the speaker. I crossed the room, turned off the stereo and cleaned up the mess in stony silence. My ears were piqued and my nerves were tingling as I gathered up my paint and brushes and crossed the basement to the laundry room. I tugged at the bit of string and the bare light bulb threw a circle of sickly yellow light into the room. I hated having my back to the door as I rinsed out the brushes in the wash sink, but I forced myself to act nonchalant. Someone had once told me that showing a person or thing fear gives it more power. I tried not to show any concern at all. The tiny hairs on the back of my neck stood on end. I felt like I was being watched. A sense of sheer cold malice seemed to be focused on my back. I closed the can of paint and put it away on the shelf in the laundry room and pulled the string again. The gloom and darkness washed over me. I admit that I made my way up the stairs faster than usual.
I waited for Henry to come home from work. I took him by the hand and led him down the stairs and showed him the scene of the crime. There was still a wet spot on the rug when there beer had soaked in a little. He thought I was playing tricks. I insisted he stay in my room with me that night. He sat with me and talked while I continued to work on the mural. When I grew tired of painting, I took my supplies to the wash sink in the laundry room and cleaned up. I put the lid on the can of black paint and put it on a shelf above the washing machine. Henry and I dozed off sometime after midnight.
I was awakened in the wee morning hours by Henry. He was dreaming. His forehead was beaded with sweat and he called out in his sleep. He fought with the bed sheets and sat up in the bed. He was sleepwalking! I wasn't sure what to do, so I followed him, to make sure he was safe. He made his way up the dark stairs and down the halls to Abigail's bedroom. He stood in the doorway a moment and then made his way back to bed again. He did not stir again that night. When he woke in the morning, his lips and tongue were coated in black paint! When he woke up he swore he had dreamed of Abigail painting his face.
The next night Henry had to work and overnight shift. The house was empty save for Abigail, myself, and Lauren. Lauren also had a room downstairs in the basement. We put Abigail to bed and shortly after we made our way down to our rooms. I shut out the light and leapt into my bed. Fear of the dark and the monster over the bed had seized hold of me. I lay in the bed, with the blankets pulled up to my chin, my eyes wide open, scanning the darkness. The blankets slowly began to creep down. I thought I was falling asleep, that my excited mind was playing tricks, so I snatched the covers back up to my chin and settled in. I chastised myself for being foolish. The covers began to creep down again. I reached out to tug them back up when they were suddenly whipped off the bed.
I jumped out of bed and crashed into Lauren as we both fought to get upstairs. We reached the doorway at top and both of us tried to turn the doorknob. We were a jumble of fingers and stifled squeals as we wrestled the door open. We both sprinted down the hall and threw Abigail's door open. The little darling was fast asleep, but her blankets were on the floor. Lauren and I left her door open and settled onto the couch in the living room. We both recounted similar stories regarding our bed covers. She confessed that she had been hearing things downstairs, but had convinced herself that it was just Henry and I having our whispered little conversations. I tried to agree that seemed a likely explanation. Of course, neither of us could explain our bed clothes being ripped off of us. We decided to sleep on the couch until someone else came home to stay upstairs with Abigail.
The next day Lauren and I went together to the Catholic Church and filled bottles with holy water. We spent the day in discussion and planning. We were certain someone or something else was living in the house with us. During the course of the day we concocted a plan to commune with the spirits with a Ouija board. If things got out of hand, we would soak the entire basement in holy water and palm fronds. We waited until Abigail had left with her mother and the rest of our roommates were at work. We felt safest in the living room, so we settled there.
We set out the Ouija board. We discarded the plastic planchette and used a heavy shot glass form the cabinet instead. We lit candles and laid our bottles of holy water and palm fronds within arm's reach. We closed the door to the basement. We double checked - rattling the doorknob and pushing on the door, to make certain it was closed.
We placed our fingertips on the shot glass and began asking questions. They were simple and direct. We asked "Is there someone in the house with us?" Seconds crawled by and turned into painfully quiet minutes. "Is there someTHING in the house with us?" Again, the glass stood still on the board. We began to relax a bit; perhaps we were even beginning to feel a bit silly. "Maybe we imagined the whole thing" Lauren offered. The glass moved then, it was a sudden, abrupt and quick movement to the word NO on the board. The basement door slowly opened. We heard a murmuring, as if there were people having a hushed conversation in the basement. We pulled our hands away from the glass and jumped to our feet, leaving the board to fall to the floor. We grabbed the bottles of holy water and advanced to toward the basement door, holding hands and holding our breath. The door slammed shut before we got there.
A light flashed through the kitchen window. A car pulled into the driveway. Abigail and her mom were home. I packed up my things and left that weekend.
Having the benefit of years and mileage between myself and these events, I am now prone to believe that all these incidents were manifestations of the emotions Abigail was dealing with. A child of only 6, who had been abused by an older brother, witnessed the devastation of her family collapsing as a result of this and felt threatened by me stealing the affections of her protector, might be generating enough psychic energy to upset things in the physical world. Then again, maybe not...