In the very late 1990s, I was renting the basement of my parents' fifth American home (they do move a lot!) while I sorted out my post-Bachelor's Degree plans. I'd been accepted to Grad School to earn a Master's Degree in Literature, but I needed to find a place to live in Worcester, Massachusetts. I woke up one morning in late June, certain I'd find my apartment that day. The University phoned me about 30 minutes later to ask me if I was interested in seeing a newly-available apartment 2 blocks from the English Department, and 3 blocks from center campus. I said I'd see it before lunch, as it was less than an hour's drive from my parents' house.
Apartment 1A turned out to be a fairly roomy ground-floor apartment facing the street; it had ridiculously high ceilings (either 9' or 10' high) and a minimum of 2 windows per room. That summer morning, it appeared to be light and lovely and, best of all for a cash-strapped grad student, I could afford the rent on a T.A.'s stipend.
Originally, the structure had been built as a three-storey "triple decker" apartment building with a single staircase serving all three floors. However, someone had built an extension toward the back of the lot, doubling the size of the building, with a second front door and an independent staircase. Someone else had further sub-divided the interiors to create additional, smaller apartments out of adjacent rooms from both parts of the structure; instead of 2 apartments on each level, there were now three. My apartment door was the only ground-level apartment which opened onto the first staircase; 1B and 1C opened onto the second staircase. Both sections of the building had front doors that opened onto a single pathway which was at right-angles to the street.
One peculiar effect of the extensive remodeling was that there was one enclosed narrow porch which also opened onto the pathway, right next to the 2 steps down to the pavement. The only way onto the 3' x 9' porch from inside the building was from my apartment's dead-bolted "back" door, located in my bedroom. I used the porch to store my garbage and recycling, as it was so close to the road, and the door from the porch to the street had sliding bolts at the top and bottom which could only be operated from inside the porch. Every time I went to class, I had to go out of the apartment's entrance in my living room, proceed out the front door, walk along the path past my own back door, and then step onto the sidewalk.
Inside the building, there were many odd room arrangements. For example, there was a door off of the kitchen which looked like it should lead to a pantry; however, it was a windowless bathroom about 4 feet wide and 12 feet long. It resembled a converted hallway and (thanks to the internal subdividing) it was underneath the door to 2B: the second storey's middle apartment.
In my bathroom, the sink and wall-mounted mirror were immediately next to the door on the left wall, then there was the chimney for 1B's fireplace, then the toilet, a three-foot by four-foot open space (the laundry drying rack took up half of this area) and the four-foot square shower at the end. The light fixture and extractor fan was close to the shower, above the laundry rack. Those of you who have read my early childhood narrative "My Parents' First House" will know that I was traumatized by bathrooms at an early age; I didn't like the bathroom in this new apartment at all, but I convinced myself that it was my childhood fears playing up, and that I only had to tolerate the inconvenient layout for a couple of years, then I'd leave. I made myself believe that there was nothing in the bathroom, and that the "trapped" feeling was a result of the lack of windows.
After I had moved in, I discovered that leaving the blinds open in my living room meant that everyone over 3' tall who walked along the sidewalk looked in my windows. I closed the louvered blinds, and left them closed for weeks at a time for a sense of privacy. This may have contributed to my depression, as did being a day's travel away from my fiancée. I only felt depressed when I was in the apartment, but a more general sense of gloom began to set in, incrementally building to a dread of returning home. While the rooms still looked spacious, bright, and airy, I had the peculiar sensation that the apartment was trying hard to look that way in spite of the heavy atmosphere which seemed to be pouring very slowly out of the bathroom and into the rest of the apartment.
I had lived in 1A for about 8 months when the tapping in the kitchen began. It was late at night, and I was on the sofa watching a movie, with the kitchen doorway behind my right shoulder. The rhythm was a simple 9 beats, as though drummed out on a wooden surface using alternating fingers in an impatient manner: 1-and-2-and-3-and-4-and-5. I stopped the movie and thought, "What the hell was that noise? Did it come from my bathroom or my kitchen?"
The first and last beats seemed more pronounced than the others, but I couldn't tell if it was because they really were louder or because each had been preceded or followed by a very still silence.
I got up from the sofa, walked deliberately to the middle of the kitchen, and pulled the cord to turn on the light. I don't know what I expected to find, but it was only my slightly-untidy kitchen. I started to look around for a possible rodent invader. As I looked toward the cabinets and sink, there was a 1-and-2-and-3-and-4-and-5 tapping on the refrigerator's door to my left.
I turned slowly toward the fridge, scrutinized the assorted bills and postcards magnetized to it, then I looked down the gap between the left side of the fridge and the wall. There was nothing but ugly linoleum. The sound resumed with a wooden resonance: 1-and-2-and-3-and-4-and-5. I could tell It was now coming from the baker's rack to the right of the fridge because of the toaster oven's clattering accompaniment to the last few wooden beats. I moved to my right, and started to look around on the baker's rack to see if I could see what was making the noise. I slid open one of the wooden drawers seeking a simple explanation, hoping I'd misinterpreted the source of the sound. As the first drawer contained no likely candidates loitering in the cutlery, I slid it shut and put my hand on the second drawer, when the metal stove top behind me reverberated to the now-irritating rhythm: 1-and-2-and-3-and-4-and-5.
I tiptoed hesitantly toward the stove, feeling like the idiot character in a horror movie who won't listen to the audience's warnings to leave. There was a pan on the stove top, but it was empty. Likewise, the teakettle yielded no clues. The pilot light was on, and there was no scent of a natural gas leak. This search had become more exasperating than enlightening, so I decided I was going to leave the kitchen light on and return to the living room.
As I straightened up and faced the living room doorway, the metal sink behind me tapped out 1-and-2-and-3-and-4-and-5.
I spun around, determined to catch the pest in the act! I peered over the rim of the sink, trying to identify the cause of the rhythm, when something used as much energy as it could muster to kick the metal side of my stove: BANG!
The SECOND thought which ran through my head was, "I think it wanted to frighten me." Because this thought was still trying organize itself into a coherent, analytical statement, it had no chance whatsoever of catching up with my adrenaline-fueled verbal indignation as I lost my temper. I try very, very hard to be a patient person, because when I am angry, my attitude is that "the nuclear option" is a fine starting point and that anything left standing within the blast radius is a valid target.
I recall that my reaction began with "How DARE you..." I know that my tirade included casting aspersions upon the moral character of the entity, speculations about the cheap promiscuity of the entity's mother, indicating where within its own anatomy the entity should place its hand in order to tap its rhythm next, and my opinion of spirits who wanted to haunt my apartment without even pretending to be helpful. I informed it that it was haunting a sadly-decrepit tenement building in a poor neighborhood, that the heyday of Worcester's economy had occurred about 110 years earlier, and that those conditions meant that I was shouting at the supernatural equivalent of dry rot fungus. I had gone into the kitchen because I had thought it was in need of help, not that it was engaged in a feeble attempt to scare me. Even with the help of the depressed atmosphere, no invisible appliance-tapping absurdity was going to make me feel afraid in my apartment, and I wanted it gone. I included several profanity-laden instructions as to how it was to remove itself, suggested that it try to locate its dignity, and issued dire warnings of the measures I would take if it resurfaced while I was still residing there.
Not surprisingly, it left. It took most of the oppressive atmosphere with it.
I've been told by family, by friends, and -on one notable occasion- by a stranger, that for 5'6" and 140 lbs, I can be terrifying. This is not a character trait I like, as it can take hours (sometimes days) for me to regain my composure; I prefer to be a happy, enthusiastic, and pleasant person. When I'm outraged, I focus very intently on the cause, throw my internal filters to the "off" position, spin up the dynamo on my vocabulary, crank my volume, picture what I'm about to do to the person (or group of people) in front of me, feel crackling ice-cold fury crawl up my spine, and let rip. The fact that I've done this on more than one occasion to living people and to otherwise-terrifying guard dogs, without retaliation from anyone, would suggest that the level of anger I can achieve -when justified- is effective. This encounter suggests that it may be effective in surprising otherworldly entities, too.
About two months after this event, I was leaving my living room and entering my darkened bedroom. The streetlights outside were casting shadows of tree branches against the closed shades, but there was a very solid, dark shadow on the pull-down shade on the door which led to the enclosed porch. The shadow was just under 6' tall and it appeared to be the outline of a man of stocky build wearing a pork-pie hat (Art Carney wore one in "The Honeymooners," for those of you whose memories go back that far; everyone else will need google). For the shadow to be where it was, the individual casting it would have needed to be standing on the porch, looking at the locked door. That would have meant breaking in via the external door (releasing the two unreachable sliding bolts), then simply standing there waiting to be noticed. I'd been reading, so the noise of an intruder would have alerted me immediately. I was irritated by the shadow's loitering on the porch, so I began with the slow voice I reserve for the hard-of-thinking: "I explained this very clearly last time, you half-wit," and I snapped open the rolling blind. No one was there. I was bemused by my inability to see a manifestation of whoever had been casting the visible shadow, but I continued to inform it that "banished" meant the entirety of the apartment, including the screened-in porch. Just because there was a locked door, it did not mean it was allowed to loiter outside. After a prolonged stream of invective at the incompetent attempt to locate a loophole in my previous instructions, I explained that it had all the intelligence of a brick, but none of the usefulness, and that I was banishing it to the fires of hell for haunting me when I was preparing a lesson on Shakespeare's "Henry V," Act I. At that time, I had begun some serious soul-searching about my slow drift into agnosticism, but this entity had really pissed me off, so taking refuge in my religious upbringing and compelling it to suffer in hellfire had seemed like a reasonable reaction; now, I wonder if damning it to hell (should such a location exist) was over-reacting a little. On the plus side, either it did as I instructed or it huddled away and waited another two years for me to move out.
As always, I welcome opinions, thoughts, and questions; I'll respond to the best of my ability.