I grew up in a haunted house. It was an old brick house in a historic neighbourhood nestled in the Fox River Valley, about 45 miles outside of Chicago. We moved there when I was just 5, and it wasn't until I moved out as a young woman that I realized just how unusual our experiences in that house really were!
The first time I remember really being frightened by the house, I must have been about 6. My little sister and brother and I were still young enough that we were all sharing the large back bedroom, my sister and I in bunks, and my brother in his own little bed. It was the middle of the night, and with a start I found myself wide-awake. I don't know what woke me, but immediately I could sense that something wasn't right. I was on the top bunk, and I felt convinced that someone was standing beside my head, staring at me. I was afraid to even breathe. I squeezed my eyes shut and refused to look. Suddenly, there was a loud clatter of noise in the closet. Petrified, I just lay as still as I could and, after what felt like hours, I finally fell back asleep.
From that point on I remember a pretty steady stream of frightening incidents. For example, when I would leave my room for a moment I would often come back to find my radio turned all the way up, or the radio and the TV turned on, or the shades on all the windows up. In several heart stopping instances the radio turned on, or the shades would drop, while I was still in the room. My sister would often leave her room for a moment only to return to door locked from the inside. In the closet I mentioned earlier, books would fall off the shelf, and hangers would fall off the rod, for no apparent reason.
One night I was up late reading in my bed when I heard someone pacing in the hallway. The paces were short, like someone was just walking back and forth in front of my parent's room at the opposite end of the hall. Since my mom is prone to worry, I assumed it was her, and climbed out of bed to go see what was the matter. As I pulled my bedroom door open my heart froze. The hall light was on, and I could see to the end of the hall, where my parent's door was shut, and it was completely empty. I quickly shut my door, returned to bed, and stubbornly resumed my reading (albeit with a pounding heart!)
Most of the activity seemed to happen on the second floor, where the bedrooms were. One night the family was hanging out in the dining room after dinner when a tremendous bang in the bedroom above us shook the entire house. We all cried out, it was so loud, and for a stunned moment just looked at one another in shock. My dad insisted that it must have been a sonic boom. When we went upstairs and found nothing amiss, I accepted his explanation. It wasn't until I finally experienced a sonic boom in 2001 that I realized that that is not what we felt that night. The only way I can describe it is as if a very heavy trunk or armoire was dropped from a good height onto the floor above our heads.
After we had been in the house several years my mom confided in us that when we first moved in she woke up several times to see a woman standing at the foot of her bed, watching her. She wondered if it could possibly be the ghost of her mother, who had died when my mom was a kid. After talking it over with my dad she decided that even if it was her mother, it was too frightening for her to handle, and so the next time her visitor appeared she told her to leave and never come back. The woman obliged. This is the only time my mother has ever talked about ghosts, and since then she has said she doesn't believe in them. (I have a funny story about that, but will have to save it for another time.)
I most often experienced things in bed. Often I would be sleeping and suddenly find myself rudely awoken by some unseen force hitting the bed to the right or left of my feet. Sometimes it was a gentle push to the mattress, but other times it was like a fist or heavy book hitting the bed. Sometimes it felt like an animal jumping into bed and I would reach down, thinking it was one of the cats, to find that I was still alone in bed. The summer after my freshman year in college was the worst. I would wake up to the very jarring sensation of my entire bed hitting the floor, as if it had been lifted up just a tiny bit and dropped again.
It was also during that summer break that I saw something I will never forget. It was a sunny morning I was in bed slowly coming around, when I heard whispering in my bedroom. I opened my eyes to see who was in my room and standing directly beside my bed and looking down at me were two distinct shapes - an adult and a child. I was squinting up at them because sunlight was pouring in the window to the right of my bed, but the strange thing was that even though they were standing opposite the window, they were completely dark and featureless, like silhouettes. Startled and confused I started to push myself up out of bed and said "what?" and at that moment they vanished.
That was the only time that I ever saw anything that might have been a ghost in that house, but my brother was not so lucky. As a teenager he saw a group of hooded figures on our front porch, hovering lights in his bedroom (my sister experienced this as well), a bizarre animal-looking creature in the living room, and eventually started receiving verbal taunts and threats from a demon in his own bedroom.
While whatever was in the house threatened my brother overtly, it was a little slyer with my sister and I. On several occasions we both woke up to find chunks of our hair missing. It was as if someone had snuck into our rooms while we slept and with choppy, imprecise strokes, cut our hair less than an inch from our faces. At first we suspected our little brother. It was the less frightening option. But he denied it ardently, even tearfully, until we finally accepted that there might be another explanation.
Another bone chilling incident was the axe. One morning when I was a senior in high school we came down for breakfast and, sitting in the middle of our beautiful antique dining room table, was an axe. It had not been there the night before there was no reason for it to be there now. In fact I don't remember ever having seen it before. We didn't have a fireplace, we lived in suburbia, and my dad was not exactly Mr. Handyman. Everyone denied having put it there and so it sat in the dining room for several days until someone finally had the good sense to put it out in the garage.
The axe was something that seemed to appear out of nowhere, but some things would simply disappear and then reappear. I once had whole weeks wages disappear out of a coat pocket, only to have the full amount reappear in the same coat pocket, which had been searched by me, my mom, and my sister, two weeks later. My sister had a similar incident with her keys. Other things would just be rearranged.
When my sister and her husband were still dating, he lived for a while in my parent's house, in my old room. One day he asked my mom who had been coming into his room and moving things. My mom was shocked. No one, she insisted, we respect your privacy and would never go into your room. (At the time, she and my Dad were the only other people living in the house.) He then explained that almost every night when he came home, he would find the objects on his headboard shelf rearranged. He would right them, and then the next day they would be moved around again. He said that the object that was moved the most was a framed picture of my sister. It would often be face down or turned around.
Mystified and exasperated by the events in the house, my brother and I tried to research its history, but found nothing significant. However my parents, who were always sceptical of the idea that the house was haunted, came home from a visit to a neighbourhood pub one night with the interesting news that they had run into a young man whose parents had rented the second floor of the house before we bought it, and he had asked them how they liked living in a haunted house. I wish I knew what his experiences in the house were, but I think I can guess.
Alarmingly, things seemed to get worse the older we got. After the summer with the whispering silhouettes and the dropping bed I decided I had had enough. When I went back to school that fall I really worked on my prayer life. I prayed constantly. And when I got home the following summer I felt confident and less afraid than I had ever been. I made it a habit, whenever I got home, of sitting down on the front stoop, laying my hands on the steps, and praying for our house and our family. I would pray in the house as well, whenever I felt watched or uneasy. I posted my favourites Bible verses in my bedroom where I could see them, and prayed out loud with my family members. This was new behaviour in our household and at times I was embarrassed to do it, but I tell you the truth, it worked for me. I had a series of very frightening dreams, and then things seemed to really calm down.
My parents owned that house for several more years, but I never felt helpless or in danger there again.