At the age of eight I lived in Milwaukie, Oregon. My parents decided to move the family to Milwaukie from Oregon City, following a big promotion for my dad at his job. My two brothers were excited about the new place and my parents were the happiest I had seen them in a long time. Everything was going great. I was excited myself because our new house was much bigger than our last, and I finally got my own room. I had previously shared a room with my older brother, which was fine but limited my personal space quite a bit. In our new place, my older brother shared a room with my younger brother, who had just outgrown his crib at the age of 2. My older brother was cumbersomely tasked with policing the little guy, making sure he didn't run around at night sticking metal things into the wall sockets. My room was pretty small but at least it was mine.
Yes, everything was going great.
We lived on a small road that ended with a cul-de-sac. Our street dropped down a hill from the main road and was littered with about thirty houses. Six months after moving in I was getting accustomed to the new neighborhood. I had made friends with three different kids on the street and knew at least five more. There were a lot of young kids around and I was happy to have so much company. There was a boy down near the end of the street that I traded baseball cards with after school some days. His dad was loud and a bit of a drunk. I went to school with the girl across the street. I was close friends with the kid who lived next door; he was the same age as me. Sometimes we would race our bikes through the small passageway that lead to the park behind my house. There was a little narrow easement that was snugly hidden between two yards near the center of the street. The park was gigantic and bled into a local schoolyard less than half a mile behind my house.
Occasionally, strange things would happen in the house. It was never anything dangerous or imposing, mostly subtle or unnoticeable. Sometimes at night there would be softly shuffling footsteps in the hallway. The steps would slowly traverse the length of the hall, stop, and then steadily return back in the other direction. They didn't go on all night either, just down and back once in a night. If the subject of the footsteps came up at breakfast the next day nobody would say they had been up that late. We had briefly discussed the possibility of the house being haunted. We even joked about a friendly ghost. I heard rustling sounds in the attic above me on several occasions when I was lying in my bed. Once when we got home from school all the framed pictures on the mantle above the fireplace were turned around, facing the wall. Books occasionally would fall from the bookshelf in the family room, when we were sitting on the other side of the room. None of these things ever scared any of us.
A year after moving in it was common knowledge there was something strange happening in the house. Instead of occasionally, we started to hear the slow footsteps almost every night. They became such commonplace that we mostly stopped talking about it altogether. On more than one night I was lying awake, unable to sleep when I heard the shuffling footsteps outside my door in the hallway. One night in particular I heard the familiar sounds, and built up the courage to go explore. I crept to my door, silently, and put my ear to the wood. I could clearly hear someone moving through the house. They were labored and slow footfalls, the steps of someone heavyset. It sounded like someone barely lifting their feet off the floor when they walked, making a slow dragging sound when they stepped forward on the carpet. When I opened the door stealthily to try to catch the person walking, the hallway was empty. I decided at the time I must have heard something else, and just imagined it was footsteps. Over time I got used to the sounds and was able to ignore them altogether. It wasn't until halfway through our second year in the house when events began to get frightening.
When my baby brother started talking a little more he would sometimes say things that were a little startling, even scary. He was very shy at the age of 2 but was also very smart. He could say a number of things but barely ever talked. He would follow us bigger brothers around, clutching his satiny baby blanket, one thumb thrust into his mouth. One night when my older brother was babysitting the two of us my little bro said something odd. The older brother was in the family room watching TV and the younger was with me in the kitchen. I was doing some kind of math homework while he worked diligently on a Fraggle Rock coloring book. Even at his young age he was quite the artist. I remember struggling on a particularly frustrating problem, and wanting to give up. I took a break to go over to the refrigerator for some chocolate milk. I grabbed the carton and poured myself a glass. I was about to put it away when I thought of my little brother. He would undoubtedly want a glass. I turned back around to the kitchen table and looked up at my brother. He was no longer sitting but standing up, looking into the living room silently. He said nothing but stared into the darkness of the empty room, eyes wide and unblinking. I said nothing but looked at him for a moment, then at the living room door, then back to him. Finally I asked him, "What is it?"
He was holding a crayon in one hand. The coloring book sat quietly on the table behind him. "What's wrong, buddy?" I asked him again, trying to sound brave. I sat the milk down and walked over to the table, looking into the next room with him. The living room sat dark, lights shut off. There was one big window on the far end of the room but the curtains were drawn shut. It was about ten o'clock, late night. I could see the dull shine of our china closet's glass doors sitting silently in the murky blackness at the end of the room. I looked back at my brother and he said softly, "I saw a woman walk by." My heart leapt into my throat. I swallowed it back down. "What are you talking about, there's nobody here but us boys," I said to him assuredly. He didn't break his gaze from the empty living room. I went into the family room where my older brother was watching a VHS tape of Kindergarten Cop. When I told him what had happened we searched the house together, finding nothing. By the time my parents got home that night we had already forgotten about it. My little brother was fast asleep in his room.
In the back of my parents' room there was a cramped dressing room that led to a tiny half bathroom. In the bathroom was a green porcelain toilet and a stand-up shower with glass doors. In the dressing room my mom kept a collection of dolls her mother had given her over the years before passing away. My mom had told me before she didn't really like the dolls much; she just kept them around for sentimental value. Some of them were a little creepy. There was one in particular that always freaked me out. It was one of those dolls that closed its eyes when it was lying down, and opened them when it sat up. It had a bulbous plastic head and a white featureless cloth body. For some reason this doll never had clothes on. It had faded, dusty blonde hair pulled sharply into a tight ponytail. The head was skin-colored and painted with detail. The cheeks were rosy with blush and the eyelids were dark with makeup. When the eyelids hinged up they lay open, gaping. The eyes had this glassy, sunken look that chilled me to the bone when I saw it. I hated it. I told my mom how creepy I thought it was and that always made her laugh. One morning before school my mom sent me into the dressing room from the kitchen. She was preparing breakfast for us boys when she realized she needed her watch before she went to work. The watch was sitting on the cluttered counter in the back of the bedroom, just below the large mirror that dominated most of the short wall. On the left side of the counter, next to a box of jewelry, were the dolls. I came in to grab the watch and found myself staring at the dolls uncontrollably. The scary doll, propped up against the flowered wallpaper looked vacantly at me through dark, emotionless glass eyes. I looked back at the counter and grabbed my mom's watch. When I turned to leave I glanced over my shoulders at the doll once more and the eyes were closed! I stopped in mid-step and turned around. The eyes slowly slid open again. One of the eyelids stuck halfway open, giving the doll an aloof, drunken stare. My mom told me later it did that sometimes. She looked worried when she told me that.
One night in early July, I had a friend come over to watch a movie. I hadn't sprung it on my dad yet but I was going to ask if he could stay the night. My friend (who I'll call James) and I had been planning the stuff we were going to do after the movie, assuming that my dad would give us the green light on the sleepover plans. We were going to sneak out late at night to go on an adventure in the park behind the house. I had a couple flashlights ready under the bed in my room. He had even asked his parents already and got the go-ahead. James showed up in the fading afternoon and we immediately started playing Super Mario Bros. On my Nintendo Entertainment System. We were laughing and having a good time. At dinner I asked my dad if James could stay the night. He flashed me a labored look and said he would think about it. After dinner James ran back into the family room to un-pause the game where we had left off. I was just finishing up my plate when my dad asked me to help him with the dishes. I reluctantly accepted, hoping to score some sleepover points. My brothers ran off to play with James. My mom slinked off into the bedroom to read her book. While I was drying the dishes next to my dad, he looked at me with a disappointed frown drawn across his face. "You shouldn't ask to have a friend stay over while he's sitting right next to us," He said. "It makes us look bad if we say 'no' in front of him."
I apologized as we finished the clean-up duty. I was sure the sleepover would be called off. I started to amble into the family room, head down. My dad stopped me and said it would be alright, James could stay over. I ran excitedly into the family room, joining James and my brothers playing games. Later on that night my older brother, James and I watched Aliens. At the time I wasn't allowed to watch rated 'R' movies so I was exceptionally excited. My older brother can be quite the smooth-talker and convinced my mom to let us watch it (under the condition my dad didn't find out we were watching it). The three of us watched the movie together late at night while my little brother slept soundly in his room on the other side of the house. The film was frightening, especially for me, being only nine years old. James was the same age as me and acted as if he had seen a million scary movies before. My older brother was eleven at the time and shrugged the whole thing off like it was a Saturday morning cartoon. After the movie was over my brother went to bed and James and I traversed to the garage to grab two sleeping bags. At the time I admired my friend's courage, he didn't seem affected by the film we had just watched. I opened the door in the kitchen next to the refrigerator, revealing the entrance to the pitch black garage. We stood briefly on the threshold, staring into the gaping void of darkness. "There a light switch in there somewhere?" James asked me shakily. I looked over at him and suddenly he didn't look so tough. After all, the aliens like to hang out in dark places.
I reached inside the cold opening and hooked my arm to the right, searching the wall for the switch. I found it and switched the overhead on. All of a sudden the blankness became a room, and the fear subsided, for the time being. Our garage wasn't particularly wide; it was only made for a single car. It was, however, fairly deep. We didn't keep either of our two cars in the garage at the time, we needed the storage space. The house was outfitted with a pretty big driveway so we kept both cars - a gray Volkswagen Quantum station wagon and yellow Ford Maverick - outside. That summer my dad had announced plans to build an extra room in the back corner of the garage, which would become my older brother's. There were two skeletal walls comprised of bare planks standing silently in the back corner. A flat stack of sheetrock lay inside the unfinished room, next to a steel toolbox and two buckets of paint. There was a heavy-looking roll of dark blue carpet leaning against the wall. I always had a feeling of unease being in the garage for long periods of time, so I was eager to grab the sleeping bags and be out of there, stat. We grabbed the bags and headed off to my room.
The original plan had been for us to watch the movie, then when everyone in the house had fallen asleep we would execute plan Escape the House and Explore the Park. When we got back to my room we unrolled the sleeping bags and laid them out on the floor. I opted not to sleep in my bed because I felt bad about leaving James alone on the floor (with the aliens). I took a couple pillows from the couch in the family room and made a nice sleeping arrangement for the both of us. James plopped down on his sleeping bag and began to take his socks off. "Wait," I said. "I thought we were going to sneak out." James looked timidly back at me and said he was too tired to sneak out. He just wanted to crash and maybe explore the park tomorrow morning. I could tell he was a little scared and at that moment it dawned on me that maybe I was too scared to sneak out too. I mean, we would have to travel to the other side of the street by ourselves, then slip through the narrow easement, which had no street lights. Then we would have that sea of darkness, The Park, all to ourselves (and the aliens). There was no nighttime illumination in the park so we would have to rely on just our flashlights. Suddenly the plan sounded a little bit crazy. I didn't particularly feel like getting eaten by aliens or monsters or whatever was out there, roaming through the fields at night. I agreed to postponing the plans.
That night I awoke abruptly. It was one of those situations where I was completely disoriented for a period of thirty seconds or so. Something as of yet unknown had stirred me from sleep. Normally I slept heavily and it would take a loud noise or good shaking to wake me up. I have been known to sleep through earthquakes, fire alarms, police sirens, etc. This time I sat up, and my head was swimming. I struggled to comprehend what time it was. I felt as if something was incredibly wrong, and that feeling of urgency forced my heart rate to escalate. Why was I on the floor? Right the sleepover. My eyes darted to my bedroom window, where the venetian blinds were cracked enough for the street lights to filter in a weak pale orange glow. This light was enough to see outside the house but my room was still pitch black. I could see the fir tree in my front yard, and the upper half of the street light on the road. Okay, it's not morning, that's for sure, I rationalized. Then I heard the footsteps in the hallway. This was a sound I was used to so it didn't particularly freak me out. I didn't want to get up so I listened. The steps shuffled from the living room in the direction of my parent's room. They slowly reached my parents' doorway at the end of the hall, stopped for a moment, then steadily scraped back in the direction of the living room. Once they reached the end of the carpeted hall they stopped, and it was silent again. The only sound was the quiet rhythmic breathing of James right next to me. He was fast asleep.
I sat up in my sleeping bag for a while, listening to the deafening silence and waiting for something else to happen. I started to think about the movie we had watched earlier and a fear began to creep into my body. My mind was filled with thoughts of aliens and footsteps and I felt the sudden urge to wake James up. I didn't wake him up, though. I sat, and listened. When nothing happened I finally lay back down and tried to get some sleep. My eyes were closed for a few minutes when I heard a scratchy sound, barely audible. It began to sound a little like a voice − a frustrated man mumbling to himself under his breath, though I couldn't make out any words. I wondered if someone was watching TV in the family room. The mumblings increased in volume a bit, as if it was approaching the room from some unseen angle. I began to feel the pangs of panic as the voice got louder, and soon I was flooded with adrenaline. It sounded like the voice was in my room. Suddenly a hoarse, strained voice pleaded from only a few feet away, "Why? Why did you do that?" My eyes jolted open and I leapt from the floor onto my feet. The zipper of the sleeping bag buzzed loudly open. I looked at where the sound was coming from. A silhouette stood in the window, backlit by the street lamp outside. It was only a silhouette but I could tell it wasn't James. It was the broad-shouldered shape of a man, or maybe a teenager. The voice was firm and strong but not loud. It was spoken softly but louder than a whisper. It might have been a young adult, in their twenties or so. Due to the intense shock of the situation I don't remember leaving my room, or even running away, but the next thing I remember I was standing in the driveway, barefoot in the July night. It wasn't cold but I was trembling. I was shaking uncontrollably. I looked back at the front door of the house, agape like the mouth of some great beast. It was dark inside.
I eventually built the courage up to come back into the house, as I made my way towards my room, I saw my mom, standing in the hallway with the lights on. "What happened, honey?" she said. "I heard the front door open so I came out to see what was happening. I thought maybe you guys were sneaking out or something." I told her what had happened and she looked intensely worried. When I was done telling the story she held me to her chest and told me not to be afraid. I had had a bad dream and it was over now. I couldn't tell if she was trying to convince me or herself. We walked together to my room and she turned the lamp next to my bed on. My lamp was a hand-painted Lenox porcelain sculpture of a medieval castle, heavily detailed and adorned with a little green dragon. Standing next to the front gate was a tiny knight, covered in plate mail and grasping a sword. My mom suggested that I sleep in my bed. She tucked me in and assured me I would be just fine. She left the door slightly ajar and went back to her room. I heard the door to her bedroom shut quietly. James was on his back with his mouth agape, fast asleep. I passed out.
The next morning James was shocked when I told him the story. He had slept through the whole scenario and was completely unaware that anything of the sort had taken place. We only lived in the house for another two years after that point, and nothing was ever so vivid or intense as what had happened that night. We continued to hear footsteps late at night, but other unusual quirks began to occur less and less over time. Once or twice there was a bump in the attic. Eventually the only strange thing that happened was the phantom footsteps. We got so used to hearing them that we never talked about them anymore.
It has been over fifteen years since I lived in that Milwaukie house, and revisiting the old events inspired me to do some research about the history of the house. Just a few weeks ago I contacted a local historian, asking if anyone had ever passed away in the house. He contacted me by email, telling me that in 1973, a 24-year-old man had robbed a small store less than a mile from the property. When a police car happened to be passing by the store on his patrol, the man's getaway driver got scared and fled the scene. When the thief emerged to an empty parking lot, he ran, and got about a half mile before the police spotted him. With nowhere to go, he jumped a fence a few blocks from the house and began darting through the backyards of the neighborhood. The police took chase on foot and cornered him in what would later be our backyard. Guns drawn, the lawmen shouted for the man to surrender. When he reached for a pistol the police were forced to gun him down. He drew his final breath no more than fifty feet from what would become our back patio. I can't help but wonder if the strange things we experienced in the house were related to this young man's untimely death.
Questions or comments would be greatly appreciated! Thank you for reading.