Ghost Stories

When it comes to the supernatural I am, by nature, a skeptic. I’d prefer to investigate and discover the rational, if improbable, explanation for strange happenings. And I’ve taken great comfort in knowing that I’ve lived in many different places where I had absolutely no suspicions of paranormal phenomena. In fact, I’m pleased to say that I have not had a ghostly experience in many years.

Know this so that when I present to you a few of my tales of hauntings and odd happenings, you understand that I do not submit them casually or with foregone assumptions, nor should you take it as an embrace of the other-worldly.

Nevertheless, here they are. Ghost stories of my own personal experience and related to you without any attempt to explain their motives or genesis. Happy autumn.

The Malicious Spirit in the Basement

My parents bought a small brick house, roughly the shape of a shoebox, back in 1981. Having only been built about two years prior, it had no garage, no fence, and a completely unfinished cinderblock basement. All of these things were quickly rectified, and for the sake of this tale, I will relate that my quite handy father was the one who finished the basement. Brown durable, low-pile carpet with no padding underneath (ouch), a drop ceiling, dry wall decorated with white paint and a country scene border at the top. He put in a bathroom (mainly for his own personal use), an enclosed office with a door, built-in bookcases, and also an enclosure for both a laundry room and a furnace/storage room.

The main area was outfitted with a “living area”–a hand-me-down sofa set, out-of-date television, antique furniture from long-passed relatives, and about 200 books that my parents had read once and would never read again. That was one half of the basement.

The other basement half was the kids’ play area. Barbie houses, dress-up clothing on a coat rack, a Care Bear toy box. Somehow, an ill-purchased (very 80s) dining table also ended up on the kid side, as did a brown metal office desk–a desk that would house our family’s first-ever computer by 1993.

What I am describing is one of the most haunted places I have ever encountered.

It is a terrible thing when your childhood play area is cloaked in a feeling of dread and fear. Both my sister and I (the only children in the family) were aware of its presence and general malice from the earliest days. Here is the story of the haunted basement.


Descending down the carpeted stairs was where the unease would begin–moreso if the space was pitch black, but even when lit up, still seemingly unwelcoming. I always had the distinct impression that something was down there and I knew for certain I never wanted to see it. Sure, many children cower at the thought of things in the cellar or basement, hiding behind the stairs, seen only through the light of a flickering, swinging lightbulb. But this wasn’t that childhood trope. To start, it was a lovely finished space for the modern 1980s family. Though I don’t enjoy my parents’ taste in decor, it’s very clear that they attempted to create a warm and inviting atmosphere in the basement, and meant it for play and also entertaining.

Nevertheless, walking down those stairs was a dreadful drain on my emotions, with the hairs on the back of my neck frequently at attention. Being a serious and logical child, I almost always pushed past that instinct and carried on my way. My sister reported similar feelings of dread.

But I had more reasons that most to fear that basement. My bedroom was situated right above the enclosed furnace room–which was acknowledged by both of us as the heart of the dread. Countless times over the years I had been in my bedroom and heard the wooden door to the furnace room open and slam in the empty basement below. Slam! Slam!…..SLAM! At times, I would put a stack of pillows over the floor vent in the silly hope that they could block whatever was moving the door below.

Still. I tried to tell myself it was the furnace itself. Even though the furnace was new and never made slamming noises–especially in the summer when it was notably shut off.

By 1992, I was a young adolescent and our family bought its first computer–an IBM PS/2. It was set up in the basement near our play area. When my sister or I were seated at the computer, our backs were to the furnace room area of the basement. And in the glare of that screen, many times, each of us saw something move behind us. It never appeared when we turned around.

Then came 1995. My younger sister announced unceremoniously one Saturday morning that she wanted to move her bedroom into the basement “office” for more privacy. This wouldn’t do. I was the (snotty) older sister, and if anyone was getting a cool, new private room, it was me! Yet even as I argued for the room, I recoiled at the prospect of success. Some sheepish part of my brain screamed at me to forget the whole thing and dissuade my sister from moving to the basement either. My mild panic never reached my lips, and my parents ultimately gave me permission to move my belongings into the basement. I wanted to hoist my boxes and pillows over my head like trophies in a smug victory parade away from my parents’ bedroom and toward my own little sanctuary. But I was uncharacteristically quiet and humble as I hauled my junk, the whole time wondering what the hell I was doing. Whatever was in that furnace room would only be closer to me. More reachable.

I hated that bedroom. I still have nightmares about it.

It wasn’t the spider population or skittering centipedes (though those were bad), but the constant feeling of dread. I knew it wasn’t right. I knew I wasn’t welcome down there.  Something wanted me to stay away. Or worse. I lived in that room for a full three years before leaving for college, and every single night I slept with the door closed. Not for privacy, but out of fear. Many nights I slept with the covers over my head. Still, I was fine. And I had yet to experience anything real to name to anyone.

Then came my first summer home from college. It was 1999. The open basement area–still with the 80s sofa set and discarded dining room table, but the Barbie houses replaced by a guest trundle bed–was piled high with my college boxes, papers, clothing, a mini fridge and more. I was a slob. And unpacking fully was ridiculous since I was blasting out of that house again in a mere two months.

It was a summer night. 3:30am. I was awoken in that bedroom by the sound of ripping paper. It was coming from the main area of the basement, but I could hear it through my closed pine bedroom door. I dismissed it initially, figuring it was one of my mom’s cats digging in my boxes. But the ripping continued. RIIIIPPPPPP. RIIPPPPPPPPPPP. Over and over. I lay there, waking myself, pinching my arm to gauge how lucid I was. RIPPPPPPPP. RIPPPPPPPPPP. Then I dug deep and found my courage–I was a 19 year-old college student and nearly-adult. So I breathed deep and flung my door open to inspect the basement. The noises stopped. At first I padded through the basement darkness to spy anything I could. Nothing. No cats. No papers. I flicked on the lights. Still nothing.

How could cats so systematically tear at paper, even if they were so inclined? The answer was no nearer after my search uncovered no torn paper. No spills. Nothing was out of order (within the controlled chaos, that is). By the time I very reluctantly turned off the basement lights again, I was shaking. Like a small child, I flicked the lights off and bolted into my room as if the devil was chasing me. I whipped my door closed and slept for the rest of the night with the covers over my head.

In the morning, of course, I felt like a dweeb. It was all a middle-of-the-night freak out/hallucination. Right? Of course. By the 9:00 hour, I staggered upstairs, sleepy but mum and found my parents and sister in the kitchen. They were all abuzz because of “what had happened last night”. First to pipe in was my mother: “Did you hear all the commotion last night?” This is when my heart started to race and I inquired what she meant. At exactly 3:30 in the morning, my parents and my sister had all been awoken because the screen door at the front of the house was opening and slamming shut “WHAAAAAM!” all on its own, over and over.

At first, my parents thought it was some sick prank. Maybe a drunk neighbor kid. But there was no one. Over and over. WHAAAAAM!

What gave me chills was that this was happening at the exact same time as my ripping paper. And there was no mistaking the two. Neither I, nor my family, heard each other awake. My parents never saw me turn on the basement light. I didn’t hear them moving around, in a house full of creaky floors. At the exact. Same. Time. It was as if we were in separate places.

My very logical father dismissed and denied the whole thing. But my mother, my sister, and I all knew that something had been really wrong that night. Something was angry. Violently angry. The three of us who were shaken up by the night wondered why, and what would happen next.

For several years, I’m pleased to say, the answer was: Nothing.

Years passed, and both of us children moved out of the house into our own establishments, and the basement lay mostly dormant, except for daily trips to the laundry machines for my father (my mother, being in a wheelchair, can’t navigate the stairs). Then my sister’s life took a turn, and she ended up living back at home with mom and dad, moving directly into my old basement bedroom.

I have to say, she did it up very nicely, turning the whole basement into a posh apartment. She had a private bathroom, refrigerator, and claimed the living space as her own. It was kind of wonderful, actually. She knew just how to make the old, drab furniture and built-ins look vintage fabulous.

Then, in September, 2016, she went to bed one night in that basement bedroom. She woke up early the next morning to feed her cats and went back to bed–she had called into work, as she wanted a day to recuperate from a cold.

Shortly after returning to sleep, she died.

We never received an explanation. The autopsy was bungled by the county coroner’s office and there was no apparent explanation. She was just gone.

I know that bad things happen in the best and worst of places, and I know it’s awfully melodramatic to blame some hinky feelings for a death. But I don’t believe in coincidences, and I can’t totally dismiss that whatever was angry in that basement played a role in her loss. There’s no need to prove it or convince anyone. It’s just that feeling again. The same one I’ve had since I was five years old.

Now the basement’s empty again. Just as it probably wants. No one goes down there except for laundry. Even still, in mid-2022 my dad was carrying a basket of laundry up the stairs and when he was nearly to the top he tumbled backwards. He crashed roughly all the way to the bottom, his face bruised and bloody, his body twisted. Miraculously he survived with no major injuries. I know he’s getting older and his balance was almost surely the issue. Probably. Right?

Make no mistake, when my parents pass on some day, I will level that house and fill the basement with cement. Whatever is living down there can enjoy the solitude of a nice concrete block for the rest of time.

The Bedroom of Curiosities

The tale of the basement is merely one piece of the puzzle in my parents’ home. The house itself is wholly unremarkable and uninspired in its design. Built as the first in a sequence of 4 consecutive houses, it sits on land that previously belonged to two sisters–The Hund Sisters. They were restauranteurs who had inherited the business from their dad. They were famous for some burger joints they owned in 1950s metro Detroit. The two lived in a giant gray Victorian house built circa 1890 with a pond and carriage house adjacent. By about the 1970s, you can picture that this grand mansion stood among a series of cramped 1960s starter homes in a crowded and bustling area. It was entirely out of place, and would have been gaudy if it wasn’t also beautiful. The land across the street from them became a community park–one that had a slightly dubious reputation for goings-on after dark. By the late 70s, the Hunds were quite aged and in ill health, on the brink of moving into assisted living. So they sold off the park land to a real estate developer. The plot exactly across the street from their front door would become the site of our future family home. (Their home went to an elderly couple, the wife having been a valued employee of the Hunds.)

I explain this, because the origins of our family home seem a little peculiar, but not entirely ominous. Craig T. Nelson wasn’t exactly in our front yard screaming about “moving the headstones but not the bodies.” It was a cheap modernizing real estate deal. That was it. Not the stuff of legends.

But I comb this this history mentally, and I know I’m missing some piece of the puzzle. None of these stories explain multiple hauntings in the same house. And trust me, there was more than one spirit. And one of them, at least, was kind.


The Well-Placed Blanket

In 1983, we had lived in the house a short time. My sister was a baby and I was a preschooler who desperately wished my wheelchair-bound mother had more attention for me. Thus was my whinging when I asked my mom to get a blanket down for me from a high shelf in my closet. She was busy feeding the baby, but promised she would tend to it later. I sulked and went about whatever it was I did when I was three. About an hour later, I returned to my room and found the blanket I wanted neatly folded and sitting on the foot of my bed. I thanked my mom for getting it down, and nothing more was said. Until years later, when she confessed it had never been her who moved the blanket. And no one else was home. On that day, she was entirely convinced that some helpful spirit had offered me a kindness.

Small things like that happened around me in that house when I was small. Not long after we moved in, a dress that was just my size was hung on the front door with a note that read, “for your little one”. It wasn’t signed, and my mom, try as she might, could never figure out who delivered the gift. Sure, it could’ve been any quiet neighbor or distant relation. But like many spooky things, its the aggregation of oddities that makes one have a tilted perspective.

The Clown Lamp

I’m sorry to say that the kindnesses ended as I got older. As a grade-schooler, I was constantly vexed by a plastic clown lamp next to my bedside. You may have seen them before, being quite ubiquitous for the time. The clown held a number of round illuminated plastic balloons, with a tie of real strings running from them down to the clown’s hand.

Oddly enough, my problem wasn’t the clown, but the strings. Every so often, after I had turned out the lights at night, the strings would start whipping around and swaying, as if a great breeze was rushing around them. When I complained to my mother, she said it was just a draft. But there was no draft. I was a clever enough 6 year-old to understand that strings don’t move like that with out an air current that can be felt by hand or face. Whatever my mom believed or thought, a few weeks later, she got rid of the lamp.

The Terrifying Cymbal-Clapping Monkey

We’ve all seen this monkey before–he even featured prominently in one of the Toy Story movies. It’s this crouching circus monkey with cymbals, movable lips that reveal blood-red gums, and bloodshot eyes that bulge from his skull. It’s a battery-operated toy, conceived of some demon, with a wire body with cloth and fur draped over it. And it’s terrifying for even the most well-adjusted non-haunted individual. And I’ll be damned if I didn’t have one in my childhood room.

Now, of course, I was absolutely fear-stricken at the mere sight of the thing. So, as any reasonable kid would do, I hid him way in the back of the closet. On a high shelf off to the side, shoved way back behind some boxes. The batteries had been long taken out, and I loathed that it even existed. I think I might’ve been tempted to chuck it in the garbage, but in my youth (hell, even in my adulthood), I feared retribution.

The problem is, in my bedroom of wonders, where furnace doors slammed beneath me and ballooon strings on a lamp whipped around and blankets mysterious appeared on my bed, this damn monkey would sometimes start clapping its cymbals without prompting. In the back of the damn closet. Without batteries or winding up.

The Glowing Spot

I was thirteen years old and still in that bedroom (mind you, with the monkey still stashed and hidden in the back of the closet). I was still stuffing pillows over the floor vents to muffle the sounds of the slamming furnace room door below. In an odd way, I was fully adjusted to this setup and assumed everyone had a version of slamming doors and clanging cymbals. Plus, I was thirteen and too cool to assume anything supernatural was going on.

Then, one last curious thing happened in the night. It wasn’t dangerous or predatory. But entirely curious. I awoke in the night to find a brightly glowing spot in the center of my carpeted floor. In the pitch-black of the nighttime it was an odd site from my sleepy vantage point. Initially thinking it was my glow-in-the-dark Phantom of the Opera t-shirt carelessly flung on the floor and now dazzling the darkness, I lazily attempted to pinch the cotton shirt to flip it over and return to bed, phantom mask hidden out of view.

But there was no shirt. That woke me up. My fingers were grasping at carpet fibers that were glowing. Still, logic kicked in and overrode the initial pangs of fear. It had to be coming from a light source outside, through the closed blinds. So I put my hand between the glow spot and the window, oscillating around until I could produce a shadow and see the glow light up my skin. But it didn’t happen. I used my body for a higher vantage point. And nothing. The light source wasn’t coming from the window, nor the ceiling or any other spot in the room. It wasn’t coming from anywhere but the carpet. On the floor. Right over the furnace room. I grabbed a dirty (non-glowing) t-shirt from the laundry and threw it over the spot, which covered the glowing instantly (further confirming that it was no external light source). It returned my world to blessed darkness. Then I slept.

The next morning, I spotted the old t-shirt covering the floor, just as I had remembered. Lifting it nervously, I saw nothing underneath. No glowing, no marks, no spills. Just normal gray carpeting. It never came back. I watched for several nights afterward, keeping the conditions as similar as possible, and it never came back. I have always been completely certain that I wasn’t dreaming. And though I couldn’t ever imagine what a glow spot could’ve even represented in the supernatural realm, still, the image stayed with me.

The Haunted Dorm Hallway

Away from my hometown and at a small college in Michigan comes my final spooky tale. I was a junior in college, and happy to move into a private single dorm room (no roommate!). In my dorm hall, there were only two “single” rooms, and both were situated on the miniature third floor, capping either end of a small straight hallway. I had always heard the rumors about the third floor of this very old run-down hall. Something was haunting that tiny stretch of rooms. No word on who or why. It was just widely known and accepted.

Not that I believed it for a moment. Rumors like that are the bread and butter of a campus community. So when I moved into my single, I didn’t worry a bit. By lucky chance, my friend Sarah–a bold and goofy woman training to be an elementary teacher–lived in the other single room at the opposite end of the hall, our doors facing each other across the length. She cheered me on about the rumors, but exclaimed that I would have no problem, for the last resident in my room was a girl known to be a practicing witch, and she had placed protections on the room. That’s nice, I thought. Sure.

So this haunting tale actually belongs to Sarah. She showed up, pounding at my door one weekday morning, about 9am, absolutely terrified. She had missed her first class because during the night everything in her room had been unplugged. Everything. Her alarm never went off. And while that was an annoyance, the creepy part of this tale is that it appears she couldn’t have been the culprit and her door had been locked all night. I was witness to this, as I went back to her room with her, and assisted her in moving large, heavy pieces of furniture to re-plug in things like her computer and mini-fridge. These were outlets and plugs she couldn’t have managed on her own, even if she were sleepwalking.

She was utterly certain that an otherworldly presence had unplugged everything for some mischievous reason–though I pointed out that the motives could’ve been pleasant. Perhaps there was a spirit who feared electricity.

Yes, that sounds ridiculous. It’s absurd to read it on the screen right now. But from within her locked tiny dorm room, I knew Sarah was physically incapable of moving all of the furniture to reach the plugs, and yanking on the cords wouldn’t have worked.

Ghosts

These are the mysteries. Most of the time when we have creepy tales, they don’t seem to make sense. Even if we believe in a veil between the living or dead–or supernatural creatures, or whatever you like–it’s hard to imagine such things would spend their energy making a carpet spot glow or unplugging a mini fridge or making ripping paper noises. Each of these tales I have told you probably have rational explanations that have simply eluded me and others involved. I try to tell myself that some sort of static charge from the lamp must have caused the balloon strings to whip about. And maybe the rug’s glowing spot was a luminescent spill I don’t recall that evaporated by the next day.

On the other hand, we have certain instincts that tell us when something is wrong. Or off. So do we trust that tickle in the back of our brains? Or do we tell ourselves over and over under the blankets that ghosts are not real.

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