The following story is part of a series of spooky posts written by readers of Rochdale Variety and selected by our editors. Read about a freaky ghost baby, a voice from beyond the grave, the coldest room in the house, a very haunted library, or a dime store portrait that hates.
I’ve never really believed in ghosts, but that hasn’t stopped me from wanting to see one. I like to be scared. I like to bump up against the scary in the form of movies and novels; I have, a time or two, purposely put myself in a ghost’s way hoping to become a believer. On a trip I took to Seattle with my mother, we spent a whole afternoon on an underground walking tour where, at various points, the guide stopped and prepared us for spaces where ghosts (whose names he knew and costumes he could describe) were known to show themselves to tourists. None appeared and I felt both convinced of my rightness and desperately disappointed.
This sort of thing has always evaded me—as a kid I went to church and was irradiated with jealousy by bible stories about God or angels or the devil revealing themselves to people gnawing on tough pieces of bread or carrying heavy buckets of water. I would go for walks around my family’s farm with the stalest loaf I could find and ice cream pails filled with pond water and pray for annunciation. None came and I traded religion for community theatre. If I’m honest, I just wanted a story. I’d never been seriously injured, arrested, or transported to a fantastical land. Life and its pearly anecdotes were passing me cooly like a ghost in a gown.
Then, in the summer after I graduated from high school, my mother bought a house. It was a three bedroom, ’70s era bungalow in a small city in the prairies where nothing happened but suburban sprawl. The most exciting event in years was a mass infestation of black flies that arrived and died in such excess that the local mall, whose glossy tiled fountain and white halls were dyed black with them, closed its doors for a week.
My room was downstairs, my mother’s upstairs, and down the hall from hers was the spare bedroom which went largely unused. It was the smallest of the three, the darkest, given its position at the back of the house where it was shaded by a large tree. The temperature in it was freezing cold no matter the season. My mother would periodically mention the “feeling” in that room: a “weird” feeling; a “creepy” feeling; a feeling of dread. But it worked well as a cold room for her root vegetables, so we tucked them under the bed in an apple crate and shut the door.
Then, years later, when I was home from university for the holidays, I had no choice but to sleep in it. My mother was renting my room in the basement to a foreign exchange student. To prepare me for the frigid night ahead she gave me extra blankets, placed a hot water bottle in the sheets, and plugged in two space heaters, both so old and obviously unsafe (a red hot rack of tongs grimaced from the front of them like a mangle of broken teeth) that I worriedly turned the knobs down in increments until finally they went black with cold. I fell asleep curled around the hot water bottle and facing the wall, weighed down by the heft of handmade quilts.
Hours later, a sound inside my body woke me. It was not an external sound or a dream, but the racing of my heart in my chest and knock of blood in my ears. I hadn’t been having a nightmare, so the feeling was strange. The room was cold, as was the hot water bottle at my middle. A fringe of light edged over the neighbour’s house and through the window, leaving a smear of icy blue on the wall two feet above my head.
There is a trope in horror films where a character knows what they are about to see before they see it, what will happen before it does, and the confirmation is as bad as the thing itself. The man in Mulholland Drive who knows that if reality plays out as it does in his dream that he will die of fear (which it does and he does, or may). In that moment I knew that when I rolled over to look out into the room there would be someone standing over me who did not wish me well. So, I did, and there was. A figure in a dark, hooded cloak stood at the edge of the bed, looking down at me, both solid and ethereal. It did not move and my heart knocked louder. I waited for my eyes to adjust, for the wind to make more room between the tree branches for light and to find that the figure was really a coat or a shadow or nothing. But they didn’t and the longer I looked the more real it became. Finally, I knew, as I had when I had woken, that I had to turn away before it made contact. Not only that I had to turn away but that I had to tell it to leave. So, feeling heavier than I ever have, I rolled back over to face the wall and whispered, “Please go away. Please go away.” I put my face between two pillows to comfort myself, as I have since I was a kid and continued to whisper into the muffled darkness. I was briefly convinced the figure was going to make contact, touch my flanneled back with an icy hand. If it did, I would die of rightness, like the man in Mulholland Drive, and that I couldn’t take. So I laid still, breathed deeply through my nose until eventually my body quieted back into sleep.
If I had wanted a story, I had one.