Wanna hear (read) a scary story? Well, maybe not scary, but definitely creepy. And absolutely true.
We moved around a lot when I was growing up. My mom always said we were part gypsy. The summer before I turned 11, we moved to a small town in Northern Utah. It was a very picturesque little town, built at the base of the mountains, with an actual Main Street and everything. It was very Stephen King.
When we first moved to the town, we lived in a small house on a quiet, tree lined street. It was a cozy little house, but my mother was in love with the house next door.
The house next door was right on the corner. It was an old white farm house with a black roof, a wrap around porch, and a white picket fence outlining the back yard. When we drove down the street, my mom would sigh as we passed it. To her, it was the perfect house. A dream house that needed a little love, but could be fabulous with the right person to love it. Unfortunately, a large family was renting it at the time, so she was forced to admire it from afar. Or at least, from next door.
One night, late in the summer, I woke up to the sound of the wind chimes clanking in the breeze. My bed was pushed up against the wall next to my open window, which faced the east side of the old house next door. The full moon was shining down, illuminating an open second story window facing mine. I lay there in my bed, watching the sheer white curtains float back and forth in the breeze, dancing in and out of the that open window, to the soft tune of the wind chimes. And as I rolled over, my back to the moon light so I could go back to sleep, I wondered why that was the only window on that house that didn't have a screen.
Just about a month later, we found out the family who lived in the house next door had moved out. No one had seen them leave. One day, they were just gone. And of course my mother jumped at the opportunity. The owners agreed to let us rent the house with the option to buy in about a year. The owners lived out of town, I can't remember if it was a different state or what, but they sent someone to give us a walk through of the house before we moved in.
The inside of the house was even better than my mother imagined. It was built in the early 1880's and was the oldest house on the street. According to the lady who did the walk through, the family who originally built the house owned all the land surrounding it, eventually selling pieces of the land here and there for others to build on.
"Despite what you may have heard," she said, "This house has a good history."
My mom and I looked at each other, our eyebrows furrowed in unison. But we shrugged it off and followed her around the first floor of the house, oohing and aahhing over the claw footed bath tub and mahogany stair rail. Upstairs there were three bedrooms, one of which was padlocked shut. It just so happened, this was the room with the east facing window overlooking the house we were moving out of, the window that I had just looked up at a month ago and watched the curtains breeze in and out.
My mom asked why this room was locked. Our tour guide informed us the owners of the home were using that room for storage and it would not be available to us. My mother agreed that would be fine. With the master bedroom downstairs and two open bedrooms upstairs, there was more than enough room for the two of us and our two mangy dogs, Misty and Magnum.
Excited about the new house and our fresh start, we moved in. The old house had so much character - the decorative moulding around the wide door frames, the quaint kitchen with 1950's era appliances, and the big old apple tree in the back yard. One afternoon a few days after we moved in, I was in the back yard with the dogs, picking apples from the tree. I noticed a gate in the back corner of the yard. I thought it was odd that there was a gate leading to the yard of the house behind us. I walked over to get a closer look.
It was a rickety gate attached to the picket fence that lined the yard, badly in need of fresh paint. But it didn't lead to the neighbor's yard like I thought, I could see a chain link fence marking the perimeter of their property. The gate opened to a dirt path leading to that chain link fence and then turned to the left to reveal a small clearing. A meadow, if you will, covered in tall yellow grass and wildflowers. The chain link fences of the bordering properties revealed this to be an extra back yard belonging to our house. It was maybe a little less than a quarter of an acre in size. And my own secret garden.
I turned to my canine companions and smiled. "Let's go," I said, running ahead a little. Neither of them moved. Magnum actually took two steps backwards, turned, and walked back towards the house. I stopped in the middle of the clearing and yelled after him, but he kept going. I called Misty, but she didn't budge. She sat at the edge of the path with her ears perked and her teeth bared.
"What is your problem?" I asked. "Come on!" She stood up on all fours and began barking at me. I shrugged my shoulders and turned my back to her, walking through the tall grass and picking a few flowers for my mom. As I turned to walk back to the stubborn dog who would not stop barking, my feet stumbled over something and I fell forward, dropping the flowers as I put my hands out to catch myself. The stupid dog still didn't come to my rescue. She started jumping and barking more aggressively, but wouldn't come into the clearing.
I had tripped over a row of crumbling cement curbing half covered by the tall grass. I sat up and looked around the ground. The curbing was about three inches wide and formed a rectangle of about 6 feet by three feet. A few feet over, there was another rectangle. And then another. And two smaller ones a little further way. All five rectangles were in various sizes, none of them the same. I assumed the farmers who built the house originally had kept this area as a garden and the rectangles were used for different herbs and vegetables. I brushed myself off and walked back to the house, my psychotic dog whimpering at my feet. As I closed the creaky gate, a quick breeze blew from behind me and the hair on my neck stood up. I looked back towards the path and shivered, then quickly followed my dog back to the house.
Later that day as my mom and I peeled the apples to make a pie, I told her about the creepy little garden I had found and how crazy the dogs had acted.
"That's weird," she said. "Magnum was barking at a corner in the dining room yesterday." We laughed at how the moving was probably confusing them and how they were never going to survive the gypsy life. But obviously the dogs were not amused. As the months went on, they acted more and more strange. Barking at that corner in the dining room, refusing to go with me into the cellar, and laying in front of the "storage" room upstairs and whimpering at the door.
And then the strange things started happening. The dining room lights flickered a lot. We thought maybe it was because the electricity had been added several years after the house was built, it seemed there were several outlets and switches that didn't work. And then the toilet always flushed by itself. We blamed that on faulty plumbing. And then the back door would open and close by itself. We blamed that on rusty hinges. We blamed the creaky noises on the house settling. We blamed our misplaced personal items on each other. And that time I got locked in the master bedroom closet when I was home alone, we blamed the old door knobs that had to be unlocked with a skeleton key.
And we blamed the faint sounds of a child giggling on the kid next door.
By the time spring had rolled around, we had lived in the house for several months and experienced many odd moments, but all could be explained as one reason or another.
And then the owners came to clean out the storage room. The padlock was so old and rusted, they had to cut it off with bolt cutters. The small room was dark and musty, almost dank. It contained several boxes and an old baby crib in the corner. The original wood floor had been painted over many times, and in several spots the paint was peeling. In the middle of the room there was a large stain on the floor. I assumed that was why they had painted it, trying to cover that stain. At the end of the long room was the window overlooking the house we had lived in first. The sheer white curtains were dingy and frayed. I reached out to touch them, thinking of the night I had looked up from my window next door and watched the curtains floating in and out of the window with the breeze. I pushed the curtains aside, looking at the dirty sill. And my heart briefly stopped beating when I realized the window was painted shut.
"Didn't the family who lived here before us use this room?" I asked.
"No," the owner replied. "It's always been used for storage. We haven't been in this room in probably five or six years."
I stared at my mom, holding my breath. When the owner walked out of the room I told her about the night I saw the window open. She thought I might have been dreaming. Maybe I was, but I really don't think so. We moved out of the house not long after. And it wasn't until then that we heard stories from friends and former neighbors. Stories about other families who had lived there and the things they had heard or seen. No one had lived in that house longer than a year.
Many years later, I was taking a college history class. We were studying photographs dated from the late 1800's. I came across a group of photos of cemeteries and family burial plots. As I leafed through the photos I came across one that literally knocked the wind out of me. It was a piece of land with five plots in various sizes outlined by cement curbing. Other than the curbing, there were no other markings indicating what the rectangles represented. All this time I had ignorantly thought they were different little gardens. But I realized now, looking at this old photo, they were indeed graves.
For years I had dreams about the house. Some dreams, some nightmares. But basically they were all the same. I would be walking through the neighborhood, trying to find the house. Sometimes I couldn't find it. But when I did, I would knock on the door and explain to the person who lived there that I had once lived there, too. Sometimes I would hear voices coming from within the house, telling the new owner not to let me in because I knew too much. Always, I would wake up in a cold sweat, my heart and mind racing.
A few years ago my mom and I paid a visit to that spooky little town. Not much had changed. We found the house easily and parked outside for a few minutes to take pictures. It still looked like a quaint little house that was loved by it's new owners. It did not look like a house full of secrets. We stared at it in silence for a while and then drove away. We did not knock on the door.
I haven't had a dream about that house since.
Do I know for sure what happened in that house? No. But do I know it was something unusual? Something that can't be explained? Something that not many people, even some of you reading, will believe? Yes.
Am I okay with the unknown?
I guess I have to be.