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That House On The Block

by Cate Cavanagh

I should have known better, but I was twenty-one, out of college, and was getting the greatest apartment down the block from my best friend and her young son.

It was in a two-family house on a tree-lined street in Brooklyn, New York. It was springtime and the trees waved lush, green branches in the breeze. I had a small balcony off the kitchen and a bay window overlooking the street. The rent was unbelievably cheap! This was a feat fantastic in New York City.

When I told my friend I’d gotten the apartment, her five-year-old son Eric piped, “Oh, no! That’s the haunted house! Don’t go there!” I laughed it off as the product of a bright child’s imagination fed by ghost stories. I should have known better, but I was a well-educated twenty-one year old who had studied the great minds of psychology, philosophy, sociology and of course, history and knew it all. I was also fashionably agnostic.

My neighbors downstairs were a family of four. There was the mother, father and two daughters. They had only recently moved in as well, and we all shared a friendly-neighbor relationship. For the first few weeks, I was wrapped up in painting and decorating. When things had settled down, I began to be awakened by loud arguments and things being thrown about. Eventually, this happened nightly and always very late at night. Within six weeks of my moving in, my neighbors had suddenly and quietly simply moved out. The downstairs apartment remained empty for quite some time, and I went about living my own life, and I got married. My husband and I got pets (cats), went out to dinner and enjoyed being young. Life was as it should have been. Then suddenly things went wrong. I had a freaky accident leaving me unable to work for six months, and my husband was suddenly struck with an illness for which it would take years to discover the diagnosis and treatment. It was life at its harshest, and it happened all of a sudden.

Illness can hit anyone, at any time, but then “things” began happening. Things like banging in the basement as if someone were trying to break in or out. We would check all the locks and, over the course of weeks, eventually barricaded all of the doors and windows with two-by-fours every night. But each night, the banging would begin again as if there were no barricades in place. Every night it sounded as if the bars were being thrown off, but they never were.

One day my cat just disappeared in a “one second there and next gone” event. I tore the house apart, emptying every closet, pulling out every draw until my house was a mess. All the while, I would hear his faint, muffled “meow!” echo nearby. As I stood perplexed by all this, staring at the floor, I suddenly saw him begin to appear. First his head, then a leg, then the next, then his body until he was suddenly all there. It was as if he were stepping out from behind a curtain that was not there. I know this would have been enough for anyone to move, but by this time, my husband and I were desperately poor, and since we were unable to work, moving was out of the question. We would reason things out with, “This must have been a dream,” “Our medications are causing delusions,” and “People get psychotic when they are in pain and cannot sleep.” An attempt at finding a reason for shared auditory hallucinations was simply avoided.

Now, as I said, I was twenty-one and agnostic, so I did what anyone unsure of God’s existence would do. I dug out my Bible. I treasured this Bible as it was very old and had been in my family for many years. It was the type of family Bible that weighed fifty pounds and had onion skinned pages, trimmed in gold leaf. I opened it to Psalm 9l, a prayer for protection. I would walk by and read this Psalm many times a day when I was nervous (which was quite often) and left the Bible opened to this Psalm at all times. One day when I came home from the store, I noticed the fine page began to tear. I assumed the cats might have walked on it damaging the fragile page. The next time I went to the store, I closed the Bible as I left. Upon my return, this heavy Bible had been opened to Psalm 9l, as if it had never been closed!

I must say, however, the event that killed the skeptics within my husband and me was one particular night. For about four nights, the night noises had intensified. We heard the usual rattling of the windows and the two- by- fours being flung about, but new sounds had now begun in addition to these. The front door sounded as if it were being slammed. We would then hear pounding footsteps running up the stairs, past our apartment and up toward the attic where a heavily padlocked door barred entry to the top room. Then, it sounded as if this padlocked door was instantaneously opened and slammed shut. The house would rattle. The first night, we sat too terrified to move. The second, my husband dashed out with a bat only to hear the slamming of the padlocked door upstairs. The third night, this “noisemaker” was once again too fast. On the fourth night, we stayed at our folks. On the fifth night, we decided we were both sharing a frightening auditory hallucination and would prove it to ourselves by pouring flour in the hall in front of the door downstairs, the staircase up to attic and the landing that passed our apartment. That night we sanded down our plan with flour and, truly hoping we would prove ourselves crazy, we sat up and waited.

Like clockwork, at about 2 am there was the slam-bang-stomping clamor up the stairs and past us to the attic, where of course, the padlocked door opened and slammed. We smiled. There would be nothing to discover, we decided, other than our own madness.
We opened the door to our apartment and looked down to find footprints in the flour! Terrified, we crept downstairs to trace the beginning of these steps. They started at the front door and went up the stairs, past our apartment, and up to the attic. When we got to the last step, there on our side of the padlocked door was the heel print of a man’s shoe (presumably, the other half was on the other side of the door). The padlock was in place, and in fact, still rusty, as it had not been opened for years.

Needless to say, short of stealing, we begged and borrowed and managed to move out. They say every haunted house has its history. In time I learned the story of this house. In about the l950’s, the owner at the time was a man who committed suicide by hanging himself in the attic. Anyone who ever lived there suffered great tragedy, such as illness, accident, divorce, insanity or death. The family downstairs? Well, the father, who had never drunk in his life, suddenly became a vicious alcoholic within weeks of moving into the house. Other true facts: One woman was driven to insanity and had to be committed, and another man committed suicide in the downstairs apartment. Fact: After my husband and I moved out, the owners of the houses on either side of this house moved away and sold their homes because of the strange lights and noises that would emanate from this house every night beginning at 2 am.
I looked back many times on this period in my life and know if it had not happened to me, I would chuck the whole thing off as a good Halloween story. It doesn’t matter because after this, I was intelligent enough to know I didn’t know anything, but I was no longer agnostic.

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