About four years ago, my husband and I were looking to rent a house in the country. My friend, Mary, told us about one built in the late 1840s, about 15 minutes from town.
Its haunted, she told us. Not just by one ghost, but two!
My down-to-earth husband, Dennis, gave no credence to the stories about the house and the ghosts. I, on the other hand, wasnt so sure. A 16-year-old girl had drowned in the cistern in the basement. Shed been an indentured servant living with the family that had built the house. Her death, although considered a suicide back then, had taken on some grisly aspects since. It was rumored that the girl had been pregnantby her employer. The fact that the lid to the cistern had been closed when the girls body had been discovered also pointed to some shady dealings.
The second death had also been a suicide. In the 1930s, a new family had moved in, and within two years the mother had hanged herself from a light fixture in the master bedroom.
Tired of apartment living, Dennis and I decided to go look at it. We wanted very much to live in the country. When I first set eyes upon it, I simply fell in love with it. Guarded by two giant cottonwood trees and a sturdy, white picket fence, its charm was further enhanced by a second-floor balcony, and scrolled gingerbread treatment along the eaves. Within the week, we began moving in. Upon our arrival that first day when we pulled in with the moving truck, I glanced up at the second-floor French doors, which opened out onto the balcony from the master bedroom. I saw a shadow of someonea woman?peering down at us. Then she was gone.
Dennis! Someones in the house, I said, startled.
Nonsense! Whod be in the house? Its locked up, he replied irritably as he jumped out of the truck.
Uncertain, I glanced back up at the French doors and then glanced at all the windows. Nothing moved across them.
We found the doors locked, of course, and upon further inspection, there was no one inside but us. This bothered me for some time, but I had to chalk it up to my imagination. The stories Mary had told us of ghosts roaming the house at night had simply worked on me.
I wasnt thrilled with the idea of having our bedroom in the same place where someone had hanged herself, but it was the largest room for all our furnishings. Plus, there was a master bath, and the views from that balcony were fantastic. The tall cottonwoods grew outside our windows, shading the room sufficiently in the summer, and the clattering of their leaves in a breeze created just the right white noise for sound sleep. Wed finally found a peaceful place to live, away from traffic and noisy neighbors.
With no further apparitions, the seasons changed. Autumn turned our surroundings to gold. While farmers were in the midst of harvest, we were experiencing a more mundane hauntingmainly field mice. My husband, who grew up in the country, knew how to counter the problem; we would have to put down poison in the basement. Like most old houses, the basements are damp havens for spiders and other creepy-crawlers. But ours was especially creepy since there had been a deathpossibly a murder committed there. The less time we spent down there, the better. So we chose a day to do the deed and entered the spider-and-mouse haven.
The cistern lies in the main room, about 10 feet from the stairs. Unused since plumbing had been introduced to the house, the pit was empty, and the hole had a heavy iron lid over it. We both avoided the area for as long as we could, baiting the other rooms first. But we had to go past it to get to the crawl space under the kitchena very important place to bait. I chose to carefully step around the cistern rather than step on the lid. My husband, coming up right behind me, stepped right on the lid. It clamped loudly and made me jump.
I twirled on him. Thats really disrespectful! I admonished.
What do you mean?
Thats where that poor girl drowned. She died right in there! I pointed down at the round iron lid.
That was over 100 years ago, he said, waving dismissively. Shes buried in a cemetery somewhere. Come on. Lets get this last box down and get out of here.
Youre creeped out, too, I teased.
I just want to get this done.
Yeah, right, I said, opening the small package of poison carefully.
Within a few minutes, we thankfully returned upstairs. I only know I had felt oppressed by a nameless fear and psychic malaise that had touched me when I came within a few feet of the cistern. Perhaps it was because I knew someone had drowned there. Maybe I would not have felt it had I not known about it. Ormaybe because it just so happened to be Halloween.
Having no children and living so far out, we didnt really expect any visitors. The next day was a work day, so we hit the sack early.
It was a windy night. The cottonwood trees had dropped all their leaves, and the yard light cast its shadows across our bedroom window. I felt very unsettled and could not sleep right away, unlike my husband, who was softly snoring. The feeling of uneasiness had stayed with me throughout the day. As I lay awake watching the shadows of a trees hands claw across our window, I had the most horrible feeling that if I closed my eyes, I would never open them again. But at some point, I drifted off.
A loud clang and something rolling, then a bang woke us with a start. I lay petrified in bed, clinging to my husband, both of us listening to the noises coming from downstairs.
What was that? I hissed fearfully.
I dont know, Dennis whispered low.
Whered it come from?
I dont know, Dennis said as he threw back the blankets. But Im going to find out.
Dont leave me here! I cried as I jumped out of bed after him. Shivering as though the window were wide open, I shuffled into my slippers, threw on my warm house coat, and followed my husband out into the hall. He shrugged into his bathrobe and already held a flashlight as he went. I flipped on lights as we went from room to room. We searched every room downstairs, checking all the windows and doors to make certain they were locked. Then we stood before the old oak door that led down to the basement.
Do you think?
I dont know, he answered briskly. It was loud, like
Yeah, I interrupted. Just like that!
Dennis turned the old skeleton key in the lock and pulled open the door. A gauzy cobweb swung from its anchor on the sloping ceiling of the stairwell. He flicked on the light, and we slowly descended the well-worn wooden steps. We made the landing and paused. The purring of the modern furnace was the only sound. Nothing moved.
Dennis took two steps down and gasped suddenly.
What is it?
The cisternits lid. Its moved!
I eased down the steps next to where he stood and gazed across to the cistern. The heavy iron lid had movednot just inches, but a few feet from the hole! The sound had been just as though someone had tipped it on its side, rolled and then fell with a loud bang.
After a thorough inspection of windows and doors for a second time, plus every room in the basement, my husband had no practical explanation as to how that heavy iron lid had been moved.
We couldnt sleep the rest of the night. Shaken, we had to call in sick to our workplaces the next day. I later made a phone call to Mary and told her all about it.
She listened sympathetically. Then she said, Didnt I tell you?
Tell me what?
That that girl died on Halloween night.