Below is my first ghost story entry to Frighteneering, a 1,400-word account of the one and only time I was convinced I’d seen a ghost. I was ten. Enjoy!
Some of my fondest childhood memories are of summer days spent at my grandparents’. They lived about an hour away, so a few times over summer vacation, I’d spend a whole week with them. Across the street lived the Taylor family who had a boy, Mikey, a year or two younger than me.
All week we’d busy ourselves playing in the woods, riding bikes or re-enacting whatever summer blockbuster we’d just seen. When Ghostbusters came out, we spent days building proton packs and ghost traps out of scrap wood and styrofoam in my grandpa’s basement. We’d search for One-Eyed Willy’s “rich stuff” along nearby creeks and pretend we were Indiana Jones discovering Nazi gold. MTV was still new and every day we’d flag down the ice cream truck.
Mikey and I were nearly inseparable for the week, with rare exceptions. On one such occasion, he and his family had gone out of town for the day for some family function or another. I suspected he didn’t want to go, but when you’re a kid, you don’t have much say in the matter. I waved them goodbye from grandma’s porch, where I resumed the Matchbox adventures of the General Lee and Smokey and the Bandit.
I don’t recall how long I’d been playing by myself when I heard the sounds coming from the house across the street. I also can’t tell you exactly what it sounded like, only it was distinctly not the kinds of sounds that should come from an empty house. I looked around, but saw no one. Nobody in the street. No cars passing by. The Taylor’s driveway was still empty.
Now, despite seeing the entire family pile into their station wagon, back out onto the street and drive away, I was maybe ten years old, and this did not seem conclusive evidence of their absence. In my little boy brain, I imagined any number of scenarios to explain why Mikey might not have actually gone with them, and was still available to come out and play. Common sense be damned, if there was a chance I might alleviate some boredom, I was going to investigate. So, without asking for permission from grandma or letting her know where I was going, I crossed the street and up the short, grassy embankment to their front yard.
The Taylor’s house was two stories with a large wrap-around porch made of brick. The porch had a swing, popular with the neighbor kids, and a single door which led into a formal front room. This room wasn’t really used for much as long as we’d been friends. It may have been intended as a dining room at one time, but had just a couch and love seat that nobody ever seemed to use.
The porch itself had high walls — well, high for a little kid — with concrete slabs along the tops. We were always climbing up and jumping from them, apparently not worried that the slabs weren’t really attached in any meaningful way to the rest of the structure. It’s a miracle none of us were ever crushed to death by a falling slab of concrete. As I approached the house, I could see that the porch door looked open, and the sounds seemed to emanate from that direction.
I grabbed hold of the concrete slab and pulled myself up to peer over. I was now looking straight into the Taylor’s front room, but it wasn’t their front room at all. The door was half open, and just to the right of the opening was a television playing a football game, obviously the indistinct sounds I’d been hearing. Right away, I knew this wasn’t right. I’d never seen a television in that room, ever.
Extended from behind the door was a pair of legs, propped up on a footstool right in front of the television. My memory is fuzzy here, but I want to say the feet were wearing slippers. Also from behind the door were what appeared to be curls of smoke, exhaled by someone I could not see. Then, an arm lowered slightly, so that I could see a smoldering pipe. Nobody in the Taylor household smoked.
At that moment, all these weird, disparate sights and sounds slammed home in my brain. None of this was right at all. The figure may have made a move like it would stand, and I let go of the porch ledge and hit the ground running, screaming. I couldn’t tell you if I even looked both ways before streaking across the street and bursting through my grandparents’ front door.
Out of breath and likely hysterical, I blurted out to my grandma that I’d just seen a ghost in Mikey’s house. How I came to that exact conclusion I’m not sure, but at the time it seemed as certain as Darth Vader being Luke Skywalker’s father (spoiler). My grandmother tried to calm me down, reminding me they had all left together earlier that afternoon. Of course I knew this, and I proceeded to explain that now there was a ghost in their house who had rearranged their furniture, wheeled in a TV and was stinking up their nice front room with pipe smoke.
After I’d calmed down a bit, it was clear grandma wasn’t buying it, but I knew what I’d seen. It made absolutely zero sense, but I’d seen it. For hours, I wouldn’t even go back outside, afraid that the Taylor’s mysterious houseguest might see me. Eventually I eased my way onto the porch, but wasn’t in the mood to play anymore. I just sat and watched the house across the street, silently hoping I didn’t see or hear anything further. I think if I’d so much as seen a curtain part, I’d have wet myself.
Mikey and his family returned home that same evening, but by then it was getting dark. He tried to get me to come over, but I wasn’t about to go over there at night. Not that night, anyway. I watched them unload the station wagon, unlock the back door and file inside the house with reluctant anticipation. Would they all run out screaming? Would their mysterious house-sitter leave?
As I watched, the house lights came on one by one. Then, nothing. No screaming, no mass fleeing. Surely they’d seen something in the front room. It got darker and once the fireflies had come out for the evening, I finally left my post and went in to bed.
The next day, Mikey came over and I excitedly told him all about the previous day’s adventure. I don’t remember if he did right away, but ultimately he believed every word of my story. Eventually, he coaxed me back over to his front porch, and we checked out the front door. Nothing out of the ordinary. We went inside and to my surprise, the room was exactly as it had always been. A couple pieces of furniture and other odds and ends. No television. No footstool. No stranger with a pipe, and no odor to suggest anyone ever had been smoking in that room.
I was stumped. But somehow the notion that I’d been mistaken never crossed my mind. It seemed so real to me at the time, I was utterly convinced. And I had Mikey convinced, too. Over the next few days, we concocted elaborate stories about our pipe-smoking house crasher, mostly involving untimely deaths and the disposal of dead bodies in their backyard. In retrospect, I feel bad about that. I was only there for a week, but this poor kid had to live in a house we’d turned into our personal Amityville. Sorry, Mikey, for any bad dreams I may have caused.
As I write this, I’m 44 and a stone cold skeptic. I used to believe in ghosts and the paranormal. At least I wanted to believe it could be real. Now I’m content to just read scary stories and leave the ghost hunting to reality TV. But for whatever reason, that one summer afternoon will be forever seared into my brain. While my adult self knows it was just a trick of the light or perhaps a bad Sweet-Tart trip, I still wonder…had I really seen a ghost?
This story ©2016, Andrew Jones. All rights reserved.