A grandmother’s house is supposed to be warm and nurturing, filled with knickknacks gathered over a lifetime and the aroma of chocolate chip cookies baking in the oven. A place to test the boundaries of already loose rules. My nana’s creaky old house was all of that and more.
Creaky old house with a history of ghosts
Located halfway down a cut-through street in a small mill town in Maine, it was a rambling red two-story structure with a porch on the front and wild raspberry bushes out back for eating and making pies. Generations had come and gone, and in the early days it was common practice to give birth in the house. However, under less than sterile conditions and with limited or no medical intervention, an infant had to come out fighting for his life. From there, common childhood diseases threatened a child’s long-term survival.
Adding to the hardship, winters were long and arduous. I’d heard of a still birth after a fall on the ice and the premature death of a toddler who succumbed to what would now be a common cold. Under these circumstances, the dining room space would be rearranged for a casket for viewing before a funeral. On the side of the house, a door barely wide enough to fit the narrow box was used strictly for that special purpose.
As with any house of considerable age, stories passed along generations. I’d heard them as I was growing up and each tale seemed to be accepted by the extended family as intrinsic lore of the creaky old house.
By the time I’d reached my teenage years, my father had relayed on several occasions about the night he saw my deceased great grandmother, whom he’d never met while she was alive. Finding himself suddenly awake in the wee hours, his eyes were drawn to the crib where I slept nearby. An ethereal female figure hovered as if checking on her baby. Not recognizing the woman, my father studied her face to memorize her features before she glided across the room and disappeared through the wall. The next day, he noticed a sepia-toned photo hanging on the wall that bore the image of the woman he’d seen the night before and learned it was my mother’s grandmother who had passed in that same room.
Also prone to sharing tales, my mother often told the story of what happened after her father’s funeral one frigid January. She lay awake in the dark, thinking of how much he hated the cold and worrying about where he was. Was it cold there? As if in response, just outside her room, the landing at the top of the stairs lit with a warm glow, which she sensed was her father assuring her he was okay.
My ghost encounter
While an occasional story entertained and underscored the age of the house and the family history, none of it touched me directly. That is, until one summer when I stayed at my grandmother’s house without the rest of my family.
It was the summer between my junior and senior years of college. I was working nearby at a sleepaway camp on an idyllic lake replete with loons that called mournfully in the morning fog. The evening before a day off, my aunt and uncle picked me up and delivered me to my grandmother’s to stay the night. Nana let me sleep in her room since, as far as she was concerned, it had the best mattress.
Ghost footsteps down the hall
After we settled into our respective bedrooms and I pulled the cord on the solitary light above the bed, I lay still, listening to the quiet and reflecting on the hubbub I’d left behind at the camp. Soon I could hear footsteps approaching from down the hall. Heavy footsteps that practically echoed on the old wood floor. They weren’t my grandmother’s. At that time of night she would have worn slippers and shuffled along with no urgency.
The ghost beside my bed
These footfalls had a purpose and were closing the distance between us. My breathing quickened and grew shallow. My body stiffened and I pressed my closed eyes tighter. It would have taken a crow bar to get them open at that moment. I listened as someone entered my room and came up to the side of the bed where I lay—and stopped. All pulmonary function in my body shut down. I sensed a man and could feel him standing close. Would he reach out and touch me? Keeping my lids pressed shut, I willed whoever it was to go away. Please go away. I don’t want to know. Please go. My body broke out in a cold sweat. I listened, but there were no more footsteps. No sounds at all. Just deafening silence. Was he still there? Without ever opening my eyes again that night, at some point I finally fell asleep.
In the morning, I woke to brilliant sunshine flooding the room, and my thoughts went straight to what I’d heard the night before. Who had paid me a visit? One of my relatives who had passed long before I’d arrived on the scene? Someone more recent? I wasn’t ready to go down that path. It was too soon. Too raw.
Becoming accustomed to ghosts
Although certain members of my family had the ability to sense paranormal activity, I wanted no part of it. The thought terrified me. What if I was particularly good at it and it went beyond the occasional occurrence? Or what if I opened the wrong door and invited in a less-than-desirable spirit—something evil? At that point in my life, I couldn’t wrap my head around it and chose to construct a wall of sorts to keep it all out. Leave me alone. Please.
It wasn’t until a few years later when I’d grown more used to the idea of being open to paranormal that I began to embrace the idea. Once I accepted the very real possibility I could connect, I began to experience interactions with the other side. Unlike my initial experience, alone and quivering in my grandmother’s bed, I’ve been consistently intrigued with each one—coming away in awe and reverence. None have scared me. Not yet, anyway.
— Penny, Connecticut
This true ghost story was submitted by mystery author Penny Goetjen. See our conversation about books, writing, and life on my personal author blog: Writings on the Wall. Penny’s interview is titled: Precipice series author Penny Goetjen in conversation.