I just posted this over at Jeff VanderMeer’s blog, where offered tons of loot to whomever posts the best ‘New Weird’ tale in his comments section. A number of good stories have already been posted, and this was my contribution:
A few years back I was living in the cottage behind my mother’s house, which was large and august and very poorly lit. She was renting it from an incarcerated doctor, and wasn’t allowed to take down the voluminous drapes, or install new lights in the narrow staircase on cramped landing on the top floor. She shared the entire building with only my grandmother, and both enjoyed it tremendously despite the gloom.
One morning over breakfast my mother told us that she had heard awful noises during the night in the landing outside her door. Sounds of somebody stomping up and down the staircase, slamming the closet door, a truly awful racket. Surprised, she’d laid still in bed, and the noises had eventually stopped.
“Ho, ho!” we laughed. “The house is haunted!” And we thought nothing more of it.
A few weeks later it was my grandmother’s turn. She awoke to hear a hellish commotion without, and quietly and confidently began to pray. The sounds abated, and she went back to sleep.
This worried us, because my grandmother is 88. Nobody in our household would play a trick like this on her. Then a few days later my mother heard noises from the attic, noises which sounded like large bags of potatoes being dumped onto the floor. Or bodies, I morbidly suggested. Nobody laughed.
One day she mentioned these noises to the owner’s mother when she came by to inspect a problem. “Oh yes,” she confided. “My son would often hear somebody following him up the stairs at night when he came home alone. The house is haunted. If you listen, you can sometimes hear somebody breathing in the dark.”
My middle brother Nick broke up with his girlfriend, moved out, and decided to spend a week or two at my mother’s while searching for a new apartment. He works out a lot, sky dives, runs triathlons, and out of the three of us has always been the one most likely to get into trouble. “Nick,” I said, “If you hear noises, you’d better open that door and see what’s up.”
“Don’t worry,” he said with a smile, “I’ll kick that sorry ghost’s ass.”
Nothing happened for a week, and then one morning he came down looking very disturbed.
“What happened?” I asked, assuming the best and the worst. “What did it look like?”
“I didn’t open the door,” he said quietly. When I began to protest, he looked down at his plate. “It sounded awful. I pulled the covers over my head and stayed quiet till it stopped.”
We all sat in silence after that. I couldn’t believe it.
Nothing happened for roughly a month. We postulated theories, investigated the attic, did research online for murders that might have taken place decades before. Nothing. Could it be raccoons? A drunk neighbor with a key? Nothing seemed likely. I started getting nervous whenever I went upstairs to fetch something, looking carefully about myself as I walked about.
Finally one morning my mother recounted the last time the house was disturbed in such manner. The noises had started up again, and this time they had been particularly bad. It sounded like the closet doors were going to be torn right off their hinges, like the boards would be split on the steps. My mother, who has seen her fair share of the world and been through more than most, decided that she had had enough. She stood up, belted on her robe, and strode up to her bedroom door. Without hesitating she yanked the door open, and all the noises immediately stopped. The landing was empty, the doors were all closed, there was no sign of any disturbance.
“Enough,” she said. “This is no longer amusing. Go away and don’t come back.”
And that was the last time anybody reported ever hearing anything in the house. We moved out six months later, and a couple is living there now. Occasionally when I go back to visit my family, I drive past our old street. And I think: have they heard anything? Has it come back?