“Robbers!” my four-year-old daughter whispered frantically. “I can hear them dragging our TV across the floor!” She was standing by my bed at 11pm wearing her kitty pajamas and clutching her blanket. My daughter smelled like sleep.
“Not robbers; ghosts,” I corrected, wiping the hair out of her face. Her eyes widened. “But…”
“Ghosts just make a lot of noise.”
“Unlike robbers who are quiet but take your stuff.”
She looked sideways, “Anyway,” I added; “If thieves wanted our TV that bad, let ‘em take it.” She half-smiled, shook her head, then gathered her blanket up closer and went back to her room.
“You are insane!” exclaimed my friend, Lenny, over the phone. He had asked if he could sleep on my couch the night before. For the favor, he said he’d make us pancakes for breakfast. But when we came downstairs the following day, imagining flowing maple syrup and glops of melting butter, the lights were still on, and the kitchen door was swinging open, and there was no Lenny.
“What do you mean?” I asked. I had called him to find out why he’d left so abruptly.
“The things that went on in your living room last night,” he shook; “It was not to be believed.”
“I ran out! Your house is friggin’ haunted!”
I think the spirits came into our home via an old TV I’d bought for $25 at a tag sale. I’d set the TV on a stand in our living room. And from then on, three or four times a month, we’d hear the clump clump clump of footsteps downstairs, the pull and scrape of dragging chains, and a menacing AAW AAW AAW sound. Those were the times we noticed anyway; there were probably more.
But life went on. My daughter made up a song; my son learned to swim.
For a school project, my son put together a contraption where a bearing ball, making a deep RRR sound rolled along a section of pipe that took many twists and turns. Then it dropped down, hit a pad which sent a tiny hammer up to ring a bell. Ding! Our bunny’s ears stood up even straighter.
Then, before I knew it, my kids went off to college. Now instead of naming constellations and building tree forts, they talked about professors and getting along with roommates.
Once, my daughter, just starting her freshman year at an out-of-state university, called me at 11:30 pm, “I can’t take it,” she sobbed, her voice breaking; “The classes are impossible, and it seems like the other kids, including my roommate, never sleep. They only study.”
“Sometimes I wake up, and there she is, reading by the light of her desk lamp at 3 am.”
“They study study study. I can’t keep up. I’m afraid that I’ll flunk out.” There was a long pause.
“Okay,” I strategized. “How about you drop from five courses to four. And you can take an occasional semester off and….” I could hear her shifting her weight.
“You know, I think I’ll be alright,” my daughter sighed.
“Yeah, I think I just wanted a pity party.”
“Well, okay, call me again if you want.”
For weeks afterward, I waited by the phone at night, but it never rang. Sometimes I picked up the receiver to hear the dial tone. When my daughter finally came home for spring break, she told me that not only was she managing her classes, but that she had started a science club.
“And I think those ‘ghosts’ were only our imaginations.”
“Oh?” I replied. “How about the sounds we heard?”
My kids moved away after college, and now I live by myself. I go out to do errands and come home to the same house…nothing spilled or broken. There are also no more impromptu sock-puppet performances, though.
Sometimes, at night, I lie in bed with my thick comforter pulled up to my chin and listen for the sound of dragging chains, but I hear only silence.
And that’s the most frightening sound of all.
Cyndi Cresswell Cook is a photographer and short story writer.