by Christopher DeFilippis
DeFlip Side, Vol. 1, No. 14
(First Appeared: March, 2000; First Light E-zine, Issue #90)
I vowed that I would do it and I finally have. I went on my first ghost hunt. As with so many things in life, it was nothing like I envisioned it. Instead of locating a local ghost society and tagging along on one of their midnight treks to some foreboding old building or cemetery, I ventured out in the middle of a sunny afternoon and kept it in the family.
The back story: My uncle owned a house when I was a kid that just oozed a feeling of oppression. It was one of those places where when you walked in, you felt as if someone were sitting on your chest. I’m sure you’ve all experienced something similar at one time or another. The place just gave off a bad vibe.
My uncle moved out of the place years ago, shortly after my aunt passed away. And only recently has anyone in my family let on that it was haunted. Many a DeFilippis, my father included, has a story about that damn house.
Well, my mom was reading the paper recently and she noted that the place was up for sale. The owners were holding an open house. Being of like mind, my sister Denise called me. If you recall, she had been a fellow witness of the cemetery-traipsing Flute Girl (see DeFlip Side Vol. 1, No. 9, October 1999). She has been as anxious as I have to spot another spook. And since it held such a prominent place in our family history, there was no way we could let the opportunity pass. So we decided to get in and check things out.
When we got there, I noted with thanks that we were the only ones. Not having to work around other people would make things easier. We got out of the car and the lady of the house greeted us in the driveway. She was on her way out, but her husband would be more than happy to show us around, she told us. Better and better, I thought. We were going to have the run of the place.
When the owner greeted us at the door and invited us in, I handed him a BS story that my brother who lives out of state is looking to relocate back to Long Island. I’ve been scoping houses in his price range, I explained, and sending him pictures. I didn’t feel too bad about the story, because it’s not all a lie. My brother does live in Florida. But I’m reasonably sure that he’d rather cut off his small finger than move back to New York.
Ethical questions aside, the owner bought the story. He encouraged us take all the pictures we wanted. So there I am with my sister, making up chit-chat and snapping away in room after room. It was decorated differently, but it was still the same house. I could still see lingering touches from my childhood everywhere. The only thing missing was the thing I had come for in the first place: the oppressive feeling.
Still, we took stock of the entire first floor. Nothing untoward happened. Finally, we were invited to take a look upstairs.
Here’s where Denise and I gave pause. Out of all the different stories we’ve heard, all agree on one thing: whatever was in that house was on the second floor, and usually hung out at the top of the stairs and in the single hallway that leads to all the bedrooms. The moment of truth had arrived.
I hung back, pretending to fiddle with the camera, and let Denise go up first, trailing after the owner and carrying on the bogus conversation about my brother. Once they were out of the way, I aimed the camera and got a nice shot right up the steps. Catching up, I took a few more in the hallway and then hit the bedrooms.
Still, I felt none of the unease I had expected. I must admit, however, to feeling a bit unnerved when I went into the room they had turned into a nursery. It was because of the cradle. I wanted to turn to the owner and ask if he was crazy, leaving a baby all alone in the place. Of course, that would have blown my cover, so I kept my mouth shut.
It was kind of anticlimactic when you come down to it. I was expecting to feel something, a scare, whatever. But nothing. So I went through the motions and asked to see the basement. Now that I think on it, it’s funny the guy didn’t suspect something was up, because I led him to the basement door instead of the other way around. But there we were. I opened the door and descended.
By the second step, all the old feelings came flooding back. I think it was the smell. It was exactly the same as I remembered. This was the house I had come looking for. I trudged down, each step bringing me further back in time. I unconsciously reached out to grab a pole at the bottom of the steps that as a kid I had used to swing myself into the room after building up momentum from my trip down. The pole was no longer there, but the paneling was. And the ceiling tiles. The only thing different was the rug.
Denise wasn’t far behind. I could tell that she felt it, too. I took more pictures. Surely, if they were going to turn up anything, this would be the most likely place. The owner was behind us saying something, but I honestly can’t remember what. I got my shots, being sure to include the laundry room, and made for the steps.
We thanked the owner profusely and got out as soon as we could. My sister was practically running. Maybe we were letting our imaginations run away with us a bit, but we felt it. Whatever had once been in that house is still there somewhere, lurking just under the surface. Once we were in the car, I insisted on saying a prayer and admonished whatever it was not to follow us home. Who knows? I didn’t need it recognizing me and deciding to move into my place for old-times sake.
I was anxious to see the photos, and we dropped them off at a 1 hour photo lab before I headed home. My sister called me later that night, saying that nothing had turned up. I was disappointed, but the blow wasn’t unexpected. We weren’t in optimal conditions to flush out a ghost, and the odds are always against a chance sighting.
So that was the end of it. Or so I thought.
As I was getting into my office the next morning, my phone was ringing. I picked it up and Denise was on the line. I held my breath as she informed me that she had found something. I asked what. She said that she saw, and I quote, “a scary face in the wall in the basement.”
My heart pounding, I asked if she was sure. She was so sure, she said, that she had had trouble sleeping the previous night. This I had to see. I went to my parents later that evening, expectation running high. After all, I hadn’t seen any of the photos at this point, so I might be able to pick something up that no one else had. And the scary face would be waiting for me regardless.
When I arrived at my folks’ house, my sister was out. But my mom handed me the pictures and told me to see if I could spot the ghost. After perusing all the shots, I concentrated on the ones of the basement, trying to see the scary face. Well, I was at a loss. Unless my sister had meant…
I pointed what I saw out to my mother. She nodded. “That’s it.”
It wasn’t a face at all. What Denise had seen was in one of the bookcases. You know how prefab bookcases come with a series of holes drilled into the sides so you can adjust the height of the shelves? Well, thanks to the camera’s flash, one of those holes had reflected onto the back panel of the bookcase. My sister had seen the hole and its reflection together and taken them for eyes. They were surrounded by a whitish halo–another reflection from some paper on the shelf–and viola, instant face. And I still have to laugh at her description of the image as “scary.” The “Have A Nice Day” face is scarier. It just goes to show that people will see what they want to see, or what they’re expecting to see.
Still, even though the photographic evidence is wanting, we have one more bit of evidence to corroborate what we know we both felt. Since my uncle moved out of the house, it’s been up for sale five times. Five times in ten years. Apparently, no one is comfortable there.
I’m tempted to call the owner and ask him flat out why he’s leaving. Is the baby having trouble sleeping? Does his other child refuse to go down into the basement to play, despite the toys stacked floor to ceiling? In the wee hours of the night, does he himself lay in bed listening to the sound of soft footsteps padding from the top of the steps to the end of the hall and back?
Of course, I’ll probably never know. And that’s just fine with me.