A True Life Ghost Story
by: C.J. Colello
I was never one to believe in ghost stories. Every supposedly true haunting I had ever seen on TV seemed ridiculous. There was always a rational explanation for the alleged paranormal activities being reported. Floating orbs were simply dust on a camera lens. Creepy voices on baby monitors were just the product of interference from televisions or other baby monitors nearby. Shadows of human figures belonged to the investigators, not ghosts. It could all be explained.
But there’s one ghost story that I can’t find a rational explanation for. It was the one I personally experienced, and to this day, thinking about it still gives me chills.
I had a friend in high school, Maria, who was with me when it all happened. Her mother, Rita, was a nanny at an old renovated farmhouse that was built in the 1600s.. The couple who lived there, along with their young daughter, had bought the home from a descendent of the original owners who wanted to “practically give it away.” The existing parts of the home were remodeled, built a few additions to it, and settled in to spend their lives there.
One particularly boring summer day, Maria suggested that we tag along when her mother went to work. While Rita was tending to the little girl, Maria and I could explore the historic property and see for ourselves all the fascinating artifacts that we had heard about. Faced with another monotonous afternoon of laying in the backyard, staring at the sky and wishing we were doing anything remotely interesting, this seemed like a grand idea. So at eight o’clock sharp, we piled into the backseat of Rita’s minivan and went off to find an adventure.
It was a long and silent drive, mostly on back country roads that weren’t even paved. The crunching of dirt and stone under the tires was the only sound. When we arrived, I will admit that I didn’t think the house was anything special. It sat plainly on a little dirt road, painted white with neat grey trim and wide, empty land surrounding it. In short, it seemed ordinary. It certainly wasn’t the sprawling, museum-like mansion I had envisioned.
We were greeted at the front door by a bouncing toddler with blonde curls, closely followed by a dark-haired woman who introduced herself as the little girl’s mother, Kate. Looking frazzled and over-tired, she ushered us in and explained that she would only be in the attic, where her office was located, on a conference call. We could holler if we needed her. Seconds later, she had disappeared and left the four of us standing in a small foyer, toddler screeches echoing around us.
Again, everything appeared ordinary. The decor followed a rustic, country theme, but was certainly nothing that I would expect to be in a centuries-old former plantation house. Nothing was kept in its original state, save for the huge polished staircase that connected the foyer with the second floor.
Slightly disappointed, we parted ways with Rita, who led the child off into an adjacent playroom, and began our exploration. Most of the first floor consisted of the additions the family had built. The only original rooms were the living room, playroom, and the foyer. Consequently, these were the only rooms on the first floor where we found anything interesting.
The first hint of something strange happened in the living room. Maria and I were investigating the fireplace when I heard a horrid scratching noise, like nails on a chalkboard. I turned around just in time to see the small black tail of a cat slink behind a door and out of the room. I asked Maria about it, and she told me there couldn’t have been a cat. Kate was allergic. I shrugged it off as a shadow and we turned to leave, but when we walked past that door, the long, thin scratches at its base were unmistakable. And they were fresh.
Completing our circle of the mostly uneventful first floor, we peeked our heads into the playroom. Kate’s little girl was sitting cross-legged on the floor, excitedly watching cartoons and bobbing her head back and forth to their music. Rita nodded in our direction and we went in to join her on the sofa. Glancing around, I noticed something unusual amidst the toys and children’s decorations. Behind a small bookshelf, the outline of a small, brown door could be seen. It obviously wasn’t being used. I turned to ask Rita about it, but she had seen me look at it and began her story before I could speak.
That little door led down to the basement, she told us. The old servants’ quarters were down there, in a series of small, cell-like rooms. Some still had beds in them, rotted and broken. The playroom was originally the house’s kitchen, where most of the servants employed here would spend their days. At the end of the day, they would go through this little door, meant to resemble a pantry to an outsider, and return to their cells to sleep. I asked if we could maybe go see them, but Rita shook her head. The stairs collapsed years ago; there was no way down. Apparently, Kate’s husband, Mark, had gone down with a ladder when they first bought the property. He came back up a few minutes later, said there was nothing of interest down there, and that was that. Nobody disturbed the basement again.
By this point, our determination had returned, and Maria and I set off to see what the second floor had to offer. That’s where things got downright creepy.
At the top of the stairs, there was a small landing, and a hallway parallel to the staircase. Along the hall were doors leading to the three bedrooms and a small bathroom. We reached the landing and turned around , ready to walk down the hallway, when I noticed something. At the other end of the hall was a window that looked out over the front of the property, and standing in front of it, gazing out, was a woman in a long, white dress with her hair pulled into a tight bun.
I turned to Maria. “Who’s that?”
I turned back, only to see that the woman was no longer there. I thought it must have been Kate, taking a break from her conference call. I couldn’t remember if she had been wearing a white dress or not. I had a horrible feeling that she hadn’t. I took a deep breath and carried on. Ghost stories weren’t real, I reminded myself. Ghost stories weren’t real, I reminded myself.
The first two bedrooms were uneventful, to say the least. In the bathroom, we discovered an antique claw-foot tub, with vines carved into the feet. Believing that the tub would be the most fascinating aspect of our journey, we continued on to the last bedroom, prepared for disappointment.
The last in the row was the little girl’s room. Immediately upon entering the room, goosebumps appeared all down my arms. It was very cold in there, enough to make me shiver. The window was wide open, blowing the cool September air into the room, but it wasn’t nearly cool enough outside for the bedroom to be that frigid. I crossed the room, to the window, and as soon as my fingers touched the sill, a shock ran through my body, up my spine and to the back of my neck.
“A baby died in here,” I blurted out. Stunned, I stepped away from the window. “I don’t know why I just said that.” I turned and Maria was just staring at me, her face expressionless. My heart felt like it was beating a million beats a minute. What a horrible, morbid thing for me to say. And I honestly didn’t know why or how I said it. It was as if something else had taken control of my body for a moment. Maria later told me that when I said it, my voice was not my own. She couldn’t explain what she meant, only that it was different somehow.
After a few moments, our uncomfortable silence was broken by the sound of loud, heavy footsteps. They sounded like they were right next to us, but the stairs were across the hall, and the hallway ended after the last bedroom. Or so we thought.
Confused, we followed the noise, thinking that Rita or Kate might be looking for us. As we stepped through the doorway and back into the hall, the noise got louder, directly to our left. Right where the hall ended. Right where the window where I had seen the woman in the white dress was. And, of course, we went to investigate.
As we approached the window, I suddenly saw through it maybe a dozen or so figures standing a distance from the house, wearing straw hats and digging at the ground. I blinked, and they were all gone. I had the good sense not to mention this to Maria. At this point, she probably already thought I was going crazy.
It was only when we were standing directly in front of the window, where the footsteps could be heard the loudest, that we noticed it. Tucked into an alcove between the front window and the child’s room was a tiny door, much like the one we had seen downstairs. It had been invisible from the hallway, even until we were almost upon it. Curious, and slightly apprehensive as well, I reached out and turned the knob. As soon as the latch clicked, the sound of footsteps stopped.
Inside was a narrow, dusty staircase that turned around a corner halfway up, so we could not see what it led to. On the middle of each step, we could see visible footprints worn into the woods, as if someone had been pacing up and down it for a very long time. I admit, I couldn’t find the nerve to add my own footsteps to those grooves. I closed the door and led Maria back downstairs and out of the front door.
We spent the rest of our time there that day exploring the grounds. I couldn’t shake the uncomfortable, edgy feeling that had come over me in that house. Seeing things that weren’t there and hearing strange noises that no one else could hear just wasn’t like me. I didn’t believe in ghost stories…did I? I wasn’t even sure anymore.
Aside from the crumbling remnants of an old barn behind the house, we did not encounter anything special. That alone was interesting and, frankly, normal enough to satisfy my curiosity without creeping me out. Maria told me that Kate and her husband planned to rebuild it sometime in the near future, and we chatted pleasantly about nothingness until it was time to leave. We pulled out of the dirt driveway at five o’clock that evening, and that was the last time I ever saw that place. I did not dare even look back at it as we drove away, because a tiny part of me feared seeing the woman in the white dress again.
Unbeknownst to Marie, the next day I went to the local library in the area, a tiny little shack of a place, and researched the old records on the property. I found that the original owners were a married couple, William and Sarah. There was a certificate of death for Sarah, dated only a few years after they were married, but I couldn’t find anything else until the house was inherited by the mysterious descendant who later sold it to Kate. I gave up on it, and shrugged my entire experience off as my imagination going haywire and playing tricks on me. I didn’t give it another thought. I was being ridiculous. Ghost stories aren’t real.
About three months after our visit to the house, I got a text message from Marie, with a picture attached. The caption read, “They finally started digging the foundation for the barn.” I opened the picture and my blood ran cold. It was of a wool blanket, frayed and filthy, spread out in the dirt. In the middle of it laid a few tiny fragments of what almost looked like sticks, but among them there was, unmistakably, a skull. The tiny, human skull of a newborn baby.