My Real Life Haunted House Story (Part 4)

Part 1          Part 2          Part 3


There were two more distinct occurrences. They were the last two straws for us; the first was unnerving, but after the second we started making active plans to move. The first incident happened to my husband; it disturbed him enough that he still doesn’t like to talk about it. He told me the story once and that was enough for him; attempts to get him to repeat it are met with a gentle but stubborn refusal.

It happened in broad daylight. I was away on a “girls’ day” with my sisters; my husband was home alone with our son. Our son was playing on the swing set in the backyard while my husband supervised. It was then he began hearing a strange, pounding noise coming from inside the house.

If you faced the house from the back yard, you were looking at the small porch and the back door that led to the kitchen. Beside the door was a large window. My husband said the pounding noise sounded like someone inside the kitchen beating slowly and steadily on the outer wall with a fist. Then the pounding began to move, as if the one doing the pounding were walking across the kitchen and beating along the entire length of the wall.

My husband, I should add, is hard of hearing, but the pounding was so loud he could hear it from halfway across the yard. It was heavy enough that when it reached the window and then the back door, he could see them rattling in their frames, one right after the other — as if someone were playing a death march across the length of the kitchen wall.

It reached the far side of the kitchen and stopped. It was never repeated again.

The second incident happened to me. I taught piano lessons for a brief period, usually in the evening, and my husband would use piano nights to take our son out for dinner so my student and I could have the house to ourselves. On the evening in question, I had just said goodnight to my last student and I was alone in the house.

Everything was silent; I hadn’t turned on the television, or anything else. I went to the back of the house to use the bathroom. While I was sitting on the toilet, having a pee (yes, it’s funny — but at the time, not so much!), I suddenly heard laughter in the living room.

laugh. Very clear, very distinct. It was a low, cracked, malicious “old man” chuckle.

Every hair went up on the back of my head. I can’t begin to tell you how terrible it was, sitting there with the door open and hearing someone laugh in a room that I knew was empty. (I can say with complete honesty that I have never pulled up my pants faster than I did that night.) I knew I needed to get out of the house — there was no way in hell I was staying in there with Mr. Creepy Chuckles — but to do so, I would have to go through the living room, unless I wanted to climb out a window.

I ran. Straight from the bathroom, down the hall, and through the living room — my hands acting as blinders, because I was terrified of what I might see in the living room as I ran through it and into the kitchen. I hit the back door and fled into the night. It sounds melodramatic, I know, very Gothic romantic — I fled into the night and across the moors — but it really was that sort of blind, panicked run. I had to get out of that house.

Unfortunately, once I got outside I realized a thunderstorm was coming. Great. The fields surrounding the house were high with tobacco; the wind was making the leaves move and swell. While it hadn’t started raining yet, thunder rumbled and the sky was lit up with lightning; I had run out of my apparently haunted house and straight into a horror movie. I was standing in the middle of a treeless back yard, surrounded by fields on either side, like a human lightning rod.

I needed to get under cover, but the only option was my car and it was locked, with the keys still inside the house. I knew exactly where they were — on the kitchen counter, next to the living room door. I did think about it, but I could see through the screen door straight into the living room. I remember feeling like the open door mocked me. A sly and silent invitation, if you will: Come on back inside. Let’s have a chat, dearie.

I was NOT going back inside that house, keys or no keys.

Luckily it wasn’t long before my husband came home. I was in borderline hysterics when he arrived — I think I scared the poor guy half to death — but I adamantly refused to go back into the house until he had gone in and checked it out. Of course, he found nothing and I did eventually go back inside, but I didn’t have many restful nights in that house after that.

While that was the last of the major happenings in the house, the smaller, petty poltergeist-like activity continued right up until we left the house for good that winter.

Continued in Part 5

My Real Life Haunted House Story (Part 3)

Part 1          Part 2

The Weirdness Gets Weirder

The period of escalation probably started with The Halloween Man.

One night after I had given my son a bath, I took him into the living room, wrapped in a towel, in order to dry him off. (Our bathroom was TINY; drying him off and dressing him in the living room was more convenient.) He was no more than two or three at the time. He was facing me as I dried him off, but staring over my shoulder at the corner behind me (our couch, where I was sitting, was in the middle of the room). Now, there was nothing in that corner — no furniture, no pictures — but my son kept staring into it with this dazed, trance-like expression on his face. He didn’t look afraid, just blank. I looked back there, following his line of sight, and saw nothing, so I asked him what he was looking at.

Very quietly and calmly, he said, “The Halloween Man.”

“And … he’s right behind me. Great. Just … great.”

When pressed to explain, he said nothing. A few seconds later, he lost all interest and sat down beside me to finish watching television.

Shortly after that, the water faucets began turning on and off by themselves. It was eeriest when the laundry sink faucet would turn on; I would suddenly realize I heard running water, at a distance, and investigation would lead me through that black pantry and its strange hidden door into the empty laundry room — and there would be the faucet, going full-blast in an empty room. It happened in the bathroom and kitchen as well — and on one memorable occasion (I was actually on the phone with my best friend at the time), every sink faucet in the house — there were four — turned on at once.

The back door would frequently unlock and open by itself. This happened several times, sometimes right after one of us had walked through, closed it, and turned the deadbolt. I once watched my husband walk through that door, shut and lock it behind him, then while he was walking toward me, the lock clicked softly and the door swung open behind him, without a sound, with nothing but night and empty fields on the other side.

My husband and I had a wickerwork headboard on our bed. Some nights we would be awakened by the sound of light scratching against the wicker. Of course, we thought it might be a mouse, but hanging off our headboard and endlessly scratching it seemed like an odd thing for a mouse to do, and thumping/shaking the headboard didn’t stop it.

For a brief period of time, if one of us went into the bathroom and locked the door, the doorknob would turn back and forth on its own, or the door would be given a brisk shake in the frame — almost as if someone on the other side of the door was testing it to see if it was locked. All the previously mentioned events (with the exception of two major ones I’ll detail in the next part) were fairly consistent once they were introduced and would continue off and on during our entire residence in the house, but the “bathroom door game” was one that appeared only to disappear again just as suddenly in less than a month.

All of these events were witnessed by my husband and me, sometimes together, sometimes alone. My son remembers the doorknob game, but not the Halloween Man. My best friend witnessed the clock and the opening doors, and experienced the voices, the scratching on the headboard, and the mysterious rattling doorknob (the faucets, too, if you count that she was on the phone with me at the time). Other guests in the house reported feeling uncomfortable when left alone in a room, especially after dark — even casual guests who had been told nothing about the strange goings-on in the house.

Continued in Part 4

My Real Life Haunted House Story (Part 2)

Continued from Part 1

A Little History

I did some research into the house while we lived there. While I have no idea exactly how old it was, my best guess puts it in the early part of the nineteenth century. It was part of the same farm I live on today, a farm that has been in my husband’s family for five documented generations — and from bits and pieces I’ve picked up in my research, it seems the farm has been in one branch or another of his family since before the Revolutionary War.

As for horrible doings associated with the house, I’m only aware of one: My husband’s great uncle killed himself by deliberately jumping into the old well on the property. He apparently had a stroke, and the family says he was “never quite right in the head” after that. My father-in-law was present when they discovered the body and had to call in assistance to remove him from the well. He said one of the ropes slipped as they were bringing him out and the body tumbled back down to the bottom. He said he never forgot the sound.

Let’s pause a moment to think about that. Uck.

It’s been more than ten years since we lived there, so I don’t remember the chronological order of events. I do remember that things started out quietly (as they usually do) and then slowly escalated. I also remember feeling a little creeped out on that first night, when we went to check out the house. I chalked it up to imagination — it was very old, after all, and hardly in pristine shape — but now? I’m not so sure. I think we all have animal instincts that make our hackles go up — and I probably should have listened to mine.

Bear with me. As I said, things started out slowly.

The first thing we noticed, on the very day we moved in, was a strange impression in the newly shampooed carpet. It was shaped exactly like an old-fashioned walking cane, curved handle and all. There were no other impressions on the carpet. It had just been thoroughly shampooed and had that clean, fluffy look — except for that one weird impression.

Shortly after we finished moving in, more weird shit followed.

We began hearing knocking sounds coming from a cabinet in our living room. This cabinet had been in my husband’s family for many years without a single noise, and we still have this cabinet today, in my current kitchen. Again, not a single thump, crack, or bang. But while we lived in that house, we jokingly dubbed it “the haunted cabinet” because strange pops, knocks, and thumps would come from it constantly.

An old pendulum wall clock in the kitchen started keeping strange time. It would always be exactly twenty minutes fast or twenty minutes slow.

We started hearing voices at night. Low voices. It usually sounded like two people, like a man and a woman or a man and a child; one voice was much deeper than the other. It would sound like a conversation was going on in the “fat hallway” outside our bedroom doors. We would lie awake at night, listening, and at first it was easily dismissed — just overactive imaginations again — but then slowly, the sound would clarify, and we could make out two distinct voices, one deep and the other lighter, almost feminine. The voices were always too low and muffled to pick out actual words. And whenever we would get up and investigate, as soon as we opened the door or poked our heads into the hall, the voices would cease.

Continued in Part 3

My Real Life Haunted House Story (Part 1)

I make my living telling scary stories, so whenever I’m called on to tell this story to a fresh audience, I can practically feel the skepticism. It’s not too different from the occasional response I get when I tell people my birthday: “You were born on Halloween AND you lived in a haunted house? OF COURSE YOU DID.” [insert eyeroll here] But I promise, what follows is 100 percent true and has been corroborated by several witnesses, including people outside my family — and at least two of them are the skeptical sort themselves.

When I’m not getting skeptical looks — when it’s a “receptive audience,” one might say — I usually hear something along the lines of, “Luck-ee!” and “I wish could live in a haunted house!” I used to say the same thing — I’ve always loved a good ghost story, and the morbid legitimacy of living in a real, authentic haunted house was a truly awesome thought. (I remember once being terribly disappointed in my parents when they passed on buying this gloriously decrepit old Colonial that was reputedly haunted.)

But now I’ve lived in a so-called “haunted house,” and despite the fact that I do love all things creepy and spooky, I would never live in another haunted house again.

In early 2002, my husband and I were not doing well financially. I was out of work, our son was a toddler, and we were briefly forced to move back in with my parents. For obvious reasons, it was not an ideal situation. We were deeply embarrassed, for one thing, and while I’m sure my parents meant well in a “tough love” sort of way, we felt like burdens and deadbeats and were desperate to get out of that situation as soon as humanly possible.

My husband’s great aunt had passed away the year before, and her son had given her house a thorough cleaning in hopes of renting it out and making a little money. The rent was more than we could afford, but through the intercession of my father-in-law, it was dropped to more affordable levels and we were definitely interested. My husband, Scott, picked me up one night after he got off work, and we went over to look at the place.

It was a small two bedroom house that had originally been a tenant farmer’s house; it had started life as a two room log cabin with a central chimney. The modern layout was very odd. The living room and the bedroom on the front of the house were original. You could climb into the attic and see the logs, and when they added to the house, they simply plastered over the original logs and painted them. As a result, the walls in the front of the house were ridiculously thick, and tapered from the bottom to the top. You could see this best in the open doorway that led from the living room into the kitchen. The inside of the doorjamb had to have been two feet thick, at least.

A huge country kitchen had been added later, and a second bedroom which was connected to the first by a short, fat hallway. The original back porch had been partially closed in, with a third of it now a large laundry room that opened on the back porch, and the other third now the house’s sole bathroom which connected to that second back bedroom (which would become the bedroom my husband and I shared). The laundry room was reached in a really odd way; you had to go through the small, dark pantry, where there was another door tucked away in the shadows that opened on the laundry room.

Like I said, it was a weird little house.

Continued in Part 2

Camp NaNoWriMo and THE NOVEL: An Update

Camp NaNoWriMo

Camp NaNoWriMo started last Saturday, April 1; I’m a participant for the first time this year! While I have no idea how the traditional November NaNoWriMo works (I’ll be doing that this year for the first time as well), with Camp NaNoWriMo you’re assigned “cabins” of 20 fellow participants. The part I like best is the sidebar, where all your cabin mates are listed plus the name of their current project, target goal, and most recent progress.

It’s awakened in me a streak of friendly competition that I didn’t know I had. Nothing will light a fire under my ass like peeking at that sidebar and seeing someone that’s ahead of me. What?! xxBooberry13xx has 1,452 more words than me? I DON’T THINK SO, SUGAR!

“What do we say to xxBooberry13xx?”

It really is a super-friendly competition, but it helps keep me motivated and that’s the entire point. I’ve been using the camp to plow through scenes in my current novel — those connecting scenes that are super important but where nothing terrifying and/or epic is going on. I end up skipping them when left to my own devices so I can get on with the cool stuff, and then kicking, procrastinating, and flailing about when I can’t ignore them any longer.

Novel Update

Speaking of the novel — and while this is sort of “burying the lead,” I guess — it has a name now: OCTOBER DIM. While that is, of course, subject to change, since the novel isn’t finished yet and I’m sure my beta readers and editor will have their own opinions and advice to offer, that’s what I’m calling it instead of “Untitled” or the tongue-in-cheek working title, A Pocketful of Dead Things. The last one always makes me laugh, but that’s exactly why I can’t use it. I’m sure it has a few funny parts, but it’s actually pretty dark. Names, names — this is why titling a book tends to give some authors hives. (I am scratching myself as we speak. Sheepishly.)

I have a hard time describing the novel to people. I’m not worrying about it too much at this juncture; I have a feeling that as the story goes through the editing process, the “how” of describing it will sharpen and come into focus. But right now, mix Repo! The Genetic Opera and the Gormenghast books, sprinkle some Neuromancer on top, add the darkest and most dreadful fairy tales from the past with a healthy helping of classic monsters, then slather the whole thing in zombies — and there, that’s my novel.

It sounds cracktastic. It probably is. But I’m tellin’ ya, it works.


From an Indie Fan: Dos and Don’ts for Authors

My first non-introductory post on the Blog O’ Doom and already I’m talking about something unrelated to horror. This is, however, connected to indie publishing in general, and since I did promise to talk about that process, I’m not feeling too terribly guilty about the tangent.

Give me your words! Give me ALL THE WORDS!

Now, I’m relatively new to indie publishing — as an author, at any rate — but I’m a voracious, compulsive reader. I’ve never been a snob about what I read, either, for while finding good indies can sometimes take diligence (the ease of self-publishing does means anyone can publish, with occasionally mind-boggling results), good and often great indies are out there.

I’ve come across a few book recommendation lists where the noses are turned up and the sniffs are loud from readers who have nothing but contempt for anything self-published — although ironically, they forget that some of our greatest and most beloved works of literature were originally self-published, too. (But that’s a discussion for an upcoming blog post; I digress.)

My point isn’t to have a good laugh at elitists, but to establish that I approach indie publishing as both an author and a reader. I may be new to the indie author game, but I’ve been an indie fan for quite some time. And as a fan, there are marketing techniques that work — and those that will make your potential fanbase run shrieking into the night.

I’ve tried to tailor my wooing based on what I liked and didn’t like as a reader myself, and so far it seems to be working. So for the sake of helping others, here’s my personal list of…

3 Dos and Don’ts for Indie Marketing

“All right, you primitive screwheads, listen up!”

#1: DO solicit reviews from a wide variety of readers in your niche. DON’T solicit reviews from only relatives, friends, and fellow indie authors hoping for a mutual scratch.

It’s obvious, it’s SO obvious. I’m not sure why, but there’s a look and feel to the “mutual scratching of indie backs” review from a fellow author, and it’s an instant turn-off. In fact, if a book has nothing but glowing reviews on sites like Amazon, I’m instantly suspicious. While I can’t speak for every reader (on this or anything else in this blog entry), when I’m thinking about buying a book, I look at the critical reviews first. One good, honest, critical review with 3 stars or so will talk me into buying a book faster than ten 5-star gushers.

Pictured: Subtlety

#2: DO promote your books on social media. DON’T spam with book ads and nothing else.

Let your readers get to know you! Talk about yourself. Post pictures of your life. Tell your fans about the incredibly ridiculous thing that happened to you today. When fans feel like they know you — your life, your sense of humor, even a picture of your flippin’ desk — they’re on their way to becoming the sort of fans that buy everything you publish. But if they didn’t click on the first ten ads for your book, spamming them to death isn’t going to change their minds.

The one exception I would make is how you handle hot-button topics. You should trust your fan base enough to be open and honest about your political, religious, philosophical, and moral leanings, but you can be honest without being an ass. Particularly in the current political climate, I have seen far too many famous writers using their social media platforms to broad-brush, attack, and insult anyone who disagrees with them politically.

Likewise, don’t assume that if I do agree with your politics, then it’s okay. I’m reminded of an atheist friend of mine who cut all ties with another, “famous” atheist because of his inveterate believer-bashing. My friend’s reason: “I have lots of family members who are religious. I may not agree with them, but I love them, and [Famous Atheist] keeps calling them stupid.”

Remember that someone can love your work and still disagree with your point of view. You can stand up for your beliefs without being a gigantic asshole.

“Sorry about the whole ‘primitive screwheads’ thing…”

#3: DO respond to emails, follows, etc. as much as possible. DON’T use a form letter to do it.

I know there comes a time in every successful author’s life when personally responding to each and every reader contact becomes almost impossible. But if that’s the case, then stop trying to make it look like you’re still responding on a personal level by sending a form message or email. No matter how chatty or casual you try to seem, your readers KNOW it’s a form. Switch to a format like the group newsletter/email mailing list; then it feels like we’re being addressed as a group, the Loyal Fans. We like that! But the form IM on an individual basis is vaguely insulting. It feels like junk mail with our names typed in.

If you have the time to send a “Thanks for the follow!” or whatever, then you have time to make it personal. It doesn’t have to be anything huge. Go check out the reader’s profile. See if you have anything in common. I’ve made connections with readers through nothing more than spending a few seconds checking out their Currently Reading list and seeing if we’re reading or have read the same things. Reach out, man! You want readers to be your friends, not a seething crowd of nameless minions worshiping at your altar.

And one final note on being too busy/famous/amazing to answer emails from fans:

Let me tell you a story.

When I was in 6th grade, my friend Teresa and I were HUGE fans of the rock band Styx. This was during Styx’s heyday (yes, I’m dating myself, hush!). We were particularly in love with guitarist Tommy Shaw, and both Teresa and I wrote him a pair of fan letters. We talked about how much we liked his music, which songs we liked the best, we asked him questions about some of the more unusual instruments he played on their albums, etc.

It was the dimples, clearly.

Months went by after we sent those letters, so we had almost forgotten about them — until the day we opened our mailboxes and found that Tommy had written back.

The letters were typed. He had dictated them to his secretary (I remember asking my mom what the little initials meant) and signed them personally, but it was clear that he had actually read our letters. He answered each and every one of our questions, thanked us, even made a joke or two — in short, he made sure we knew that he appreciated us as fans. We were two little girls, not more than 10 years old, but he took the time to write us all the same. Sure, it took him a few months to get to us, but so what? We were over the moon.

If Tommy Shaw at the height of his band’s considerable popularity could take the time to write two of his smallest fans, so can you. Even if your reply is little more than a “thanks!” and “so glad you liked it!” It’s something. I never forgot that letter; I’ll bet Teresa didn’t either.

Make sure your fans never forget you.

(And yes, I’m still a Styx fan!)

All Your Haints Are Belong to Me

This is the part where I would love to introduce myself with some great, public-access-style intro. Jazzy Haunted Mansion music, the camera zooms in on a coffin, it creaks open slowly — and I pop out like the Crypt Keeper. Weeelcome to my blooog. *slaver, slaver, cackle, drool*

Alas and alack, I don’t have a coffin, creaky or otherwise, and I don’t look like the Crypt Keeper (except early in the morning, before I’ve washed my face). I’m terribly sorry to disappoint you; I’ve been told more than once by people who have met me that I don’t seem like a horror writer at all. I’m chunky, bubbly, and a bit of a goofball. I don’t dress in all black, I only wear makeup at Halloween, and I collect really bad jokes like grandmas collect doilies and Hummels.

Pictured: A creepy-ass doll staring into your soul, and definitely NOT a Hummel.

(Favorite joke: Where did Napoleon keep his armies? Up his sleevies! Hyuck hyuck hyuck…)

“Ees not funny.”

For those who know me well, however — and I hope, my freaky blog-reading darlings, that YOU will come to know me well — it’s sort of obvious that I’m not really suited for anything but writing horror. I’ve been morbid since birth, quite literally; I was born on Halloween night in a hospital on Gallows Road. For a long time, I didn’t understand that Halloween was a holiday quite separate from my birthday; I thought orange and black were my colors, that pumpkins were only for my birthday. Spiders, bats, black cats and crows were all mine; Frankenstein and Dracula were monsters that belonged to me. That early self-identification with the macabre led to a lifelong love affair with all things spooky, strange, terrifying, morbid, grotesque, and just plain weird. And from the moment I learned as a wee beastie that could make stories, too, I’ve been writing them down for the pure, sweet joy of scaring the pants off you.

I have lots of plans for this blog:

1) I love to write, and talk, so this fills my incessant need to shout my opinions into the void.

2) In addition to the stories found here, I’m working on a novel — the first in a series — and it will be fun to talk about it here as a sort of documentary of the process (something to look back on when I’m old and gray and squinting at the screen through my bifocals).

3) I’m also going to talk about whatever weird thing pops into my head — from horror literature and films, to mummies, to vampire legends, to local ghost stories — all the freaky-wonderful stuff that has been and continues to be my endless source of creative inspiration.

(Short version: I’m going to talk about scary shit. Because I like it, and this is my blog.)

I plan to post every other day or so, with notice if I plan to vanish into the ether for an extended period of time (usually only on my rare days off from the Internet). I sincerely hope you will stick around and nosh on horror with me.

Welcome to my house! Enter freely. Go safely, and leave something of the happiness you bring!