The house stood vacant for a year before the young couple and their little boy moved in. It had been built in the early Sixties, one of hundreds of identical salt-box shaped starters and it needed a lot of work, but its bones were good. The previous family had been transferred, according to the realtor.
Soon, it was a home, slightly rough around the edges. But the young family was happy there. The wife sang to herself, spent hours planting flower bulbs and rose bushes during her son’s naps, puttered in the kitchen and sat out in the yard, throwing balls for the dog. Everything was well, until one night, pregnant with their second child, the wife heard a baby cry. At 2AM, she opened her eyes, feeling groggy. Beside her bed, there stood a shadowy handmade wooden cradle.
“What’s this?” She set her feet on the cold hardwood floor and peered into it. The baby within was First Nations and dressed in buckskin, but everything was blue, particularly the baby.
The wife’s scream was bloodcurdling; she knew the baby had died of SIDS. At least a hundred years ago. At her scream, the baby and its cradle vanished. The husband jolted out of bed and took stock of the situation.
“You, and your bad dreams! Did you think ninjas were coming through the ceiling again?”
Time passed. The couple’s son was five years old and his sister was two. She had the middle room in the house, the room the wife didn’t like. It had a claustrophobic feel to it, even though it was a decent size and had been freshly painted.
At night, all the children’s toys were placed in a wooden toy box with a lid. If anyone walked through the dark living room, the talking Big Bird would startle them by yelling, “Well, hello there!” from underneath all the toys.
Laughing at herself for being spooked by a malfunctioning talking doll, the wife would put on X-Files reruns while enjoying a nice cup of tea. Then, she’d yawn and take herself off to bed.
One such night, she walked into the dark master bedroom to see a man standing at the head of the bed. “Why are you up?” she asked what she perceived was her husband.
It wasn’t her husband; he was asleep in the bed. The wife knew that the shadow man had been talking to her husband, whispering things. But he didn’t speak to her; he just disappeared as though he’d never been there. Feeling uneasy, she went to bed, but was unable to sleep. She prayed about it, but still felt like she had to be watchful.
A few nights later, she was asleep when the hairs stood up on the back of her neck. I don’t want to open my eyes. Don’t look, don’t look! She thought to herself. But she couldn’t help looking, could she? The shadow man was whispering menacingly in her husband’s ear. The man was tall, thin and grey-skinned, with eyes like black holes. He wore a summer-weight, grey three-piece suit from the 1930s and a fedora. “Get away! Get away!” the wife shouted. As her husband shot upright, the man melted to nothingness. The wife prayed for deliverance from evil.
Days later, she woke to find a heavenly apparition walking into the bedroom. “Grammie, why are you here?”
Grammie looked well and light seemed to pour out of her, making the room bright as day. “Bless this house,” she directed.
“Thank you for caring for me when I was a child. You practically raised me while Mom went to work,” the wife said. Grammie backed out of the room, peeked into the children’s rooms and departed, taking the white light with her. The wife lay down and slept peacefully, knowing her grandmother was an angel watching over her family.
The thin grey man came again. The wife sat up and addressed him angrily. “Leave my husband alone! Get out! This house belongs to God!”
“Huh?” her husband blinked at her blearily.
“Go back to sleep,” she said, certain he would never believe her. It didn’t matter; the shadow man was gone, never to return.
As the years passed, the atmosphere in the living room got more and more oppressive. Even in the daytime, black shadows collected at the juncture of wall and ceiling. There were bumps and creaks and whispers, and sometimes the door to the bedroom hallway opened. The wife didn’t like being in there anymore. She went to her children’s rooms each night, prayed and drew crosses on their foreheads with her fingertip. She prayed over her sleeping husband, that he would be protected from evil.
One afternoon, she started to walk downstairs into the finished basement. A tall, heavy woman wearing a 1950s housedress, with artificially red hair (that had obviously been in fat curlers) fell past her –down the stairs- making the wife clutch the bannister lest she fall herself. The woman got up at the foot of the stairs and strode into the family room. The wife followed on tiptoe and the woman turned to look at her. She looked quite alive except for the dark bruising under her eyes. The wife’s hair stood on end.
“He pushed me. My husband,” the woman said. Then, she walked into the faux-stone mantel of the gas fireplace as if there were nothing there.
The fireplace had been wood-burning when the young couple bought the house but they had converted it to natural gas. The faux-stone mantel had to be at least 30 years old, but it was big enough to hold five large women. “Are you buried in the fireplace?” the wife wondered aloud. No one answered.
The family enjoyed having campfires out in the back yard, but the wife knew they were being watched. She didn’t like taking the dog out late at night, either.
On four more separate occasions, the wife saw the woman fall down the stairs and walk into the fireplace. The wife waited to address her until after her husband went to work, because he really didn’t believe in ghosts and when she tried to tell him about it, he made fun of her. She walked from room to room and gave the ghosts what-for.
“In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, I claim this house for God. Let all evil spirits depart from it. I command you, in the name of Jesus Christ, to leave this house, its yard and stop bothering its people. You may never return.”
The darkness faded from the living room. It became bright and cheery. The yard, however, still held a hint of menace. Just because the spirits couldn’t enter the yard didn’t mean they couldn’t keep watch outside it. It was puzzling. Why were they attracted to the house?
When the children were asleep, the wife drew crosses on their foreheads. “In the name of Jesus Christ, I claim this child for God. Let no evil spirits trouble this child or anyone in this house.”
Eventually, the carpet in the family room needed to be replaced. The woman and her husband removed it, and found something strange: a yellow and red shag carpet had once covered the floor. The fireplace hearth had been laid right over the shag carpet –concrete, mortar and stone.
“I’ve seen a murdered woman,” the wife said to her man, afraid he might say she was crazy. “She told me her husband pushed her down the stairs.”
“This is a weird house,” her husband said slowly. “We’ve all fallen down the stairs. But I’ve never felt a push. Maybe we were tripped.”
The wife blanched. “You believe me?”
“I’ve never heard of anyone being in such a hurry to renovate that they laid a hearth right over a carpet. It’s a fire hazard.”
“You think she trips us?”
“What if she does? Or her husband does? And I know the previous owners were horrible at renovating, but…”
The wife shivered and hugged herself. “Do you think there could be a body in our fireplace?”
The husband grimaced. “Only one way to find out.”
They disassembled the built in stone bench attached to the hearth, and looked all around inside the structure with a flashlight. There was nothing there but dust and cobwebs.
“What did this ghost look like?” the husband wondered aloud.
“She’s about 55, and roly-poly, but tall as you. She has red hair and a double chin and she wears old-fashioned matte-red lipstick.”
The wife prayed for the dead woman and told her to go to Heaven, that her earthly business was done. The wife never saw her again, and wondered if the grey man had been her husband. They didn’t seem to be from the same era, though. A Native baby, a 1950s housewife, and a 1930s man…The wife began to wonder if her house had been built on an old cemetery.
Over the course of time, the couple added another daughter to their family. The husband’s brother passed away, too young. One night, the wife woke up to find him kneeling beside her husband, his hands joined in prayer. He looked healthy, as he had before contracting AIDS, and was wearing dark dress pants and a gleaming white shirt. He turned his head and regarded her solemnly. Everything about him shone.
“Hello.” She smiled and greeted him by name. Then, she closed her eyes, heart happy, and went to sleep. The next morning, she told her husband that his brother had visited from Heaven, and he was praying for him. The husband was glad.
The younger daughter grew, the family had another son, and the house was peaceful. The younger daughter made a friend around-the-corner-across-the-street, and gradually, the two families became friends. There was a pink brick house nearby that interested the wife (although she disliked gossip). Nobody seemed to stay in it for long. There was always a for sale sign on the lawn, it seemed, while other houses in the area rarely were offered for sale. The yard of the pink house backed, kitty-corner- onto her own. Her friend’s house was directly across the street from it.
“There’s another new couple in the pink house,” her friend said.
“Really? I wonder what’s wrong with that house. Nobody seems to stay in it long,” the wife said, thinking it must be woefully outdated and in major need of repair. Her friend’s eyes bulged.
“You mean you don’t know about that house?” she demanded.
The wife blinked in surprise. “What about it?”
“It’s dreadfully haunted,” her friend hissed. “The first couple who lived there were devil worshippers. They claimed to have used a Ouija board to summon the dead. Nobody who buys that house lives there more than a year. And bad things happen. One guy cheated on his wife with her best friend. Newly-weds just moved out. They’re divorcing because he beat her. It’s a bad house. It’s evil.”
The wife told her husband about it, but they didn’t think they could walk over to new neighbours and say, “Hi, your house has evil spirits in it. You need to get somebody in to do an exorcism.” It was very awkward. The couple stayed a handful of months, then went back to Toronto.
The husband’s father passed away. One night, the wife saw him watching her husband. He looked like a normal man, not grey or blue or full of light. He looked a bit sad, like he had come to say goodbye to his son. Not long after, the younger daughter told her mother that she had seen him, too, and that he had looked happy.
A new, middle-aged couple moved in the pink house. People always said ‘hello’ to the man, who enjoyed tinkering with things in his garage. Seemed like a nice fellow.
Summer came, and the wife and her husband took a short trip for their twentieth anniversary. When they got back, the wife felt a malevolent taint in her house. She walked around and blessed the house and children, and claimed them for God. Something bad continued to prickle at her senses, particularly out in the yard. She always felt on edge. They hadn’t been home from their trip for very long before the husband hurried to speak to his wife.
“I’ve been talking to our next door neighbour and he thought we should know what happened while we were away. I don’t want the children to know.”
She searched his face. “Okay.” Some of the men in the neighbourhood gossiped more than most of the women!
“You know the pink house?”
“With the nice guy who works in the garage all the time? I always speak to him on my walks.”
“Yes, my friend says that house has a bad history.”
The wife thought she had misheard him. “What?”
“He lost his job a few months ago and they were going to lose the house. His wife left him and while we were away on our trip, he killed himself out in the garage with a shotgun. All the neighbours heard the shot.”
“How awful! The poor man.” The wife grieved for him and for his estranged wife, who had to be feeling sick about the whole thing.
That night, the wife walked around her house and claimed it and her children for God. Then, she did something new. She went out in the back yard.
“Hear me, evil spirits. In the name of Jesus Christ, stop tormenting the man who shot himself and let him go.” She claimed her house and yard and all her neighbours’ houses for God in the name of Jesus Christ. And then, she said, “All benign spirits, I command you to take the innocent spirits you are protecting with you into the light. Go to God. Hear me, evil spirits: you shall not torment any soul in this neighbourhood any more. You shall depart and never return. I command it in the name of Jesus Christ.”
The wife marched inside her house and waggled a finger at her bemused teenage children. “Never play with Ouija boards.”
Two months have passed. There’s a new couple living in the pink house. Bless them.
So, is it truth or fiction? You decide. In November, I’ll let you know. Have fun this Halloween, but don’t disturb the dead. It makes them angry.