Haunted, they said, because of a purported murder that happened long ago in Gramma’s house in one of the second story bedrooms.
Built in 1900, it was a two story, gabled red-brick house with a corrugated galvanized tin roof. By the 1950’s the wood floors, gray with time, were splintered with long gaping slits into unfathomable darkness where rodents clacked and clicked with impunity throughout the house in the quiet of the night.
On the ground floor was a small kitchen boasting running water, a wood-burning stove and a walk-in-pantry—where I met my first vinagaroon— a dinning room, bedroom, and a front room which doubled as a bedroom, where I was born on a hot summer day in 1947. (Toilette facilities were out the back door and down the trail a spell to a little shanty at the back of the lot.)
Off the dining room, a dimly lit staircase led to the second story. It was steep and narrow, flanked on both sides by walls, and ascended in a straight line, creaking and moaning with each step to the top of the landing where a small window offered a limited view of the yard below. Left of the landing, a doorway opened directly into a bedroom. Right of the landing, a long, dark, windowless hall led to the other three rooms, two for sleeping and one which was uninhabitable.
It was called the spare room, used for storage, the one and only window boarded over, allowing little light, the ceiling open to the rafters inviting bats. Dusty, dark, and intriguing in a macabre sort of way, it was home to unremarkable cast offs except for a pair of mannequin-like legs from the knee down that leaned against the wall waiting for night when they might walk the halls with the ghost who lived there. Only a curtain draped over the door frame held in place by two nails, a flimsy deterrent to everything evil that came out at night or frenzied glimpses during the day to ensure the boot forms were still there and no ghostly shadows flitted about.
Devoid of convenient light switches on the wall, and the threat of wandering dead and boot forms walking of their own accord, not to mention monsters from the under world, finding one’s way in the dark was an unwelcome thrill. Unable to see my hand in the impenetrable black, I had to find the bulb that hung from an electrical cord in the middle of the room and pull a chain. The process required agonizing minutes of inching forward, swinging arms back and forth in a maniacal frenzy, terrified that I might make physical contact with something hairy or slimy and certainly ugly. Finally, finding the chain, I quickly pulled it, dreading what I might find in the sudden brightness staring back at me.
Nothing ever did. And the manequin legs were never out of place.
If the house is haunted, which some relatives swear too, and many towns people believe, then I am grateful to the gods of terror for sparing me a little girl who suffered enough with an overactive imagination.