Crawford Street Creepiness

Photo by matthewthecoolguy.

Since it’s Halloween, I thought I’d tell you about the creepiest thing(s) that’s ever happened to me. You would think I’d have lots of creepy stories, having grown up in a house that was built in the 1880’s, in a very small, historic town. Perhaps surprisingly, nothing much spooky ever really happened in that house. A couple weird things, but nothing that actually scared me. Maybe that’s a topic for another post.

During the summer of 2013, I moved out of an apartment and into a house, so Birdy could once again have her own back yard. The house was tiny — not much more than 700 sqft — but it had a nice-sized, fenced back yard with good trees, a second bedroom I could use as a craft/sewing room, a storage room plus attic space, and I figured, “How much space does one person really need?” It was built in the 1940’s — a post-war, cookie cutter, white box of a thing. I liked the vintage character and the hardwood floors.

There was trouble from the start.

A month or so after moving in, I got very sick. Sicker than I had been since I could even remember. High fever, chills, body aches, vomiting, sore throat. I was so weak, I could barely walk. My whole body just hurt. I laid in bed for days, thinking periodically, “I am going to have to get up and at least get something to drink so I don’t get dehydrated.” Then I piled my bedside table with bottles of water and Gatorade so I wouldn’t have to get out of bed. I was too weak to drive myself to the doctor’s office, and I kept thinking I would feel better the next day. My friend Camille* came over to check on me a couple times and made me take some essential oil capsules she’d made for me. When I finally made it to the doctor, he said it was flu, strep throat and walking pneumonia. Okay, no wonder I felt so bad. You’re probably thinking, “What does that have to do with the house?” Maybe nothing. Maybe it was just a coincidence. Or, maybe not.

About a month later, the same friend who had brought me the essential oil capsules went through a bitter divorce and needed a place to stay temporarily. So Camille and her cat, Squirt, moved into my second bedroom for a few months while she made preparations for moving to Australia. Camille is a small-statured person, but she is no glass flower. She grew up on hundreds of acres and knows how to hunt and shoot. She’s fiercely independent, strongly principled, and she can run in high heels.

A few weeks after Camille and Squirt moved in, I was at Robbie’s apartment one night. Around 10:00 pm, my cell phone rang. It was Camille. She said, “I think someone just tried to break into the house.”

“What?!” I said. “Are you okay? What happened?”

“I was in my bedroom, and all of a sudden, I heard this noise, like someone was holding the front door knob and violently shaking it in the frame. Birdy went into straight attack-mode, barking and growling, snarling, teeth bared, scratching at the door. I’ve never, ever seen her act like that. I grabbed my pistol and went to look out the peep hole, but I didn’t see anything. So I looked out the front window, and I didn’t see anyone in the yard, or walking down the street, or running away.”

I said, “That’s really strange. Maybe someone was going to break in and decided to see if the door was unlocked first?”

“Yeah, maybe,” she said. “But then why didn’t I see anyone outside? And why would they shake the door like that if they were just trying the lock?”

“I don’t know. Did you call the police?”

“Nah, they wouldn’t be able to do anything. No one actually broke in, and I didn’t even see a person to be able to give a description.”

I said, “Do you want me to come home? Are you scared to be there by yourself?”

“No, it’s okay,” she said. “The door’s locked, I’ve got my gun, and I’ve got Birdy Bodyguard on high alert. I’ll call you if something else happens.”

The next day, I filed a police report, thinking if someone was running around the neighborhood trying doors or breaking in, they might want to know about it and do some additional patroling or something. The officer’s response was, “Why didn’t y’all call the police when it happened? Why’d you wait until the next day?” I said, “Well, I wasn’t home, and my roommate didn’t see anyone, so she didn’t feel she was in any immediate danger.”

The officer said, “And you don’t think maybe it was just the wind?”

“It’s an old house, it has its creaks and cracks. But my roommate is a pretty tough cookie — she knows how to shoot, and she doesn’t scare easily. She definitely believed the noise was caused by a person shaking the door.”

“Okay,” he said. “We’ll assign some additional patrol in that neighborhood. It’s good to know in case anyone else over there starts having problems.”

The door shaking never happened again, but Camille did mention hearing things while she was home alone, like the back door opening and closing, when she knew I was at work, and the door was always locked. Or footsteps overhead in the attic.

A few months later, just before Camille moved to Australia, Robbie moved out of his apartment and into my house. Only a few weeks after moving in, Robbie got very sick. He laid on the couch with a high fever, his hair damp with sweat. It was possibly the only time he has ever missed watching an Alabama football game. It was the sickest he had been at least since I had known him, which at that time was over two years. And it was the sickest he could remember being for longer than that. Once he finally went to the doctor, they diagnosed him with the flu, strep throat, and walking pneumonia — the exact same diagnosis I had received just a few months earlier, when I was the house’s newest resident.

After that, we started hearing things regularly. Tapping on walls. Movement in the storage room. The lamp in the living room would go off by itself, and when someone reached over to turn the switch, it would come back on. One Saturday morning, we had slept late and were laying in bed, fully awake and about to get up, when we heard something sprint across the attic. Loud, heavy steps, like a person on two legs running hard. The house was drafty and poorly insulated, and it wouldn’t have surprised me if a squirrel had gotten into the attic through some small hole. But that was definitely not a noise a creature that small would produce.

One night, Robbie’s friend Roger stopped by to say hello and catch up. Robbie walked Roger to his car as he was about to leave. They stood in the driveway chatting for a little while longer. Roger told Robbie, “I better let you get back inside before Maegan gets mad at you for being out here so long! She’s looking for you.” He pointed at the living room window, where they could clearly see the shadow of a figure pulling a couple blinds apart to peep out.

A little while later, Robbie came back inside and said, “Sorry I was out there so long. You’re not mad are you? We saw you looking out the window.”

“What are you talking about?” I said. “I’ve been in bed since you walked outside.”

A short time later, strange things also began to happen around the neighborhood.

Our next-door neighbor, who was middle-aged and in fine health, died very suddenly after a bout with — you guessed it — pneumonia. Others around us seemed affected by something negative in the air. We witnessed an angry boyfriend-girlfriend argument happening across the street. A family had moved in on the other side of us, into the house on the corner — mom, dad, son, son’s girlfriend, and their infant son/grandson. They had frequent loud arguments and physical altercations that were usually drug-and-alcohol related. Once, Robbie went over to retrieve a tool he had loaned to them, and found the baby in its stroller, alone on the front porch. They police got to know our street very well in a few short months.

That family had constant dark, supernatural experiences in the house. Robbie is the never-met-a-stranger type of guy, and he had spent some time talking to them all and had heard their stories about feeling a negative presence, doors opening and closing, seeing a shadowy figure darting around. Something wasn’t right there. He went over there one night at the grandmother’s request, and he felt it and saw the shadow figure. He left quickly and said he felt like something was chasing him out of there and kept chasing until he got to our property line, then dropped back.

We started to wonder if maybe it wasn’t our house that had the problems, but that something on the corner was affecting not only the house, but also the general physical area. At the corner was a dried-up creek that came from across the other street and wound around behind our house as well, in some very overgrown and spooky woods.

One night I woke up in the middle of the night to the sound of children laughing, flute music, and what sounded like someone tapping sticks together. It sounded like it was coming from the space in between our house and the corner house. One of our bedroom windows faced that area. I got out of bed and looked out the window. Nothing.

The next-door neighbor who died from pneumonia left behind a wife and a teenage son with a developmental disability named Ryan. Ryan was beloved by the whole neighborhood. He loved to garden and do yard work for everyone and preferred to get paid with twenty one-dollar bills instead of one twenty because it made him feel like he had more money if there were more pieces of paper. He played the drums in the band at their church and loved playing (and talking about) music. He was a huge Beatles fan, and we gave him a t-shirt for his birthday of the famous Abbey Road album cover photo. He was more excited about that t-shirt than the chocolate cake his mom bought. And he loooooooved chocolate.

When Ryan graduated from high school, our neighbor on the other side of them hosted a graduation party for him, and the whole neighborhood was invited. The whole neighborhood, with the exception of the new family on the corner with all the problems. They had a live band, which Ryan was super excited about, and lots of barbecue. I was sitting in the beautiful back yard garden (the host was a Japanese maple farmer), talking to Ryan about music and what he wanted to do now that he was a big fancy high school grad, when Robbie came barreling out the back door and said, “You need to get in here. It’s the baby.”

I ran inside and saw a group of people in the living room standing around the host, who was performing CPR on the baby from the corner house. The baby was gray. The host’s roommate was on the phone with 911. The baby’s father, Jason, had found the baby not breathing and ran with him up the street to the party because no one was at home — the whole street was there. Jason paced around, frantic, wailing, sobbing. The rest of the famiy arrived around the same time as the ambulance.

Realizing there was nothing we could do, and not wanting to be in the way, we walked back over to our house. The police came around questioning everyone who had been at the party. We told them what Jason had told us. He said the baby was sleeping on the couch, and his mother was in the room. He was in the bedroom, and his girlfriend was taking a shower. His mother called out to him that the baby didn’t look like it was breathing. He tried CPR and then ran with the baby up the street to get help. A few days later we learned that the baby had died. They determined that it was SIDS.

We did a lot of research trying to determine if there was possibly an Indian burial ground in the area but found nothing conclusive. We learned that Creek Indians (the tribe native to this area) established their communities on the banks of creeks, traditionally buried their dead underneath their dwellings, and held a Green Corn celebration around that time of year that might explain the strange noises I heard outside in the middle of the night.

We consulted a couple different people with knowledge and experience in the supernatural. We were given a concoction of herbs to put around the house that was supposed to ward off certain negative influences. We had readings in which we were told there was a dark spirit attached to the corner and to the creek that was affecting the entire area and that we should try to limit our interaction with the family who lived there, especially that we should not go into that house or allow any of them into ours, to stay away from the creek. We were told that there was also a protective spirit with us who would manifest physically if needed, and that we would understand when or if that happened.

One day, no one was at home at the house on the corner. I was at work. Robbie texted me a photo.

IMG_1809

This dog that no one had seen before had appeared on the corner. It laid down in the grass across the street from the house, across from the creek. It crossed the street into the yard of the house (shown in the photo). It laid in that yard for a while. It investigated the yard and the woods behind and beside it. It walked up and down the street around the house, crossed over and went down into the wooded ravine where a portion of the creek bed ran (that’s the dark area in the photo).

Later, we saw Jason from next door at the gas station, and he said a big dog he’d never seen before had chased him on his bicycle. That he couldn’t get home for a while because the dog was in between him and the house.

None of us ever saw that dog before or since.

So, by this point, we had decided to sublease the house and move out. We found a great place on the other side of town, found a subleaser very quickly, and were happy to be getting away from all the negative vibes and bad juju. The day we moved to the new house, we had to make several trips back and forth across town because we didn’t want to rent a moving truck. It was an all-day affair, even with the three friends who volunteered to help, and by the time we had moved all the boxes over and were finishing up cleaning the empty house, it was dark out.

As Robbie was loading up the cleaning supplies, and we were ready to leave for the last time, it occured to me that my box of camping supplies was in the attic. It was the only thing I ever stored up there, because it wouldn’t be affected by temperature or moisture. Robbie said he would go up and get it, even though he hated going up there, and the attic ladder was a little rickety, and he was always afraid it would break on him. “It’s right at the top of the stairs,” I said. “You’ll be fine.” I went to the car and waited for him.

A few minutes later, Robbie came flying out the front door with the box, threw it in the car, jumped in, and said, “We have to get out of here right now. Go! Go!” I sped off towards the new house with Robbie practically hyperventilating beside me. I kept saying, “What’s wrong? What is it?” He couldn’t even speak. He was just like, “Ohmygodohmygodohmygod!”

Once we were safely at the new house, and everyone was a little calmer, I said, “Okay, what freaked you out?”

He said, “I went up to get that box, and I walked to the back part of the attic just to check and make sure we weren’t leaving anything else up there. There were pieces of carpet remnants on the floor, pieces of cardboard with stuff written on it that was not in any language I’m familiar with, and above that was an old-ass, dirty babydoll hanging upside down from a cord. I am not setting foot in that place, ever, ever again.”

The only time I’ve been back there was to clean after the subleasers moved out last month. The landlord’s son was there doing some repairs and yard work, but he left soon after I arrived. I was alone, cleaning in the kitchen. I heard tapping on the ceiling. And I left without finishing.

*Not her real name.

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Where My Comments At, Yo?

All right, people. I have like 400+ readers of my blog on any given day. YOU PEOPLE NEED TO START COMMENTING! I’m interested in you! And I”m trying to figure out why you’re interested in me! Do it. Characters welcome.

Favorite Passages: Love Heroin

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I find this passage from Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert quite hilarious:

“Addiction is the hallmark of every infatuation-based loved story. It all begins when the object of your adoration bestows upon you a heady, hallucinogenic dose of something you never even dared to admit that you wanted — an emotional speedball, perhaps, of thunderous love and roiling excitement. Soon you start craving that intense attention, with the hungry obsession of any junkie. When the drug is withheld, you promptly turn sick, crazy, and depleted (not to mention resentful of the dealer who encouraged this addiction in the first place but who now refuses to pony up the good stuff anymore — despite the fact that you know he has it hidden somewhere, goddamn it, because he used to give it to you for free). Next stage finds you skinny and shaking in a corner, certain only that you would sell your soul or rob your neighbors just to have that thing one more time. Meanwhile, the object of your adoration has now become repulsed by you. He looks at you like you’re someone he’s never met before, much less someone he once loved with high passion. The irony is, you can hardly blame him. I mean, check yourself out. You’re a pathetic mess, unrecognizable even to your own eyes.

So that’s it. You have now reached infatuation’s final destination — the complete and merciless devaluation of self.”

Random Poetry

In Aesthetics

Men with caulk guns scrape at window frames
and the sweater drones on.
Fred sips his can of Dr. Pepper
and rewrites by hand the term paper
on his lap.
Nikki sucks a root beer bottle that looks exactly
like a beer.
The sweater drones on, bouncing
a few phrases through my head:
created…art…critic…perception…reality…
institutional…
explication?
Everyone is looking at the sweater
but I am watching
(um, ah, um, ah)
the men on ladders who are laughing together.

December 1998

Thoughtful Thursday: Clan of the Cave Bear

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My friend Cheryl says this is her favorite series of books and has been telling me I should read them for years. I started this one a few years ago and couldn’t get into it at the time. But recently we talked about it again, and I picked it back up. This time, I am really digging it! The series is called Earth’s Children, and it “investigates the possibilities and some likely interactions of Neanderthal and modern Cro-Magnon humans living near each other at the same time.” It’s a fictional story about a little human girl who loses her family in an earthquake and is found by a Neanderthal medicine woman and nursed back to health. She is eventually adopted by the Clan.

I can’t even imagine the amount of research that must have gone into these books, but it is really interesting to me to learn more about how people at that time lived and interacted and survived using the land. Auel is skilled at interspersing the story with scientific details that help explain her characters without detracting your attention from the story. And it’s fascinating to learn about the differences between humans and Neanderthals through a story that imagines their interaction.

Upon having a drink with Jenny and Taper Nerd the other night, we discovered that Taper Nerd is also reading this right now! Strange that we’d both be reading the same book at the same time, especially because it was published almost 30 years ago. He’s farther along than I am so far, and he said he felt it was beginning to get a little predictable. These are thick books with small print, so I am going to need to be pretty blown away at the end of this first one if I’m going to read all six of them!

Random Poetry

Rift
by Adrienne Rich

I have in my head some images of you:
your face turned awkwardly from the kiss of greeting
the sparkle of your eyes in the dark car, driving
your beautiful fingers reaching for
a glass of water.
                                    Also your lip curling
at what displeases you, the sign of closure,
the fending-off, the clouding-over.
                                    Politics,
you’d say, is an unworthy name
for what we’re after.
                                    What we’re after
is not that clear to me, if politics
is an unworthy name.

When language fails us, when we fail each other
there is no exorcism. The hurt continues. Yes, your scorn
turns up the jet of my anger. Yes, I find you
overweening, obsessed, and even in your genius
narrow-minded – I could list much more –
and absolute loyalty was never in my line
once having left it in my father’s house –
but as I go on sorting images of you
my hand trembles, and I try
to train it not to tremble.

Thoughtful Thursday: Gertrude

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Book number 3 on Swamp’s “Top 5” list. The other day I said I felt like I’d read it before, thinking it must have been in college for one of my many literature classes. I said, “I don’t remember much about it, so apparently it made a huge impression the first time around.” Swamp reminded me that he had made me read it when we were in Brazil. Well, no wonder I didn’t remember it, with so many wonderful distractions happening all around! I need light reading when on vacation so I can concentrate on appreciating my experience and adventures. The only book from that trip I do remember reading is Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus. It made some good points. 🙂 Oh, and Judy Blume’s Summer Sisters. That one I was reading on a boat, and two ladies who befriended me wanted nothing more than to hold it and finger the pages and look at all the foreign words.

Gertrude was written in 1910, and you have to get used to the antiquated writing style to appreciate what’s happening in the story. This is a philosophical novel, and in fact, the story is much less interesting than the snippets of wisdom sprinkled throughout — observations on the human condition. Plot-wise it can be summed up in just a couple sentences. A crippled composer falls in love with a woman. But she falls in love with his best friend and marries him. But they’re totally wrong for each other, and it doesn’t work out. The husband dies, and the composer writes his magnum opus as a result of the failed relationship. Really, I think Hesse just needed a vehicle for his narrator to explain how his mind worked. The themes of isolation, desperation, and love in its many forms are what make this book worth reading.

I could go on in detail, but I just finished writing a 20-page report for Swamp, and I’m officially tired of talking about this book now.

Random Poetry

goldenleaves

October

A thick banner of wispy pinkish puff
smeared across the crisp blue-black swath
on a chilly autumn night
where my breath is make-believe smoke
and my footsteps crunch golden parchment
after days of gray haze and lukewarm mist
finally, pinpricks of light
calling: the world is within reach tonight
and the tipped-bowl silver moon
pours out wonder
                                      and hope.

1997

Random Poetry

Joseph Campbell believes that instead of searching for the meaning of life, people are really after the feeling of being alive. That is why I write — to try to capture important times when I have felt really alive.

Predborice

I must have lived here
in this hamlet of Czech countryside
and mustardy grass plots,
for the last hundred years
are still here
in cobblestone and whitewash
stick fences and red tile roofs
and yet I am comfortable
with its look and its lack
of anything substantial
by American standards.

From the blue dark pub
converted from a school
I can just make out
a distant stubble-faced man
leading a lumbering, clomping cow
down the narrow, dust-crusted road
and a kerchiefed woman to my left
with a small yellow-haired girl
sound out slippery words from the menu
on a blackboard.

Seizing the divine gift
of displacement and freedom
I swallow my thick black beer
and dart out the door
into air too cool
for my idea of August
past brave chickens and the phone box
where I accepted welcome offerings
from curious eyes and friendly hands,
wonderously patting my hair and clothes.

Stepping into an expanse of green
and rows and rows and rows
of tomatoes and carrots and peas
swathed by bright blue and white light
without that night-time false feeling
of reaching out and stroking stars
I throw up my arms to remind
myself of the openness
and wiggle my fingers over my head
rejoicing in this glimpsing of infinity
I still have trouble cupping in my mind.

Published 1999

Random Poetry

At Reinbach Falls

Up the mountain we are pulled.
A stream appears through the muddle of trees.
A field glances out between trunks.
I reach outside the funicular
letting my fingers graze damp, cool rock.
We’re entirely surrounded here
by the greens of leaves, stems, trees.

At the top,
I can hear before I see –
the way hearts sometimes know
before heads –
the graceful thundering.
Peering over a stout wooden fence
and across a small ravine,
the falls of Sherlock and Moriarty.
Too high to see the spilling-over point.

Squatting on a rock,
I point for Jackie,
showing her how to watch
for falling water
between tall, waving grasses
and flowers on the hillside.

We hush ourselves and listen
to the thunder.
To the left is a field.
In the field is a house.
Behind the house is a mountain:
solitary
towering
rugged.

This water never freezes.

September 1998

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