The House That Haunts My Mind

The dark thoughts in your nightmares need to live somewhere, too. And for me, it‘s that old farmhouse on Main Street.

04 May 2024 / Published on Medium
Photo credits / Heber Davis on Unsplash

I walked up Main Street on that summer day. My friend Alex had invited me over. Even in the sunshine, the house looked ominous.

The house had three storeys with a gable roof. Two rows of dark squares, crowned with a single, gaunt-looking chapel window at the top. Even though it was painted all in white, the ravages of time were slowly peeling away the layers, revealing its darker skin underneath.

I walked up the thick wooden steps and onto the porch. Instead of an inviting wooden railing, it was surrounded by thick half-walls of brick. The porch was bare. No chairs or tables to enjoy the sunshine. Instead, some withered old leaves chased each other in the corners in the light breeze.

I knocked on the door.

Soon after, Alex appeared from the dark square of the doorframe and gestured for me to come in. When I entered the house, the outside light was quickly gobbled up by the gloom. It had a smell of age — thick with days gone by and the memories that went with it. Like the air of the present never entirely made it inside.

And I was breathing it in.

It’s the kind of house where old chairs in the living room still bear the impression of whoever once sat there, as if they were keeping their memory alive and still holding their weight. As if they were still sitting there.

The kind of house where off in some distant room, a grandfather clock ticks off the passage of time, but not quite in rhythm. Like time is somehow warped and distorted within these walls. And when the clock lets out its weak old chime, it’s like it’s barely hanging on to time at all.

A house with windows that are so old that they barely let in the sunlight, and the glass turns the outside world into smears of distorted shapes and colours.

A time capsule of faded rugs, old photographs and china figurines. A walk-through keepsake of the past, heavy and cloying.

I didn’t visit the house often because Alex didn’t live there. But his grandmother did. She was a large, towering woman with a deep, thundering voice and wild grey hair framing her intense eyes. She seemed nice enough. But the past seemed to weigh heavy on her. And sometimes, that weight would sweep her away completely, and her face would transform into fear and anger. And that’s when she would start to talk to them. To the people that weren’t there.

Now I don’t want to hear your nonsense anymore!” she would say. “You go on now, I won’t have any of it!

Alex just brushed it off and joked about it, but to me, it seemed very unwise to do that. Like it was just inviting more weird things to happen.

From what I remember, Alex’s mother was there that day. We were standing in the old kitchen, and I noticed a door off to the side. Alex told me that it led to a steep staircase to the second floor. It used to be used by the servants so they wouldn’t have to use the main stairs. And then she told me. Someone had slipped and fell one night and had broken their neck on the way down. And sometimes you could hear screams in the night.

“There’s just some old energy in this place,” she said, almost jokingly.

She just chalked it up to a natural phenomenon, like a fiddly lock or a door that doesn’t quite fit in its frame when you close it. But instead of calming me down, her frankness made this place even more terrifying.

We walked down the hallway to the staircase and went up to the second floor. There was no way I was going to use those kitchen stairs. They creaked as we went up, announcing our presence. The upstairs rooms were also shrouded in gloom, at least the ones I saw. Alex said that some doors were always shut. And they stayed that way.

Passing through the hallway, that’s when I noticed it. All the mirrors had been covered up with old strips of wallpaper or cloth.

“Why are the mirrors covered?” I asked.

“Well…” Alex replied, “Sometimes Grandma sees things in there.”

That alone made me feel like the walls were closing in — like some dark presence was floating around us. And I have never felt that in any place in my life ever since.

One night, Alex invited me to camp in the backyard. The house still sat on a huge piece of land at the time, covered with a thick orchard of old, gnarled apple trees. Alex and his brother used to help out with yard work, but you could tell that it was slowly being overtaken by the weeds and the long grass.

We pitched the tent and settled in for the night. At some point, I awoke, desperately needing to pee. I quietly unzipped the tent and snuck off into the high grass. The moon hung high in the night sky, covered in a thin veil of clouds. My heart beat loudly in my ears. After I was done, I returned to the tent and looked up at one of the second-floor windows.

There she was, looking out at me as if looking out to a world that she didn’t know anymore. Just an unmoving statue of grey and white. Like a ghost. And maybe she was a ghost in a way. Maybe when you stay in a place long enough, the outside world just shrivels away like the old leaves on the porch. Trapped in time and space, only kept alive by the four walls that surround you and the artifacts of a time long passed.

Whenever my nightmares need a setting, it’s almost always in that house, like it’s become some sort of archetype for the darkest things in my mind. Corridors that go on forever. Rooms that bleed into more rooms like a labyrinth of chambers. And there’s always something lurking. Something is about to appear. It’s not necessarily a person or a thing, but some sort of dark malevolence hanging there. And in that house, the blacks are a deep, deep black. Not even a colour, really. It’s just a complete and utter void. Like a black hole that leads to nothingness.

What does it mean for a place to be haunted? Maybe all places are haunted to some degree. And what happens to the ghosts and spirits that reside there when the people who remember them fade away? Do the ghosts fade along with them, or do they live on?

I’ve lost touch with Alex, and I know his grandmother is long gone. But I did look up the house on Google Maps, and it’s still there. The coat of white paint has been removed, and most of the land in the back has been sold, making room for new houses. To its right side, a new road and a new traffic light have been built. In short, the house looks much more well-kept now—more in the present.

But I still wonder.

Do the new owners still hear strange sounds coming from that old, narrow staircase in the quiet of the night? Do they notice any dark shapes sneaking across mirrors on the second floor, trying not to be seen?

I went back to Canada last summer for a visit, and on one bright August day, I thought I’d pass through my old hometown on my way up north. The window was rolled down, the radio was playing, and I was singing as I drove down Main Street, as I had done so many times before. I hadn’t even remembered the house, but then it gradually came into view on my left. The traffic light turned red, and I stopped. I turned my head and slowly looked over to it. And as the light turned green and I slowly headed north out of town, I swear that somewhere deep behind the windows and rooms and doors, the house was looking back at me, too.

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