(DISCLAIMER: I love ghost stories and I love Halloween - but many a friend I've gained has had something eerie enter their life. This is a story that started nearly a decade ago - and it's one that fortunately has a good ending (so far). And, best of all, it's a great muse for a new book! Do you have any nightmare apartment or housing stories? Please share in the comments!)
I've been an apartment dweller my entire life - which means I've probably heard every kind of noise and smelled every kind of smell possible. Good neighbors truly are what make great apartments. They create the true dynamic of a building. Good history adds great character. Happy portraits that line the common walkways as each tenant finds their own font door - portraits of past social gatherings, block parties, barbecues - they all breed the same effect. Home. Comfort. Safety.
Bad history, though, can add its very own element.
A few years ago, my old friend Darren (also an apartment dweller) relocated to a tiny Midwestern town and became enchanted by a street of historical buildings and homes that date back to the early 1900s. So enthralled by the quiet tree-lined street, he actually bought a swanky 1000 sq. ft. shotgun style apartment that was inside a towering Victorian. He liked the openness of space, the 10 ft ceilings, the French doors that led to a narrow 3rd floor balcony, and the giant vintage fireplace that made the front of the apartment pop.
The stark white Victorian had been renovated and divided into 12 separate units sometime in the 1960s. The unit Darren purchased hadn't been occupied in over a decade, and had instead been used as storage for the building's former owner. The unit - located at the end of the 3rd floor hallway - had a cozy feeling to it. But it started out as less than welcoming.
After the apartment had been emptied, Darren discovered that every wall had a crucifix nailed to it. "Religious fanatics," was what Darren had been told by both the former building owner and the realtor. Former tenants who seemingly prayed day and night. It was odd, and it gave Darren pause. After all, why would a property owner leave an entire unit unoccupied for over a decade, and instead just use it for storage? That seemed like a waste of money and a waste of space in a building that stood out for its beauty and location.
The lush Victorian stood tall at the end of the street. To this day, superstitions about ghosts and bad luck persist in the area. Longtime locals recounted tales of murder inside the Victorian. Specifically, a former resident had allegedly murdered his bride on their wedding night. It was an eerie and intriguing story, but there were no town or county records of any such tragedy - not inside the Victorian nor in the quiet town.
Being a level-headed man, Darren pushed any reservations he had to the side and bought the unit. After 2 months of remodeling, Darren moved in. But within a week's time, he began to notice strange scratching noises at night. First he assumed it was an animal scratching against the outside of the building. But the noises soon grew louder, as if coming from inside the apartment.
He set mouse traps and eventually adopted a cat, thinking the problem would go away. But the noises persisted. His mother, an avid believer in ghosts and the paranormal, made a 2 hour trip from St. Louis to check out her son's home. One single night in the apartment was all she needed to make an astonishing claim.
"There's a demon in this house."
Darren recalled rolling his eyes at her remark. She had been up investigating the scratches, but like Darren, she couldn't find a physical cause. Or even evidence that anything had been disturbed.
"There's no demons." He said firmly. "It's an old home. There are probably rodents in the walls." He planned to hire an exterminator to investigate. But his mother doubted that was the cause.
"I saw a black shadow." She alleged. "It rolled from the ceiling to the floor, like mist, then picked itself up as if it were taking the form of man, and it walked straight to the back door."
Darren again dismissed her claims. "Too many scary moves."
But when the hired exterminator couldn't find any evidence of rodents (or any other pests) behind the walls, his frustration grew.
Until one day he noticed a strange trail of ash that was sitting in the middle of the apartment. It wasn't pieces of drywall or dirt. He couldn't explain how it got there or why. He swept it up, took the trash out, and the very next morning the trail of ash was back.
One night- the worst night - he woke up to hear what sounded like heavy footsteps walking toward the back door. He turned the lamp on next to his bed, and to his horror watched as the deadbolt on the door that led to that narrow balcony slowly began to unlock...seemingly on its own. As the deadbolt could only be locked or unlocked from inside the apartment, Darren stormed outside and spent the night in his car.
Regardless of the logic he depended on always, the scratching noises just weren't going away. The trail of ash on the floor became a new daily phenomenon. Then there was the self-turning lock... And inevitably, he thought about all those crucifixes that had once lined the walls inside the unit.
At long last, he called a minister and asked for help. After blessing the apartment, the noises ceased. The ash went away. Doors and locks stayed as they were. The place was quiet. In another year, the noises would return, but Darren wasted no time in calling the minister again. Every year since, he's had the apartment blessed. And each year that has passed has grown calmer and more serene.
This isn't a Hollywood story where a war between heaven and hell grew to a climax, by any means. But it's a great reminder that not all alleged hauntings end with the owner(s) fleeing their home at midnight. Sometimes a haunting can be pieces of the past that simply need to be quieted so that new memories can add new life and depth.
And if you're curious, Darren still lives in that 3rd floor unit. Peacefully.
*I do not own or have copyright to images*