Yesterday, I watched the first episode of “Haunting of Hill House,” which proved to be too scary for me to finish. Still, falling asleep last night, the show had me thinking about the supernatural. One of the most common tropes in horror fiction is the idea that the ghost — or the alien, or the demon, or the spirit — always exposes itself to the youngest member of the family. In movies, the smallest child is always the first one to tell the rest of the family that they’re seeing dead people; and in elementary school, I remember reading a library book that said ghosts will always present themselves to the youngest energy in a house because they’re the most vulnerable — and the least skeptical. The book also said to place your shoes facing opposite directions at night to confuse evil spirits. This is a habit I still follow to this day. 

I’m an extremely superstitious person. I always wonder if there’s something out there I just can’t see, something barely out of my reach, another world that we’re not meant to understand. I’ve never seen a ghost, like Steven in “Haunting of Hill House,” but, unlike Steven, I’ve never been skeptical of their existence. Today, in the good spirit of Halloween, I thought I’d tell a ghost story that holds a close connection in my heart. 

In elementary school, my family moved around quite often. We were living in a small house when a larger, older one became available down the street. It belonged to one of my mother’s friends — for the sake of this story, I’ll call her Mia — whose mother had been living there alone until her recent death. At the end of the summer, we packed up our things in cardboard boxes and hauled them down the block. 

It was a huge, old, drafty brick house with dark shutters and warped windows that nobody else in the neighborhood wanted. Inside, everything was made of dark wood — the trim, the sloping staircase, the hardwood floors. Despite the fact that there were plenty of windows, I never felt like there was enough light. It was always dark, even on the hottest afternoons. As fall and then winter approached, it only got darker and darker.

My younger brother and I had shared a bedroom in previous houses, but this time we had two separate rooms, facing each other across a long hallway. His was connected to a bathroom that looked like it belonged to an old lady. The walls were pink subway tile and there was a dusty pink bathtub and a pale pink sink basin. We never used that bathroom, and the door was always kept closed.

One night, after we had been living there for several months, my younger brother woke me up. “Get up, get up,” he was saying. “There was a lady in my bedroom.”

In the morning, he told all of us that he had been sleeping when he woke up in the middle of the night. Slowly, the door to the pink bathroom creaked open, and a shimmering vision of an old woman glided into the room. She stared at him, floating at the end of his bed. My brother squeezed his eyes closed, and when he opened them, she was gone.

Did this actually happen? I think so, but I’ll let you decide on your own. In the weeks that followed, my brother and I switched bedrooms because he was afraid the woman would haunt him again. I never saw her, but I remember always feeling unsettled before I fell asleep. I kept my eyes open until the very moment I couldn’t keep them open any longer. 

Weeks passed, and Mia came by to check on us and see how we were settling into the house. They had coffee downstairs while my brother and I played cards, listening. They talked about motherly things — the weather, the house, their children — when my mother asked about Mia’s mother. “How did she die?” she said. 

“Of a heart attack,” Mia said. “In the pink bathtub last year.” 

Now, I’m not adding this detail to seal the deal. It’s just the truth. Until recently, I’ve been scared of everything — the dark hallway in my house off campus, the ceiling above my bed at night, looking in the bathroom mirror when the lights are off. I’m always scared there will be something above me, or behind me, or in some spiritual realm that operates around my physical existence.

What happens after we die? Where do we go? These are the questions that haunt me. But, lately, I’ve been trying to get over them, because I don’t necessarily want to be afraid of those things. If ghosts do exist, maybe I’m only scared of them because I don’t understand. Before it was a TV show, “The Haunting of Hill House” was a 1959 horror novel. In it, author Shirley Jackson writes, “To learn what we fear is to learn who we are. Horror defines our boundaries and illuminates our souls.” This month, I hold this to be true.



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