A Haunt Is Not A Home
by Alice Mulconry
(Battle Creek, Mi USA)
When you think of haunted houses , you think of old castles, abandoned farm houses or spooky Victorian homes, those stereotypical locations with tormented pasts. The last place anyone would think of ,would be rundown rooms over a bar in Brooklyn ,N.Y. I spent my childhood in such a place, my parents couldn’t resist the cheap rent and anonymity of the place. We had secrets to hide. My much older brother was a raging alcoholic, and what better way to hide that affliction from prying neighbors, than to live over a saloon? It seemingly makes no sense to have a liquor addicted person so near to temptation, but it worked well for us. He never wanted to drink under my Mothers glare and his outbursts could be covered by the sounds of revelers in the downstairs watering hole. The building was set apart from the residential part of the street and people were less likely to call the cops . We really couldn’t live anywhere else.
The eight large rooms held secrets as well. My Father never made much money as a maintenance man for a local bank , he worked from 4:30 a.m. until 3:30p.m , five days a week for the princely sum of $50.50 . Now by 1950's standards the pay wasn’t so bad, but we would never own a home. My parents moved to the top floor apartment over the saloon in the late 1940's and by some quirk of fate the monthly rent was $50.50 and would stay that amount for the next 26 years. They were rooms with an odd late 19th century vibe. Tall ceilings, gas fixtures, claw foot tub, pocket doors, fireplaces, butlers’ pantry, foyer , lots of closets, and a dumbwaiter. The hallway curved alongside the rooms with each room having an entrance and exit , except for the small front bedroom. Years later I looked up the date that the block of buildings had been built, I was shocked to see 1920 listed. The building seemed much , much older. There had to have been a mistake. Eight rooms that we uneasily called home. The haunting itself was just under the surface of day to day living, there would be unexplained sounds of whispering, footsteps , scratching in the walls and the far off banging of doors . This could all be chalked up to the fact that there was another tenant downstairs and an active business at street level, that tended to attract vermin, but some sounds couldn’t be explained away too easily. The fluttering of wings against the windows were an almost daily occurrence, caused by pigeons perhaps? No trace of bird life was ever found on the windowsills, my superstitious mother thought they were a harbinger for bad luck, and as luck would have it ,we experienced a fair share of tragedy living there. During the day the three rooms facing the side street were usually bathed in light, the remaining ,facing the avenue ,were plunged in a constant darkness . The most troubling area of the apartment was the storage room and darkened area of the hallway, this was where another dimension existed. The coldest part of the apartment, year round , where disembodied sounds and feelings of unease were intense. Photo-negative wraiths would pass from hallway to bedrooms and twinkling lights would be seen in their wake. There was a mirror over one of the back bedroom fireplaces, built in ,with a gold leaf frame , it had smudges that could never be wiped away , it seemed as if you just chased the blurs on the glass to the other side with the cleaning rag. As a small child I sensed that the storage room was the center of “something”. The long hallway enabled me to ride a bike and roller skate indoors. I would make sure to quickly pass the storage room on my runs through the apartment. The funny thing was that I never feared being inside the storage room...it felt safe, the place directly outside the door was another matter....it faced my bedroom. At night my Mother would keep the two doors in my bedroom open. One
door led into my parents room, the other to the hall facing the storage room. Night time brought terrors beyond the nightmares of a child. I would be tucked in bed and I would hear a noise not unlike dying florescent lights, a low hum. A large shadow would appear in the hall, blacker than night itself, shapeless nothingness. From the darkness would peer a pair of red eyes at the top where a head might be. It would hang in the heaviness of the room while I lay in bed afraid to move, for when I moved , it inched closer. I would gather all my strength to scream and leap from the bed to scramble to my parent’s, room. As if there were safe perimeters , it never followed . Now as a child’s imagination is liable to take flight , I was vindicated when adults said that they experienced similar run-ins. My Mother was always ready to lend a helping hand to anyone down on their luck, relative, friend or stranger. Our apartment was a way station of sorts and there was plenty of room. A friend of my parents needed a place to stay after a messy divorce and she was given the bedroom next to mine, one of the dark rooms. She unpacked and settled in , complaining about how chilly the room was for August. She took a bath that night and remarked about the claw foot tub, the interesting carving of large reptilian like claws on what appeared to be eggs. The next morning she said she was ill, she packed up and we heard she had a mental breakdown. Years later she told my Mom that she must have been so depressed that she could have sworn that the feet of the tub were crushing the egg shaped pedestal, the large claws could be seen and heard digging in and cracking the shells . My oldest brother saw the large dark mass in the hall one night, one of the few times that he wasn’t drunk. He had gotten home late and walked down the hall to his room at the far end . He said he passed through a cold spot and was stopped in his tracks by a force that shoved him into a wall. He thought he had dreamed the encounter, but there was a huge bruise on his shoulder. I had met with something on the outside staircase as a small child, the sound of thousands of bees had lured me out on the landing one night, the” thing “, what ever it was , apparition or demon ,de-solved before my eyes as my Mother broke the spell, by opening the front door to the landing and picking me up. Pictures would fall off walls and shelves, and nothing was ever where you had just left it. We had lived amongst the odd ness, it had become part and parcel of daily life. On a morning in 1965, a man was found crying inside the roof skylight. He had been trapped there all night. The burgler said he had climbed down a ladder from the roof that led into a closet in our apartment ,the door from the outside was locked . He said he was set upon by unseen hands that tore at his clothes and skin for hours. The cop that picked him up thought that he had gotten scraped up from some loose nails, not by a bogeyman. One day in 1971, the real estate agent who we’d been paying rent to for years, knocked on the door and introduced us to the new owner. The man gave us a month to get out, he said his mother was coming from Greece and needed the apartment. The truth was that he was buying the building as an investment, his mom was never going to live there. Instead he turned the two eight room apartments into multiple units. I wonder if the construction dispersed or disturbed the beyond the pale inhabitants?. All my dreams are set in that apartment, the hallway beckons each night...I try to stay in the area bathed in sunshine.