Who’s the biggest Scaredy-Chick in our murder-mystery-writing flock? That would probably be me, Lisa. But lately, inspired by the launch of Cynthia’s latest title The Spirit in Question, we’ve had a few interesting debates about the existence of ghosts. I happened to casually mention somewhere that I’d once had a close encounter with a poltergeist, and Marla made me promise I’d give the dirt. So I will tell you the story, if you promise not to think I’m crazy. But no one wants to believe ghosts aren’t real more than I do. Trust me on that, at least.
Back in the eighties, I was a starving editorial assistant (and I do mean always hungry) working in a fancy Manhattan publishing house by day and going home each night to a serious dump of a Brooklyn apartment. I’d tell you the exact address, but these days, the neighborhood is uber-trendy and the landlord is pulling in about four grand each month for rent. (Hipsters are such suckers.)
I was riding the subway home one night, hanging on to a pole and clutching a canvas bag full of manuscripts that had to be read by sunrise, when someone called my name. It was a former colleague whom I didn’t know that well, but she was nice enough. A little out there, maybe, but who isn’t?
She asked if I might be in the market for a new apartment (the answer is always “yes” in NY), because she was moving in with her new boyfriend in Boston and needed to sub-let hers. She didn’t want to actually give up the apartment, in case things didn’t work out, because the rent was only $350 a month—and fully furnished.
I literally dropped the heavy bag on my foot. Three-fifty? That was half what I was paying in my drafty studio in Carroll Gardens. I was all in—sight-unseen—even after I learned there was a catch to the deal. I’d have to take care of her two cats, because her boyfriend was allergic. I was fine with that. “And there’s a poltergeist,” she added.
Of course I’d heard of the now-classic movie that had come out a few years before, so I’m sure I had a half-shocked, half-horrified look on my face. “Don’t worry,” my acquaintance said. “A poltergeist is just a mischievous teenager spirit—you know, with a lot of energy. This one is a 14-year-old boy. You’ll be perfectly safe.”
Yes, I would, because she was totally crazy.
I moved in the very next month. It turned out that the apartment was on the bottom floor of a former carriage house, located behind my landlord’s home. Another young woman lived on the top floor, and she was home even less than I was. To get to the carriage house, we had to let ourselves in through a locked gate and then cross a courtyard under a long, grapevine-covered (my landlord was Armenian) pergola. Once inside our house, we had individual entrances to our apartments. They were dark, musty, and old-school (ie my kitchen was bigger than my living room and bedroom combined), but no worse than most of my publishing friends’ apartments.
I was mostly busy or gone and didn’t notice any paranormal activity, thank goodness. The only problem was the cats. They were extremely skittish, and entirely destructive, leaping across furniture and knocking objects to the floor. Sometimes I’d enter a room to find a framed print askew on the wall. They hated me, which hurt my feelings. I couldn’t remember what my friend had told me their names were, so I called them Satan and Damian. Most of the time they just stared down at me from the tops of the floor-to-almost-ceiling bookcases, shooting me death-glares.
One night after work I stood outside my apartment, fumbling for my keys. I finally found them and, just as I reached out to unlock the door, I was stunned to hear a loud click—and the door opened, right in front of me. By itself. I figured it was some weird burst of interior house wind, but when I stepped cautiously inside (yep, just like those movies where the babysitter simply must investigate the creepy basement where the killer is lurking, even though you are yelling at her not to), I found my vacuum cleaner right in the middle of the living room. And it was running.
I knew for sure I hadn’t left it there. And there was only one exit from the apartment, so no one could get out without me seeing him or her. Truthfully, I couldn’t remember the last time I’d vacced, but the place was clean enough. Had my landlord’s elderly mother let herself into my apartment to spruce things up and then walked out with the vac still running? Annoyed by this invasion of privacy, l glared accusingly at the usually-intimidating cats on their bookcases. They should have scared her away.
I turned off the vac, yanked the cord from the outlet, and headed to the bedroom to check my messages. The little red light was blinking twice—yay! I pushed “Play Message” and got…a blaring vacuum on the tape. I quickly went to the second, entirely separate message—and it was the vac again. How was that even possible? To use the answering machine as a tape recorder (if someone really wanted to tape a vacuum) you had to push two buttons down at the same time and hold them there. I doubted my landlord’s mother, who didn’t speak a word of English, had been involved in such a ridiculous endeavor, or that Satan and Damian were that talented with their paws.
And then there was that click I’d heard in the hallway. Who had opened my locked door for me?
I guess I’ll never know. And I’d like to say I dumped the cats and found another apartment pronto, but…remember, $350 a month. But now that the rent is up to 4K, do you think it’s my duty to clue those hipsters in? Or at least warn them not to step into the light…
Readers, do you have a true ghost story for us (or one that could be true)? Or maybe you had a truly terrifying rental apartment. Let us know in the comments!