Photograph by Camela Thompson
As I stood leaning into the fridge, a strange noise distracted me. I was willing to write it off as the fan kicking off to blast cold air into my face, but it happened again. And again. The hairs on the back of my neck stood on end and I slowly extricated myself from piles of lettuce, watermelon, and cabbage. The noise was familiar, but nothing I had heard in person - an echo from movies and roller coaster rides. The squeak and grind was the sound of something heavy hanging from a rope, slowly swinging from side to side.
I took a few steps back and closed the fridge door with a small whump. The sound paused, as if my action had startled it, but only briefly. It started up again. The television blared in the kitchen above me and my grandmother moved near the sink against the wall. I was at least twenty feet away, but I was willing to consider that the noises were the result of weight shifting overhead.
What I have described was not the first incident or the last. After twenty-five years of silence, I finally turned to one of my grandparents at a family function and asked, "Have either of you noticed anything strange in the basement?"
The question elicited an ensemble of awkward smiles. My cousins admitted that they hadn't felt comfortable in the basement for over twenty years, only running down to use the bathroom in a pinch or retrieve something for my grandmother. My grandparents had been sleeping in the downstairs bedroom and admitted that sometimes objects would turn up in a different place than they were set down, and a shadow would stir at the edge of their vision. My brother and I are logical and argued that the breakers could be grounded improperly or some such science that would lead to high electromagnetic fields (known as EMF by the pros we watched on Ghost Hunters). This could explain feelings of discomfort and perhaps hallucinations, but not objects moving.
Since we aired the creepy stories surrounding the basement, we jokingly refer to it as "Fred." We adopted the Protestant based belief that giving it too much attention might lend it power, so best to not talk about Fred, especially in the house. In accordance with our unspoken understanding, when something strange happened, it was allowed a watery smile and a mention at a restaurant after a drink or two.
We all lived in a strange accordance, but my five-year-old nephew has shaken things up. He was sitting at breakfast recently with my mom and told her he didn't like the basement. My mom asked, "Why?"
"There's a little girl who lives there. She was buried in a box there," he points to the back of the house, "by the bad men."
All adults in the room dropped their forks and stared, horrified. Creeped out. There is something profoundly disturbing about a small child speaking about gruesome things. My mom and I gave the familiar nervous laugh and we surmised (hoped?) that he had seen something bad on television - snuck a peek at something he wasn't meant to see. We also reflected on the fact that he was the first to think it was a she.
A few days later, my brother interrupted my mom while she was sitting on the couch with her feet up, working on her laptop.
"Did you walk into the room and then walk back out?"
"No." Mom points to her raised feet.
"Are you sure?"
My brother squinted an eye and grimaced. "Huh."
We haven't called in the ghost busters because "Fred" is inconsistent in its appearances, which is fine by us. Children and adolescents have grown up in the house without stirring up additional activity. Maybe if we continue to turn our heads and refuse to speak out loud, we will be left alone a little longer.