Living With the Paranormal: Culmination
A person’s life can be boiled down to a series of events. Some major, some minor. Some connected, some unconnected. It’s often difficult to know which is which. Sometimes it’s possible to see a pattern. And sometimes the apparent architect of that pattern seems to want to claim at least your sanity, if not your very soul.
My service in the Air Force was at an end, and I was preparing to move to Toronto a few months later. These and several other factors had caused my life to become quite tumultuous. A lack of harmony and/or an excess of chaos in one’s life seems to open one up to attack by entities that thrive on negativity, both human and otherwise. This tumult, I believe, seemed to draw the attention of the entity that had been following me since I was 15. When I moved from Travis Air Force Base to my buddy Kam’s place in South Lake Tahoe, I felt like it followed me.
Through the years, I’ve had multiple encounters with what seems like the same negative entity. The same feelings of dread, the same timbre to the noises I’ve heard, even just the same energy. It seemed to some degree fixated on me, and wanted to finally complete what it started those many years ago. In the months after the Darkness Falls incident, about which I wrote in my last blog entry, I felt more vulnerable; thus, it seemed eager to attempt to exploit my feelings of vulnerability.
From the moment I got in my car to start the drive from the base to Kam’s house, I had a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. I was fairly certain that it wasn’t anything to do with leaving the base, and I was also pretty certain that it had nothing to do with spending a few weeks with my buddy before I moved across the country to my parents’ house. It didn’t feel like simple anxiety. It almost felt like an external force - a slightly sickening, leaden feeling, and it simply wouldn’t go away.
The three weeks that I spent in Tahoe were a blur. The sinking feeling that I had in my gut only intensified in that time, to the point where I couldn’t sleep as normal. I played video games during the dark hours to keep me up so that I could sleep with the rising sun. Luckily, Kam was a blackjack dealer who worked the night shift at one of the nearby casinos, so all of his windows were blacked out, making daytime slumber a viable option.
Fear was my constant companion. At times, I could feel a sensation like someone’s finger only millimeters from the back of my neck. On two separate occasions, I heard a low grumble coming from Kam’s kitchen. Each time I checked, there was nothing to be found.
I asked Kam if he had ever had any odd or creepy experiences, and naturally he said no. Luckily for him, he’s not a believer in “that stuff”, so I was left to deal with these incidents by myself. I lacked the knowledge or experience to do an EVP session*, though in retrospect, I’m glad that I didn’t.
Soon enough my time at Kam’s place came to an end. My move to Toronto went ahead as expected, and by June of 2005, I was officially an expat. Two years passed fairly quietly. I had left the fear and apprehension that I had felt in Tahoe behind, it seemed. I suppose that the entity just didn’t have enough frequent flyer miles to make the trip in a speedy manner.
A different set of feelings had set in, however. You see, I had gone to Toronto to learn whether or not me and my then-girlfriend could stand to live with each other. If so, we were supposed to move back to the U.S. together and get married. This was originally only supposed to last six months. Two years had elapsed, and the second part of the plan didn’t seem to be happening. This lead me to start feeling out of place and useless. As a disabled veteran, I was unable to find a job, and since I was living in another country, I couldn’t go to school. I felt my life wasting away as I became trapped in a prison of my own making.
This despondency once again made me vulnerable. It wasn’t long before that creeping sense of dread with which I had become so terribly familiar over the years returned. It seemed most intense during the depth of night, with feelings of seemingly sourceless fear constant and ever-growing. The air around me seemed to vibrate with it, and it affected me in many ways. Sleep became elusive. People seemed to react to me differently than normal, less friendly and more apprehensive. Things started to happen that had no easy explanation.
When I would spend my nights playing World of Warcraft, I would often feel the presence of something right behind me. At first, I thought it may have been my ex, since the door to the bathroom was directly behind my computer chair. Whenever I would glance over my shoulder, though, there was no one there.
Often, when I would lay down to try to eke out a few hours of sleep, images would flash in the dim gray of my closed eyes. Normally when you close your eyes, you see a greyish nothingness. Sometimes, you can see a series of amorphous black and white geometric shapes. In these instances, I would see a grey and black nebula which would morph into hideous, otherworldly faces, one after the other. It created a fear so intense that it would make me feel too nauseous to sleep.
I was locked into this cycle for days. I would get a few fitful hours of sleep per night, and those hours were saturated by images of horror and butchery, much like when I was 15. It was then that I knew for certain that my enemy was back, and was stronger than ever. I could feel whatever meager mental defenses that I had built up over the years slowly eroding. It was building up to something.
Sibilant whispers began to form in the silences of my mind. Whispers that played on the fears left behind from being raised as a Roman Catholic. The scenes of butchery that had recently plagued my dreams were reminiscent of the typical images of hell that are rampant in the general Christian mythos. It was as if this entity was trying to build up my fear and replace it with anger for showing me these images. Anger that it was trying to channel into a challenge.
I feebly attempted to use the same method to fend it off as I had in my youth - that of an image of a shining suit of armor surrounding me formed by the residues of my former faith. I all but heard the entity snort with derisive laughter.
Anyone who knows me also knows that I have a stubborn streak a mile wide. The entity knew this, and shrewdly used it in its campaign to erode my will. If it simply stuck to these images of torture and pain, I would eventually have become numb to it as I found a way to reinforce my will, as I had done in the past. Therefore, what better way to break a person like me than to give me a cause to rally against by giving the ultimate middle finger to what my formerly religiously-oriented brain deemed the consummate evil?
Simply put, it wanted me to challenge the devil. It was persistent. Insidious. The words of the challenge would begin to form in my mind randomly. While I ate the food that tasted like ashes, while I attempted sleep that barely came, while I played games that brought me no joy. I knew in the depths of my being that if I gave in to this impulse, I would be irretrievably lost. I’d either go mad, or become possessed. But I was always able to stop it. Somehow.
It was at this point that my fear reached its peak; when I realized fully that to my mind, the myths were real. Though I had experienced incidents similar to these several times before, I suppose that I was holding out hope that they were manifestations of something else. Yes, I was hoping that it was mental illness, not… this. I was under attack by something that although I had been raised to believe was real, I had never truly believed could be. And the kid gloves were off.
I was pretty much done for. At my wit’s end, I started to cast around for help. My ex was no help, as she had shut down and more or less stopped interacting with me, which only deepened my sense of isolation and increasing my vulnerability. Her family was not particularly interested in paranormal occurrences, so they weren’t an option either. Out of desperation, I called my little brother, Matthew. I told him all about what had been going on in the last few weeks. I asked him what I should do. His reaction was unexpected.
"Isn't it obvious?" He chuckled.
"...No, apparently not. What are you talking about?" I asked, frustrated and perplexed.
"Well, it doesn't matter what we think. It's what we say and what we do that counts." he said. "If people were tormented or went to hell just because of what they thought about but never acted on, heaven would be empty and hell would be overflowing."
As soon as he finished his statement, a wave of calm washed over me. He was absolutely right!
"Thanks, Matt. I think you just actually saved my life." I said gruffly, gratitude and relief overcoming me. I'd never loved him more than at that moment in my whole life.
And so the tide began to turn. That same night, I felt the phrase start to form in my mind again. I shouted silently, “HAHA, F*CK YOU! YOU CAN’T CONTROL ME, AND F*CK YOU AGAIN FOR THINKING YOU COULD!!!”
The response was... nothing. Just silence. Wonderful, blissful silence. I almost couldn’t believe it. For that moment, my mind was my own again. That moment stretched on and on, until fatigue pulled me down into a deep and blessedly dreamless sleep.
It didn’t give up so easily. The following night, it tried again. It was much more forceful and intense, but so was my response. It tried to bully me, but was instead met with open ridicule, laughter and mockery. The night after that, it disappeared.
Within a week, my sleep patterns returned to normal. I was free again, and I had the feeling that it would be permanent this time.
I can only assume that I was no longer the easy mark that my pervading sense of listlessness and lack of direction had made me. These entities feed on fear and uncertainty, it seems, and I suppose that my denial of it had set it back on its proverbial heels. I hope that it didn’t find a new mark to vent its frustrations on, but who can say?
I’m keenly well aware that what I went through had the earmarks of several potential mental illnesses and psychological conditions, such as depression and schizophrenia. While on a trip to visit my family in the Bronx, I decided to make an appointment with the Bronx V.A. hospital's psychiatric department. I was 99% sure that what I had experienced was authentic, but an ounce of prevention, and all that... After talking to a psychologist for over an hour and a half, I never heard back from them. As far as the V.A. is concerned, no news is good news. As far as I know, I'm perfectly mentally healthy and stable. In fact, since December 2017, it’s been my honor to have been used as a healthy control in several V.A. studies on the possible genetic links to suicide among veterans.
Even the darkest times in one’s life can lead to positive change. In my case, this event spurred me to take hold of my life and make some hard choices. I moved out of Toronto and back to Tahoe with Kam, and started down the path that would lead me to fulfill the notion that I had while in Toronto, to go to culinary school.
The series of events that made me were a crucible that burned away many of my sources of fear and apprehension, especially of a spiritual and/or metaphysical nature. I know exactly who I am and what I stand for now, and it’s that sense of self that has been my ward against the darkness for over ten years. While at times I envy those who have their faith in a deity or greater power as a shield, I’ve found that faith in oneself is more than enough.
I’ve gone on to become a full-time paranormal investigator, in hopes that my efforts can bring a measure of peace to those afflicted by things which most people deride as ridiculous or absurd.
Stay tuned to this blog to read about me and my team’s investigations into the paranormal, since after having gone through all of that, I am now actively seeking out more situations that many people would run screaming away from!
*EVP = Electronic Voice Phenomena. This is when you make a recording of yourself asking questions of the ostensibly empty air, and review the recording later to see if any odd sounds or voices show up in the recording that weren’t present at the time of the recording. Pursuing these avenues by oneself is never a good idea. It seems to only increase the frequency and amplify the intensity of the strange occurrences, since if you’re creating an avenue of communication in the form of an EVP session or the use of a ouija board, you obviously want to hear more from them.
In 1997, my family and I moved from a 1,600 square-foot house in a nice neighborhood near Eastchester Road in the Bronx to a 1,300 square-foot... I hesitate to call it a shack, but that term wouldn't be too far off. It was a structure located behind a restaurant in Patterson, New York. A mere few dozen yards away from us was a ski slope, which we never set foot on. Overly athletic, my family is not.
I got a job at the Record Town in the Jefferson Valley Mall in, you guessed it, Jefferson Valley, New York. While working there, I met and started to date a gal named Jennifer. She had a sharp wit, and we joked with each other constantly. Unfortunately, she lived 20 miles away from me, so seeing her was difficult. Therefore, we spent much of our time together on the phone.
The phone in question was situated in the kitchen. It was one of those old 1980s phones with the extra-long cords that kinked easily. This nice, long cord allowed me to lay on the kitchen floor and chat with Jennifer for hours, much to most of the rest of my family's chagrin.
One evening, I was on the phone with Jennifer, and we were talking about some banal topic. My mother was sitting at the kitchen table doing a crossword puzzle. I recall very clearly how Jennifer and I were laughing at something one moment, then the next, I felt very strange. All of a sudden, I felt like my consciousness was shunted to the side.
Sadness. Deep, mournful, unfathomable desolation hit me like a fist in the gut. The next thing I know, I was sobbing with this alien emotion reverberating through me like echoes in a cave full of despair.
"Doug? What's wrong?" Jennifer asked, concerned.
"I... I don't know." My voice felt even, almost flat, despite the tears forcing their way out of my eyes.
"Why are you crying?!" She asked, the concern giving way to alarm.
"I have no idea." I replied in the same flat tone.
The funny thing is, the division between my partially-suppressed consciousness and the invading emotions was so sharp that I felt like a passenger within my own mind. My face was even relaxed, not contorted into the usual grimace of a person ravaged by emotions. I was sobbing with a straight face.
The onslaught lasted for about five minutes. It felt like a much, much longer stretch of time. Jennifer was freaking out all the while as I tried futilely to comfort her while also attempting to explain what was going on. Then, as suddenly as it started, it stopped.
All I know for sure is that after this all happened, I hung up with Jennifer, then stood up. My mother was still calmly sitting at the kitchen table, doing her crossword puzzle. I was so wrapped up in the strangeness of what had been happening that I'd forgotten that she was there.
"Mom? Did you hear what just happened?" I asked, relieved to have a witness.
She looked up from the crossword and gave me one of those patented mom looks over the rim of her glasses. "Something happened?"
Shocked, I briefly described what had happened to me five feet away from her.
"Oh, that. I thought she broke up with you or something. You need to find a reliable girl and settle down." She said pointedly.
I shook my head and went to my bedroom.
I couldn’t stop thinking about what had happened. I spoke with my brothers Andrew and Matthew, and Andrew said that it sounded like I was temporarily possessed by a tormented spirit. Wondering where one would have come from in this place, I asked my father if he knew anything at all about the prior residents. I was told that there was a house fire several years before we moved in. A family of migrant workers was living there at the time, and reportedly, two of them died in that fire. I don't know if that actually happened, but the feelings that had invaded my mind definitely seemed tortured enough to come from someone who had died such a violent, untimely death.
Why did this apparent lost soul choose me? I was happily engaged in conversation. My mental state was one of positivity and joy and contentment. Maybe this acted like a beacon. It hasn't happened to me again since then.
The Darkness Falls Effect
The strangest things can come from the most unlikely sources. In 2003, a series of odd occurrences in my life were precipitated by a ridiculous, mostly-forgettable horror film called Darkness Falls.
Typically, I don't really enjoy horror films. Blood and gore have never appealed to me, so films like Texas Chainsaw Massacre and the franchises Nightmare On Elm Street and Friday The 13th were more or less lost on me. Although, the remake of Texas Chainsaw Massacre starring Jessica Biel's derriere wasn't half bad, though it was mainly her features that made the film bearable.
Then along came two films, The Ring and The Grudge, and the horror movie genre changed forever for me. Gore and explicit violence were replaced by a creeping sense of dread and palpable tension. Without turning this post into an examination of the evolution of horror films, suffice to say that I became more interested in them from the release of those films onward.
The trailers for Darkness Falls looked decent. They were shrewd with the timing of their release in the winter. Back then, that was when the typical post-summer blockbuster, post-Halloween cash-grab lull tends to happen, and content-starved cinephiles will shell out their hard-earned cash for anything that looks halfway decent.
One Friday night, me and a buddy of mine, Rich, decided to go check it out. After some typically contrived set-up, the first appearance of the monster occurred. It was a bit schlockey, and I should have been chortling over it. However, something about the combination of the creature's movement coupled with the wheezing, creepy sounds it made came together perfectly to stab the primal fear center of my brain. I could barely breathe as the scene played itself out. After it had, I told Rich that I had to step outside.
It took me ten minutes to sort myself out. Rich came out of the theater to make sure that I was ok. He was puzzled by my reaction, and frankly, so was I. I went back in, though, and finished watching the movie. Nothing in the rest of the film had anywhere near the same effect on me that the opening sequence did, but I came out shaken all the same.
I was living in a dorm in Travis Air Force Base near Vacaville, California, where I was stationed. I couldn't sleep. I was in my late twenties, and all too cognizant of the fact that this silly movie should most definitely not have had the impact on me that it did. But it did. I would close my eyes and see the fluttering blackness of the creature in my mind's eye. I could still hear the wheezing, gurgling sound that it made as it stalked its prey.
As a grown man in the military, I had to sleep with a light on for two solid months after watching that silly, frivolous movie about the frickin' Tooth Fairy.
To me, California had been utterly lacking in paranormal activity during my time there. It felt dead, no pun intended. I never saw or felt anything. I suppose that I had filled my time with swing dancing and dating and being deployed overseas, and I just didn't leave room for supernatural things. They didn't seem to find me, either. My mental defenses held up just fine. Until I had watched that movie, that is.
Something was different. I felt more open, vulnerable to outside forces that I had put up fortified walls in my mind against ever since that emotional invasion five years prior (I'll discuss my method for doing so in another blog post). I felt a presence in my room on several occasions. It felt negative, bordering on malevolent.
One night a few weeks after seeing the movie, I'd fallen asleep with my desk lamp on. I woke to the feeling of someone standing next to me. I saw no one when I opened my eyes, but when I looked down, I saw the corner of the bed a foot or so away from my feet being pushed down as though a weight was on it.
I should have been scared out of my mind. I wasn't, though. It was as if my sleepy brain said, "I can't do anything about it. I'm tired, I'm going to sleep."
And I did.
The presence gradually faded away after that, as if my ambivalence towards its big reveal robbed it of its power. After a week or so, it vanished.
It would be replaced a few months later with something much, much worse. That, however, will be the subject for the next post.
* * *
As soon as I saw the DVD for Darkness Falls, incongruously, I bought it. I then watched it every night for a week, until I was no longer afraid of this absurd, ridiculous Hollywood machination. I'd be damned if I let such a thing beat me down. Back then, it took around three to four months for a movie to transition from the theater to DVD, so by the time I bought it, I had already passed the time where that apparent entity held any sway over me. Better late than never, though!
Scary stories in virtually every form of media take place at night, or on cloudy, gloomy days. In reality, though, the scariest things can happen in broad daylight. They can happen any time, really. Even right now. When I went with two of my brothers, Andrew and Matthew, and my cousins Stacy and Chrissy to Bronx Park one sunny summer afternoon in 1991, we definitely weren't expecting anything to happen.
Bronx Park - I have so many fond memories of playing there as a child. For example, when my brother Michael bought me and Matthew skateboards, we would go to the small slope leading out from the Bronx Botanical Gardens and ride them down it over and over. I still have a scar on my right knee from falling off of the skateboard on that slope.
Then there was the gazebo. We discovered it only days after we moved in across the street from the park, and it soon became the de facto meeting place for my brothers, cousins and me. Andrew told us stories about how it was used for Satanic rituals. There were large black burn marks in the center, as if someone had made a huge fire, perfect for ritualistic sacrifices. The center was divided into five sections, forming a pentagram, so to the rest of us this seemed possible.
Those stories didn't stop us from meeting there several days a week, where we would hang out and reminisce about events from our earlier childhood. Stories of Stacy and Chrissy's mom, my late Aunt Martha, were chief among those recollections. She had died in August of 1991 from throat cancer, causing our two cousins to move in with us for a while until they were of age. Aunt Martha's loss was still fresh to us all, and talking about her felt like our way of eulogizing her.
One sunny summer day, we were hanging out at the gazebo as usual. Andrew and Matthew were talking to Stacy and Chrissy on one side of the structure. I was feeling a bit out of sorts and was keeping to myself on the the other side of the gazebo.
There was an old car wreck about a dozen or so yards away from the gazebo back then. From the looks of it, it had been there since long before we had begun frequenting the park. Once or twice we poked around it, looking for clues as to how it had come to be there. We never found anything but old rusted metal.
As I was leaning over the stone railing, peering into the underbrush, I noticed something. At first I didn't realize what it was that I was seeing. Movement near the old car wreck. It was too much movement for a squirrel or any other animal that we knew lived in the park. Thinking that it may have been a raccoon or something, I called Andrew over and pointed out what I saw.
Sure enough, that familiar sense of dread washed over us. I say "us" because the mood of the group changed suddenly and simultaneously. Happy chatter was silenced like it was cut off with a hot knife. Chrissy stayed back on the opposite side of the gazebo, a look of dismay on her face. Stacy and Matthew joined Andrew and me at the railing, also peering into the brush, looking for what Andrew and I had noticed.
This thought echoed in my head so intensely that I staggered. I noticed what seemed to be a skeletal figure with tattered, singed pieces of cloth hanging off of it moving toward us, the skull completely exposed. Perhaps a victim of the accident that had caused the wreck? Regardless, the sight of that thing was more than enough for me to do what I was told.
Every instinct that I had told me to run. So I did.
I ran as fast as I could, shouting over my shoulder for everyone to follow. Fear gripped me so hard that I didn't even look back to see if anyone had followed me until I was back at the entrance to the park. When I finally stopped, panting and gasping for breath, I looked back, terrified that this figure would be only feet away from me. Fortunately, all I saw was Matthew, followed closely by Stacy, then Chrissy. Andrew wasn't in sight.
Moments passed like hours. The fear that had ebbed as I had run from the gazebo returned. I turned to Matthew.
"Where's Andrew!?" I demanded.
"He was right behind me!" he gasped between breaths.
I started to gather myself to go back. Perhaps only ten seconds had elapsed, but it seemed like 10 minutes. Just as Matthew and I had started to head back up the path in search of him, Andrew came trotting down the path, his eyes wide and his face paler than usual.
"What happened? What did you see?" I asked, dreading the answer.
"I dunno. An aura of some kind. Like a light. It was this sickly yellow color. It made me feel gross. Why did you guys run like that?"
Perplexed, I replied, "I saw something very different. Like a skeleton with burned clothes hanging off of it. Plaid. Red plaid. I heard something scream in my head, telling me to get out, so I ran. You didn't feel that?"
I again turned to Matthew. He said, "You scared the crap out of us. I felt something weird, like sudden panic, so I ran." He shrugged.
After consulting with our cousins, we determined that we all had an odd, unsettling feeling. Something didn't want us there. I don't know why it affected me so much, or why I saw the image that I did.
We went home, freaked out by what had happened, but excited. Despite this incident, or maybe because of it, we continued to hang out at the gazebo for several years. Nothing like that incident ever happened there again.
Around 1998, the Department of New York City Parks and Recreation towed away that old wreck and trimmed away most of the underbrush surrounding it. The gazebo still stands, though, last I saw, and with a fresh coat of paint.
The center is still blackened though, as if from a fire.
Here are some pics:
The year was 1996. I was two years out of high school, and was working in White Plains, NY. From time to time, I'd hang out with my brother Matthew and our friend Joaquin, and through them, I met an unusual person named Ana*.
She was... yeah, unusual. She had an accent that I was unfamiliar with, as was evidenced by the fact that she had to repeat her name about 10 times in a row for me to get the proper pronunciation of her name. She always wore 99% black clothing. She smelled like herbs. She intrigued me.
We hung out a few times, and started dating soon enough. It turned out that the accent that I couldn't figure out was a Russian one. Her parents liked me, her little sister was adorable, and for the first few weeks, our relationship seemed to be going well.
One fine summer day, Ana and I were walking towards the train station in Riverdale, an exclusive and upper-class section of the Bronx. There was a pizzeria around the corner from her apartment building, so we figured we'd stop in for a slice. The next store down from there was a video rental store, and between them was a small staircase that we hadn't really ever noticed or paid any mind to before.
After we finished the pizza, as we were walking by I saw that this small staircase led to what looked like a small courtyard surrounded by trees. Intrigued, I motioned for Ana to follow, and I headed up the staircase.
Two steps beyond the staircase, I knew that I had made a mistake. An intense feeling of fear struck me like a hammer in the gut. I stopped so abruptly that even though I was holding Ana's hand behind me, she bumped into my back.
The sunlight seemed to dim, like someone had thrown a cloth over it, despite the cloudless sky. The fear that I was feeling was palpable - it seemed external, practically humming in the air. It appeared to be coming from a copse of trees within the courtyard ahead of us. It felt like a warning. I backed away slowly, turned, faced Ana, and told her that we had to go. I remember the juxtaposition of this bright, beautiful day with the stark malevolence which seemed to emanate from those trees.
Once back on the sidewalk, she asked me what happened, and I could see fear in her eyes. I asked her if she felt anything. She said yes, and seemed relieved that she wasn't alone in that feeling. We both turned back, peering into the alleyway that lead back to the courtyard and resolved not to let it scare us off.
Being the mid-1990s, we were under what I have come to call The Craft Effect. I'll elaborate on that in another post, but suffice to say for now that witchcraft and New Age ideology was quite in vogue at that point in time.
After we had ruminated over what had happened, Ana and I thought that we had stumbled upon a herd of faeries. We had found a mutual interest in them in the first few days of our relationship, and to us, eerie feelings plus trees must equal faeries.
There are two types of faeries, you see; the seelie court, and the unseelie court. To put it succinctly, the former are considered the "good" faeries, while the latter the "bad" ones. Both groups are said to be mischievous, and good and bad are relative. Therefore, Ana and I thought we'd hit upon a gathering of unseelie faeries who were nonplussed by our intrusion.
This belief held us back from re-investigating the place for a week or so. Then we decided one night, while walking around her beautiful neighborhood, to poke our heads back in. This time we got all the way to the middle of the courtyard, hand-in-clammy-hand, before the feeling of dread hit us both again.
It was much stronger this time, as if the prior incident had indeed been just a warning. I didn't budge though. I stared at the trees, Ana pulling on my arm, almost daring whatever was causing this miasma to come out and show itself.
Movement in the trees. Pitch-black, shapeless. It moved closer to the low stone wall dividing the courtyard from the trees. We were wrong. It was a single entity. And it was moving closer to us.
Ana and I did the only sane and rational thing that we could think of -- we hauled ass out of there as fast as humanly possible. I felt like it was chasing us. Once we got to the sidewalk, we stopped and looked behind us. We didn't see anything, but we felt it there, lurking in the deep, post-midnight shadows. I stood there transfixed, staring into the blackness. This time, the blackness seemed to be staring back.
We headed back to her apartment building in a hurry. I escorted her up to her apartment door, where we tried to figure out what had happened. It was clearly not a herd of faeries, seelie or unseelie. We thought that it could have been a singular, large faerie, such as a bogey. Or it could have been something even more sinister - something demonic.
Those possibilities should have been enough to keep me away from that alleyway. My curiosity usually outweighs most of my other concerns, though.
I brought my brothers Kenny and Andrew there along with Ana a week or so later. Nothing as exciting as what had happened to us happened with my brothers in attendance, but everyone did report feeling creeped out by the place. We didn't tell them what had happened to us beforehand, because we wanted to see if they would experience anything without being influenced by our story.
After that, I did stay away for several years, but mainly because I broke up with Ana a week or two later. I would have loved to go and check the alleyway out more often, but Riverdale is on the extreme northwest portion of the Bronx, and was thus very far away from my usual stomping grounds in the Pelham Bay area.
I took a friend of mine there in 2014, expecting to show them the site of one of the most intense incidents that I had experienced up until that point in my life. We were disappointed to learn, however, that the video store had been torn down, and the alleyway with it. The last I saw, there was a green wooden wall obstructing the site. I did see that the trees were still intact, though. Perhaps whatever made itself known to Ana and me is still there.
* I changed her name for this story, since we're no longer in contact and I can't get her permission to use it.
Family picture, 1983. My grandmother is the little pack of dynamite in the middle.
When I think back on my memories of my grandmother, Kathleen Jane Smith, I can't help but smile. Love suffused every action that she took, and it showed.
Born Kathleen Jane Claffey in November of 1918, she lived through the Great Depression and came through it unscathed. She married my grandfather, Wilson Leroy Smith, and had three children: Patricia (my mother), Kathleen Jean (my Aunt Jean), and Michael (Uncle Mike). After his honorable service in the Navy, my grandfather died at the age of 35 due to severe coronary issues secondary to a heart murmur. Grandma was left to provide for herself and her three children.
It wasn't easy. Though NYC experienced an economic boom in the late 40s, finding a job was no easy task for a single mother then, as now. However, she found a job as a cafeteria worker at I.S. 192 in the Bronx. Supplemented by survivor benefits from the Veteran's Administration, she was able to provide my mother and her siblings with a normal, happy childhood.
My first memory of my grandmother was when I was under two years old. It's very rare for a child of that age to form any permanent memories, but I can recall her smiling face as she placed a blue and white plaid bunny doll in my crib. While I'm sure that she must have visited my family while we were up on the farm in upstate New York, I don't have any clear memories of her doing so. My next memory of her was when we lived on Mulford Avenue in the Bronx. She'd come over for dinner and would bring Chips Ahoy chocolate chip cookies. She'd give us birthday cards with a couple of bucks in them, which at the time seemed like a fortune. She also loved M&Ms, and would dole out handfuls to us when the mood took her.
She was there for my family when we hit some snags. In 1983, she took us in when we had nowhere else to go. Those 6 months living with my grandma should have been miserable, but they were some of the happiest days of my early childhood. Grandma taught us things, like when you wash silverware, always put them in the drain board sharp ends down, so you don't cut yourself when you reach for them.
She was a gentle soul. She wouldn't yell or curse or even get very mad, that I can recall. Even when we kids were being lazy and trying to get just a few more minutes' sleep, she eschewed the typical methods of rousing layabouts in favor of a simple damp washcloth. She would gently drag it over our faces until we woke up. I can still remember that feeling.
She was a fixture in my life. A touchstone that everyone in my family always counted on and assumed would always be there.
In 1989, she moved from her apartment on Schley Avenue, where she'd lived for over 40 years, to live with my Uncle Mike in New Jersey. In 1991, she moved from there to a senior citizen center back in the Bronx. Something changed about her after that. She grew forgetful and suspicious. She became convinced that the attendants in her new building were stealing from her.
My older brother Andrew and I would go and visit her after school. She was just... different. Sometimes, it would take her a moment to recognize us when we arrived. Then her eyes would brighten and she would escort us in. She would have the customary chocolate chip cookies waiting for us, along with her ever-present smile and a great big hug. After a few months, those moments of confusion became more frequent, and lasted longer.
In early 1992, Uncle Mike was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. He went from a strong, vigorous man in his late 40s to a man trapped in his own body. Despite MS having only a 3% mortality rate in men, he passed away in June that same year.
In September of 1992, circumstances that I'm not privy to caused grandma to have to move in with my family. It seemed to me that everyone treated her like a fragile porcelain doll. I chose not to. She was still Grandma to me, and though my siblings report varying degrees of cognizance from her, she acted more or less normally towards me. We would talk about myriad topics, from my early childhood to her memories of working in that school. From growing up in the depression, to losing her husband.
I came to know her better in those two months than I had in my entire life before that. She was so strong, but stayed so kind and loving her whole life, despite living through things that would have broken other people. She had loved my uncle more than anyone left on this earth. Losing Uncle Mike had been the last straw, though. After he passed, she finally broke.
On September 29th, 1992, I had a dream. I dreamed that Grandma was sitting on the bed in which she had been convalescing since she moved in with us. She seemed somehow younger. More focused, more like the grandma of my younger days. She beckoned me over to her. Despite her minuscule stature, she had always had a way of making me feel like a little boy. She gave me one of her huge hugs, then took my head and kissed my forehead.
"Goodbye, Douglas." she said, a content smile on her face. "I love you, and always will. I'm going to see your uncle and your grandfather. I'll give them your love."
I replied, "I love you too, grandma."
That was it. The dream ended.
My sister Trish woke me up that morning with tears in her eyes.
"Grandma died in her sleep." she said, her voice husky from crying.
"I know," I said, seemingly unfazed.
I turned over and went back to sleep, wishing that I'd feel that damp washcloth brushing my face to wake me up.
I knew that I never would again, though.
As a side note, after speaking with my mother regarding dates and circumstances regarding her mother, I learned that there were more oddities than just my dream the day that grandma died.
My mother had a routine. She would wake up, jump into her clothes and go around the rooms, seeing who needed to be woken up. For some reason she found herself wearing all black clothes that day. She would normally go to her mother and ask her what she would like for breakfast. She found her in bed, having apparently passed away in her sleep. She didn't get hysterical, as she put it. She called 911, asked for the coroner, then called her sister Jean. Not wanting to give out the details of her mother's death on the phone, she asked Aunt Jean to come to the house as soon as possible, but didn't say why. Aunt Jean showed up also wearing all black.
My mother recalls that one of our cats, Mack, gave a yowling scream in the middle of the night. She says that it sounded mournful. Animals are said to be able to see and sense things that humans can't. Who can say what he saw that made him make that noise?
I know that his post isn't the paranormal-est one I've made, or will make, but it is important to me to portray my grandmother as my family remembers her, to give context for the impact that the dream I had the morning she died had on me.
Thank you for reading, and as always comment below if you have comments or criticisms.
Image found at: https://imgur.com/gallery/y69io
Consequences - most of the time, when we take an action, we know precisely what the reaction will be. If you jump up in the air, you will fall back to earth. If you eat a dozen cupcakes in one sitting, you will cry when you step on the scale the next morning. If you hug your loved one, they'll more than likely return it. There are some actions, however, that you only thought that you had experienced the reaction to, only to learn that you were woefully mistaken.
It happened in the spring of 1991. I was your typical teenage boy. My hormones were in overdrive, I was doing well in school and I had just kissed my first girl. I lived with my family in a nice 4 bedroom apartment in the Allerton Avenue section of the Bronx, on Wallace Avenue. Even though I was relegated to the bottom bunk of the bunk bed that I shared with my little brother, Matthew, by a coin toss, I was happy as a clam. Life was good.
Then, one night, as I was falling asleep, I felt a strange sinking feeling in my gut. It came out of nowhere and I couldn't say why it was happening. Dread. Waves upon waves of dread crashed over me like a breaking wave. It took me a few moments to realize that I was feeling a presence, almost right on top of me. The hairs on my arms and neck stood straight up. I felt like I was being submerged in ice-cold water. I couldn't help myself; I opened my eyes, expecting to see something out of my worst nightmares. Though my vision swam as though I had been spun in a centrifuge, I saw... nothing. Only the darkness of our bedroom.
The feelings of dread and icy cold continued for a brief moment that seemed like forever. Then, as suddenly as it had started, it simply vanished. It was as if a switch had been flipped.
I found myself shaking like a leaf in my bunk, drawing ragged breaths while trying to steady my nerves through sheer force of will. I tried to make sense of what had happened. The human mind always attempts to seek answers. Maybe I had actually fallen asleep, and this was just a vivid nightmare. No, that didn't feel right. It wasn't a dream. I was awake. Horribly awake.
Fear set upon me even more strongly than when the presence had me in its thrall. What happened? What could have caused that? I hadn't done anything... to... cause...
Suddenly, a third-person image appeared in my mind: that of a slightly younger me, arms raised dramatically to the sky, that insanely reckless challenge issuing from my lips. That image then became the image of me doubled over in pain, desperately muttering prayers. Strangely, that image was closer, and from the perspective of someone standing over my right shoulder. The presence that I had felt back then had come back to find me. It was like a vanishingly thin, greasy layer of malevolence that had stained a part of my being, but I hadn't realized it. This attack brought it bubbling back up, like a gas pocket released from decaying detritus in a bog. That feeling settled into me, suffused me, and I knew I was in trouble.
I managed to fall asleep that night, though I can't say how. Exhaustion, both physical and mental, must have overcome me. I fancy myself an optimist, and even in the worst situations, I try to find the bright side. This attitude is exemplified by my futile hope that the incident that night was a one-time occurrence; that this entity had done well in frightening me half to death and considered us even. I was wrong. Very, very wrong.
The attack the next night was even more intense than the night before. It was as if the entity was only dipping its toe in the water, and now that it found it nice and warm, it jumped in gleefully. Images of inhumanly warped faces and contorted bodies sprang into my mind. Things that I don't want to even write about ran through my mind, scenes of torture and butchery, suffering and pain. Things that not even my worst enemy would deserve to experience. I could feel my sanity cracking like an egg shell.
These attacks lasted for three weeks. After the first few nights, the presence didn't go away. It became my constant companion. In school. At family dinner. At church. Everywhere.
I asked several members of my family if they remember these attacks. Almost none of them do Why do so few of them remember this period of torment? Well, as my sister Trish so sagely put it, “You were a teenager. Teenagers go through mood swings. Who wants to deal with moody teenagers?”. Fair enough, I suppose.
And so it was that in a very real sense, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles helped to save my life.
One of the only things that I found joy in during that time were cartoons. I don't know what it was about them, but when I was sitting in front of my T.V. watching shows like TMNT, Chip 'n Dale's Rescue Rangers, and other classics in that vein, that my fear abated. When I realized that, I decided to try an experiment. Anyone who was raised in the 70s through the 90s knows that after 5 P.M., cartoons end and grown-up shows start. After that, when the fear and anxiety would start back up, I tried to replay episodes of Ninja Turtles in my mind's eye.
Confusion. Frustration. Dismay.
It worked! An image of a decayed human head, half severed from a twisted body appeared in my mind. I immediately replayed a scene from Ninja Turtles in which Michelangelo was hitting on April O'Neil. The presence retreated briefly.
Two days later it returned, more grimly determined. I continued my technique, which I came to call a “media screen”. Sounds of torture were met with songs from Metallica's Black Album. Scenes of ghoulish torment were met with Disney cartoons. I managed to piss this thing off so much that after a week of media screening the worst of it, getting more sleep than I had been a week, that a change occurred.
I was in bed, eyes shut, playing a scene from Duck Tales into the void within my mind where it seemed to like to play. That too-familiar presence just kind of... swelled. If it was only inches away before, it was now less than a hair's breadth away. I heard something. Something that can only be described as a guttural growl. Right. Next. To. My. Ear.
My concentration failed. Uncle Scrooge was replaced by a twisted abomination. I can't describe it, nor would I want to. Grim satisfaction flowed through the horrific bond that we seemed to share. Sleep escaped me again, and my sanity was starting to follow suit.
Salvation came from the most unlikely of sources – my brother Michael.
Michael had been a vocal critic of organized religion for years. Quite frankly, I agreed with him. I only continued to go to church because I was underage, and because my parents made me go. I suppose that, at that point in my life, I was on the fence about the existence of God as it was taught to me in the Catholic faith for my entire life. I was at my wit's end though, so even though I hadn't told anyone else exactly what had been happening to me, I told Michael. Maybe it was because of his staunch criticism of those institutions that I did so.
After he had listened to what I had to say, he asked me a simple question.
"You still believe in God, don't you?" he asked.
"Well, I guess so," I replied, a bit disconcerted by his question.
"There is no 'I guess so'. You either do or you don't." he chastised me.
"Then I do." I replied glumly.
"You look so down about that. Yeah, you're a real Catholic alright!" he chuckled.
"Why do you ask?" I inquired.
“Well, if you believe in God, then imagine that your faith is like a shining suit of armor that envelops you in its protection. Invoke your faith to push this thing out of your head or wherever it is."
It was so crazy that it might even work!
That same night, as I got into bed and prepared to try this experiment, I was almost knocked out by the malevolence pouring from this thing's now-customary position at my side. But that would have been too easy, the game over too soon. I shut my eyes tightly and concentrated with all my might on the image that Michael had suggested – a shining silver suit of armor covering me from head to toe, engraved with Christian icons all over it.
Again, that sense of confusion and frustration flowed from it. Sensing my advantage, I pushed on it with this image. I don't know how else to explain it. In my mind, I heard a pained yelp. It retreated. I felt the presence disappear for the first time in weeks. I couldn't even take the time to exult in my victory. I fell asleep like I'd been hit over the head.
It returned the next night, only to be pushed away again by my armor of faith. After one more attempt the next night after that, it seemed to give up, and this time, I somehow knew that it was actually gone. I had caught up on sleep somewhat over the previous two nights, but still had lingering doubt about the long-term effectiveness of this method. Unburdened by that doubt now, I fell into a deep, dreamless sleep. One of the best of my life.
Well, mostly dreamless. I seem to recall one about an unlikely team-up of the Ninja Turtles and Uncle Scrooge chasing away a cartoonish monster.
I'd love to tell you that all incidents of demonic oppression ended after this, that my faith in God had been restored and fortified, that I lived the rest of my days a devout Catholic and was untroubled by the supernatural again.
It didn't. I didn't. I wasn't.
It did give me a 12-year reprieve, though. Consequences always catch up to you.
The Spy House Museum
It was the summer of 1991. My Aunt Rose and Uncle Mike had moved to New Jersey several years before, and my family would go to spend a few days there every month during summer break. I got to hang out with my cousins, Kathleen and Bridget, along with their siblings. I had some amazing times hanging out with them, along with some of the other neighborhood kids, such as Charlie and Eddie. They seemed tough at first, but were pretty okay guys once you got to know them.
One weekend in August 1991, the group of us finished breakfast and were uncharacteristically bored. Usually we'd go to the nearby park, or just explore the neighborhood. Being from the Bronx, I'd had little experience with suburbia, and quite frankly, it intrigued me. That day, though, it had rained early in the morning, and left an oddly dense, chilly fog in its wake. Inspired by the gloom, we decided to take advantage of the chilly day and go for a long walk. Where to go, though?
Standing outside my Aunt and Uncle's house, Charlie suggested the Spy House museum. Most of us had never heard of it, not being from the area. Kathleen and Bridget both agreed, thereby convincing my sister Trish. She was the eldest and therefore unfortunately the shepherd of this most unruly flock.
Charlie knew where it was, so he headed the group up and we all followed. Our spirits were high, since Charlie had told us how awesome the place was. It was supposedly filled with oddities and knick-knacks from as far back as the Revolutionary War.
It took us the better part of an hour to walk the distance to the Spy House. In attendance were myself, my brothers Matthew and Andrew, my sister Trish, my cousins Kathleen and Bridget, and their two neighbors, Charlie and Eddie. I recall lots of horsing around during that walk, with Trish futilely trying to restrain us and doing her very best to be the "good big sister". Her failure wasn't really her fault, as managing five teenage boys is neither an easy nor enviable task for anyone.
I remember my first sight of the Spy House. It was a large, stark white house set near a beach. The breeze coming in off the water, which would have been welcome on any normal day in August, felt oddly cold, like Autumn couldn't wait to swallow us whole a month early.
Upon entry, I noticed that they had their air conditioners on high. As if they didn't realize the temperature outside. It was almost too cold in there, and I shivered. I felt the hairs on my neck prickle, almost like I was standing right underneath one of the vents. I looked around, but didn't see any. I shrugged and chalked it up to an errant air current.
The clerk in charge of collecting admission fees seemed like the kind of woman who would brook no nonsense from anyone, much less a group of adolescents and a twenty-something woman. She seemed the kind that chewed iron nails for fun.
From there we split up, Charlie and Eddie, the spiritual predecessors to Beavis and Butthead, went one way. Kathleen, Bridget, Trish and Matthew went another. Andrew and I went upstairs and entered a room full of what to this day has become one of my least favorite objects; mannequins.
What is it about mannequins that freak me out so much? There are many stories in cultures all around the world about how figures like dolls and mannequins can house spirits. Spirits of dead people, animals, demigods, gods, angels, demons and elementals, to name but a few. The larger the figure, and/or the more accurately they are represented, the more likely it is that they can be inhabited. There was even a movie made in the 80's that took a comical look at this concept (along with a far worse sequel). There's also the famous case of Annabelle as investigated by Ed and Lorraine Warren, the details of which have now been made into a major motion picture.
Here is a good article about the place of dolls in history.
To summarize, mannequins seem like receptacles. And so when Andrew and I walked into one of the rooms to peruse the tableau of 18th century life that it was meant to represent, that the chill on the back of my neck from earlier returned. I remember pausing at the door to the room while Andrew walked in. After a couple of steps, he too froze. He slowly turned to me. He didn't say a word. He didn't have to. The look on his face said it all.
There was an oppressiveness to the room that I still can't fully describe to this day. The best I can do is to say is that it was as if we were interlopers, that we had disturbed some scene of intense sorrow. I took a deep breath and stepped into the room. Nothing changed. I walked further in, past Andrew. I looked at several of the mannequins, waiting for one to jump up or grab me or move its head. None of them did, but I could have sworn that one of their eyes followed me all across its field of view. After a few more moments, I hastily departed the room with Andrew in tow. I couldn't shake the feeling that we were being scrutinized, instead of the other way around.
Once in the hallway, I let out a breath that I didn't realize that I was holding. I looked at my brother, and he was paler than normal. Still, for some reason, I grinned excitedly at him, and he kind of smirked back.
"Wanna go back in?" I asked.
"Nah, let's check out another room", he replied.
Slightly disappointed, I agreed, and after checking out a couple more rooms, and crossing paths with Charlie and Eddie, we came to the last room. It depicted a seamstress' chamber, and had a mannequin looking out the window, representing a woman watching for a spy boat to arrive so that she could see to its disposition. It wasn't that interesting to me, and I didn't feel the chill anymore, so I left Andrew in the room and walked into the hallway.
To the right were the rooms that we had already checked out. To the left was the end of the hallway, and a barricaded door that had a barely legible "under renovation" sign hanging on it. Being the curious lad that I was, I approached the door. It was made of old, grey wood and there were large cracks between some of the planks. The chill returned. The closer I got to the door, the stronger that feeling became. I was near panic by the time I arrived in front of the door. Something in my mind was telling me to run away as fast as I could. Something else in my mind told me to ignore that and to see if I could determine what it was that was making me so afraid. So I did the only logical thing that I could think of.
I leaned forward, pressing my eye to a large space between two door boards. For a moment, I only saw sunlight filtering through a boarded-up window. Then I felt... something. A force, a pressure, as if something rushed toward the door but was brought up short at the last instant. And with that pressure came a malevolence that I had never felt before. Well, maybe I had once. Either way, I got the message loud and clear:
And so I did. Andrew had just come out of that last room, and looked at me standing several feet away from the abandoned door. I must have looked quite scared, because he asked what was wrong. I told him, and he went to have a look for himself. We McMillans are either quite brave or very dumb. After having an almost identical experience, he backed off very quickly. Naturally, instead of leaving the building like sane people, we went looking for the rest of our group to tell them what had happened.
Trish and Matthew were eager to go have a look. Matthew reported the same feeling of foreboding, but by the time Trish took a look, it seemed as if whatever it was had worn itself out. She only reported feeling a minor sense of dread.
After these experiences, I had the idea of talking to the clerk downstairs, to see if she could corroborate any of our stories. Remember what I said earlier about brooking no nonsense? Well, she didn't. Apparently, Monmouth county was not happy about the fact that the ghost stories were being given more attention than the actual history of the place. As such, she was furious as soon as I mentioned what had happened. She ejected us from the premises forthwith, and threatened that if we ever returned, there would be hell to pay.
I always thought that the threat seemed rather ironic, given where she worked.
In 2011, my brothers Andrew and Kenny, along with my sister Sue and a woman that I was dating, Jennifer, attempted to go back to the Spy House. However, at that time, they were closed for renovations. We wound up going to historic Philipsburg Manor and Sleepy Hollow instead.
Several other paranormal groups have checked the place out, including New Jersey Paranormal, and it sits comfortably on many "top haunted places in America" lists.
The Ouija Board. Copyright Parker Brothers.
The infamous Ouija Board. Few other objects are so closely associated with evil, mystical, or forbidden things. In my life, I've heard several tales of how when you try to throw one away, it will come back. A friend claimed that he experienced exactly that situation, where he tossed the board out after it made some unsettling predictions. Several days later, he claimed, he was looking under his bed for something. He found the board in the same place that he used to keep it. He took it across the street to a park and burned it. It never came back.
The year was 1988. My family had moved for what seemed the thousandth time, this time to a nice apartment on Westchester Avenue in the Bronx. My brother Andrew had a friend from school that lived on Westchester Square, a hub of commerce and very near to Lehman High School, where he was a sophomore at the time. He had a friend named Susan, and she had a Nintendo Entertainment System and a big-screen TV. Thus, when myself and my little brother Matthew were asked if we wanted to go with him to hang out at her place, we leaped at the opportunity!
Upon arrival, Matt and I descended upon the video game with fervor. Andrew, Susan and Andrew's best friend, Eileen, AKA Buffy, (long before Joss Whedon or Sara Michelle Gellar had even heard of each other) were hanging out in the kitchen. After an hour or so of playing various NES classics, Matt and I grew intrigued by the commotion coming from the kitchen. Upon inspection, we saw that Andrew and friends were hunched over a board on the kitchen table. Their hands were resting upon a plastic device with a small window in it. They were utterly focused on this object to the point where they didn't even notice our entrance.
At first I was confused. Andrew knew the stories very well. Why would he voluntarily place himself in danger by messing with something he knew to be so dangerous. I hung by the doorway into the kitchen, feeling an odd, icy sensation in my stomach. Fear had set in. Matthew advanced to join the group, his curiosity overcoming whatever trepidation he may have felt. After a couple of minutes of risk assessment, I figured that no harm would come to me if I just walked over and observed. I wouldn't touch this thing.
I watched with a ball of ice sitting in my stomach as my brother and his friends asked questions. Some received answers, some didn't. Some of the answers could be interpreted to make sense, some were gibberish. One question received an answer which I will never forget.
"What is your name?" Andrew asked.
Silence. No one moved. A strange, oppressive feeling came over us all. Their smiles of excitement faded.
The planchette started to move. Their joyful, excited faces had transformed to grim visages.
The first letter was "A".
The cursor took on a life of its own, speeding across the board with it's own will. "S", "M", "O" "D" followed in quick succession.
The cursor started to slow down, like its energy was being drained.
It stopped. Our hearts almost did too, when a moment later it continued.
It dragged slowly across the board this time. It took several moments for it to arrive on what would be the final letter.
The silence in the room was tangible. No one looked up from the board, expecting something terrible to happen. Andrew and Susan's faces were red. Buffy had a small trickle of sweat running down the side of her face. I turned to look at Matt's face, and saw that his eyes were wide and his mouth was slightly agape. The ball of ice in my stomach had turned into a boulder. I felt cold.
Just as suddenly as the feeling enveloped us, it disappeared. Like a soap bubble, it popped. The heaviness left the room, and we all started to breathe again. Looking at each other for support, we each tried to make sure that it wasn't just them.
Buffy was the first to laugh. It was only natural, I suppose. Young people believe they're invincible, and what better way to show that than to literally laugh at a situation that you not only don't understand, but that terrified you for no discernible reason at all? The ball of ice in my stomach had partially melted, but I knew that something was still not right.
Shortly after we had all laughed much of our fear away, it was time to go. My father was very strict about what time we got home, and the last thing that we wanted to do was incur his ire.
Before we did leave, though, Andrew had a suspicion that he had heard this name before. Every Ouija board comes with a spirit, according to the instructions. We looked at the name of the one that this particular board was said to come with. Its' name was Edward. Susan's mother was a bit on the religious side, and therefore had a compendium of various angels and demons. When Andrew mentioned to Susan his suspicion that an evil presence had come onto the board, she handed him the book and they looked it up.
It turns out that Asmodeus was a major demon in the ranks of hell. Now, as I've written before, I was raised Roman Catholic, and that was no laughing matter. But laugh we did, as the notion that a being so powerful and malevolent would manifest itself to a small group of teenagers was preposterous! Ludicrous! Ridiculous! Of course it was! ...Right?
And so it was that as I was walking back to my home with Andrew and Matthew, and accompanied by Buffy, that I, being a young and foolish child, melodramatically raised my arms to the iron-gray sky and proclaimed, "Asmodeus! Come and get me!", laughing all the while.
Pain. As soon as the last syllable left my mouth, I felt sudden, excruciating, searing, stabbing, white-hot pain in my stomach.
I doubled over, clutching my abdomen. My brothers and Buffy gathered around me, asking what was wrong. When I told them what I was feeling, Buffy suggested that I should say 14 "Hail Mary"s. I wasn't in any kind of state to question her. Being a good Catholic boy, I began uttering the prayer with fervor. I didn't keep count of how many I said, but after a short while, the pain ebbed and I was able to stand up straight again. I have no idea whether it was the prayer that helped, or the passage of time. At that moment, though, I couldn't have cared less. The pain stopped.
Thoroughly shaken by what just happened, we completed the walk to my apartment building. Buffy took her leave, her eyes still wide, and we proceeded back upstairs. We wouldn't talk about what happened for years to come.
One thing was for sure, though. I never spoke that name aloud again for two and a half decades. This was just the beginning of a series of events which would put my sanity and self-reliance to the test.
Those are stories for another time, though.
Thanks again for reading, and as always, feel free to leave a like and/or a comment below. Let me know if you've ever experienced anything like this, or write whatever other story you'd like to share. Until next time!
"I want to go home." I said, confused.
"You are home." my sister Sue said with concern.
"No, I'm not. I want to go home." I said, feeling more confused.
"What are you talking about?" Sue asked gently. "Your bedroom is upstairs."
"This isn't home. I wanna go home."
"Do you know who I am?" Sue asked, the bile rising in her throat, starting to panic.
"You're Susie." I said.
"Douglas, if you know who I am, then you know you're home." she said.
"I'm not home, and why are you calling me Douglas?" I asked, bewildered.
"...what do you mean? What's your name?" Sue asked, growing more freaked out by the word.
"Stephen, and I want to go home!" I cried.
Sue brought me back upstairs to my bed, tucked me in and assured me that she would take me home in the morning, after I got some sleep. When I awoke the next morning, I didn't recall anything of the event.
This was one of several instances of somnambulism that I exhibited between the ages of three and eighteen years old. In itself, it's a fairly rare occurrence, only happening to between 1-15% of the general population. What really gets me whenever I think of those occurrences is the whole identity crisis that I would experience every single time. Why did I insist that my name was Stephen? Who was/is this person? This insistence was a hallmark of my somal schisms from the very first reported incident when I was 3, as illustrated above.
Somnambulism is a term derived from two Latin root words -- soma, which means to sleep, and ambulare, which means to walk. Sleepwalking.
Sleepwalking is a phenomenon where a person can do anything from simply sitting up and looking around - to walking around performing complex tasks, all while in a deep state of sleep. Here is the National Sleep Foundation page with more information.
The subject of my nocturnal meanderings was one of some awkwardness while I was growing up. Sometimes my family would tell me about them, other times they wouldn't. They only happened maybe half a dozen times in fifteen years that I've been made aware of, and they are are all only slight variations of the scene depicted above. My level of cognition would vary, so certain times I would be easier to interact with than others.
So who was Stephen? My persistent identification with this name caused my family to joke that it must be the spirit of one of our ancestors. After some some research, I found that I actually do have a *deep breath* great, great, great, great, great, great, great, grandfather named Stephen A. Smith, born on May 6 1771, and who died in 1841. The joke seemed more realistic now. Could I possibly be some kind of reincarnation of a man that died 177 years ago?
Let's explore other options.
There's a theory called soul clusters. According to the website Spiral Backwards, "One theory about reincarnation is that there are groups of souls that travel together through multiple lifetimes. Called a soul pod, group, cluster or family, this group of beings are felt to be deeply interconnected and working toward some larger purpose set forth by the universe, to solve a problem or address common objectives that can span eternity. The belief is that these souls are drawn together in each life and manifest as family or friends, often with instant connection or recognition (such as soulmates or kindred spirits)."
Could I be in a soul cluster that once manifested my spirit as Stephen so long ago? Am I still in that cluster? I think so, because most of my family registered as family to me when I was in those dream states. Was it because I seemed to be riding the line between this other person's memories and my own that I had a hybridized notion of who my family was? Or was I recognizing them on a much higher, more spiritual level? Or was it something else?
It could have been psychological in nature. According to the website Psychology Today, we learn about Dissociative Identity Disorder. It can manifest at any age, and is most commonly the result of abuse and/or psycho-social stress. According to that article, however, it doesn't seem to manifest during sleep. It happened to me only a handful of times in fifteen years, and stopped when I was still a teen. I have never had cause to suspect abuse of any kind. These issues seem to preclude DID from being the root cause of my sleepwalking episodes.
Another possibility is what's called a "spiritual possession", which, according to wikipedia, is "a term for the belief that animas, aliens, demons, extraterrestrials, gods, or spirits can take control of a human body." I'm of the mind that it was a spirit that caused my episodes. The notion that it was the same spirit with the same name and persona on multiple occasions over a decade and a half make me question this possibility, though. Could I be haunted by this Stephen person?
So let's talk about reincarnation in its' myriad forms.
Throughout history, and in nearly every major holy book and religious text known to man, there are certain themes that remain constant. Among them is that of reincarnation. A person dies, and their spirit then either immediately or eventually enters and suffuses another being. The manner of being varies by the religion in question.
For Hindus, it can be any living being from a gnat to a tree. Practitioners of Hinduism also believe that spiritual energy isn't bound by conventional standards of time and space, so if you step on a bug or chop down a tree, that it could house the spirit of your great-grand uncle, or your future nephew.
For Christians, however, there is no second chance, as stated here. Christian souls come from the Guff, which apparently only has a finite number of souls.
Shintoism and other animistic religions believe that everything from rocks to rivers to weather systems to people is imbued with energy, sort of like the Force from Star Wars lore. In Shintoism, these spirits are called "kami". Instead of reincarnation per se, Shintoists believe that when a living being dies, that their kami is released and recycled.
Did I actually have flash-backs to my life as Stephen when I sleepwalked as a kid? Could the possible memories of a past life have been mixing with my persona as it existed then? Could that have created an odd state of being where I was both Douglas and Stephen at the same time?
Where was home?
One thing that could possibly help me find out is a technique called past-life regression. That is a technique is when one is put into a deep hypnotic state and asked a series of questions meant to cause memories of a past life to resurface. Whenever I think of this procedure, I can't help but think of the scene from the X-Files episode, "The Field Where I Died" (Here is the opening/closing scene, which still gives me chills to this day).
Is it possible to perceive future events too? I have had one episode of sleepwalking that gave me a glimpse of what I can only construe as a future life. I was on a long, straight road. It had two lanes with a yellow dashed line in the center. The road lead straight to what seemed to be a high-walled city, with stark, sharp, high spires and towering skyscrapers. The entrance to the city that the road lead to was at the point of what seemed like an enormous V, with the walls spreading for what seemed like miles to either side. It was dusk, and the bright blue and purple lights of this unknown city were just coming on.
If reincarnation is real, what is the purpose of it? Theologians and scholars and many people much smarter than me have been trying to figure it out for thousands of years. Is it as some people say, that we come back each time to learn something new? Are our spirits evolving with each new life, moving a step closer to some ultimate spiritual goal or level of preparedness? Or is it random, our spirits being shifted back and forth in time and space in a chaotic soup of demi-consciousness and eternal forgetfulness? What universal system is in place to govern either of these options, or ones that I'm unfamiliar with? These are the thoughts that have kept me up at night.
I haven't had any episodes or flashes of that nature since I was 18. When I did, though, they felt utterly and completely real. So did what little I've ever been able to recall of my somnabulistic episodes. Were they, though?
Who knows? Maybe I'll sleepwalk about it some day.
Let me know if you've ever had any experiences with past/future lives below! Feel free to weigh in on what you think happened to me!
Seeing a ghost when I was on the farm affected me in ways that I still don't fully understand. Did it kick open the door in my brain (large grains of salt to be taken with this) to let other things in? It certainly seems that way, since seeing that spectral Granny was far from the only experience that I've had in my life.
All good things must come to an end, they say. And so it was that after my father lost his job in 1982, we sadly had to move out of the farm house and back down to the Bronx, to Mulford Ave. The new house was located across the street from my aunt and uncle, who lived in Hazel Towers. This was great, because I got to play regularly with my some of my first cousins who were very close to my age.
I had two first-hand encounters here, along with a few other stories told to me by my older siblings and cousins.
Encounter one: Meathead
The first was a subtle one, to the point where I didn't realize how odd it was until after it was over.
Staircases. Why do so many of my strange experiences begin and end with them?
It was the spring of 1982, and I was in the first grade. I came home from school and went upstairs to the bedroom that I shared with my brother Matthew. After a little while, I came back downstairs and into the kitchen to grab something to snack on. I have memories of the floral-print on a background of yellow wallpaper which sometimes gave me a headache. As I entered the kitchen, I saw a man who reminded me very much of "Meathead" from Archie Bunker. He wore a red, green and black plaid shirt with 70's-style brown hair and a mustache. He had blue jeans on with suspenders. Something seemed wrong to me about him, but I couldn't put my finger on it.
This person didn't register my arrival. I was startled at a stranger's presence in my kitchen, so I asked who he was, thinking that he was perhaps a friend of one of my older brothers'. He seemed to be around his mid to late 20's. After I asked his name, he simply got up and stepped out into the hallway towards the front exit, ignoring me.
I hesitated to follow this stranger. The hair stood up on my arms and my scalp tingled. I stood in the other doorway from the rear of the house. Both doors in and out of the house were closed and locked. Then something odd occurred to me; I had seen flowers from the wallpaper pattern through this man's shirt. He was very slightly transparent. I cautiously stepped out through the door from which this being exited, and found no one. I hadn't heard any doors anywhere in the house open or close. No footsteps. Nothing.
I went upstairs to my older siblings' rooms, and no one was in them. I called out their names. Nothing. The house was dead quiet.
Finally, I went to the back yard, where my parents and my brothers Kenny and Michael were chit-chatting, and, still clinging to the hope that I was imagining things, asked them if they had a guest in the house that could have been who I'd seen. When they said no, I turned pale and reluctantly told them about what happened, and about the fact that I could see the wallpaper through this being. My brothers exchanged knowing looks, my mother looked only mildly concerned, and my father snorted and admonished me for watching spooky movies.
I have no idea who or what that entity was, or what it wanted. I only ever saw it once. I didn't feel scared, apart from the surprise of seeing a stranger in my kitchen. It just was.
Had my brothers witnessed something/someone similar?
Encounter two: Angel Eyes
Having been baptized and raised as a Roman Catholic, I was instilled with notions of grand choirs of angels, and foul, twisted devils. Catholic mythology contains some very powerful imagery, etched into the murals and stained glass in virtually every church built since antiquity. I'll be the first to admit that I have a very strong and particularly visual imagination. All that being said, none of the stories or church services would have prepared me for what happened one night when I was eight.
I had a nightmare. It was some weird amalgam of several movies that I'd seen recently, and it culminated with me waking in a cold sweat with the impression of a monster waiting for me just under my bed. I was terrified, and though fear of its clutching, razor sharp claws nearly overpowered my need to run to my parents' bedroom, I managed to do just that. I went around to my mother's side of the bed, weeping a little from the memory of the nightmare. She cracked one eye, saw the state that I was in, pulled my head close to her and gave me a kiss on the forehead. She reassured me that I was ok, and told me to lay down across the foot of their massive bed. I did so, and after a short while, the comforting presence of my parents slowly started to lull me to sleep.
I turned over, looking up towards my parents' heads. My eyes glazed as sleep reached out for me in the same way that the imagined monster did. As I was sliding into the dark abyss of sleep, something slowly appeared over their heads. Something pale white. Something comforting. As I lay there, nearly asleep, I saw two pairs of glowing white eyes over each of my parents' heads. In retrospect, I imagine that I should have roused myself and freaked out, crying for them to wake up because there were freaking glowing white eyes over their heads! I didn't, though. As I said, their presence was such a comfort to me that I fell fast into a deep and dreamless sleep.
I woke up for school the next morning in my own bed, so I suppose that my father carried me there. I felt fantastic, but was reluctant to share what had happened. Finally, sitting at the dining room table in front of my morning bowl of cereal, I told my mother. I was fearful that she'd tell me that I was just having a twilight dream as I was falling asleep, but instead she smiled and called my father over. She asked me kindly to repeat my story to him. I knew he wasn't overly fond of the strange things that most of my family had experienced in their lives, so I told him my story with the expectation of another admonition. Instead, he quirked a small smile, nodded slightly, and came and gave me a hug.
At times when things seemed darkest, I recalled those eyes, and I drew comfort from that memory. I have long since divested myself of Roman Catholic teachings. I am a happy agnostic. As such, I initially had a hard time reconciling this and other instances that smack of the divine or devilish. I've come to believe, though, that entities like those I saw that night and others of more negative bent, are simply entities that have existed since long before mankind gave them names and classified them as "angels" or "demons" or "faeries". We have only limited abilities to perceive and/or interact with them. Specific emotional states seem to enable one to do so, though the exact causes for those occurrences are next to impossible to replicate at will.
Did the after-effects of my nightmare enable me to perceive those beings? Or did they show themselves to me in an act of kindness - to soothe a frightened, vulnerable child? I'll never know, but I'm glad that nothing much more negative showed itself to me that night.
That wouldn't happen for many more years.
What could those eyes have been? Have you ever had a similar experience? Comment below!
Hi there. My name is Douglas McMillan, and over the course of over 40 years on this spinning blue marble, some very odd things have happened to me, and I'd like to share them with you.
I was born in the "New" Lincoln Hospital in the Bronx, New York, on August 23rd, 1976 at around 6:00 PM. I was the first male born there. I was, at that moment, the 6th child born to my mother and father, and the only survivor of the three children that were supposed to be born into my extended family that year. Two of my aunts miscarried, and as everyone knows, deaths come in threes. When my mother went to the hospital, pretty much every member of my extended family, as well as a good portion of the neighborhood, were in attendance, offering prayers and positive energy. Luckily, I was born healthy and screaming, and I wasn't the only one to take a huge breath that evening.
My family stayed in the South Bronx until 1980, when my father got a promotion at his job in corporate America, and packed up the family to move into 66 Cricket Hill Road, a large house on a 30+ acre patch of land in Dover Plains, NY, around 70 miles north of NYC. It was used primarily as pasture land for race horses. I'll never forget the sight of the foothills of Bear Mountain laid out in front of me when I stepped out onto the back porch in the morning. It was simply majestic.
On occasion my parents would let us young'ns feed the horses an apple. The fear that the animal would accidentally bite my hand, the sensation of the horse's lips brushing against my palm, tickling me, the delight as I watched it munch contentedly on the apple - it was an amazing feeling. I still feel a certain bond with horses to this day, though I've only ridden two of them in my adult life.
There were stories of strange goings-on at the farm. Old Jerry Law from the property next door would tell us spooky stories. (He gave me my first dollar bill, which seemed like a fortune!) He told us of a ghostly old lady reputed to roam our home. I never really paid the story any mind, since I was just 5 years old and barely understood the concept of what a ghost really was.
My cousins Peter, Danny and Joey would come up from NYC to visit from time to time, and on a warm summer night, we built a camp fire in the back yard and the older kids would play frisbee. I've been told by several family members that while they were tossing that plastic disc around, a strange blur came from the field adjacent to the back yard and ran behind Danny, and disappeared around the side of the barn. They cautiously searched for the source of the blur, fearing the possibility of a mountain lion or other medium-sized predator. The only thing that they found, though, was a grave that was completely obscured by brush and bushes. The name had been scrubbed clean by time and weather, but the fact that it was a grave marker was unmistakable.
A few weeks later, as I recall, came the event that would shape many aspects of my life, yet it happened so fast that at times I wonder if it was really just a dream. My mother corroborates everything, though, so I'm forced to accept that it did, in fact, happen.
If you've attended my lectures or presentations, you have likely heard this story before. If you haven't, enjoy! If you have, enjoy it again!
It was around 2:30 in the morning. A time that I've since learned is called the Witching Hour. I woke up from a sound sleep, feeling very thirsty. I clambered out of bed and went down the back staircase, which led directly to the kitchen. You see, the farm house was an old styled home, with 6 bedrooms, a large kitchen, 2 bathrooms, a living room, a formal dining room and both a front and back staircase. I arrived in the kitchen, got myself a glass of water from the tap, and headed back to the darkened staircase. I was young and my senses were quite keen, so I didn't need the lights on, obviously! I mounted the first step and started the climb back to my warm, comfy bed in my sky blue bedroom.
By the third step, my sleep-muddled senses picked up on the fact that someone was standing on the top step, watching my ascent. I thought it was my mother, that she may scold me for being up so late. I put my head back down and continued my climb, eager to pass her and scurry back to my room. My scalp tingled; the hairs on the back of my neck and on my arms stood straight up; my cheeks flushed. Confused, I took another step. I glanced back up, this time to search the face of the woman who bore me into this world, to try to understand where this feeling was coming from.
It wasn't my mother's face. It wasn't a face at all. I was looking at a blotch of grey where this figure's face should have been.
In my shock, I somehow recorded every detail of this figure, from her iron grey hair up in a bun on top of her head, to her long black nightgown with white lace at the neck and cuffs; the Susan B. Anthony brooch that she wore at her neck; the fact that around the knee area, her legs faded away to nothingness.
Looking back through the filter of time, I've come to realize that Granny from Sylvester and Tweety was haunting my family's home!
Lacking this comical revelation, though, I did what any sane, reasonable 5 year old boy would do in my situation, I think: I screamed, dropped my glass of water, ran back down the back staircase, up the front staircase, and dove into my parents' bed, crying uncontrollably.
After a few moments of shock and fear for my safety and sanity, followed by several minutes of calm, reassuring words and gestures, my mother coaxed what had happened out of me. After I blurted out as many details as I could, my mother calmly looked me in the eyes, laughed softly, and said, "Oh, her? She's nothing to worry about. I already spoke to her. She just wants to be sure that a good family is living in her house."
And that, folks, is how the paranormal was normalized for me at the tender age of 5.
Thanks for reading! I'll be making posts about my continuing experiences with the supernatural every other week. Feel free to share your paranormal experiences and/or stories below!