In my twenties, I had many different jobs.
For a long while, I was both a real estate agent and a bartender.
On Maryland’s Eastern Shore, a region with a long and legend-saturated history, a real estate agent is certain to eventually encounter a home with a reputation for being haunted. Not having been a Realtor for many years now, I don’t know the legalities of such a challenge in this more complicated world we live in, but back then, my sister, who was my mentor/co-agent, and I would say something like, “Look, ha-ha, we don’t necessarily believe in ghosts, but you know, ha-ha, we feel obligated to tell you, ha-ha, somepeoplehavesaidthishousemightbehaunted.”Once we said somepeoplehavesaidthishousemightbehaunted to a married couple looking to invest in a Grasonville rental property, a late 19th century two-story simple colonial, and the lady replied, “Oh, we know! We saw her the first time we drove up. She was out by the bird feeder. And upstairs there’s a Civil war veteran who wakes up from his nap every afternoon and says, “Hello…hello…hello.”
My sister and I said, “Oh, okay.”
This same couple told us that their home in Anne Arundel County, on the other side of the Chesapeake Bay, was inhabited by a poltergeist. This spirit had a name I can’t recall, but for some reason ‘Henry’ sounds right. This couple told us that Henry sometimes waited for the neighborhood children to get off the school bus, and would then follow a random kid home. Neighborhood moms would call and say, “You’ve got to come get Henry,” and the couple would get in the car and go pick up their friendly little poltergeist.
We said, “Oh, okay.”
One time, we had another old two story for sale on Kent Island that was also a rental property, but was being vacated when my sister and I went to do our primary inspection. The tenants, as cooperative as one expects evictees to be, said the house was haunted. They said they heard voices when their family was asleep and saw strange shadows flit across 100-year old plaster walls at three am. The tenants’ spiel was rather lackluster and had a sour-grapey flavor. My sister and I were relieved they were leaving so that they wouldn’t have much opportunity to interact with potential buyers. We did not take their deadpan declarations of supernatural spookiness too seriously.
But then we started talking to friends and friends of friends who had lived in the house. There were consistencies in their stories: An edgy presence. Unearthly whispers. Objects flying across the room.
Now, as a side-note, and it may come as a surprise, but many on the staff of all your favorite restaurants stay out late. A rough dinner shift can fuel a wind-down that lasts until sunup. If you’ve ever wondered that the waiter pouring your morning OJ or the line cook behind the brunch buffet might have been up all night partying, the answer is yes. Always. Yes. They were up all night last night, and there’s a good chance they might be up all night again tonight too, after a nap.
So I was at this late autumn night after-work party. Late as in: the start of the day for our local Chesapeake watermen. In another couple hours, the alarm clocks of even the regular nine-to-fivers would be ringing. Late late.
And a girl said, “You know that house in town you’ve got for sale? We just went by there and the front door is wide open.”
It was the house of the disembodied voices and flying personal property.
The one that had a let-me-out-of-here vibe even at noon on a sunny summer day.
No one would come with me to close the door of that house.
I stood under a dim streetlight.
The house stared down at me. No light burned from inside or out. All the neighboring homes were equally unlit, equally quiet. Nothing felt alive. I stepped up, up onto the large front porch with the painted wooden floor and ceiling, and just as sure as pumpkin pie, the front door, which swung in, was indeed “wide open.”
The darkness on the other side of the threshold loomed like a portal, a portal into a place from which if I were to cross into, I might not ever be able to shake myself loose.
To grasp the door knob, I had to reach, head and shoulders and to my far left, into the house’s large front room. I held the door frame with my right hand and leaned in without moving my feet from the porch. I squinted my eyes to avoid looking too hard into any shadowed corners, whether or not they were simple architectural features or metaphysical cracks into a netherworld of horror.
The hair on my arm stood straight up.
Then, just as I touched the doorknob with my fingertips, an invisible pair of hands wrapped around my wrist, and I swear all but the last nine words of this story are true.
In all honesty, I grabbed the doorknob with an intense anxiety that a ghostly talon would snatch me from out of the murk, but it didn’t happen. Heart a-pounding, I snagged the knob, slammed the door shut, made sure it locked behind me, and burned rubber getting out of there.
A few days later, I was with a group of co-workers at the real estate office, looking at a batch of photographs of the homes we were advertising for sale, including the house that everyone there now knew was haunted. We were discussing the house and its notoriety when the broker strolled past, pointed at one of the photos, and said, “There she is.”
We all laughed, then looked where he pointed, and stopped laughing.In the upper right-hand window of the ‘unoccupied’ house there’s an image nobody had to work hard to see. A hazy grey figure that appears to be feminine and stout, with one arm down and one wrapped across her torso, gazes out upon a world she no longer physically inhabits. Her features are indistinct, but those who see her get the impression that she is not a happy soul.
Though I hadn’t looked for the picture in many years, I knew where I kept it.
When I last wrote about the house, the picture had disappeared from its place in the photo album.
No one knew where it went. No one I was able to communicate with.
This morning, as I wrote the account you are now reading, I opened the album.
And there was the picture. Right where it should have been all along.
Maybe an old acquaintance of mine was ready for a little exposure.
And that’s my Eastern Shore Halloween story.