I believe in science. It is the only thing capable of answering all of our questions, given enough time. But I have wrestled, for decades at this point, with the memory of what took place in that upstairs room on a moonlit night, in a creaking old farmhouse far out in the Virginia countryside.
Whatever it was I experienced on that cold night, it was categorically not a hallucination. I was not somehow the originator of the event. It descended on me out of the darkness, with zero regard for any rules of nature or logic. It has defied every one of my attempts at explanation.
Often when I think about that very peculiar event from all those years ago, I go to the computer and fire up Google Maps. Something in me needs to make sure that house where this happened is still there, and hasn’t been bulldozed to make way for condos or a shopping center.
So far, Google has left me reassured. There’s the horse barn at the end of a long driveway off of an old, sunken country road. There is a small circular horse track next to the barn and right next to both is that familiar L-shaped roofline. The house is indeed still there, just more and more occluded by maple trees each year as Google yields its latest version of the map data.
At first I am always relieved to see the house is still there, safe and sound. Preserved. Then I am hit with a generally unsettled feeling, mixed with a tinge of regret and frustration.
Let me say that, at the time this happened I was young and I was fortunate to be very healthy. My mind was not addled by drink nor compromised by drugs. I was getting top marks in college, kept with a good crowd, and was serious about doing well in life after graduation. Since college, I have made my living in software. There have been, thank goodness, absolutely zero mental health issues for me, ever.
It was a weekend away for me, back when this happened. My aunt and uncle were living in the old house as renters. I had driven out there to take a weekend break from college and also to get away from my parents for a couple of days, whose basement I was living at the time to save money.
Back then, the part of the state where the old house sits was considered more remote than today. It was still a relatively isolated place, and got very dark at night.
This is one of those old houses that has weathered several of the main events in American history. Sections of the basement were hewn from the earth around the time of the Revolution. Half of the existing floors were laid before the Civil War. The rest was built shortly after that. I remember the upstairs bathroom was originally a walk-in closet shared between two of the larger bedrooms, so that there were three doors leading into it. Of course, all the plumbing, heating, and electricity had been tacked onto the house as an afterthought as the years had gone by.
Since there was a large family gathering planned for the next morning, a small handful of other relatives stayed in the house the same night I did. But they all slept in other rooms, so nothing happened to them.
The house has a central hall with stairs that lead up to a balcony. All of the bedrooms and the upstairs bath open up onto the balcony. I was staying on the side that has three small bedrooms, and I was given the smallest of the three, at the end tucked into the corner of the house.
Immediately as you walked into that little room, there was a bed to the right. The bed was situated so that if someone was asleep on it when you walked in, their head would be on the pillow just a few inches from your right thigh (or hip, depending on your stature). Walking further into the room, you would eventually reach their sleeping feet. Then another two steps would bump you into a small bureau against the wall at the far end. The room had two widows near to each other down at the end of the room. One was right over the small bureau and the other was in the adjacent wall a few feet to the left of the bureau.
I remember we all had a happy but uneventful evening that night. We ate dinner and then watched movies in the living room. When it was very late, everyone said good night and went to their separate rooms.
I was in bed but wasn’t asleep yet. There was either a full moon or a nearly full moon. I can still remember how the moonlight came in through the windows at the end of the tiny bedroom where I lay. All the lights in the house were off. I remember still being able to clearly see the outline of my feet beneath the covers, and make out the small bureau a few feet beyond them in the soft moonlight that shone into the room.
Finally I did drift off, but then came suddenly awake again not long after. This time there was no moonlight. The room was abysmally dark. I could no longer make out the shape of the bureau or the outline of my feet at the end of the bed. For some reason, I could still see my hand perfectly well when I held it up in front of my face. The rest of the room had gone so completely black that I had felt the need to wave my hand in front of my face to make sure I hadn’t gone blind.
There was this intense buzzing sensation in my head. I say sensation because despite the fact that the buzzing was very loud in my ears, I felt the buzzing as much as I heard it. I remember thinking that I would not be able to hear anything over this buzzing in my head. But just a few moments after thinking that, I distinctly heard a person walk in the room through the door next to me.
Whoever it was, they came right in through the door just a few feet from me. I remember I heard them take two or three steps into that little room, and come up to the side of the bed where I was lying.
I clearly heard the sound of legs swishing back and forth inside several layers of cloth, like a heavy skirt and apron worn over a few layers of a shift or a silk slip. It was a very distinct sound. I am positive that it was nothing other than that, a person wearing several heavy layers of clothing, walking into my room.
I absolutely was not hearing the cat, the furnace, or anything like that. Also, it could not have been any of the women in my family. None of them dressed like that. They all wore blue jeans. Someone in several layers of heavy skirt had just walked into the room and came to stand at my bedside near my head. I will never forget that sound for as long as I live.
Of course, I was scared by then and had no idea what was happening. I remember thinking maybe this was one of my female relatives who was staying at the house that night and playing a prank on me, seeing if they could startle me awake. So I threw a half-hearted punch into the dark a few inches from my head, thinking it would bounce off someone’s hip. But my fist disappeared into a veil of black about an arm’s length away. Nothing was there where someone should have been standing. There was just darkness.
There was not much else I could do at that point. I could have jumped out of bed, or yelled for help, or reached up easily and grabbed the light switch. I didn’t do anything. I do not know exactly why. For some reason I had suddenly become very passive at that point. To this day I cannot say why I did not react differently. All I can say is that nothing, neither in our nature or our nurture, can prepare a person for an encounter like this. I did nothing because, quite simply, I did not know what to do.
Instead, I lay very still in the bed. I looked up at where the ceiling should be, and recited the Lord’s Prayer out loud into the darkness.
Several minutes went past, with me lying there, praying, with that buzzing filling my head while the presence stood beside me.
Eventually, the buzzing sound started to go away. Regular house sounds began to return. I could hear the tick of hot water in radiator pipes on the balcony outside my door. I dared to look down towards my feet, and once again could make out the contours of the small bureau illuminated in the moonlight coming through the windows. I could see my feet under the covers at the end of the bed.
So I just lay there. Eventually, I went back to sleep.
The next morning at breakfast, I asked my relatives about how they slept. Nobody reported anything odd or unusual. Certainly, nobody launched into any tales of spectral visitations.
Why did I not go ahead and blurt out a full description of the absurd experience I had just had? Well, there’s no paranormal explanation for that. Just trust me when I say that family dynamics are weird enough to begin with to not give them any reason to get weirder. So I ate my maple pancakes that morning, and never said a word to anyone about anything that went on the previous evening.
I never spent another night in that house. Soon, my uncle and aunt moved to another house nearby.
In the years that have followed, there have been two close friends in whom I have confided this story. The reaction of the first was to start telling me his own set of ghost stories. They were all ridiculous and obviously made up. I’ve never been able to talk to him about this again as a result. The other friend, a very intelligent and thoughtful person, whom I risked talking to about this simply said nothing in response. Of course, I’ve also told my wife and my kids. But they just think Dad has come up with a really great campfire story.
Nobody could possibly believe me. But I know what I went through. My only evidence is that house.