No. 5 Ghostly Visitations
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In keeping with the Halloween season, I thought we’d take a detour to the day I discovered that my house was haunted.
Before I begin, I should state that I am of the ghosts-aren’t-real (but-they-still-terrify-me) variety. As such, I will always, always seek the rational explanation, no matter how unlikely.
And yet, there are events I have experienced first hand that I still cannot explain.
The one I intend to share today happened almost twenty years ago. Travel with me now to that most terrifying of lands known as…New Jersey.
The morning that my husband, Tim, and I moved into our new home, it was not quite empty. The previous owner, Mrs. Watson, lingered with her little dog in the front room while her adult children packed up the last of her possessions.
The family weren’t strangers to us. They had lived in the traditional two-story house, next door to Tim’s parents, since it had been built in the 1960s. My father-in-law and Mr. Watson shared an interest in all things home improvement. Between the two men, there was no house project unshared, no Sears tool unpurchased. Mr. Watson had kept the property and the house with fastidious attention. After he died suddenly of a heart attack in the upstairs bathroom, Mrs. Watson found it difficult to maintain by herself. The grounds and the home had slid into disrepair.
When the last of the boxes were packed, the remnants of the Watson family departed. Tim and I were eager to make the house our own. But first, it needed a good scrubbing. While Tim moved our boxes into the garage, I set to work dusting the cobwebs at the ceilings, washing walls and windows, bleaching floors, toilets and tub. Behind the living room curtains, I discovered several parting gifts from the dog.
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Late in the afternoon, Tim and I relocated some unwanted furniture to the basement. The cellar was divided in three—a large central area, storage at one end, and behind a door near the stairs, Mr. Watson’s workshop. I peeked in. His tools were gone, but three workbenches remained.
I could imagine him standing at one, cigarette smoke curling from his mouth. He was a slight man with thinning black hair slicked straight back. He wore jeans and white sneakers and had a croupy, coughing laugh. He had probably constructed one of my favorite Christmas presents at those benches—custom drawers to restore an antique cupboard whose originals had been lost. I had been fond of him, his unassuming expertise, and willingness to lend a hand. I closed the workshop door behind me.
After a full day of cleaning and unpacking, Tim left to pick up a pizza for dinner. I headed upstairs to clean the bathroom before a well-earned shower in it. While the water heated up, I spritzed the bathroom mirror with Windex and wiped the chamois across it from top to bottom in wide arcs.
When the water was scalding hot, I stepped into the shower. Half a dozen bottles of human-cleaning products rimmed the edge of the tub. I selected a shampoo from the center of the line-up and poured the pearly liquid into one hand. After setting the bottle back down, I lathered my hair into a pyramid atop my head.
A few seconds later, the shampoo bottle fell over. I retrieved it and placed it back in its spot. The shower jets rinsed the soap from my hair. Suds raced for my toes. The bottle slipped into the tub again.
I wiped the shampoo out of my eyes, shaking my head at myself for having put it down carelessly twice. This time I placed it with purpose, lined up just so with the other five bottles of shampoo, conditioner and body wash.
My eyes closed to savor the sensation of hot water on increasingly sore muscles.
Something hit my foot.
The same bottle. The edge of the tub must have been ever so slightly slanted. Or wet. I wedged the bottle into the corner where it was flat and dry. “Stay,” I said, showing it my palm like a naughty puppy.
I tipped my head back into the stream of water and let it roll down my face.
Something dropped into the tub.
I paused a moment longer than necessary before staring down at the bottle. That was strange. I picked it up and ran my thumb around the base, feeling for a slippery layer that wasn’t there, and stuck it in the shower stream until it squeaked clean. This time, I put it in the front corner of the tub in a special indentation. A lip prevented bottles from tipping over.
I turned my back to select the conditioner from the remaining bottles at the rear of the tub.
Behind me, the shampoo bottle completed a roll toward the drain and came to a stop. I tensed. Things had officially passed strange and crossed over into weird.
“Tim?” I asked, knowing full well that he hadn’t snuck into the bathroom, reached past me into the shower and knocked my shampoo bottle into the tub. Knowing full well he was in a car miles away.
It was irrational, but I felt reluctant to pick up the bottle again. It wasn’t behaving normally. I felt like I was playing the dupe to a practical joke. Not to be outwitted by a plastic container, I set it on the floor outside the tub, out of patience with this game.
I reached for the soap, irritated with myself for feeling uneasy. There was a logical explanation. Think of it in terms of probability, I told myself, like the red and black bands of a roulette wheel. There was a 50/50 chance that the ball would land on red. On the next spin, the chance that it would come up red a second time was still fifty percent. If it landed on red twenty times in a row, the chance that the ball landed on red a twenty-first time was still fifty percent. It seemed as though the probability should get smaller over time, but it didn’t.
I applied that same logic to the shower bottle. Every time I put it down, there was a chance that it would stay put or fall over. I had a string of fall-overs. That’s all. There was always a non-zero probability that when you put the shampoo down, it would fall.
That sounded perfectly reasonable. My shoulders relaxed a fraction. Still, a tight thread in my belly twanged a tiny vibration of protest…that analogy doesn’t really explain...
I whirled around.
All of the remaining bottles had tumbled into the tub. Five of them lay at all angles like broken sticks at my feet.
Goose bumps erupted on my arms, across my shoulders, back and chest. My scalp went tight as it prickled from ear to ear. Despite the hot water and clouds of steam, a single shiver shook me.
My mind shot into overdrive to explain what I could not believe I was seeing. An earthquake. That was it.
That little thread in my belly thrummed another protest. You know Mr. Watson died inches from where you’re standing right now… Shoosh! I told it. An earthquake too small for me to feel knocked everything over. To test my theory, I pulled the shower curtain back to check the floor. Surely any tremor strong enough to topple all of the bottles would do the same to the shampoo.
It was still upright.
Maybe you’re not alone in here…
I hugged myself as another shiver shot down my spine. My mind raced to seek alternate explanations.
Maybe all of the bottles were finally succumbing to the tilt of the tub lip.
(Then why had they stayed perched there all day without moving? And what were the chances that they would all slip simultaneously?)
Maybe they had all gotten water under them from the shower.
(I can clearly see that the entire surface is dry. The water doesn’t reach that far.)
I was out of every explanation but one. I wasn’t in there alone.
“Mr. Watson,” I said, feeling sheepish speaking out loud to an empty room. “If that’s you, please stop. You’re scaring me.”
Puffs of steam continued to cloud the shower stall in the muffled silence. I strongly considered leaving the bottles where they were. I didn’t think I could handle another bath-product avalanche.
But the urge to see what would happen was too great. I replaced the bottles one by one. This time I didn’t turn around. I didn’t close my eyes. Let them defy reason while I watched. I dared them.
They didn’t move.
Thirty seconds later, I shut off the water and pushed back the shower curtain. On the opposite wall above the sink, the mirror was opaque with silver beads of condensation.
Except for the hand print.
There, in the center of the mirror, a right hand had been pressed into the foggy surface. It was clearly defined except for the tiny rivulets of water that streaked down from the palm. There was no mistaking it.
I froze, paralyzed. My mind sprang into desperate action for a possible explanation. Maybe Tim had come in (even if he were back with the pizza the door sticks and I would have heard him). Maybe I had placed my own palm against the mirror and forgotten all about it (that hand print is bigger than mine). Maybe I had missed the entire center of the mirror with the chamois. (Because who bothers to clean the whole big middle part where you might want to look at yourself anyway?).
A second later, I had some more important thoughts. Is it weird to be naked in front of a ghost? Do ghosts know whether or not people are naked?
Oh my God. My legs are hairy.
I grabbed a towel and snapped it closed around me, ripped open the bathroom door, and dove into bed. The covers remained over my dripping wet head until I heard the door open downstairs.
Tim chewed complacently on his pizza as I related my tale. He listened without interruption. When I finished, he gave me the same look I would have given someone else if they had told the story to me: There are a dozen more reasonable explanations than the conclusion you reached—are you sure it wasn’t an earthquake?
I can’t explain it. Since that day, nothing weird has happened in the house again. Well, nothing supernatural weird anyway.
I like to think that Mr. Watson was just letting me know that he was still there. Maybe he appreciated the care I’d shown the house that he loved.
Or maybe his handprint was meant to say you missed a spot right there dumb-dumb.
Have you experienced a supernatural encounter?
Did you make up any rationalizations that were more fantastical than the actual incident? Let me know in the comments!
If you celebrate, Happy Halloween!
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This was so enjoyable!!! I chose the "listening" option and loved it!!! I can't wait for more.
So, right after I read this post I went upstairs to clean my main bathroom and shower -- a total coincidence, I swear; Sunday is cleaning day in my house -- and I spent the whole time trying to come up with a rational explanation for what happened in your bathroom. I couldn’t come up with one. Halfway through scrubbing the shower, I was totally unnerved. I’ve never got the job done so fast in my life!