Children! Gather round ye olde campfire or whatever, and let me tell you a story from long ago, back in the days when people listened to Nickelback unironically.
When I was 20 (approximately a billion years ago, back before Myspace even existed, let alone Facebook), my two best friends and I moved in together into the top floor of a converted two storey house on Pepperell Street. The three of us were students at Dalhousie – Kat was doing a double major in political science and theatre, Iain was in the acting program, and I was a pretentious Classics brat – and we chose the apartment based on its proximity to the university, its relatively low rent, and the fact that it had “character.” It would take us a few months to realize just how much character this apartment had.
The building we lived in was old, dark and draughty, but in a way that appealed to us. The stairwell leading up to our floor was dim and scuffed, and the carpets were that sort of indeterminate brown that carpets turn after years and years of having dirt ground into them. The walls were white plaster stained brown in spots from decades of nicotine, and they always felt faintly damp to the touch – this was Halifax, after all, and pretty much everything was sort of dank and mildewed. Some of the rooms didn’t have lighting fixtures, so we had to get lamps, and at night we drifted between the little pools of yellow light. The apartment smelled of dust and old, decaying wood. You could climb out the living room window and sit out on the roof of the front porch with a cigarette and a beer. There was a claw foot tub. We felt like real grownups.
Our new house had a strange chill to it, though. Even on baking hot days, it was cold inside – the kind of cold that makes you shiver and glance over your shoulder. The kind of cold that grips your bones and doesn’t let go. There was a presence, though none of us could articulate exactly what kind of presence it was. My friend Jess, the first and only time she came over, titled her head and wrinkled her nose as if she could smell something and said, “it feels spooky in here.” She was right – it did feel spooky. And the music didn’t help.
The music started not long after we moved in, and we heard it nearly every day. Imagine the sound of a piano, the notes watery and vague, as if heard from several away. It was drawing room music; it had the air of hours and hours spent cooped up in a stuffy parlour, playing for nobody but yourself. It was old music, and even to the ear of three twenty year olds who knew nothing about classical music, the playing sounded strangely old-fashioned. We figured that our downstairs neighbours must have had a piano – that is, until one of the neighbours asked which one of us was playing the music.
I had dreams about a girl in a white dress, coughing and coughing until blood came out of her mouth.
Sometimes we would feel something brush past us in the hallway.
Sometimes visitors would hear a creak on the stair behind them as they climbed up to the second floor, and then feel a cold breath of air on their necks.
But we wrote all of this off as weird old house stuff and my overactive imagination. At least, we did right up until the ghost started harassing men who stayed in our apartment.
Boys who crashed on our couch talked about weird things that woke them up in the middle of the night. They said they felt someone touch their feet, or sometimes their face. One guy kept waking up to find that the blanket had fallen on the floor. And then there was Iain.
Iain often went out at night, and when he did he would stay out until two or three in the morning. Every time that Iain went out, Kat and I would make sure to only lock the deadbolt and not the chain lock. And every time Iain went out, Kat and I would wake up to him pounding on the door because the chain lock was on and he couldn’t get in.
The first few times it happened, he was furious. He thought we were doing it intentionally, as some sort of prank. After a while, he realized that maybe it wasn’t so funny for us to be dragged out of bed four nights a week? And then Kat saw the ghost.
It happened on a night when Iain was out. We’d both gone to bed early, and we had both fallen asleep pretty quickly. Kat woke up to the sound of her door creaking open, and, bleary-eyed, she watched as someone’s head poked through the open door. Thinking it was me, she called out my name, but as the head turned towards her she realized that it wasn’t me. I had shoulder-length brown hair at the time, and this girl had long white hair. I usually wore flannel pyjamas; she was wearing a long, floaty white nightgown. And when she looked at Kat, instead of eyes she had black holes in her head.
She stared hard at Kat for a minute (or at least seemed to – I don’t know if it’s possible to stare without eyes), and then pulled back. Kat screamed and I woke up and ran into her room. We shared a bed for the rest of that week – neither of us could sleep comfortably on our own after Kat had seen that apparition.
A few weeks after that, one of us went down into the basement to get something, but for some reason the lights wouldn’t turn on. Freaked out, we got our neighbour Brian (a biology major, and the most level-headed and unfreakoutable person we knew) to come check it out. It turned out that every single bulb in the basement had been unscrewed just enough so that it still hung in the socket but wouldn’t turn on.
I don’t really have a great ending to this story, except that I think Kat and I eventually came to tolerate our ghost. Sure, she was a scary weirdo, but she was our scary weirdo. And after all, wasn’t it likely that she was harassing men in order to protect us? That’s what we told ourselves, anyway. Iain and I moved out at the end of that school year, and Kat stayed for another year after that, but none of us ever saw the ghost again. It’s one of our favourite stories, though, and it’s worth telling any time we see Brian, because his face will go red and he’ll yell “THERE WAS NO FUCKING GHOST IN THE BASEMENT. THERE’S NO SUCH THINGS AS GHOSTS.”
Oh but there was a ghost in the basement, Brian. Fucking or otherwise.
And that ghost in the basement is why I now 100% believe in ghosts.