I love ghost stories. Always have, always will. Wuthering Heights, with ghost Cathy haunting Heathcliff, is one of my very favorite books ever. The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allen Poe made my heart pound the first time I read it, when I was about twelve years old, and it makes my heart pound when I read it still. Since I started writing THE LAST VICTIM, which has its own (way sexy) resident ghost, I’ve done a lot of research into the paranormal. But sometimes the best ghost stories begin at home.
My house was built in 1894. It is three stories tall, with Doric columns and two wide porches, on the first and second floors, running the length of the house. There are balconies and fountains and secret gardens. In the basement, a hidden room looks like it could once have been used as a dungeon. On the third floor, which is my office, concealed passages run along inside the walls.
Some people say it is haunted. Sometimes, when I’m home alone and night has fallen and the chimneys start to whisper and the floors start to creak, I’m convinced. But when it’s daylight and the house is full of people, I’m not so sure. I’ll tell you my own personal experiences, and let you judge for yourselves.
In the Angel Garden at the back of the house, just as twilight was falling several years ago, I caught a glimpse of a dark-haired woman in an old-fashioned dress standing in the middle of the roses looking down into the small pool below the fountain. Even as I stared at her, trying to figure out who could be in my garden at that time of night, she vanished. Poof! Gone, just like that.
My German shepherd, normally the calmest of dogs, will occasionally leap to his feet and start barking frantically at something that he seems to think is moving down the center of the front hall. (Our front hall is sixty feet long and twenty-five feet wide, and a long ago mistress of the house is said to have died suddenly there.)
A few years ago, when my children were very young, we had the family bed thing going on at least half the time, more because I was afraid something would happen to them (kidnappers; sudden infant death syndrome; a house fire where I couldn’t get to them, something. What can I say? I have a great imagination) than because they were afraid to sleep alone. Anyway, we had a king-sized bed with a trundle bed at the foot of it. Our oldest was twelve and slept in his own room next door to ours, scorning my attempts to save him from whatever. Our second son, around six at the time and easier to convince, slept on the trundle on those nights. The youngest, then about one, slept in the middle of the bed, with my husband on one side and me on the other. It was raining that particular night, and dark as dark can be in our bedroom. I woke up in the middle of the night, and lay there listening to the rain, feeling all warm and cozy, thinking how peaceful it was to know that my family was nearby, to feel the warmth of the baby beside me, to listen to everyone’s breathing. I heard my husband snoring (can’t miss him), heard my baby’s soft little breaths, heard my six year old breathing. It was absolutely the most comforting thing ever – until I realized that I was hearing one too many people breathing. I counted again, quickly. My husband’s breathing. My baby’s breathing. My six-year-old’s breathing. And someone else to my right, standing maybe a foot away from the bed, breathing in and out, impossible to miss.
The hair stood up on the back of my neck. Who else was in that room? My first thought was that someone had broken into the house. I shot into a sitting position, straining to see through the dark. I couldn’t: the room was black as pitch. The breathing was still there, in and out. (A side note: no, I didn’t try waking my husband. He sleeps like the dead. Our whole family could be murdered in the same room with him and he would not have the slightest clue anything was awry until he woke up in the morning.) I leaned sideways, hit the switch that turned on the lamp beside the bed. The light came on – no one was there. But I could still hear the breathing. It was moving around the foot of the bed, heading out into the hall, which was dark.
I thought of my oldest son, asleep in the bedroom next door, and jumped out of bed and chased that breathing into the hall. Sure enough, it went into his bedroom. I followed it in, heard it – in and out, in and out – beside his bed just as I reached the light switch. As the light came on, I saw something dark – a shadow more than a shape – rush out his door. Chasing it into the hall, I heard it go down the stairs. I hit the light switch at the top of the stairs in time to see something dark whisk around the corner at the foot of the stairs, disappearing into the hall that led into the kitchen.
Did I follow? What kind of fool do you take me for? But I did get my twelve-year-old up, bundle him into my bedroom, lock the door, and sit up the rest of the night wondering what on earth I had just chased down the stairs.
Come to find out, the woman who died in our front hall had children who stayed in those two bedrooms. I don’t know, but I sometimes wonder if it was her whose breathing I heard that night, and if she was checking on her children.
I’ll leave it to you to decide for yourself. But I know what I think.
Karen’s new novel, THE LAST VICTIM, is on sale tomorrow. Order your copy from one of these online retailers or head to KarenRobards.com to learn more. You can also connect with Karen via her Facebook page.