I’ve been told that epileptics are prone to paranormal activity but I’d say most people are fair game if you move into a place with black handprints up and down the basement wall a la Blair Witch.
My husband, our mastiff rescue Hemingway and I moved to Pittsburgh last year to fail at starting a community art space. During that time, we rented an old rowhouse which was spacious and affordable.
We felt having three floors was pretty novel and liked the character of the old building.
We moved to Pittsburgh because we needed a change.
A few years previous, we had lived in a house in Madison, Wisconsin. It was the first and only house we had ever bought and we loved it.
Sadly, life took a sad turn and we only lived in that house for four years. This is because I lost my dad (cancer, March 2015), cousin (cancer, March 2016) and grandma (cancer, April 2016) in a two-year stretch. A few years earlier, back in January 2012, my mom had been the first to be labeled “terminally ill”, diagnosed with frontotemporal degeneration (FTD), but she was to be the last to die.
It was just really far beyond the word “sad.”
Spooky and unexplained things did happen in our Madison, Wisconsin home and they seemed to increase over time, climaxing once Mom came home to live with us.
My mom had lived through two “Last Calls” made by experienced hospice nurses and, well, that alone spooked my mom’s final hospice nurse so much she refused to declare another because my mom was apparently on her own schedule and it simply went beyond her twenty-five years of nursing.
My mom was a bit of a phoenix.
So… sure. It just felt reasonable to assume her lingering here maybe… shook things up a bit. It was her style. She was wonderful. 💙
In any case, after Mom died in June 2017, my husband and I did some of our own lingering before we decided to sell our house in Madison to start a community art space in Pittsburgh, PA.
Well, we did move to Pittsburgh, but then our art space funding fell through and then we were stuck in what turned out to be a maliciously haunted house. But that didn’t seem to be the case at first…
At first, we noticed these little black handprints on the basement wall which were too crazy to be real.
But, when I showed the rowhouse’s maintenance man (who was a giant human who liked to sing a lot), he seemed genuinely spooked by the prints and said he hadn’t noticed them before and was certain no kids had lived there before us.
Well, I thought other kids must have somehow broken inside the rowhouse before we moved in and had some fun.
I was only certain the handprints weren’t made by flying raccoons but these little handprints, again, seemed too weird to be real.
And, at first, the handprints just seemed like an anomaly. The old rowhouse was otherwise lovely.
And, when Halloween approached, I got very excited to decorate the house and get into the spirit.
But then things started to get uncomfortable. Since our move to Pittsburgh had been tough, I knew we didn’t need any more stress. So I didn’t really discuss the weird feeling I started to get or how our dog Hemi Monster seemed to be scared of the music room at night.
She would get up and walk over to the doorway of that room, as if she heard something, but then she’d turn and quickly walk back to her bed.
Of course, Hemi was not a brave dog and and it was noteworthy she got up at all.
Rather, Hemi preferred to spend her time eating:
and being fashionable:
She was not an attack dog by any stretch of the imagination.
Yet, despite her lack of courage and her intense focus on her own self-preservation, she was the one with the longest claws and the sharpest teeth so her primary bed was placed in front of the basement door.
She did look kind of scary because she was very slobbery and, in her old age, blind in both eyes.
Her sheer grossness should have at least inhibited any malicious entity, or at least that was our theory. We assigned her to keep watch on the ground floor when we went to bed at night.
This is because that’s where the action seemed to be. We spent most of our time in the living room which was on the inner side of the stairway that ran up the center of the rowhouse, and the music room was on the other, outer side of the stairway, at the front of the house.
The stairs were also remarkably steep. I was very nervous as I didn’t want to join the rowhouse throngs by taking a fatal fall down those stairs.
In any case, the most notable activity started with a lamp. At night, one of our living room lamps started to flicker. The house lights didn’t flicker… just the lamp’s light. It was a little spooky. Despite my big front, I’m pretty skeptical when it comes to odd occurrences and I was no longer looking for affirmation so I dismissed things or, if the lamp was really flickering, I’d ask it how it was doing.
As an only child, I feel it’s rational to address inanimate objects.
And the lamp almost seemed to respond. It freaked out my husband to no end but I got a kick out of it.
“Hello, lamp! How are you feeling this fine evening?”
“(Flicker), (turn off), (turn on), (flicker).”
“Ah! That’s wonderful to hear!” and I’d turn back to the television and my husband was not happy about any of it.
It wasn’t until I saw something that I really started to feel the house was not friendly.
One night I was passing from the bathroom on the second floor to our bedroom and I looked down the stairs as was my habit and I saw something that made my heart stop.
I glanced down and saw what seemed to be a tall, thin shadow which was slightly bent forward, walking from our living room towards the music room.
This shadow didn’t look up at me, it just looked straight ahead.
So I did the same and turned my head to look into our bedroom where I quickly walked without missing a step.
Just a shadow, heading to a party in another dimension or… whatever. Maybe it didn’t even know I was there. It was just doing its thing and I was just going to bed so… let it be.
But it scared the shit out of me.
We started to avoid the music room at night. I didn’t play piano at night so there was really no need to be in that front room after a certain hour.
I had never seen anything before. With all the other weird things, it had always been something inanimate turning on or an object moving or a sound or something more intangible. So seeing this shadow creature really put me on edge.
In our Madison house, my husband had been the one to have more tangible contact with unexplainable things but I was largely left alone.
In the Pittsburgh rowhouse, that was not the case.
A couple weeks later, I saw another shadow creature which was much bigger than the thin, tall shadow I had seen before and this shadow stood at the top of the third floor and it looked down the stairwell to where I was looking up at it on my way into the bathroom.
And this one just stood there, peering down at me.
It was another drive-by view which I can only describe using my memory, words and that shitty drawing above as there was no way in hell I was going to stand my ground, turn and take a photo of a big shadow thing who should not have even been there and yet seemingly was and not only that but it was also staring right at me.
So I quickly turned my head away and walked straight into the bathroom, locking the door behind me.
Locking the door on shadows and other such things always seemed futile to me when I watched people do it in movies but… it felt like my only defense. And then I hid in that bathroom for an hour, completely freaked out.
It didn’t help that the only bathroom in this rowhouse was entirely covered by pink and pastel green tiles making it the least comforting bathroom in the history of bathrooms.
And then our sweet Hemi Monster died. She was old and suffering with abscesses so the best Pittsburgh home vet service, Lap of Love, came and kindly put her down. We were utterly broken-hearted.
But my dear friend Val sent me Juan, who was to take Hemi’s place in protecting our home from… whatever the hell was happening.
Soon after Hemi died, my husband and I made the decision to return to Wisconsin. My position with a small non-profit had been eliminated in restructuring and we were subsequently free to get the hell out of Dodge.
Yet, as soon as we made the decision to leave, it was as if the heavy feeling in the house intensified. It was like a weight was placed on us. The house somehow felt extremely ominous.
This feeling became more visceral one hot summer night.
I had made the decision to sleep on the couch in our living room and not go to bed upstairs. The old rowhouse did not have central air and that night I did not feel willing to go suffer in the humidity one floor up.
But, after sleeping for a few hours, I woke suddenly and found I could not move my body.
I had watched that documentary about sleep paralysis a couple years previous and, as an epileptic, I could imagine feeling trapped inside an uncooperative body, but I had never experienced true paralysis before.
And the thing about waking up and feeling consciously unable to move was how I also felt terrified. Not just because I couldn’t move my body… I felt so scared of something else. I didn’t see anything. But I was intensely focused on making my body move enough so that it would fall to the floor because I “knew” that “she” would not be able to touch me if I made it upstairs to bed.
I’d be safe if I made it to bed.
And I got my body to twitch enough I eventually fell to the floor and slowly regained the ability to move. I desperately dragged myself to the stairs and began to crawl up them. As I did so, the terror relented.
I have no idea who I was so afraid of. I didn’t recall experiencing a nightmare. I just woke up suddenly, felt true horror because of a female presence I could not see and because I could not move my body to escape her.
That was my single episode of sleep paralysis and I’ll never doubt anyone who says they’ve experienced this. It was terrifying.
My husband and I finally talked and, to my surprise, he said he’d been feeling the heaviness too and we were both rather afraid of staying there.
But no other event happened and, a few weeks later, we packed up and left that seemingly malevolently haunted rental rowhouse in Pittsburgh.
Given the amount of grief we were feeling, it isn’t too difficult to imagine that our pain and suffering attracted dark entities. At least, that’s what they say in the movies.
Which seems really unfair.
In addition, it seemed that methheads were squatting in the seemingly abandoned house squashed just behind our rowhouse and that house was right next to a house filled with young white men who were perpetually shirtless.
Not a smart move, any way you look at it.
In any case, we moved to where we live now. And, despite it being infested with mice, moths and centipedes, the first thing I noticed about our Milwaukee apartment was how “light” it felt when we walked in the door. The air was so light. The heaviness was not here.
Saying that, the first night we stayed here we slept on a make-shift bed on the floor. And it was then I had an awful nightmare.
In the dream, I was in a big, unfamiliar house and the upstairs of this house was haunted. It had a grand staircase running down the center of it, and the second floor rooms wound around the staircase on the second floor. In those surrounding rooms, the entities lived. I could never see them but I knew they were there. They were malevolent and powerful and… they had thrown a friend down the stairs and that was really traumatic for everyone. They were very feared.
A young man lived on their floor and he seemed able to communicate with them. Eventually, one day I came to leave the house and he insisted that I come upstairs to say goodbye to the entities as they expected and required it. My heart pounded as I ascended the stairs and, when I arrived at the top, slowly turned to face the row of dark doors.
They were empty. I turned to the young man and said that I didn’t see anyone. He responded that they were there.
I still couldn’t see them but I waved and said, “Goodbye!” And then I stood there, waiting for some kind of response.
But the young man chided me for staring at them and told me I was being rude. So I descended the stairs and felt so grateful to be able to do so though I could feel their eyes on my back.
And then I woke up in our mouse-infested and not-haunted apartment and took a deep breath.
The moral of this story: Never ever move into a house with tiny black handprints on its basement walls.
Even if it comes with a friendly resident black street cat named Milo.