Every Ghost Story Is A Real Estate Story

Milliken noticed that the house attracted a strange sort of attention. On Halloween night, she was standing on her front steps when she spotted a group of girls in costumes rounding the sidewalk outside her house.

“That’s where that thing happened,” one girl giggled. The group moved on without stopping for candy.

Milliken was growing increasingly anxious. Around this time, her family began to experience a series of strange, unsettling events that defied easy explanation. The first incident, as Milliken would later testify in a deposition, came several weeks after moving in. One afternoon she was visiting her sister Jill a few towns over when she received a call from Ryan, insisting that she come home immediately. He was still upset when she arrived. Ryan said he’d been doing homework in the kitchen when he felt someone breathing on his neck. He’d turned around and seen a man’s dark shadow move in the hallway. He had searched the house but found no one. Milliken hugged Ryan and told him that what he had felt was probably just air from the vents. Privately, she resolved to find out what was going on.

Soon after, Milliken knocked on the door of a neighbor, a divorced mother of two named Yolanda Gary.

“Did something happen in my house?” Milliken asked.

Gary started to cry. “We thought you knew,” she said.

The two women sat down on Gary’s front lawn, and Gary told Milliken the story of the last family to live at 12 Pickering Trail.

This morning I read “The Ghosts of Pickering Trail”, an article on Atavist that friends and colleagues kept passing around with the promise that it would KEEP YOU UP AT NIGHT and send A CHILL DOWN YOUR SPINE. Pass, I thought, not because I don’t like scary stories, but because I recognize there is a time and place for them and after dark on the first night in my new apartment is neither the time nor place. The last time I made such a reasonable decision was when I spent a weekend alone in my previous sublet — no husband, no friends crashing on the couch, no one but me myself and I to keep me company — and Silvia sent me this Karen Russell story about two girls who accidentally find themselves at a ~very spooky~ ski lodge party. In both cases, I read the stories in the bright light of a Monday morning, when another human being was around to counter that inevitable chill, although I will admit that the interrupting buzz of my cell phone did make me yelp in a very unbecoming way.

Both stories are excellent and will make you carefully peer over your shoulder at the dark corners of your new apartment that you have not properly investigated yet, regardless of what time of day you read it; “The Ghosts of Pickering Trail” has a particularly sad, scary, and satisfying ending, the kind where you can choose to believe in ghosts if you want to (me) or you can choose to reject the possibility of ghosts because your feeble brain can’t handle it (also me).

My move this weekend was a great, simple, pleasant experience that I hope never to repeat again. I did have to go to Ikea, because of course I did, and on the way out I developed a bizarre allergic reaction. Maybe to the dust? My eyes got red and swollen and I was leaking tears like I had been watching YouTube playlists of babies getting cochlear implants for the first time. “I’m not crying,” I wanted to tell the fellow shoppers looking on sympathetically, who were maybe thinking that I was overwhelmed or bickering with my husband, “it’s an involuntary physiological reaction!!” I went home and lay down, arms over my eye sockets, avoiding light and other nice things, pooling tears on my pillow and counting the hours until I could take another Benadryl. By the time I could stand to keep my eyes open and the tears had stopped it was Sunday and I still didn’t want to build furniture so I read “Object Lesson” by Lynne Tillman. She opens the essay by saying:

Houses and people remind me of each other. Both have facades behind whose stone and brick, smiles and frowns, lie other, often hidden aspects.

I read that, also, in broad daylight, and thought about how many ghost stories are actually stories of houses and places haunted by memories and secrets. I did live in a haunted house once, from the ages of ten to thirteen, and I am not in a rush to repeat or recant that experience; maybe another time. My new apartment has south-facing windows that look out onto a very beautiful, very old church. If I was the kind of person who believed in such superstitions, I’d feel safer. As it is, I have a closet to investigate.