Merry Christmas! This is our fifth year living in Oregon, and we’re excited to celebrate the holidays.
Our first Christmas here was rough. We were in the middle of moving 1500 miles from Tucson, Arizona to the northern Oregon coast. My husband ended up moving here first for a job opportunity, while my seven-year-old twin boys and I stayed behind to sell the house and so I could fulfill my job contract. We missed each other and were grateful to be able to spend Christmas together.
At the time, my husband had rented a tiny one bedroom apartment in an old Victorian in Astoria. It was a cool building, even if the apartment was sparsely furnished. On Christmas Eve, we were in the middle of tucking our children in bed when one of our sons suddenly sat up and said, “Who’s that man in the hallway?”
My husband and I looked at each other and then stared out into the hallway. We couldn’t see anyone, and we knew no one but the four of us were there. The only other rooms in the apartment were the living room, the bathroom, and a small kitchen. We knew we had locked the front door and all the windows were closed.
We asked our son to describe the man, but he shrugged. “It was just a man, walking down the hall.” We turned to our other son and asked if he had seen anyone. He hadn’t.
I recently asked my son, now twelve, if he remembered this happening when he was seven. He nodded. “Yeah, that was so creepy.”
I wondered if, now that he was older, he could describe what he saw. “It was this shadowy man,” he said, “wearing a trenchcoat.”
I have no idea who our Christmas Eve visitor might have been, but it sure wasn’t Santa Claus.
© Melissa Eskue Ousley 2015
I’ve talked about seeing shadows at work, in Old Main and the Nugent building, and how co-workers shared their own odd experiences with me. I also had a weird experience seeing a shadow in my house.
After work, I’d come home, feed and bathe the kids, and get them to bed. Then, relishing a few hours for myself, I would write.
Sometimes I’d stay up late writing and pay for it the next day when I had to get up early for work. Sometimes my husband would go to bed, and then, hours later, would come out and remind me not to stay up too late. When I was into a story, it was easy to lose track of time. My husband worried about me not getting enough rest, especially because I often had trouble getting to sleep when we lived in that house.
I had experienced a number of unsettling things in the house, so I tended to be on edge, waking at the slightest noise. Sometimes the noises weren’t so slight. For a while, I’d wake up to someone screaming. When you have young children, your sleep is often interrupted, so I was already sleep deprived and hyperaware, listening for their cries. Once I was fully awake though, I’d realize it wasn’t my boys screaming. I would go check on them, and they’d be sleeping peacefully.
A few times I woke up thinking one of my boys was standing next to the bed. I’d sit up and slip off the covers, ready to take my son back to his bed, but there was no one there. Again, when I would check on the kids, they were in their own beds, fast asleep. Night after night of that was slowly making me nuts, and I needed more sleep than I got. That’s why staying up late writing was not the best of ideas, but it was a nice escape from other stressors.
One night I was sitting at the kitchen table, writing. It was late—probably eleven—and my husband had been in bed for about an hour. In the middle of typing a sentence, I stopped, struck with the feeling I was being watched. In the periphery of my vision, I saw someone standing in the hallway. I thought it was my husband, coming to tell me not to stay up too late.
I turned my head and saw a tall, dark shape standing in the entrance of the hallway. Motionless. Watching. Then the figure vanished.
I probably should have gone to bed at that point, but I was so unnerved, I just sat there, my fingers poised above the keyboard. Somehow it seemed like a bad idea to acknowledge the entity. I thought, “Nope. I did not just see that.” Then I kept on writing.
© Melissa Eskue Ousley 2015
I’ve shared my experiences working in Old Main at the University of Arizona. I also had odd experiences working in the Nugent Building next door, which was built in 1937. When my department was moving our offices, I had to visit the storage room in the basement. The fluorescent lights were dim, making the room seem darker than it should have been. I got a strong feeling, like I wasn’t alone and I wasn’t welcome. Unnerved, I grabbed what I needed in a hurry and got out of there.
Later, after carrying a box of supplies to my office on the second floor, I headed downstairs and found myself alone on the first floor. Everyone else had left for the day. I walked down a darkened hallway, lit only by the glow of an exit sign. I could hear my heels clicking on the tile floor. Then I heard a second set of footsteps, like someone was following me. I stopped and looked behind me, but didn’t see anyone.
Sometimes I would work late, and I’d be the only person on the second floor. More than once, I caught a dark shadow out of the corner of my eye, like someone was standing there, watching me. When I would turn my head, there wouldn’t be anyone there, though I could see the faintest afterimage—a fleeting glimpse of a dark figure. I didn’t tell anyone what I was experiencing, but after that, I always kept the lights on when I was there alone.
Then I heard a story from some co-workers whose offices were located in the basement. They told me they had heard strange noises and the electrical equipment—copiers and fax machines—would often malfunction. One woman swore she’d taken a photo and could see the faint image of a person—one that could not be seen with the naked eye.
After a tragedy on campus involving the death of a student, our supervisors decided to have the building blessed. The student had been Native American, and even though she hadn’t died in the building, her loss had a huge impact on the close-knit community. The cleansing ceremony was meant to help everyone heal.
What is weird is that after the smudging ceremony, my co-workers said the strange incidents in the basement stopped, like whatever had been down there was finally gone.
© Melissa Eskue Ousley 2015
The house I live in now is lovely. It’s not my dream home (that would be a house with a wide front porch and a view of a lake), but it has beautiful features, like a coved ceiling in the living room and a gorgeous tree out back that explodes with white flowers each spring. The neighborhood is pleasant, and my family is happy here. I feel content living in our house, which we’ve rented for almost five years. More than that, I feel safe living here.
That’s a contrast to our old house. It looked normal enough—it was built in the 90s in a middle class neighborhood, and had a pretty front porch with brick pillars, a welcome respite from the sun. We bought it as a foreclosure, and quickly got to work renovating it, installing new appliances and cabinets in the kitchen, and countertops in the bathrooms. By the time we were done fixing it up, I was familiar with every inch of the place, having painted the entire house inside and out. I even taught myself how to tile.
I never had the same sense of peace in that house as I do in our current house, and I didn’t realize how edgy I felt until I moved. My sense of unease started when we first looked at the house with my in-laws. They had brought their dog with them. The poodle went everywhere—she was smart and house-trained, so there was little fear of her messing up the place. Still, when she followed us into the bedroom that was to become mine and my husband’s, she acted strange. She padded over to the wall where our headboard would eventually rest, and squatted down as though she were going to urinate on the white carpet. It was completely out of character, but there was nothing visibly unsettling about the house. It looked like a regular house.
A number of strange things happened in that house. I’d see shadows out of the corner of my eye, or get a sense of someone watching me. A year after moving in, I gave birth to twin boys. That was a tough time. Although I was thrilled to have my sons, I felt constantly overwhelmed and sleep-deprived. It was easy to blame the things that happened on a tired mind, particularly since my husband never experienced anything odd. That was better than the alternative, that what I was experiencing was real, or worse, that I was having a psychotic break.
Now that we live in a peaceful house, where I’ve never experienced anything remotely supernatural, I do believe that those things were real, and I wasn’t experiencing some kind of post-partem insanity. I may be eccentric and overly fond of ghost stories, but I’m sound of mind.
After the boys were born, we were drowning in baby gear. Some of it was electronic, with flashing lights and cute sounds designed to keep infants entertained. Sometimes those toys would go off by themselves. My husband blamed it on static electricity, or a button that got pressed and stuck.
One night, when he couldn’t sleep, my husband decided to go grocery shopping at a store that was open 24 hours. (When you have young children, you do odd things like that. It’s easier than dragging kids to a store.) Meanwhile, I was having a nightmare.
The dream was so vivid, I thought I was awake. I sat up in bed, and looked over at our closet. The door was open, which was weird, because I always insisted on sleeping with it closed. My room was dark, but I could make out the white louvered closet door, and the darker interior of the closet. There was someone—something—standing in my closet, a shadowy form even darker than its surroundings. Frozen in fear, I watched it for a few seconds, and I could feel it watching me. Then, it took a step toward the bed.
I jerked awake, breathing hard, my heart thudding in my chest. Immediately I looked at the closet door. It was shut tight. But my husband was missing from his place in the bed, and that’s when I realized he wasn’t home. It was just me and the boys.
I sat there in the dark, trying to calm myself, shaking off the nightmare. Then, out in the living room, one of the baby toys went off by itself, playing its happy little song in the middle of the night, in our otherwise silent house.
I stared into the hallway toward the living room and then looked back at the closet. I decided I didn’t want to sit there by myself in the dark, and I didn’t want my children to be vulnerable to whatever was paying us a visit.
I turned on some lights and checked out the house. There was no one in the living room. No one had broken in and tripped over the toy, setting it off. I went through the rest of the house and found nothing.
My kids were safe in their room, sleeping peacefully. I didn’t think I’d be able to sleep again, and certainly not alone. I grabbed some blankets and my pillow and made a bed on the floor of the boys’ room. Having other human beings near me helped, and somehow I fell back to sleep, this time with no dreams.
© Melissa Eskue Ousley 2015