I’ve been collecting ghost stories since first grade, but it never occurred to me I might encounter something spooky until it actually happened. Years ago, when I was in my early twenties, we moved with our infant son into a nice rental house in the north end of San Bernardino.
One of the first mornings after moving in, I saw my toothbrush pop up out of its holder then clatter into the sink. I was surprised — and delighted. I promptly put it back in its holder and waited for a repeat performance, but nothing more happened. . . that day.
I didn’t tell my husband because I figured he’d think I was either imagining things or pulling his leg. And it didn’t cross my mind that these almost daily incidents might signify a haunting since, in the following weeks and months, I never felt anything even approaching fear as I watched Kleenex boxes slide across nightstands, newspapers and magazines flop out of their basket, more toothbrush dances, and other light weight inanimate objects skitter around by themselves. I honestly chalked it up to some sort of glitch in the gravity.
And then, six months in, something bigger happened. Damien and I were sitting side by side at the kitchen table having a ham sandwich lunch. In the center of the room, a full, three-foot-high trash can waited to be taken outside. As we were chatting and eating, the heavy bin simply rose into the air two to three inches, hovered a second, then dropped back to the floor. Time had slowed down in that way it does when something shocking happens, and we turned to each other, jaws dropped like bad clichés, and said, simultaneously, “Did you see that?” We nodded at each other, dumbfounded.
We slowly finished our sandwiches, never taking our eyes off the trash can, but nothing more happened. Knowing he’d believe me now, I told Damien about all the other little incidents and my theory about the gravity glitch. We talked of poltergeists at that point but because of the lack of fear, neither of us bought it. Funny gravity seemed more likely because we both thought that ghosts would be scary. How young and naïve we were!
Over the next couple of weeks, things became a little unnerving. Nothing happened – not even a twitch of a toothbrush – and that made it worse. I also came to understand there was another reason I hadn’t told my mate about the minor stuff: as long as he didn’t see it, it wasn’t real. But he had – and spectacularly. My imagination had engaged and I began hurrying past shadowed rooms, turning lights on everywhere, and listening for strange noises. Still, nothing happened, but I was nervous because I knew it could: Seeing a heavy object levitate with a co-witness was not at all the same thing as a cute little toothbrush hopping around.
I don’t know what would have happened if the owners hadn’t asked if we’d break the lease. They wanted to move back into the good-sized house because they had a teenaged daughter who’d been in a sanitarium for a while for emotional problems, and she was coming home. They needed the space again, they explained, and the girl was looking forward to moving back into an odd little room that was built inside the garage. Though we never used it at all, this room was nice and we’d guessed it had belonged to a music-playing teenaged boy because the walls were carpeted, probably to muffle sound. . .
After moving to a little house that looked like it should be haunted but was completely normal, I dug into poltergeist phenomena and realized that the disturbed daughter who lived in the room with carpeted walls probably was the poltergeist agent and that there was enough of her leftover energy in the house to cause the random events we experienced there. I would have loved to ask the parents if things flew regularly in the house when they lived there, but that would have been crass.
Once in a while, thirty years later, if I’m out that way, I’ll cruise past the house. It’s still a nice house in a nice neighborhood. There are flowerbeds, the lawn is neatly mown, and the sidewalk swept. I wonder what, if anything, happens in there.
A few years later we moved to Tujunga, a little city snug up against the mountains above the Burbank-Glendale area. We were both working and we looked forward to picking up our son and coming home at night to our four cats, who waited in a gem of a four-bedroom ranch house.
The oak-floored residence was comprised of a long hall containing four bedrooms and two bathrooms, with the master suite at the far end of the hall. Our son’s room was at the end nearest the foyer. On the other side of the foyer was the communal living area of the house. That was circular, opening to the living room to the right of the foyer and the kitchen straight ahead. There was a formal dining room between them. It was a nice setup.
We lived there for six months, growing increasingly uncomfortable with the place, though we never quite knew why. The house was great, the neighborhood so-so. A couple of things stood out: our cats would not allow us to leave them out of the bedroom at night, and I suddenly developed what I thought to be a muscle twitch in my shoulder that felt like someone was tapping on it. It happened virtually every night and only in the bathroom when I went to brush my teeth. It became a joke.
We were never quite comfortable there and after six months found a new place to live. The last day there, we dropped our son at his grandmother’s, left the cats at the new place and spent the night alone in the Tujunga house. Most everything was packed and ready to go and we slept on our mattress on the floor in our bedroom at the far end of the house.
The next morning, Damien left to pick up the rental truck while I lazed on the bed for a few more precious moments. Not three minutes after he left, I heard the front door open and slam shut, then angry footsteps stomping around the living area. This wasn’t like Damien, but who else could it be? I called out his name and asked if he’d forgotten something. The stomping paused briefly then started up again, without any answer.
I fought back panic as I realized there must be a prowler in the house. There was no phone in the bedroom, nothing but a broom. The window was over a ten-foot drop to a cement stairwell leading to a basement. I rapidly pulled on my clothes, grabbed the broom, cracked the bedroom door and yelled, “The police are on their way and I’ve got a gun. Get out!”
The footsteps ceased abruptly and I waited a minute, listening. No floorboards creaked out there or in the hallway. No footfalls sounded. Knowing I had to make it to the foyer, I pointed the broom handle like a spear and crept down the hall. Nothing. Silence.
I arrived at the mouth of the hall and saw no one in the living room, though I couldn’t see into the dining room or kitchen. The foyer was clear, and it was just ten steps to the to the front door. Then, suddenly, right in front of me, the footsteps started up. I couldn’t see anything and they stomped right past, into the corridor. Right behind me, I heard our son’s bedroom door slam closed and the stomping continue up the hall.
I was out of there like a shot.
I paced around the front yard, fairly freaked out. It was impossible, what had happened. It was nuts. Finally I sat down on the front steps to wait for Damien’s return because there certainly wasn’t a prowler in there.
When he pulled up, I was already trying to convince myself it was a trick of the house, maybe the plumbing. It was too crazy to believe. But I told him about it, and he smiled. He didn’t think it was anything supernatural, and honestly, I’d have smiled too.
We went inside, searched the place, including the detached garage, the little basement and the yard, and, finding nothing, (even our son’s bedroom door was open despite the sound of it shutting) we got back to work. Mid-afternoon, we took a break, carrying warm bottles of Coke into our son’s former room, where we sprawled on the floor. My back was against the wall, legs flat out before me, and Damien lay on his back and crossed one leg over the other. We were joking and talking about what I’d heard, wondering what it had really been, when he yelped as his lower leg jerked upward.
“What?” I cried.
“Something yanked my ankle!” He was freaked and suggested we get out of there before dark. I thought that was a splendid idea and we put the last box on the truck just as dusk settled in.
We spent a lovely night at our new place and by morning both of us were sure all of it could be rationally explained away. He went back to give the landlord the key that afternoon and, fear gone, he went inside to make sure we’d left nothing behind. About fifteen minutes later, he heard the front door open and slam, and heavy footsteps. Thinking it was the landlord, Damien walked out of the bedroom – and the exact same thing happened to him as it had to me – the footsteps paused, then started up directly in front of him, passing him as they moved up the hall toward the bedrooms. The only difference was that he didn’t hear the slam of our son’s door.
It was bat out of hell time. He left the key in the mailbox and never went back.
Two things stood out to us afterward about that early experience. First, the twitch that felt like a finger tapping my shoulder never happened again after we left the Tujunga house.
What’s most interesting is that we both felt immense dread in this haunting. That’s not something that happens very often. Almost always, anomalies are interesting and can even be delightful. This one was dark and nasty.
A while later, I did some research on the prior owners of the house. Our landlord bought it a family had lived there: husband, wife, and a couple of kids. The man began behaving erratically (post mortem, a brain tumor was found). He was abusing his family and, eventually they left him. He died not long after.
For us, this is all we needed to understand. This residual haunting was emotionally full of rage and our moving out set off the “tape” – the emotions and memories embedded in the house. Further research revealed that this is a fairly common type of haunting.
Those were our first two encounters, and I’m grateful for them. We both are. It would be eight years before I came across anything else that was not easily explainable. Fortunately, those were the only ones that happened in places we lived in; as much as I love a good haunting, I’d much rather visit one then live with it.
I’ve experienced many strange things since then and go out of my way to find them, but those first two were the best. Years from now, we’ll be sitting in rocking chairs on our front porch, shaking our gray heads and saying, “Remember when the trash can levitated? Wasn’t that grand?” And we will smile.