Stampede

It was the time of day when no one thought to turn on the lights. A plate of clams was downstairs, and the sun had fallen below the tall hedges.

Dusk was making its way into the big house and up the stairs, where we cousins were told to read a book, play a game, get ready for dinner. We clung by age, draping off the top bunk, playing Uno, polishing toenails with a foot on the sink. I laid on the floor by the stairs with my chin on a fist, looking at an old nail bent wrong and thinking about the tasty cocktail sauce downstairs. Sand was in my sunburnt ears.

Dinner was slow to the table that night and the cousins shared a potato chip bag upstairs. When the dusk broke down into dark, we reached for the lights and started talking about the house’s ghost.

Our families called the ghost Grace. We knew about her history from the house’s owner, and even other renters. It made us laugh if we were outside in the sun at the beach, and our families bonded over this experience. Our own ghost! But if we were inside the house, when the sun was depleted, the cousins would stay downstairs in a large group until it was time for bed and go up together. No one spent time alone upstairs, even during the day, and especially not at night.

“Don’t leave me,” we’d say. Or a simple, “wait!”

The ghost never made an appearance, but she did make her feelings known. Some of us had come across a strong sense of anger while opening this one old door upstairs, and to me as an 11-year-old, this was evidence of somebody invisible. Was it left behind emotion? Or was she standing right there? It was anybody’s guess.

Finally, we heard pots in the kitchen. Laughter. They were having fun, telling their own stories. I could smell barbecue sauce and was relieved. My cousin and I left the younger cousins to play Rummy 500 on our bed. By this time, the dark had grown heavier. We turned our table lamp on, needing it to see the cards on the bed.

We were deep into the game when the lamp began to dim. Slowly. As if electricity was being pinched away. My cousin and I looked at each other, and turned our heads back to the lamp, watching it grow dimmer.

When the lamp light was gone, the screaming started. Cousins ran from the bedrooms hysterical, bare feet pounding down the thin hallway and stairs to the first floor, where we found more dark.

But the fireplace already had a fire so we held onto each other in front of it, shouting story upon story of what just happened, recounting the event already, while flashlights were found. “It’s Grace!” we said. “She’s here!” Adults talked about the island’s unreliable electric plant, how the wiring in the house was ancient, but we cousins knew it was the ghost. Dinner was by flashlights that night.

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As always, xoxo Amy

A Ghost Story

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single ghost in possession of a haunted house must be in want of a scare.

Block Island is the black sheep of the northeast Atlantic.

I grew up going there two weeks every summer with family and cousins. Leaving it after the two weeks gave my heart a freefall. I would cry alone in a ferry bathroom stall, but the emotion made me realize the island was my true home.

What made it home: the house we rented and the terrain.

During summers, the island coated me. It belonged on my skin and I kept it there. We stayed for those two weeks down a long dirt road that the island’s official map made dotted. I walked barefoot down that road, its soft dirt covering the nameless vegetation along where tires spat and my feet, sometimes my legs. We would climb down the Mohegan Bluffs and its dark clay dried between my toes, and I pretended all this island dirt got into my bloodstream, making me its child.

On days of all-sun I rolled down the warm dunes at State Beach and the black flecks of hot sand covered me with metallic heat. I swam underwater in the ocean’s shallow pockets looking for lobster and fished with my father on the Viking, collecting blues from the deep and eating them later from the grill with tomato slices and onion.
Because of these summers, I like to believe I’m a part of the island’s closed cycle of history.

The house we rent and love is ours. We don’t pay the bills or the mortgage and we’ll never have to replace the roof but we’ve been renting this old house for so long that we feel it knows us, and we sure know it. When I close the door each time we leave until another year, I always say “Bye Becks,” with a giant lump in my throat and heart, though I keep it together as an adult on the ferry, until I get home and do the laundry.

The biggest part of the house’s mystique has to do with its haunted stories.

There are several self-published books written by an islander who tells them well. In all honesty, there was a strong creep factor about this old house. If you happened to be alone, you’d wait outside, reading a book, waiting until somebody else got back. Most of the book’s stories, however, happened at night, as did ours.
Once, my cousin and I were up late talking and laughing in our back bedroom together. Our bedroom was down a long hallway with a wood floor held together by old square nail heads. We were probably around 13, 14. Everyone else had gone to bed and the house was quiet, lights were out.

We were on a hot streak with the laughter – don’t ask me what was so funny, I have no idea. But it turned quickly un-funny when we heard bare feet marching down the hallway.

Heel, heel, heel, heel, heel, heel.

It was fast. We knew it was my mother, but I was surprised she was so angry.

We jumped into bed and held the covers up to our noses.

The feet stopped in front of our door.

The door never opened.

PS After this happened, my cousin and I waited for the door to open. When nothing happened, we looked at each other, then turned out the light and went to bed. The next day, we asked the adults in the house if they had walked down the hall and stopped in front of our door. They didn’t know what we were talking about.
Another true story, current day: Various members of my family wake up in the middle of the night and hear footsteps walking in the attic. This past visit, something crashed in the attic in the middle of the night. When we looked to see what had fallen, nothing was out of place.

Southeast Lighthouse-Block Island RI