My husband Ralph and I began house hunting in 1983; a time of double-digit mortgage rates. For two kids and a baby living on little more than love, it was imperative to find something decent and inexpensive. We’d already looked at dozens of places in our price range. All were dreadful, most requiring more money to fix them up than they were worth.
After a plethora of hovels, the house that was to become our home was a sight for sore eyes. It was immaculate; with a pool, and just eight doors down from an elementary school...the perfect starter home.
Ralph was prepared to buy it immediately.
But I wasn’t convinced. Something seemed ‘off’ about it, leaving me vaguely unsettled. Yet I had to agree that it was a far cry from the other places we’d seen.
Pushing my misgivings aside, we signed the contract.
The first night after we moved in, our two-year-old daughter Julie woke up multiple times screaming. She was normally a good baby, and a sound sleeper. We shrugged it off as being unsure of her new surroundings.
But the episodes formed a pattern for years to come; our child waking up two or three times a night, wailing, her poor parental units taking turns stumbling into her room to console her.
When Julie was old enough to tell us what frightened her at night, she said there was something living in her closet. She’d pile her toys, play table, and waste paper basket in front of the closet door at bedtime, hoping the offender would trip over the gauntlet and wake her up. No amount of closet cleaning, or compelling arguments would convince her otherwise.
As a teenager, Julie repeatedly told me that she felt she was being watched. Her father and I dismissed her reports; partly because she was passionate about spooky movies that we assumed filled her head with apparitional nonsense.
But then I began noticing thumping and popping sounds in the walls, as if the house was settling. The noises were so loud that we thought we might have a sinkhole, which is a common malady for Central Florida homeowners.
The foundation was checked for stress cracks, but appeared unscathed.
I frequently heard clattering racket coming from the kitchen, as though the cupboard emptied its contents into the stainless sink below.
But nothing was disturbed when I flipped on the light.
When I was in the kitchen, I’d occasionally see a thin black shadow out of the corner of my eye, whisking across the living room. I thought it was a palm frond waving from the tree in the front yard.
But the air was always still – no fronds were moving.
At bedtime, I always lay facing the wall. Ralph would get in on the other side when he came home from work late at night. Yet, on many occasions when I was alone I felt a ‘thump’ as though someone sat down on the end of the bed. I’d open my eyes thinking the cat had jumped up to cuddle. But he wasn’t there.
Then the air just above my face would become thick, and chilled.
There were cold spots around the house as well, only they never seemed to be in the same place each time. Visitors seated on the sofa would be freezing, but other areas of the living room would be perfectly warm. Or the bedrooms would be like igloos, and the living room would feel comfortable. We blamed it on faulty duct work.
My mother innocently asked "Are you sure you don't have a ghost?"
I laughed it off.
In June of 2000, seventeen years after we moved into the house we learned the truth.
Julie and I had gone to bed about 10:30 pm. Ralph was still at work.
Around 11:30 pm, I heard a blood-curdling scream. I leaped out of bed, and flew to Julie's door.
The lights were on in the bedroom. Julie was crying, holding one hand over her heart, her chest heaving with panic. The other hand was pointing toward the dresser located against the opposite wall.
“There’s a ghost in my room!!! Can’t you SEE HER???” she shrieked.
I told her it was only a dream, begged her to get some sleep.
But she refused to stay in her bed. I was groggy from nighttime meds, and in no mood to argue. Clearly no one would get any rest until I let her sleep with me. She literally ran past me to get out of her room. Ralph ended up sleeping on the sofa.
The next morning I mulled over the previous night’s events. Julie was scared to death; more so than I'd ever seen her.
Then something occurred to me.
Her room was fully lit when I arrived in her doorway. The lamp was located across the room on her dresser; the same area she was pointing toward in terror. She wouldn’t have gotten up to turn on the light.
So how did the room become illuminated?
I called Julie from work, and got the shock of my life. She told me she didn't TURN ON THE LAMP.
"Mom, the glow was coming from the ghost."
My heart was thundering.
Julie described the girl with great detail, right down to her jewelry and hairstyle. She was young, blonde in a lacy black dress, her eyes blank and lost.
I called my high school friend Sarah, who grew up on our street during the 1970’s. I asked her if she knew the previous owners of our house. Not only did she know them, but also she had a lot to tell me about our ghost.
Her name was Karen.
We bought the house from her parents. Karen disappeared in the late 1970’s and was presumed murdered. The alleged perpetrator was an older man named Bob who lived across the street on the corner lot. Mentally deranged, he’d been in and out of jail and psychiatric hospitals for years. His long rap sheet was loaded with sex crimes.
Bob was arrested on suspicion of Karen’s murder, due to overwhelming physical evidence. He was held in a psych unit for approximately eighteen months on unrelated charges, while the district attorney built a case against him for murder. But because Bob was mentally unfit to stand trial, Karen’s body was never discovered, and there was a lack of hospital space to keep him locked up the state let him go.
When Bob returned home, Karen’s parents put their house up for sale.
The house had sat on the market for months without a single nibble, until we came along. Perhaps other prospective buyers felt uneasy too.
I remembered an incident that took place during the final walk through prior to closing. Karen’s dad warned me to keep Julie away from the man on the corner, because he was bad news. His tone and expression were chilling.
Bob died shortly after we moved in, so we forgot he ever existed.
All the while our baby daughter watched his frustrated victim’s wanderlust each night through the bars of her crib.
After their full blown encounter in 2000, Karen appeared to Julie several times a week. Then I began to see her too. I woke up on a number of occasions and saw her vision vaporizing as it drifted out of our bedroom.
Ralph also knew that Karen was around. He could feel cold spots, see flashes of light almost like flashbulbs from the paparazzi going off out of the corner of his eyes, as well as when his eyelids were closed.
There was nothing in our strict, middle class Methodist upbringing that taught us how to deal with this kind of thing. We didn’t know whom to approach for advice; worried that most people would think we were nuts. It made sense to find out why Karen waited so long to appear, and what she wanted.
We knew a Christian friend, Jim who had psychic abilities. Jim told us that Karen was murdered at the age of eighteen; the same age as Julie was when we discovered we had a ghost.
Karen wanted to know if Bob was still living. She was relieved to know he was dead.
She told us through Jim, that she didn’t want anything else other than our acceptance. We asked if we could help her find eternal peace. She insisted that she was where she wanted to be.
What more could be said?
As a mother, my heart ached with sympathy for a poor girl who had lost it all so young and was lonely for a family.
A year later my grandmother died. As I sat on the bed weeping, I felt someone sit down behind me and lay a cool hand between my shoulders. Just for a moment. But it was undeniable that Karen was there.
No one else could have touched me, because I was alone in the house.
Eight weeks after the funeral, I had some extensive dental work done. If I didn't take my pain meds every four hours I'd be miserable. That evening, I turned in early, about 8 pm. My next pill was due at midnight.
The next thing I remember hearing was a young woman’s voice shouting.
“Mom! You need to wake up and take your pill!!! Mom! Wake up!”
I rolled over, expecting to see Julie standing by the bed. But I was alone.
And according to the clock, it was exactly midnight.
I suppose there are some who will read this story and think it a macabre fairytale. I wouldn’t blame you. For many years I felt the same way.
It would have been so much easier for my child if I could have allowed myself to believe.
But there are mysteries that lie beyond mere mortal comprehension, things we aren’t meant to know on this side of the veil. Someday all will be clear.
Until then, our family accepts the mystery and the gift that is Karen.
Michelle Close Mills ©
Author's Note: Our ghost's name is not Karen. When I tried to tell her story using her actual name, my computer kept freezing up or Word wouldn't save my work. I gave her a pseudonym so I could finish.