Thursday, March 12, 2009

Window Ledge: a True Ghost Story

During the early spring of my junior year in college, I took a spontaneous road trip with my boyfriend John, our perpetually self-medicated and wild-haired friend Iain, and our mentally unbalanced usually manic acquaintance, Andrew Wellstood*. We were a motley band, ready for adventure, as we set out that morning from our campus in suburban Philadelphia, crammed into Andrew's car, cigarettes, stash, and tunes at the ready, unsure of where we were headed but certain it would be grand.

Andrew drove, and the closed car filled with smoke of the more fragrant variety. The contact high alone was epic. In the midst of the good times, Andrew had a brainstorm: we would go all the way to Connecticut, to a rocky little beach he knew of, and then from there to his family manse which was at the moment uninhabited and ready for us to infiltrate.

I knew that Andrew was wealthy, very wealthy, and very very crazy, very intelligent, and came from a troubled family background. I imagined that his house of origin would be suitably eccentric, and so was quite game to catch a glimpse of it. Although had we not been game, it was useless to protest: Andrew had a plan, and by God he would follow through on this plan come hell or high water; that's the form his extreme mania took. He would have been scary, but for an odd sort of affability that balanced his less pleasant tendencies. Besides, I was with John and Iain, and although they were sort of ineffectual as men, well, I reasoned that there were three of us relatively stable sorts and only one of Andrew.

As we wove the roads, stopping occasionally for snacks and gas, tumbling out of the car in a thick cloud of sweet smoke like a scene from a bad college road trip movie (which was in fact apt), we learned more and more, in bits and pieces, of Andrew's background. It became rapidly apparent that his family was not just troubled in the usual way, but was in fact completely insane, Gothic, with more than a touch of the macabre.

He was open about the rampant alcoholism, paranoid schizophrenia, out and out psychosis, the anger and violence and darkness, broken trust and ultimately multiple suicides, that plagued the generations of his family. I, not entirely a stranger to dark family closets, was only a little put out; more fascinated than anything. But I will admit that looks began to pass between me, John, and Iain...just little glances, but there was a creeping unease, even as we drove through the cheerful daylight hours...

In the late afternoon, after much detouring, we were finally in Connecticut, arrived at the grey little beach as promised, and we left the car and stood for a moment to admire its bleak and eerie bay. For a half hour or so, we walked gingerly over its rocky shore, John stooping now and again for some bits of sea glass to make into earrings for me, should we ever return home; it had begun to feel a bit dreamlike, a long way from the silly bustle and jocularity of the campus. We were all rather quiet, even Andrew. As we walked aimlessly, a damp and insistent fog crept in, and the air was chilly although I wore John's sweater, and soon the warmth of the car seemed much preferable...

It was a quick, silent trip to the Wellstood House; as we pulled into the rounded driveway, it stood before us, large in stature and effect; not a friendly house, I had the distinct feeling that the peculiarly animate centuries-old stone was giving me the once-over, eyeing me from the tops of its proverbial tortoise-shell eyeglasses, and finding me unsuitable.

Andrew pointed out landmarks around the house, as one would show off one's rose bushes or the pretty paving-stones one had set just the summer before--or even the path where one's little sister had taken her first steps--"Here's the well, see this, where Uncle jumped in one night and drowned...and there, right up there, is the window Father threw himself out of, twice, but he didn't die either time, I suppose the drop wasn't far enough...but here's the tree, he hung himself from this tree and died that time, we saw him swinging..."

Unconsciously, I gripped John's cold hand with my own...Andrew was an enthusiastic and almost spritely story-teller, and it was difficult to know at the time just what was fact and what embellished fact and what outright fiction. However, I came to know later, much to my horror, that most of it was simple truth or something very close.

We were all feeling a bit giddy as Andrew led us into the house; I had no initial impression beyond its subdued grandeur and anachronism--here was a house out of time, and we had left the modern world, at this point rather dragging our feet. Andrew led us up the curving central staircase, past rows of enormous portraits of 18th- and 19th-century Wellstoods; I tried my best not to make eye contact with them. He showed us to our rooms, saying cryptically, "Granny is away, so it will be all right for us to stay here tonight." I supposed it wouldn't be all right were she there--although the house was enormous--

The house appeared to be a maze of rooms, enormous and tiny and seemingly nothing in between, long hallways, back staircases, and so very very many windows, long windows everywhere, peering out into late dusk. Everything was both dusty and incredibly clean at the same time, if you can imagine such a strange dichotomy. It was immaculate and gloomy, silently disapproving of our offending adolescent presence within its walls.

After the tour, of sorts, we settled in a long living room downstairs, appointed with a stiff, unyielding horsehair-and-velvet couch and rows of straight velvet-upholstered chairs, rigid sentries against the dark wainscoting. Andrew lit a fire for the chill, and it flickered dismally, the little flames dwarfed by the enormity of their stone prison. We ate something we'd brought along--like refugees--I don't remember what it could have been, perhaps Pringles and beef jerky and I must have had a bottle of my ubiquitous Diet Coke?--and made valiant small talk, our natural co-ed exuberance and laughter quelled in the somber atmosphere. The darkness pressed in all around us, an unwonted suitor caressing my hair and ankles and making me more and more jumpy until I suggested that perhaps it was time to retire--but I wasn't sure at this point which would be the worse scenario, lying awake in the grim bedroom, alone with John for dubious protection, or shivering in the dour living room with ground-floor windows staring in at us.

When Andrew brought us back to our room, it looked dreadful, lit by two tiny wall sconces that cast a trembling and sickly yellow pallor over the heavy rugs and furnishings, the ornate bed with the scratchy mattress and insufficient decorative bedcovers...Andrew turned to me and smiled in the half-light, and pointed to a corner window near the bed--"see, there's the window I showed you, the one my father jumped from, twice."

And with that, unceremoniously, he retired. I remember that John and I made for the bed, fully dressed, and pulled the coverlet around us, and lay for what seemed an eternity, stiff with cold and fear, not talking much. But eventually, John fell asleep, that traitor, leaving me wide awake as the room pressed in around me.

The next moments in that still, still room were long, and I was scared, and then I was terrified. Something compelled me to glance at the corner window, had it been closed? It was now open, just a bit, enough to let in a chilly breeze that stirred the curtains, drawn back to either side, a light breeze that carried not an early spring freshness but something else...and then I saw it, clearly even in the dim light--

two hands, the fingers long and alive, hooked over the side of the window sill, clutching the ledge.

Immediately I buried my face in John's warm back, he grunted and shifted in his sleep, and then, I turned again to look at that window ledge--they were there, those hands, clutching, clutching...I squeezed my eyes shut and when I looked for a third time, they were gone, and the window was closed, the curtain pulled back but completely motionless, the room quiet but for the hitch in my breathing.

It was an eternity of minutes, maybe it was a second or maybe it was an hour, but at last I heard a light tapping on our door, and someone--it was Andrew--poked his head in and hissed at me, "Granny has returned unexpectedly from her trip--you'd best be as quiet as possible, I don't want her to know we're here--we'll leave in the morning before she's awake--"

"What?!?" I squeaked trying to contain myself.

"Don't worry," said Andrew. "She's mostly deaf and quite a bit blind, so it shouldn't be too difficult. She never comes into this room anyway."

It was true, Granny had returned. She spent the better part of an hour walking the halls by our room; I could see the shadow of her little feet, crossing back and forth, back and forth. Whether she was putting away her luggage, or simply pacing the halls, watching and waiting with a sort of a sense that people were in her house who shouldn't be there, I just don't know. I do know, however, that even after she settled down and the footsteps stopped, I did not sleep that night, not for one instant.

In the morning, just after dawn, Andrew hurriedly rounded us up and, groggily, silently, we exited the Wellstood House, ran to the car, and hot-footed it back to our college.

John, Iain, and I often spoke of that night in the following months, and it became much easier to laugh about it when we were well away from there; it came to seem miserably funny, even. But I never mentioned the hands at the window ledge. After all, who really knows whether it was a trick of the light, or of my already overtaxed nerves and imagination...still, I know what I saw there, even though I'm not sure why I saw it.

Several years later, Andrew Wellstood committed suicide. To this day I can see him clearly, smiling as he told his stories of ghastly tragedy.

*some names have been changed, for reasons quite obvious.

Photo: "Moonlight Escape" by McBeth (from Flickr Creative Commons)


gemma said...

It'a 4am in Australia right now, and I so did not need a scary ghost story. Ahhhhh!

Mrsupole said...

Hi Leah,

That was great, I have added your link with the others. Now I am scared. Such a tragedy to happen to someone who might of had so much potential. I wonder if the whole family is gone. I wonder if they have gotten rid of that house. Such a tragic house for that family, I do not think I would of wanted to keep it.

Scarey, scarey night you had, and I do not think I would have slept either. Was a good story for us here.

Thanks for joining in on the fun, Happy Friday the 13th.

God bless.

PS..if anyone else wants to do a story, just let me know in comments and I will add their links.

Anonymous said...

Oooh that is one scary story- Wuthering Heights all over again!

Leah said...

Cinnamon--you're right! I remember he reaches out the window, and a cold little hand grabs his--and aren't her initials scratched in the window ledge? I'm just remembering it...I loved that book. Now I have to re-read it and get scared.

Jimmy Bastard said...

Haa! Nice try oh gorgeous one, but this fella is no for turning on the subject of wee beasties o' the neet..

It's no the deid you have to be scared of, it's the live bastarts!

MJ said...

It was after your beef jerky.

Leah said...

Dear Jimmy--I agree. Ghosts are fun and often people are not!

Jimmy Bastard said...

...except for your wee talented self of course. You are fun personified.

Anonymous said...

Good story Leah. To bad you couldn't rouse John. But some folks can sleep through any-thing! And tragic ending here, with Andrew. I can relate to that. Too many ghosts in our family's closets..

Candie Bracci said...

OMG Leah!OMG!That was so scary and disturbing!Those ones I don't wan't to experience,never.I thought I was in a horror movie,kind of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,the road trip,the family,ahhh!

Kim said...

Wow. Thanks for sharing such a chillingly well-written story!

kylie said...


Auntie, aka cagny said...

Oh s#it, what a tale!

You brought back a lot of memories of my own misspent 4 years in undergraduate school (pot & roadtrips).

That poor boy killed himself??!!
What a tale!
Thanks for scaring us!

Baino said...

OH Leah! You write so well quite a gripping yarn and beautifully told! I've never seen or heard anything ghostly thank goodness!

Karen ^..^ said...

Leah, that was genius. Wow.

Poor Andrew. What a tortured soul he must have been, with a family history like that to live down.

Sad that he ended his life.

The story was terrifying, and I got chills.

I can't help but wonder if the fragrant smoke helped to make you all a touch paranoid, leaving you wide open for the fear to take over...? But then again, I've had ghostly experiences, and was not one bit under any influence but my own imagination.

Beautifully told, as always.

Anonymous said...

Have fun and all. But do not mess with it.

The Idle Devil said...

Sounds like an Edgar Allen Poe u never wanted to look at windows at night ever!

Ronda Laveen said...

Wow.WOW! Leah, such a great, grand story. You just kept sucking me in deeper with each paragraph.

I think the hand you saw was granny's. That occured right before Andrew told you she had returned. I wonder what kind of creature she was? Obviously evil. Sounds like everyone in his family but granny, including him, chose to check out rather than live with the truth of what she was.

Makes me wonder about the karma of that family. Bad energy!Thanks for a great F13 story.

Suzanne said...

Holy Shit!!! Excuse my French (which I know you speak so well), a PhD is NOT your calling. This is. Holy Shit. Leah, this is awesome.

I came here to tell you your grandparent's fruit bowl changed my life, but now I don't know what to say. Okay, your grandparent's fruit bowl changed my life. I put one out, loaded with apples. I've eaten about 12 apples in what? Five days? All I know is I'm eatin' fruit like it's going out of style. Thanks.

Baby, this post is unf$$#$^g believeable. This is what you should be doing. You are so beyond talented. Just remember when you become famous, I'm an old friend and deserve the publisher's discount. ;)

Love you.

P.S. Does Hubby know about Jimmy? The two of you should get a room.

Suzanne said...

Yes. I do know how to spell believable. Go away and leave me alone!

Leah said...

Gemma--I couldn't write this story out at night, it was making me nervous! I had to wait for daylight to tell it...

Mrsupole--thank you so much for this splendid idea of hosting a blogging ghost party! It has been fun! And you know, I've often wondered about that family, and whether they got rid of the house...

MJ--or maybe the aftereffects of the cheap jerky had me hallucinating...

Subtorp77--it's absolutely amazing what some people can sleep through...and yes, the story was rather sad as did certainly have a shocking, though not really unexpected, ending...

Candie--I'm glad you enjoyed (well, that is, if you enjoy being scared!)--thanks for reading it!

Leah said...

Kim--it's so awesome to "see" you! glad you stopped in for a little ghosting!

Kylie--hi lady!

Auntie--thanks for reading! I know, misspent college years...we were so silly and unsuspecting that day...

Baino--thank you so much, and glad you enjoyed reading it! I've had more than one odd encounter, and I'm not sure whether I'm glad or sorry...

Karen--I think the fragrant smoke might have contributed to the initial disorientation, but it had long since worn off by the time we made our way to bed...sometime I'd love to hear about your ghostly experiences!!!!

mago--really, I couldn't agree more with you. I won't mess with it.

Leah said...

Idle Devil--truly, I am spooked by darkened windows...I MUST have curtains!!!!

Ronda!--I LOVE your idea about the hand! That had never even occurred to me! AIEEE! Now I'm scared all over again!!!!!

Suzanne--glad to hear about the fruit! I've been eating a great deal of tangerines (that's what we've got out now, and I figure I need the Vitamin C)--and yes of course you'll get the publisher's discount--here's hoping!!!!

Sarge thinks JB is fantastic. And besides, no one lil room could ever hold what we've got, reet Jimmy?


Dot-Com said...

Scary stuff, glad I was reading it during daylight *grin*

Cece said...

Your writing talent is phenominal. What a wonderful and chilling story. I too have experienced ghosts. I suppose that makes us kindred "spirits" of sorts.

Megan said...

Brrrrrrrr. I'm glad it's daytime.

Very well written. Extremely very.

Ronda Laveen said...

Leah: You should be scared. I don't think those kind of creatues die easily. But I don't want to scare you. The flipside, Andrew and all of the other positive (and I mean that loosely) characters were actually evil and granny was the good. That idea even scares me more!!!!!

Brian Miller said...

*shiver* spooky...thanks for playing...i

Skeeter said...

Hi Leah,

What a great story. Love the layers in it.

Best wishes,


muralimanohar said...

Crap. I found it. And I'm by myself in the dark up on the second floor again.