Thanks to Laura from Upstate New York for sharing this story with me!
When Laura was ten years old, her parents moved into a three-family house in Upstate New York. It had originally been a large Victorian house, but the owner had broken it up into separate apartments, so that she could rent them out. The top floor was empty at the time that Laura’s family moved in. It was a studio apartment meant for either a single person or a couple with no kids, so Laura’s parents chose the larger, two-bedroom on the first floor. The landlord lived in the basement.
The living room was located toward the front of the house and the kitchen had a backdoor that the family could use to go down into the garden. While the house looked pretty, with its tall, elegant windows and high ceilings, the floors were uneven and the narrow hallways shot off at weird angles. The strangest part of the house was the hallway closet. Laura discovered it on moving day. While her parents were busy carrying boxes into the house, Laura ran about exploring everything. Inside of the closet was an old wooden staircase that ended one flight up at a blackened wall. Despite the light from the hanging bulb, the stairwell remained cast in shadow.
“What’s behind this wall?” Laura asked her mother.
“Back when the house was unified, those stairs led up to the third floor. They built a wall across it when it was renovated. I don’t want you climbing up there. The stairs are original to the house and they look rickety. You could fall through and hurt yourself.”
By early fall, the airy house turned bitter cold. No matter how much heat the landlord sent up, it was never enough. They didn’t want to complain, so they insulated the windows, used space heaters, and kept the curtains closed all day. Even with all the lights on, the house was much darker than it had been in the summer.
Laura liked to sit at the kitchen table to do her homework. One afternoon while her mother was napping, she was reading a book when she became aware of someone watching her. She looked up expecting to see her mother, but didn’t see anyone. She went back to her book, only to see a shadow go by out of the corner of her eye. This happened a few times until Laura decided to go check the hallway.
“Hello? Mom?” she called out.
Laura stood in the darkened hallway waiting for an answer. She was thinking of going to check on her mother when she heard light footsteps scamper across the floor. They were moving away from her, but she hadn’t seen anybody standing there. Suddenly freezing, Laura rubbed her arms. She went back into the kitchen, pulled on a sweater, and dragged a space heater up to her chair, so that she could finish her homework. After that incident, she always did her work in the chair nearest to the wall facing away from the hallway.
Another time, Laura woke up in the middle of the night to see a ball of light moving about her room. It appeared to be about the size of a soft ball, was solid-looking, and had a golden color. Laura sat up in bed wondering if she should call for her parents. She didn’t feel threatened by whatever this thing was, although she knew this wasn’t normal. The ball of light lasted for about a minute before fading away.
Since moving into the house, Laura had often had trouble sleeping. Sometimes she even had strange dreams. One night, Laura dreamt that a little, blonde-haired girl wearing a blue dress with long, puffy sleeves came into her room. She began playing with Laura’s toy tea set.
Laura watched her for a few seconds before clearing her throat. “Hello. Who are you?” she asked.
The little girl put down the teapot she was holding, turned to Laura, and dipped into a little curtsy. “My name is Emily. I’m looking for my mother. Have you seen her?”
“I’m sorry,” said Laura. “No. I don’t think she’s here.”
The little girl giggled. “Of course, she is! She never leaves the house except to go into the garden. Perhaps, she is there now.”
The little girl ran out of the room so fast that Laura didn’t even have a chance to respond. Laura opened her eyes to find herself sitting up in bed. She could hear little footsteps moving along the hallway and a faint voice calling, “Mama! Where are you?” After a few seconds, the sound faded away and the house was silent once more. Hoping she had imagined everything, Laura turned over and went back to sleep. By morning, she had written it off as a dream.
When she got home after school, Laura was surprised to find her bedroom door closed. She was pretty sure that she had left it open that morning. Opening it, she quickly walked across the room toward her tea set. A gift from her grandmother, it was porcelain with a pattern of pink roses sprayed across it. Laura hadn’t played with in it years, but since it was pretty, she liked to keep it set up on her old doll table. She always left the teapot in the center of a circle of four teacups and saucers. The tea set was still there, but all the cups had been turned upside down.
From then on, Laura often came in to find her toys moved around. This didn’t bother her. Even if she was a ghost, Emily was younger than Laura. If Emily wanted to play with Laura’s toys when she was at school, she didn’t mind.
After a year, Laura’s family decided not to stay there. On top of the poor heating, they had started having trouble with the plumbing. Laura’s father had found a new job and her mother had gotten a raise, so they were able to purchase a nice house in the area. The moving van was waiting with the furniture and they had already packed their suitcases into the car. The three of them were doing a last sweep to make sure that they hadn’t missed anything, when suddenly they heard footsteps moving across overhead.
“Did you hear that?” asked Laura’s mother.
Laura’s father looked at the ceiling. “Yeah, it almost sounded like someone walking around up there, but that’s silly. The top floor is empty. I’ll let the landlord know. Maybe some raccoons got in there or something.”
“I don’t think so,” said Laura.
She had tried to tell her parents that the house was haunted before, but they always rationalized everything away. Laura couldn’t help but gaze up at the third-floor windows as her family descended the stairs for the last time. For just a moment, she thought she saw Emily and a woman in an old-fashioned dress staring back at her. Laura raised her hand in parting. The little girl and her mother waved back, then they disappeared.
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