There are nightmares, and there are night terrors. And then there are night terrors on steroids. I experienced the latter daily from the time I was two or three until I was seven or so. Usually, we remember nightmares vividly, and we can be awakened, reassured that it was just a bad dream, and comforted. With night terrors, on the other hand, a child seems to have no recollection whatsoever of the horrors they experienced in their dream. There are good examples of this on YouTube, such as this one:
With night terrors, you can’t be consoled, because you’re unaware of external stimuli for the duration of the spell. I would scream “an unnatural scream,” according to my mother, and cry out in my sleep each night, wailing inconsolably. But all she could do was race upstairs and hold me until it was over. My parents were unable to wake me, and they were unable to hurry the episode along. I was so lost in my own anguish that I was not even aware of their presence. This is typical of night terrors—a sleep disorder that only one to six percent of children experience.
What made my night terrors even more unusual—and what made me wonder if they were truly night terrors or something more sinister—was that my fingertips always became blistered during these spells, as if my tiny hands were holding back hell itself. By morning, there was no sign of the blistering whatsoever, and I was none the worse for wear, at least outwardly. But the very next evening, the same disturbing scene would repeat like clockwork. Our family doctor had no explanation for the blistering, and nothing could be found in reference books at the library that would tie blistering to night terrors.
I can’t imagine what my parents went through, having to deal with this and so much more, night after night. One time, my mother was nearly knocked out cold, when she heard me screaming and ran face-first into the edge of their bedroom door, trying to get to me. The jolt knocked her to the ground, but she got up and raced upstairs to my rescue like always, to hold and soothe me until that night’s spell was over. It was a never-ending, selfless, exhaustive act driven only by a parent’s unconditional love. And it was a thankless job, as I had no memory of her being there or of the night terrors that plagued me and baffled my doctor.
About ten years ago, a lady told me that she used to visit the family who lived in the house just before us in the 1960s, because they had two teenage daughters; and they all liked to play with the Ouija board, a divining tool also known as a spirit board. In the hands of novice players, such objects can have undesirable and even dangerous results. I am not a fan, as I truly believe Ouija boards are better left alone, having heard far too many stories first-hand from people who used them carelessly and with dire consequences. Children playing with the board might attract mischievous or even malevolent beings when they put out an invitation to anyone who is out there without proper vetting or protection. Once such entities have been invited in, it can be very difficult, if not impossible, to make them leave. And why would they wish to, when they could have such fun wreaking havoc and feeding off the fear they could create here? After all, fear is the fuel of lower dimensional entities. Maybe this is what transpired in our attic bedroom before we moved in. If so, we became their new “play things” and a source of more fuel that could make them more dangerous.
Maybe the forces I was fighting off with my bare hands each night were the unwelcome invitees to those earlier Ouija sessions. But it wasn’t just the house that seemed hostile; it was the entire property it sat upon. The small back yard led down a slight hill, where the only thing separating the property from a steep slope into the churning waters of the Racquette River was the brush line and a dilapidated wooden fence. It was there that, along with the neighborhood kids, my sisters and I once heard an angry man’s voice yell, “Get Out!” It sounded as if it was coming from deep in the ground or from one of the little sinkholes dotting the lawn. Then, in a more emphatic tone, it shouted, “Get out of here now!” And we did, believe me. Another time, Dad was filming us playing in the snow out back, and we had just set our baby brother into an aluminum saucer and given him a gentle push—just enough to slide a few yards for the home movie Dad was making, when suddenly the saucer shot forward as if an invisible hand had shoved it hard. My father dropped the movie camera in the snow, still filming, and raced down the hill, grabbing my brother as he sailed towards the one little area not blocked by the old wooden fence. Had Dad not grabbed him in time, my baby brother would have sailed straight through brush line and over the edge, into the water. Taken alone, one could call it an unfortunate incident…a near-miss. Taken with all of the other experiences we collectively had there, we saw it as mounting evidence of negative supernatural activity.
After six years of disturbing and unexplainable incidents, we moved—having survived the home longer than most occupants since. But the house at the Racket was not done with us yet. The day we moved, Mom—a slight, brave little thing—returned alone to gather some additional belongings stored in boxes in the basement. As she approached the house, she felt an acute sense of foreboding but forged ahead, unlocking the front door, and stepping inside. She dashed down the cellar stairs to grab what she needed and hopefully get out of there without seeing or hearing anything frightening. But halfway down the steps, she felt a disembodied cold hand on her shoulder and was shoved forcefully down the remaining steps to the basement floor, banging her head against the stone wall. Undeterred and running on pure adrenalin, she stumbled quickly to her feet and sprinted back up the stairs and out the front door, never pausing to lock it. Never looking back. It was the last time any of us has been inside that house, except in our dreams. To this day, my mother feels that same sense of trepidation while driving by the house. My sisters and I do, as well. We all feel as if the house itself is watching us when we get too close, remembering, as if it has unfinished business with us. I’ve found this to be a common theme among people who have lived through similar experiences.
My sisters and I still have bad dreams about the house at the Racket. Although my night terrors and blistered fingertips ended the day we moved out, the nightmares live on, albeit only occasionally now. For ten or twenty years after leaving the Racket, I sometimes dreamt I was standing outside of the house, usually across the road near the mailbox, feeling challenged to approach the front door but unable or unwilling to move. In my dreams, as in reality, the negative energy surrounding the house was palpable, even from a distance. Eventually, my dreams progressed to where I would manage to step just inside the front door before turning and hurrying back out or waking up. More recently, I had a series of recurring dreams that the house had vanished and was completely gone from that corner, whether by fire or implosion, but I could still sense dense negativity on the vacant lot. The most recent dream finally took me all the way into the house, for the first time since we lived there. I was a babysitter in that dream, sitting near the back windows overlooking the river, chatting with the owner; and I was thinking to myself that it wasn’t so bad anymore, at least downstairs on the first floor. But then I stared at the ceiling with apprehension, wondering what still lurked in the attic above. While I couldn’t bring myself to wander upstairs in that dream, at least I made it all the way inside without rushing out—a sign, perhaps, that the house was losing its psychological grip on me in real life.
They say that the only way to conquer your fear is to face it head on. (They also say there’s a fine line between great courage and great folly, so…) A couple years ago, my oldest sister and I decided to straddle that fine line when she was up for a visit. It was do-or-die time. The house happened to be vacant, and we thought this was our chance to finally return and prove to ourselves that we could overcome its decades-old grip on us. Did we disregard a few posted signs and surveillance cameras placed around the property? Perhaps. (For the record, I do not condone trespassing on vacant property no matter how harmless your intentions. I learned my lesson, as you will see.)
We stepped out of the car and approached the front door which was posted with a sign saying something about the house being condemned for being unsafe. I thought to myself, “They have no idea what they’re dealing with!” Or did they? We then walked around the house to the back yard, taking it all in and feeling proud of ourselves for having the courage to do it. To face our fears. Heal old wounds. Seal old scars. We were finally putting the past in its rightful place. Then I went up to the bathroom window off the back of the house, stood on my tiptoes, and peeked in. Just as I was noticing how the fixtures were all in the same place they were when I was a young child, I heard a familiar throaty, disembodied voice that sounded like it came from somewhere deep within the house, and it bellowed an unmistakable and sickeningly-familiar warning directed at me. My sister happened to be coming up behind me when I jumped back from the window, and without even looking in her eyes, I grabbed her arm tightly and walked (marched, really) quickly around the house towards the car, with her saying, “What is it? What? What’s wrong?” and staring at me all the way. I’m sure my face was white. I didn’t dare open my mouth and speak until we were in the car and pulling away. I was still trying to process what had just occurred, and for a moment, I was simply speechless. Then I told her what I heard—the same thing we heard as youngsters playing in our back yard: Get out!
In a further display of audacity, the house seemed to go after one of my daughters a couple years ago. She was approaching the intersection the house sits on with her driver’s side window down, when she suddenly felt a weird urgency to roll it up. Just as she did, a bird slammed right smack into that same window, startling her and nearly causing her to lose control of the car. She said, “I felt like that bird was trying to kill me, Mom, seriously, like it wanted me to die.” Had she not felt prompted to roll the window up at that exact moment, the bird would have hit her smack in the left temple. Birds don’t just fly directly into the driver’s side window very often. For a bird to fly exactly into the driver’s window at that exact corner at precisely the moment my offspring was approaching, defies the odds.
If there is a reason for everything, what purpose could possibly have been served by experiencing what we did at that point in time? For one, it taught me early on that I can conquer just about anything put in my path, even if it scalds my fingertips night after endless night. Secondly, had we never experienced what we did and discussed it openly over the years, I might never have visited the local museum searching for historical information about the house in 2000. I might never have stumbled upon old newspaper articles about other haunted places while I was at the museum and decided to write that very first book about them. The seeds of my destiny were planted right there in that house. It influenced the author I would become. Similarly, the seeds of my sister’s destiny might also have been planted there, for she went on to write many paranormal and futuristic books—books that encourage people to think outside the box, like mine have. For that reason alone, our time at the Racket may have been a necessary evil. It was there that we were all introduced to the unseen world around us. And it was there that we were inoculated against forces of darkness by surviving a full-blown case of the same and living to tell about it.