Witches in the Walls
I ba do ma poma cha cha.
No bobo ba do ma cha te labala.
Two tiny voices from the next room awakened me. The room I occupied was dim with only a sliver of illumination from the small night light that was plugged into the outlet near the floor in the hall piercing through the doorway. I was still a little groggy when first listening to the sounds. My wife lay soundly sleeping next to me, deaf to the conversation that was occurring in the next room. I listened in as I became more fully awake.
Then a long pause followed by giggling. This brought a smile to my face and I sat up in bed so I could hear my twin one and a half year old sons “talking” to each other in their twin speak language. I wondered what they were saying, I had no doubt they were plotting an escape from the cribs, followed by an assault on the kitchen to create another masterpiece with peanut butter, flour, coffee grounds or whatever they find to smear on the walls, stove, refrigerator and the dog, who incidentally was a very willing accomplice. These artistic assaults began a few weeks ago when they managed to climb over the railings on their cribs, drop to the floor, and scamper on all fours, down the short carpeted stairway, and cross the dining room to invade the kitchen. The dull thump I heard from a short plunge to the floor in their bedroom was usually enough to wake me and I could catch up with them before the kitchen carnage commenced.
We had recently moved into this house in rural Indiana after I had to relocate for my job. The house was a large aluminum and wood sided, quad level situated on a lightly traveled county road about 15 miles from any town of significant size. We had neighbors, but not near enough that they could be seen. The house was nestled in a large section of trees. The view we enjoyed was open fields across the road with tall oak and maple trees on either side and in the back. Occasionally we could hear the sound of a truck out on the highway a few miles away, but otherwise the quiet was almost deafening. We enjoyed the solitude and isolation.
We purchased the house after a lengthy search trying to find something fairly isolated where we keep a horse and wouldn’t have to worry about our dog wandering into traffic. The previous owners were a middle aged couple with a teenage daughter. We met with them before we moved him so they could tell us about the “neighborhood” and I wanted to find out some things from the owner regarding maintenance of the house. I asked about the furnace and plumbing, my wife asked about the history of the house and people who lived nearby. I took a tour with the man, spending most time in the basement where he went into a detailed explanation, sales pitch almost, of the fuel oil fired boiler furnace he had installed. My wife stayed with the woman and daughter who seemed quiet, almost reluctant to provide any information. When I returned to the living room to meet my wife she looked at me with a puzzled expression. I asked what she’d learned and she just shrugged. The man then looked at his wife then his daughter, then me. After some hesitation, he began to recite, almost as if scripted, or as if he’d done it a few times before, some details regarding the history of the house and some information about who lived in the neighborhood.
The house, it seems, was originally a small two bedroom ranch style home that was constructed sometime in the 1920’s. When he purchased it, about 20 years ago he constructed a large addition and remodeled extensively. All the interior walls and ceilings were covered with textured plaster and all the floors were carpeted with various styles and colors. The exterior had decorative limes stone on the front lower sections and the rest was covered with blue painted board and batten siding. From its appearance no one could guess there once stood a modest, simple, nearly ramshackle dwelling in the same place long ago.
There were a few neighbors who mostly made their living from small family farms. To the south was Mr. Lietz. He was an older single man who lived in a mobile home on 120 acres of mixed hardwood and corn fields. He sold trees for lumber, farmed corn and soybeans, and collected sap to make and sell a few hundred gallons of maple syrup each year. About 15 years prior, his home was struck by lightning and burned to the ground. He lost his wife in the fire. To the North were Mr. and Mrs. Gault. They also lived in a mobile home on 50 acres, a disheveled abode from which they rarely emerged. They too had suffered a similar tragedy about 30 years prior, their teenage, mentally handicapped daughter went missing and was never found. A few years after her disappearance, their house was also destroyed by fire. Some speculated that it was set intentionally either in a suicide attempt or to collect a meager amount of insurance money. Across the road from the Gault’s home were Mr. and Mrs. Donner and another tragedy to explain. Their home had not been destroyed by fire like the others, but they did lose their only son, who drowned while ice fishing the pond on their family farm. That was only 10 years ago. An old man named Cordell Williams who now lived down the road a ways once lived in the original house on our new property. He didn’t have much else to say about Cordell.
It seemed, as he told me about our new neighbors that we had moved into an area shadowed with a curse of some sorts, or maybe that was just life, and death in rural Indiana. I told him our plans were to take the smaller bedroom where the second bathroom was, for my wife and me, and let our children have the larger bed room, as it had room for them to play. After expressing our intentions, there was an awkward silence. The daughter looked at her mother then her father with a worn out expression of concern. I notice a barely perceptible, almost involuntary twitch of disapproval as the father looked into his daughter eyes. Convincing myself it was nothing we said our goodbyes, and now it was three months later. I was sitting in our dimly lit bedroom at 3 AM, listening to the sounds coming from the next room. Their indecipherable conversation was entertaining. I decided to sneak into their room to have a closer look.
I rolled out of bed and walked silently to the bedroom door, opened it and peered directly across the hall into the entry of our children’s room. They each had a crib, a few feet apart from the other, against an interior wall and in direct line of sight from our bedroom door. Their room was large with two windows, one looking towards the road the other towards the tall trees on our neighbor’s acreage. In the corner of the room along the wall that was shared with our bedroom was a long narrow closet. It looked like it was not originally part of the room, perhaps added during the remodeling. Light from the hallway lamp shined into the room so I could see my children in their cribs clearly enough. I expected to see them, facing each other and talking, perhaps seated or standing, holding the crib railings.
Both of them were standing, holding on to the wood panel that made up each end of the cribs. They were not looking at each other, instead they were staring into the darkness towards the window that faced out into the tall trees. They stood motionless, spellbound, silent. Something was not right, that was not what I expected. I stood quietly for a moment trying to understand what was happening. Certainly it was something I needed to investigate, so I slowly crept across the hallway and started to peek into the room. They did not notice me standing in the doorway. Before I looked around the corner of the door frame I studied each of them for a moment. They seemed frozen in their stances, eyes wide open and definitely focused on something.
Before I could position my head around the door frame to see what they had full attention fixed upon both of them abruptly dropped to a seated position, with heads drooping low, arms limp at their sides. I could hear air being inhaled as they wound up the screaming engines preparing for a full throttle release. Almost simultaneously it began, an ear piercing wail, billowing from each boy. At that point I rushed in, quickly looking towards the wall at which they had been staring. I could see nothing obvious or threatening. Once I was at the head of the first crib they both looked up at me and stood, each leaning against the railings with arms raised desiring to be lifted and held. The screaming turned to whimpering as I picked up both of them and rocked back and forth. “what did you guys see”, I asked, of course realizing they wouldn’t be able to answer. The sobbing and sniffling continued for a few minutes, as I worked my way into our bedroom where my wife was clawing her way back into consciousness asking what was wrong. I laid the boys on our bed to snuggle against her for a while, I then told her that something scared them, I think, maybe something in the trees outside.
Finding the flashlight I kept in a night stand next to the bed and after putting on pants, shoes and a jacket I went to investigate. First I looking in the boys’ bedroom. I walked in cautiously an slowly with the room light off, and over to the window they had been looking towards. I could see the tall tree trunks in the light of a full moon and a shallow blanket of snow covering the ground but not much else. I studied the trees for a while expecting to find an owl perched on a branch or a deer wandering through. I saw neither. I wondered if perhaps someone was looking in the window, the lower pane would have been just about head height for an average person. Before going outside to investigate I looked around the room, shining the flashlight in the corners and along the ceiling thinking I might see a bird or bat or some critter that found its way into our house. I saw nothing. I shined the light into the closet, as the beam struck the back wall the light suddenly went out. I wacked it a few times but it didn’t come back on, so I turned on the room light. Nothing was in the closet either. I went to the kitchen to get more batteries for the flashlight before going outside. I opened the drawer where they were kept and set the light on the counter. It came back on. I went outside.
Under the bedroom window I found no footprints or animal tracks. I shined the light into the trees looking for eyes reflecting back. Nothing! I held still and listened for a few moments. A gentle breeze rattling tree branches, but nothing else. Walking around the rest of the house and inspecting every corner and crevice I found nothing, so I went back in and proceeded to the bedroom where I found my wife and children asleep in our bed. The behavior the boys displayed was unexplainable, but perhaps unusual behavior is not uncommon, I didn’t know, I never had children before and since they arrived, most of their behavior was curious, but usually entertaining, to me. Perhaps this was just a change.
After checking the room and outside the house in the light of the next day I found nothing to raise my suspicion. The boys seemed normal and unaffected, playing with toys, crawling after the dog and pulling items out of any cabinet they could manage to open and spreading them around the house. The next several nights were quiet and uneventful except for the occasional whimper in the middle of the night, but for the most part everyone slept through the night. No late night conversations, no strange fixations, no wailing spells. The disturbance that occurred was soon forgotten.
Thoughts of that night surfaced again a few months after it happened. It was the beginning of springtime which brought longer daylight hours and warmer temperatures. The evenings were still cool but not biting to the flesh like the cold winter nights. I stayed up late on one Friday night watching a TV movie with the boys who had fallen asleep before the ending. As I often did, I carried them to their room and put them in beds. They had grown out of the cribs, which were not keeping them very well constrained from late night expeditions into other parts of the house. I noticed they were getting longer and heavier. I imagined that in a while I would not be able to carry them as easily. Once they were tucked in, I shuffled into our bedroom and fell asleep quickly.
The sound of our dog barking woke me suddenly at about 3 AM. At first I didn’t realize what I was hearing. Grabbing a flashlight, I got up and walked toward the sound. It was a few quick barks followed by a long deep growling, than another bark, repeated every 10 or 20 seconds. I saw the dog standing next to the front door looking out the tall narrow window next to the frame. I approached the dog and put my hand on its back which startled it a bit causing it jerk slightly. It looked up at me briefly then returned to gazing out the window and growling. I could see a silhouette of a figure standing in the road in front of our house looking towards the front door. It was a man wearing a wide brimmed hat and a crumpled, oversized jacket. I wasn’t sure, I’d only met him once or twice, but it sort of looked like Cordell from down the road. I figured that I should go out and find out why he was there. By the time I found some shoes to wear, corralled the dog so it would not lunge through the door when I opened it and finally stepped outside the man was gone. I walked out to the road and looked both ways shining the flashlight into the darkness, but saw no one. Another unusual occurrence in the middle of the night, I thought to myself.
The next day I paid a visit to Cordell. He lived in a small white farmhouse with peeling paint and a collapsing, rotted front porch in the middle of a farm field about a mile from our place. I asked him if he was standing out in front of our house the previous night. He just looked at me and grunted. I asked what he was doing there. He replied “couldn’t sleep”. “So you come to stare at our house in the middle of the night. That helps you sleep?” I answered him sarcastically. He glared at me for a second with dark glassy eyes behind his weathered old face with beard stubble and gray, thick bushy eyebrows. “you think it’s your house do you” he muttered. “I’ve got a history there, you ain’t even begun to understand” he said raising his voice slightly, with overtones of animosity. I told him to please keep his distance if he decides again to take a midnight stroll because it riles up our dog. Then I left.
By now the boys had curtailed the late night expeditions somewhat and were sleeping through the night most of the time. Occasionally I would wake to hear one or both of them crying and, if the crying persisted, I would try to quiet them by going into their room to sit until they fell back asleep. Until it seemed that after a few months of recurring quiet nights the crying was becoming more frequent. I wondered if it was normal or if perhaps they were not feeling well. Several nights passed where on each night at about the same time, 3 AM I awoke to the sound of crying and had to sit in with the kids to comfort them. My wife and I discussed this. We could see no other signs that they were getting ill and now that they were starting to talk a little in a comprehensible language, they were not complaining about feeling sick. I was getting tired.
Being wakened for several nights in a row at about the same time made it so I didn’t sleep so deeply anymore. One night I just opened my eyes and looked at the alarm clock on my night stand. It was 3:08 AM. I listened, no crying. I felt relieved, closed my eyes and started to drift back into sleep, until I noticed another noise. Growling. “I bet it’s that damned Cordell again” I thought. I was determined to catch him this time, and this time I would be so polite. I slipped on my shoes, grabbed my flashlight and headed for the front door. As I came to the door way of the boys’ room, I could hear that the growling was coming from in that room. I peeked in to see both boys sitting up in bed staring toward the same window they had before, several months ago. I could see just the rear half of the dog, its tail curled between its legs, hair on its back standing, and I heard a low persistent growl. I shot quickly into the room, side stepping, and shined the flashlight at the window expecting to see Cordell peeping through the window. Something wasn’t right. For a second or two I could see nothing, not that there was nothing there, it was like I was blinded momentarily. I blinked several times then my vision came back. The dog crossed behind me brushing my legs. The boys started chattering. Walking over to the window and looking out I saw no one. Scanning the room with the flashlight I saw nothing. Why I was apparently blinded for a few seconds had me puzzled, but I reasoned it was caused by a bright reflection of the flashlight beam in the window glass, kind of like stepping out of a dark building into bright sunlight.
The boys were quiet. I turned on the room light and sat down next to their beds, the dog was gone, I assumed it had resumed its usual position in our bed. I asked both kids what they saw and why the dog was growling. In a matter of fact tone one answered “It was the witch, Daddy”
What? “I’m sure it wasn’t a witch” I reassured them. They didn’t respond, only looked at me, each with a similar but slightly different inquisitive expression. I asked them what it looked like. One replied “it was black and danced a lot”. With that he stood and swayed back and forth, side to side while taking tiny steps forming a small circle. He started to get carried away and spun around several times until he fell back into his bed giggling. “Ok, you guys are trying to fool me, it’s time to go back to sleep” I said. “na uh” they both blurted out. I covered them up and tucked them in with exaggerated gestures then told them to sleep and we’d talk more about the “witch” in the morning. As I walked towards the door to turn out the bedroom light I looked back briefly. One was already starting to fall asleep and the other was looking at me and said “sometimes she scratches on the walls”. “ok, we’ll figure it out tomorrow” I said, “Goodnight”.
I switched off the light and looked back at them one more time. When I did, I noticed the light of a full moon shining through the window and casting a shadow from a tree on the floor and part of the opposite wall. “Ah hah, the witch” I said to myself. It made sense. If the wind was blowing the shadow would appear to dance about and as the moon rose and set the shadow would move up and down the wall. I listened for a moment but could not hear anything. There was only a gentle breeze causing the shadows to quiver slightly. I knew the tree was fairly close to the house and figured that branches scraping the siding, when blown by wind, caused the scratching sound they heard. Very imaginative kids, I thought, as I returned to my bed where the dog was now anchored in my spot on the far side of the bed.
The next morning as we were sitting at the dining room table having a breakfast of eggs and bacon and dinosaur shaped pancakes with chocolate milk. I said to them, “I saw your witch last night”. Both looked up from their playtime with the pancake filled plates as if surprised that I would admit to it. To me, that look substantiated my suspicions of their story telling. They listened for my revelation. I explained that what they saw was only the moon casting a shadow of the tree and that the tree branches made the scratching sound on the side of the house. I could tell they each were pondering my explanation, probably trying to conjure some fantastic new thread to their story to convince me that I was wrong. I smugly awaited a new spin on the tale or possibly an entirely new story, while I studied their reactions. I was smiling almost laughing. What I heard next jolted me, completely reversed my delight at having discovered the real reason for the apparition. It injected a flood of concern without knowing what I was really concerned about.
“The shadow has eyes and whispers our names”, a statement made to refute my claim that the witch was only a shadow. “Whaaat?” after a skip in my heartbeat, within a second or two I was sure I could debunk this claim. “It was just the wind blowing against the house, which sounded like a voice, maybe, and the eyes are probably brighter spots of moonlight shining through the branches onto the floor”. I was sure that would convince them, and me too, although they didn’t seem to fear what they had seen, at least now, sitting here at the table. Initially feeling confident I listened to what they told me next. “She comes close to the bed, by the ceiling and looks down on us then whispers our names” in a low whispery voice they each spoke their name “Daniel”….. “Alexander”.
The room seemed as if it was spinning. Panic filled my brain, I couldn’t think. My wife sat nearly expressionless looking at me as if expecting me to utter some divine words of comfort. The boys continued play with pancakes, unaware they had just turned the room upside down. Common sense ruled over emotion and my brain recovered enough to start speaking again. “You’re making up another story, aren’t you”. They had been known to create their own ridiculously silly stories to compete with the bedtime stories I would sometimes tell them, ones which I in fact made up. Dan shook his head left and right while holding a partially consumed dinosaur pancake in his left hand. Alex didn’t look up. “na uh” he said. “ok, I’ll check this out after breakfast” I said turning to my wife, raising my eyebrows and nodding my head. She still looked concerned.
After breakfast the boys went to the family room to play and I went to their bedroom to investigate. I stood in the center of the room looking around, slowly examining the ceiling, corners, closet the floor and the windows, not being certain what I was looking for. Nothing seemed unusual. This had to be a product of excessive stimulation and over active imagination. My emotions were racing up and down and all around, but as I stood there I began to feel a bit more comfort. I walked over to the window and looked out. About 100 feet from the side of the house was a wire fence that separated our property from the property of Mr. Lietz. On our side was lawn, on his side was forest, tall forest but not too dense. I could see the road that ran in front of our house from the window. I could see our small barn from the window. The horse was standing next to the board fence. One tall thin tree stood near the house and to the left of the window towards the road. It was a Hickory tree with a trunk about eight inches in diameter that towered just a few feet above the highest peak on our roof. The leaf cover on the branches was substantial but nothing seemed unusual, except…. Looking at the tree and admiring its height, the shape of the branches, its simple handsomeness I notice one thing; none of the branches were touching the house, not even close. Even a strong wind would not force them to scrape the siding or the roof. The comfort I felt returning earlier gave way to an uneasy feeling and queasiness in my stomach.
Before leaving the room I took a closer look into the long closet that was along the outside wall. It was about eight feet deep and 6 feet wide with one of those slatted wooden doors. Inside were two rows of shelving along the back wall and a bar for clothes hangers to the left. It had a single bulb on the ceiling with a string hanging down to turn it on and off. I turned it on as I walked in. I examined this small room just as I did the larger one but saw nothing out of the ordinary. One tiny little peculiarity caught my eye and made me take a closer look as I scanned the walls. Just above the shelves along the back wall was a slight spot of discoloration. I switched off the light and could not see it. It was barely perceptible with the light on. Looking closely I saw it was more of a texture change. I small quarter sized spot in the plaster. Using my pocket knife to gently probe the spot I felt a twinge in my hand, like when you bump your funny bone. This caused me to drop the knife which bounced off the shelf and fell to the floor. Flexing my fingers I picked up the knife and tried again. Same thing, this time the knife stayed where it fell on the shelf. Finally after shaking my arm I managed to probe the spot. It seemed soft. I pressed deeper until the blade stopped just shy of an inch deep, striking something solid. It kind of felt metallic. A metal stud or a nail I figured.
I switched off the light and walked out of the closet towards the bedroom door, intending to join my wife and kids in the family room. As I walked past the closet wall, looking towards the back wall of bedroom, the wall that is shared with our bedroom, something didn’t seem right. I looked at the back wall of the closet again, then the back wall of the room, then the closet again. After retrieving my tape measure from the garage I discovered that the back wall of the closet was about two feet short of the back wall of the room. I went into our bedroom to see if there was a recess in the other side of the wall. No recess. There appeared to be a dead space in the back of the closet that was covered with drywall and plaster. Perhaps it was for plumbing pipes or the sewer vent to exit through the roof. I went outside to have a look.
As I rounded the corner of the house, and before I could look up at the roof, I heard Mr. Leitz shout a “hello neighbor”. He was strolling through the woods along the fence line, so I went over to greet him. “How’s that old house treating you” he asked. “Oh, just ok I guess, been having a little trouble”. I glanced over at the roof above the space I’d just discovered and saw no vent. “Whatcha looking for” he asked. I told him the sewer vent and he pointed it out. It was on the other slope of the roof line. “Huh?” I let out. “You know”, Mr. Lietz started, “that house has a history, not one too pleasant either”. I asked what he meant and he just told me that “son of a bitch” Cordell used to live there. I pressed him for more but he clammed up. “Well I got work to do” he said, “So do I” was my reply. As he started to walk away he stopped, turned and looked me straight in the eye “With them two small boys you got, I’d think about moving out of there, if I were you”. I asked why, “Gotta go” he said and walked away.
While standing back away from the house and examining the outside wall, I heard a truck out on the road. It was slowly rolling past our drive and I could see Cordell looking at me. When our eyes met he sped up and disappeared down the road. That was a little weird I thought, turning my focus back the mysterious space. I saw that I could remove one of the sheets of exterior paneling and expose the area where the dead space was situated. My wife was hesitant to have me open it up, not knowing what I might find, but now my curiosity would not be subdued, especially since Cordell seemed to be taking an interest. Using the ladder and some tools I retrieved from the garage, I started pulling nails from the paneling. Just as the last nail squeaked out I heard that truck again on the road. Standing two rungs up on the ladder I looked over to see Cordell in the truck just as the panel dropped to the ground. It hit the ladder and I started to fall backwards, still looking toward the truck. I could see the long barrel of a shotgun sticking out of the passenger’s side window then a bright flash and loud boom. I hit the ground hard on my back and showers of wood splinters blown from the siding panel by the blast of buck shot, floated down around me. Scrambling to my feet and crouched, I ran around the corner of the house to take cover. I could hear the truck speeding off.
Trying to calm my wife and talk to the sheriff on the phone at the same time, I explained what had happened and that it was Cordell. The sheriff knew him and where he lived, then told me to go to a room in the center of our house and wait for him to arrive. My wife was now fairly calm, considering the events that were occurring but the boys didn’t have a clue. They made some kind of adventure game out of it as we waited in the bathroom for the sheriff. In less than 20 minutes I heard the front door open and a voice announce Jackson County sheriff, “It’s safe to come out”. We came out of the bathroom to see the sheriff and deputy standing near the front door. I shook his hand and thanked him for getting there so quickly then noticed he had Cordell in the back seat of his car, which was parked in our driveway with its lights flashing.
“We found Cordell, still sitting in his truck with the shotgun, in front of his house, he was just mumbling, couldn't get anything I understood out of him, seems like he finally went off the deep end” the sheriff said. “I’m going to need you to make a statement”. I told him the whole story and we walked over to look at the splintered paneling with about 12 small buckshot holes and the ladder lying on its side. Then we looked at the wall. It was 2X4 framing and fiberglass insulation. Then we looked at each other. “Seems he was trying to keep you from opening this up” said the sheriff, “seems that way” I said. “Mind if I have a look?” asked the sheriff. I told him to go right ahead. He propped the ladder against the wall and stepped up to the second rung. Carefully he pulled back the insulation. I could not see over his shoulder and his back obscured my view of the dead space cavity. “My God…” I heard him say, he pulled his flashlight from his belt and shined it into the cavern. He called his dispatcher from the radio attached to his belt.
Shortly after we were settled in our new house and in our new neighborhood we took a drive back to the small church yard cemetery near our old house. My boys each carried a bouquet of flowers and my wife had a small bible to read from. My wife read “Many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting life, but the others to disgrace and everlasting contempt”. When she was done Daniel and Alexander whispered goodbye and laid the flowers next to the tombstone of Mary Gault, our old neighbor’s daughter who mysteriously disappeared so many years ago.