We didn’t have any hard evidence that the place was haunted, but at eleven years old we were sure that there were ghosts there. My classmates knew what was real and what was not, and ghosts were real. There was a house near mine that was run down with weeds growing up all around, the curtains in the windows were faded and shredded. The clapboard siding hadn’t been painted in years and was showing more grayed wood than paint, and there was a dead twisted tree in the front yard. The story around the neighborhood was that the lady was widowed for years and lived inside with her black cat and her sewing. We never saw anyone around and had truly never laid eyes on the lady, but we knew that someone half-heartedly mowed the yard and must bring her groceries. The younger kids said that she was a witch, but we were older and wiser and knew that a witch wouldn’t need groceries delivered; she’d just conjure them up out of nowhere.
Gradually the stories faded but my friend and I kept an eye on the house. The condition didn’t improve, but it didn’t get worse either. We got used to seeing the same scene there and the occasional appearance of the black cat in the window. One summer we were going to camp out in my friend’s back yard all night. We came up with a plan to sneak over to the house at midnight and watch for a ghost, or at least something ghostly. We had a camera, a pair of binoculars, and a tape recorder in case there was any wailing or screams. Of course we didn’t tell our parent’s about our plan; they’d object, of course. It was extra dark that night, no moon and only the sound of crickets as we crept down the block. When we got to the back of the house, there was a dim light on in the kitchen. We crept up closer and looked in. There was nothing. No cat, no woman, no anything. We walked completely around and still, nothing. Just as we gave up, we heard a noise inside. It sounded like a woman’s voice, like she was singing a slow song. It was definitely inside the house, but that’s all we could determine. We got a little freaked out but didn’t want to let each other think we were scared, so we just slowly backed away and went back to our tent. It turned out not to be as revealing as we imagined. We didn’t see any floating apparitions, we didn’t have any unearthly creatures pop up in our faces and we didn’t even feel an ice-cold chill. The next day, we were talking to my friend’s next door neighbor. We told him about seeing the cat in the window and seeing curtains move occasionally as we walked by coming home from school. We told him sheepishly that we went by at night and heard singing. He asked if the cat was black, and if the lady was singing a lullaby. We answered yes to both, that it must’ve been a lullaby. He just shook his head.
He looked us in the eyes and slowly said, “I boarded up that house three years ago. The lady that lived there lost her husband and her baby when she was in her 30’s — and she was never the same. She died in a nursing home four years ago. The family won’t pay the taxes on the house so I nailed the doors shut myself right after that to keep kids out.”
We just looked at each other. We thought we didn’t see anything ghostly on our midnight visit. The light in the kitchen, the cat and the singing wasn’t so scary until we learned that there was no one there.
I guess every kid back then thought about ghosts and scary things. Along with pirates, cops and robbers, race car drivers and the occasional cowboy. We were lucky in a way — those exercised our imagination and our view on life. We never knew if what we experienced that night was real or imagined. Today kids can put on a goggle like thing on their head and fight dragons or hit a home run in a stadium. At least we didn’t have to depend on technology to supply our fun. To me, it was just as real — and we didn’t need batteries or software updates.