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Wednesday, August 14, 2002

Well. I am not making the following story up.

During my 20 or so months in Madrid, I had someone housesitting here. A good person, a hyper-conscientious woman named Kit. Capable, consistent, reliable. Not given to flights of fancy. After she'd been in the house about a week, she experienced something many might consider pure nonsense.

The house: long, rectangular -- the kind of building that might be called a raised ranch. At this moment I'm sitting in the top floor at the eastern end of the building, the end containing the main living spaces: the kitchen, the dining room, the living room -- three conjoined rooms more or less arranged in the shape of a U. A hallway begins at the inner corner of the living room, running straight down the center of the house from there, away from the main living spaces toward the building's west end. At the point where the hallway abuts the living room a stairway begins, descending to a landing and the front door. From there a second flight of stairs extends down to the lower level of the house. You don't need to know anything about the lower level just yet.

Back in the upper level, the hallway stretches away from the living room, passing first the bathroom on the left, then two small bedrooms, situated across the hallway from each other. Kit stayed in one of those two bedrooms, the one to the front of the house, facing the amazing view this place has. That's all you need to know about the top floor.

So. About a week into her stay here. Nighttime. Kit's in bed, the light on. Reading, thinking. The house is quiet. Until Kit hears the sound of footsteps ascending the stairs. The bedroom door is six feet or so from the stairs, the footsteps did not sound distant. A second person was in the house, climbing the stairs, approaching the top landing, the hallway, Kit's room.

Kit lived alone here. That night she had locked the outside doors before heading to bed. No one else should have been in the building, no one should have been coming up the stairs.

After a moment of confusion and frightened surprise, Kit got to her feet. The footsteps stopped. She hurried out of the bedroom, turned on the hallway light, turned on the stairway light. No sign of an intruder, no sound of anyone moving, nothing. She may have gone downstairs to check the door to the garage, finding it locked, just as she had left it. She went back upstairs, turned out the lights, got back into bed. The sound of feet ascending the steps began again.

This went on for a while -– she'd get up, the sound would stop; she'd go back to bed, it would start up all over again. Finally, she had a talk with herself -– she knew no one else was in the house, she knew that whatever was going on couldn't hurt her. She managed to settle down, eventually fell asleep. The next day she found no sign of anything out of the ordinary in the house. The next night the footsteps did not return, she never experienced them again. She never told anyone about the experience, including me.

Shortly after my return from Madrid, I lay in bed one morning. Alone in the house, early a.m., all the outside doors locked. Somewhere off in the house -- sounding like it came from downstairs -– a door closed. Not slammed -- closed with a solid, firm impact. I felt it more than heard it, if you know what I mean, the way you can feel when someone walks from one room to another in a lower floor of a house, the way you can hear a door close. Feeling the vibration of it through the floor, through the bed, in addition to the distant sound. My eyes opened -- I lay still, listening. I got up, went downstairs, found the door to the garage locked as I'd left it the night before. The other doors on the lower level –- to the bathroom, the toolroom, the guest room, the large rec. room where the coal stove sits in front of the fireplace -– were all open, exactly as they normally are.

This was early April, still late winter here. No windows were open, no errant breeze was at work anywhere in the house.

Kit stopped by a day or two later to drop off her set of keys. In passing, I told her about the door closing. She stared ahead as I spoke, then shifted her gaze to me, the words tumbling from her mouth, telling me about the footsteps on the stairs. She then said that Mo, my downhill neighbor (a relative term here -- Mo's house sits almost quarter mile away, across the road from the extreme downhill corner of my plot) had mentioned to her one time that someone in this house had fallen down the stairs and been killed. First I'd heard of it. This house is 30 years old, during its three decades it's had several owners. I had no idea who the original owners were, neither did Kit. We puzzled over the story a bit, then dropped it.

Every now and then I hear odd noises in the house. Not the refrigerator, not the furnace, not the water pump, not something outside. Not the house reacting to the long hours of direct sunlight or cooling off at night. Nothing big, nothing threatening or truly creepy. Nothing that feels malignant. Just odd, clear, distinct sounds, every now and then -- the kind of sounds that another person might make, the incidental sounds produced by someone else in one's living space. It gets my attention, makes me wonder.

I stopped in to say a quick hello to Mo and his wife Kay today. Mo's lived in this town his entire life, his family has been here for generations. He and Kay have resided in their small house for most of their nearly 60 years of marriage. I asked him about what he'd told Kit, he confirmed the story: the wife of the first couple to live in this house -- a woman named Mary -- had fallen down the stairs and been killed. I told them about Kit's experience with the footsteps, which came as news -- Kit is much closer with Mo and Kay than with me, but had never mentioned it to them. Maybe because she expected the kind of reaction Kay displayed: disbelief. I told them about the door closing, about the odd sounds I occasionally hear around the place. They laughed nicely at it all and didn't really seem to know what to say, though Kay appeared to find the death that happened here a touch mysterious –- Kay had been in this house once and didn't think the stairs covered enough distance to be lethal in a fall.

So there you have it. I seem to be living in a, er, haunted house. Not a highly active one, not a disruptive one (I've never experienced anything as dramatic as Kit has) -- mostly polite, well-mannered. Inoffensive. But still.

Who knows -– there may be perfectly logical explanations for it all. It's possible. I haven't encountered them yet, but that doesn’t mean they're not out there.

In the meantime, the summer goes on, the days slipping rapidly by. The house feels pretty good in the middle of it all. That's all I care about.

rws 10:52 PM [+]

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London '01
Italy '03
U.K. '03
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La Sierra

Madrid -- arrival
Emergency Room I
Holidays 2001
Holidays 2002
Holidays 2003
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Holidays 2005
A neighbor's passing
Madrid -- March 11 bombings
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Emergency Room II
Israeli friend/Madrid Marathon
Madrid -- Royal Wedding
The DELE exam

GONE, a novel:
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Another Autumn
La Queja de Una
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