In a bucolic setting of farm and fields, wood, lanes and river, the old farm worker’s cottage had thick walls and a thatched roof. Originally a two-up, two-down, a new extension on the back of the cottage gave it a toilet and kitchen downstairs and a bathroom, landing and third bedroom upstairs. As farming families did hundreds of years ago, the new occupants congregated in the room where a big, black Rayburn coal-burning stove squatted against the wall, which for the purpose of this tale I call the “family room.” There they ate, talked, watched television and relaxed. The other downstairs room, which originally would have been the parlor – reserved for special events – was unused at first, until Mother redecorated and it became the living room. The cottage was very old and quite ordinary, but for one architectural peculiarity. Each of the two original bedrooms that faced across the stairwell had two doors. One door led to the landing, the other toward the front of the house gave access to another, narrow landing that spanned the stairwell like a tiny bridge, connecting the two rooms.
The river flowed just beyond the lawn and flowerbeds. A large barn owl roosted in the big barn, a floating, ghostly white shadow when it flew away to hunt come evening. Ducks waddled up from the river for breadcrumbs. The family picked puffballs in the fields, mushrooms in the woods, blackberries from the hedges and wild flowers from grassy banks. Father walked hills and dales, shotgun over his arm, gundogs ranging back and forth ahead of him. Mother was the best cook in the area and had the greenest thumb; her pies, cakes, flowers and vegetables consistently won first prize at the annual village fete.
If you looked from the window early in the morning, when mist wisped at the boundary of the garden and only the caw of crows and distant low of cattle broke the silence, you could forget noise and pollution in nearby towns, and that traffic would soon break the silence of the country lanes. The countryside was a haven of rural tranquility at that time of morning.
However, life inside the cottage was anything but tranquil.
The baby in the television set made itself known not long after they moved in. All heard it. All said nothing. At first, they took no notice of a baby wailing during a television program, until they decided hearing a baby cry during a tense courtroom drama or a Disney wildlife documentary somewhat odd. When one of the family did mention the baby, they all chimed in. When the novelty wore off and the noise became annoying, they moved the television set to the other side of the family room and baby was heard no more. Later, the television went into the living room.
Had a child lain there, in that spot in the family room, wailing for attention long years ago? Perhaps it continued to cry, but lacking the medium of the television, nobody heard.
Or perhaps, when it could no longer call through the television, the baby made the mirror in the living room mysteriously swing from side to side?
What unseen apparition threw the youngest girl’s doll off the bed? And who, when she and her friend listened to Roger Daltry’s “I’m Free” in her bedroom, said in a clear child’s voice, “I’m four,” and sent the girls screaming from the room.
Who held a party in the spare bedroom when it was being redecorated – laughing, chatting and chinking glasses – and how did all of them fit in a tiny five by nine room?
And who turned the light switches on and off every evening?
The switches did not actually turn on, or off. They were the old-fashioned type, the plate a dome with a thick switch protruding from it, and they made an unmistakable sound. The family stood in the small hall at the bottom of the staircase and listened, and although the switch did not move, the lights did not come on or go off, they heard the clearly identifiable click. This also happened upstairs in mother and father’s bedroom, which was odd, because the click did not come from the light switch beside the bedroom door. It came from the other door.
One day, a decade or so after the family moved into the cottage, an elderly lady and her grandson arrived. She explained her grandson was driving her around the country so she could revisit the places of her childhood. As children, she and her brother lived in the cottage with their grandparents. She asked to look around the cottage. Mother agreed. She remarked on the extension. One mystery was solved.
She reminisced about the time electricity was installed. Granddad didn’t trust this new-fangled way to light your house, and he gave the light switches a good, firm, click every evening to ensure they really were turned off and wouldn’t come on again of their own accord, and start a fire.
And the nonexistent switch in the bedroom? Before the extension was built, the staircase rose from the back of the house north to south up to the tiny landing that connected the two bedrooms. The light switches for those bedrooms, therefore, were next to those original doors. When the extension was added, new doors were put in the two older bedrooms to give access to the new landing; the staircase was torn down and a new one built to run from the front of the house south to north up to the new landing. The house was rewired upstairs so that switches were conveniently placed beside the new bedroom doors, but the old doors and tiny landing remained.
Did Granddad’s paranoia continue beyond death? Was he still there, clicking those light switches on and off?
What do you think?
This is not a frightening Halloween tale, but it is true. My family lived in that cottage and I often visited. I heard the sound of the light switches and the baby in the television. The old place was torn down years ago, replaced by a mega-size farmhouse cleverly built to look hundreds of years old. I wonder if a spectral baby wails in the new house, or a mirror swings, or the landowner hears odd clicks in the evening. I wonder if his daughter’s dolls ever take flight off the bed.
When I remember the cottage and those odd sounds, I wonder if the old gentleman remained there long after death, making sure those switches were off? If so, why didn’t the switches move? If the switches didn’t move, where did the sound come from? My husband and I wondered the same thing when we lived in Ogden, Utah, and heard footsteps up and down the stairs, doors slamming, and the crash of heavy furniture hitting the floor. Inexplicable? I think I go with residual haunting activity, which theorizes that positive or negative energy is blasted into the atmosphere, causing the atmosphere to imprint or record the events. Those events may seem small and insignificant to us, but not to those who originally experienced them.
But what made the doll whizz off the bed? My niece Cath was a child, and poltergeist activity is said to be caused by children or adolescents.
I’ve had quite a few ghostly experiences; seen, heard and sensed. Once, I saw something that came close to scaring the living daylights out of me. Perhaps I’ll tell you about it, one of these Halloweens.