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Rated: 13+ · Short Story · Biographical · #1982044
What do Studio 54, a balmy autumn night, and a certain house on the river have in common?
The River House Ghost
A true story
Carol St. Ann

Approx. 1,290 words

Recently, a friend asked me if I had ever seen a ghost. Did I believe in ghosts? Why or why not?

You know, I consider myself a reasonably intelligent person with an eye on the mystical, it's true. But, since you've asked, I have to admit -- right here, in front of God and everybody, as the saying goes -- I do believe in spooks. I do believe in spooks. I do . . . Well, you get the picture.

I've never seen a ghost, but I have encountered one. Of that, I am surer than sure.

Here's what happened.

Okay, wait. First, I need to share what happened that led up to what happened.

As a child, I spent many a summer at the Jersey Shore with my family. Often, as parents do, they allowed me to invite a friend along for a few days, or a weekend. I usually chose my best friend, Meggie Gillespie. Her parents would reciprocate and invite me along to their river house on spring and autumn weekends. This went on for years. (By the way, for those of you who've read my Woodstock experience, yes, it's the same Meggie. She and I met in the second grade and will have dinner together in November to celebrate our sixty-third birthdays. It's been a long, wonderful run.)

While my family's beach house was a brand new 1960 contemporary ranch, with kids and pets relegated to a separate wing just beyond my parents' room, Meggie's was a long, narrow 1880's two storey, and it had been in her family for generations. Kids' quarters were on the second floor, an unfinished attic space her mother had designed like a military barracks: bunk bed, nightstand, bunk bed, nightstand, four along each side with the stairway in the center. It was an open stairway with a u-shaped railing that went around it on three sides. The door was at the bottom, on the first floor. (And, yes, you read right, folks. That's sleeping for 16 kids.)

Are you with me so far? Good.

Downstairs, three bedrooms occupied the full length of the south side of the house. Meggie's was in front, facing the porch and the street; her parents' was in the middle, facing the driveway side of the property; and her brother's was in the back, facing the yard. The stairway that led to the kids' barracks was just outside the door to Mr. and Mrs. Gillespie's room and smack in the center of the house. The living room, dining room, and kitchen were on the north side of the house, front to back. All the rooms, except the kids’ barracks, were furnished in the dark, heavy Victorian furniture that was fashionable when the family purchased it.

Whenever I visited, we would say our good nights and ascend the stairs with Mrs. Gillespie calling up to us to turn out the lights and get to sleep. She never once came up those stairs, and she always closed the door at the bottom. And she never slept in the middle bedroom unless Mr. Gillespie was present. When he wasn't there, she slept on the daybed on the front porch. I never made special note of that until many years later.

Fast forward to "many years later." (I know, you're blown away at how clever I can be.)

Meggie and I were in our early twenties. We'd had a terrific time with some friends at a well-known disco in Manhattan and decided, since it was such a beautiful balmy mid-October night, and we were pumped from having met and spent the evening dancing with -- wait; that's another story for another entry -- we'd throw caution to the wind and make the hour and a half drive to the river house. Maybe go boating the following day.

The ride was quick, because there wasn't any traffic on the NJ Turnpike. The river town was very quiet at that time of year and we noticed, on our way in from the interstate, there were no street lights. Back then it wasn't unusual for town officials to save a few dollars each year by shutting them down after Labor Day. We remarked to one another how eerie it was; almost like a ghost town.

We arrived at the house, turned on the electric, and settled in. It was, as I said earlier, a balmy autumn night. The house had been closed up for over a month already, and it was stale so we went upstairs to open some windows. We left the attic door open and opened the transom above the front door to encourage the crisp breeze off the river to waft through the house and keep us cool. We felt more secure with all the first floor windows closed, since it was just the two of us and we couldn't see outside past our noses. Pleased with our cleverness, we said our good nights. Meggie went to her room and I to the middle bedroom. Well, we weren't kids anymore, and no one else was there. It seemed silly to sleep upstairs.

I remember vividly how peaceful it was. I'd always loved being in that house, and the pitch-black of night partnered with the wonderful memories of our earlier antics at the disco and made it easy to fall asleep. It was lovely.

Some time later, I was awakened, by what, I couldn't tell you, but I had the overwhelming sensation someone was descending from the attic. Oddly, though, those old stairs should have creaked. Then it was close to me. I was sure I wasn't alone.

"Meggie?" says I, with no small degree of trepidation. "Is that you?"


I sat up and was about to stand and turn on the light when something grabbed me by my shoulders and shook me violently. I figured it was Meggie, messing with my head. But when I shoved my palms forward to push her away, nothing was there. And it hadn't let go of me yet. It paused and then shook me again, just as violently as it had the first time.

I'm not shy about admitting I prayed.

I screamed for Meggie several times before she came running. Whatever it was let go of me as her footsteps reached the doorway. She hit the switch and turned on the light. No one and nothing was there except Meggie and me.

I told her what happened, and we decided I'd imagined it. We went back to our rooms and attempted to go to sleep, but I couldn't. Embarrassed beyond reason, I asked her if I could stay with her. She agreed, and I crawled into her bed like a child and tried to fall asleep, but there was no way. After a short while, I woke her again. and said I had to get out of there. I wanted to go home.

Meggie knew I wasn't one easily given to nonsense. Even though it was 4:30 in the morning, we left immediately, in our pajamas, and drove to her parents' house, an hour away.

Her mother, awakened by our arrival, asked what on earth we were doing there at that hour.

“We were at the river house," Meggie told her, "and Carol had a scare.”

“I see.” Mrs. Gillespie stood up from the table and put the teapot on the stove. Then she sat across from me and looked into my eyes. “Let me guess. You were sleeping in the middle room, and the attic door was open.”

I've never gone back to that house.

Like I said, I've never seen a ghost, but I have had a ghostly encounter.


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