Most people don’t believe me when I tell them this, but I grew up in haunted house. Well, at least for the first few years of my life, I believed this to be true. My mom and I stayed for about a year in the house until things got too strange to handle.
My mom was a single parent who was busy working to provide for her son. We couldn’t afford a large house or one in the best neighborhood, so, like most single parents, she took the best that was available. It happened to be an early century row house that sat on a tiny hill in Santa Ana, street number 9899 on First Street.
The house was truly the perfect fit for my mom and I. It had two bathrooms, an eat-in kitchen, and two bedrooms. What more could you ask for on one income, especially in California?
Truthfully, things were great for a while there. I remember having Christmas at the house with our family all gathered around in our small living room and also a few fun evenings with friends.
But then things started to get, well, kind of weird.
At first it was just some oddball moments— things that could be explained away by logical explanations, like a mall earthquake in the night. Things around the house would move ever so slightly. It would be a misplaced book or an open curtain that was closed the night before, or a light left on that we thought had been turned off.
But then the movements became…well…more substantial.
We awoke one morning to find the cupboards in the kitchen open. Every single one of them. My mom looked to me, and I to her. It seemed we both had the same thought: why did you do that?
Of course, neither of us did. After that, our cupboards just couldn’t stay closed. This turned into a morning ritual: get up, make breakfast, close the cupboards, and go to school. But then it was other things too.
One morning we woke up to find all four of our dining room table chairs, thrown about the living room. It looked like someone had tossed them from the kitchen, one by one, heaving (or floating) them to an entirely different room in the house. My mother took a deep breath and put them back at the table like nothing strange had happened.
Now, I was only six at the time, but I remember hearing my mom talk on the phone to a friend. She talked about seeing an old man in the window, a wrinkly face that visited her every night. The face appeared and scowled at her. She hid under the covers until morning. What made the whole ‘face in the window’ thing all the more terrifying is when my aunt stayed with me one night when my mom was out of town for work.
Once again, I overheard a conversation I probably wasn’t supposed to. My aunt asked my mom who the old man in the window was, and if she’d called in a priest or medium to deal with the ‘presence’ in the house. To this my mom replied, “You saw him too?!”
Things only got worse from here on out.
One night we came home kind of late and the entire house reeked of smoke…a very peculiar kind of smoke. It wasn’t the smell of something burning, like our house had been lit on fire. It was pipe smoke; a common smell anyone could recognize who’d ever had a pipe before.
The smell was the strongest in my room, which of course, freaked my mom out to no end. She opened the windows and turned on the fan, but the smell stayed strong, like someone was still in the house lighting up their pipe.
Most folks would have probably fled by this point—chairs that move at night, cupboards that can’t stay open, a face in the window, and now a smell that was as real as someone smoking in front of you—but we stayed, at least a little while longer.
I suppose all of these events were just a precursor to what happened next.
One morning right after I woke up, my mom and I found my toys in the living room. All of them. Mind you, I had a lot of toys.
They were perfectly arranged in stacks according to their kind. My mom asked me when I had moved the toys. I told her I hadn’t. That’s when she ran into my room. In the corner where I kept my toys she found an old pair of boxer shorts and a wooden cane.
My mom was crying at this point, asking me where I’d gotten them. I told her I’d never seen them before. That’s the moment, she said, where she saw the man in the window again, but this time he was standing in the hall grinning at her.
We left after that. The next weekend family and friends helped us move out of the house and we went to stay with my grandma for a while.
Looking back, I’m not really sure what to believe about it. Was it paranormal or something equally as scary, but with real-world explanations? I don’t know, of course, but I’ve always found one memory particularly odd.
The neighbor to the right of our house was an elderly man named Mr. Cochran who lived alone. I only remember meeting him one time officially when we first moved in. But there was something that happened that I never told my mom about.
One day when I was in the backyard playing by myself, I saw Mr. Cochran in his bedroom window. He was just standing there, staring at me. He was wearing boxer shorts, smoking a pipe, and holding a cane in his hand. A twisted smile appeared on his face. He stood there smiling sickly at me, puffing out the smoke from his pipe.
I don’t know, of course, but it always made me wonder. What if our house wasn’t haunted by ghosts or otherworldly entities, but by someone from this realm? What if all those things that took place were real?
To this day, whenever I think about that house on first street, I get the chills.
I just can’t shake the feeling that maybe Mr. Cochran was in our house, watching us sleep, waiting for the opportunity to unleash his next haunting.
Credit: Stephen Pate