Since it’s almost Halloween, I think it’s time to tell you the scariest story I know.
This is a true story, too, and it happened to my neighbor whom I’ll call Kim, back when Al and I were living on the Upper West Side, on Riverside Drive.
My guilty pleasure is ghost stories on cable TV. I don’t know why, but I love watching things with titles like “Most Haunted”, “Extremely Haunted”, “Really Very Haunted”, and “We Didn’t Make This Up, it is Totally Haunted!” As an aside, it seems that the word “documentary” has been stretched to the breaking point.
Anyway, these ghost shows (or, as Al calls them in Spanglish, “Chos de Ghost-os”), have a lamentably predictable formula. It’s interesting to note that, over the years, the formula has changed somewhat. In the early years, you couldn’t have a haunting without a portrait with painted eyes that watched you and an apparition in a white dress (sometimes missing a head). Later on, we progressed to things being hurled across the room, footsteps walking around upstairs, and your name being whispered in your ear. There was a big vogue for ghost children, especially little girls. Now, you can’t hold your head up on the internet unless your husband has been scratched by invisible claws that leave three long, parallel red marks on his back or you found an upside-down cross nailed behind a the basement door. If it rains blood in the kitchen, well, that’s a bonus.
This story is nothing like that. In fact, it isn’t really even a proper ghost story, as nothing was moved by invisible hands and no one disappeared into thin air. It’s still my favorite – judge for yourself.
Our downstairs neighbor, Kim, and her husband Dieter (not their real names) had three dogs in a one-bedroom apartment (not a recommended mode of life, by the way). This meant lots time spent walking the dogs. They had a routine – Dieter would shower and dress first. He’d take the dogs out while Kim dressed and made breakfast. Once Dieter returned, they’d eat together and leave the apartment for work. An important detail is that Dieter wouldn’t lock the apartment while he was walking the dogs – they’d lock it up as they left for work.
On this morning, Dieter was out with the dogs. Kim had finished dressing, and was walking from the bathroom to the bedroom. As she started to cross the living room, she saw a woman standing in her apartment. She had never seen this woman before. She was a short, well-dressed Asian woman: tasteful suit and heels. Well-groomed, not homeless, and not speaking to Kim. Instead, she stood facing the wall of the living room. She was looking at the photographs Kim had on the living room wall, moving slowly from one to the next “as though she were in an art gallery”, according to Kim.
Mind you, this was 7:00 a.m. Kim and Dieter lived on the 4th floor, not the ground floor. The more Kim looked at her, the stranger it seemed. This woman would have had to come in the building (not impossible, though the front door was locked), walk up four flights of stairs, perhaps try a few doors to see which were open, and then enter Kim’s apartment to look at the pictures. The timing was critical also, as the dogs would have started baying if they were home. Had she been hiding in the hall? Had she seen Dieter and the dogs leave, then slipped in quietly behind them?
“May I help you?” Kim asked her uninvited guest. The woman turned and looked at her without emotion. “Do you speak English?” asked Kim. The woman did not speak. “Can I get you a cab?” No answer. “Well, you can’t stay here, so you’d better come with me ,” said Kim in a businesslike manner. She motioned for the woman to follow her, and together, they walked down 4 flights of stairs. Kim opened the front door to the building and the woman walked through to the sidewalk outside. Kim’s last view was of the woman standing motionless on the sidewalk outside the building. Needless to say, Kim returned to her apartment, locked it, and then had to tell the whole story following the loud “thump” that was Dieter and 3 dogs trying to walk through a locked door.
Nothing like that ever happened to me, though we did have a cat that would climb up on top of a bookcase and stare intently at the wall. I could probably use a working title like “My Haunted Cat”, stretch it to 45 minutes, and pitch it to TruTV.