Haunted house-sitting

Mention the phrase “haunted house,” and immediately, people start thinking of an old, deserted place with rotten floors and boarded-up windows. Then, just add a resident ghost to rattle the window panes and rearrange the dust covers.

If the ghost is fond of actually disturbing people, though, he or she would probably prefer a huge, funky old mansion, like a B&B where we once stayed. The owner of the place was really proud of her ghost. “I’d like some more coffee” was likely to get a response of, “Did I tell you about the ghost?” If you asked, “May I have an extra towel?” she’d say, “Did I tell you about the ghost?” The woman not only obsessed on the existence of the ghost, she thought that every person who came to her inn was fascinated by it. We were not.

In this life, most people have a penchant for getting ahead, having the nicer things in life. So why not ghosts, too? Why stick with abandoned houses or inns run by crazy ladies, when you could have satellite TV and high-speed internet?

That’s the kind of place where Barry and I are house-sitting right now. The house is in a very suburban neighborhood, a cul-de-sac kind of place. I was afraid to take a walk in the neighborhood yesterday without a trail of bread crumbs, or at least, my pet GPS, because the streets are not laid out in a logical grid. I thought I might get lost, return to the wrong house, and be mistaken for a burglar. I can picture the headline: “Seattle burglar mauled by 200-pound Redmond mastiff.”

Most of the houses around here date back to the 1980’s or 90’s, They have two-car attached garages, soaring ceilings, at least three bedrooms, and many bathrooms. The interiors are beautiful; through the windows I see leather sofas, antique end tables, and breakfronts full of sparkling glassware and china.

Walking along, I found myself wondering: How many of these houses are haunted? Or at least, how many others, besides the one where we’re staying?

We were having dinner the other night with Geoff, the high-school senior who lives here, and he brought it up. He told us the front door opens spontaneously, when it’s tightly locked. There have been unexplained footsteps, cold chills, and strange shadows. Things fall over when nobody is touching them.

I was politely incredulous. Why would a ghost bother haunting such a normal, average suburban house? And if it really was true, why hadn’t Geoff’s parents mentioned it when they gave us the key? A simple warning would have sufficed, something like, “Trash pickup is Thursdays, and don’t mind the ghost.”

Two nights ago, I was getting ready to go to bed around 1 am, but I could hear water running. It was awfully late for Geoff to be awake on a school night, but Barry was sitting next to me, so it had to be Geoff. Barry thought maybe a toilet was stuck running, so he went downstairs to see.

He walked into the half-bath and found the hot water tap on, full blast. It had been on for long enough to steam up the mirror. I asked the logical question: “Was there a message written on the mirror?” Barry shook his head. “I did not see one. I, uh, did not look carefully.” By which I think he means he was freaked out by his first encounter with the supernatural, and he turned off the water and came upstairs as fast as his little feet would carry him.

It could only have been the ghost. I know this family is famous for their humor and their practical jokes — things like putting Kool-aid in the showerhead so the water comes out green. But turning the hot water tap on at 1 am isn’t particularly scary, or funny. It’s just weird, and that’s the kind of stuff ghosts do.

Since I don’t know what weird things the ghost will do next, I’ve been a little less keen on walking around this house in the dark. I don’t know what I’m scared of. I just don’t want to bump into something I can’t see. Not that I could see the ghost if the light was on, either!

I finally had a chance to ask Pat, Geoff’s mother, about the ghost. She ticked off a number of things they’d attributed to it — mostly things her son had mentioned, but also a creepy incident that happened in the bed Barry and I are sleeping in. Still, she added, “It doesn’t freak out the cat or the dog, so I’m sure it’s OK.”

The cat’s sleeping on our bed as I write this. He’s purring loudly, either oblivious to the ghost, or merely unperturbed by it. I’ll take a page out of his book, and not let it bother me. And if I see any signs of the ghost, I’ll let him know he’s welcome to surf the internet on my computer. That’s as long as he — or she, or it — waits until I’m done writing this article. In the meantime, he can sit in the comfy leather chair, put up his feet, and watch some satellite TV.