By Tara Fox Hall
The scariest moment of my life to date was up at my family cottage in the summer of 2011. I was up there alone for a few days, working on doing some painting and decorating as I celebrated the acceptance of my very first novella by a publisher. I’d finished working for the night about 10 pm, then locked up and went upstairs. After spending the next few hours writing, I finally turned off the light about a quarter to midnight and lay down to sleep, exhausted.
In the summer months, the nights at the cottage are usually very quiet. The only noises generated outside are the wind in the trees and sometimes a beach party several streets over. There are no air conditioners, no propane vents, and no heating ducts in the cabin to generate settling noises, or make the floors creak. This night was typical, with only the soft rustling of leaves outside the window, and the low hum of my box fan on minimum speed.
I was just dropping off to sleep when I heard footsteps. They came down the hall towards my room, each step deliberate and slow.
I wasn’t facing that way. My back was toward whoever it was. I waited there, my heart hammering out of my chest, too scared to turn around and look.
Rationality took over, as the minutes passed. No one would have been able to get in through the solid oak door and deadbolt at the bottom of the stairs. No one could have climbed in an upstairs window without my hearing a ladder and shoes on shingles, at a minimum. If someone had broken in downstairs, I’d have heard glass breaking.
Fueled by my logic, I sat bolt upright, scrabbled for the light and turned it on. There was no one there.
I got up, and turned on all the nights upstairs in every room. There was no one there, or sign that anyone had been there at all. All the windows and screens were intact.
I left the light on and went back to bed. Everything was fine for the rest of the night.
The following night, I also went to bed late after working all day and writing all evening. The time was exactly the same, about a quarter to midnight. Remembering the past night’s events, I told myself that the noises I’d heard had to be the house settling, or something benign. It had been very hot during the day and very cool at night lately, unusual weather for the cottage in August.
Determined not to give into fear, I turned off the light and went to bed. Again, just as I was drifting off to sleep, I heard the footsteps. Like before, they came down the hallway, towards my room.
Petrified, I reminded myself to be rational. No one had gotten in. There couldn’t be anyone out there. So there was no reason to turn and look.
Minutes passed as I kept still, trying to breathe lightly in the dark.
Whatever it was suddenly came closer, into the bedroom, one deliberate footfall after another, until it was standing over me at the edge of the bed. I broke out in a cold sweat. I thought I was going to die; I was so scared. I told myself to turn around and face it, but I couldn’t make myself do it. Minute after minute passed, as I waited for cold fingers to grab me.
Finally, unable to bear the strain, I whipped around with a loud gasp. There was no one there, just shadows that looked somehow deeper than usual. I lunged for the light and flipped the switch, flooding the room with light to reveal…nothing. I got up, turned on all the lights, and again searched the upstairs. All windows were intact, as before. The hallway door was securely locked, too, just as I’d left it when I went to bed.
I left ALL the lights on the rest of that night. This haunting has not occurred again for me in the few years since. But the few times I have been up there alone since then, I’ve left a light on by my bedside at night.