|Girl on Stairs by Laura Theresa Alma-Tadema|
My family moved from Philadelphia to the southern New Jersey shore when I was seven years old, and we moved into our current home right around when I turned eight. It's a craftsman-style bungalow that was built in the late 1920's, a time of rapid development in the town where we live. It's the oldest house on our street, and not many houses in town date from earlier than this time period.
While the house had gone through several renovations by the time we moved in, some of the original craftsman features remained. These included a big brick fireplace, old cut-glass knobs on some of the doors, and even a sort-of spooky-looking lantern light fixture that, as far as we know, was installed whenever the house got electricity. We even found an old white dress boot in the attic eaves, which might have been used for someone's wedding long ago.
Because the house had only two bedrooms when we moved in, my sister and I had to share. We weren't too cramped though, because we had the entire second-floor to ourselves, which was a half-story with sloping ceilings that contained a large bedroom, a walk-in closet, and a half bathroom. To get to our room, you climbed the twisting wooden staircase and passed by a landing area, the bathroom, and closet to reach the bedroom area. There were a few odd things about the space: the landing was enclosed on one side by a split-rail fence instead of the usual railing, the floor sloped downwards in a ramp in in the closet and the hallway outside of it, and the attic eaves were accessed by half-height barn doors in the front end of the bedroom. I found all of these eccentricities fascinating, and overall felt that the room was cozy and snug.
However, there was one thing I didn't like about my bedroom, and that was getting to it. From the moment we moved in, I took an instant and inexplicable dislike to going up to my room by myself. Mind you, it wasn't actually being upstairs alone that I minded--once I was in my bedroom, I was happy enough to stay there--I just didn't like climbing the stairs and walking through the hallway alone. As far as I can tell, there was no logical explanation for this, since the stairs weren't particularly steep and the whole area was well-lit.
The reason I didn't like going upstairs alone was, paradoxically enough, because I didn't feel like I really was alone. I would always look over my shoulder as I went up the stairs and across the hall, scared that I would see something other than an empty space behind me. But I felt distinctly better once I had passed through and was in my actual bedroom, even though the areas were completely open to each other without doors or walls. All I knew was this: the bedroom felt safe, and the stairs and hallway didn't.
I felt this way before I even spent my first night in the room, so my feelings weren't the result of anything I experienced after moving in. And I did experience something further than an irrational feeling of unease: every so often at night, I would hear the stairs creak as though someone were climbing them, but no one was. The first couple of times it happened I actually went and checked, since I was sure that my parents or sister must have been on their way up--these sounds weren't the mere creaks of an old house settling, but actual rhythmic steps that progressed from lower to higher. No one, however, was there.
Years later we renovated the house, and I moved to a bedroom downstairs. Upstairs, the landing fence was removed, the ramp leveled, and the eave doors walled over. The attic bedroom looked very different from how it did when we first moved in, and both my trips upstairs and my uneasy feelings were less frequent, although the latter still cropped up now and again. Whether they were simply echoes of my childhood fear or something more, I couldn't say.
My story would have ended there, but last year I actually stayed in my old bedroom for one night while some wallpaper was off-gassing in my current bedroom. I had no trepidation but I was a little restless, being in a different space and a less comfortable bed than usual. If it hadn't been for these factors I might not have been awake to hear them--rhythmic, soft footfalls coming up the stairs.
I sat up in bed, turned on the light, and looked towards the hall. It had been a long time since I had been upstairs alone at night, and I fully expected to see someone coming up to fetch something. But just like when I was a child, there was no one to be seen. I shut the light and tried to get some sleep, though I woke up more than once before morning to hear the same phantom footsteps.
I haven't spent much time alone upstairs since, but the recurrence of those footsteps all those years later has convinced me of one thing: I was right to think I wasn't really alone up there.