Saturday, April 19, 2008

Believe It or Not

The scene took place in Itororo, a town of approximately ten thousand people located in the northeastern state of Bahia, Brazil. The year was 1967 and I was eight years old. The house was probably built by slaves at a time when region was mostly farmland some two hundred years back. It was bought by my daddy’s father, for a bargain at least twenty years before I was born. He lived there for awhile but spent most of his time on the farm. Periodically, it was used by some family members as a resting place as some of my uncles would ride long distances on horse back to go to town in order to take care of personal or family business. It was a common scene to see a jeep parked alongside one or two horses in the back yard. Some people stayed overnight while others spent the weekend whenever they needed to do any shopping or other errands in the city. The memories I have of the house are still crystal clear and they do not seem to go away so easily, despite the distance in time. Even though I enjoyed going to town to see new things and people, I was never particularly excited about the prospect of spending the night at the house. It always gave me the creeps because of the association I made with ghosts or phenomenon I was never able to explain. I hated that house and found, it particularly difficult staying alone or sleeping alone in there.

The house was located on the dead end of a parallelepiped stone paved street where we could barely hear the distant noise of cars passing by on the main road. The approaching sound of a trotting horse passing by would break the silence periodically. The steps were continuous and cadenced and it sounded like music to my ears, despite having just one note. Whoever was riding it was in no hurry to get anywhere. That rhythmical sound of horseshoes hitting the stone pavement was quite loud as it passed by the house but soon decreased in intensity and finally disappeared leaving behind only silence. The house was built with considerably largebricks covered with stucco which would periodically come loose. Eventually the stucco would fall off, leaving patches of horizontally aligned bricks exposed. Despite the appearance, those walls were as strong and thick as that of a fortress. All the windows were painted white with marine blue shutters. They were huge
and appeared to be extremely heavy. They needed to be opened often to let the sun and fresh air to prevent bad smell from humidity and mold growing. There were a total of ten windows around the house. They were all the same size and had the same characteristics.

The uniqueness of architectural design reveled it to have been built by some influential figure in the region during the slavery time, probably some wealthy land owner. Looking at the house from across the street I could see the six cement stairs which led to the front door through the porch on the right side. On the sides of the stairs, two nicely crafted metal handrails painted black ended right before the two lion sculptures. They looked intimidating and caught the attention of those who were not familiar with the neighborhood. The outside walls, once painted in yellow, faded away and became discolored. The severely peeled marine blue finish on the eaves intensified the need for maintenance. In the front and back yards a few patches of grass struggled to survive among a variety of wild weed species. Castor bean, with its large palmately-lobed leaves, dominated the scene. In general the exterior and surroundings of the house looked abandoned.

In contrast with the outside, interior of the house was quite modest but pleasingly up kept and clean. Just inside the front door was the living room, a quite spacious area. The first image that always kept my attention was a faded black and white weeding picture of my grandparents hanging on the wall in which they looked young and exceedingly joyful. An old brown couch was placed on the right side against the front wall and a few chairs were facing it separated by a dark stained wood coffee table sitting in the center of the room. There was another table in the corner with some artificial white lilies and a few framed pictures of relatives and some of my grandfather long time friends. The scenario did not change much in the sense that everything looked simple but harmoniously arranged throughout the whole house. Looking up from any of the rooms we could see laths of wood running down from the roof top to the gutters making the base for rows of colonial tiles. The tiles were arranged nicely and formed a beautiful mosaic on the roof. I could see some old stains on it probably caused by water leaks. Due to the roof being made of ceramic and because the house had no ceiling, the sound produced by thunderstorms was amplified enormously creating a continuous rumbling noise from the raindrops that made it sound as if we were inside a giant percussion instrument. That draws a picture of how intense storms are in the region. I was really scared every time it rained but not nearly as scared the prospect of living there. Each time we went to town with my parents I would count the minutes to leave. However, at some point the same year of 1967, my grandfather requested that my father take care of the property for awhile because he already had his hands full with his farming business. He had cocoa bean plantations in the region at a time the business was really promising. Because of that he went to Itororo very rarely. I did not find the news of moving to the house very encouraging but at my age I did not have a say in the matter and had to go wherever my family went. The house was very unique and mysterious like no other in town.

Despite being a child of such a young age at that time, I was able to recollect in detail all of my experiences while living in that place. I remember an instance in which my father was not home and we were just about to have dinner. We were all sitting around the rectangular, dark finish wooden table in the dining room at around seven pm. The food was on the table and we were ready to eat. Suddenly we heard a continuous knock on the front door. Initially we did not know what to make of it. My mother gave it a shot and tried to guess who might have been calling at that time. “Could it be your daddy? He told me he would not be able to return until Friday” she asked. Then she stood up and went to answer the door. She looked a little frightened when she came back. “Who is it mom?” asked my younger brother, Val. She was quiet and just tried to put on her best face so as not to show she was worried. She just shook her head sideways and pressed her lips together giving an indication that no one was there. A few minutes later there were more knocks. This time a little louder. I followed my mom towards the front door. We looked through the curtain. Not a single person was on the porch either. That was very intriguing because for a person to knock on the door and manage to get away without being seeing was nearly impossible. The heavily fortified brick fence walls were at least ten or twelve feet high all the way around the house and it would take a man of extreme physical abilities to be able to knock on the door and then jump the fence before anyone could see him. We were not surprised. That was not the first time this type of thing happened. During the first few experiences we strongly believed that someone was playing a trick on us. “Who would do such a thing in their perfect mind? Who would try to scare us and for what purpose”, asked my mother. A number of other people who had stayed in that house reported having the same experience. This scene repeated every other night at dinner time. Even though my mom tried to be in control of the situation I could tell she was scared.

It was also quite common to hear the sound of somebody knocking on the front door at the time we were in bed and nearly falling asleep. The knocking would not stop and increased in intensity at times as if somebody was trying desperately to enter the house. My mom would check on us. “Mintas are you OK?” she asked. “No, I am not mom, I am very scared.” , I said. “It’s nothing, do not worry, nobody is going to hurt us”, she said it in such a way that her words would no be consistent with the expression on her face. She looked visibly disturbed. Those were troubling moments for me as for my siblings, Val, Duda and Celi and my mother as we all witnessed the same experience. The knocking went on for quite sometime, maybe for ten minutes or even longer. They were scattered but very distinctive. We could hear it clearly as we were into deep silence. By now we were well familiar with that routine. My mom did not make any effort to get up and go check on the door and at some point just decided to ignore it. Then, unexpectedly we heard the squeaking sound of grinding metal as if a key was turning in the door lock. The door sounded to be swinging inward as if somebody was applying a slight force to it. I could hear the short high-pitched sound that, like a musical instrument, changed its tone as the door moved inward and back. That sound was normally produced by the increased tension on the hinges because they were so old and dry. During the daytime it was shadowed by other noises in the environment but at night it became more audible. Then some approaching foot steps of boots with heel spurs walking towards the dining area. At that point I was scared to death. I could clearly hear the clicking sound of heel spurs as the footsteps progressed towards us. I covered my face with blankets even in the 38C heat of the summer. We then heard the sound of a chair being dragged as if somebody was going to sit on itat the dinner table. It made a squeak sound of wood being scratched on the cement floor. It was then that we could hear the sound of paper rustling . It seemed like somebody was handling paper documents. At that point, I was speechless and sweating profusely from the heat inside the blakets. The noises went on all night long and sometimes it was impossible to get to sleep.

On another occasion we heard some thump followed by an outcry in the kitchen. This time I was totally alert. The noises started to become more disturbing than before. Even though it sounded a little indistinct, I could tell somebody was sobbing. Then I heard a bunch of dishes being thrown on the floor with a lot of force. I could hear the bits of shattered porcelain flying all over cement floor. I sensed this appeared to be the works of some mad person. I was so scared that night that I started feeling a tingling sensation all over my body. The next morning we went to check and just like in the previous occasions things were in perfect order and nothing was touched. Not a single dish of broken plate was found on the floor and the door was found locked as we left it the night before. The most bizarre thing is that whoever was inside the house would witness the exact same events. In the morning we would check with one another to find out if it was the imagination of one person. But it was always confirmed that everybody witnessed exactly the same event.

One of the most dazzling events happened one day when I woke up in the middle of the night and saw some lights moving slowly on the roof top above my head. There were three of them initially. They kept moving from one side to another continuously. It did not quite look like the effect of a flashlight because it did not have a rim on the outside. The focus was intense with perfectly defined circles about five inches in diameter. Those strange lights kept switching to all spectrums of different colors. They were so beautiful and I was very attracted to them. I just could not take my eyes off of them no matter how hard I tried until I finally fell asleep.

One of the happiest days of my life was the day my father came to the conclusion that we could no longer live in that house and we had to move on. I finally woke up from the nightmare of discomfort and fear that I had experienced for one year three months and seven days. It did not seem like that energy, or god knows what that used to visit us, was doing it with the sole purpose of disturbing us in any way. At times it sounded like a human going about his everyday customary life. One might say that somehow we crossed paths involuntarily and we invaded each other’s privacy...or not. Well, let me stop right there as I have neither the authority nor the competency to analyze these incomprehensible phenomenon. As incredible as it might sound, that experience affected me enormously. It took me years to overcome some of the psychological burden that it caused me. Sharing this ghostly encounter is certainly not the most comfortable thing for me to do and regardless of the judgment one may have, this is a true story about real people who survived the adversity of a real place.

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