Drip. Drip. Drip. The godforsaken drip. The kitchen sink was far from the safety, warmth and comfort of my bed, down a flight of rickety stairs and across a sea of darkness. The journey would be difficult, but necessary. There was no way I would be able to get back to sleep with the sound of the sink dripping echoing through the house and I had my first job interview in five years at 8 in morning. I had to get some sleep.
The hard tile of the kitchen was freezing on my bare feet. It took me back to my childhood days when I would run into the kitchen from the yard, no shoes on, still wet from the sprinkler on a summer day, feet dusted with blades of grass. My mom would scold me, but still present me with a popsicle (hopefully not grape) and then escort me back outside.
That warm thought was a welcome distraction from the reality of the situation I was in at the moment. It was three a.m. The snow was still beating down outside and I didn’t have the money to turn the heat on the way my mom would have back in the days of our nuclear family – before the cancer and the deaths of both my parents. Before I felt haunted. Before I felt dead.
I cranked the nobs of the sink off as hard as I could. It seems like the dripping stopped. I shot a look out the window as I readied myself to rush back upstairs to my bedroom and lock the door. I wish I hadn’t.
I usually love staring at the snow falling in the night – the thick fluffy flakes light up the world and create a comforting softness and kind of claustrophobia that I enjoy. It usually reminds me of watching the snow fall in the night as a child and knowing that it likely meant that the much-celebrated Snow Day was on its way the next morning.
That nostalgic drug started to drip into my brain for a few moments before I noticed something off about the snow just outside the window. About five yards from the window and from the door that led into the kitchen, was a break in the snow. The snow just appeared to not be falling in a little patch, it stopped and collected about 5 feet above the ground.
At first I thought my mind was just playing tricks on me, but then I saw that patch move closer to the door, the snow seemed to just hang on the air as it moved towards me. I walked over to the door which led out the kitchen and into the backyard and opened it up.
I stood in the open door for a few seconds, mesmerized by the moving absence of snow until it was right in front of me, a swirling patch of nothing holding my attention even more than the dripping faucet had minutes before.
I felt a deeper chill come over me. Beyond frigid. Colder than the thick snow which was piling up on the ground. It made every bone in my body feel numb. It knocked me backwards off my feet.
On the ground, I watched the door slowly begin to close, until it sealed and I ran quickly back up to my bedroom.
I wouldn’t go back to sleep, but I would shake off the eerie of the night with a solid day. A great job interview, a date for a follow-up interview, and prospects of being able to afford turning the heat on someday soon cheered me up. I embraced the third day of the snowstorm and watched old home movies in the comfort of my bed once I finished up some more applications and polishing of my resume.
The old VHS home movies told the story of my family unraveling, but I still loved them for reasons I couldn’t quite grasp. They started with my mom pregnant, the sequel of me as a baby and the third part of the original trilogy was me hitting my toddler years, all of us stupid and happy.
My family’s own personal second Star Wars trilogy, it was those next three tapes when everything went to hell.
The first of the second three tapes jumps out because you see my mom has gained at least 50 pounds from the previous tape. I later figured out it was from the meds. You could see the life drained out of my dad’s face. Too many layoffs, too many night shifts and too many whiskey waters took a toll.
I could never make it through that tape. I watched myself flounder and flop around at the ages of three and four and watched my parents go through the motions – birthdays, Christmas, preschool – they were doing the right things, just not the right way. It was like watching a sports team that has no hope left for the season finish out their schedule just wanting it to end.
And that’s just what happened. My dad isn’t in the next tape. My mom puts on 20 more pounds. The dead look which was painted on my dad’s face transfers to hers and speckles mine with spots of dread.
I usually stopped the fourth tape with about five minutes left when my dad suddenly wasn’t at my fifth birthday. I reached that point and crawled out of bed to manually hit stop on the VCR. I pushed STOP, but nothing happened. The video just kept playing. I saw my five-year-old self staring at a lit-up cake with a group of kids singing.
I was sucked into the footage – wasn’t sure if I had ever actually watched it before. It felt good to see the childhood faces of all my little friends singing with such excitement, but I only needed a few seconds of that. I hit STOP again. Nothing. The video just kept playing. I hit it over and over and over again, but nothing. The video just kept playing.
I gave up. I watched the scene of my birthday crackle away into static, melt into blank radiating blue and then to pure black.
I figured the tape was eating itself (thankfully) and coming to an end. I was wrong. I heard the faint sound of crying coming from the blown speakers of the box TV. I cranked the volume as high as it would go.
The cries sounded familiar, but I couldn’t place an identity to them. Who was it? The thought tickled my brain until the screen slowly started to come to light and I saw the five-year-old version of myself on the screen, crouched in what looked to be a cramped closet – nose running, eyes pouring tears, pink Barbie pajamas wet in the crotch.
I didn’t remember the moment at all. Was I just too young? No. It was my fifth birthday. I was already in Kindergarten at that point. I remembered everything that traumatizing by that age. Why was it recorded?
The tape cut out and ejected itself. It had not been eaten by the VCR, it was fine. I pushed it back in and rewound it a bit – hit PLAY.
The video no longer showed my five-year-old self in the closet crying. It was what I remember being there all along – me on the swing-set at school, swinging myself back and forth for a few minutes in a boring clip.
The sound of a door slamming behind me made me jump. I screamed out and twisted around in the direction of the noise. I saw the sliding doors of my bedroom closet shaking back and forth just barely enough to notice.
I froze. The room was entirely still…silent…until…the sound of soft crying started to leak out of the closet.
“Who’s there?” I called out from in front of the TV, the goosebumps pulling themselves off of the surface of my skin with all their might.
No answer from the closet. The movement stopped. The crying ceased. I tiptoed in the direction of the closet.
I was just a few steps in when the bedroom door slammed shut, sealing me in the room. The TV went out. The only light in the room was gone. I was in a complete blackout. I screamed and started to pat my own skin, ready for something to grab me. I heard the closet door slide open.
Whatever it was made it through my fence of swats. I felt a quick little poke on my elbow then I felt a presence run away from me. Little feet scampering across the carpet. My entire body became a puddle of loose bones, blood and organs cased in sloppy skin. I collapsed to the ground and closed my eyes.
I woke up on the floor groggy and pained. It felt like I had spent all night partying and drinking straight vodka and then slept on a park bench. My brain was numb. I couldn’t think about what day it was. Forgot where I was for a moment. I thought I was in my city apartment in Brooklyn for a minute before I remembered I had retreated to my parents’ old place upstate.
I went to the bathroom to collect myself, splash some hot water on my face, warm up and sober up from the fear. I flicked on the light once inside the tile-lined little room and screamed again. Standing just behind me in the doorway was a human figure, just enough out of the light that it took a second for me to recognize….myself.
I blinked hard at the mirror and I was gone. Was it a double vision, my brain just fried from the fright and the frigid cold of my night on the floor?
The lights started to flicker in the room. I kept my eyes on the doorway, but saw no sign of the second version of myself. I splashed some warm water on my face and walked out.
Days off between interviews were dedicated to renovating my mom’s old house so I could live in it and not feel like I was walking through a second dimension where my parents were still alive. The problem with the renovations was that it required me to dig through lost memories 99 percent of the time as I cleaned out closets (literally, and figuratively), pulled pictures off the wall and got rid of the kitchen and bath items and furniture that I didn’t need.
I had dreaded cleaning out my mom’s closet for weeks, knowing it would be the most-painful and possibly contain a rusty vibrator or Depends or something and shatter my soul, but I eventually caved. I started digging through the heavy cardboard boxes and separated the junk I didn’t want to keep from the junk I did want to keep.
It was pretty simple until an unmarked VHS tape caught my eye. I wasted no time in popping the tape into the VCR.
The video started outside of a hospital – grainy and clouded, it had the look of the 80s all over it. This footage was clearly around from when the other set of tapes were made. Why had I never seen it?
The shot was one long, continuous journey through the entry of the hospital I recognized as being the primary one in my hometown, through the stale halls and eventually into a darkened room. The sound of heavy sobbing rang out of an open hospital room door. Freezing the shot in its tracks for a few moments…but then it pressed on.
The camera panned into a hospital room for a few seconds. I only got a flash of a poorly-lit vision of a dark-haired woman, lying in a hospital bed, clutching what looked to a baby in her arms and crying. There was no doubt that the woman was my mom. The baby? Me, I assumed. Was my mom crying tears of joy? Her sobs didn’t sound happy, they sounded painful. I caught the slightest glimpse of my mother looking at the camera with puffy eyes and a slobbering mouth before the camera cut out.
A quick burst of crying erupted from right behind me. I looked in the dark of the TV screen and saw a pale figure standing just behind me, a thin arm outstretched in my direction.
I screamed and whipped around. There was nothing behind me. Just the cold, empty air of the room. I stood frozen in the middle of the room for a good five minutes, it felt like frost was growing on my bare arms and legs my blood had run cold.
I may have stood there forever had I not heard a crash come from downstairs. I almost couldn’t bear to walk down those stairs and confront whatever was lurking down there. I almost wished whatever had stalked me from behind in the room had just killed me.
My body ached as I slowly crept down the stairs, even though I hadn’t hurt myself in any way in the recent past. It felt as if my blood was bruised with terror and dread.
A loud shuffle made me jump just as I conquered the final stair. I grabbed my chest and looked in the direction of the sound. It was an old-fashioned table drawer which sat in the airy foyer of the house. I rarely thought of the ancient thing. It only existed as a stale decoration I think was once told came from my great-grandmother.
That table suddenly occupied every fiber in my brain when I watched it rock back and forth violently – slamming against the wall it leaned against over and over again in rapid succession. The movement stopped shortly after I saw it. The room went quiet.
I gave the table a few seconds and then walked up to it. The thing only had one thin drawer at the top. I tried to open it. It wouldn’t budge. I couldn’t tell if it was locked, or just stuck. I tried with all my might, but couldn’t get the thing to move a millimeter. The thing must have been locked. I gave it one last tug and decided to give up.
I looked up to check my face for the perspiration I felt dripping off my forehead because of the effort and lost my breath. Standing just behind me was an exact version of myself except it looked like I had been run through a rotting sepia Instagram filter. It wasn’t quite a “zombie” version of myself, but it was close.
The image was gone in a flash. I was alone in the room again. I felt a chilling freeze whistle through the crack at the bottom of the front door and tickle my ankles.
I gave myself an ultimatum. One more weird incident and I was gone. I didn’t care that the third day of a historically-punishing blizzard was going on outside or that I had nowhere to go and interviews coming up I needed to be fully-prepared for, not “I slept in my car with the heat on all night” prepared. Actually prepared.
I figured I would distract myself by researching the companies I would be interviewing with online. All was going fine until about 30 minutes in when I received a Skype notification. I didn’t even realize I had Skype on my computer anymore.
A little notification popped up at the bottom of my screen. I clicked on it, saw that “UNKNOWN,” a profile with no picture was trying to video chat me on Skype. I bit hard on my tongue. I knew I shouldn’t have accepted it, but I wanted to address everything that was going on at some point and not just let the slow horror burn my soul.
A Skype screen popped up and displayed the head silhouette of a woman’s head completely obscured by shadows. It looked like one of those anonymous sources interviews you might see on Dateline. I recoiled from the screen.
“Who are you?” I asked.
Unknown moved her head back and forth, her hair drifted a bit in her own wind. A few more looks showed that Unknown looked exactly me.
“Secrets take up space,” Unknown whispered with a raspy voice.
“Secrets come to life sometimes,” Unknown whispered.
“What the fuck is this?” I yelled back.
Unknown leaned closer to the camera, my own face became much more clear. I didn’t know what to say. Was I dead? Was this some kind of spirit messing with me? I had never believed that kind of stuff, but come face to face with it and you are forced.
“Are you me?” I asked.
I felt just as stupid asking that as it sounds, but I didn’t know what else to say.
Unknown left the space of the webcam and revealed her location, her head no longer blocking it. She was in the living room downstairs. The call cut out.
I heard footsteps run up the stairs outside my closed bedroom door. I sprinted for my door and locked the push lock in the door handle. I dropped my back against the door and tried to catch my breath.
I heard the footsteps top the stairs and then stop right outside the door. Then, a knock on the door.
“What is this?” I barked back.
No answer. I gave it a few very long, silent seconds.
I was interrupted by something sliding underneath the crack of the door. It poked me in my backside and caused me to scream. I scrambled to grab it.
I couldn’t have been more disappointed to find what had bumped into my was one of my mom’s necklaces – a locket that she used to wear every once in a while, usually on her and my dad’s anniversary if I remembered correctly. So great, whoever or whatever was messing with me was going through my mom’s personal stuff and torturing me with it.
That was the final straw. I no longer cared about what was outside the door and job interviews. I just wanted to get away from whatever was doing this.
I shuffled across the room towards my bedroom window. The drop from my window was at least 15 feet, but there was heavy snow on the ground which would break my fall. I could land in the powder and run to my car. I thankfully had left the keys in the ignition.
I threw on a jacket and headed towards the window. I threw my mom’s necklace around my neck and grabbed the side of the window with both hands.
A jolt ran through me. I almost fell to the ground. It took all my strength to stay standing as my brain felt as if it left my body.
My eyes were presented with a vision. I was a child again, probably about five, standing in the foyer of the house. I had my eyes on the table with the drawer which had been rocking earlier. I watched myself stumble up to the thing and pull the drawer open with my grubby little hands. I watched myself pull the drawer open and reveal a thick stack of paper, documentation.
My mother rushed into the room and slammed the drawer shut, catching a couple of my fingertips in the crease. I screamed out crying. I saw my mother take out a familiar object, the locket necklace around her collar, twist it open, and lock the drawer.
I had never thought of there being a key inside the locket my mother always wore.
I replicated what my mom did as much as I could. I felt stubborn, rusted gears turn inside the locket until they broke free and I laid eyes on a small, old-fashioned key which lived inside the thing like a pearl in an oyster.
Something told me I needed to know what was in that drawer. It was more important than any interview or resume update or follow up call.
I went straight for the drawer which had alluded me all these years.
The drawer unlocked with the key. I was disappointed to find nothing but boring, white paperwork in the thing. I had done all this for some tax documents? I yanked them out. I could go through them. Maybe there was something in there?
I felt a heavy cold rush into me from my left. A quick glance in that direction dismissed that notion. My dismissal wouldn’t just be from a visual either. I slowly felt a slithering cold start to wrap itself around me. It felt like someone who had just jumped in a frozen lake was hugging me. I tried to wiggle and shake it off, but no luck. It clung to me like a wet towel.
That cold started to pull me down to the floor. I felt it reach around my neck like a noose. I struggled to pull away, got a few paces towards the door before it officially tackled me.
The papers fell to the floor, right next to my face as I gasped for air. I felt whatever had me trying to keep me in the house. I sucked in a deep breath and tried to fight it as much as I could. Got to my feet and fought for the door until I was at the handle, twisting it around and pushing the door open.
I made it out into the snow and started stumbling around blind in the never-ending blizzard. I couldn’t see my car. I couldn’t see three feet in front of me it seemed. I may have run away from a spooky scare, but the supernatural threat may have been far less lethal than the non-supernatural threat of the falling snow.
I became so cold I could no longer move. I fell to a knee and stopped in the front yard. I’ll spare you the sad details of the pathetic life which started to flash before my eyes.
Then I felt a shot of warmth shoot into my body. It was like the opposite of what I felt back in the house. I thought about the information I thought I had heard at one point about how you get really warm right before you freeze to death. I figured it was that.
I was wrong.
I woke up in my car. The engine running. Heat cranked. Warm and toasty. My clothes bone dry. Safe. Alive.
I had someone looking out for me. Someone who I learned about from the papers I took from the drawer in the foyer and the dots it connected in my head from what I had been experiencing ever since I moved back home.
The long locked-up paperwork included my birth certificate, and a birth certificate for Katelyn Rausch. Pronounced dead just minutes after she was born. The paperwork told the story of Katelyn, my twin sister who I was never told about.
It was Katelyn who had taken up haunting me in the past few weeks. I’m not sure why my parents had kept her a secret from me, but she clearly meant no harm. I actually believe that she is the one who carried me to my car. Saved my life. Kept a secret, her ghost had grown into a woman. A woman who looked just like me. It was only after my mother’s power in the house as gone that she was able to reach out, freak me out, and make me think I myself was dead.
I spent the next night warm in my bed. I aced my next interview. Received an offer that was enough money for me to turn the heat on. I cherished that dry feeling I had on my face from the billowy heat which plumed out of the vents around the house.
That snug sleep was rudely interrupted in the middle of the night when I felt something sit down on my feet. I snapped to attention and looked to where the movement came from. I saw a familiar back facing me in the dark. I would always remember the frail frame my mother possessed on her last days on Earth.
“Mom?” I asked, unsure if this was a dream, or real life, but no longer really scared.
“I’m sorry,” my mom’s painfully familiar upstate New York accent shone through the dark of the night.
Those early rumblings of pain and doubt turned to heartbreak. I thought I would never hear that voice again. My mom’s tenor played on the stereo of my heart like a sad, sad song.
“Sorry for what?”
I heard my mom begin to cry for only about the third time in my entire life. I watched her back sway back and forth, shudder and shake.
“I just never got through the pain. Not until it was all over.”
“My sister? Katelyn?”
My mom held up the sobs for a few moments. I saw her head nod up and down. I climbed forward on the bed, closer to her. She got up and stood at the foot of the bed, her back still to me. Those little morsels of fear fluttered in my stomach.
I got to the foot of the bed and reached for my mom. She stepped forward and missed my grasp.
“I never figured a way to address it myself. So I sure didn’t have a way to address it with you. I’m sorry we kept it as a secret. I have a feeling my energy in the house kept her spirit…” my mom started to break down. “Her spirit, her energy felt she couldn’t come to find you, until I passed.”
I wanted nothing more in the past few months since my mom had passed then to hug her, and even though I had a little bit of confusion and resentment in my blood for never being told I had a twin sister who died at birth, I could fight it off. Connecting with my mom one last time was much more important.
“I’m glad she was able to tell you what I hadn’t,” my mom whispered, the last few words barely audible even in the still silence of the winter night.
I watched my mom’s dark form start to fade away like the steam of your breath does shortly after you let it out on a cold day.
“NO,” I yelled and reached out for my mom.
I was able to grab a soft shoulder and twist my mom’s form around just long enough to catch the slightest glimpse of her beloved face – her bright green eyes, her short bob hair, and lastly, her cheeky smile. I got to look at it all for a couple of seconds until I watched her energy turn into a hazy mist that drifted off to the open door of my bedroom bathroom.
I myself drifted away to sleep shortly after pinching myself to confirm that all wasn’t a dream.
Morning announced itself with a bright sun that I hadn’t seen in days. I rose and walked over to the window, parted the curtains and looked out at a sunny day and a melting world of winter filled with rivers of melting snow. The blizzard was over.
I wanted nothing more than to lie in bed for another hour and recover from the horror of the night before, but I had no choice but to get moving in the morning for the first time in months. The job I secured wanted me to come in and take a look at where I would be sitting in my new position and meet a few people.
I was barely awake when I got into my freezing bathroom and flicked on the light. The first thing I noticed was the open window which let the cold in. The second thing I noticed was the fog which covered the bathroom mirror.
Written in the condensation on the mirror were the words YOU’LL NEVER BE ALONE in nearly identical handwriting (or finger writing in this case) to my own. I almost laughed. Had that scene played out a little early in my own personal story I would have been horrified, but that couldn’t have been further from the case on that morning.
Instead, those words fought through the frigid cold which drifted through the open window and warmed my entire body.