Ghost Stories and Tall Tales of the American South

A Visitor Comes Tapping

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A New Orleans haunted house story by Marlon Heimerl.

Two decades have passed but the tapping from my room that night still echoes in a dark corner of my mind. You see, that small noise on my dresser 20 years ago was more like a wild, white-knuckled banging at the door from an unwanted specter in the night. And nothing, no night ever since, has ever been quite the same. I can say this in truth.

Before that night, darkness was something I rather enjoyed. I loved how my eyes would play tricks with the little bars of light that filtered in through my dirty bedroom windows. I enjoyed watching car lights dance from one corner of the room to the other or how moonlight would cut through the dust, of which we had plenty. Night was a time of wonder for me as a small boy of 5, where I would stare up at my glow-in-the-dark star stickers and wonder what the night’s sky really looked like beyond my plaster ceiling.

But this July night was different in my one-story New Orleans home. It was 1990 and I’ll never forget how quiet it was that night.

Unnaturally still – the air felt dangerously fragile. I kept waiting, drifting in and out of sleep, for something to strike and the silence to shatter to pieces over my bed. That fear and stirring was something entirely new to me, as if something had come in that night through my window and changed the atmosphere entirely. As most children do, I slithered deeper under my blankets and assured myself that this night was no different than any other.

Louisiana Bayou Houses

My mind wandered. The bayou crickets outside my window had packed up and headed for greener pastures. The familiar sounds of a southern summer were all but absent from my yard. No birds, no toads, not even the wind made a sound. Something unnerved me about such silence. It seemed unnatural.

I clambered from beneath my blankets to close my windows. Despite the insufferable July heat, having the windows closed brought me some comfort.

My eyes wandered. The moon was slender, I recall, and shaped like a discarded fingernail in the sky. I could see it hanging outside of my window over the dresser in a soupy, foggy haze. As I tossed and tangled with my blankets, in time, I came to a stillness that promised sleep.

I was careful not to fall clumsily into a deep slumber. My instincts and the worried voice inside of me warned of some terror this night. Yet in time and with many worried glances from corner to corner in my room, I slowly drifted to sleep.

Time passed, I’m not sure how much, when I awoke to a chill. The July night I had left behind was outside of my window, but my room was cold… very cold.

I steadied myself on my bed with both elbows, leaning my back into the headboard. As I shot anxious glances from one corner of my room to the other, only the sound of my breathing filled my ears.

Creak – the old 100-year-old floorboards to the left foot of my bed let out a short whimper. Then silence filled the room. Terror gripped me. I could hear but not see something stirring in the darkness.

A good ten seconds passed. My eyes were fixed in the direction of my dresser from whence the floorboard creaked. I looked to the window, but the moon had left me for another part of the sky.

I remembered the words of my father. “Old houses creak in the night. It’s totally normal. It’s just the wood settling as the temperature outside is changing.”

I held onto his words, thinking of the bedroom of my parents down the hall. Despite his assurance, the creak was loud, as though under foot of something heavy.

The silence re-gathered above my bed until a second noise—click, click, click, click, clack—came rolling across my dresser beneath the window. Adrenaline shot my heart into my throat. I could hear my heart beating in my ringing ears. I became suddenly aware, and could feel my toes and fingers twitching, ready to take sprint. Then silence followed.

My mind raced for an answer. I knew the noise distinctly. Five clicks and clacks across my dresser, like someone impatiently tapping their fingers.

I reasoned in my head, ‘It’s just your imagination. If you hear it again—’

Click-click-click-click-clack! the noise came again, this time closer than before on the left edge of the dresser.

‘…If you hear it again,’ I repeated in my head, ‘calmly get up and walk to mom and dad’s room.’

Click-click-click-click-clack!

I burst from my blankets as though launched by a catapult. In my frenzy, I crushed my right shoulder on the door frame trying to run from the room. As I spun in a circle, regaining my feet, the feeling of someone following close behind kept me sprinting.

The sound of my frenzied sprinting awoke my older brother and mother, who met me in the hallway with a startled, wide-eyed look.

“Be calm! It’s alright, it’s alright.” my mother hugged me. “Tell me, child, what happened?”

“There’s something in my room.” I proceeded to tell them my horror-ridden tale. I finished, “After the third time the tapping came across my dresser, I took off! I know I heard something. It wasn’t just a noise; it was something scary.”

My mom, who was wearing a long night shirt, walked into the room and shuttered.

“It’s freezing in here.”

The temperature change from the hallway to the bedroom was jarring.

“I don’t understand; the air conditioner is broken. Why is it so cold in here?” This got my mom’s attention. She’d long dabbled in the mysticism and magic of New Orleans. She frequented shops selling Tarot cards and was a true believer in the paranormal, unlike my dad.

“What’s going on out here?” my father, overtired from a double shift at his glassblowing studio, said from the doorway to his room.

“It’s nothing. Your son heard a noise.” She knew my father wouldn’t believe anything I was saying, so she was careful to play down the incident.

“Well, there isn’t much we can do tonight,” my mom said turning to me. “I believe you honey, but why don’t you grab your blankets for now and go and sleep in the living room with your brother. You will be safe together there. I can come out there if you want.”

My brother was looking uneasy. “Where is your blanket?”

“What do you mean?” I said innocently. “It’s at the foot of my bed. I kicked it off when I got scared.”

My brother Jimmy climbed down to his knees, looking under the bed from left to right.

“It’s not in here. Are you sure you didn’t carry it into the hallway with you? Mom, do you see it anywhere?”

With a quick glance, it was clear I hadn’t hauled the blanket into the hallway. My mother’s face became wrinkled with worry. Her eyes squinted as she reached through the doorway to the bathroom across the hall from my room and flicked on the light.

“This doesn’t make any sense.” she said. “Things don’t just vanish. You two look everywhere in the room. Maybe you were sleep walking again. You could have taken it down the hallway with you.”

She walked into the long darkness of the hallway and disappeared around the corner into the kitchen. A light came on and I turned the corner to my bedroom to help my brother look for the blanket. Once we searched the room from top to bottom, we went back into the hallway.

The feeling in the bedroom was uncomfortable, not just because it was cold. It felt cramped, like it was packed from wall to wall with anxious people waiting for something. Even the hallway didn’t feel far enough away from the room, so I walked into the bathroom and stood in the light, my toes ice cold on the tile floor.

About five minutes later, my mom reemerged from the darkness with a perplexed look on her face. I rejoined my brother in the hallway to see what she was thinking.

“I don’t know what to tell you. Are you playing a prank?” My look as I shook my head must’ve been convincing. “I had to ask. Well, I guess I’ll just grab you another blanket. OH!” As she turned to go back down the hallway, she let out a terrible gasp.

“What? What is it?!” I couldn’t see what she was looking at in the bathroom as she stood in the doorway. She didn’t answer.

As I peeked around her, I couldn’t believe my eyes. In the bathroom where I’d stood just moments earlier, my blanket was neatly folded on the floor.

“We were just in there!” I was panicked. This confirmed everything for me. Until this moment, ghosts were interesting to me but nothing more. Now I was straining not to believe. I felt static climbing up my spine and the coldness from my room pouring into the hallway.

“We’re all sleeping in the living room tonight,” my mother said with a pale face. She was genuinely scared; I could see she believed it, too.

That night, we laid beside a fire in the living room. My brother and mother fell asleep within 20 minutes, but not me. Every crack of the fire made me jump. Outside, I heard some trash bins fall over in the street. Though I knew it was probably a raccoon or cat, I pictured the specter from my room raising havoc outside my house.

The night grew long and when the sun broke the horizon, I finally fell asleep.

Nothing happened again for three weeks. During this time, I still had ‘feelings’ that were off-putting, but in time I learned to dismiss that night as a bad memory. I wished and wished that I could rationalize the ordeal, but there was really no logical explanation for what had happened. Nonetheless, for a 5-year-old boy, my attention was easily swayed and within a few weeks, I had put things beside me.

On the third week since the incident, I was scolded by my mother for ripping the curtain off the shower. She thought it was me because the two of us were the only people home at the time. I pleaded for her to believe me.

“It wasn’t me, I swear!” I waited, hesitantly, and then blurted out, “maybe it is a ghost!” I hadn’t even been in the bathroom yet that morning so it was the only explanation that made sense to me.

“You know, even I have a breaking point with this ghost business. There is nothing going on here and you can’t just keep blaming everything that happens on the ‘ghost’. Now I’ll admit, what happened that night was strange. But I’m sure there is a logical explanation. It would do you well to get it out of your head.”

“I wish I could, mom.” I said very seriously. “But I can tell you, I didn’t pull it down.”

She was busy getting her purse and walking in and out of the hallway, so she must not have heard me.

“You are just lucky it didn’t tear. I’ll buy some new rings for it while I’m out, but you will help me hang it later today, young man.”

She left a few minutes later, and the same feelings I had the night of the tapping came back. In honesty, I was too afraid to stay in the house alone so I spent the afternoon in the backyard climbing a tree until my brother and little sister, only 3-years-old at the time, came home from my aunts.

I was quite relieved to go inside of the house and get a drink of water. Within minutes, the three of us were busy watching TV when the power went out. My older brother walked down the hall to my parents’ bedroom to flip the circuit breaker on and off like my dad taught him.

As the TV turned on, my brother came sprinting back down the hallway, pale as snow. “I just heard knocking in mom and dad’s room!”

Normally I would think he was yanking my leg, but given the events of the recent weeks, I believed him immediately.

“I was walking out of mom’s room and I heard a knock—“ before he could finish his sentence the doorbell rang. All three of us jumped, and then laughed for being so skittish. “Can you go grab that?” my brother asked me.

I returned seconds later. “There was no one there.”

“Funny hour to be ding-dong ditching,” my brother said, a worried look spreading on his face. “You’ve got to be kidding me,” he said, as the phone began to ring.

He walked down the hallway to my parents room rather cautiously, looking like a frightened animal with his back hunched and his steps careful and quiet.

“There’s no one there!” he yelled after picking up the phone.

We gathered together in the living room, which felt crowded again like my room the night of the tapping. As we sat, feeling cramped and uncomfortable facing the fireplace, a strange sensation hit us all.

“Does it feel like it’s hard to breathe in here?” my brother asked. For a tough guy and someone I’d always looked up to, the look on his face concerned me.

“I feel like my ears need to pop,” I said, “like when you are on an airplane.”

“Me too,” my sister said, looking more scared than either of us.

As the tension grew, I began to open and close my jaw to try and pop the air bubbles in my ear. Everything came to silence and even the dust that cut through a beam of light seemed motionless, as though floating in place.

“Do you feel that?” my brother said to us.

I looked to the window to my right and the glass was wobbling. All of the windows began to wobble, as though a terrible wind was tearing through our neighborhood.

Bang—woosh! A sound as loud as gun fire filled the room as air came rushing down through our chimney and blew soot all over the floor. All three of us ran from the house through the backdoor screaming.

When my parents came home, as expected, my father had a logical explanation. He said that the pressure outside of the house was different than inside of the house, so it had corrected itself through physics and a natural process. For a 5-year-old, this was lost on me, but my mother seemed to agree that it was possible.

“But that still doesn’t explain the pressure difference.” she said. “Why was it so off to begin with?”

Bang-bang-bang-bang! For the first time, we were all together when the phenomenon occurred. The banging was loud, and came from my parents’ bedroom. We all went down the hallway to investigate, only to find large, palm prints on the wall above my parents’ bed.

“It’s soot.” my father said, holding out a finger he’d wiped on the prints. “You know, I have wanted to move closer to the studio for a while now.”

We moved out of that house two weeks later.

-THE END-


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8 Responses to “A Visitor Comes Tapping”


paranormal:

hi another great post i really enjoy reading your articles

KnightsGirl:

That story got the hairs on the back of my neck to stand up! It reminds me of what it was like growing up.

kelly:

the story is great i wouold love to write a stroy is there any tips you can give me to write a good and scary story.

thanks kelly

joy:

This was a great story,even better if true.although very scary for a small child.weird things have happened to me all my life starting around 2,or maybe that’s the earliest i remember or my family has told me about.thank you,i love south Louisiana,except for the Volkswagen size mosquitoes that make it hard to work in the yard in the evening or sit on your porch,but i guess its the price u pay to live across the road from the baton.

I heard tap footsteps every night for at least 3 years. I was beatten by father who must have thought I was Crazy, but this is true. About 1958 to 1961. Always late at night.:

This was like someone warring taps on shoes. As mentioned, I was beated when my father continued to trip over me sleeping in the hallway to try to get away from the outside window.

This happening for at least 3 years every single night and I hid everywhere I could think of in my parents house. This is a true story and it still freaks me out to this day to think about this part of childhood!

simon:

excellent

evie:

omg i was searching ghost stories for my english homework that seriously freaked me out!

JSV Mellin:

This is an absolutely wonderful yarn. I love ghost stories. Your tale is so great because of the mystery. They never know who’s haunting them. Reading this makes me think of many ghost stories that should be written down, and yet are not. One suggestion for you: toads don’t talk, but people hear loud frogs in your setting. With a wide range of voices and songs.

Nowadays, people think only old people hand down yarns. But I remember telling and hearing a lot of them from when I was a kid, around 1918. For example, “One Saturday night on a lonely road in the South, a woman in a wedding gown steps before a car. They get out and greet her. No lights or other signs of habitation spark hope. She waves her veil and comes over to the cab when they stop, stepping up to look inside, then waving her arms…”

Well, you probably know the ending.

Thanks for a great story!

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