|In 1944 my family moved into an apartment that no one wanted. The lure of cheap rent was not enough of a draw for even the most desperate. We were more than desperate, we were a family living on the margin. The margin of opportunity, money and sanity. We were the working poor, with a questionable pedigree. Housing had always been an issue, because of finances… and other matters of social delicacy. Our last chance was waiting, we had been disappointed before . My parents were shown dismal cold water flats fit for vermin, in industrial slums. Once property owners or Real Estate agents saw the dark skinned man with the blonde wife, suddenly there were no vacancies.
To get rooms above a store on the avenue would take a miracle. Miracles are heaven sent, while evil likes to disguise tainted gifts that come with hefty price tags. At a shabby real estate office, there existed a listing with no takers. The rent was a steal at $50.50 a month ( the rent was never raised and stayed that price for 26 years ). Eight large rooms above an old saloon . This was a place that liked secrets, where suspect people with poor pocket books could live. There was a downstairs apartment in a similar layout and the saloon had a separate entrance. Eight rooms, where my alcoholic older brother could rant and rave away from prying eyes. After all who would bother calling in a disturbance that occurred in a saloon unless it spilled into the street?
Through the so called family entrance on the side of the building you entered into a dismal Victorian hallway ( oddly the building was supposed to have been built in 1920, but Brooklyn powers that be were known to fudge legal facts here and there, the design of the building seemed more 1880s in style ) painted a sickly pale green. The paint was several layers thick on every surface especially on the ornate stairs and banister. The rooms were wide with tall ceilings, dormant ornate gas chandeliers on those ceilings, pocket doors and each bedroom had a closet . There were two ornamental gas fireplaces that did not work, a pull chain toilet and claw foot tub. The bedrooms facing the avenue were sun lit most of the day, while the central hallway and rest of the bedrooms were steeped in a greasy darkness. The wall at the end of the hallway was oddly bowed to accommodate a closet from an inside bedroom, one of many design quirks that were part and parcel of the place. There were windows and doors that led to brick walls or narrow shafts. A boarded up dumbwaiter that we used to hold our trash can, contained a skylight to the roof. One could hear voices coming from that shaft. My parents said it was just the voices of bar patrons. Strangely, when the bar was closed the cacophony of sounds seemed louder somehow.
We never heard much noise from the street or the saloon for that matter, the apartment was its own world, a vacuum. Loud crashes and faint scratching noises were heard at all hours, perhaps mice in the walls, or rats in the basement knocking over wooden crates and beer barrels…at least that was the sensible explanation. There was no logical explanation for the misty forms that glided down the hall just out of reach or the ice cold spots that traveled from hallway to stairs. One of my earliest memories was watching from my crib as a wraith made an appearance. She glided into my room from a darkened corner, just a smoky mist at first , then a shimmering as she became solid. I remember her face was that of an old woman. She was smiling and held out her arms to me, but just as quickly as she appeared she vanished as my mother entered the room.
As a child I became accustomed to the strange comings and goings in the apartment. Many times at play I would chase a rustling skirt or boot heel around a corner, never finding the hide and seeker. Not every ethereal visitor was playful or harmless. At the witching hour , the large rooms would seem to grow smaller. The first 14 years of my life were spent in those rooms and I don’t remember ever sleeping well at all. At night , in the wee hours the place took on a demonic feel. The darkness would pitch itself blacker than black and suffocate the dreamer. I knew my tormentors , two large shadow beings , whom I called Red Eyes and Green Eyes.
On any given night, either one would stalk the hall or invade my room. They would stand and stare at me as I lay paralyzed with fear. They stood floor to ceiling, bigger than a human, silent and stinking of rot. They glowered with their burning eyes. I feared Green Eyes the most, it was a breath stealer. I would squirm under their glare until I could hurl myself out of bed into my parents room. Once between my parents in bed , I could rest, I was safe.
My worst paranormal encounter happened at age 4 . I awoke to a strange buzzing sound, as if thousands of bees were inside the walls. I got out of bed and made my way down the hall, opened the front door of our apartment and stood at the edge of the landing. The stairs were bathed in a sour yellow glow from the hall sconce. I looked down the staircase to see a figure gliding up the stairs towards me. It looked like a man wearing a hat with a long overcoat and scarf. As it got closer, I noticed it was wearing some sort of rubber mask, like a red devil mask . The unwanted visitor was now face to face with me. I called out my brothers names and called for my dad, thinking they were playing a game. I looked into the mask holes, but there were no eyes behind them, just emptiness. I couldn’t move. My mom grabbed me just as I was about to fall to my death from the top of the stairs. As she held me tight, I saw a tendril of smoke make its way back down the staircase.
This may all have been a nightmare or my active imagination, but the thought of those childhood nights still send a chill through me. We as a family went through some hard times living in that cursed place. Trouble followed us . No one ever wanted to linger in our home, those that did often said that they could not remember when they had ever felt so helpless. The downstairs tenants did not seem to fare any better either. Death and sorrow were their constant companions too. After a tragic renter left, the place would remain empty, sometimes for years. The building seemed to feed on sorrow. Any pet that I brought into it never lasted very long. One day the dog, cat, bird , turtle or fish would be happily playing only to be found dead the next morning. Doors, cabinets and faucets, would often be found open and once gas was hissing from the dormant chandeliers. When the gas company worker showed up to turn it off, the shaken mechanic came up from the cellar to say that the pipe was not connected to anything , there could not have been a gas leak.
My family left in 1970, the building had been sold and the new owner wanted to do a full remodel. The spell had been broken. So many years have passed since I lived in that place, it still exists. In its new configuration there are four apartments where once there were only two. The building has undergone major changes, the old saloon is now a sport’s bar filled with life from young revelers and from what I hear, many, many tenants have called that cursed place home, but only for a short while.
The rent is no longer $50.50 a month….evil after all, comes as a steal with a hefty price tag.
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