The Poltergeist – a short story

Nowadays few people have heard of poltergeists, and if they have, they probably know of them by the Wikipedia definition or perhaps from movies or TV dramas. Here we learn that poltergeists are troublesome spirits, akin to ghosts, who haunt particular persons rather than places. We learn that poltergeist manifestations generally include; moving objects, pinching and biting, hitting, odd noises without explanation, and strange, apparently one-sided, conversations.

This may be all good and proper but when I was a child my mother gave me an entirely different explanation – one which appeals to me far more than the present popular accounts. In fact, after you have heard her description you may well realize that your home also hosts a poltergeist.

Mother began with a picture. I remember her drawing to this day; a dark black blob-like being with disproportionately large eyes and the lower portion of its body squeezed into the bath tub drain. The image which she drew in 1955 illustrated its ability to morph into a semi-fluid state. This is an image adopted by the “Terminator II” and other movies in which we encounter beings that can flow like mercury and then reassemble into recognizable forms.

We lived in a large house dating from 1901 and Mother went on explain that it was not unusual to have a poltergeist in a house of that age. She introduced me to some of our poltergeist’s mischievous, and tell-tale goings-on.  According to her the first, most common poltergeist activity is the theft of socks. If you house one he probably has the same attraction for them. The problem, according to Mother, is that poltergeists go for single socks leaving an orphan behind, she never explained why they only remove one, perhaps she didn’t know or perhaps I never asked. I even wonder if this is because poltergeists only have one foot or because they use the socks for other purposes. Maybe they use them as bedding or food or some other mysterious function only known to them. Mother kept the orphan socks in a special drawer always hoping that pairings would occur– they never did.

Mother went on to blame any odd occurrence in our home on the luckless poltergeist. Such things included lost keys, mislaid letters, books and items, the occasional strange breakages and even odd nocturnal noises and movements. Generally the manifestations were in secret and we never actually saw objects levitate and did not experience any biting, nipping or shoving. From this I deduce that ours was a very nice poltergeist, although I am convinced that he ate Santa’s cookies on Christmas Eve!

It is strange but I now believe that we have a poltergeist in our modern sealed air-conditioned ten-year old home. At first the realization didn’t bother me unduly as I can handle a few mismatched socks, indeed, like my mother before me, I have an orphan sock drawer, and when it gets too full I make some of them into dusters.  But, of course, it didn’t stop with socks, and we began to hear strange noises in the walls – an uncanny gnawing, rasping sound, always at night and always when my husband or I had been woken by some strange force.

The next manifestation was the moving of objects. Now here I have to be honest, and explain that we never saw an object moving, only the results of its motion. The car keys, for example, which my husband always puts on the hall table, ended up in our bedroom; or my cell phone on the back patio; or a book moved from bedside table to the bench in the garage. Such instances might be explained by our getting older and more forgetful, however, the increased frequency seemed disproportionate to the speed of our aging and so I knew that our poltergeist was getting braver and more mischievous.

The limits of my tolerance were reached when my visiting daughter, carrying her baby, tripped on the stairs for no apparent reason. She managed to catch herself and to keep hold of the baby although she was severely bruised.  She was convinced that her mishap had something to do with the slick surface of the treads and her socks. Oh no, socks again as the root of the problem! I thought to myself – if it looks like poltergeist, and acts like poltergeist, then it is a poltergeist. Yes it carried the marks of poltergeist activity and I was worried as our being seemed to have abandoned mischievous in favor of malicious.

My concern drove me back to the internet to search for a poltergeist whisperer or exorcist. After all there are whisperers ranging from husband whisperer to horse whisperer and a cat whisperer, so, I thought, why not poltergeists whisperer? I found no one, no web site, devoted to poltergeist whispering or exorcism.

Then I remembered mother’s drawing and decided to purge our drains. My logic was that if the poltergeist could go down a drain perhaps this was his means of access to the socks in the washing machine and perhaps the drains served as his habitat. I called Roto-Rooter and had all the drains de-clogged. I even insisted that every p-trap be disassembled and thoroughly cleaned. For a while I was lulled into a belief that the poltergeist had departed. But just as I was starting to celebrate another sock went missing and I knew that I had accomplished nothing.

At about this time the gnawing noises in the walls increased. I wondered whether this was because the poltergeist had changed habitat from drain to wall. But, when I talked to our neighbor over the fence, he suggested that our problem was a rat infestation. I called in an exterminator who confirmed my neighbor’s theory. He gave us a two headed line of attack. First, that we seal the eaves and second that poison and traps be placed in opportune places. I had my husband do the sealing and the exterminator place the poison and traps. This approach netted some dead rats and the gnawing noises ceased, but I was no closer to solving my poltergeist.

One evening, about a month later, when my husband was away on a business trip, I answered the front door bell to an odd looking character. He was a slight man of indeterminate middle age wearing a starched white shirt, pressed blue jeans and loafers. If it weren’t for the loafers and lack of a hat I’d have guessed him to be associated with the rodeo. Normally I wouldn’t give a stranger on our porch the time of day but there was something about his stance which lulled me into acceptance. He didn’t step too close and yet he didn’t step back as so many unwanted solicitors do; he kept just the right distance to suit my sensitivity. As we spoke I waved, across the yard, to our neighbor, who was outside cleaning his car; whereupon my visitor mumbled something about his acquaintance with them. He smiled pleasantly, a beguiling sweet smile across his stubble face and mentioned that he was there on my stoop because he had heard that I was looking for a poltergeist whisperer. Looking back it sounds stupid but I was so surprised and pleased that I invited this total stranger into my home.

We sat down at the breakfast room table and I poured us both a coke and brought out a plate of oatmeal raisin cookies. I told him about the drains and he nodded as if he already knew about this fruitless exercise; then I went on to tell him about the rats. He nodded and remarked, in his soft masculine voice, that the rats were probably an annoyance to my poltergeist and that their extermination was a good thing. I showed Mother’s drawing to him. He smiled merrily as he fondled it in his hands and eventually he looked at me and commented,

“You mother knew a lot. This is a good likeness. I do not advise its general circulation.” He shifted so that his body was bathed in sunlight giving him an ethereal aura and went on, “I’m sure that this image is treasured by you but ask if I may keep it?”

I hesitated before answering for I liked the drawing but his look was most beguiling, “OK,” I said, “you may keep it but only if you can communicate with my poltergeist and make sure that we have no more accidents on the stairs.”

“That should be possible” he murmured.

I was getting a little frustrated by his sleepy demeanor siting in the sunlight enjoying my cookies and so I asked “What will you do, how can you communicate and whisper to my poltergeist?”

“We communicate,” he said evasively, “but apart from no more accidents what do you wish to achieve, and what will you give in return? You realize that total exorcism is futile but we can modify activity.”

“So, you can’t get him to leave?”

“Nope, and even if I could another would move in. You are best off pursuing a modification of behavior.”

At that moment I realized that I liked our poltergeist and didn’t want total exorcism. I certainly didn’t want to have to learn to live with a new comer. “No more accidents.” I said “If you can’t totally exorcise my poltergeist then I ask for no more accidents and a reduction in moved objects. I need assurance that there will be no more escalation of activity.”

My visitor reached for another cookie. “I can fix it so that all you need to do is to stop fretting and to weekly leave out a plate of these cookies. Your poltergeist will be happy and there will be no more negative activity.”

“How, how will you accomplish this?”

“Our discussion is enough,” he replied, “and now I need to return.”

I showed him to the front door and watched him walk away his body becoming more and more difficult to distinguish in the play of sun and shadow up our front garden steps. As I watched I noticed his socks to be decidedly mismatched. On his left foot was a striped tan and on his right a black and white harlequin pattern. Surely, I thought, those are my two most recently missing socks.

A little unsettled, I turned to look at my neighbor who was putting a final polish on his car. I waved and asked, “Did the gentleman who just left also talk to you?”

“Which gentleman?” was his unnerving reply, “weren’t you talking to yourself?”

That’s when it hit me. It is me, I am the whisperer. I’ll have to set up a website tomorrow.

Copyright © Jane Stansfeld 2013

7 thoughts on “The Poltergeist – a short story

  1. I liked this one, Jane, it read well and kept a gentle tension. I always thought those socks and pens went to a parallel universe in exchange for unknown toothbrushes and surplus newspapers – but that’s another story.

    • Thank you Wyon, I do agree about the toothbrushes but newspapers? I suppose that your poltergeist must have different tastes to mine. Perhaps the poltergeists do live in a parallel universe, it is an interesting hypothesis.
      Love, Jane

  2. Pingback: Blog Pick – August 2013 | Written Words Never Die

  3. Hi Eric:
    Thank you for your encouragement – it means a lot.
    I agree about the new spangled in-your-face Hollywood stuff and always attempt to steer clear. When I began this one I wondered, with a subject such as a poltergeist, that I might be putting myself closer the edge!
    Cheerio, Jane

  4. What a thoroughly captivating story, Jane dear.

    I love the way you built up the tension, then it went seductively placid only to pick up again – and what a flourish. I adore this restrained but powerful story telling mode.

    As you probably gathered, I’m not really a fan of the new spangled in-your-face Hollywood stuff.

    Would welcome more of similar tales 🙂 and technique 🙂

    All good wishes,
    Eric

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