It started when the hairs on the back of my neck rose.
I was alone in my room during that sunny day. There was no breeze coming in through the window, my fan had been off. Why did they spike? There was no reason, so I brushed it off.
A few days later, the house had adopted new squeaks and groans that it liked to exhibit at all hours. Nights were the worst, however. I stay up late, my usual bedtime ranging from two to five in the morning. I would walk out into the dark, no light but the television in the living room that my mother slept in to guide my way through the small house. Between the living room and the kitchen was a vacant area that was probably once used for a dining room but was now our over-sized closet that had a large wood stove in the corner. The kitchen was illuminated by the bathroom light. Between the living room and the kitchen's glow, the over-sized closet might as well have been a dark, black hole.
Every night I have to pass through it to get to the bathroom. One night, in the darkest corner, I thought I saw something squatting atop a stack of unpacked boxes. I felt eyes on my back as I practically ran back into my room, not even feeling safe in bright light.
Every night, I think I see it. Squatting. Unblinking. I tell my mom about it and she tells me about the Black Man.
She woke up one night and saw him standing in the middle of the living room, staring at my door. He was completely black like someone cut a hole out of the universe. He was illuminated by the television and she saw that he wore a wide-brimmed hat, but that was all she could see before she recoiled and covered her face in fright. By the time she built up enough courage to look again, he was gone.
This story frightened me and I became paranoid. I leave my door open a crack when I go to bed to let in the cool air of the air conditioner and I started seeing someone quickly peek their head in just until their eyes were visible, their long fingers gripping the wood before retracting back into the living room. I convince myself that I'm just dreaming. My ceiling is made up of tiles, the same ones used in office buildings where you could climb into the attic with just one push. On nights where there is no head peeking through my door, it's staring at me from the ceiling. A corner tile pushed up and back as two eyes stare down at my frightened form in the dark room.
I went to the bathroom one day when I was home by myself and I heard a small creek of the kitchen floor. Someone was outside of the bathroom. I was afraid to wash my hands in fear of them knowing that I was about to come out. I suck it up and do it anyway. I stood so that when I opened the door, I'd still be behind it. In the crack, I saw it. One green eye. I slammed the door back and locked it, stifling my panicked crying. There was no more sounds. No creaks or scuffing letting me know that he was gone. No knocking at the door. Only when my mother comes in through the back door just off of the kitchen do I exit.
I tell my mother that I think there's a man in the attic, but she insists that if it's anything, it's a ghost. The floors creek and the windows rattle too much for it to be a person. Besides, if there was a person in the attic, he now knew that I knew.
One weekend, my sister and her family came over to spend the night. I tell her about mom's ghost theory and my attic theory. She thinks we're both crazy. My sister's husband was drunk and volunteered himself, along with my brother, to climb up on the roof of the house and peek inside the attic window on the front of the house, since there was no entrance inside. I encourage them. I need to know. My sister, my mother, and I all stand in the front yard watching as they peeked in. They demanded a flashlight because they couldn't see in. My sister's husband stated that there was nothing in there. That if someone was sleeping up there, they had to be less than half of a foot wide to fit on one of the planks that ran across the attic. Any more that that, they would fall through the pink insulation and, undoubtedly, the ceiling. It made me feel relieved. However, something wasn't right. There were two hook locks on the outside of the window. The outside.
Like someone was trying to keep something in.
A couple of weeks went by before I saw the Black Man myself. It was 2:45 in the morning. I stepped out of my room, looked up, and there he stood. Like a hole in the universe at the mouth of the dark, over-sized closet. He seemed to be outlined in a dark blue that shined. As soon as I noticed him, he noticed me and turned, walking towards the wood stove. Every hair stood up on my body as I back-tracked into my room slowly in shock. I closed my door and just stood there, staring at the white wood. Eventually, I walked out again and used my cell phone as a flashlight. There was no space for a person between the wood stove and the wall.
Not if that person was more than half of a foot wide.
I recounted the story to my mother and brother. My brother believes in the supernatural and quickly Googled how to get rid of a ghost. Just ask it to leave politely. He did that. Loudly.
No one has seen the Black Man since, but things still creaked and the windows still rattled. Both my mother and I started hearing muffled speaking. We couldn't find the origin. Was the ghost still there, trying to speak to us? Or were both of us suffering from a mental affliction? The latter seemed more likely. We felt sick. Depressed. Helpless. Hopeless.
A couple of days ago, my mom and I were leaving, backing out of the driveway to go shopping. I glanced over and I saw a man. An old man with white hair peeking from under a cap sitting in the back of my dad's truck bed cover, watching us back out. It took me a moment to say anything. I was in shock. Neither of us went back to look. Neither of us called anyone. We didn't know what was real any more.
Tonight, as I laid sleeping, a hand covered my mouth that stank of rot and a high-pitched voice hissed into my ear over my muffled screams.
I am now buried. In the garden.