I grew up in a large, extended family, and every summer we’d all meet on a small island off the coast of South Carolina for a week-long reunion/vacation.
We always stayed in the same enormous house, more than 120 years old, overlooking the ocean. It’s still there, with a wide porch that wraps all the way around it, a kitchen separate from the rest of the house.
Four bedrooms on the first floor, an enormous dining room, a large living room, and up some steep winding stairs, the second floor with 3 bedrooms 2 small ones that share a bath and, down a short hallway, another bathroom and then the hallway opens into a large "dormitory" room, the walls lined with beds.
The kids always stayed upstairs, boys in the smaller rooms because there weren’t as many of them, and me and the other girls in the dormitory.
One bright, hot summer day when I was about 12, we were all out on the beach swimming and playing, and I had to go in to use the bathroom. I ran lightly up the wooden porch steps, through the cool, dark house, up the winding stairs, left at the top and down the short hallway, and into the bathroom. I had just sat down when I heard heavy footsteps hurrying up the winding stairs "must be a boy," I thought. When they reached the top of the stairs I heard them turn left into the dormitory. "A boy who wants to use this bathroom!" I panicked, realizing I hadn’t closed the bathroom door behind me. My back to the door, I hastily pulled my bathing suit into place, calling out, "Hey! Someone’s in here!" but the footsteps passed right by and went into the bedroom. I stuck my head out to say hi, thinking it must be one of the older girls we were sharing the room with, but there was no one there. The room was empty. Sunlight beamed in through the thin cotton curtains waving in the ocean breeze, and the whole house around me was quiet as a church.
The hairs on the back of my neck stood on end, my feet were rooted to the floor. This has happened before, I thought to myself. This happened last year! How could I have forgotten it? I forced myself to move, and then I was leaping down the steep stairs two and three at a time, running through the living room, out onto the porch and into the bright warm sun. As the sounds of the crashing waves, seagulls crying, and all the kids laughing and calling out washed over me, I thought, "that didn’t happen. It was just my imagination." And about 2 minutes later I was playing in the waves and had truly and completely forgotten the entire thing. I didn’t remember it at all until it happened again, in exactly the same way, the next summer.
I was 17 years old before I told anyone about it.
We had arrived for our vacation that morning, and a summer storm had been raging all day. The parents were all out for the evening and had left the older ones charged with babysitting the younger siblings and cousins. We were all gathered in the living room, and since there was no TV, we had decided to tell ghost stories. I said, "I have a story about this house," and proceeded to relate what had happened to me year after year upstairs. As I told the story one of my sisters grabbed onto my arm, "it happens to me too!" she said, "the same thing!" Everyone started talking at once, and they all had a similar story. My younger sister said, "I’ve heard it too! I’ll hear someone come in the room when I’m lying in the bed taking a nap or reading and when I look up there’s nobody there, so I run downstairs." My brother joined in, "I was the first one here this morning, and the women who bring the towels and sheets were here. They won’t come inside, that’s why they always leave everything on the porch. They said this house is haunted."
As we all grew older and started families of our own, we no longer gathered at the enormous old house. In smaller groups we still vacation on that island. A couple of years ago we were staying at a house a couple of doors down from the old house. On the beach I made friends with a woman who was staying there with her extended family. She told me they’d been coming as a group to the house for years and years. I asked her if she’d ever slept upstairs and she told me that the kids were always upstairs, boys in the dormitory because there were more boys than girls in their families. I asked if any of the kids had mentioned hearing footsteps on the stairs. She laughed and said she’d never heard anything like that.
The next day she came over to tell me that she’d been telling her husband about our conversation and her son grabbed her arm and said, Mom, we DO, we hear feet coming up the stairs but there’s nobody there!"