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And The Baby Cried

Florence Cardinal, Alberta, Canada
January 2002

It was the early 1970s. We lived in the Alberta city of Edmonton with our two young children. My husband was an unemployed laborer. We could no longer afford the rent on our apartment, so I went house hunting.

I finally found an old house we could afford. Once white, it had long stood vacant and now the paint was peeling. It stood in a weed-choked yard behind a ragged chicken wire fence. Not pretty, but it would be a roof over our heads until circumstances changed.

We moved in a week later. Someone must have found a bargain in paint, because the walls and the ceiling were all deep purple. Many windows were broken and boarded over with plywood. Three small bedrooms, a kitchen and living room made up our living space. In the living room, a trap door in the floor led into a musty dug-out basement.

My husband had always been a heavy drinker, but now he drank in desperation. Often I had to phone utility companies and plead for an extension because he had used the money for liquor. To make things worse, when he was drinking, he became abusive. The children and I began to be afraid of him.

My husband was afraid to go into the dirt basement. He refused even to lift the lid, but he couldn't explain why. Great! It gave the kids and I a sanctuary for when he came home drunk and mean. Soon we were spending three or four nights a week down in that hole in the ground.

I always felt sort of uneasy when we were down there, and the kids seemed to feel it, too. Nervousness about our situation? I don't think so. Why didn't I leave him? My husband was a sweet guy when he was sober. He didn't drink on purpose. He was an alcoholic.

One night the kids were sound asleep. It was getting late, and I knew I would eventually have to get the kids up and flee into our hiding place. I had taken blankets and pillows down into the hole and built us a nest behind the vegetable bin.

I paced the floor. Two o'clock. I hated the thought of waking the kids and dragging them down into the darkness. Then I heard the baby crying.

Good. She had awakened on her own. I hurried into the children's room. Now would be a good time to get them up and go hide.

Both children were sound asleep. Baby Edith must have cried out in her sleep. I stood there wondering if I should wake them when the sound came again. A baby crying. I shivered. None of our neighbors had small children. Where was the crying coming from?

I followed the sound into the living room, right to the basement door. There was a baby in our basement! I lifted the lid and hurried down the stairs. Always cool, tonight the basement was positively icy. The small dirt-encrusted bulb gave little light but it was enough for me to see the basement was empty. But I could still here the crying. It seemed to come from all around me! I was scared. Something wasn't right here.

I ran up the stairs, woke and dressed the kids and ran from the house as my husband staggered around the corner. Thank goodness he didn't see us. I didn't know the neighbors well but, when Mrs. Chalmers opened the door, I begged for sanctuary.

She hesitated, but finally let us in. We made a bed for the kids on the chesterfield and they went back to sleep. Mrs. Chalmers made a pot of tea. Reluctantly I explained about my husband's drinking and my fear of him. I told her about our many nights spent in the dark hole in the ground.

"But it wasn't your husband that drove you from the house tonight, was it?"
>I shook my head. "No," I admitted. "I heard strange noises."
"The baby?"
I stared at her.
"Oh yes," she said. "You aren't the first person to hear it. That's why the house has been vacant for so long."

Ten years earlier, she explained, an unwed mother had lived in the house. "She was only sixteen," Mrs. Chalmers explained. "And lonely. She started inviting people over, having parties." The parties became wilder and noisier. Almost every night loud music and laughter erupted until morning.

Then the baby got sick. Mrs. Chalmers could hear him crying and coughing. She was sure the poor little thing had pneumonia. Finally she went over and suggested the mother take the child to the doctor. The girl agreed.

That night the music and partying continued as usual, but no baby cried. The neighbor was sure he had been hospitalized, and even more sure when she saw the girl leave with her friends.

The young girl never came back. When the landlord finally came to clean the house out, he found the body of the baby in the basement. The little one had been alive when he'd been carried down into the hole. Apparently he'd been put down there because his crying disturbed her guests. And the neighbors.

Since that time, no one had stayed long in the house. The complaint was always the same, a baby crying in the basement. I never went back. I took my children and fled home to my family. It was what I should have done long before. When my husband realized he was losing his wife and children, he contacted Alcoholics Anonymous.

Eventually, thanks to the "ghost baby," we reconciled for a long, happy marriage.

Florence Cardinal, Alberta, Canada
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