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Little Niklaus

Sue, Ontario, Canada
March 2007

In the early 80's, my Dad was temporarily laid off from his job and had to find more affordable housing for the family. For very little rent and repair work, we ended up renting a very old house situated on 370 acres of land. The house was at a dead end of a very long country road. Our nearest neighbors (a kindly elderly couple) were about a 15 minute walk down the road, and quickly became known to us as Grammie and Grampie.

I have no idea exactly how old the house was, but it had aged enough that the kitchen floor was beginning to sag into the cellar. The cellar was only accessible through a padlocked door outside, and was dirt floor and bare rock walls. We used this for canned food storage as my father quickly took up gardening on the masses of land. About our third day there, my 2 younger brothers and I had been exploring everywhere on the acreage. Our favorite spot tended to be the old barn about 50 yards from the house. It was surrounded by dense prickly raspberry bushes and looked like it would collapse at any moment. We could see that the owner of the house (we assumed) had left numerous items in storage there worth investigating. While trying to pry our way inside the locked building, we could hear giggling in the raspberry bushes near the house. We automatically assumed that the giggling must be a young visiting neighbor, and went in search of him or her.
Anyone who picks raspberries can tell you that you can't really get into those bushes without a lot of pain and damage to your skin. We scouted around the outside of the bushes - which covered quite a bit of land, and always heard the giggling, but could never pinpoint the exact location or find the source. We eventually gave up and went up to the house to see if the parents of this child were there so that we could be properly introduced. Upon reaching the house, we found my father was out in the garden, and my mother was doing laundry and no one had stopped by for any reason that day. The closest neighbors with any children were about a half hour away, and the little ones were too young to come all the way to our house alone.
We tried to convince our mother that there was a kid outside, but she wouldn't hear it, and sent us out to help our father in the garden.

The following day, my father began work on an extensive tree house that would keep us away from the barn. He insisted that it could collapse at any moment, and we could all be killed. Hanging around there would not be an option and he knew we needed some incentive to stay away. The summer continued with us mostly far away from the barn in our newly built tree houses. Except...for when raspberry picking became prime. My mother, knowing our love of raspberries, and my patience for picking them...offered me 10 cents a container for each one I filled.

The bushes, as mentioned, surrounded the old barn densely. I would don layers of clothing even in the heat of summer and start making my way into the bushes to collect berries. Strangely enough, I began hearing the giggling again. I could see nothing around me for the bushes, and became frustrated at the seemingly taunting sound. Then one day, I was working my way towards the front of the barn area with my basket, deep in the bushes, and I could hear the giggling once again. By this time, I was well used to ignoring it, but as I neared a small type of clearing in the bushes that I had never seen before, the giggling suddenly ceased and a young voice said "PLEASE STOP!" I dropped my basket and whirled around to see who had spoken the words, thinking it might have been my youngest brother, but there was no one around. I was flustered to say the least.
I gathered up my spilled berries and went into the house, where I found both my brothers cooling off from the summer heat with popsicles and a fan watching tv. I asked who was outside earlier, and they claimed they had been there for the past hour or so watching tv since it was too hot and the blackflies were too bad to enjoy the tree house. I quit picking berries - at least in front of the barn - for quite a while.

Fall came, and along with it the most beautiful colors I have ever seen. Our garden yielded lovely large pumpkins and the crabapple trees in front of the barn were dropping apples everywhere. Now I had a new item to pick, as my mother wanted to make crabapple jelly and wine, and we had to collect the apples before they went bad. The crabapple trees were in front of the raspberry bushes that surrounded the front of the barn. I had not heard the little voice in a long time and had almost forgotten about it since I quit picking berries around there. Suddenly, once again, I could hear it. First, giggling, then, the "PLEASE STOP!" when venturing into the bushes to collect stray fallen apples. I was starting to get freaked out, and decided to call it day for the apple picking. It was too bad, because, that night, it started snowing. It started snowing at about 4:00....we thought it would be a quick flurry, but it soon became a blizzard, quite early in the year, and we were excited to watch it. Later on that evening, my brothers and I were nestled on the sofa watching tv. while my parents were in another room playing cards. We could see the fluffy flakes coming down through the window, even though it was pitch dark outside. At about 9:20 in the evening, all three of us heard the distinct giggle that we had heard previously while playing near the barn. It seemed to be coming from outside the window, so we quickly shifted our attention to outside. At that moment, a young boy, maybe 7 or so, ran past the window. We saw his sandy brown hair, head bobbing as he ran, and he turned to look at us for a split second before he was past the window and gone from our view. We were all shocked into silence for a moment. First off, it was extremely late for any child to even be attempting to visit us. Secondly, the blizzard was pretty bad, no one would likely have tried traveling until the neighbor had gone by with his handy plow. Third...we didn't have any neighbors that matched the description of the little boy we saw. Once we regained our voices, and confirmed that we had all seen the same thing we shot to the front door to chase him down. While my brothers were struggling into their boots, I was already in mine and out the door - but I could see no one....and worse....there were no footprints in the fresh snow where we had just seen this boy dart past.
I could hear my parents yelling at my brothers to close the door, that they weren't rich enough to heat the great outdoors, and I could swear I heard the giggle once more, coming from in front of the barn. True, the bushes were dense around the barn, but there were no footprints leading up to them that I could find. A moment later, my dad joined me outside, having heard about the incident from my brothers. He was worried someone might be in trouble, and searched with me....although, he had to admit, with the lack of footprints, it could have been all our imaginations. We returned to the house for the night, although I slept rather uneasily that evening.

The following day we were outside helping my dad shovel the long driveway when Grampie appeared walking down the road. Me and my brother trudged through the deep snow to meet him and ask if he was needing anything. He told us, on the contrary, he was coming to offer the use of his snow blower to my father. As we were passing in front of the barn, we heard the familiar giggle, and both my brother and I stood rigid staring at the bushes. Grampie looked at us very seriously and said "you hear it too?" We went on to describe our experience the previous night and he sighed. He told us that we were probably hearing and seeing Niklaus. He went on to say that the old lady that owned the house we were renting was quite miserly. When her daughter had fallen on hard times many years ago, she had agreed to let her daughter rent the old house, even in it's horrible condition. The daughter lived alone way out there with her only son, 7 year old Niklaus. One day, while they were out picking berries, deep in the bushes in front of the barn, Niklaus had stepped on some bushes that looked solid but were actually barely covering the top of the old well that served the house. He plunged to his death. To this day, there has been no proper cover put on that well.

The next year, in the summertime, my brothers and I were able to find a way into the barn from the side opposite where the well was. It was a treasure chest. There were toys and clothes and furniture....we also found pictures, some matching exactly the little boy we'd seen run past the window through the snow the previous fall (AND on the back of one was written "Niklaus, age 8"). The next time we saw Grampie, we asked where the little boy's mom had gone since there was so much stuff in the barn. He sternly told us we should stay out of that barn, that it was private property and none of our business. However, I later overheard him telling my dad, that Niklaus' mother in her grief, had committed suicide in that very barn after his death. Her mother, later had some men clear out the house, moving all the items to the barn, which was never used anyway, so that she could rent the house to others. And there we were.

I found it interesting that there were two deaths there, yet the only "haunting" we seemed to experience was that of Niklaus. I think he may have been there to warn us of the dangers around the barn.

I returned to my hometown 18 years later, and felt compelled to drive up to the old house. It was sagging worse than ever but it was still being lived in by someone. The barn had completely collapsed, and strangely enough, in such a way that all the lumber covered over where the old well stood, when gravity should have had it crumbling to the opposite side and down the steep hill behind it.

Sue, Ontario, Canada
00:00 / 01:04
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