True story as told to the writer by Stephanie Cruz, former Miami resident.
This is a story that took place in one of my childhood homes. During the first 15 years of my life, my family and I moved around to various places around Miami before eventually leaving town and settling where I’m writing this story from: Louisville, KY. But Miami left a deep impression in my psyche, partly because of that one place that I will never forget.
Just a few miles west of Dolphin Mall and south of the train tracks, behind a deeply wooded area, was a beige little house with bean-colored Spanish roof tiles.
“Cozy” is the word that comes to mind judging it strictly by aesthetics. It was surrounded by a white, pretty-ish metal gate and a concrete garden. To its immediate north was a back road, just north of that were the train tracks.
There were rumors that the houses in the new subdivision of Shoma Homes were built over sacred Native American burial grounds. Looking at it from the outside, there seemed to be nothing sacred about the area.
It was just your same-old, run-of-the-mill Miami neighborhood, cookie cutter homes lined up in perfect symmetry to one another with the occasional Cuban island shaped mailbox to spice things up if only a little.
The wooded area just beyond the tracks seemed pretty mystical to my teenage self. When we first moved in, I made a mental note to explore it one day. As frustrated as I wanted to feel about yet another move, my parents’ and siblings’ enthusiasm was palpable and dare I say, contagious. We were the home’s first inhabitants.
Or so we thought.
I’ve watched enough “Paranormal Activity” and “Paranormal Witness” to know that hauntings never start off in a noticeable way. On the contrary, hauntings start off small, imperceptible little happenings that just don’t seem to add up.
“Tricks of the imagination,” you tell yourself. “Quit the overthinking, end the tomfoolery once and for all.”
With the house being brand new, it didn’t settle too loudly at night, and it seemed only natural that the footsteps in the attic or the claws scratching at the patio door had something to do with the walls stretching and contracting against a relentless summer heat and a cool night breeze.
We attributed the time a glass cup exploded on the kitchen counter to the momentous pressure from the train whizzing by just a few yards away.
My brothers and I – I was the youngest of six and the sole girl – blamed the other for the occasional spooks. We were a bunch of pranksters; the one who felt actual fear would be the loser. We lived for it.
One day, I was hanging out in the hallway, sitting Indian-style on the floor just outside my bedroom. The garage door, that lead to my brother’s recently converted room, was just within reach. Two of my brothers, Alberto and Mario, were home. The house was nearly prankster-less.
The phone rang from inside the garage. I heard someone picking it up, which was strange, because no one was in the garage at the time. As I reluctantly pulled myself off the floor and put my ear against the door, the door knob started to shake. It simply did not stop shaking. I tried opening the door, but it was locked.
It was enough to startle me, especially with the uncontrollable door knob shaking. The only other way of getting into the garage was through my parents’ closet, through the attic and down into the garage. I tried to enlist Alberto’s help, but he was preoccupied with watching “Fresh Prince” on my parents’ bed.
By the time I got back to the hallway, everything was normal. I thought perhaps my own hand had caused the shaking, because I was the loser who felt fear.
Opting for a nap, I retreated back into my room, closing the door behind me for privacy from my bratty brothers.
But something felt off. The room was dark and I felt uneasy.
My primal self wanted my mother to come home, so I decided to walk back out to phone her. As I rotated the knob in my hand, something on the other side grabbed it, effectively keeping the door shut.
My brother Mario had a tendency to lock me in my room and hold the door shut, for giggles, he said. As I struggled with the knob, I decided to give Mario an earful.
“Mario, let go of the door, or else!” I screamed, my colors and indignation rising.
Thirty seconds of full on struggling later, the knob finally gave way. Angrily, I stormed into the hall and could see my brothers standing at end of the hallway, their olive complexions a lighter shade of green.
“Is this funny to you?” I charged at them, shaking against my better judgment.
“I promise, Steph,” Mario said. “I didn’t touch your door.”
Alberto looked at me with a soulless look in his eyes and told me what happened. They had seen the struggle, but couldn’t get near the door. Something invisible blocked them.
When faced with the dual options of fight or flight, we chose flight. We three scrambled over each other, shoving and elbowing the other until we were in the relative safety of the white pretty-ish metal gate. We waited until my mom and the rest of the family arrived, and told the story in a feverish pitch. My brothers, I noticed, had not quite recovered from their sick complexion.
After a few more hauntings – heightened sleep paralysis and a general sense of an inexplicable unwelcoming presence – my parents decided to call a “babalao” (a priest, meaning “father of the mysteries” in the Yoruba language) to spiritually cleanse the house and its terrestrial inhabitants.
Although the weird occurrences ended the day the babalaos left, we still couldn’t shake off the feeling that we were utterly, utterly not welcomed. I still dream about that room, that hallway, that house and that wooded area, the latter of which, in my dreams, have thousands of eyes that watch, and never sleep.