Wednesday, October 28, 2009
“Has anything…. odd… ever happened here?”
I've heard that question asked before, by a neighbor just before they moved out in the middle of the night, breaking a lease which they had only recently signed. A previous neighbor had also broken a lease and left. Now, again, I'm hearing that same question. I even asked it myself when I first moved here. Those first neighbors answered in the negative but still moved to another house very quickly. Then I took a trip to the Nambé Trading Post, a mere stone's throw from where I live, to look at the merchandise and to learn what I could about my house and the area. As fate would have it, it was the owner's grandmother who built these casitas and he used to live in the one in which I have been renting. That one, short conversation would have a greater impact on my life than many of the ones which I thought would be life-changing. Yet somehow, it was also a validation which I desperately needed.
I had quite literally moved to New Mexico on a moment's notice. A week prior I had interviewed for a job and was told I needed to move in or near Santa Fe as soon as possible. That Friday, my friend, Dennis, helped me settle in a motel as Monday I would be starting my new job and hopping on a flight to El Paso for a week of training. That weekend, Dennis and I would be looking for a place for me to live. During the week prior, since the interview, I had been on Craig's List looking at properties I could rent. As I had been recently divorced, my credit had taken a hit and I knew I would probably be limited to where I could live. I e-mailed the properties which seemed like they might work and there were some owners who seemed willing to work with me. A woman who owned a little casita in Nambé was the first to respond with some charming photos of her property and didn't seem to take issue with my credit being less than stellar. In fact, she seemed more than eager for me to see this casita as quickly as possible.
That Friday evening, Dennis and I drove down from Colorado to Santa Fe. The next day we had seen several properties and the landlady of the casita decided to meet us so we could follow her to see it. Just turn onto the road for Nambé, make another turn right at the little cemetery and just a very short distance later we would be there. By Sunday a check was being written for the deposit and rent on the casita. The grateful landlady, in turn, was being as helpful and charming as anyone could possibly be. By Monday morning I was flying to El Paso and later in the week upon returning to Santa Fe, I was buying a few supplies and a little inflatable mattress on which to sleep as my furniture and cats would not be coming down until sometime later in the month.
Nambé, to say the least, is a lovely and rather historic area. As I was learning, the Nambé Pueblo and lands were just a tiny distance off the property I am renting. Nambé, meaning "people of the rounded earth" has existed there since the 14th Century. The village of Nambé, where I am living, was once an original Spanish Land Grant and many of its descendants still live in their ancestral homes here. Time in New Mexico and especially in Nambé seems to move a bit more slowly. This was something which, in the chaos that had been my life, I was welcoming.
My tiny rented casita is one of four casitas on a smallish plot of land which extends back to a river. Over 100 years old, fully renovated, mine has a high adobe wall and gate enclosing the front porch. High windows give light onto a small loft area. Old cottonwoods line the property and through them, I could glimpse the mountains. There were so many reasons this was the property where I wanted to live while starting my new life in New Mexico. The hope of stability in a lovely environment was top among them.
That first night I unpacked my few supplies and inflated the mattress. I believe I was in bed about the time it started to get dark, both due to exhaustion from a hectic couple of weeks and because the only lights I had were in the bedroom closets and in another room.
Actual sleep, however, was a different matter.
I kept awakening during the night after the same recurring nightmare: I knew I was on these lands but the casitas were not here. The outline of the landscape and the views still caused me to be certain where I was. It was dusk and I was watching a young Indian man and a much older white man make camp for the night. The Indian appeared to be a recent convert to Christianity. He was holding a long wooden pole with a wooden cross fixed atop it. I remember thinking in the dream that I've always seen these with brass or otherwise golden crosses, never with wood and it struck me as being rather odd. He seemed extremely proud to be holding this cross and was completely transfixed by it. During his concentration, the older man came up from behind him and slit his throat.
It is not my nature to watch extremely violent movies. There was nothing I had seen nor read which would have put such a graphically violent image in my mind, yet there it was. The dream played out over and over again that first night - and never again. As silly as it sounds, I couldn't shake the feeling that I was watching actual events from a distant time.
The second night I was even more exhausted from not having slept and going full speed since that interview. I was in my little inflatable bed and must have dozed rather quickly. Sometime during the night, I awoke due to what was the most ghastly smell I had ever experienced. It was hideous beyond reason - an overpowering stench of something horribly burned or burning mixed with a sickening sweet.... something. As the house was almost empty with only me, a suitcase and some clothes, water, and paper goods, I kept telling myself that there is nothing which could be causing such a stench...... AND WHY THE HELL IS IT SO COLD IN HERE?
Somewhere, in the darkness of the front room, I could hear crashes and bangs - sounds which I would have blamed on the cats if they had been here and had things which could be knocked over and broken.
There was absolutely nothing, not even furniture, in the other room.
The stench was so unbelievably strong it was to the point where I thought I might actually choke from it. I had decided to turn on the closet lights and leave them on for the remainder of the night. Though the crashes and bangs diminished, I could now distinctly hear the sound of heavy footsteps running up and down the stairs leading to the loft. This was along with the sounds of movement and running in that loft, directly above my head. Didn't get much sleep that night either. Welcome to my new home.
Within the next few nights, I would frequently be awakened by that same, ghastly odor mixed with the sickly sweetness. This often occurred along with the bitter coldness and the sounds of various noises and running in the other room. Other nights, though, there would be nothing unusual whatsoever. Often the stench which awoke me was nothing more than one of the many skunks which seemed to use this area as a maternity ward.
By the time Dennis and a friend had moved my furniture down from Colorado, it had been decided that my cats would stay with him until after the move as we didn't want to risk them either getting hurt or lost during this time of transition. By then, I was already starting to talk about the strange happenings at my place. On one of the first nights I was finally able to sleep in my real bed, it jolted with such a force that I was nearly knocked out of it. Again, I would have tried to blame this on the cats had they been here but realistically it was as if someone had body-slammed the bed. It was also very, very cold but the sickly stench did not occur.
It was during this time I decided to stop at the trading post. I had introduced myself to the owner and mentioned that I had just moved into a place nearby. Upon further discussion, I learned that these casitas had been built by his grandmother and it is part of his family heritage, and that I was actually living in the casita where he had once lived. He mentioned what a nice job the new landlady had done in renovating them. At that point, I could hold back no longer.
"Um, do you know, has anything....odd... ever happened here?"
"Oh yes, your house is haunted."
And with those six words, I had confirmation of what I truly had already known but couldn't make myself admit.
He didn't want to discuss much and had seemed cagey, though he was very nice and somewhat curious when I was discussing where I was living. However, that one question essentially ended the conversation. He did add that it was the casita diagonal from me which REALLY seemed to have the issues. This is the same casita which has never finished being renovated.
The casita where no one lives nor has lived in for quite some time.
As I was learning from books and my own research, Nambé has this reputation. I would discover that Nambé was known for the number of witches who were known to have lived here. Evil witches. In one case, cannibal witches. I would read about two men from Nambé who were executed for eating small children in order to practice their craft. Another witch was burned alive in her house. Supposedly she had evil dolls hidden throughout the house which came to life and tried to escape. There are many other alleged cases of witchcraft in the village. One book describes Nambé as "the Twilight Zone of the Southwest". Another book I had found shortly after I had moved is called "More Mysteries and Miracles of New Mexico", by Jack Kutz. In it, the very first story is about a divorced woman who moved into an old adobe house in Nambé, surrounded by old cottonwoods and a high adobe wall. Shortly after moving in, she begins to have strange and frightening occurrences. Though I don't believe the description of her house too closely matches my own, one thing which caught my attention what that she described being plagued by a horrible stench "like something from the depths of hell."
I couldn't have phrased it better myself.
Shortly thereafter, Dennis finally came down with my cats and stayed to visit for a while (I suspect because he knew he would truly miss my cats and their guardian human). More than a month had passed since I had moved into the casita and I had only had this conversation with the owner of the trading post a few days prior. As could be expected, he took these stories with more than a few grains of salt. He's never lived it and I do seem to be prone to ending up at places which have paranormal happenings. I have lived in ghost stories in the past. This, however, was something much more powerful and incredibly more frightening.
It was, surprisingly, one afternoon while he was visiting that the overpowering stench came again from out of nowhere. There was no sudden chill and no other odd occurrences, yet Dennis described it as being like the smell of a crematorium. As it was broad daylight, I went outside to investigate but there was absolutely no odor outside. It seemed to simply materialize inside the center of my bedroom and spread throughout the main level of the house. Even with my opened bedroom window, I walked outside to that window and there was no odor while standing next to the screen.
As Dennis would comment, it was the kind of stench which not only seemed to be something we could taste but something which also seemed to leave an almost residue inside our noses until we could not be certain it was even still in the air. Horrifying. Disgusting. But as the months would pass, less frequent. That's the thing about living here. There can be extreme activity lasting anywhere from part of a night to every night for over a month, as well as long periods of absolutely nothing. I seem to think it's like some sort of poltergeist which keeps returning and yet I sense there is more than one entity. These entities are either connected to the casita or are others which are connected to the land, both inside and outside.
About 7 weeks ago, my cat died. Though he was 17, to me it was still a shock when I took him to the vet and they determined there was nothing more I could do for him. In hysterical tears, I decided to put him down.
The job for which I had moved to New Mexico had started its first lay-offs back in December, the recession taking its toll. I had no money, no food and nowhere to go. Being in this kind of shape and quite literally falling apart, Dennis came down to visit and help for a few days. As his car broke down shortly after he arrived, he ended up staying for three weeks.
On one of those first, sad nights, he was helping me tidy up my bedroom when he noticed that a bottle of water I had been drinking had sometime in the days prior rolled under the bed. He joked, sarcastically, if I liked storing my water under the bed and asked if I was still planning on drinking it. As the lid had been securely tightened and the water barely touched, I told him I would and he put it on my bedside table.
Later that night, I had gone to bed and was trying desperately to fall asleep, only too aware that I was in pain and extremely restless. I very clearly heard an older woman's nicotine voice ask me sarcastically, "Are you still planning on drinking that water?" Dennis was asleep on the love seat. I wanted to reply but couldn't. Realistically, I couldn't swear that I wasn't half asleep and that this was, therefore, a dream. Still, I must also admit while in that state, dreamy voices are anything but clear and that I definitely seemed awake enough to be aware of my physical pain and of how badly I wanted to sleep. I wish I had a voice-activated tape recorder to know for certain if this truly occurred. This had been one of many times I wished I had one.
As is his custom, Dennis was up late one night and decided to work on his car when my neighbor, who also works until late at night, came home from his shift. He started asking Dennis some questions and Dennis thought it would be best for him to ask me.
"Has anything......odd..... ever happened here?"
"Yes, these casitas are haunted."
We discussed what the owner of the trading post had said, what the books said and what happened to me. I told him about coming home at night and seeing my moonlit shadow cast into the grasses - and another shadow belonging to someone or something else appear beside it when no one and nothing was around. I told him about seeing shadowy figures along the trees bordering the property and having rested on the loveseat at night with only my front door open, only to get up to close and lock the door after hearing the most ghastly sounds coming from outside. Sounds which even at the time I couldn't describe yet made the hairs on the back of my neck quite literally stand up. I told him how I could no longer sleep, even in the summer, with the door or windows open. I also told him about driving home late on a beautiful June night during the full moon, the fields and trees so clearly visible from its radiance at these altitudes, only to find that our little cemetery - the one right by our casitas - appeared pitch black in spite of the surrounding light. No rational explanation for why the fields and homes around it would simply glow while it remained absolutely black. For that matter, no rational explanation why my headlights suddenly dimmed while I was driving past. Ah, almost home. Get inside and lock the door, again.
The neighbor told me that for 45 days straight, after his baby was born, he and his family would hear the sounds of heavy footsteps right outside their house. They could clearly hear limbs breaking and heavy breathing but never saw another person. They even threw rocks at it, but it was no deterrent. Dennis would admit that, on the nights he was working on his car, he also heard sounds from that area but blamed it on livestock, though those neighbors have no livestock and nothing was ever seen.
The neighbor hinted that there were other things which were occurring but were not discussed. I was left with the impression that he may have seen something up in my loft. He said he was considering breaking lease and has been home very little since this discussion. A previous neighbor indicated that these incidents were often worse when I wasn't at home. This might have been due to my smudging and blessing the house when I was aware of activity. It might not have liked that. During one major smudging, the front door slammed shut though there was no breeze. I do know that after I had spent the night at a friend's house in Albuquerque after a long day's visit, I came home the next morning to find my cat hiding under my furniture, crying and terrified.
Was it simply that she was afraid of being home alone now that my other cat died? Did something scare her? Did something hurt her? I will never again leave her at home, alone at night, in that house.
What can be said about all of this? It took some odd experiences for me to look for a job in New Mexico. Some very bad experiences seem to be keeping me here. I'm low on money and need to move, possibly back to Colorado, if there were only some way to do it.
It seems as though I've had such horrific luck living here but is it really due to Nambé's violent and bloody past. Is it truly a haunting or is it New Mexico being....well... New Mexico? So many people are having a dreadfully hard time now. The haunting may just be stress coupled with me needing to blame all of this on something outside of me and yet....
And yet.... So many people have been having these experiences here long before I came onto the scene. Whatever is inside the house seems angry though not, necessarily, hostile. Whatever is outside is another story. Seeing the shadow people, the feeling I had was that I was witnessing something absolutely evil - something which would hurt me if it could. The ghastly noises from outside followed by a chorus of dogs barking and growling only adds to that fear of an unknown and unnamed horror. Somehow, I suspect this land of the 100-year-old adobe and giant cottonwoods knows a secret which it won't, quite, reveal. My time here among them is at an end. It's time to move on now.
It has been more than five years since I wrote and published this honest (if rather hastily-written) account of what was and still remains the scariest time of my life. It has been mostly unedited since that time, though I have now copied it over onto my own website and copied it back to help with its format.
A few months after this was completed, I did return to my home in Colorado. Shortly after that, I was contacted through Facebook by a woman who was renting my old casita, asking me if I had any "unusual occurrences" while I was living there. She also broke lease and left, as did the neighbor I mentioned in this account.
These circumstances -- combined with the circumstances that occurred the night I was writing this account -- inspired me to write a paranormal thriller/horror novel. You can read about When Grief Inspires a Ghost Story to understand exactly what happens when you're living a ghost story and Death places you on auto-dial.
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