In an unnamed house in an unnamed town in a state named after King Louis XIV, I met a ghost.
We were never introduced properly—in fact, the housekeeper denied any and all ghosts the minute I walked in.
“It’s not haunted—at least, I’ve never seen anything,” she announced as she led me through the grand entryway and into a hallway dressed up with fall flower arrangements. The century-old house was massive—one huge square room after another, and each one decorated with antique parlor furniture, large potted plants, heavy-framed mirrors and paintings, and crystal chandeliers that hung like glowing upside-down wedding dresses.
It was a beautiful Southern mansion that, like so many in Louisiana, now functioned as a luxurious bed-and-breakfast. The housekeeper showed me my suite for the night—it had a tremendous king-size bed smothered in a pile of pillows and more white lace and satin than a royal christening.
“You’ll be staying alone in the house,” the housekeeper added. “There are no other guests tonight.”
“As long as you say it’s not haunted,” I joked.
“No, it’s not haunted,” she reassured me. “Oh, there are stories, but nobody’s ever seen anything.” She paused. “I’ve never seen anything.”
I asked her to tell me more about the “stories,” and out of the housekeeper’s mouth tumbled one Grade A Southern ghost story. Apparently, the Cajun family who had once owned the house reported seeing the ghost of a little girl who, when she was alive, used to get locked up in the wooden closet under the stairs.
Trapped in the dark, she would scream and kick against the door, a habit that she carried on into the next life.
Despite closing that door every night, the Cajun family would always find it wide-open in the morning. Eventually, they began leaving toys inside the closet at night to appease the unhappy little ghost.
“Last year we had a Halloween party in the house. Guess what my costume was.” She was suddenly cheerful again. “I dressed up as the little girl from under the stairs.”
I think I could have handled just about anything—if the housekeeper had told me that someone had hanged himself in the foyer, or that the mansion was under some swamp curse, or that it was built on top of some old French cemetery. But no—instead she was describing a bothered little girl ghost trapped in a closet with an armful of old-fashioned toys. Now, that was creepy.
“Oh, you’re gonna hear things tonight. You will.” She laughed nervously. And then she left. I was now in the house alone. It was evening.
A few lights had been left on in some of the rooms, and I did not feel the need to start walking around the huge house to turn them off. Instead I made my way to my first-floor bedroom and then into the bathroom, where I changed for bed and brushed my teeth.
That’s when I felt it—that dreadful sensation of being watched. I felt coldness on the back of my neck, and my spine tingled. I stared at my face in the mirror, but there was nothing else there — no apparitions or vague reflections. I left the room and then shut the glass-paneled bathroom door, certain that I was simply scaring myself.
I sat down at the table, opened my laptop, and began answering e-mail. It was a quarter till 11, and the glow from my computer pulled me away from any fears and kept me focused on the mundane realities of our digital lives.
At eleven o’clock, the noises started.
A pair of feet shuffled across the bathroom floor. I turned toward the door I had just closed. It was still closed—the only entrance into that room. The noise repeated itself—a pair of feet shuffling across the floor, then stopping right at the other side of the bathroom door.
My fingers froze on the keyboard, and I tried to think rationally. My mind went through all the things that might be making the noise—someone else entering the house, some (very large) wild animal scurrying about—but no, those had been feet pattering along the floor.
That’s when I crawled into the giant bed and took up my defensive position, armed pitifully with my cell phone and laptop.
At midnight, I heard a loud thump upstairs. Then another, followed by another. Soon there was clatter all about—dull thuds, a few bangs, followed by the sound of someone walking around on the second floor. I remained frozen in my bed, tweeting my terror out into the great digital cloud: “There are strange noises coming from upstairs.”
Yes, I was terrified. I hadn’t taken the housekeeper seriously, and now it was nearly midnight, and I was stuck in a giant bed in a giant mansion that had suddenly come alive with strange noises.
No, they were not simply “old house” noises that old houses make. There was no air-conditioning or heat running. It was not simply the humid air turning cooler and the house settling back into its foundations, as many Twitter followers tried to explain to me.
A few minutes later, I heard the sound of someone running down the stairs. Whatever it was had joined me on the first floor. I stared at the bedroom door, then reverted to Facebook.
I chatted with friends in different countries, explaining my dilemma—that I was wide awake in a house that was most likely haunted by a traumatized little girl and that honestly, this was the kind of adventure on which I’d be happy to take a pass.
Eventually, the footsteps went back up the stairs, and the clatter intensified. I wanted to laugh—but couldn’t—as I read my Twitter friends arguing about the existence of ghosts; all the while I was listening to what sounded like bowling balls rolling around on the floor above me and doors slamming shut.
Via social media, I began to get a flood of real-time advice on how to deal with my real-time haunting. Some said to confront the “thing,” others said to call the police and report intruders, some said to pray to St. Michael, and others said St. Joseph was better with this sort of thing. The Hindus in India said to burn incense. My friend who’s a nun told me to leave the house immediately.
Eventually my body grew so tired that I lay down, wrapped up like a mummy in my blankets. The house became silent once more, and for several hours I listened to the quiet, still terrified but hopeful that the worst was over. All I had to do was make it until morning.
I awoke at around 4 a.m. to the sound of crystal glasses clinking against crystal. Then somebody was stacking china.
I thought of the Cajun family who had lived here, how they had appeased the ghost with toys. I had no toys to offer—the only thing I had in my bag was a small harmonica that I had recently purchased. For a second I was relieved, as if I had something positive to offer the ghost, but then I realized that if I suddenly heard a harmonica playing in the darkness, I would probably die of cardiac arrest.
And so I stayed in bed until morning, not sleeping and not moving. I waited until I heard the housekeeper arrive and begin preparing breakfast in the kitchen. Only then did I crawl out of bed.
The housekeeper acted nonchalant. She gave me some food and chatted about the weather until I finally interrupted. I told her what had happened — all the different sounds that I had heard and how I had been kept awake for most of the night.
“You know, my son won’t even set foot in this house,” she confessed. “He’ll come to the door but won’t ever cross into it.” As a teenager, he played with the owner’s son inside the house and had one creepy experience that he still won’t discuss, and that has kept him away ever since. The housekeeper also told me about her little niece talking alone upstairs, chatting with some unseen friend.
And yet she would never admit that she had any proof of anything. She needed the house not to be haunted, which made sense to me. If I worked all day in a big old Southern mansion, I would not want it to be haunted either.
Andrew Evans is a travel writer. He reports live from around the world for National Geographic Traveler via @WheresAndrew.