Please note: this story was provided by the author and published as is.
When I graduated school and became a dentist, I badly needed change. School and training had been long and gruelling and I was tired of city life. I was also tired of paying copious amounts of money for a one bedroom apartment with a heavily sloped floor that was too small for me and my two cats. I wanted a place bigger than a closet, I wanted to not fall asleep to car horns and sirens, and I wanted space to plant a garden for fresh vegetables to use in my cooking. And that’s how I came to live in a six bedroom farmhouse down a dead end dirt road, in the middle of nowhere.
The farmhouse I rented was absurdly inexpensive and owned by a farmer who had multiple farms and no need for the house. It was an older place and hadn’t been lived in for years, but the bones were good and the floors were level. The property was expansive, fields of soybeans and corn as far as the eye could see. There wasn’t another house for miles. Milford, a prairie town of less than four thousand was a twenty five minute drive from the farmhouse. It was the closest place to grab some milk or a loaf of bread and gas up your vehicle. Milford had a dentistry clinic with an aging dentist who wanted to cut back on his hours. It seemed like a nice fit. My parents thought I was crazy for moving to the prairies and taking a job in a small town I had no connection to, and to their surprise, I settled into rural living easily. I liked the people and enjoyed the slower pace of life on the farm. It was my ideal life.
Long summer days soon turned into cool fall nights and that was when the strangeness started.
The first odd thing happened in the middle of night. There was a loud bang in the basement. It sounded like some empty cardboard boxes from the move had toppled over. I assumed that it was the cats as, they were always making a ruckus. But as I woke up, I realized both cats were sleeping on the bed with me. As most reasonable people would, I explained it away, deciding that I hadn’t taken care to stack the boxes well and they had come crashing down as a result. I ignored it and went back to sleep.
After that night, more things started happening that I couldn’t ignore. It was Halloween, around 9:30 PM, and I decided to take a bath. I filled the large old claw foot tub in the upstairs bathroom with warm water, poured myself a glass of wine, turned up my music, and flicked off the front porch light. It felt safe to assume that no Trick or Treaters would be coming to my door. And I was mostly correct. Slowly, I became aware that I was hearing something quietly clashing with my music. The cats heard it too and I knew the moment they did because they woke from their sleep, ears perked at full attention, looking out the door into the hallway. I turned off my music and listened. I could hear something. Quiet music playing off in the distance.
I immediately got out of the tub and threw on a pair of oversized grey sweatpants and a hoodie I had lying next to the bath. I went to listen in the hallway. The music was so faint, I couldn’t make it out, but it sounded like it was coming from the kitchen. I slowly walked down to the kitchen, but there was nothing there. But I could definitely here the music just a tiny bit louder now. I grabbed a knife from my kitchen drawer and started walking through each room of the farmhouse. In some rooms I couldn’t hear anything, in others the music was loud enough for me to discern a guitar strumming and a man singing. As I crept to the top of the basement stairs I could very clearly hear it was coming from downstairs.
The basement had flooded years back during a horrible storm that ravaged this part of the Prairies, destroying crops and homes as it tore through. The previous tenants left shortly after and the owner never felt the need to restore the basement. It was your typical farmhouse basement, concrete floors with a number of small room adjoined to the main centre one. One room was particularly creepy. It was the farthest from the steps and no longer had a door. This back room stored the house’s well water filter system. And at the back of this room there was a small pink door that led into a closet sized cold cellar. I had peeked behind the pink door when I originally moved in and could see that it was once used to store preserves but was now mostly empty except for a few old dust covered jars and empty boxes.
I turned on the light at the top of the stairs. Unsure if I should try to be sneaky or if I should yell out that I had a knife, I ended up doing something in between. I marched down the farmhouse’s old creaking stairs into the basement, stomping every step of the way, hoping my footfall sounded aggressive and confident. I checked every room, leaving the back room for last. I couldn’t hear much of the music anymore, it was so faint. I walked towards the far back room and… nothing. The pink door was open just a crack so I figured I would check the cold cellar and that would be the end of it. As I searched the basement I had been struggling to hear the music, as if someone had been turning down the volume ever so slightly the longer I searched. But as I approached the pink door and reached my hand out to turn the knob, I heard it again. The music was very clearly coming from a vent that led to the kitchen upstairs.
I quickly ran back upstairs and shut the basement door behind me. When I got to the main level, the music had stopped. Nothing. I listened for a few minutes but the music had completely disappeared. Only deafening silence in the farmhouse. I needed to find the source of the music. In the end I checked every room and every closet, twice. And then realized how silly I was. It was Halloween night! Obviously someone must be playing a prank on me. I went outside and walked to the garage then started down my long, unlit, lane way. But I saw nothing. No cars, no lights, nobody. I went around to the back porch and found nothing there either.
I’ve always considered myself to be a practical person, so after having no luck finding the source of the music myself I decided that the next logical thing to do would be call my landlord, the farmer. He comes and goes between all of his properties, tending to the fields and fixing things around the farmhouses. It seemed reasonable that he might have a work radio that he had forgotten to turn off. I called him and briefly explained what happened. Laughing, he told me that the farm’s previous owner had rigged up a radio to the sump pump so that if the basement flooded and the pump turned on, the radio would turn on, letting him know it was flooding. I was relieved and went to bed. It had rained yesterday so this was a likely explanation.
However, a couple days later my landlord came over to look at the sump pump. There was no radio attached and he couldn’t think of any other way to explain the music. This left only two possibilities in my mind. Local kids were playing pranks or someone was sneaking around the farm. Both thoughts were completely discomforting to me. I weighed my options. I could pay for an expensive alarm system or I could adopt a big dog. A couple days later, I brought Big Rex home.
A month or two passed quietly after the mystery music on Halloween night and it had even become something of a joke. Coworkers and friends would ask if I heard any music lately, thinking of course that I had imagined it. I started thinking after a while that maybe I had. But as time went on, subtle things would happen, and before half a year had passed, I had come to call it ‘Farmer Joe.’ To me, ‘Farmer Joe’ was a catch all for every bizarre happening that seemed improbable around the farm. It was always little things like objects being misplaced or weird sounds that I’d hear early in the morning. I would jokingly complain to my friends about him, I would yell out loud about how annoying he was, and I would scold him for interfering with my things. I always did it in a joking way because I couldn’t commit to the idea that anything more serious was occurring. I had always viewed the supernatural purely as entertainment. Outwardly, these were all just fun stories to share with my friends. I was in a pissing contest with a ghost. And it was comical. Secretly, I was feeding Rex an abundance of treats so that he followed me around everywhere I went on the farm so that I was never alone.
‘Farmer Joe’ and I disagreed on a lot of things. I often left the radio on for the cats and occasionally it would be shut off by the time I got home from work. I assumed ‘Farmer Joe’ didn’t like the pop music station I’d left on. So I kept playing it. And he kept turning it off. I frequently delighted coworkers with tales of how ‘Farmer Joe’ and I fought relentlessly over the radio station. Sometimes they would laugh and then ask what was seriously happening. I had a ready excuse to tell anyone who asked. I’d simply say “the electricity goes out all the time, any type of bad weather just causes the power to shut right off.” And that was a good enough explanation for me. I refused to think about the parts of my story that didn’t make sense. Like why the radio didn’t come back on when the power came back on, or that I knew every time the power went out because the clock on the stove would reset. Yet, I never took the time to log these details to know for sure, because ignorance is bliss.
Life became slightly less blissful when ‘Farmer Joe’ started messing with doors after my first New Year’s at the farm. I came home from work one evening and took Rex out for a play in the yard. We were running around in the snow, circling the house when I stopped dead in my tracks. The back door to the garage was open. My skin prickled as I stared at the open door. I had been in the garage yesterday organizing some gardening things from the fall, maybe I had left it open? I couldn’t be sure. I walked over and pushed it closed.
The next day when I came home from work I immediately went into the garage. The back door was open. Again. My heartbeat sped up and out loud I chastised ‘Farmer Joe’. I walked over to the door and pulled it closed for the second time in two days.
That night I was fast asleep when I woke to one loud bang after another. The banging was coming from the garage. I threw on some clothes on and got Rex. It was cold and windy, and the snow was fierce. I went straight into the garage and turned on the light. The back door was open and the wind was causing it to bang against the outside of the house. I was relieved. The wind is strong in the prairies – no trees to slow it down. I hadn’t considered that strong winds were pushing my door open. I ran over to the door and this time, I closed it and locked it. I had trouble sleeping the rest of the night. Over the next few days, I didn’t go into the garage. I didn’t want to find out if the door was still locked. As far as I knew, all was well. My friend Kristin, however, changed all that. She came over for coffee one morning on the weekend and I laughed as I told her about the door and wind and how silly I was. Saying it out loud made me feel better. Even though she was smiling, her big brown eyes looked at me with concern. “So, you haven’t check the door since Wednesday?” I told her no and she immediately stood up and told me we were going to the garage. I fought her the entire two minutes it took to lace up our winter boots and walk out to the garage. She opened the front garage door and I peeked over her shoulder. The back door was wide open. “Did you ever hear the story about the man squatting in the attic?” asked Kristin in a low voice. “How the woman thought she was going crazy when really this guy was living in her house the whole time, moving her things around during the day?” It was in that very moment that my dear friend Kristin convinced me there was a squatter living in the attic. We spent almost 3 hours looking for any evidence that someone else was living in the farmhouse. We climbed into the attic which was covered in dust and cobwebs. We looked over every floor board for any secret hiding places or any evidence of a squatter – there was nothing. After Kristin left I went back to the garage and stacked a few heavy boxes against the door. Then I circled around the outside of the garage and put some old bricks from the chimney against the door from the outside. This door was now out of commission.
It was the month of April when I started having problems sleeping. The first disturbance happened when I’d been in a deep sleep having a pleasant dream. I woke up coughing. The smell and taste of smoke were filling my nostrils and mouth. I panicked – the farmhouse was on fire! I grabbed the phone on my nightstand and called 911. It was getting difficult to breathe, the smoke was so thick. I stumbled to the light switch coughing the whole time and flipped it on. The voice on the phone asked what my emergency was. I looked around the room. There was no smoke. The voice on the phone asked again what my emergency was. I still had the taste of smoke on my tongue as I mumbled something non coherent. I walked around the house flipping every light on. No fire. No smoke. “I’m so sorry” I told the 911 operator, “I thought my house was on fire…but…it must have been a dream” then hung up. I went to the bathroom and found myself staring into my own face. My eyes were bloodshot and red rimmed, just as if smoke really had been irritating them. This same dream became a regular occurrence in the following weeks. I would wake up believing the house was on fire. One time I even found a black smudge on my pillow that looked suspiciously like ash. I could taste the smoke. I could smell the smoke. But there was never a fire. And as quickly as the nightmares started, they stopped.
As spring turned to summer, I found myself truly enjoying my time on the farm. The garden I had planted in the spring was thriving and the weather was beautiful. On one particular Friday, Kristin and I had been out shopping and had come back to the farm for lunch. The plan was to make a salad with veggies from the garden to go with our meal. As we walked up to the front porch I noticed that a window in the basement didn’t look quite right. As I got closer, I realized it was cloudy; I thought to myself that it almost looked like frost. I got closer and put my hand on the window. It was ice cold to the touch. I looked over at Kristin and told her that the thermostat must be broken. She stared at the window, shaking her head. We went inside and slowly walked downstairs to the basement together. It was cooler, the way you’d expect an old cement basement to be, but nothing out of the ordinary. We walked up to the window to examine it closer. It was completely frosted over and I had no way of explaining it. After that, Kristin refused to come to the farm. She said I was in denial and that whatever was going on wasn’t funny anymore.
After living on the farm for almost one year, I was noticing that my animals had become increasingly agitated over the last couple of months. I had been ignoring it when my cats stared intently at a space in a room that was unoccupied. I had been ignoring it when Big Rex began refusing to enter rooms for seemingly no reason at all. Or the handful of times when he raised his hackles and bared his teeth growling at nothing I could see. I even ignored it when my own skin got goosebumps and I would suddenly be freezing or feel like I was being watched. I ignored it all, until finally, I couldn’t ignore ‘Farmer Joe’ any more. He made sure of that.
Almost exactly a year to the day after the first unexplained music incident, at almost exactly the same time, I was relaxing on my couch watching TV. I looked at the watch, it was late and I needed to go to bed. As soon as I turned off the TV, I heard it clear as anything. Music. Loud bluegrass type music. I could hear the banjo. I could hear the guitar. And I could clearly hear that it was coming from my bedroom down the hall. A sudden surge of adrenaline made me feel like my skin was on fire. I walked through the kitchen to the hallway and the second I flipped the light on, the music stopped. I barely had time to comprehend this when the microwave in the kitchen turned on and started making horrible noises. I turned around and ran back to the kitchen, seeing sparks fly. I whipped open the microwave door and directly in the middle lay a rusted nail. I was shaking. I slowly put my hand into the microwave and then quickly withdrew it. I didn’t want to deal with this. With the nail still inside, I closed the microwave door. And that’s when I saw him. In the shiny black door’s reflection I saw a pair of long legs, standing behind me and to my right. I couldn’t see anything from his waist up. But I could see both arms down at his sides. And I saw a hammer. Gripped so tight in his right hand that his knuckles were tensed and the veins were visibly strained in his forearms. I have no idea if I screamed or not, but I turned around so fast I almost fell. I turned to see an empty kitchen and my head suddenly began to pound with the sudden onset of a terrible headache. I couldn’t see him anymore. Of course I didn’t see anyone, but I knew. I knew that every bump in the night had been him. Everything I couldn’t explain was him. And every time I had felt like something was not right was because. Something. Was. Not. Right. I started laughing quietly. Mostly for just thinking about how stupid I had been. Every single thing was him telling me that he was there. And I ignored it. I ignored every sense I possess. I refused to believe the music I heard. I refused to believe the frosted glass I touched. I refused to believe the smoke I smelled and tasted. And most ashamedly, I refused to believe my own gut instinct.
Why do we put so much stock in our sense of sight? Why was it only after visual confirmation that I threw my arms up to finally admit to what was there the whole time? I packed up what I could that night and stayed at Kristin’s house. I never went back to the farmhouse alone, and I made sure to always have at least one person with me while I packed and moved out.
It took me twelve months to catch a glimpse of him. Had he always just been standing there?