fiction · History · Inspiration · writing

The Haunting by the Lake

Although this short story is based on true events it remains a piece of fiction and should be viewed as such. The following content can be troubling for some, and so, reader’s discretion is advised


“The abnormal always excites aversion, distrust and fear.”

                                                                                           ~H.P. Lovecraft

There are things that I seldom talk about, memories of old that haunt and follow me as time lapses. What I am about to recount is a collection of events that have taken place over the last four centuries, disparate at first glance but seemingly interconnected in odd and unsettling ways.

I have often shied away from disclosing these rather unwholesome memories, by fear of people’s judgement of my person and the possibility of arising prejudice against my family.  What we have come to witness in our time living together is something that most would characterize as mere fantasy—or horror, in this case—stories rumored to be woven by individuals looking for attention and lusting after sensationalism. I am convinced the medical community, in its cynicism, would be eager to pin a diagnosis of delusional paranoia and push a mind-numbing course of treatment on patients uttering such vile revelations. Yet, here I am today, about to lift the veil on what has dumbfounded our family (in the most horrific ways) over the last three decades

Our family house is an estate built in 1874 in accordance with the Victorian architectural style of the day.  The house is a gorgeous display of red and ocher bricks stacked high in neat patterns, and eclectic rooflines that change depending on the façade they crown. Hexagonal cream colored chimneys, with hollowed out heart designs, reach out to the heavens, while a wraparound wooden porch with white columns swells the architectural silhouette on one side.  All in all, the house has been a favorite lakeshore attraction for passersby since its completion—and it remains so to this day. The 19th century house plans were commanded by a man of law, Albert-Clovis Descart, a member of a prominent and successful family of the time. Not only did he own land that ran for miles north from the shore, he also laid claim to part of the St. Lawrence river waterfront, including a few nautical feet that reached into the lake.

The house is a tall and narrow building, framed by thick timber, sturdy and solid as hell, and, more than 130 years later, it is still unrivalled by modern construction standards.

My family came to acquire the property in 1987 at a ridiculously low price.  A recession was underway, and most folks had the decency of adopting a humbler life style in the wake of a mortgage crisis that would hit the core of Canada less than three years later.

My parents viewed things otherwise.

They say it was the woodwork, the carved trimmings, the thick and wide oak floor planks secured by wooden pegs; they say it was the carved marble fireplaces with bronze grates; they speak of the 12-foot ceilings with decadent and intricate plaster mouldings, the likes of which you would be hard-pressed to find a craft master nowadays to replicate the lost art.  But mostly, they fell for the breathtaking views of lake St. Louis, that vast expanse of water that stole my father’s heart.

For my parents, this was a dream come true: a historical house—wrecked and abandoned by its previous (drunk) owners—to be restored to its original glory.

Whatever dream this house promised to fulfill, it failed.  Owning the house marked the beginning of a nightmare—of my nightmare, a terrifying time that would affect me beyond the scope of its concealed terror for years to come.  Still to this day, I dislike returning to the premises, consistently aware of a lurking presence in the shadows, of spectral eyes that burn holes through my back and the unease that settles in as an inevitable consequence of my return home.

And then, there are the dreams, the night visions that suck me back into the Victorian mansion, as if the house has become part of me, of my psyche—and in more ways than not, it is a part of me, of my nightmares and my fears.

As a toddler, I remember the odd visions of ghostly appearance, an outline, a shadow creeping around a corner; these occurrences failed to frighten me and rather enticed my curiosity for what they might actually be.  Throughout my childhood, I nursed a fascination for the quirky and the bizarre, my imagination teased by my nanny’s tales of the biblical lore.  She praised Jesus and the Saints as the fervent, devout girl she was while I remained entranced by what the devil did in those tales.  The eternal fight of light versus darkness, the Holy pinned against evil, yet prevailing time and time again.

My taste for the occult had the best of me the year I turned 11.  A stormy afternoon in late spring and a handful of friends was enough to set the cogwheels into motion.

I knew someone had died in the luxurious family room of our home. The original owner of the house had spent his last days cared for on the main floor of his house, unable, I can only presume, to climb the decadent stairs to the awkward and stuffy second floor, home to his living quarters—and that of his maid’s.

Even as I recall the distinct events of that fateful day in 1989, I wonder if the supernatural chain reaction triggered was inevitable, regardless of what silly tween girls can do to elicit the wrath of a dark entity.

The house sits on lands that bare the traces of a massacre.  Two wrought-iron plates sit on the front edge of the property, each describing the same event, one in French, the other in English.

In the early hours before dawn on August 5th, 1689, an estimated 1, 500 Mohawks and Iroquois descended upon the small community of 375 settlers in Lachine, at the time a fur trade community west of what is now the city of Montreal. Eroding relations between the European and Native populations, marked by the territorial expansion of the French and the Church’s push for Christianisation, fueled the Native attack. The Lachine settlement was destroyed by fire and its inhabitants slaughtered for the most part.

The very foundation of the house sits on the blood and the echo of the violent deaths of those murdered on what history remembers as the Massacre of Lachine.  Don’t get me wrong, although it is devastating to hear that innocent lives were spent, I believe the Natives had compelling reasons for the attack.

But personal opinions aside, other chilling realizations strike me as I write this today.  August 5th is the day of my birth, and 1989 (the year that the manifestations began) marks the 300-year remembrance of the slaughter. Furthermore, the judge who commissioned the building of the property in 1874 turns out to be a great-great-uncle through marriage on my paternal side.  My father had no idea, when he first purchased the property in 1987, that he was buying back a part of my uncle’s past.  Lucien Descart, my father’s brother-in-law, used to visit the house as a child when his great-uncle Albert, son of Alfred-Clovis Descart, lived.

What started as giggling girls, standing in a circle, eyes-closed, told to concentrate on the dead man in the room, ended up in a wide spread panic within our group.  I remember asking my friends to come together to reach out in their mind’s eye for the one I knew had died in the house.  It was not long before I was struck by a vision of a man gloating with grim satisfaction. The mental image was so unsettling that I hurried to break the circle and insisted on my friends to stop their doings. Two girls were in tears, saying they felt scared, and the rest stared at me wide-eyed. The power of subjectivity, one might say, is to be blamed for the hysteria that crept over us like poisonous vines.  But, I know what evil I saw that day, the bone chilling horror that struck.  I simply did not understand the implications of what we had done.  Just yet.

What followed was harassment and terror.

I will not dwell upon the holy amulets my mother peppered around the house, nor will I talk about the priest who—unable to come to the house—suggested we pray and light holy candles, because these did nothing to rectify the situation.

We all felt it, my whole family and I, in different ways.  There was a creeping presence in my room, the single room at the front of the house, remote and isolated from the rest.  My siblings will say the same about their rooms.  In fact, this house has a knack for making you feel alone and isolated, no matter where you are and how many people are present at once.  It swallows you up, singles you out and silences most sounds that escape from adjacent rooms. To be home alone is something I have grown to hate, and you will come to understand why.

I was visited by something—call it what you want for I have no idea how to name what I felt time and time again. A presence. That’s what it seemed like to me. Something or someone invisible yet tangible to all other senses.

I was visited by a presence that filled me with despair and horror. It did not differentiate between daytime and nighttime.  It manifested spontaneously, out of the void, unannounced, but it never left unless I ran from it.

I was a studious girl, assiduous in my academic endeavours, which means I spent a lot of time in my room, bent over books and pounding knowledge into my brain. It often came then.  Out of thin air, dragging footsteps that began at the threshold of my room, along with the sound of rustling fabric, as if someone was heavily cloaked or twisted within their clothes.  Then came the breathing, heavy and laborious. Raspy drags of air.

In later years, when I made my peace with the horror of the manifestations, I remember staring at the void, the empty space from where the ghastly sounds seemed to emanate from, wondering with some measure of curiosity what on earth could explain what I was again witnessing. But as a tween, I have vivid memories of that same horror at night, as I sometimes lurched forward from sleep, awoken by the sound of books thrown on the floor, a drawer or a door slammed shut, and furniture dragged across the room.  This is an experience my whole family shares. There have been moments when my father thought there was a break in, times when we huddled, all five of us, in our pj’s in the wee hours of morning, looking for the disturbance that had pulled us out of bed.  Nothing ever remained of the events.  Only sound (loud ones, at times), an echo of something that might have happened—because as rational individuals do, we had to question the veracity of the events we could not prove the existence of.

My siblings will attest to the fact that they had it worse than I ever did.  And by hearing their tales, I can only agree. In my late teen years, I learned to shut out these occurrences, to ignore rather than to dwell on the events. Now what remains of the manifestations is a bitter echo, a distasteful reverb of a time passed. My parents still own the house and cannot seem to be able to let it go. It holds my father under a spell, for he believes that he cannot possibly live elsewhere without serious consequences to his health and happiness. I visit the house from time to time with my own family now.  My middle son seems particularly concerned with a dark haired woman that he claims to see in the house.  My family has confirmed the spectral presence and says that she is particularly fond of children.  My mother says that she hears shuffling in the toy box from time to time, when it has been a while since her grandkids’ last visit.  The idea of a ghost fond of children is downright repulsive.

The estate also has a garage that looks more like a single-family Tudor home than a place where to park your car.  Back in the days, the original owner had a full-time gardener on staff who cared for his land and horses.  The animals and the carriage where kept on the ground floor, while the man lived in the low, slanted-ceiling apartment above.  That room is a scorcher in the summer, a place of oppressive suffocation, with the day’s heat trapped under the roof.  I harbor a mix of fascination and hatred for the garage for it still holds a strong presence that has my stomach in a knot every time I step inside.

But I let myself be distracted from the main course of my tale. Because, although I am thankful for having moved on with my life and left the family home behind, I still have to compose with the nightmares that arise from time to time.

Dreams are visions the brain conjures to deal with things you would rather avoid while wake. My night visions sometimes put me face to face with the dark entity that plagued my early teenage years and that filled me with paralyzing terror.

In my dreams, I often find myself inside the house or the outer building, roaming about. The shadow figure crawls over me, seeps into my bones like the nameless fear it is.  Dreams are hyperboles.  So are ghosts. In dreams, your senses are heightened and you may find yourself bolder than you are in reality.  Dreams give you the freedom to experience what you could otherwise never do. This is also true for terror.  The nightmares display the full wrath of the dark presence of my past, his controlling and incapacitating ways—I say “his” because this is how the entity feels to me; how absurd that a spectral presence should remain bound by gender in its bodiless form?

I don’t claim to know the first thing about what happens in the afterlife, and I don’t think anyone can affirm otherwise with irrefutable proof.  However, I can attest for the visceral feelings I have, the primal voice that whispers with the twitch of intuition.   The haunting of the ancestral house has left scars in its wake, wounds that I still struggle to heal from perhaps.

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