The Best of Chippewa Falls Volume One's guide to the riverside city » Presented by Mason Companies, Leinie Lodge, Northwestern Bank, and Go Chippewa Falls

The Rear End

THE REAR END: Haunted Houses

spooky family stories of friendliness and fire

Mike Paulus, illustrated by Eva Paulus |

My aunt used to live in a little house up north surrounded by corn fields. She lived there with my two cousins and, as far as she’s concerned, at least one ghost.

Most of the things she says happened in this house, the stuff my cousins will corroborate, hover at the “mischievous” end of the spectral spectrum. Dishes falling off shelves in the next room. Objects placed in random spots while no one’s looking. The phone would often ring at weird times, and when you picked it up to say, “Hello,” you’d be met with silence.

Hello.

My cousin claims you could hear cars pulling up the gravel driveway to park alongside the house, but no one would come to the door. When you checked out the window to see who was there, the driveway would be empty.

If anything scarier than ghost cars and paranormal(ish) phone calls ever happened, my aunt never mentioned it out loud.

Except for one thing. There was a dark night years ago when, after a prolonged period of ghostly annoyances, my aunt actually yelled directly at the phantom. And then, after everyone had gone to sleep, she says that ghost set fire to her house.

My cousin – my aunt’s son – is only two months older than me. My parents used to haul the family up north every weekend, so I hung out with him all the time, and we had sleepovers. Back then, nobody mentioned a ghost.

I mean, I slept with a hallway light on well into college, and my fear of the dark came from episodes of Scooby-Doo. If young Mikey Paulus had heard an actual adult actually confirming the existence of other-worldly visitors, his mind would have melted.

MIKE PAULUS

But I remember this one game my cousin would play. He’d “make weapons.” Since all of the cartoons I watched at the time involved dudes/robots/mutant turtles fighting each other with all manner of swords and laser cannons, I was totally into it. We’d use random stuff around his bedroom to make little clubs and other rudimentary instruments of war. And one time I asked him, “What are these for?”

“For monsters,” is all he said.

And I thought nothing of it.

A long time later, I heard my aunt talking about the ghost and the fire and all the weird stuff. Had she told me these things when I was a little kid, I’d never have set foot in her house. Not for all the Transformers in America.

I mean, I slept with a hallway light on well into college, and my fear of the dark came from episodes of Scooby-Doo. If young Mikey Paulus had heard an actual adult actually confirming the existence of other-worldly visitors, his mind would have melted.

On the night of the fire, my aunt had yelled down into her shadowy basement about how the ghost had to live with them and how they had to start getting along. The fire had started in the stairwell. It was faulty wiring, but my aunt believes it was a message.

Get out.

My aunt says this happened after years of strange reoccurring dreams where she’d wake up in bed to see stacks of cardboard boxes filling her room. The ghost wanted her to move, she says.

So they did.

My family has a bunch of ghost stories, passed down during family gatherings and generally agreed upon by my aunts and uncles. I was a full grown adult with kids and electric bills and some very distinguished-looking grey hair before I realized not every family is like this. Not every family has a set of phantom lore or even one single aunt who’s got a personal beef with a spirit.

There’s another house up north my family talks about. An old farmhouse my great-grandparents owned when they died. My parents used it as a starter home after they got married, as did some other relatives. When my mom was a kid she’d walk over to visit her grandma, and she says there was a bed upstairs that would start shaking if you played on it.

And my mom says, after she was grown and living there, the screen door on the front of the house would flap open if company was pulling up the driveway. Her grandma used to greet people on the front porch, so it looked as though the house was just keeping that tradition alive.

And that’s a much nicer story than late-night fires.

After growing up with these stories, do I believe in ghosts? Do I believe these events have no rational explanation? No. But do they fill me with fear and fascination? Yes.

And in a way, that’s real enough.