Living in the Valley: Scary Noises, Ghosts, and Unexplainable Sights in the Dark (The Final Word Opinion Column)

Things that go bump in the night: Even the most logical among us can be unnerved by the “country creeps”

I like to think I’m a reasonable man and that there’s a rational explanation for everything. But the Hudson Valley — home of legendary Sleepy Hollow and its headless horseman — naturally inspires flights of supernatural fancy, especially at this time of year.

» Find more Sleepy Hollow events in this year’s Halloween Guide

When I moved to Red Hook 13 years ago, I was intrigued when the guy who built my house told me that his Rhinebeck home is haunted by the ghost of a man who died on the property long ago. The builder had experienced strange noises and doors that locked themselves, as well as the fleeting image of a red-haired man standing behind him in the mirror.

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Of note: His kids were later born with red hair, which does not run on either side of his family.

Okay, chortle about red-haired deliverymen all you want, but as skeptical as I am about this stuff, I have to admit that I’ve succumbed to the “country creeps.” Case in point: I was taking the garbage outside one very dark night — my quiet rural neighborhood has no streetlights, something that took some getting used to after residing in suburban Long Island for years — and the hair on the back of my neck shot straight up at the sound of a coyote’s howl. The adjective “eerie” does not do justice to this otherworldly sound. I still dread hearing it.

Now, I’ve never seriously entertained ideas that there are actual spooks in them thar hills, or in my house (more on that in a bit). But no matter how well grounded in reality I may be, I’m still vulnerable to being seriously startled, especially in the dark. The Valley’s ample woods and wildlife — the raccoons, possums, and skunks that suddenly materialize from under the front porch when you’re not expecting them; and the sinister, shadowy movements of deer (I think) in nearby brush — have given me some gray hair.

And there has been no safe haven for my nerves indoors, either.

One day, I thought I was home alone. Suddenly, I heard footsteps coming down the uncarpeted stairs from the second floor. I called out the names of my wife and kids, but no one was there. These unexplained episodes happened again and again… until we discovered that it was Squeekles, one of our four cats (who, by the way, happens to be black and resembles the animal in the gloriously creepy film Coraline).

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Squeekles also sneaks into our attic when the pull-down steps are open, gets shut in up there, and then makes supernatural-sounding noises in the middle of the night. Not to be outdone, Katy induces cardiac arrest by unexpectedly leaping onto my shoulders from behind. And the other two, Penny and Fuzzer, give me jolts of fright by appearing at the window by my desk, their eyes glowing in the dark as they claw at the screen like Freddy Krueger.

“It’s just the cats” has become my reassuring mantra, but no one has been able to explain why our smoke alarm goes off at night in odd, highly unpredictable bursts that usually last just until I get up. Our local fire department checked out the system and found nothing amiss.

“Might be a gnat or mosquito setting it off,” one fireman shrugged.

Or maybe it’s just more parafeline activity… or a ghost. I guess I’ll know for sure if I see a strange man behind me in the mirror.

» More from John Rolfe
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