Ghost Stories: Conversations in an Attic

Fresh from graduating college, I moved into an old Victorian home with three roommates. Syd owned this amazing fixer-upper and like many people in this old Indianapolis neighborhood, he dreamed of updating his place and turning a profit someday.

I really loved this place because Syd agreed to let me use the attic as my painting studio. The attic had little odd-shaped windows that provided some natural light and I could splatter my large canvases without worry of the mess I always made. In the summer with all the windows open and fans on it was sweltering, and in the cold of winter I would warm my hands over a bare light bulb. I found a discarded rug that I rolled out under one window and brought pillows and blankets up so I could take breaks from painting, breathe in the fresh air and look out at the neighborhood.

As I painted, I had conversations in my head. And at that time I imagined I was talking with an older man and his wife. The old man was a character and she mostly nagged her husband's interest in talking with me. He asked me about my paintings and made fun of their abstract nature. They were funny barbs and I never felt they were negative, just poking fun and light. They made me think more consciously about what I was creating and why I was picking the colors I chose. These conversations helped distract me from nagging worries about how I was going to sell my art, instead I was learning more about myself through the process of painting. It felt loving and safe and easy…and fun.

One day while painting I noticed many of my abstract paintings had what looked like buildings on fire. I wasn’t usually drawn to painting fire, yet fire kept showing up in several paintings I was working on. On my painting breaks, I would stare out the window at the neighboring houses and in my mind's eye I would see flames bursting from windows. I wasn’t fearful or worried, I was curious. What does all of this mean?

After months of my chats with the older couple, a question formed in my head: old couple + old Victorian home + flames…. I wondered if they were spirits who used to live in this home. Had they perished in a fire here?

Curiosity got the best of me, so one day I casually asked Syd if there’d ever been a fire in the home. Unfortunately, my bizarre question instantly sent Syd to a panicked place.

“Why are you asking?” Syd had gone all-in on his home and he needed the house to generate a profit. “Did you notice something burnt upstairs in the attic?”

“No.” Fuuuuck. I wished I had never asked.

"Then why are you asking? Did something catch on fire upstairs?” Syd asked.

"I don't know," I meant: "I don't know how to explain something I can't explain to myself, to you." I tried to back out of the conversation but my evasiveness created suspicion with Syd.

“Let’s go upstairs and look.” Syd’s tone felt like a mother who just knew her kid was lying and wanted to find out what mischief I'd been up to.

We climbed the stairs to the attic and Syd continued with his questions and I kept giving him vague, unsatisfying answers. He searched the entire attic. At one point Syd went downstairs to retrieve a flashlight and then came back up. He moved boxes and old furniture and made sure there was no evidence of fire damage. There was none. Every inch of all the rafters, floor and walls were searched for evidence of a fire. There was none. He kept demanding I tell him why I asked if there’d been a fire.

“I don’t know,” I whined.

Syd felt satisfied that I hadn’t created a fire nor had I seen evidence of a fire, and to my relief he stopped questioning me.

Weeks later I came home from work and Syd was waiting for me. He had this weird look on his face.

“Come with me,” he said, grabbing a flashlight. I followed him upstairs to his bedroom, a room I’d never been in. I felt awkward not knowing what this was all about. He took me to his walk-in closet and the dropped ceiling in the closet had one of the tiles moved out of the way. It was completely dark beyond that dropped ceiling.

“There, see that, and that?” Syd pointed the light into the darkness above.

I saw the wooden beams were charred black. All the beams had been scorched to varying degrees. It must have been some fire. I wasn't shocked so much as relieved. Maybe I wasn't so crazy after all. However, I still had no frame of reference to understand what all of this meant and I definitely had no words to explain my experience.

Syd explained how he found the fire damage, “I asked my realtor if there’d ever been a fire in this home because it hadn’t been disclosed and my inspection guy never found it. So the realtor did some research…” I was trying to take all of what Syd was saying in and somehow make it make sense. There had been a fire many, many decades ago. He didn't know if anyone had perished in the the fire.

“How did you know?” Syd asked. He was relieved his house was safe for resale and knew I wasn’t covering up some mishap in the attic. He was just curious. I still couldn't explain. We just left the conversation in a, "Huh, weird," place and continued with our lives.

I sold the paintings that were fiery without photographing them, a now regrettable habit of mine. A few months later I found a studio in an old business building downtown Indianapolis. The building was being restored and the owners rented the rooms out to mostly artists and musicians. I loved the sounds of the trumpet player practicing across the hall and the duckpin bowling alley above me. I never had conversations with the old couple after leaving Syd's house. I did start seeing the new space as an old dentist’s office. Of course there was no evidence of dental equipment or signs, it just felt like a dentist's office....


Have you ever had a similar experience? Have you ever connected with an energy, spirit or ghost in your home? When you’re in a flow-state, creative, inspirational state, have you ever connected with something or someone non-physical? If you have, I’d love to know! Please share!