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The Door to the Attic - A Ghost Story - not for the squeamish

The house I rent is haunted. I asked my landlady about it; she moved into this very house when she was just a girl and she is in her 80s. Her memory goes way back.

My bedroom connects to the attic via a small wooden door literally built into the upper wall, held closed by a simple latch. Sometimes at night I feel a presence there, behind that tiny door. Nothing more; no noise, no poltergeist movement - just an eerie not-quite-alive presence.

Mrs. Bissett told me that her family bought the house cheap back in the twenties. The prior resident was a doctor (Dr. Richard Graybill) who commited suicide in his mid-sixties and was reputed to be buried in the attic, under the flooring. "Hogwash," said Mrs. Bissett. "He's not what haunts this house."

Dr. Graybill was a bastard born in the Civil War years somewhere in Virginia, south of Arlington, perhaps Fredricksberg. He was named Graybill because his father was an anonymous Confederate soldier who either died or never came back for fear of his paternal responsibilty. Graybill was a common name for such bastard babies, since their fathers wore the gray caps of the Confederacy.

Dr. Graybill took advantage of the chaos of the Reconstruction to climb a ways socially, despite his unknown parentage. He worked hard, earned a medical degree from what is now George Washington University and practiced many years in this very neighborhood. His office is still used for medicine today; it houses the tiny Clarendon Clinic, which mostly serves the Vietnamese and Spanish-speaking population of the area. My roommate went there once after a nasty dogbite and she reported that not one word of English could be heard in the waiting room or from the doctors themselves.

Anyway, Dr. Graybill practiced there, just a few feet from his home. He lived alone and had no family. Almost everyday, a variety of young black girls (hardly ever the same girl)would come to his house to do his cleaning and cooking and so forth. The rumor, as Mrs. Bissett tells me, is that Dr. Graybill would help these girls out of "trouble," she said. He would give them abortions (though my 80-something landlady would not use the word). If the girls could not pay, as was often the case, they would repay their debt by chorework. This is why the doctor was kept by such a vast array of young black girls through his many years and why they were hardly ever the same girls. Of course, this was all just conjecture. For all anyone in the community really knew, Dr. Graybill was a fine, slightly eccentric obstetrician.

Dr. Graybill did indeed take his own life, but I am told that his remains lie in one of Arlington's municipal cemetaries. In December 1921, right before Christmas, after a particularly grueling season of births and non-births, he partook of an unhealthy amount of homemade apple brandy (remember, there was a Prohibition at the time) and was actually struck blind. Being struck blind at such a late age is a horrible shock and Dr. Graybill took it very poorly and sunk into deep despair. He babbled incoherently with the few guests who visiited, murmuring about little voices and going on and on about a terrible judgement. Six months later, in the summer of 1922, he fumbled clumsily at his own wrists with a razor blade until he finally struck his own poor veins. The house was a bloody mess, says Mrs. Bissett.

"But the ghost?" I asked. "Who is haunting the house, if not Dr. Graybill?"

A few years later, when my landlady's family bought the house for cheap (as it was rumored haunted already), they proceeded to do a thorough cleaning. Mrs. Bissett was just a girl, but she remembers this clearly. In the attic, there was a terrible dead smell of rot. Up there, in a corner, (near my little door, she added mischievously) were more than a few large burlap sacks. When they were opened to see what was inside, a wave of panic came over the adults. Even the children were stricken with raw terror to see their parents faces turn so ghostly white. Mrs. Bissett's mother fainted on the spot. When a sack was cut open, a dark, syrupy muck seeped onto the floor and a tiny figure rolled out. The sacks were filled with old fetuses, tiny gooey remainders of Dr. Graybill's miserable last years. He had gone blind before he could dispose of them, and could not do so afterwards for fear of being exposed for what was already rumored to be true. So he stayed in that house, in total darkness, beneath those sacks. He was driven mad by their very existence, their stillness and their weight, until the last, when he took his own life.

"That's what haunts your little door," Mrs. Bissett said to me, winking.

I'm thinking of including this into my Craigslist ad, since whoever moves in will be getting the room with the little door to the attic. However, perhaps I'll wait till they're settled and then I'll get Mrs. Bissett to come over and tell it.

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post #363
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April - National Poetry Month 2008

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