On an unremarkable street in an ordinary suburb of New Orleans is a pretty family home a pleasant bicycle ride along the levee from the Uptown mansions and sprawling oaks. The house belongs to my sister and her family.
She custom built the house about 20 years ago on an empty lot off Jefferson Highway in Harahan. I was living in the house with the family back in the late ’90s.
Harahan is known for the popular St. Rita’s School fairs and huge Halloween block parties, but is not really one of the most haunted places in the world. However, you would never know it if you spent any amount of time in my sister’s house.
It’s a gothic mansion disguised as a two-story suburban single-family home.
One night the family went out, leaving me home alone with two small feline monsters. I kept them at bay with catnip toys.
The generally amateurish poltergeist antics in my sister’s house rivaled the House of Shock just a stone’s throw away down River Road. My sister’s ghosts usually obeyed the house rule: Touch not the china cabinet.
But that night, something shifted and weird dimensions aligned with my bedroom.
I switched on the TV, grabbed a book and leaned back against the headboard of the bed, with one feline monster curled up at my feet and the other snoozing under the bed, the black tip of a tail curled around a foot post of the bed.
Time ticked by and darkness fell upon the neighborhood as traffic eased along the streets and I read with the white noise of the boring TV show in the background.
The first whimpers were barely audible, but with each moment ticking away, the crying grew louder, until despondent weeping and wailing flowed through the upstairs rooms.
It was low at first, competing with the TV, hard to pin-point, but the most sorrowful and baleful sound imaginable.
It was not coming from the TV program or the cats. I concentrated hard on the source, which seemed to be downstairs in the home office.
I muted the TV to get a better bead on the sound. The mute worked on the wailing, too. It just stopped.
This happened several times. Even the cats seemed to sense something, pricking their ears and sniffing the air.
I pricked up my own ears and slowly walked across the dark hall and down the stairs … jumping at my own shadow from the street lights outside as I passed through the foyer on my way to the back of the house.
I trolled through the house for anything that might be responsible for the wailing woman: another TV set, a radio, even checking the computer in the office.
Nothing. All was dark and quiet.
I thought about calling the police, but what would I tell them?
“Hello. There’s a despondent woman somewhere in my house but I can’t find her. Can you please come over?”
Yeah, that would work.
This went on for nearly two hours.
I decided I had had enough and picked up my keys and purse to leave the house and go anywhere-but-here when I heard the house alarm chime as the garage doors slowly grated on the rails and opened.
Much to my relief, the family was home for the night.
Standing in the home office, relating this story to my sister and nephew, all of a sudden we heard the menacing low growl of an invisible animal. The guttural sound came from just above our heads in the corner of the ceiling.
My nephew’s eyes grew big as soccer balls. “Mom, what was that??!!”
By this time the cats had heard the family return and come downstairs, waiting for some attention. They heard it, too, and arched and bristled like Halloween cats.
We searched the house again for anything that could produce any similar sounds. We knew it wasn’t the cats … not ours, anyway.
My sister called the neighbors. By this time they were in bed, but reported that they had not been watching anything on TV that might have provided an answer to the mystery of the wailing woman.
This happened more than 10 years ago, and to this day I still don’t know what I heard that night.
What growling thing could have been tormenting a woman to tears and wailing in my sister’s house?
The weirdness in the house continues, but we have never again heard the wailing woman.
I hope she wasn’t eaten.