The Not Quite Adventures of a Professional Archaeologist and Aspiring Curmudgeon

Friday, August 20, 2010

The Abandoned House

I had been working for over twelve hours when I encountered this place. I had gotten up early in the morning and driven out to the Mojave in order to perform a small archaeological/historic properties survey. While I found no archaeological sites, I did find the remains of a few cabins, out in the desert, ten miles from the nearest town, two miles north of the highway that passes through the area, and a mile east of the wind farm where the nearest people would be found.

The cabins were not occupied - it was clear from the exteriors that they had been abandoned decades before, and most of them were lacking both windows and doors and had decaying walls, making them little more than glorified lean-tos. But there was one that was a bit more intact. I encountered it about an hour before sunset, but didn't get a chance to go back and have a look until a after the sun had slid behind the Tehachapis.

This photo is from my first pass, before sunset.

Before I left, I had to try to find something that indicated when the house had been built, and when it had been abandoned. If a property is less than 50 years old, it usually won't be considered historic, and therefore I don't have to bother with it. If it's older than 50 years, on the other hand, I need to make sure that it makes it into my report. So, for each of the structures standing in the area, I had to examine the exterior, and if that failed to turn up anything, enter and examine the interior for age markers. This was fine for all of the shacks and small cabins, except for the one pictured above. I could enter everything else and look at it closely, but I didn't want to approach this building.

It wasn't that I was afraid of who might be in it - I was on federal land that had been obtained in the late 1970s, it was clear that nobody had been living in the house in quite a long time, and after spending several hours walking around within eyesight of the house, I hadn't seen anybody out here. There were no cars, no tracks of either vehicles or feet, and not recent trash. There was no chemical smells, and no stains on the ground. In other words, nobody had been living here, recreating here, or manufacturing drugs here. It was abandoned. Besides, I was far from defenseless. I am fast on my feet and can move through most environments quickly, so I could probably escape. If I was unlucky enough to not be able to escape, well, I am a large man - standing over six feet tall - and while I am never armed, a large portion of my field equipment can be used for defense in a pinch. So, I wasn't worried about people.

It was more of a sense of weird, supernatural dread. This is strange, as I don't believe in ghosts, and I think that demons are merely the scapegoats of weak-willed people prone to poor behavior and cash cows for televangelists who know that frothing paranoia is good for the coffers. I don't believe in fairies or trolls, nor vampires or ghouls. I think that shadow people are the products of people not understanding how their eyes work, and that apparitions are typically hallucinations.

In other words, if there was anyone who was not going to be frightened by what was out there (or, rather, what wasn't out there), it was me.

And yet, here I was, a deep sense of dread growing in the pit of my stomach as I pondered approaching the house. Truth be told, I was frustrated - I was working a long day and had to be away from home because of someone else's mistake - and I was tired, not having slept well for a couple of nights previous. Probably, in this mentally weakened state, the ghost stories that I collect had begun to mix about in my head. Certainly, I was thinking of a few specific ones as I stood, staring at the house.

The sun had set, time was short, and I had to get this done. I walked towards the house, walked a circuit at a distance, and then again up-close. This house still had windows, and as I approached them, I had to steel myself, and then force myself to look in. I saw a place where trash had been dumped, but in which there was nothing else. A bit calmer, I continued my circuit, finding nothing to indicate the age of the building. Finally, I reached the front door, and realized that I had to go inside.

The door's latch was broken, and a piece of wire had, some time ago, been fashioned into a make-shift fastener for the door. I had already seen inside through the window, this place had no surprises for me. And yet, I still hesitated, having difficulty making myself loosen the wire and open the door.

It was getting darker, and I knew that, if I didn't want to waste another drive out here, I had to finish. I loosened the wire, and slowly eased the door open.

I looked in, and there was nothing more than I had already seen through the window. I took a few steps in, and saw in the fading light that the interior walls had long since decayed, leaving this simply one large room. All of the furniture, appliances, and other household goods had long since been removed, and all that remained was a pile of trash from whoever the last people to use the building had been. I looked around, trying to find anything - an architectural feature, a wall hanging, an electrical device built into the building, or anything else - that would tell me how old the building was. It lacked an internal piping, which might tell me something, but in some rural areas, which this definitely was, indoor plumbing didn't become the norm until the 1970s.

I looked towards the door, and quickly walked to it. I turned around, feeling somehow that to leave my back to the room before the door was closed would be a bad idea. As I closed the door, I expected to feel the dread leave me, and feel a sense of relief. I didn't. Instead, as the door closed, I became fixated on the irrational notion that I was about to hear an old woman's laughter. I don't know where the thought came from, nor why it frightened me, but I couldn't shake it.

I finished closing the door, and hurried towards my truck. It was dark enough by this point that I had to turn my headlights on to navigate the dirt roads back to the main highway.

I still don't know what bothered me so much about that place. It was probably fatigue, stress, and an overactive imagination. I honestly never believed that anything would happen, but that doesn't change the fact that I couldn't shake the feeling that there was something wrong.


Jairus Durnett said...

I've had the same experience a few times while hiking - expecting to see some nightmare beast shadowing me in the brush.

I believe that the technical term for this feeling is "the heebie-jeebies".

Anthroslug said...

I had the experience once or twice back in college as well - usually when I was walking the darker campus paths at night. Of course, on that campus, there actually were animals that would stalk you (such as mountain lions), so it made a bit more sense.