December 20, 2010

The Hidden People, Part 1

Nick had heard the stories from his grandmother who heard the stories from her mother. Myths and legends were woven into the fabric of Ireland, but would they survive the long journey to America? When Nick and his father came face to face with things they could not explain, they knew that more than just stories had survived.

Nick writes to tell me about his experience years ago in Massachusetts. Nick’s paternal grandmother had come to America from Ireland when she was a teenager, and Nick’s father, Pat, was her first child. Pat and his brothers and sisters were raised in a little house on a big dairy farm. There they learned what it was like to earn their living from the land, much as their ancestors had done back in Ireland.

The family worked hard and, despite lean years and setbacks, the farm thrived. In addition to providing their livelihood, the farm also kept the family together. Day in and day out, they worked side by side, becoming as close as a family can be.

Nick’s father eventually took over the family business and continued to work the farm. His brothers and sisters worked with him or found their own nearby farms. Nick’s grandmother continued to live on the farm, and Nick grew up hearing her stories of the old country. “She told me about old ghosts and fairies from Ireland,” Nick recalls, “but she mostly talked about what she called the Hidden People.”

As a child, Nick has fond memories of growing up on a farm. Although his chores were more work than children get nowadays, Nick cherished both the freedom and responsibility he had. One memory he often turns to is the sight of his grandmother opening the front door and sweeping away the dust from the spacious front porch. Many mornings in both summer and winter, she would sweep the doorstep and then take from her pocket a small bronze bell. She held the bell out in front of her and gave it a quick ring. “She did it like it was more of a ritual than a chore,” Nick says. “I didn’t even know why she did it, but I always remember her doing it.”

Eventually, Nick went away to school and became a veterinarian. He lived outside of Boston and visited the old family farm when he could. As Nick made a new life in the city, his father was struggling to keep the farm going. Nick’s grandmother was not long for the world, and Pat was dong all he could to make sure she spent her last days on her beloved farm. Nick helped how he could, but all across the country farm families were fading into history.

Nick’s grandmother soon passed away and Pat decided to sell. As the family history seemed to be slipping out of sight, Nick had second thoughts and decided to buy the farm himself. He put many acres of farm land up for sale and his father stayed on with a reduced herd of cows. Now the family homestead would be a showcase organic dairy farm, and Nick made plans to open a veterinary clinic on the grounds. It seemed that things were looking up for the family.

“It started off as a few things missing from the house,” Nick tells me. “I thought it was just my dad misplacing things.” Even in his 80s, however, Pat was as able as a teenager; there was no slowing him down. Often Nick would find the missing items in strange places. “I found my car keys in a bucket in the barn one morning,” Nick explains. “It was soon after that that we started to hear the noises.”

Exhausted from days of preparing the farm for its transformation, Pat and Nick usually slept like babies. But soon after the mystery of the missing items began, Nick and Pat would awake each night to the sound of tapping and knocking on the walls and floorboards. Extensive searches revealed no intruding animals or structural changes. After many nights Nick and Pat could hear other sounds like whistling and whispering that seemed to come from everywhere in the house.

Although no expert in the paranormal, Nick had seen enough movies to began to wonder if the house was haunted. “I was thinking maybe it was a poltergeist,” Nick recalls, “but in the back of my head, I was thinking it was my grandmother.” Nick and Pat continued their work, trying not to pay any mind to the strange events. Eventually, Pat confided to his son that he felt that his mother’s spirit was restless and that maybe they should stop work on the farm in order to please her. Not wanting to disappoint his father, Nick agreed to stop the work on the condition that they get to the bottom of the mystery.

That night Nick and his father decided to stake out the front porch in order to catch any animals that might be getting under the house and making the racket. “There are a lot of raccoons in the area, so we wanted to make sure it wasn’t just an animal,” Nick tells me. Nick and Pat gathered coats and blankets and flashlights and Nick got out his old BB gun just in case. It was hard to stay awake in the darkness with only a few lights from inside the house softly illuminating the porch.

Sometime after midnight, Pat was dozing comfortably and Nick heard what he thought was a family of raccoons moving toward the house. In the darkness beyond the porch, Nick could make out half a dozen shadows scurrying along the ground. “I was relieved to think that it was just some raccoons,” Nick says, “and then I saw that they definitely were not raccoons.” The figures that were quickly covering the ground in front of the house were moving in a straight line, an unusual formation for wild animals. And, of course, they were walking upright on two legs.

“When I think about it now, I wonder how I didn’t lose it right then,” remembers Nick. As they approached the house, Nick could see that the figures were squat and rounded, but moved with remarkable speed and agility. They appeared to be two feet tall and humanoid, dressed in little clothes – dark robes with pointed peaks and leather boots – but their faces and hands were hidden in the shadows and folds. In the darkness, Nick didn’t know what was coming at him, so he reached down to pick up the BB gun on the porch beside his chair. As he did, he forgot about the flashlight on his lap. It rolled off and landed with a loud clatter on the floor. In that instant Pat woke up with a start and the figures abruptly vanished. “It was like the loud noise just pushed them out of our world,” says Nick.

Read "The Hidden People, Part 2" here.

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