Vaselina Hawreliak did not like cursing in her house. She kept the weeds out of her enormous garden, she cooked, sewed for and cleaned after her nine children, all the while instilling them with moral values.
She died in 1967.
The Hawreliak House had since been sold, abandoned and restored at the Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village, a first-person interpretation museum in which interpreters dress up as the people who lived in the houses and play out their lives for visitors to the site.
I played the town’s British constable this past summer. My accent wasn’t any good. The house where I played my role was almost as old as the Hawreliak House, but I had never experienced anything particularly creepy.
The Hawreliak House was apparently haunted. Numerous employees had heard footsteps coming from the top floor and chairs were said to have been moved around while people were gone. Creepy Canada made a low-budget segment about the house, featuring a ghostly woman in the middle of the night, rocking a crying baby in a cradle. I was curious to find out for myself.
Amin was the security guard. He was from Egypt, working in Canada to earn his Canadian citizenship. He worked as a security guard at a mall during the day, and at the Ukrainian Village at night. He didn’t sleep much.
“Can I come out to the Village at night to see if it’s really haunted?” I asked him over the phone.
“It is,” he said bluntly.
“There’s noises in all of the buildings. Pots and pans rattling. Footsteps. But come out if you want. Don’t tell the bosses.”
“What about the Hawreliak house?”
“It’s freaky shit.”
“I drive past at night, doing inspections. And one time I see lights from candles in the windows.”
“Did you check what it was?”
“Shit man,” he said, “I don’t want to know.”
“I’ll bring you something if we go inside.”
“Man. You bring something really good before I go into that house.”
I headed out to the Ukrainian Village in the middle of the night. I brought with me a bottle of Jameson, a pack of cigarillos and a red jersey of the Egyptian national football team I stumbled across at the Salvation Army. It was a rare find. I parked my car and stepped outside into silence. There was total darkness beyond the orange lights on the administration building. I crunched through the snow.
Amin had left the doors unlocked for me. Inside, the administration building was completely black except for the lights emanating from under the door of the security office. I opened it. Amin wasn’t in, but his keys and a half-empty pack of smokes were on the desk. Three computer screens showed what security cameras filmed around the site. It was the security guard’s job to call Fish and Wildlife if any deer, moose or bears were seen. Except for a green, grainy image of an old house, the rest of the cameras didn’t seem to be working. They showed empty black squares.
“Freeze motherfucker!” said Amin, jumping from behind the door. He
pointed the old .38 Smith and Wesson at me I wore with my constable costume. I was slightly startled.
“Gone crazy yet?” I asked.
“It’s always crazy out here man,” he said.
I showed him the whiskey and the cigarillos.
“Shit,” he said, surprised, then added glumly. “You really didn’t need to.”
“Is it really that scary?”
He sighed. “Shit. No. Let’s go.”
We headed out. He had to make a few rounds every night around the site in an SUV. He told me the security company called once every hour to make sure he wasn’t sleeping on the job.
We headed first to the house where I worked. The constable I played was known to be a heavy drinker. He was also suspected of physically abusing his family. We parked in front of the house and I opened the door before Amin arrived with the flashlight. It was pitch black inside the constable’s office. I felt around the desk and accidentally knocked over a small ink pot. I felt around on the desk but I couldn’t find it. The house creaked its familiar creak, but it was sharper, a little more intense. It was easy to see why all the employees thought their houses were haunted.
Amin arrived with the flashlight. We inspected the 3×6 foot holding cell beside the desk. Nothing but the old honey bucket.
We went into the kitchen. The house was much more sinister in the dark as Amin shined the flashlight on individual objects, projecting their shadowy edges onto the wall behind them. We went into the front room. It was cold. Our footsteps were the only sounds.
The chairs and china were in the right places, but the lid on the piano was open. It shouldn’t have been open in the winter.
I remembered how I always forgot small stuff like that while cleaning the building when the house was mine. I went to look in the mirror.
Suddenly, glass smashed behind us. I froze.
“Holy fucking shit,” whispered Amin. “That came from the office.”
“What did you do?” I asked.
I went back into the office.
“Come with the flashlight.”
The small ink pot had fallen on the floor, splattering ink everywhere.
“I just knocked it over when I came in,” I told Amin. “It just rolled off the desk.”
The small jar had dropped from the desk a few times before, but it had never broken.
“Let’s get out of here,” I said.
We got back into the SUV without a word. It started after a couple twists of the key. Amin was obviously distraught.
We drove along the path between the office and the Hawreliak house, when I heard something.
“Shh,” I said.
“Stop the car.”
“Shut the car off.”
He did. I heard the shrill ring of a telephone in the distance.
“When’s the last time the security company called?”
“They only call me on my cell,” he said, showing it to me.
I listened again.
“Did you hear that?”
There was nothing.
“Freaky shit,” I said.
“Yeah freaky shit. Let’s go back now,” said Amin.
“Not yet. I want to go in the Hawreliak house.”
“No frickin way man,” Amin said.
I pulled out the red football jersey.
His eyes widened. “Holy shit. How much did you pay for that?”
“It doesn’t matter.”
“Why are you doing this to me?”
“Don’t be scared. I got this for you so I can go inside. You don’t have to come.”
“Please don’t go in man.”
“Sorry,” I said, grabbing the flashlight. He followed me.
I had the key, and as other employees told me I had to do, I asked the mother for permission to open the door. It unlocked easily.
In the summer, there was always food on the long table in the kitchen. Now it was bare. I shined the light on the stove, the wall telephone, the cradle. Nothing unusual.
Amin arrived, breathing quickly. He held resolutely onto the doorknob. I walked into the different rooms, listening for a few moments.
“Finished?” Amin interrupted.
“I need to go upstairs.”
“Because you don’t do your job.”
“Come one man,” he implored. “Fuck this, let’s get out of here.”
I slowly, carefully climbed the stairs.
Some creaked. All the doors of the rooms upstairs were open. It was all dark to the end of the hallway; I couldn’t see anything.
I went inside the first bedroom. The bed was made immaculately.
Clothes were nicely laid out; small, brown shoes ready to wear.
“Holy fucking shit!” Amin screamed from the bottom floor. I turned to the door, but I heard footsteps running down the hallway and the door slammed in front of my face. I jerked and tugged the doorknob and hammered the door. It wouldn’t open.
I was only told later that the mother didn’t like swearing in her house.