Hayley Juhl: How to tell if your house is haunted (or you just live with children)

Strange smells, drafts and disappearing objects. Do you blame the teenager or call for an exorcist?

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“But it was right there!” your teenager wails. “I always leave it right there!”

You suspect they don’t always leave it right there. You have a vague memory of picking it up a dozen times from odd places like the back of the couch or under the kitchen table. Yet when they do, at last, find the thing (next to the fridge, under the carton of milk): “I didn’t put it there!”

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Obviously it’s ghosts. Clearly your house is haunted.

Objects that vanish, then mysteriously turn up in a place they don’t belong is one of the hallmarks of paranormal activity. There are others. Perhaps you’ve been too quick to blame everything on your children, when in fact it’s monsters under the bed you should be concerned about.

Drafts and cold spots

There is plastic on the windows in preparation for winter. The heat is set at a comfortable 20 degrees Celsius (y’all can wear socks if that’s not warm enough). As you cross the hallway to make a cup of tea, a chill overtakes your ankles and creeps up your spine. Ghosts are notorious for cooling the air as they gather energy to manifest.

More mundane explanations include living in one of Montreal’s thousands of old, drafty buildings or … did the kid leave the door ajar again? How hard is it to pull it closed? You’re not paying to heat the outdoors.

Strange smells and phantom scents

You’re walking down that dastardly hallway again when you’re hit full-on by a phantom scent, curling around your nostrils like a petting zoo on a humid day. Did the dog fart? He’s at the other end of the house. Is it the sneakers that are somehow in the middle of the hall instead of in the entryway? The smell might be associated with your resident spirit. Just in case, venture into your kid’s room to see if last week’s ham sandwich is sitting on the bookshelf.

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Flickering lights

Your otherworldly visitor wants to communicate with you. It’s shared its favourite smell and cooled the air to get your attention, but like your child saying “mom, mom, mom, mom,” you’ve tuned it out. Like your child, it has no choice but to escalate. It takes the energy it has pulled from the air — that’s what made you cold, remember — and directs it at the lights and TV. Or your preschooler is finally tall enough to reach the light switch and is giddy with power.

Always feeling like you’re being watched

You’re never alone, are you? If it’s not a child following you into the bathroom, it’s a pet. Your family’s preternatural senses come alive when you’re making yourself a bowl of ice cream. Locked doors lead to peculiar knocking sounds. When you’re truly alone and you feel that spectre watching you, well, at least you have someone to talk to.

Devices keep running out of power

“I’m at 15 per cent!” “I’m at two per cent!” “Nooo, I was in the middle of a challenge!” Yeah. Your kid’s device died again. They swear they fully charged it. They insist their games aren’t draining the battery. They promise they haven’t lost yet another charger. Your solution is to keep buying charging cords and external batteries, but probably it’s the ghost again, pulling energy from smartphones so it can change the TV channel.

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Your cat is acting weird

You think the cat is the laziest creature in the house, but she’s the result of thousands of years of evolution and every whisker is attuned to the slightest change in the air. While she loafs on the windowsill, she senses the drafts and the flickerings and the phantom scents that — wait, yes, it was the dog that time. When she goes from deep sleep to parkour kitty in the blink of an eye, trust that she’s taking care of business. She’s your last, best defence against wraiths and far cheaper than an exorcist. That, or she had a dream about a squirrel.

The clock stops

You heard the comforting tick-tick-tick of the clock while you were falling asleep, but it inexplicably stopped at 3 a.m., the witching hour. You asked your teenager to change the battery last week, how could this have happened? You know. You know deep in your soul what happened. What are you doing with an analog clock, anyway? You’ve been saying since your kids were born that time moves too quickly and you wish you could just slow it down. Lean into it.

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Originally posted 2023-10-29 16:17:12.