It was about 27 years ago, late spring 1987. I was eight years old. My dad was reassigned to the military base at Fort Hood, Texas, so our family had moved to a house in Austin a few months prior. I shared my room and a set of bunk beds with my younger sister, Tina. As the oldest, I had the top bunk. Our beds were set up facing the hallway, leaving just enough room to close the bedroom door.
In the hallway just outside our bedroom, my parents had hung one of my grandfather's oil paintings: a peaceful nature scene. It had twin snowcapped mountain peaks in the far right back ground with a waterfall dropping down between the two peaks into the background and wrapping around from right to left into the foreground of the scene.
One Sunday night my parents sent all of us kids to bed around 8:30-9 p.m. because we had school the following day. I was asleep when something woke me up out of a sound sleep. I was a very heavy sleeper then and did not usually wake up during the night. Something woke me up and I was wide awake now.
I lay in bed looking out through my doorway into the hallway in front of me. In the painting there was a semi-transparent head that formed out of the mists at the top of the waterfall – the head of an older gentleman. The gentleman was around my grandpa's age in his 70s and he stared back at me. I was petrified at first. He never said anything to me, he just sort of watched me.
I can't explain how I knew it, but I knew he was related to me somehow, yet I didn't recognize or know him. I tried whispering, calling my younger sister's name and making noise to get her attention on the bottom bunk, but she wouldn't wake up. I wanted her to verify what I was seeing.
I heard my parents arguing about something in the kitchen. I called out for my mom, but I was told to "go to back to sleep." I asked and begged them to take down the painting. I can only assume they thought I was having a nightmare.
They ignored me, so I decided I had no other choice but to go to them. I gathered up my courage to brave the "hallway gambit". To get to them, I would have to run out the door to the left directly past the painting, down the hallway past three doors (two on left, one on right) and into the kitchen. To my young mind, the safest place to be at that moment was by their sides, no matter how much they yelled at me for it.
Maybe it was my second grade imagination or the scary movie I snuck out to watch, but something told me if I didn't move fast enough I’d get caught by the ghost hands that shot out from the walls. If I got caught by the ghosts, they would pull me through the walls into another place and I’d be lost forever. I feared this more than the wrath of my parents for not doing what I was told.
I kept a firm eye on the spirit in the painting as I slipped down off the top bunk. I tried to shake my sister awake because I didn't want to leave her behind with the spirit, but she wouldn't wake up. I stretched my legs and mustered my courage to run the gambit into the kitchen and prayed I wouldn't fall.
I bolted out the door, past the painting, down the hall and into the kitchen. My parents were mad, but I didn't care. I told them I wasn't go back in that room until they took the painting down. I told them about the face in the painting and what I thought it meant. I felt that someone in our family had died, and the ghost was related to us somehow. I could tell she didn't really believe me.
About an hour later, my parents got a call from my grandparents in New York. My great Uncle Sweeney (grandma's brother) had died about three days earlier in Washington, D.C. They were calling to notify my dad about the funeral being held in a few days. My grandparents said they had been so busy that they forgot to call.
My parents were stunned. They couldn't readily explain this away. I had met my great uncle several years prior when my parents took us up for a visit during the summer. I recalled going out to eat at a small restaurant with red and white checkered tablecloths.
I don't really recall that much about the man myself. My dad took the painting down and took me back to my room, while my mom started calling airlines to book a trip for him to New York. I reluctantly went back to bed.
The following afternoon, after I came home from school, I touched the spot on the painting where the face had appeared and it was ice cold to the touch while the rest of the wall was warm. I couldn't quite explain it.