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The House that Breathed

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The House that Breathed

From just beyond the Valley of the Shadows

“Of any misery in the sound of the wind, the breath of time as it hurries the season to repast.” -Wallace Stevens

I was planning a story about the failed Boulder City mining ghost town east of Bonners Ferry this month, but will save that one for later.  Instead, this month and for the next two columns, I am temporarily venturing outside of the Valley and into the Spokane area.

A relative, a cousin of mine, became a house flipper a number of years ago and has become quite successful at it. He did seven houses last year and averages half a dozen annually. During the time he has been in this business, the jobs have been uneventful for the most part. However, not all the houses he renovated have cooperated.

This first venture beyond the Valley is about an early 1940s-era house in an older residential section of North Spokane. While the address and street will go unnamed, it is a couple miles south of Holy Family hospital and about a half mile east of Division.

The house in question is a modest, two-bedroom structure built with the sensibilities of the first half of the 20th century. The rooms are all of modest size.   The heat is furnished now by oil in the full basement, but was formerly a coal-fired furnace. That basement is accessed off the kitchen via a hair-raising, narrow, steep set of stairs that descend into darkness with only the light from the kitchen until you hit the small landing halfway down where the light switch is, before you continue further down.

 Lit by a few 60 watt bulbs, the basement is a hodgepodge of tools from another era, trunks and many miscellaneous mementos from decades ago.

My cousin usually worked alone, though often sought the help of his father for some carpentry work and would occasionally hire a freelancer for odd jobs like cleaning up properties that still had a lot of crap in them.

My cousin’s first full day was  devoted to surveying the house and seeing what needed to be done, as well as making a list of the supplies necessary. 

It was a windy March day and while there were more and more daylight hours, a high overcast kept the light level low and moody.

After taking in the living room/dining area, he moved to the kitchen and that is where the first odd thing happened. He heard a scraping sound come from the pantry at the north end of the kitchen adjacent to the stairs leading down to the basement.  At first he thought it might be something outside, but it had sounded like it was right behind him. Looking around he dismissed it and continued taking notes. That was when a sound that seemed to be someone breathing hard or with difficulty started.

 It hadn’t sounded as if it had come from outside, but was the labored breathing of a human fighting for air. Quickly going into the living room, the sound stopped, and the house became silent except for the wind outside.

The house was not that large and it took only another ten minutes to list what was needed in the kitchen, the two bedrooms and the old fashioned bath where a new tub, new sink and cabinets would be necessary. These, along with new amenities such as painting, and perhaps some paneling, were a given.

Nothing else unusual happened and my cousin left, having been there only half an hour. Never having thought to research the history of a house he bought and resold, my cousin still wasn’t going to go to the trouble. He was very practical minded and just didn’t have the time.

Returning a few days later with his father, they began ripping out some of the old cabinets, the tub and bathroom sink. While taking a break for lunch, the younger man told his father about what he had heard two days earlier. As they headed out to their SUV, my older cousin noticed a neighbor coming home with her groceries and decided to ask the woman if she knew anything about the house they were renovating.

The neighbor’s answer was enlightening. She told them that an older man had lived in the house for all of the twenty years she and her family had been here until dying a couple of years earlier of complications from asthma.

My cousins looked at one another. Now, they were not any more into ghosts, hauntings or the unexplained than the average person who perhaps watches “Ghost Hunters,” but that would explain what my younger cousin had heard.

The renovations of the house took a few weeks and were done by Easter with the usual tidy profit made. Neither cousin heard anything else out of the ordinary. Perhaps the former owner merely wanted to check up one last time on the house he had spent his final years in.

Next time:  “The House of Seven Screams.”

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Author info

Lawrence Fury Lawrence Fury is an inveterate letter-to-the-editor writer, and a conservative conscience for this area of North Idaho. He's also an expert on local ghost stories, and is compiling a group of them for future book publication. You can read more about him in a Love Notes feature for the River Journal

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ghosts, remodeling, Valley of Shadows

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