My childhood home was in a small town in Indiana. It was a beautiful blue Dutch Colonial home in a neighborhood lined with huge old pine trees. Our house had been built in the 1800s and I always had a sense that it was haunted. The neighborhood was filled with kids my age and all the families got together for summer block parties. Pretty idyllic.

The only bad thing about our neighborhood was that at the end of our cul-de-sac was the town’s hospital. Our hospital kind of looked like a brick version of Hogwarts, maybe with less spires. It wasn’t too bad except that the parking lot and entrance for the emergency room essentially backed up to several of our backyards. Every once in a while we’d be woken up by an ambulance. On special occasions a helicopter would land behind our house to fly a patient to Indianapolis or Cincinnati and the adults would bring the little kids out in our jammies to watch it land and take off. Kind of morbid, I realize.

Other than the noise and bustle of the emergency room, we rarely noticed the hospital. Sometimes we would tell ghost stories about the people who died in the hospital and how they wandered our neighborhood in the afterlife.

One night in early January, several inches of snow had fallen in a few hours. As a second grader, I was looking forward to the prospect of a snow day, and stayed up later than normal. I finally zonked out and all was quiet. The snow even muffled the ambulances that came in and out that night.

Sometime in the middle of the night, I woke up. You know when you heard something in your sleep and it wakes you up? It was one of those instances. I sat up, but heard nothing at first. I didn’t see any light from under my parents’ bedroom door, so I knew they were still sleeping. I laid back down to try and fall back asleep when the noise that had woken me up came again.

It’s a noise that still haunts me. It was a low moan, like someone quietly sobbing. I was perfectly still trying to make sure I was hearing a human. Indeed I was. The low moan turned into a sad, sing-songy “Help me.” Over and over. My mind instantly went to our neighborhood ghosts. I could tell it was coming downstairs, so I snuck out of bed. My bedroom was at the top of our staircase, and looking down it I could see right out the back door and onto our back deck. I could see several inches of snow blown up against the glass sliding door.

The moaning continued, and I was convinced it was downstairs. I crept to the top of the carpeted stairs and hunched down to listen. As soon as I hunched down, I saw her. There was a face of a woman at our back door. Her hair was frozen from the snow, and she was wearing a hospital gown. Her tears were frozen on her cheeks. She was barefoot. And she was crying for help.

She looked right through the door and up at me, and I froze. Her moaning got louder and I felt like it would shatter the glass sliding door. She began to pull at her gown and a dressing on her arm. When she finally looked away I felt like I could move, and I bolted. I ran to my dad and woke him up crying that a neighborhood ghost was out in the snow. He ran to the stairs, saw the ghost, and immediately called 911.

It turns out a patient in the dementia / Alzheimer’s wing had gotten out, barefoot and lost, and she had found her way to our home. The orderlies quickly came and got her. I don’t know if she lived much longer after that; she had to have had hypothermia.

After that we tried to avoid the hospital, like if we didn’t pay attention to it its ghosts couldn’t find us.

Even though my family moved from that home several years later, on a particularly cold and snowy night, I sometimes still dream of that poor woman. She may not have been a ghost, but she was haunted.