When we were kids, my sister and I watched “Now and Then” with our neighbor friends. We were 4 girls between the ages of 9 and 13 - I was the youngest. Despite my mom’s religious upbringing and banning of Ouija boards and anything else that could be considered Satanic, the movie exposed us to the concept of a seance.

Naturally, we decided we needed to have one. We were in a small farm town in Central Washington State, known for apple orchards that blanketed the hillsides. Behind our house was a field with knee-high grasses that stretched for about 50 yards, and behind that was an orchard where the trees were shedding the last of their apples, skipped over for imperfections or pests.

The orchardists were friendly with us and allowed us to run through the rows of trees pelting each other with the soft apples that had fallen to the ground. They even made these toys for our dog, two sticks with apples on them intersecting into an X shape through a center apple.

The orchard provided us the shelter we wanted, both from the wind that warned us the snow would fall soon, and from the prying eyes of our parents. We tucked in behind stacks of empty apple bins and prepared our circle. My sister had done the most research, and lined our circle with salt to protect us from malevolent spirits. She lit candles in the center and we held hands forming a circle around them.

We closed our eyes and my sister called out for any spirits who may want to communicate with us. I jumped a little when I heard the howling of a coyote in the distance, but I didn’t want the older girls to make fun of me, so I stayed seated even as the howling got louder and closer and accompanied by footsteps crunching on the dead grasses in the adjacent field where they hunted.

Then, I imagined fire on the mountain that towered over my town. I had seen it when I was young, when we first moved to this town that burns every summer when lightning or lazy cigarette disposal catches the dry brush. I couldn’t get this image out of my head, though we were surrounded by the crystalline dew of late fall. I felt hot even as the air was frigid. My sisters hand burned in mine and she lightly whispered “fire.”

Disturbed by our shared imagery, I finally asked if we could stop and go back home. But I didn’t ask, I yelled, as the crunching footsteps and howling of the coyotes had turned into a cacophonous chorus. I had started crying without realizing, and my sister yelled “on the count of three, let’s break the circle - one, two”

“THREE!” screamed my older neighbor, the most skeptical and logical among us. We broke, and instantly silence fell. Without a word, we jumped up and ran. I looked back to see that the candles were no longer lit and must have extinguished at some point when my eyes were closed. We ran through the field silently as we approached our house, closer by three than our neighbor’s. To our left, the grass parted in pace with us. The older neighbor would later blame a snake, but the path looked too wide to me.

We stumbled into the house and made a beeline for my sister’s bedroom, avoiding the judgmental eye of our parents. Out of breath, we panted in silence, eyes wide. Eventually, we recounted the experience and all four of us remembered seeing fire. Shortly after, my mom told the neighbors it was time to go home. They insisted their dad come over to walk them back the short distance that they had traversed a million times alone. My mom raised an eyebrow, and my sister blamed a scary movie for their terror.

That winter, I slept in my sister’s room while my parents did a small remodel that had my bedroom in shambles. She had two twin beds with their head-ends meeting at the corner of the bedroom that was adjacent to the field. The first night, I was awoken from a deep sleep by the distinguished sound of footsteps crunching through the snow. For about thirty minutes, they paced the corner, back and forth, back and forth, as I lay paralyzed with fear.

This sound returned, at least once a week, for a month. One night, the footsteps were accompanied by a scratching sound right at ear level, as though someone were dragging a stick across the wall just outside. I let out a small “yip,” a scream I refused to let out for fear of drawing the attention of the man outside the window, a nickname I had given the footsteps.

My sister whispered, emboldened by my noise, “please tell me you can hear that.”

It turns out, the man outside the window had been visiting her ever since the seance, and I was able to confirm her possible delusions were real. After about a year, our fear lessened as the MOTW didn’t seem to be evil, and never breached the wall into our home. If anything, I imagined him as bored, or antsy, like the kid who drags a stick through a chain link fence when he walks home alone.

The footsteps returned occasionally for 9 more years, as I prepared to go off to college. My sister, four years my senior, was out on her own in Seattle. I rarely discussed the man outside the window, unless shaken awake by a terrified friend sleeping over and wondering who the hell was outside. My mom always believed we had been hearing something, but my Dad was adamant that there was nothing out there but coyotes and the occasional deer.

When I went to college, my parents moved to another town in Washington to be closer to my grandparents. They always intended to return, so they rented out our house rather than selling it. During the decade they were away, some family circumstances led them to foster and eventually adopt my three little brothers - the youngest almost 20 years my junior.

Last year, before the boys got too old and too established at school, my parents moved the family back to my childhood home. My youngest and middle brother share the bedroom my sister and I took refuge in after the seance. My youngest brother is the same age I was - 9.

Recently, my sister and I were home for father’s day. We played MarioKart with our brothers after our parents went to bed. When it was time to go to sleep, my littlest brother asked to be tucked in. I followed him to the room and asked if he wanted a story.

“No thanks,” he said, “but I do have a question.”

“Okay,” I said.

“Did you and (sister) ever sleep in this room?”

“Yes, we both had this room oat some point when we were kids.”

He got really quiet and pulled his blanket up to his chin. “Um, did you ever see that man outside the window?”