When I was in college in the mid 1980's, I rented an apartment on the ground floor of what had once been a two-story house in San Antonio, Texas. The formerly single family dwelling, built in the '30's, had in the '60's been cut up into four apartment, two on each floor.
I had pretty good neighbors, all of them students as well. Most of them I only saw once or twice a week, due to all of our conflicting schedules. But being on the ground floor, I heard my upstairs neighbors far more than I saw them. My nose was stuck in books when I was in my apartment, especially since I had noticed odd shadows moving around right after I had moved in. I struggled as a student and really didn't want to get involved in anything 'abnormal.'
So I tuned everything out when I was home.
Until Thanksgiving break. The couple upstairs knocked on my door and asked me to keep an eye out. Since their home town was not far, they were going home for the holiday weekend. They had already told their upstairs neighbor, who was a single guy like me, but didn't bother with my downstairs neighbor as they had seen him pack up his car and drive off. I told them I would watch their apartment. I asked if there were any plants to water, or pets to feed. They said no, there was nothing up there.
I was sitting on my front step an hour later when they drove off in the morning sunshine. The day was warm and bright and I enjoyed the luxury of not having to open a book for a long weekend. It would have been nice to go home to the family, but that was a 500 mile round trip. I needed rest, not a lot of driving.
Suddenly I heard a door slam at the top of the stairs. That was strange, I thought, there's nobody up there at all right now. I had seen the single guy leave earlier that morning. I ran up the stairs. All was quiet. I stood still and listened. And waited. Absolute silence was all I heard.
I checked each of the two doors, both locked. If someone had gotten in, like a burglar, they would make some kind of noise or the doors would show signs of having been forced. Or they would not have been able to relock the deadbolts without the key. I didn't know what to think. But I knew that I had heard one of those doors slam.
I went back down to my little apartment, still puzzled, but soon forgetting all about it while enjoying the luxury of tv. After a few hours of watching MTV videos, I took a nap.
The sound of dishes being washed woke me up. It was coming from right above my bedroom, which was the kitchen in the couple's upstairs apartment. I laid there for a few moments, wondering why at three in the afternoon they were washing dishes. Then it hit me; they weren't home. But there was no mistake as to where the sound came from. And there was no mistake about it being dishes washed, rinsed, and stacked. I thought, I wonder if someone has broken in, like a wino or bum. Then I realized, nobody breaks in and does house-keeping. Do you really think Betty Crocker is down on her luck?
They had a fight or something and came back early, that was my final conclusion. I got up and walked up stairs to at least check. I could still hear the sound of dishes being washed as I stood outside their door. Before my knuckles touched the surface of the door in a knock, all sounds stopped. Just stopped. I knocked a few times anyway. Total silence.
I thought, now this is just rude! I turned and walked away, going back downstairs, vowing to myself that from then on, I would be just as rude in return. Two, or rather, three, could play at that game.
Later on, about five o'clock, I was getting dressed after a long relaxing hot bath. I was promising myself that when I got out of college and made a fortune, the first thing I'd do would be to buy myself a Jacuzzi. Then I heard it again. Dishes being washed, rinsed, and stacked, coming directly above my bedroom. Remembering what happened earlier, I crept upstairs as quietly as I could. Outside their door the sounds were still coming. I stood there for a moment and listened. Running water, scrubing, rinsing, porcelain being stacked. Over and over.
I decided to take a look under their door, which opened into the kitchen. If anybody was standing at their sink, I would be able to see them. And this had better not be a prank on me, or else. (I had no idea what 'or else' entailed, but I was not going to be anyone's patsy!) Quietly I laid down and just as my eyesight cleared the bottom of the door and the white tiles of the kitchen floor came into view, all sounds stopped. The floor was clear: there was no one standing there. There had not been enough time for anyone to run away from the sink without my seeing them.
Now I was really confused. Baffled. How could somebody do dishes and then vanish? It didn't make sense. And why would somebody play a prank on me? None of us really knew each other, we didn't go to the same college, didn't have friends in common. I just didn't understand.
I went back downstairs. As soon as I reached my bedroom, the sound of washing dishes returned. I waited a few minutes, then snuck back upstairs and again looked under the door. The sound stopped and again, I saw no one.
Back downstairs again, this time no more washing dishes. Until seven o'clock. Exactly like the other times. I thought, My goodness, how many dishes do they own? Then I heard my other upstairs neighbor come home. I went up and knocked on his door. He answered. I asked if the couple had come back early. He said he hadn't seen them. I told him about all the kitchen sink activity I had been hearing, but witheld the part about me spying under their door.
There was an awkward silence between us, and then we heard it. Dishes being done. We looked at each other, then he stepped up to their door and just before his hand touched the door, all sound stopped. He knocked anyway and no one answered . After a while, he said, "Man, I don't know." I went back to my place, he to his.
The next day, a few hours apart, the dishes were being washed again and again. This happened every day til the couple returned. I would just sit and listen and wonder.
The day they returned, they came down and knocked on my door, asking me if anybody had gone into their apartment. They looked really puzzled about something. I told them I hadn't seen anybody go up there, which was true. I asked why they were asking, and they said something I'll never forget. "We left dishes in the sink that we were going to clean when we got back, and now they're not only clean, but put up, too."
You could've knocked me over with a feather. I then told them about all the sounds I had heard, being careful to omit my looking under their door. Then you could've knocked them over with a feather. They went back upstairs a little paler and clearly unsettled.
A few other times, when the couple weren't home, I heard dishes being done again. I didn't bother investigating any more. I don't know why I didn't think it might be a ghost. Maybe I didn't want to be distracted from my studies.