The Demon's Breath

My own encounter with unexplained breathing in the corner of my room

MY INTEREST IN the paranormal and all things unexplained stretches back to my youth. I don't know the genesis of it exactly, but it has been a lifelong fascination. Many people who explore the reality of ghosts and hauntings can point to a personal experience that they or some member of their family had with the phenomena, but I have not had many such experiences.

In fact, I've only had one significant encounter with a phenomenon that I have not been able to explain to myself with complete satisfaction. It was rather unnerving at the time, as you'll see, and this is the first time I have written about it in this blog.

The exact year, month and day have long been lost to my rather poor memory for such things, and it has now been more than 30 years since this happened, but the actual experience I remember well.


It was summer and I was home from college and living in my family's huge house in Central New York. I am part of a large family of 12 children, so a large house was required, obviously. Built in the 1920s, I believe, it was - and is (my sister still lives there!) - a wonderful house with sliding pocket doors, three staircases up to the second floor, French doors in the living room, a full basement with a monstrous, multi-limbed furnace, and a big, full attic.

It was space enough for all of us, or most of us anyway: all 12 children never lived there at the same time; the older ones were off on their own by the time the smallest ones arrived.

We all loved the house, and although our collective experiences there - joyous, sad, hilarious, routine and wonderful - could fill volumes, it was not a place we could call haunted.

Like all older houses it had its creepy little corners, creaks and groans from age, and could fuel unusual fantasies (I still have dreams about a secret room in that attic that I know cannot exist), but as far as I know no one claimed a ghostly experience there. At least not while I was growing up. That made it somewhat more difficult to account for my experience.

It was June, July, August - who knows? - but I was on summer vacation from college and so was somewhere in my early 20s. The time was probably around midnight or not long after. I had stayed up to watch TV and now had gone up to my room for bed. My younger siblings and my parents were in their rooms, asleep presumably, while a few of the older ones were probably still out and about. In any case, the house was quiet.

I had the bedroom to myself - perhaps the first time I had a bedroom to myself in that once-crowded house. By now, the older kids had apartments or houses of their own, providing more breathing space for those remaining. (I just now realized how "breathing space" adds irony or symbolism to my experience.) It's an average-size bedroom, probably 10 x 12 feet, with a few features that distinguish it from any other bedroom in the house: it has its own bathroom and a door to a second-floor porch, the latter which was rarely used because of the frail and dangerous condition of its railing.

Its door was always kept locked, but the porch could be accessed (which we occasionally did as kids) by crawling out onto it through the small bathroom window.


The night was warm and still. I prepared for bed, turned off the overhead light via the wall switch, and slipped under the sheet and blanket. I was tired, but don't recall being unusually so. I was lying there for only a few minutes when I began to hear the sound of breathing. It seemed to be in the room somewhere. I was puzzled and could not imagine what the cause could be. We had no pets, except for a cat perhaps, which certainly was not in my room. And the other bedrooms were of a sufficient distance away that it could not have been the breathing of another family member. Besides, as I sat up to get a better listen, I could tell that the breathing seemed to be coming from the far left corner of the room (the opposite direction of any other bedrooms), where there is the door to the porch and one of those old iron hot water radiators.

Next page: Where was it coming from?

Now this was very distinct, human-sounding breathing, slow and deliberate.

Inhale ... exhale ... inhale ... exhale ....

At this point, I wasn't frightened at all, but highly curious. Very often, when we have unusual experiences like this, we try to find rational explanations for them. Yes, it sounded like breathing, but it must be something else. It can't be breathing, after all. Breathing by what? It doesn't make sense.

I sat up in bed and listened for a moment, and the breathing continued, slow and deep:

Inhale ... exhale ... inhale ... exhale ....

What the heck!? I got up out of bed and switched on the light. The breathing continued.

Inhale ... exhale ... inhale ... exhale ....


I moved around the bedroom slowly, trying to pinpoint exactly where this sound was coming from. Since it seemed to be coming from the direction of the door, I wondered if it was something outside on the porch. I went into the bathroom and looked out the widow, which gave me a good view of the outside of the door and the entire porch. Nothing there. I stepped back into the bedroom.

Inhale ... exhale ... inhale ... exhale ....

It seemed like it was coming from the radiator. Although those old hot water radiators made clicking, knocking sounds when they were on in the winter, they never made a noise like this. And this was summer, so the radiators were not on at all.

I then suspected that perhaps one of my older brothers was playing a joke on me. Maybe Paul had placed a tape recorder under the radiator and was trying to freak me out. This is not as an unusual notion as you might think. At a younger age, Paul and I were always doing stuff like this. We had once wired one of those old standing telephones in the attic to a radio in a bedroom, so my sister and I could perform live "radio broadcasts." And one Halloween, Paul had wired the same telephone microphone to a speaker he had placed inside a life-sized, pumpkin-headed dummy that we sat in a chair on the front porch.

Then, when trick-or-treaters came up into the porch, the dummy would howl or scream or just say, "Hello, kiddies!" in a ghoulish voice, sending several of the neighborhood kids fleeing in terror. (We made a few of the parents jump as well.) So Paul was not above doing such things, but we were both too old now, weren't we? Yet, that is what crossed my mind, trying to figure out this mystery.


Inhale ... exhale ... inhale ... exhale ....

I stepped closer to the radiator and the breathing grew louder - I was homing in on the source. I looked under the radiator. No tape recorder. A tape recorder could not fit between the radiator and the wall; there wasn't enough space. There wasn't even enough space for a speaker. Yet the breathing sound seemed to be coming from behind it.

Inhale ... exhale ... inhale ... exhale ....

Next page: Behind the radiator

Inhale ... exhale ... inhale ... exhale ....

I slowly and cautiously peered over the top of the radiator to look behind it. And as I did... the breathing stopped abruptly. As if it knew I was getting close.

I was more perplexed than ever. I carefully examined all around the radiator. No electronics, no tape players, no wires. Nothing. I also checked under the bed. Nothing but dust and perhaps a stray sock.

Did I imagine it? Still trying to reconcile this odd experience with all that is logical, I wondered if it was possible that I could have imagined the whole thing. Yet I was sure that I hadn't. The sound was so distinct and had gone on for several minutes. I didn't even seriously consider that it was any kind of ghost, poltergeist or demon. As strange as this sounds, it was too "real" for any of that.


But it had stopped, so what was the point in puzzling over it anymore? There was nothing to figure out. I switched off the light again and climbed back in bed. No sooner had I done so than the breathing began again!

Inhale ... exhale ... inhale ... exhale ....

Now, I have to admit, I was truly frightened. My heart began to pound. I did not imagine it. It was not a waking dream. It was not a trick. There was something breathing in the corner of my room!

Inhale ... exhale ... inhale ... exhale ....

I was raised in a devotedly Catholic household, so the ideas of unseen entities such as angels and demons were an ingrained part of my thinking, even if I didn't at this age take them as seriously as I did when I was younger. Yet there was this breathing by some unseen entity just several feet from me.

Could it be a demon? In my terrified state, the possibility seemed more likely than a ghost.

So like a little kid, I pulled the sheets up over my head and prayed in a whisper, "Please, God, make it stop!"

And in that very instant, the breathing stopped. I never heard it again. Not it that room or in any other.


I don't recall how long it took me to get to sleep that night, but it's an incident that has kept me thinking ever since. I do not think it was a demon, as I might have once considered, and I can't imagine that it was a ghost. I have asked my sister, who as I said still lives there, if she has had any kind of activity like that in the house, and in that room in particular, and she has not. Her family has never heard anything that could be confused with breathing in that room.

So what was it? Poltergeist activity - a psychic projection from my subconscious? An auditory hallucination brought about by stress? I know there will be those who will insist that it really was a demon, but I just don't buy that. I don't believe in demons; they are an invented idea, and phenomena that are often attributed to demonic activity I think are better thought of in terms of human psychology or even other paranormal mysteries, such as psychic phenomena and, in rare cases, psychokinesis.

I used "demon" in the title of his article for its sheer theatricality.

The idea of it being a demon seems to me, well... silly. Why would a demon - supposedly this powerful supernatural being - one night decide to come into the bedroom of a young college student, hide behind a radiator and breathe heavily? For what purpose? Just to scare me? Again, for what purpose? To accomplish what exactly? No, I suspect that if there were demons, they would have darker, more profound and more nefarious deeds to inflict upon humanity.

Considering that the house does not have a history of haunting activity (although there may have been a few possible incidents over these many years), I have to concede that my experience very well might have been wholly psychological in nature. Yet the questioning, paranormally minded part of myself will always wonder....

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Your Citation
Wagner, Stephen. "The Demon's Breath." ThoughtCo, Jun. 21, 2014, Wagner, Stephen. (2014, June 21). The Demon's Breath. Retrieved from Wagner, Stephen. "The Demon's Breath." ThoughtCo. (accessed November 19, 2017).