01 Feb I lived in a haunted house for five years and it was nothing like in the movies
I want to start off by pointing out a very obvious fact: there’s a huge difference between real life hauntings and the ones you see on the big screen. I don’t mean just because the movie world is populated solely by good-looking people and riddled with every clichéd trope in the book, but because movies like to tie things up in a neat little bow at the end. They might not always have good endings, but they always give you a reason for what’s going on: a rotting corpse hidden under the floorboards, an ancient burial ground discovered in the backyard, a long history of brutal murders in the house, a demonic heirloom of some sort, the list could go on. That’s not the case in the real world. At least, it wasn’t the case in my experience.
My story starts a few weeks before I moved in to a new house and ends the day I moved out. Because, truth is, sometimes there are no answers to why a house is the way it is.
I lived in what I believe to be a haunted house for five years, and these are my experiences.
It started in 2000, when my parents sat my sister and I down to announce we were moving again. As an army brat, I was used to this conversation: we were told when and where we were moving, and then shown a photo of the house. As an army brat of two retired army parents, however, I was a little confused as to why we suddenly had to move in the middle of the school year, but I didn’t question it. As weird as it might seem to people who’ve lived in the same house all their lives, to my family, moving was the status quo.
As was the case with every move, there was a part of me that hoped that this time would be the last time, and that we’d finally settle down into a permanent home. I didn’t get off the hype train until I saw the house in person, and boy, was I quick to jump off. Hurled myself right out the window, really. For one thing, it was a rental property, which, in and of itself, meant it was temporary. But more importantly, the place looked like crap. I remember there being newspaper spread out on the floor in the middle of the kitchen, right under a yellowing low-hanging light fixture dripping water. My bedroom was painted black and the previous tenant had scribbled poems about suicide on the walls in multi-colored crayons. Though I now find the thought of some emo kid doodling with wax crayons rather amusing, at the time, I was royally creeped out. The stairs were creaky, the ceiling looked waterlogged, and the whole house was as dusty as an attic. I couldn’t believe this was the place my parents had picked. It wasn’t as though we were poor and desperate—we were your average middle-class family. We were moving out of a lovely semi-detached home with our own swimming pool to this den of dirt and grime.
And if all that wasn’t bad enough, I found out that the previous tenants had just up and left. They’d withheld rent for months, neglected the upkeep, then, one day, just disappeared, taking all their stuff with them. The owner was never able to track them down.
So yeah, we were off to a great start.
The next time I saw the house was the day we moved in, and thankfully, it looked much better. The owner had changed the leaky light fixture, cleaned up the dirt, and applied a fresh coat of white paint throughout the house. The only room that still made me uncomfortable was the laundry room at the foot of the basement stairs. I’d get this creepy crawly feeling whenever I’d go in. You know, like when you feel someone breathing down your neck, but turn around and no one’s there. It was bad enough that I’d usually dash past the door whenever I went downstairs. And if I had to go inside, I’d use a leg to prop open the door just in case.
So yeah, aside from the laundry room, the house was fairly normal at first. Sure, I’d hear a few strange noises here and there, but they were just the sounds of the house settling and water running through its pipes. It always takes a bit of time to adjust to a new home, but after a while, the cracking and snapping in the walls fades to background noise. They’re just sounds you notice only when you’re not familiar with a place. A flushing toilet, for instance, would wake me up in the middle of the night for the first couple of weeks, but after that, I could sleep through it easily. I think it’s just survival instinct: our animal brains trying to keep us alert in a new environment when it’s not sure where danger might lurk.
If I had to pinpoint the exact moment when things changed, I’d say it happened one night a couple months after we moved in and long after I’d adapted to the sounds of the new house. Now, one thing most people don’t know about me is that I’m about as good at falling asleep as I am at playing the ukulele, and I can’t play the ukulele. I go from wide awake, to wide awake, to wide awake, to slightly drowsy, to suddenly asleep. The process takes over an hour every night, no matter how exhausted I am or how late I go to bed. That night, like every other school night, I went to bed at ten expecting to fall asleep around eleven. I wasn’t sure exactly how long I’d been in bed for, but I was still awake when I heard a sound unlike the ones my brain had grown accustom to ignoring: a knock at my bedroom door. Along with that knock came a man’s voice.
“Are you asleep?” he asked.
I turned over and replied, “Mm? No.”
He continued. “Let me in.”
“Dad?” I asked, eyes still closed.
“Can I come in?” the voice asked.
It didn’t sound like my dad, but who else could it have been?
“Okay,” I replied.
I heard quiet footsteps towards me, and then felt something putting weight on the bed, kind of like a parent’s hand as they lean in to give you a goodnight kiss. That’s when I realized I hadn’t heard the door opening. My eyes shot open, and I saw someone standing over me. I can still remember him clearly: he had pitch black hair, a long crooked nose, an aging face, thick eyebrows, and a scornful scowl. I could see him so clearly, as though my room had been lit up by the flash of lightning, even though there hadn’t been so much as a cloud in the sky that night. The final detail I noticed, before my eyes shot momentarily towards my lamp, was the black raincoat he wore. By the time I flicked the light on and looked back, he was gone, and I was covered in sweat. My eyes wandered to the clock. Ten past ten: if it had been a dream—if I had been asleep when it happened, then it had been the quickest I had ever fallen asleep.
That night marked the first of many strange occurrences.
It was a hot summer day and I was hiding away in the basement, browsing the web. My first year of high school was over, and I had committed to spending my summer vacation doing absolutely nothing. It was around 3:45 pm when I heard the front door opening. Just in time, I thought. It was obviously my dad getting home from work. He was a morning person and worked an earlier shift to avoid rush hour traffic. I headed up the stairs to say hello, as I usually did.
“Hey dad!” I called out as I ran up the stairs.
He didn’t reply. I turned the corner and headed down the hallway leading to the entrance, but when I got there, it was empty. The door was unlocked, so I knew he had come home.
“Dad?” I shouted.
This is where it gets a little complicated, so I drew this little floor plan to try and help you follow along. If you can’t click the link, basically, the first floor looped around in an open rectangle with the stairs going up at the center of it. There was this mirror between the front door and the garage door, and from that mirror, you could see the hallway where I’d just come from, as well as a sliver of the stairs all the way up to the second floor.
After calling for my dad another time, I caught a glimpse of his silhouette in the mirror. He was standing behind me in the hallway, which really isn’t impossible to achieve: he would only have had to circle around the living room, through the dining room and kitchen, then into the hallway where I stood. The only thing that was odd was how quietly he’d managed it.
I once again turned around and smiled. “Hey, how was your day?”
In a split second, I realized the figure wasn’t in the hallway, but rather, up the stairs. Just an optical illusion, I figured. But an optical illusion didn’t explain how dad had avoided the familiar screech produced by the third step. The quintessential sound of someone going upstairs. That’s when I realized something weird was going on.
“Dad?” I asked again, but I couldn’t help but lower my voice.
The dark silhouette walked out of sight and towards my parents’ room.
Every single cell in my body was telling me to get out. All the warning bells were blaring “Danger, danger!”, but I didn’t listen. I mean, I clearly saw a man in the house, I heard the front door, and it was exactly the time my dad usually came home. Aside from him ignoring my welcome, there was no reason for me to think something weird was happening, yet my body was telling me otherwise.
I ran up the stairs to the second floor and peeked into my parents’ room, where I saw the silhouette of a hand pulling away from their dresser and towards their walk-in closet. I’m honestly not sure why the hand was what did it for me, but it was the push I needed for my brain to catch up to whatever danger signals my body was sending out. I just remember going from thinking dad, to realizing burglar. I mean, it’s such a weird thing, right? Just a hand. It’s not like I’d be able to recognize my dad’s hand if you showed it to me in a line-up of random hand photos. I’d…probably think you were a little weird for having a bunch of photos of hands on you to try the experiment in the first place, but that’s not the point. Point is, I didn’t feel safe anymore.
I backed away quickly into my room and reached for one of my many decorative swords. Decorative, but sharp. I unsheathed the weapon and closed my door slowly, careful not to make too much noise. It was a fight-or-flight situation, and by gosh, I was going to fight. It seems absurd to me now that my reaction wasn’t to call 9-1-1, but then again, this happened before every kid and their pooch had a cellphone, and the only landline upstairs was in my parents’ room. It’s not like I could have waltzed in there and made the call without getting caught. So instead, I stood in my room, hands trembling as I waited and listened. I could hear his footsteps up and down the hall, followed by a slightly muffled voice. There were pauses in between, as though the person was waiting for a reply, but not a reply from me. A reply from someone on the phone, I supposed. I strained my ears, but couldn’t for the life of me make out what he was saying. Who was he talking to? Did he know where I was? I shouldn’t have called out so many times. Obviously, he knew he wasn’t alone in the house. Would he come after me?
My heart pounded in my chest and thumped in my ears. I could feel adrenaline surging through me, but as stupid as I was, I wasn’t stupid enough to move. It was safer to stay where I was and wait. My real dad would be home soon, I figured.
But then, everything went quiet. I slowly approached my bedroom door and listened carefully, but the voice was gone and the footsteps had stopped. It was as though the house was empty again. Just to be sure, I waited longer. And by gosh, it felt like forever. At least, in teenage-time, it did. Unsure of what to do, I opened the door a crack and looked out into the hall. If I’d been in a horror movie, that would have been the moment when something would have suddenly jumped in front of the door, but nothing happened.
I came out of my hiding spot and slowly went room to room, opening every door looking for whoever had broken in. Again, this was a very stupid thing to do and I should have run out and called the cops, but we all know teenagers don’t make the best life decisions, and I wasn’t immune to teenage bravado. Luckily for me and my continued existence in the universe, all the rooms were empty.
Confused and rattled, I sat at my computer and kept my sword on my lap until the door opened 20 minutes later and my dad called my name.
I ran upstairs with my sword, and he gave me that weird look dads give you when they catch you doing something not quite your age. Hell if I know what he thought I was doing with it. Probably thought I was playing make-belief or something.
Long story short, he’d gotten got caught in traffic. I told him about the burglar, and we went from room to room checking each one. There was nothing out of the ordinary, and nothing had been taken. And honestly, to this day, I’m not sure whether that was a relief, or somehow more frightening. I know what I saw that day, I know someone was in the house, because, after all, if my dad hadn’t unlocked the front door, then who had?
My house wasn’t the only place where weird things happened. There was something eerie about the whole neighborhood. When my friends came over, we’d test out that teenage bravado I was telling you about earlier by taking night time walks in the woods close to my house. My friends would take turns clinging to my arms and yelping whenever something made a sound. They said they felt safe around me. I don’t know if it was because I just had that really secure air to me, or because I’d told them about the weird things I’d experienced – and survived – in my house.
One night, my friend and I were walking back to my place after skating at the park. We used this shortcut behind an outdoor mall: a dimly-lit path that connected the main road to the residential area. Even though it looked kind of creepy, it was by no means unsafe. Barely 25 meters long, the path was hardly the kind of place a psycho killer would go to stalk his prey.
As we started walking down the snowy path, I stopped for a second and looked up at the sky. It was pitch black, with neither a single cloud nor the flicker of a star anywhere in sight. For some reason, it struck me as really odd. I felt that tingling sensation at the back of my spine I’d get whenever I walked by the laundry room.
“Weird, it’s too dark,” I said.
Almost as soon as the words left my mouth, there came a gust of wind so strong it dislodged a massive icicle hanging from a tree about 20 meters ahead of us. And when I say “massive”, I mean it: it was a couple feet long and sharp as a knife. You know how they’ve got warnings for falling ice around buildings nowadays because that shit is dangerous? Well, imagine this icicle being three times bigger than the ones you’re supposed to watch out for. Now, imagine it was out for goddamn blood like some shitty B-list movie. See, this thing didn’t gracefully drop to the ground: it defied gravity and made a beeline for my friend and I. She shrieked and grabbed me so tight she nearly knocked the wind out of me. We were both frozen as this thing – easily capable of impaling us through our winter coats – came hurling towards us so quickly we couldn’t have run even if we wanted to. Then, just as it arrived within two feet of us – about the distance of my personal bubble – it banked sharply to the right and stabbed into the ground like an arrow.
I swear, I’m not making this up. My friend still talks about it to this day. One second the icicle was coming at us, the next, it did an abrupt 90° turn. Hell, if I didn’t know any better, I could have sworn I saw it deflecting off of something. I have a photographic memory, and whenever I think back to that night, I can sort of see something there in front of us, like the sheen of a window or something.
Then, for a brief moment as we were trying to catch our breath, I saw the man in a black coat standing under the tree. Just standing and staring at us. I felt my stomach turn and looked at my friend. She was still looking at the icicle in the snow. By the time I looked at the tree again, the guy was gone.
Sometimes, weird things would happen to the house itself. While I was the only one in my family to actually see man in a black coat hanging around, everyone could see the things appearing on the walls. More specifically, one day just out of the blue, I noticed something near the light switch at the foot of the basement stairs. Yes, close to the laundry room, but on the opposite wall. It looked like a bloody handprint, except drawn in red crayon.
I’m not saying my sister and I were perfect little angels, but we were very well-behaved, and neither of us would have done something like this. Partially because we respected people’s property, partially because our mom would have made us clean it up no matter how long it took to scrub it off. I definitely remember a detailed conversation about drawing on the walls and how we could do it if we wanted to, but she didn’t know any easy tips to get crayon off the wall and wouldn’t help us clean if we embraced our inner-artist.
“And mark my words, you will clean it,” she had said back then, with the threatening sternness of a mother.
That’s how I knew my sister hadn’t drawn the handprint. That’s why I dragged her downstairs to show her.
“This wasn’t here before, was it?” I asked.
I mean, it was possible it had been there all along and I’d never noticed it.
My sister ran a hand over it curiously. I remember how much bigger the handprint was compared to her hand. The fingers were thicker and longer, as though belonging to a fully-grown man. I felt a sinking feeling at the pit of my stomach.
“No, it wasn’t,” she said.
She looked as crept out by the mark as I was, but I still had to ask, “Did you draw it?”
“No,” she replied. “Wasn’t your room covered in crayon before we moved in?”
I nodded. “Yeah. You can still see the color when the paint gets scratched.”
She rubbed her hand against the handprint again. “That’s probably what happened here. The paint wore off or something.”
That would have been the end of it, if we hadn’t then gone to our computers and noticed a dent in the wall. A dent that looked like a goddamn skull. A fist-sized skull, but a skull nonetheless. We saw it at the same time, and gave each other a conspiratorial look. Maybe that dent had always been there. Maybe we only noticed it because we were a little on-edge about the eerie handprint.
“That’s really creepy, right?” she asked.
This was the first time anyone else in my family had seen proof of the bizarre things that happened in that house.
As for my mom, she didn’t seem all that bothered by either the hand or the dent: she didn’t even make us wash it up.
And now, we come back around to the topic of teenage bravado. When you’re a teenager in a group of peers, you’ll eventually get to the point where you stupidly want to test your bravery by going somewhere creepy and see who cracks first. My friends and I had already conquered the woods, so naturally, we had to up the ante. This is where my laundry room came in. See, I wasn’t the only person freaked out by the laundry room. Without ever mentioning it to my friends, every single one of them had told me they felt something weird about it. I mean, yeah, they knew I’d seen creepy shit around the house, but I’d never told them how the laundry room in particular made me uneasy. Unlike the rest of the house, it was unfinished: it had a hard cement floor instead of carpet, an incomplete ceiling, and exposed wall studs with pink insulation ripe and ready to be picked like cotton candy. Maybe those factors contributed to the overall creep factor of the room, I don’t know.
At some point, someone decided it’d be a good idea to lock ourselves in the laundry room, turn off the lights, and see what would happen, and that’s exactly what we did, because we were dumb teenagers looking for a cheap thrill.
We packed ourselves in the room, all five of us. Honestly, I’m not even sure how we all fit, that’s how small the room was. We huddled together, and I gave everyone a final warning, before I shut the door and turned off the lights.
We were quiet at first, but within about a minute, I felt my friend’s grip tighten around my arm. Then, all of a sudden, she shouted, “Something just touched my leg!”
There were a few laughs, but no one admitted to grabbing her. The laughter subsided, and I felt a sort of strange tension in the room. Maybe, one by one, we all realized we hadn’t been the ones to touch her.
“I want out!” said another friend.
That was enough for me. My instincts were already going haywire. They had been from the moment I’d shut the door. I swatted my arm towards the light switch, but felt a void in its place. I pawed around blindly, expecting to feel the wall or the insulation, but my hand didn’t connect with anything. Now, even though I avoided the laundry room, I’d been in there enough times to know exactly where that light switch was. Even if I didn’t, there wasn’t enough, well, room in that room for me not to touch the wall when I swung my arm.
“Something’s got my leg!” shrieked my friend, a note of panic in her voice.
“It’s not me!” said another.
“I’m not touching anyone,” answered a third.
A fourth voice replied with, “I’m not even near her.”
I was the only other person there, and I knew I hadn’t grabbed her.
I tried for the doorknob, but just like the light switch, I couldn’t find it. It felt as though the room had taken on completely different proportions. I don’t know any other way to describe it. You know that feeling when you miss a step or you think there’s one step more than there is? It was kind of like that. It made no sense. The room was small and narrow: even if I missed the mark, I should have hit the wall. And if I was facing the wrong side somehow, then my hand would have connected with the washer, but it didn’t.
Then, finally, just as I heard one of them shriek, I felt the cold metal doorknob, and swung the door open. We ran out of the laundry room so fast we could have outrun Sonic.
My friend – the one who said something had grabbed her –, pointed to the laundry room door.
“Did you see him?!” she screamed.
“See who?” asked one of the guys.
“When the door opened, there was a man standing in the corner of the room!” she shrieked.
I nervously popped my head into the laundry room, turned on the light, and looked inside. The room was empty.
We spent the rest of the evening hiding out in the living room. My friends never went in the laundry room again after that night.
The last incident that happened wasn’t quite as spectacular, but it was just as puzzling as everything else. I was about to start my final year of high school when my parents announced we were moving again. I was actually pretty upset about it. For all its faults and creepiness, the house had become my home. We’d been living there for five years. Five whole years. The longest I’d ever stayed in a single place, and now we were leaving. With just a few months left on the lease, this happened.
It was almost noon, and my sister and I were off school for the summer. I was reheating a meal in the microwave, when my sister came down the stairs and looked at me with a frazzled expression on her face.
“I have a weird question. Would you mind counting my library books?” she asked.
I checked the microwave. It still had a few minutes to go.
“Uh, sure? Why?” I replied, as I followed her towards the stairs.
“I need to return them today, so I counted to make sure I had all of them, and I did, but then I turned around to get my bag, and when I turned back around, one of the books was missing. I counted to make sure, and sure enough, I was one short.”
“Did it fall under your bed?” I asked.
“I checked. It wasn’t there. I re-counted just to make sure, and suddenly I had all my books back,” she explained.
She continued, “But then I triple-checked because when I counted, I didn’t see the book that was missing, and I’m definitely short by one. It’s not in the pile. Can you just count and tell me if I have 21?”
When we got to her room, she looked surprised. She pointed to a book at the top of her pile. “There it is!”
I turned on my heels. “Guess my work here is done!”
“Can you just count. Just in case?” she asked.
With a shrug, I knelt down and counted all the books one by one. “21. You’ve got them all.”
“Phew! Thanks,” she answered.
I headed back downstairs just as the microwave stopped at 0:00. But weirdly enough, it started up again, marking three minutes on its timer. I figured it was some kind of electrical glitch and stopped it manually so I could eat. For the record, that was the only time the microwave ever did that.
After lunch, my sister and I headed to the basement to play videogames together. As I turned the corner, I saw something gleaming on the floor, sofa, and table.
“What’s that?” I asked.
I don’t know why, but my first thought was ‘ice’. As I moved closer, however, I realized it was glass. My sister and I stood there for a second and looked at the mess.
“Where did that come from?” she asked.
That’s when we noticed the light fixture on the ceiling. The circular light shade was missing.
“How the hell,” I whispered.
From what I could gather, the light shade had broken somehow, but not in a way that could explain the mess. See, because there were shards on the table and sofa, I figured it must have exploded while on the ceiling and showered down. The problem was, if it had broken in the air, then the metal ring screwing it in place would have been up there, and would probably have had a few pieces of glass still hanging from it. The ring, however, was on the floor, which meant the light fixture had fallen straight down in the large gap between the sofa and the table…but then, how had glass gotten on the table and sofa? Hell, how hadn’t we heard the thick glass lamp shade break?
My sister and I both thought it was really weird, but we cleaned up the mess and explained the situation to our parents as best we could. Mom wasn’t mad: she told us there must have been an air bubble in the glass that caused it to explode. That didn’t explain the ring being on the floor, but hey, at least she wasn’t blaming us for the mess.
That was the last thing I experienced in that house. I think it was a sort of sick goodbye message from the entity I’d seen so many times. We moved about a month or two later. In the years since, I’ve often wondered about the house and if its next tenants experienced similar things. I know it changed hands quite a few times. People move in and out every couple of years, or so I’ve been told by a neighbor I’ve stayed in touch with. I’ve also wondered about the family that lived there before us. Wondered if they’d left the house because they, too, had seen the man in the black coat, or if their departure was unrelated.
I’ll probably never know why the hell that house was haunted – it was barely 25 years old, hardly old enough for something to have happened to it without there being any information about it in the news –, all I know is that something was seriously messed up with it.
I live alone now in a nice and safe condo, and I haven’t experienced anything weird since my family moved out of that house.