It was that job that you always see all over the Internet that always seems fake, but 18 days later, with my first healthy paycheck in my checking account, I had become a true believer.
“Make money while you sit at home in your pajamas.”
You see the advertising everywhere. Too good to be true, right?
Well, apparently not.
This was my fourth straight day of sitting at home and periodically posting things my supervisor sent me on to Facebook while passively watching things on my DVR and brushing my teeth more than I needed to. My supervisor, Phil Joseph, had been incredibly thrilled with all of my work promoting a facial cream I had not even tried myself. The exposure it was getting amongst my 238 Facebook friends, whom he said were the target audience of GreenTree Marketing, was beyond belief, he said.
But had this professional windfall not taken place in the middle of the most unnerving experience of my life, I would have called it a godsend.
It started pretty slowly. Every few nights I would wake up in the middle of the night to the sounds of what sounded like someone tiptoeing through another part of my house, or the sound of someone closing a cabinet in the kitchen or running the water in a bathroom. I would get up out of bed, examine every inch of my house in the cold of the night with a baseball bat and find nothing. I would then lie in my bed, blanketed with the safety of the noise and glow of my TV trying to convince myself that the sounds were just a possum or squirrel on the roof or something, until the salvation of the morning sun would creep through my window blinds.
The noises became more frequent, and much, much closer. It turned into scratching on my bedroom window. It turned into the shuffling of socked feet outside of my bedroom door. It turned into a tickling feeling on my nose. It turned into me getting up to investigate, finding nothing, then hearing something again the second I got back in bed. Eventually, I just stopped getting up. But that’s when it got worse.
Things started disappearing from my house. Deodorant, dirty underwear, a letter from an old boyfriend I had been hanging onto since I was 21 that had been folded up and tucked into a drawer in my nightstand…even a vibrator, all gone. I tried to write it off as me simply misplacing them, but the final straw broke when I heard the dryer running one night. I rushed down to my basement to find each of the missing items tumbling hot and melted in the dryer. I panicked, ran outside into the night without even throwing clothes on, jumped in my car, and drove into town to park within earshot of human life so I could feel safe.
It was at this point I reached out to a “spirit medium,” which was much easier to find in Southwest Louisiana than I imagine it may have been able to find somewhere like in Omaha or Cleveland. I chose one out of around 15 I found advertising on Craigslist and went with the one that seemed to be the least crazy based on how he appeared on his website. He was little to no help. All he really did was add fuel to the fire. According to him, the disturbances in my house were the ghosts of my parents trying to roust me out of my sedentary lifestyle because I was disgracing the 3,500 square foot home they had left me when they died. However, I didn’t put too much credence into what he said because he only started heading in that direction after I mentioned their passing and my inheritance. The fact that he mentioned he could take a debit or credit card on his new iPhone four times during our meeting didn’t help either.
I was on my own with the mysterious disturbances. The teasing of suicide would even occasionally dance around my head, but this surreal job opportunity appeared just as those black spider webs had started to spool into my brain. My first steady employment, and a quite enjoyable employment, in nearly a decade had done wonders with soothing me against the nightly disturbances that were becoming living nightmares.
However, no amount of easy money would be able to soothe my soul enough to deal with the terror that would soon unfold.
Like 100 percent of good Americans, I hated my boss and thought he had no fucking clue what he was doing.
My boss’ latest harebrained scheme was that a string of disappearances that had recently taken place across the Southern U.S. were being carried out by a serial killer who posed as a ghost. He had a lot of halfcocked explanations for why he thought this. His hammering point was that a few of the women had reached out to spiritual mediums shortly before disappearing. He used this theory to somehow convinced his higher-ups in the FBI to conduct a sketchy sting-like operation where we monitored women who fit the profile (25-35 years of age, unemployed, or at best, slightly-employed, fair looking, but plain, lived alone — in a house, not an apartment) of the eight victims who lived in the general vicinity of where the murders had taken place.
The sting thing was fairly simple. We offered the girls who fit the profile an online job opportunity that was too good to turn down so we could place a Trojan horse in their computers using a downloadable software to keep an eye on them and their houses and, of course, to keep them home. My boss clung to the thought that there was something to the fact that all of the victims were unemployed or slightly-employed women who were home all of the time. He wanted to make sure that they had a job that kept them at home. The job he cooked up had the women posting things on Facebook every few hours, so they could never go too far and so they could regularly have their computers on so we could monitor them with the webcam.
My job the past month or so consisted of monitoring the computers of these women to see how they, and their surroundings, looked whenever they were on their computers. Had I not been a straight woman, it may have been a pretty cool job, as these decent-looking women were regularly on their computers in various states of undress, but it did pretty much nothing for me except provide me with a regular paycheck for the first time in a while. As the assistant to a private investigator in rural Louisiana, underemployment was something that I was very familiar with myself.
Not a single thing of true interest or suspicion had happened during my weeks of monitoring. One time, the girl who actually lived just a few towns over from me in Louisiana, I think her name was Kelly, got edgy when it sounded like there was crying coming from another room in her house, but it turned out to be her cat. The cat, an orange tabby named Steve, would end up becoming the only thing I enjoyed seeing during my time working. I especially enjoyed when the chunky feline would park himself on Kelly’s keyboard when she was trying to do something.
Well, I did have one of those awful “maybe my boss has been right all along” moments a couple of weeks ago when I watched Kelly call up a spiritual medium. Since then, I had actually been paying closer attention to her, though I hadn’t noticed anything unique or unusual about her behavior.
Something was different today when Kelly logged in around eight in the morning. She looked like a wreck the second the computer illuminated her face. Her living room was dark and hazy despite it being a bright and sunny day. Her cat was nowhere to be seen. She stared at the screen with defeated eyes that occasionally gave spasms.
After a few moments of observing her skittish browsing, my eyes began to linger off of her face and out towards her cavernous surroundings. It was in this background I would see the source of her beleaguered madness. Hiding in the shadows of the hallway that was to the right of her was a shadowy figure that appeared to be crouched, arms outstretched in a defensive pose, and ready to strike.
The attack came when I least expected it.
I had just emerged from my bedroom after changing when I was engulfed by a figure that jumped on me so quickly I didn’t even get a look at it. The thing was a dark blur in the dusty light of the morning. Then just as quickly as it had tackled me, it was gone.
I crumbled down on to the hardwood floor, sobbing and waiting for the figure to come right back and do it again. I was tired and too hopeless to fight back. My will had long ago been broken. I sat there like a hurt child on the playground waiting for the someone to come, bawling my eyes out.
I waited minutes, but it never came. I was able to regain my composure, wipe my eyes, and realize I should make a run for my car, get in the thing and never come back.
I made my move in one swift motion – rising to my feet and galloping down the hallway in the direction of my front door, but didn’t make it very far. Within seconds, I was pulled back down to my feet and found myself lying on my stomach on the hard hallway floor. I threw my face back to see what had happened, wondering if I had tripped on the bottom of my bathrobe, but that was not the case. I had been pulled down by a crusted and bleeding hand that lingered by my feet.
I let out a grotesque scream I didn’t know I was capable of producing and tried to scramble to my feet. I felt that hand clamp back down upon my ankle. I turned my head back again and nearly vomited when I saw the face of what was trying to pull me back.
The thing looked like a man, but hideously deformed. His head was far bigger on top than the bottom — two lopsided knots jutted out like softballs from the two sides of the front of his forehead. His nose was non-existent. They were two little swollen slats of black that flared in and out with every breath it took. It also had a bright red mouth, open with heavy exertion, and revealed what looked to be sharp baby teeth.
I’m not sure if it released me or if the hideous sight of it inspired my body to rip away from it, but I was free and stumbling through the hallway, hoping to get to safety. I realized that it was playing with me the way my cat would a mouse and I was quickly growing exhausted. It wouldn’t be long before I ran out of energy.
There is rarely traffic in rural Louisiana, but I had somehow managed to find it as I raced to Lake Charles to try and save Kelly. What should have been a 25-minute drive had turned into a 50-minute one and I had to resist the urge to call the Lake Charles cops about five times during that interval. My boss had told me there was no way that we could leak any information about what we were doing to anyone outside of the operation and he didn’t even approve of me trying to go down there and intercept the thing. He warned that any kind of compromise in the operation could result in serious jail time for anyone involved. In what I call a “momentary lapse of judgement,” he never told me of this when I signed on. I didn’t give a shit if I had to rot in a cell for a while if it meant I had a chance to save someone else.
As soon as I saw the figure standing in Kelly’s hallway, I looked her address and phone number up in my boss’ paperwork, punched the location into Google Maps and hit the road as fast as I could in my old Civic. I tried calling her number about 50 times while on the road, but she never picked up. Not a good sign, but maybe, like me, she didn’t answer calls from unrecognized numbers. Maybe I saw an old mannequin, or a bizarre boyfriend in the hallway, and all was fine and I was about to show up like some frizzy-haired lunatic on this woman’s porch screaming about how she needed help. But, you know, maybe not.
I pulled off the highway and within a few minutes, I was parked next to the rickety wooden steps of a lakeside Victorian behemoth of a house. Was this really where Kelly lived? The thing looked like it was out of an old Cajun fairy tale or something – its pastel green paint splintered and faded, surrounded by a prayer circle of baldcypress trees covered in Spanish moss.
From the outside, there appeared to be no signs of life and my car was the only vehicle parked in the muddy little circle that served as the parking lot of the home. I wasn’t sure whether this calm was a good or a bad thing. I stepped out into the cold wind of the early Spring morning and dashed up the soggy wooden stairs to the front door.
Three knocks upon the hollow wood of the front door had produced nothing. I stepped in through the unlocked entrance with an announcement.
“Hello, Kelly?” My voice echoed throughout the cavernous domicile that looked like a Vincent Price wet dream scattered with cobwebs and dated artwork that smelled like an attic.
I shuffled around the foyer for a moment, grabbing peeks at the various connected rooms, but didn’t see the living room I had seen from Kelly’s hacked webcam anywhere. I quickly began to wonder if this was the right house. The living room in the webcam had looked modern, but plain, as if it had been built in the 70s, but everywhere I had seen in this place looked like it was designed in the 1800s.
“Kelly?” Another call into the shadowy catacombs of the place produced nothing, not even a creak from the old musty place.
I combed through the rooms and noticed that some parts of the house had been remodeled in the bland look of Kelly’s living room, while others were left in their haunting dress of yesteryear. It took me a few minutes, but I did find that dreary living room, complete with the laptop propped up on the coffee table in front of a big forest green couch, but that was it. No signs of life.
A search of the rest of the house also proved fruitless and I couldn’t even find recent signs of life – a half-eaten apple, the smell of a recent shower in the bathroom, half-empty glass of water on the nightstand – something like that. Maybe she had left to go to the store or something.
This thought left me feeling horribly creepy myself. Here I was, in a complete stranger’s bedroom, calling out her name. This was probably all just a misunderstanding. Remember, this whole suspicion was cooked up by a fat, balding, middle-aged guy who I knew spent most of his working hours perusing the Facebook profiles of ladies that he went to high school with. Like always, he was probably dead fucking wrong.
I was shocked at how quickly after one of the most-harrowing sequences of my life that things returned to normal. I was back home at my house eating potato chips, mindlessly browsing near strangers’ profiles on Facebook with reality TV on in the background. The only thing that suddenly seemed out of the ordinary was my cell phone vibrating with a call and that I had just noticed that my NightGuard was missing from my night stand.
Usually, I ignore calls, knowing that the only people who ever call are the occasional telemarketers, but when I checked the screen, I noticed a 615 area code.
“Hello,” I answered.
A frantic female voice appeared on the other end of the call, out of breath and flustered. The voice sounded a lot like mine when she started in.
“You gotta get out of there,” the voice screamed at me.
“What?” I fired back.
“He’s there. He’s there. He’s there. I’ve been watching you when you’re on your computer,” the voice screamed, but I was distracted by a sound that was coming outside my open bedroom door.
The noises seemed like a light crying from the hallway, but they were so faint they could have just been the air conditioning.
“What do you mean?” I asked, now up and tiptoeing to the doorway with the phone pressed against my ears.
I pushed the door open to reveal the source of the noises – a familiar-looking orange tabby cat, one that I had previously only seen on a computer screen.
The feline looked up at me and meowed again.
My heart stopped, I started paying attention to a different sound, the sound of the woman screaming in my ear.
“I can see him. He is in your closet!”
The woman’s wailings were interrupted by the feeling of something rough and icy cold upon the back of my neck. Her pleadings and my phone fell to the ground as I was lifted up off of my feet. In my last waking moment, in the reflection of the black screen of my phone that was lying face up on the floor, I saw the image of a dark, shadowy figure standing right behind me.