How I Learned To Check Every Room Before Moving Into A New House

Flickr / Katie Brady
Flickr / Katie Brady

I recently moved out of a house I had been staying in for college. Through some family connections I managed to get a really cheap deal on this old place that had been renovated during the housing bubble and then went unsold. It was just a short-term lease for a few months, while I studied for my finals.

Moving into a spooky old house, on my own? What could go wrong, right?

When I first moved in I noticed something odd — there was a closet downstairs I couldn’t get into. The handle was completely jammed, and I couldn’t see anything through the keyhole. It wasn’t a big deal. The house was large and I was the only occupant, so I didn’t exactly need storage space, and I soon forgot about it.

Strange things started happening on the first night. At first I told myself the creaking footsteps were just the house settling, whatever that means. I’d only ever lived in modern apartments until that point, what did I know? Old houses probably did that all the time.

Then I started noticing little things out of place. I’d go into the bathroom and find piss or toilet paper in the bowl even though I could swear I had flushed it. I kept finding food in different places from where I had put it previously, and once, a pillow vanished from my bed.

I know these sound like red flags, but I was studying feverishly for exams. I was stressed out and barely paying attention to anything else, and it was easy to attribute all of this to paranoia brought on by overwork. Then things got a lot more weird.

One night I got up to the go to the bathroom and heard a very particular sound downstairs, right at the foot of the staircase, which I couldn’t see from where I was standing. It was a kind of sharp scuffle accompanied by an intake of breath and the idea came to me that there was someone down there in the hallway who I had just surprised, and who was therefore trying very hard to be quiet. All I had to do was move a few steps forward and look down the stairs and I’d be able to see them. It would take less than a second.

So of course I didn’t do that, I practically flung myself into the bathroom and locked the door. I tried to listen for any sounds from downstairs, but my heart was pounding so hard there could have been an elephant rampaging around the kitchen and I wouldn’t have heard it. I was probably in there for half an hour before I grabbed a pair of scissors, steeled myself and went downstairs, expecting a serial killer wearing someone else’s face to leap out of the darkness at me with every step.

That obviously didn’t happen. Everything seemed to be in order. The house was empty. The last door I tried was the locked closet, just to be thorough, and it was just as inaccessible as before.

About a week later I came home unusually late and as soon as I stepped through the front door I had the sudden, very strong feeling that something was wrong. I don’t believe in premonitions or anything like that, but I think our minds pick up on stuff that we’re not consciously aware of. All that night I was so creeped out I couldn’t concentrate on studying. I kept getting these weird ideas, that if I looked at an open doorway I’d see someone standing there, or that I didn’t want to walk past the couch in case there was someone hiding under it. Eventually I got myself so worked up I decided to go down to the school library and do some studying until it closed for the night, ostensibly so I could focus better but actually because I didn’t want to be in the house any more.

Halfway there I stopped and turned back, deciding I was being stupid. The library was only going to be open for another hour, I’d barely get anything done. I was just being paranoid because I had never lived alone before.

As I was walking up the driveway, I glanced up at the house and saw a light turn off upstairs.

I froze. I had seen it for just a split-second. Could it just have been my imagination? Even if a light had turned off, could it have been a bulb blowing? Or was there someone (or something) in the house?

After some hesitation I decided that I’d had enough of this. I was going to get to the bottom of whatever was going on, even if that meant proving to myself that I was just imagining things.

I entered the house and walked confidently through the main hall, switching on lights and flinging open every door I came to. By God, I was going to prove to myself there was no one in this house. Then I saw the locked closet. It was open.

I don’t know what made me look inside instead of just getting the hell out of there. It was a big space, much bigger than I had expected, and someone had put it to good use. There was a sleeping bag against one wall, along with various non-perishable food items that had gone mysteriously missing over the last month and a half. And sitting right there at the head of the sleeping bag was my lost pillow, next to a very large and deadly-looking knife.

Someone had been living in the there with me, in the closet. I spent large amounts of time out of the house, in college or at the library. My movements were as predictable as the sunrise – it would have been easy to memorize my patterns and get a feel for when it was safe to come out and steal food. Hell, they could have used the shower and watched TV as long as they timed it right. I had to walk straight past the closet to leave, they probably heard me putting my backpack on and figured it was safe to emerge. Except I had changed my routine unexpectedly and surprised them. I didn’t have time to dwell on that though, because hot on the heels of that realization came another one: they were still in the house.

I got the hell out of there and called the police. By the time they arrived, my guest was gone. The officers who handled the call figured it was a case of a homeless person who had been squatting in the building and didn’t want to leave after I moved in, but I’m not so sure.

After I moved back home I did some research and discovered something disturbing. There had been a string of unsolved murders in the area over the last six years, and in every case the victim had lived alone in a large house. According to friends and family, prior to being stabbed to death in their beds they had complained of “poltergeist” activity: things going missing, lights that seemed to turn on and off on their own, footsteps in the middle of the night….

I wonder if they all had a locked closet as well, or an attic that they hadn’t entered in years, or a crawlspace. You’d be amazed at how many places there are to hide in an average house. TC mark

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