I recently moved into a big house (actually sort of a mansion), just temporarily. It’s kind of a complicated situation – the house belongs to a family member, they were going to be gone for a few months, that sort of thing. I was going to be there on my own, so obviously I thought, “what if it’s haunted?”
There wasn’t anything in the house when I moved in. There is now.
I was in the main hallway unpacking some stuff when the doorbell rang. That put me on edge right away, because the house is at the end of a long drive and kind of out of the way. You have to go looking for it. There was an old woman at the door (or sort of old – it was kind of hard to tell). This was in broad daylight, but there was still something kind of…off about her. She was really tall, like a full head taller than me, and there was something weird about the way she looked. It was like none of her clothes fit her properly.
She shook my hand and smiled (really wide) and told me that she was from the neighbourhood council or something, and asked if she could come in and talk to me. My gut reaction was to say no, but I couldn’t really think of a reason to. She was just an old woman, what was she going to do?
I really wish I had just slammed the door in her face.
I brought her into the living room and she sort of tottered behind me, like her feet didn’t feet into her shoes properly. She sat down without asking and grinned at me until I took a seat across from her. For about half a minute she didn’t say anything, just smiled and stared at me while I got increasingly awkward.
Just as I was about to break the silence she fished in her pocket and pulled out this really big old-fashioned sweet, the type that comes in see-through wrapping.
“Here,” she said. “Eat this.”
I should probably point out here that she spoke really quietly, so it was difficult to hear anything she said. I accepted the sweet, kind of taken aback, and unwrapped it. It was dark red, almost black. I popped it in my mouth, because she was still grinning at me and nodding her head. Have you ever walked around behind a supermarket, where they keep the big bins? They throw meat that’s gone off in those. Picture that rancid smell, but on a hot summer day. It’s so thick you can almost feel it in the air.
That’s what the sweet tasted like. I almost spit out onto the floor, but social niceties made me chew the thing and force it down my throat. The woman was talking all the time, but between the taste and her quiet voice I barely heard her. My mouth tasted like rotten meat, so I politely told her I was going to go get some water and ran into the kitchen. When I came back she was gone. I had been in the kitchen for less than thirty seconds.
My first reaction probably should have been to assume that she went to the bathroom, or had to leave in a hurry. Instead I searched the entire house. I went through every single room, convinced I was going to open a closet or look under a bed and see her stuffed in there, grinning at me.
That didn’t happen, obviously, but I was still extremely on edge as the sun started to go down. I felt like I was turning off the light in my bedroom after spotting a giant spider in there. That night I propped a chair against my bedroom door because I just couldn’t shake the feeling that that woman was still in the house somewhere, hiding.
I woke up at around two in the morning and heard creaking floorboards downstairs. It was an old house, and unfamiliar. I kept telling myself that until the noises stopped.
When I woke up the next morning, there was a red sweet on the living room table.
I’ll tell you the same thing I told the police: No, I couldn’t be absolutely certain that the sweet wasn’t there the day before. Maybe I had just overlooked it. But I didn’t think so.
They told me that the organization the woman claimed to come from didn’t actually exist and clearly thought I was wasting their time. After they left I searched the entire house again, and the grounds. Then I searched them again. By the time I was finished I had managed to calm down a bit and look at the situation rationally. The woman probably left the sweet there the previous day, and I just didn’t notice. I had searched the whole house twice now. There was nowhere she could possibly be hiding. She was probably just some doddery old lady who wandered off while I was in the kitchen.
As I prepared t go to bed I had managed to fully delude myself into thinking nothing strange was going on. I decided not to do anything childish like blocking my door, because what was I afraid of? Even if she somehow was still inside the house somewhere, what was she going to do?
At some point in the middle of the night I woke up abruptly, knowing in the back of my mind that something was wrong. I guess I must have heard something in my sleep. I turned over onto my side and reached out to turn on the bedside lamp, groping around because I was in an unfamiliar room. When the light came on I saw the old woman standing right next to my bed.
I only got a glimpse of her, because as soon as I screamed she scuttled backward out the door, really fast. I only got the briefest glimpse of her before she vanished into the unlit hallway outside my door.
I now believe that the human brain has a special compartment for dealing with experiences far outside the realm of the natural. If I had woken up to find a burglar in my room I probably would have gone numb with panic. If there was a lion at the foot of my bed I’d be too paralyzed with fear to do anything. But as soon as the woman was gone that special compartment took over. I jumped out of bed and slammed the door shut, then shoved a chair up against the handle. Then I dashed for my phone.
No signal, no internet. I later found out there was nothing wrong with the phone or the local service. I think she was interfering with it somehow.
The drop from the bedroom window wasn’t too high. If I landed just right I’d probably avoid injury. But what if I sprained an ankle or broke my leg? I had a sudden vision of pulling myself across the dark garden while the woman sprinted after me and decided I didn’t want to risk it. That gave me two options: wait out the night in my bedroom, or try to get out of the house now. I went for the second one. I had an idea my flimsy barricade wouldn’t hold if the woman decided it wanted back in.
I broke one of the chair legs off and crept slowly into the hallway, reaching carefully for the light-switch. When I pressed it the lights came on for a second, then faded out. I flicked the switch a few more times. Nothing. Some gut instinct told me she was sabotaging them somehow.
I used my phone for light as I slowly, quietly crept along the upstairs hallway and down the stairs. The light barely traced the shapes of the walls and the dark, yawning frames of open doorways. I jumped at every single shadow and unidentifiable shape, certain that any second that grinning face would appear out of the shadows.
I got downstairs and to the front door. I had double-locked it, and put the chain in place. Just as I was reaching for the first lock I heard rapid, uneven footsteps at the top of the stairs, approaching swiftly.
I undid the first lock. A high-pitched shriek came from halfway down the stairs and I screamed as I undid the second lock and wrenched the door open. It stuck fast. I had forgotten the chain. I glance behind me and saw the tall, spindly shape of the woman half-running, half-falling down the stairs toward me, her head lolling backward and her mouth hanging open.
I can’t even remember getting the chain off. I might actually have just yanked the door open so hard I broke it. In any case, the last I saw of the woman was her face, inches away from me, as I slammed the door shut.
I sprinted to the nearest house and eventually they called the police, possibly because I was half-delirious with fear and babbling incoherently. The police once again failed to find anything unusual.
It’s been a week. I’m staying at a friend’s place, sleeping with the lights on and the bedroom door barricaded. The house’s real owners aren’t back yet. I’m not sure what I’m going to tell them, but I have to stop them from going back there, somehow.
This isn’t a haunting. It’s an infestation.
I can’t stop thinking about all of the holes in our defences, the windows and doors left open, the strangers invited into our living rooms. I just hope to God it’s the house she wanted, and not me.