Haunted: No. 10

Christopher Dow

I chuckled as I approached the steps leading to the second level of the small brick apartment complex in Houston. It was like deja vu, only this was neither false memory nor any sort of precognition; this was real. Evening had fallen, but the air of late summer was still heavy with heat and humidity. I didn’t need to check the number on the door as I rang the bell for No. 10, a big grin on my face. I hoped John was home. What a surprise he was going to get!

 

My friend, John, and I had shared experiences and late-night philosophy for a year and a half until circumstances separated us. Now, a year later, in spring 1974, I had run into a mutual friend who knew where John was living. When this friend told me the address, I was taken aback—it was an apartment I had lived in briefly almost three years earlier, just prior to meeting John.

 

So here I was, visiting a familiar friend and a familiar habitat, though the two had remained unconnected until now. The door opened, and there John stood. His eyes lit up as he recognized me, and he ushered me into the apartment.

 

We brought each other up to date, and I learned that his present roommate was moving out the following week, leaving the second bedroom vacant. He asked if I was interested in moving in. Although I only recently had moved into the apartment I currently occupied, the prospect of sharing rooms with John more than offset my reluctance to pack up my belongings once more and trundle them across town. But something else made me hesitate.

 

When I’d lived in the apartment, it had been with my former girlfriend, Linda, whom John had known briefly toward the end of my relationship with her. After Linda and I moved in, we found swastikas and pentagrams roughly gouged into the wood of the inside of the closet doors in both of the bedrooms and in the entryway.

 

I had stayed in the apartment only about two months, and I didn’t really remember much about living there. It was the first time I had lived in an intimate relationship with someone, and Linda and I often were at odds with each other during our cohabitation. In fact, the only vivid memory I had of the place was of an incident that had taken place while I was writing a term paper for one of my university classes. I found myself waking, as if from a daze, facing one of the living room walls and clutching a sheaf of papers in my left hand and a pen in my right. It was almost as if I had awakened from sleepwalking, except that I had started out fully conscious in the bedroom that served as my study, writing the paper instead of sleeping.

 

I remember how strange it felt to find myself standing there and realizing that I had been wandering around the apartment for several hours in a benumbed, almost fugue state, scribbling my paper all the while. Instead of the required ten-page report on a literary work, I had written a thirty-page opus of social and spiritual protest.

 

My main recollections of the apartment were unsettling, but I chalked them up to my failing relationship with Linda, and I agreed to move in as soon as John’s current roommate moved out. In the meantime, he and I reestablished our friendship. A few days after our reunion, I visited John at the apartment. We sat in the living room for a couple of hours, talking nonstop. At last, I got up to go to the bathroom. The layout of the apartment was simple enough. The back half consisted of two bedrooms flanking a central bathroom, with a short hall connecting all three. The front half was the combination living–dining room and the kitchen, which opened to the left, off the dining area. It was an average but nice-looking and bright apartment, one of ten in a small complex that had been built in the late 1950s or early 1960s.

 

I came out of the bathroom, walked into the living room, and sat down. John wasn’t in the room, but from where I sat, I could see a slice of the bedroom where his roommate slept. Someone was moving around in it, and since the roommate wasn’t home, I assumed it was John, though I thought that odd, because it wasn’t his  room. But I shrugged it away and resumed our conversation where I had left off. Rather than raise my voice to yell into the other room, I got up and walked into the hallway to be able to talk more easily. As I entered the hall, I stopped dead in my tracks, my sentence choked off. I could see the whole room, and it was empty!

 

With my mind doing a double-take, I stepped back into the living room. As I did, John came out of the kitchen. Seeing the shocked look on my face, he asked what was the matter.

 

I told him I had seen, or thought I had, someone in his roommate’s room. No, it was definite. The more I thought about it, the more certain I was that someone had been in that room. It had been more than a momentary flash. I’d looked directly at the figure for at least ten seconds, although most of that time it was partially obscured by the doorjamb. When John asked me to describe what I had seen, I didn’t hesitate; John isn’t one to scoff at the unknown.

 

It’s strange how the mind can record an image even if the attention isn’t focused on it at the time. When I’d seen the figure in the bedroom, my attention had been on my conversation. Seeing movement in the room, I had naturally assumed it was John and really didn’t pay attention until I found the room empty. But as I focused on my memory of the image, I wondered how I could have been so blind.

 

John was chunky and of average height for a male, but the figure I’d seen was more slender and only about four feet tall. Visually, it was much like a three-dimensional shadow, dark at the center, lightening to a gray at the edges. It was humanoid in proportions, although no limbs were distinctly apparent. I realized also that I had gotten a few impressions that were not visual but on a “feeling” level. The first was of long, straight, dark hair falling over the shoulders; the second was that it was a woman; and the third was that she was lost and lonely.

 

I asked John if he had noticed anything unusual in the apartment, and he said that some visitors had heard sounds and seen what seemed like the same apparition I had. I told him about what had happened to me when I’d lived there with Linda. We then examined the closet doors. Two of them must have been replaced, since they were free of marks. But on the inside of the one in John’s bedroom—the room that served as my study when I’d lived in the apartment with Linda—the swastika remained.

 

In the rush of moving the following week, I forgot the incident. Within two weeks, I was fairly settled in, and life went smoothly as summer edged into early fall. I kept busy with work and the beginnings of the fall semester, and when other odd things began happening, they barely registered at first.

 

One morning when I got up, the front door was standing wide open. I was immediately miffed at John, who had come home after I retired, and I spoke to him about the dangers of burglary and such. He said he thought he’d closed and locked the door when he got home. I thought it more likely that he had shut the door, but not completely, and the wind had blown it open during the night.

 

But then, with increasing frequency over the next two or three months, we would wake to discover the door wide open. Many nights, I would check the door the last thing before going to bed to make certain it was securely shut and locked. Even so, often it would be wide open in the morning, as many as three times a week.

 

About the time we realized there was definitely something odd about our front door, we began to hear noises around the apartment. The noises were mostly knocks or sounds of things falling. The sounds were neither loud nor violent but were forceful enough to draw attention. They also invariable took place in a room that was unoccupied at the time, although usually they came from the living room. Never did we find a fallen object that might account for the sound. Nor did the sounds come from adjacent apartments. No. 10 was on the second floor at the end of the building, and the living room was not beneath or flanked by another apartment.

 

Then, one night after I’d lived in the apartment for about six weeks, I was lying in bed reading, and something more sinister happened. My room was the one in which I and others had seen the apparition, though I usually didn’t think much about that. But this night, I felt a presence enter the room, stand at the foot of my bed, and look down at me. I thought then about the apparition, but this thing now watching me didn’t “feel” the same. This felt masculine and watchful, not feminine and lost.

 

I stared directly at, or through, it but could see nothing. The feeling persisted for several minutes and then was gone. I returned to my book, but not without vague sensations of paranoia.

 

I didn’t mention the presence to John, but we did talk more and more about the door being open, the noises, and our growing feelings of uneasiness in the apartment. We began spending less and less time there, and soon the place got to be a shambles, with our possession strewn all over the place.

 

During the next two months, I was visited many times by the masculine presence, which would come into the room, often while I was reading before bedtime, stand at the foot of the bed, and watch me. Several times I spoke to it, initially asking what it wanted. Later, though, it gave me such uneasy feelings that I would just order it out. Usually it would go when I told it to.

 

One day, my friend, Ralph, came over for a visit. Ralph, a pragmatic individual, had a strong sense of concrete reality and no belief in the supernatural. At the time, he was a graduate student at the University of Houston. I had never mentioned anything to him about the strange activities going on in the apartment.

 

We were talking when, suddenly, he stared toward my bedroom and partly rose out of his chair, nervously saying he’d seen someone in my bedroom. I knew there was no one else in the apartment.

 

From Ralph’s description, I gathered he’d seen the feminine apparition that I and other people had observed: about four feet tall, darkly shrouded, with no real features, standing at about the same place in the room where I had seen it. I now knew I hadn’t been imagining it, but that didn’t make me feel any better because I had to sleep in that room. And the masculine presence was entering with greater frequency.

 

One night about a month after Ralph saw the apparition, John and I went to our rooms to go to bed at around the same time. I lay reading for some minutes before I became aware that the masculine presence had entered my room and was staring down at me. I laid my book face down on my chest and stared directly at the space it seemed to occupy. Rather abruptly, because I was annoyed and disturbed by these invasions of my privacy, I asked what it wanted.

 

Suddenly I felt transfixed and paralyzed. A bar of vibrating coldness lanced diagonally through my brain, from the left hinge of my jaw to the upper right corner of my forehead. The “object” seemed to be the same diameter and length as an unused pencil, and it felt gray and frigid as it buzzed and vibrated inside my head.

 

As this happened, I became aware of two things. The first was a distant babble of multitudinous voices. I hesitate to use the word demonic—no words or ideas were clear, and the babble didn’t seem overtly evil, though there was an insanely confused quality to its subdued pandemonium. The second sensation was of a presence inside my brain. With a shock, I realized it was holding me motionless, attempting to control me.

 

Terrified, I struggled to regain a grip on my mind and body. But even as the thing inside tried to pry me loose from my own moorings, I remembered a passage from a book on astral travel I’d read a few years earlier. In this passage, the author dispelled the fear that a disembodied spirit could take over a body whose spirit was traveling astrally. The author stated that a person’s body was his own and couldn’t be taken over unless he was willing to have such a thing happen.

 

With this passage in mind, I firmly pressed my consciousness into its own seat and refused to budge. All the while, I brought pressure to bear on the thing inside my head, forcing it out of me, mentally declaring over and over, “This is my mind! Get out! Get out!”

 

Gradually the intrusive presence slackened and faded entirely, and I could move again. The buzzing, cold bar of sensation continued for a number of minutes longer, then it too waned, leaving a residual feeling that persisted for nearly an hour.

 

I checked the clock. About thirty or forty minutes had elapsed since I lay down to read, which meant that the attack had lasted for about fifteen minutes. I was shaken and afraid to sleep. Then I heard a couple of muffled, indistinct words spoken by a voice somewhere else in the apartment. My bedroom door was closed, so I couldn’t tell where the voice came from or whose it had been.

 

Afraid to get up and look but more afraid not to know, I rose and opened the bedroom door. Down the short hall, John’s door was shut, and all was quiet. I went into the living room, half expecting the front door to be open, but it was shut and locked.

 

Then I went to check on John. I’d heard words, and he was the only other person in the apartment. Not wanting to wake him if he was asleep, I knocked softly on his door and quietly called his name. When he didn’t respond, I knocked again and tried the knob.

 

His door was unlocked, and as I opened it, light from the hall fanned across his floor. He was lying in a half fetal position, oddly with his head at the foot of the bed. His face was turned away and in shadow, so I couldn’t see it. I spoke his name several times, but he didn’t move. Rationalizing that he was all right and just sleeping, I shut the door and returned to my room. I was still uneasy, but for some reason, I didn’t feel as if the thing was going to come back. At last, exhaustion overtook me, and I slept.

 

John was gone when I rose the next morning, and I didn’t see him until the afternoon. Shortly after I arrived home from classes, John came home from work, and before I could say a word, he asked if I’d noticed anything unusual the night before. I asked him what he meant. He told me that just as he was on the verge of sleep, he had been attacked by an entity that had tried to take over his mind. He’d heard an incessant babble of demonic voices, experienced paralysis, and battled a presence that had tried to gain control over his body. He’d cried out, trying to attract my attention, and was dimly aware of my entering his room a few minutes later to check on him, but he’d been unable to move or speak to let me know he needed help. He thought it had taken him about an hour to fight off the entity.

 

I related my experience, and together, we pieced together what might have happened. A spirit of some sort had first attacked me. Because I was fully conscious, I’d been able to fight it off. Then it turned on John, who, being almost asleep, was more vulnerable than I. Consequently, he’d had a more difficult time defending himself.

 

We agreed that the spirit, while malevolent, had not been powerful enough to be really evil in the full sense of the word. It actually seemed weak, since I’d fought it off with relative ease, and it managed to get a grip on John only because he wasn’t fully conscious. We wondered if the attack was related to the feminine apparition, the masculine presence, the open front door, or the noises, but we could come to no firm conclusions.

 

Needless to say, John and I decided to move. Within two weeks, we were gone, but the apartment was not through with us quite yet. For several more years, we met people who’d lived in that same apartment, and although none had specific stories to tell, all had felt uneasy there, and none lived there longer than two or three months. In fact, during a four-year period, the apartment had more than ten sets of tenants. John and I lived there about four months.

 

The day we moved, my girlfriend came over to help. She arrived before I did, and when I got there, she was sitting on the steps, and the door to the apartment was wide open. She said she found it that way. At first, she’d gone inside, but she soon came back out because the place made her feel creepy.

 

I wasn’t surprised.

 

 

John’s account of the incident:

 

I can’t add a different narrative to what Chris has written. It is as I remember it. I would just add that many people who came over saw the shadow in the back. It happened before he moved in, but I discounted it at the time. When my previous roommate and I lived there, that was the main thing that happened, but I remember my roommate’s sister staying with us and commenting that there were noises, like things falling, footsteps, and bumps.

 

On this particular night, I had laid down, and was practicing meditation techniques before going to sleep. My eyes were closed, and I was lying still, trying to watch my mind wander. I drifted into a semiconscious state, and before long, I heard a buzzing sound. I knew it was coming from inside my head. I then lost consciousness. I was no longer tracking events, but neither was I asleep. I was physically paralyzed, heard a babble of voices, and felt a presence. I had been practicing controlling my consciousness in these states, but this time I had no control.

 

I tried to wake up, but could not. I tried to move, but could not. I continued to resist for the longest time. I tried to call out for Chris, whom I knew was in the next room, but could not. Chris came into my room, but I could not respond. Gradually, many minutes later it seemed, my fight for control pushed the buzzing sound away, and I was able to sit up, awake. I felt the thing that was controlling me move out of my head and out of my room before I sat up.

 

I might be able to attribute the front door opening to the building settling, but it happened too often. Each time this happened, we would check the door, and it would fit the lock when we would close it and test it. As for the entity, I believe that it was weak; its only hold on me was that I was already in a dream state and susceptible to suggestion, as with hypnosis.

 

It has always bothered me that such a new apartment would have something like that. There had been an older neighborhood there, and at first, I attributed the apartment’s weirdness to a previous building. But a 1944 map shows it was a vacant lot at the time. This means that the apartment building was the first structure on the lot.

 

 

Postscript

 

In 2004—thirty years after the incidents described above—I mentioned to a friend that I’d lived in a haunted apartment and described where it was. Her eyes lit. She said she had friends in that same neighborhood who told her it was common knowledge to people who lived in the neighborhood that a certain apartment there was haunted. She didn’t know which one, and unfortunately, I didn’t have the time to investigate further. But I bet I know which one it is.

Excerpted from Book of Curiosities: Adventures in the Paranormal, by Christopher Dow

Copyright 2019 by Phosphene Publishing Company

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