Previously on Scare Yourself Silly: Boothworld Industries.
Let’s play a little game. You’ve probably played it before; it’s called “Two Truths and a Lie.” Can you guess which of these three news stories are true and which is false?
A group of university students were shocked to find that a stranger had taken up residence in the basement of their off-campus home without their knowledge.
The students, a group of eight men and two women, first moved into the house on August 5; when strange things began happening shortly thereafter, they began to joke that their house was haunted. Drawers would be left open in the kitchen and the bathroom; lights would be found turned on; and periodically, strange noises emanated from the basement. The students traced the noises to a locked door in their basement, located two flights down from the house’s main level. They were unable to open the door; assuming it to be a utility closet, they left it alone.
After several weeks of unsettling activity, the students called both their landlord and the police, who were able to pry the handle off the locked door. Behind it, they found a furnished bedroom, complete with clothing, a television, and photographs on the walls: Evidence that someone had been residing in their basement, rent-free and without their knowledge, the entire time they had been living there. Based on the photographs in the room, one of the students realized that he had previously had a run-in with their mysterious roommate; the man had introduced himself as “Jeremy.” Although “Jeremy” was an unfamiliar face, the student had assumed he was visiting one of the house’s other nine occupants and did not pursue the matter further.
The students were able to get in touch with “Jeremy” via a note left in his room. Although he has since moved out of the basement, the house’s official occupants remain shaken up. The students are considering taking legal action against the realty company that leased them the house, citing among other concerns the facts that they had not changed the locks or made sure that the house was vacant before their new tenants moved in. “It could have potentially been a scary situation,” one of the students said. “They hadn’t changed the locks from the year before, and the keys don’t say ‘do not duplicate.
“There could be hundreds of people with keys to the house.”
A single mother discovered recently that an old boyfriend had been living in the attic of her home after his release from jail.
The woman, who has asked not to be identified for her safety, dated the man for a year almost a decade ago, terminating the relationship after he became involved in petty crime. The last time she had seen him was when he helped install some doors in her house last year; he was later convicted of stealing her truck. He had finished serving his sentence and was released from jail two weeks prior to his discovery.
As the mother of five put her children to bed on Saturday night, she heard a thump coming from the ceiling. Thinking that perhaps an animal had gotten into the attic, she asked her adult nephew and her older sons to investigate. To their shock and surprise, they found a man living in the attic. Upon being discovered, the man ran downstairs and out of the house, disappearing before the police could arrive.
During their investigation, police officers found that the man had packed old coats and jackets being stored in the attic into the heating unit, where he had apparently been sleeping. They also found several old Sonic cups filled with feces and urine. Additionally, the man appeared to have rigged the ceiling vents such that he was able to see into the woman’s bedroom. The only entrance to the attic is inside the home, in the hallway that connects the woman’s children’s bedrooms.
The woman has changed the locks, but she says that her children are still afraid to sleep in their bedroom.
The intruder remains at large.
A woman has been arrested after living undetected in a man’s house for almost a year.
The resident of the house, who asked not to be named, believed he lived alone in his one-story house. When he noticed food disappearing from his refrigerator, he began to suspect that he was a victim of repeated burglaries. In an attempt to catch the perpetrators, he installed several security cameras that constantly transmitted images to his cell phone. On Wednesday, his security system recorded images of a woman in his home while he was out; the man contacted the police, who arrived at the property to perform an exhaustive search.
The woman was found hiding in the top of a built-in cupboard meant for the storage of bedding and other linens. The cupboard held a thin futon and a small collection of plastic drink bottles and was just large enough for the woman to lie down in.
She told police that she had first taken up residence in the house approximately one year ago, when the owner had left his home without locking the door. The cupboard was in a room the man rarely used, which may have contributed to his initial failure to detect his additional occupant; furthermore, no money or other valuable items went missing from the house, giving him no reason to suspect an intruder. The woman, who was described by police as looking neat and clean, did make use of the shower and toilet.
She was charged with trespassing.
I lied. About the game, that is. Maybe I should have called it “Three Truths and a Lie,” because the lie was the name of the game.
All three stories are true.
I’m sure I’m not alone when I say that the idea of someone living in my home without my knowledge terrifies me. It freaks me out in a different way than something like, say, Boothworld Industries does; in some ways, it’s even scarier.
One of the reasons we enjoy things like horror movies and high-octane haunted house attractions is that they allow us to experience fear in a relatively safe environment. Sure, we might be surrounded by terrifying things—but it isn’t real. Even if it’s “based on a true story,” offers a convincing example of the found footage genre, or ends with a dude with a chainsaw chasing us out onto the street… at the end of the day, we’re comfortable in the knowledge that it’s fiction.
Knowing, then, that these sorts of stories—stories about people lurking in the dark corners of your home, stories that sound like they should exist only in movies or in a Shirley Jackson novel—are absolutely, 100 percent true? That’s a whole new level of creepy. And although each of these stories has a relatively happy ending—the intruder has been found out and the residents are safe—they could very easily, as stated by the university students, have been potentially scary situations. These facts take away our safety net.
The first story happened this fall in Columbus, Ohio. The students, who attend Ohio State University, discovered “Jeremy’s” existence in the middle of September. It seems like a given that someone renting a home to you would do things like change the locks between residents and check to make sure the house was actually vacant before you moved in.
In the words of Brett Mugglin, the comp sci major who accidentally met “Jeremy” once, their additional roommate “was a nice enough guy—he just wasn’t supposed to be there;” but that doesn’t change the fact that, in slightly different circumstances, the situation could have turned into a horror story. Mark Hartman, the 21-year-old civil engineering student who dealt with the media on behalf of his housemates, pointed out that “Two of the 10 roommates in our section of the house are girls and our rooms don’t have locks on the doors.”
The second story took place in Rock Hill, South Carolina in the fall of 2012. It’s The Strangers, with odd bumps in the night turning out to be just as scary as what the dark recesses of your mind imagine they might be. It’s Straw Dogs, with an old flame who just can’t give up the ghost taking control and leaving you powerless. And it’s Psycho, with a Norman Bates analogue spying on you while you sleep.
The last story happened in Japan’s Fukuoka Prefecture in 2008. The woman was identified as 58-year-old Tatsuko Horikawa, and her cupboard was located in a traditional Japanese-style room the homeowner only used for special occasions. In some ways, this story is almost funny: To a Western audience, Horikawa’s tidiness is so counter to what we usually think of when we imagine squatters.
What if, instead of a relatively harmless woman who simply needed to put a roof over her head, the intruder had been an onryō, a ghost seeking vengeance for some horrible wrong done to it in life? Think Sadako Yamamura in the movie Ringu, or Samara in its English language adaptation: A version of the ghost Oiwa, with long, dark hair covering a horrific face and a drooping, malformed eye, stopping at nothing to drag you to hell with her. Or think of Kuchosake-onna, the Slit-Mouthed Woman, who, should you come upon her, will ask you whether you think she’s pretty. You’re damned no matter what you answer: If you say no, she’ll kill you; if you say yes, she’ll give you a Glasgow grin to match her own.
Now think back to that security camera footage the homeowner received on his cell phone and view it through that lens of cultural context. I don’t know about you, but if I had grown up with those stories and suddenly saw images of a strange woman walking around my house, I would have flipped. The fuck. Out.
But at least we have self-preservation hardwired into our brains and bodies. All of the people who found themselves in these strange-but-true situations realized that something was up and took measures against it. We can consider them real-life cautionary tales, but with their heroes triumphing at the end rather than meeting a grisly fate.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go check my closets for false backs and make sure there are no other ways into the crawlspace in my kitchen.
Lucia Peters is endlessly fascinated by creepy things, both real and imagined; she writes about them regularly at The Ghost in My Machine. Her work has also appeared on TheGloss, Crushable, Bustle, and BettyConfidential