Lisa here, just back from a trip to Target and who knows how many other retailers on Route 22 in New Jersey. I had a List, you see, and it took a few extra stops and U-turns. It’s beastly hot here in early September, but the stores are full of pumpkins, skeletons, black cats, and ghosts. So cute in the store—but in real life…
Once there was a starving editorial assistant (that would be me) working in a fancy Manhattan publishing house by day and going home each night to a serious dump of a Brooklyn apartment. I’d tell you the exact address, but these days, the neighborhood is super trendy and the landlord pulls in about 5 grand each month for rent.
I was riding the subway home, desperately hanging onto a pole and clutching a tote full of manuscripts to be read by sunrise, when someone called my name. A former colleague I didn’t know that well, but she was nice enough. A little out there, maybe, but who wasn’t?
She asked if I was in the market for a new apartment (the answer is always “yes” in NYC), because she was moving in with her new boyfriend in Boston and needed to sub-let. She didn’t want to actually give up the apartment, in case things didn’t work out. The rent was only $350 a month—and fully furnished.
I literally dropped the heavy bag on my foot. Three-fifty? Half what I was paying for my drafty studio. Of course, there was a catch. I’d have to take care of her two cats, because her boyfriend was allergic. Fine. “And there’s a poltergeist,” she added casually.
I’m sure I had a half-shocked, half-horrified look on my face. I’d seen the movie. “Don’t worry,” my acquaintance said. “A poltergeist is just a mischievous teenager spirit—you know, with a lot of energy. This one is a 14-year-old boy. You’ll be perfectly safe.”
I moved in the very next month. The apartment was on the bottom floor of a former carriage house, located behind my landlord’s home. To get to it, I had to let myself in through a locked gate and then cross a courtyard under a long, grapevine-covered (my landlord was Armenian) pergola.
The apartment was large, dark, and musty. I didn’t care, because I was out most of the time. (Again: $350/month.) The only problem was the cats. Constantly skittish and destructive, they leapt across furniture and knocked objects to the floor. Sometimes I’d even enter a room to find a framed print askew on the wall. Also, they hated me, which hurt my feelings. I couldn’t remember what my friend had told me their names were, so I called them Satan and Damien. They leveled death-glares at me from the tops of the floor-to-almost-ceiling bookcases.
One night after work I stood outside my apartment, fumbling for my keys. I finally found them and, just as I reached out toward the lock, I heard a click and the door opened. Whoa. A weird burst of wind from inside the house? Sure, Jan.
And even though I heard some weird buzzing noise from the dark living room I stepped cautiously inside. Just like those movies where the babysitter is determined to investigate the creepy basement where the killer is lurking. I flipped on the dim overhead light and there was my vacuum cleaner smack in the middle of the living room. Running.
I knew for sure I hadn’t left it there. I almost never vacuumed. Had my landlord’s elderly mother let herself into my apartment to spruce things up and then walked out with the vac still running? There was only one exit from the apartment—the front door, and the windows had bars, so I hadn’t caught anyone in the act of invading my space. The intimidating cats weren’t anywhere in sight, and I doubted they’d lugged a vac out, plugged it in, and engaged in some light housekeeping to welcome me home.
I turned off the vac, yanked the cord from the outlet, and headed straight to the bedroom per usual to check my phone messages on the answering machine. The little red light was blinking twice. Yay, 2 people had called me. I pushed “Play Message” for the first one and got…the vacuum sounds on tape. Well, that was annoying. I quickly erased it and jumped to the second message—the vac again. How was that even possible? To use the answering machine as a tape recorder, you had to push two buttons down at the same time and hold them there. I doubted my landlord’s mother, who didn’t speak a word of English, had been involved, or that Satan and Damien were that talented with their claws.
And then there was that click I’d heard in the hallway. Who had unlocked my front door for me upon my arrival, plugged in my vac, and recorded the annoying buzzing on my machine? And left the scene in darkness?
Guess I’ll never know.
Readers, do you have a true ghost story for us (or one that could be true)? Or maybe you had a truly terrifying rental apartment. Let us know in the comments!