The Little Rental House of Horrors
As today is Halloween, I’m reposting this story, which first appeared on my blog not long after The Incident itself. Enjoy!
A few years ago, I was staying in a rental house in Miami with my husband and parents. It was not — and I cannot stress this enough — the house in the photo at the top of this page (Although this post will be much more interesting if you pretend that it was…), but that was its vibe, you know?
It’s important to note here that I don’t believe in ghosts. At all.
It’s also, however, important to note that this house? Was haunted.
I know, it doesn’t really LOOK particularly haunted here, does it? That’s because you can’t see The Room.
The Room had once been a garage, but it had been converted to a kind of basement/bedroom. Because everyone wants to sleep in a basement, right?
Other than the fact that it was below ground-level (Which isn’t all that common in Florida homes), and therefore had no windows, there was nothing particularly unusual about this bedroom (Or nothing else unusual, I should say. I mean, the “no windows” thing was pretty weird, tbf…), so all I can tell you about it is that when I opened the door for the first time, and looked in, my first thought was, “Oh, so THAT’S how they manage to imprison people for years in suburban neighbourhoods, and no one knows!” And when I went to my family and said, “You know that really creepy room?” they instantly all said, “Oh, you mean the one that’s just like a dungeon?” Which says it all, really.
The other thing I can tell you about The Room is that, no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t bring myself to set foot in it. We stayed in that house for three weeks, and not once did I enter The Room. I just couldn’t do it: I had a weird feeling about it — and I say that as someone who isn’t particularly susceptible to “weird feelings”. I’m the kind of person, for instance, who laughs whenever someone tells me to trust my instincts, because MY instincts are almost always telling me I’m going to die, and not once has that turned out to be true.
This time, however, my instincts were telling me NOT to go into The Room, and even though I’d occasionally open the door and stand at the top of the stairs, daring myself to go down, I decided to trust them for once.
The rest of the house was fairly normal. It was old. It was always dark. It was not particularly clean. The pool area was completely overgrown with this dense foliage you couldn’t see through, and it had these strangely spartan bedrooms, which would just have needed a crucifix over the bed to have been used in a horror movie. But other than that, it was fine. We were fine.
And so our holiday progressed, with nothing particularly unusual to trouble us. I mean, there WAS that time Terry woke me in the night shouting, “I heard something! I HEARD SOMETHING!” And there was also that time when I was sitting by the pool and someone opened the door to the house, walked out, and… there was no one there when I looked up. But, for the most part, it was all good.
Until there came a dark and stormy night.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. You’re all, “Oh, I get it: Amber is relying on the clichés of horror writing to make a totally ordinary event sound scary. OK.”
I’m not, though.
Well, OK, I kind of AM. But…
No, really: it was actually a dark and stormy night.
As in, it was one of those Florida thunderstorms that spring up all of a sudden and make you feel like the house is about to blow down. And also like you’re suddenly starring in your own private horror movie. The wind was howling around the house. The rain was lashing against the windows. The moon was full, and casting fleeting shadows across the assembled family members, who were gathered in the kitchen/dining area of our rental house, which was, as I have previously alluded, totally not haunted, even though it really, really WAS.
So, to recap: haunted house, dark, stormy night, full moon… we were in a horror movie, weren’t we? And, just in case this fact wasn’t obvious enough, as we sat there, listening to the wind howl and watching the house-lights flicker, there suddenly came a mysterious tapping at the window.
TAP TAP! went the window.
O!M!F!G! shrieked I, jumping from my seat and running to hide behind the door. “THEY’RE HERE! THEY’RE HERE! I always knew one day we’d wind up in a horror movie and finally it’s happened, and THEY’RE HERE!”
“It’s just the wind!” said Terry (Who, by the way, had jumped out of his seat when it happened, and who was now adopting a “Mr Tough Guy” act in the hopes that no one had noticed.) “And who’s ‘They’?”
“It all depends,” I said, still from behind the door. “It COULD just be high school students with murder on their minds. Or it COULD be zombies, vampires, demons, That Old Woman from Insidious, or a creepy child. You’ve seen the same movies I have, dude, don’t pretend you don’t know the score?”
“I think YOU’VE maybe seen too many of those movies now,” said Terry. “But seriously, it was just the wind. Now come out from behind the door, please.”
Well, I wasn’t keen — I mean, I’ve watched a LOT of horror movies now, so I think I know when I’m in one — but my parents joined in with the persuasion, and my dad opened a bottle of wine, so gradually I was coaxed out. I resumed my seat at the table, this time angling it TOWARDS the window rather than away from it (So I could see Them coming, obviously) and the night continued, as dark and stormy as ever, but now with added “tapping”. And also with added wine.
As we all sat there, talking though, my eyes roved around the room, and happened upon this dresser at one end of it:
Now, I had noticed this item before, obviously. As I looked at it now, however, it suddenly occurred to me that it was the only item of furniture in the house I HADN’T yet ransacked, in the hope of finding something interesting. (Well, other than the furniture in the Dungeon Room, obviously. I hadn’t checked it out, because I was too scared to go into that room, ever.) But I had lived my entire life in the hope of somehow stumbling across a mystery, Famous Five/Nancy Drew style, solving it, and then FINALLY having some material to put in that novel I’d been wanting to write since I was 11. Maybe tonight would be the night it would finally happen? I mean, probably not, because I figured the whole “mysterious tapping at the window” thing was probably enough excitement for one night, but you never know, so I got up and started rummaging through the drawers.
“What are you doing?” asked Terry, his drink poised halfway to his lips.
“I’m looking for a mystery,” I explained, rummaging through piles of board games, telephone directories, and other, totally non-mysterious stuff. “I’m hoping to find, I don’t know, a mysterious old box or something, maybe with some kind of clue inside it that I can solve, and then I’ll become famous, and also write a novel about it. I don’t expect I’ll find one, though, but you never…”
“A SECRET BOX!” I shrieked. “AT LAST!”
Their curiosity finally piqued, Terry and my parents got up, and we all gathered around the box, in the manner of people who are being secretly filmed through two-way mirrors inside a haunted house.
“OMG!” I said, “I bet we’re totally being filmed through two-way mirrors right now, like in The Cabin in the Woods. I’ve suspected something like that was going on ever since we arrived, to be honest.”
“Shut up and open the damn box,” said Terry.
I hesitated – mostly, if I’m honest, because I knew that whatever was inside the box – if anything – would turn out to be a crushing disappointment, and the mystery would be over before it had really begun.
“Best case scenario would be a note of some kind,” I said, as I opened the latch. “Like, maybe the person who was kept captive inside the Dungeon Room…”
“IT ISN’T A DUNGEON ROOM,” chorused my family. “It’s just a garage conversion!”
“… maybe the person who was held captive inside the Dungeon Room wrote a note and placed it in this box for future residents of the house to find!”
“And then the person who kept them captive took the note and placed it in a dresser in the dining room, before sticking the house on VRBO?” said Terry, who was determined to be a complete and utter fun sponge that night. “I think we’re starting to see why you never made it as a horror writer. Now open the box!”
So I did. And…
Total and utter vindication, folks. Because, yes, that’s a secret note. Inside the secret box. I swear I’m not making this up, and no, it wasn’t Terry or my parents who planted it. Not this time, anyway.
(In this post I’m using a literary technique borrowed from, well, Enid Blyton, in which you make something ordinary sound mysterious, simply by putting the word “secret” in front of it. I use it a lot on my secret blog.)
“It won’t be anything remotely mysterious,” said Terry the Cynic, who obviously didn’t read the same books I read as a child. And as it happened, Terry was partly right:
Just in case you can’t read the writing, the text of the Secret Note reads:
“I don’t available to take your call. Please live [sic] your message I call you back. Tank.”
“Tank?” asked everyone. “Oh well, looks like THAT was a complete and utter anti-climax! Back to the wine!”
But wait! What’s this on the OTHER side of the Secret Note, from the Secret Box, discovered in a Haunted House on a Dark and Stormy Night?
I can’t make head nor tail of the first sentence, but the rest reads:
“I can’t tell you what it really is/ I can only tell you what it feel like / and right now there’s a steel knife in my windpipe / I can’t breathe, but I still fight, all I can fight, as long as th….”
“And then it trails off dramatically,” I finished, “as if the writer died mid-sentence. Probably because he/she had a steel knife in his windpipe. Probably put there by the person who locked him in the Dungeon Room all those many years ago.”
We all stood and looked at the note, speechless. And for a second, it REALLY did seem like that was the most likely scenario: that some poor person had been trapped inside our haunted house, and had met a terrible end, just managing to scratch out this final cry for help before the darkness closed in. It’s funny what a creepy house on a stormy night will do to you, seriously.
“OR,” said Terry, “It could just be song lyrics.”
I read it again. And you know, now he came to mention it, it DID sound kinda familiar. I read it once more, this time as if it was a poem or song, and…
“It’s Eminem!” said Terry, triumphantly.
“OMG!” I said, “EMINEM was held captive in the garage?! Seriously, I did NOT see that coming!”
(Neither did he.)
It wasn’t Eminem who wrote the note, though. Or, I mean, I don’t know, maybe it WAS. Maybe what we found in that box that night was the first draft of ‘Love the Way You Lie’, written that one time Eminem came to Miami and decided to stay in a run-down rental home in Coconut Grove, rather than in some swanky 5 star hotel. Those ARE his lyrics after all, and honestly, no matter how you look at it, it IS kinda strange to write them down on a scrap of paper, place that scrap of paper inside a Secret Box, and then leave that Secret Box to be found by some random blogger, no?
We all have our theories about What It All Meant. Mine is that it really WAS a note left by someone kept prisoner inside the house. Everyone else’s is that it was just someone’s random scribble, meaning absolutely nothing. Eminem could not be reached for comment at the time this blog post, which somehow ended up being about him, went to press. We should probably just assume he agrees with Terry and my parents, though.
I’ll leave it up to you to come up with your own theories.