The Third Room
by S. Faxon
Chapter 1: The House
September 13, 2016
At 1:17 a.m., a third unexplainable rattle split apart any chance of me going back to sleep.
As my heart raced and I tried to take deep breaths, I half joked to myself, “My one stipulation for staying in this house would have been that it wasn’t haunted.”
I was staying here to care for the cat and to keep an eye on the house while Scotty, the elder gentleman who owned the house, was evaluated for his dementia. This had been my way of helping my friends who were caring for this man. This was also my golden opportunity to stay at a place rent-free, but it seemed as if this opportunity did come with a price.
Before giving me the keys, my friends had pulled me aside to say, “We have to tell you this; we don’t think anything’s going to happen, but we know that Scotty’s sister passed away while living here and that his mother did as well.”
“That’s life,” I had responded, as this didn’t bother me in the slightest at that moment. “Death happens and it’s not as if it’s haunted.”
The house had character. It was the house that the neighborhood children avoided, as its facade was run-down, the trees overgrown. It didn’t have a washing machine, there was no TV or cable, the second bathroom didn’t work, and the crumbling, faded pink wallpaper from the sixties screamed to be put to rest. None of that bothered me. This was my chance to get out of my parents’ house and to carve out for myself a little bit of peace.
That hope for peace began to slip on my first night in that house at 1:15 a.m., when the first rattling shattered my pleasant sleep.
The sound erupted from the bathroom. My mind flashed through the possible options of what could have made that sound.
Maybe the cat is in the bathroom, I thought.
I sat up to look and saw Kitty in the hallway, just beyond the threshold into the room, fast asleep. I had thought it strange that she wouldn’t come into the room with me when I had been unpacking, and stranger now that she remained in the hall.
Before I could process any more possibilities, it happened again.
Directly behind me.
But there was only a wall behind me. Nothing could rattle.
I quickly looked to Kitty. She was sitting straight up now, transfixed on the spot behind me.
A third rattle erupted directly behind me.
I jumped out of bed and grabbed my knife.
Clutching my knife, I stared at the wall. There was nothing there. How could there be? I tried to rationalize. It’s just a fucking wall.
Knife still in hand, I crawled back into bed, staring at the dun-colored curtains glowing from the green night-light in the room. Maybe there’s someone outside?
My heart was racing. Do I even want to look?
I grabbed my cell phone from the shelf next to the bed and pre-dialed 9-1, just in case.
Get a grip. It’s a new house, new sounds. Get used to it. Go to sleep.
Before I settled in, I checked for Kitty. She still had not stepped a paw into the back room, my room. Earlier, as I was getting ready for bed, Kitty had stood in the doorway, meowing loudly as if begging me to come out. In retrospect, I should have listened.
Several other inexplicable sounds disturbed the night, but none so loud as those first three. Rationally, I knew that this was my first night in the house and that there were bound to be sounds that I neither recognized nor knew, but the feeling that I was no longer alone began to grow.
Actual photo of the room where I stayed. This room belonged to Scotty’s mother. He had not touched the room since she passed away in that house over twenty years ago.
Chapter 2: Witching Hour
September 14, 2016
The next day, my friends Jason and Elizabeth, who were Scotty’s caregivers, and I set out on an investigation to debunk the mystery of the sounds. We searched the entire house, inside and out, shaking and moving any object we could imagine, and eventually I found it.
Coming out from the bathroom, my hand brushed against the knob on the door. A chill ran down my spine.
The rattle I had heard was the knob. The door knob had rattled in the night as if someone was frustrated, trapped, and couldn’t get out. Rather than set my mind at ease, I became even more disturbed. Why did it sound like it was behind me? Was it an echo? It’s a big room, but it’s hardly cavernous.
Puzzled, I shared this discovery with my friends.
“Well, let’s just take care of that,” Elizabeth declared, reaching for a roll of tape. She taped over the knob so that it could not make noise in the night.
As she pulled strand after strand of tape over the knob, Jason joked that as long as nothing happened this following night at midnight, I would be fine.
Having seen more paranormal shows than was probably healthy in my time, I authoritatively said, “No, witching hour is much later. It’s between three and five in the morning.”
With the mystery of the sound riddled out, my friends headed out. As far as I knew, it was just me and the cat who still would not go into the back room.
I prepared for bed, played with Kitty, then left the door to my room open, so she could come in and out if she was comfortable. Having another heartbeat in the house was a great comfort, even if she wouldn’t cross the threshold into the room.
As I nestled into bed, a cold began to creep over me. It was September in east San Diego, and it was absolutely freezing in the room. No matter what I did, I could not warm up. I asked Siri what the temperature was outside, half expecting her to tell me about a cold front rolling in, but it was 70°F outside. I started to wonder, Am I getting sick? Do I have a fever? It came to the point where I got out of bed and took my temperature. The stick read, 98.4°F. Totally normal. What the hell is wrong with me?
I took a long, hot shower and wrapped myself up tightly to sleep, but there was no relief from the cold.
Shivering in bed, I tried to fall asleep, but a strange thought began to seep into my head.
Though I knew that I was perfectly alone, I could not shake the feeling that someone was now standing at the foot of the bed.
I gulped and opened my eyes.
No one was there, but my own reflection staring back at me in the darkness from the mirror on the wall.
Looking back into the hall, Kitty was sitting straight up and staring at the foot of the bed.
Without wanting to look again, I could feel it, what she saw.
It was now touching my feet and telling me, “You’re in my bed.”
Kitty began to howl desperate meows.
The sensation of the touch faded.
I couldn’t move. I wanted to run, but I was terrified that the thing would manifest and try to grab me. Though it was still freezing, sweat dripped down the sides of my face.
Remaining in bed, I kept my eyes on Kitty who, after the touch faded, stopped meowing and curled up in a ball just outside the doorway.
What is going on here? I asked the darkness, hoping that it would not actually answer.
After an hour, I drifted off, but Kitty likely stayed right there until the middle of the night when…
BEEP, BEEP, BEEP, BEEP, BEEP
An alarm was screaming somewhere in the house. I bolted out of bed, fearing that it was the fire alarm.
The damn beeping was the loudest thing I had heard in the house and the sound seemed to be coming from everywhere.
I slid into the kitchen to see the digital alarm clock on the kitchen table, flashing brightly 12:00 a.m.
Picking the screaming thing up, I ripped its cord from the wall to silence the howler. The lights on its face went black, but it had fulfilled its mission of waking me up and proving me wrong.
I don’t think I’m supposed to be in that back room.
I ran to the back of the house to grab the photo of my grandma, a flashlight, and my crucifix. At that moment, I could not be paid enough to sleep in that room.
Kitty had been warning me since I arrived at the house, so I finally took her advice. I closed the door to the bedroom for the night and proceeded to nest on the couch that was probably thirty years older than I was. Content and happy with my decision, Kitty, my tiny protector, perched on the back of the couch where she could continue to watch over me.
With the standing lamp on, I spent the night on the couch, facing the hall. The light and the change of scenery were a slight comfort, but I knew without seeing it, without fully believing it, that something was standing right in the hall, facing me too.
This is the view I had from the couch looking into the hall, on the left of the photo.
Chapter 3: The Third Room
September 28, 2016
The next day, I invited my best friend, Victoria, over. I needed to get out of the house for a while, to distract myself from the strange happenings inside.
The sense that something not quite human was with me in the house became oppressive. I walked slowly through the house. I avoided looking into the hall or spending too much time in that back room. When I would cross the hall, I’d do so as quickly as possible. There was something about that third room, the room beside mine. I didn’t even want to look at the door. Whatever it was, that room was its space, and it did not want me in there at all, so I respected its wish and never touched that door.
As I stood at the kitchen sink, looking over the sleepy street before me, I knew, without doubt, that if I turned around fast enough, I would see it.
The dark shadow lurked in the corner of the kitchen behind me as if chained to the hall. It stood there watching me. Somehow I knew that it was frustrated, confused, angry. I ignored it. I knew if I acknowledged it without knowing exactly what I was dealing with, that I would feed its power over me, so I quietly carried on with washing my dishes.
I had specifically not told Victoria what was happening. I wanted to see what her reaction would be without my input, hoping that I was imagining things and that it was just a matter of getting used to a new house. However, Victoria arrived just after dark, and the second her Chuck Taylors crossed the threshold, her happy smile faded and her eyes widened.
As I showed her the house, her eyes remained wide, her body stiff, mannerisms that I had grown very accustomed to myself while in that house.
Seeing her discomfort, I hastened us back to the dining room and opened a grapefruit IPA to toast this new independence.
We stood at the foot of the dining room table, directly in line with the hall.
Though we said nothing about it, both of us kept the hall in our peripheries.
It wanted us out.
Neither of us finished our beers. We quickly gathered our purses and headed out. The minute we locked the front door behind us, Victoria took her first real breath, like she was breaking the surface after a dive that went too deep.
“How do you stand it in there?” she said, exasperated. “I couldn’t breathe. There’s someone in there!”
“I know,” I said calmly, but not feeling calm at all. “Where did you feel it watching us?”
Without hesitation she answered, “From the hall and it is pissed.”
There was no better way to say it.
“I don’t know how you can stay in here, let alone sleep,” Victoria continued.
Sleep became a rare occurrence, and most of it was done on the couch, with it there, not five feet away, watching me from the hall.
The next morning, I sent an email to my local parish’s priest. I didn’t know what else to do.
I asked the Father to come and bless the house, to which he agreed. We arranged to meet after mass on the following Sunday.
Though excited by the upcoming appointment with the priest, the weight of the days in between was tremendous. Every day the presence loomed, watching. I took to keeping my eyes down, so that if it appeared, I wouldn’t immediately see its face.
Sunday finally arrived. I sat in church, fighting the urge of my knees to start jumping up and down. When the final song ended, I rushed out to the meeting place that we had arranged.
I waited and waited, until, to my horror and disappointment, I saw the priest get into his car and drive away.
Don’t leave me alone with this nightmare! I wanted to scream to get his attention, to get his car to stop, but he was gone.
At first, walking the grounds of the church’s campus, I felt abandoned, but then, as I neared my car, a courage rose in me that had rarely reared its head. It was a resolute determination to take this thing on myself. I was not going to let this unseen terror destroy my peace.
Racing down the highway in my Rogue, I vowed that I would pray that negative energy out from that house.
Bursting through the door, I held tight to my rosary and, as if in a trance, repeated over and over again throughout the entire house, “Peace and love fill this house!” If any of the neighbors passed by, I was sure they would’ve thought me a lunatic, but I repeated it over and over for well over twenty minutes before I felt like I could stop.
Sweat was running down the sides of my face, and I felt absolutely exhausted.
My words echoed in my head, and the house felt quieter, lighter, much lighter, but not empty.
It felt like the spirit was chased back to the third room, the room that I did not dare to enter. It was enough for me at that moment, and it allowed me enough peace to get through the afternoon.
That night, I had dinner with Jason and Elizabeth. Elizabeth went home after, while Jason stayed to pick up some important papers. We talked through the hall, chatting about nothing important, but midway down the hall, we both stopped dead.
It felt like we had walked through a veil of smoke.
“Do you smell that?” I asked, sniffing the air in the center of the hall.
Jason’s crinkled brow intimated that he had.
“It smells like smoke?” he asked.
Nodding, I confirmed, “Like cigarettes.”
There were no windows in the hall, no vents.
A chilling sensation ran down my neck.
I checked the bathroom. No smoke, no smell. Jason checked the old room of the gentleman who lived there. No smoke, no smell.
We both checked my room, and the same was the case, but just as I was about to check the front of the house, Jason went into the third room.
The second he stepped inside, an overwhelming sensation struck. Though there was visibly no one in there, every part of me felt someone standing in the room screaming, “Get out!”
I called to Jason, “It doesn’t want us in there, we need to get out of there, right now!”
Grabbing Jason by his shirt sleeve, I pulled him out of the room, and we stopped dead for a moment in the hall.
The door to the third room closed shut.
We stood silent for a moment, trying to process what had happened until again, there was the smell of cigarettes isolated strictly to where we stood in the hall.
Jason had had enough. He charged into the living room, me right beside him.
I slowly lowered myself to the couch while Jason began to speak, “We know you’re here. My name is Jason. I’m a friend of the gentleman who lives here. We are taking care of him. He is sick and currently can’t live at home. Until he can return, this is Sarah, and she is here to take care of this house.”
“Jason,” I said. “Look at Kitty.”
Kitty had been playing, carefree at the foot of the chair by Jason, but now she sat cold, erect, looking at the hall. Her immensely dilated eyes stared into the face of the person that we could not see.
Kitty bolted from her spot to hide beneath the rolltop desk, something she had not done before and would never do again.
Jason and I nearly lost our nerves seeing this, but he continued, “I know that this is new for you and that you’re concerned about your friend, but we will keep you updated on his progress. All we ask is that you leave Sarah and the cat alone. Let them live here in peace. Thank you and God bless.”
It took a minute, but the room felt lighter, so much lighter! Like it hadn’t as long as I had been there. A tremendous weight was taken from that house, but it wasn’t completely gone. There were several more conversations like this to follow, and the spirit always let us know when it was time for an update, but for the most part, the spirit held true to her end of the bargain, and I remained out of that third room.
Toward the end of my eleven-month stay in that house, after months of peace, I felt the spirit intimately communicate with me once more.
It was a warm night. It had been another long day of packing up my items and distributing them among my parents’ house, where I was moving, and my storage unit. I had taken a shower and was getting ready for bed. I was standing before the mirror, just about to put on my pajamas when suddenly the distinct touch of a finger running up my spine removed me from my peaceful evening. No one was behind me.
The frozen touch chilled me.
I could feel the question being asked, “What’s going on, kid?”
I ran out of the bathroom.
I was sitting on the side of the bed, trying to decide what to say, when the symbol of peace that I had attached to the door of my room for the past eleven months, fell from its spot right before my eyes.
Quickly, I explained that I was preparing to move and that the house would soon be sold. I explained that the profit would help to ensure the proper care that Scotty deserved.
The rest of the night was still.
The next day, a week earlier than planned, I packed up the cat and took her to my parents’ place. The lightness had returned, but that was the last night I spent in the house on the hill.
The third room, exactly as it was for twenty years. All of the photos used in this post were taken in 1994. Everything in the photos was exactly where and how we found them when we initially started to clean the house in the summer of 2016.
S. Faxon has written fifteen fantasy novels and several short stories. She is currently developing a comic book series. Her first published novels, The Animal Court and Foreign & Domestic Affairs, are about a king and queen’s struggle to maintain power over the country they love. Foreign & Domestic Affairs was featured in the 54th annual San Diego Public Library’s Local Author Showcase. S. Faxon has been the content editor of the Maritime Museum of San Diego's quarterly printed publication since 2015. She is the co-creator of the writing-podcast, Semi-Sages of the Pages, and has a YouTube channel where she interviews authors about how their works relate to contemporary topics. For more on S. Faxon’s creative projects, please visit her website www.sfaxon.com.