I live in a house of rules.
I should explain.
I moved here three months ago. Flat number 27. The flat was a repossession. I never met the previous owner, and to date know him only from the post I receive in his name. I could make up stories of him vanishing, or his screams being heard in the darkness one night… I could make exaggerated claims about all of this, but this is not a work of fiction, nor is it written to entertain.
I had just got a new job – a promotion I had waited years for. This was meant to be the next step to greater things, but I needed to move quickly to save on the long drive each day. When I found this place, I was overjoyed. It was well-located, within my price range and, a part from being extremely run down and dirty, had so much potential. It’s a duplex apartment, with a guest room and spare bathroom on the ground floor, and a dressing room and several storage rooms on the top floor.
The purchase was a complicated one – due in part to poor record keeping and the loss of deeds and plans of the house. What should have taken a month from start to finish took four times as long. Because of the length of time, I took several viewings and each time was amazed by windows and cupboards that I could not recall from previous visits. Rooms seemed bigger and lighter – more inviting. Even the estate agent was baffled that her property listing documents were constantly wrong.
The neighbors in the block of flats are a strange lot. They don’t talk. They keep to routines you can set a clock by. When I first moved in, I tried to invite them to a housewarming – so desperate was I to meet new people. Not one of them came. They get in at the same time every day and never leave the house. I never hear them moving around at night.
One of them, a nervous man from upstairs who constantly fidgets and glances around, apologized afterward. He explained his lack of attendance was simply that “he wasn’t allowed to.” At the time, I presumed he meant his wife, but now I’m not so certain. As he was the only one I had got to know since the move, I did my best to become friendly… and even felt like I was making headway. Then I made the mistake about asking about the previous owner, to which he made and awkward and short response before making his excuses – I have not seen or heard from him since.
“The rules,” as I came to understand them, became apparent over time. The first was sleeping only in my bedroom. I only slept once in the lounge on purpose, dozing on the sofa, until I woke up to my arm trapped between the sofa and the wall… a wall that was several feet away from the sofa when I closed my eyes a few hours earlier. I was overcome with a feeling – a very familiar feeling – that I was somewhere I shouldn’t be.
This feeling wouldn’t leave me until I hurriedly stumbled up to my bed, where I only felt truly safe when I hid under the blankets like a scared child. I only fell asleep once more in the lounge after that, by accident. I was woken once again with a feeling that I should leave, that it would be unsafe to stay and that I should not be there. This time, however, a sweater I had left across the room on a radiator was tied around my neck and pulled tightly enough to leave a striking mark on my throat.
The rule of sleeping only in my bedroom stands alongside others – countless others. I learned that I should clean up my dishes immediately, when I stepped out of the kitchen after depositing my plate and sat down on a safety pin that was jutting out of the back of the sofa. I learned not to take too long showers when the water suddenly turned scaling hot and remained so, no matter how much I desperately tried to turn it off… and then was inexplicably normal temperature when I tried it moments after. I learned that I must hoover and keep the place tidy, that I must not waste electricity, and that no matter what noises I hear at night I should never EVER explore.
Another rule is guests are not welcome. The last time I had a guest, it was a friend who invited themself, despite my concerns that I could not air down for the weekend by making arguments to come and see me until I relented (how could I not?). I spent the entire time terrified for their safety and pretty much drove them away with my strange behavior accordingly.
But there were no events. Such things made me bold and I began to relax. I stayed awake until late, played music at night, and did whatever I wanted, even going so far as feeling like I had triumphed as the house remained meekly quiet. It was almost immediately after they left that I first noticed the headache and nausea, which got worse and worse as the gas leak continued. I only just made it out before I succumbed.
I have so many things I could tell you, example after example… I don’t know where to begin. I need you to look past your skepticism and see that this is real, that this is more than coincidence; this is more than just child’s play haunting. I am not being haunted. I am being ruled. The rules are only a part of it, they are the part I play – the rest is done without me and, not only that, but done around me.
The walls shift, doors open some days but won’t the next. The number of windows in my bedroom increased one by one over consecutive nights, and then there was only one again. There is a cupboard at the top of my stairs that changes in sizes quite regularly. One of the most terrifying experiences of my life was when I opened it and saw it went back several meters more than I remembered.
When I walked in, somehow the door shut behind me and I groped in the dark, silently reaching out for a wall I knew must be there, yet my fingers touched only air. I do not know how long I fumbled in the dark, but it was only as my panic attack rose that my shaking fingers found the wooden door.
Have you ever woken up in a room with a chair sitting at the end of your bed? A chair that came from the dining room, the dining room that is down a flight of stairs and along a hallway? Have you ever walked into a room and seen a storage cupboard that was not there before? Have you ever observed more stairs on a staircase as you go down them than there was when you went up? Have you ever entered a room, looking for something, and then when you gave up and left, realized an hour and a half had passed?
I have lived all these things, and were I a better – more scientific – man, I would have kept a running log of all of it. I would have found proof – proof I need to show the world I am not crazy, that this is real. That it is a nightmare I am living.
Five hours have passed since I sat down to write this, and when once I hoped to prepare some lunch (and hope there are no drawing pins in my bread, like last week when I realized I hadn’t hovered) instead, it is getting dark. I now live a life of routine just like my neighbors. I just turned off the music – no loud noises after dark is one of the rules. It is the one I hate the most because it makes me feel so alone.
Lights left on in rooms that are empty, or too many in one room, are prone to fusing – or even shattering without warning – so I currently only have the glare of the screen, the television, and a lamp. Soon I shall be going to bed; the doors that shut behind me as I head up to bed lock behind me… and I will wake up in a room with windows wherever they please and doors that may or may not open to cupboards that can be as small or as big as each variation allows.
The television in the room I am in has a satellite connection, and with it countless channels. Right now, all are a fuzz of static, except for National Geographic… so I am forced to listen to a documentary on carnivorous plants as I type. I try not to dwell on the exhaustion of a beetle on the screen as it tries in vain to escape from the prison that will soon digest it.
The remote does not appear to work. It took my pulling the plug from the socket to turn it off just a moment ago… and even that I was loath to do so, for the fear that it might stay on never left me and I knew that if those images had continued when the plug was removed, I would have screamed myself into madness.
I could push the neighbors to talk more, I could rebel against the rules, I could start a fire and torch the whole building… but truly, I just want to get by. I get the feeling that up until now, I have simply been coached, like a dog, to do what is required of me… I feel like the punishments could get a lot worse.
The occasional demonstration of strength, the enforcement of the rules and the occasional mild punishment when I transgress, like one taps the nose of a dog when it misbehaves – that is what I hope for if I can behave… stepping out of line only causes me harm and fear. It is only out of fear and reference to my own human dignity that I do not explain here what happens when the house feels it REALLY needs to punish. Needless to say, the scar will be with me the rest of my life.
Which brings us to here. I cannot go on. I took the decision to write this with the remaining fight I still have in me to at least ask for help. I cannot do it over the phone. I cannot write a letter. My only hope is to write it into a story conspicuous and without the details that might draw attention to the content. All I can hope is that someone sees enough to spot my cry for help – that they find a way to contact me where I can get the lifeline I need to escape.
I cannot ask directly, it is too risky. Besides, any form of open rebellion has been snuffed out of me with pain, suffering, and terror. I fear for my safety, for my punishment for breaking the rules… I am surprised that it is being allowed to get even this far – in over a thousand words I have written, there hasn’t been a power cut or computer error that has lost everything. Perhaps there is still hope.
But the truth is, I’m scared. Scared of what touched my face in my sleep the night before last after I accidentally left a tap running, clutching firmly the bruises on my cheek that still remain. I am scared of what left a pair of scissors in my slippers… of what power moves wooden doors and plaster walls, seemingly at a whim. Most of all, I am scared that by writing this, I may wake up in a tiny room with no doors or windows. A room that grows smaller every time I blink.