I was born in the US, but moved to the far-eastern Primorsky Territory in Russia to follow a dream. For more info on that, you can check out my profile. This was my first experience after moving to the "mother land".
It was February 2012, and I was 19. I'd only been in Russia for the last month or so and was staying at the dacha (vacation home) of some distant relative my grandmother had contacted and arranged for me to stay with. The house was pretty traditional, lots of wood carvings, lots of uncleared forest and this great-second-uncle (or whatever he was) welcomed me pretty openly. This was a bit of a surprise as I am, what most in the States would call a "goth". The only strange thing about living with Uncle Mik was the daily steam-baths which everyone gathered for. HOTTER than hell and more humid than Florida in the summer time, they could almost make you pass out. I had been working hard to save up enough money to move out, and I found an amazing apartment flat in downtown Vladivostok, near the Russky Island bridge. They have flood lights illuminate the support cables in the colors of the Russian flag every night. It gave the surrounding area a strange aura all night which I enjoyed a lot.
The building was constructed in 1894, out of red brick and it was smoky and discolored from over a century of soot, ash, car exhaust and heavy snow. The inside was amazing, freshly painted lathe and plaster, wood trim and hardwood floors throughout - plus updated electrical, internet and cable TV. The apartment was heated by hot water radiators, which was going to take some time to learn but they were free to use. In the basement of the building was a laundry room and a storage area FULL of old furniture left by prior tenants and I was welcome to take anything from the stash I wanted. This was lucky since I had NOTHING of my own that didn't fit in 3 suitcases. I spent the next couple days getting my internet and TV hooked up, taking some furniture piece by piece up from the basement, and trying to lay the apartment out in some functional style. The building had an elevator, which looked like some kind of 1920's retrofit, grafted into the skeleton of the antique building. A massive iron cage with ominous accordion doors, and a skinny cab that clanked and buzzed with electricity as it chugged up and down from floor to floor.
An older lady; who lived about 3 apartments down from me, on my floor, stopped in to give me a stern lecture on living in such an old building. I expected her to warn me about the plumbing, or that the hot water took a long time to start flowing. Instead, she told me to mount a cross over every doorway, and the main door in my flat. She also warned me against taking the "storri monstr" (old monster) which she used to describe the old elevator - between midnight and 5am. She claimed that it would malfunction, but only during those hours. It would take you to random floors, or straight to the basement. On occasion, it would even stop between floors and not start working again until exactly 5:00. She also told me to expect to see a lot of black cats around the building. In Russia, unlike the west, Black Cats are considered good luck - particularly if one walks up to you without being called (so you see them EVERYWHERE). They were also to catch the mice which she told me were "emmeno taaaak" (Russian version of THIIIIIIS BIIIIIG) stretching her hands to the size a small dog might be, and laughing hard as if her joke had been worthy of a stand-up gig.
That night I went to work at the radio station around 10pm and returned home after 1:30am. Of course, I didn't remember her warning about the elevator and hopped in, taking it up to the 5th floor. The elevator had a lever you had to pull back, light indicators told you which floor you were on and you had to push the lever back into place to stop at the proper floor. It took a little practice, but I was able to do it with no real difficulty. It worked exactly the way it was supposed to, and I got off on my floor without a second thought. As I walked down the narrow hallway toward my apartment, I had the sensation that I was being watched. I turned, but of course the hallway was empty. I took several more steps, and once again I felt like someone was there. Actually RIGHT behind me. I spun around as quickly as possible, to try and catch whoever was following me off guard... There was only air. When I turned to resume the walk to my apartment, I was startled to see one of the building's various black cats standing off to one side of the hall. It was staring very intently at something back the way I had come. Whatever it was, seemed to be pretty captivating. I walked toward the cat, but it was fixated on whatever it was watching, it's head low and one paw raised as if it was ready to charge at any moment. It was a little creepy, the sensation I had just experienced and now this random cat acting as if something was there. At first, I thought it might have been stalking a mouse and I looked around a bit to see if I could find one. There were no mice...
I was curious, and standing here in this cold hallway, watching a cat - watching air was going nowhere. So I whispered... "hello?" but there was nothing. I tried again in Russian... "privet?" The cat was inching its way toward the spot in the middle of the hallway between where I stood and the elevator doors. A very low growl was starting to escape its little body... The adrenaline started to flow, as I expected something was going to HAVE to happen, the tension building so thickly in the air, the hair on the back of my neck started to stand up. Suddenly, and completely out of nowhere a very loud THUD sound shook the hallway. Literally, you could feel the vibrations through the wood floors. If someone had driven a car into the side of the building, that might have accounted for it - that's how intense it seemed, but the hallway stayed silent... The poor cat freaked, jumped in a wide arc and disappeared down the hallway in the opposite direction. I took a few heavy breaths and tried to calm down a little. My heart was pounding and my ears felt like they were going to explode. I walked to my door, opened it and immediately saw what had made the noise. Everything that had been sitting on top of the dining table had somehow fallen off. My suitcases, and a heavy wooden trunk I had brought up from the basement to use as a coffee table. They were all on the floor, but not right under the table... More like a few feet away, like someone had pushed them off the edge from the opposite side of the table. Also strange, was that as loud as the sound had been, not a single neighbor appeared to have noticed. There were no calls, and no sounds of people in the hallway looking for a cause of the massive boom.
In the morning, I met a few more of my neighbors on the 5th floor. I asked them each if they had heard the noise from the night before, but none of them really seemed interested in talking about it. A polyclinic dentist who lived in the apartment by the stairs recognized that I had an "interesting" accent when I spoke Russian. I told him I was from the US and he chuckled a bit.
"In Russia, we understand these things." He smiled. "Unpack your suitcases, ghosts hate travelers..."