I am from Canberra, Australia. This story recounts my time living in a haunted house in the late 1990s, when I was a boy. All of it is true, as best as memory allows: I have not embellished anything, and where I wasn't entirely sure around details, I have omitted them for the sake of clarity and honesty, because I think it is very important to tell these sorts of stories exactly as they happened.
We moved into the house in August 1998. From the get go, it felt 'wrong'. It seemed to me to be cold and unwelcoming, and my prevailing memory was of dead pine trees out the front following our inspection (these pine trees were in fact very much green and alive, but nonetheless my first impression was different). I was in my early teens and moved into the house's basement.
This basement consisted of a toilet cubicle (complete with a grotesque orange paintjob) in the corner and a large bathroom sink external to it. The carpet was a murky shade of green, with elements of brown threaded through it. The walls were bare brown brick. The room had not been changed since the 1970s, and initially the faint smell of cigarette smoke clung to it. It was not a welcoming room - about the size of an ordinary garage - and separated from the rest of the house by a staircase.
Right from the beginning I complained of a bad 'atmosphere' in the downstairs part of the house. This was the usual, stock-standard stuff; a feeling of general unease, an inability to sleep, the sense of something not being quite right, of being watched. It wasn't helped by a period of teenage angst I was then going through; moving between schools, making a general nuisance of myself, and testing limits (albeit in a rather tame fashion).
I remember clearly the first time something obviously untoward occurred. I was in my room at night - 9pm maybe - and I could clearly hear heavy breathing emanating from the toilet cubicle. I called for my dad who came downstairs and tightened the taps. 'Just the pipes', he said, and this reassured me. The breathing stopped.
The heavy breathing was by far the most common occurrence, happening at times as often as once a week; it would begin sporadically and I would try to ignore it or make a joke out of it. One time, when my cousin and best friend were sleeping over, we made jokes about the heavy breathing being the ghost of 'old Humphrey'. We could all hear it clearly, but we weren't too worried.
There were other things, too. One night, while a storm raged outside, I woke in the darkness to the sound of something being dragged across carpet and a cold wind blowing in the room. Eventually I gathered the courage to turn on the light. The second door to my room - locked and sealed, connected to the garage - had been forced open. Not only pushed open, but with enough force to move the couch across the carpet. The couch was laid against the door, and this was the dragging sound I had heard. This was no mere breeze. When I had the courage to get out of bed, I shut the door again and moved the couch back in place. I must have been afraid, but I soldiered on. I was fourteen.
Other things: footsteps upstairs when nobody was home, the bookcases in my father's study spontaneously falling over while they were out and I was home alone, the pieces of wood my friend and I gathered for a treehouse scattered around beneath the house after we had piled them up carefully, and a music box unexpectedly playing in my sister's room. The TV in my room without warning switched itself on in the middle of the night on more than one occasion. I am sure there is more from this two-year period, but as this is now close to two decades ago, the details have escaped me.
Anyway, to summarise: the house felt haunted. I was quite open and honest about this with anybody who'd listen, and I didn't consider it a particularly big deal. The odd bout of heavy breathing, mysterious footsteps, or sleepless night didn't seem to bother me overly in hindsight, and my mates and I found it all, if not funny, then interesting. Sleepovers at my house often seemed to involve an uninvited guest with a respiratory issue.
This all changed two summers later when I went along to a Christian camp, at the start of 2000.
Prior to this I had always believed - my mother is and remains a strong charismatic-style Christian, while my father is more of the stoical Catholic mould - but it had never been a thing I spent a great deal of time considering. I came home from this camp, however, a properly invigorated Christian. God and Jesus and service were on my mind all the time.
On a drive home from school with a family friend, I mentioned the odd hauntings we'd had at home. She suggested I 'ask God to show me' if there is something active that was 'not of him'.
So, not long after, standing in my bedroom, I said a simple prayer: 'Lord, if there is anything here that is not of you, please show it to me.' Like the proverbial character in a horror film, I opened my eyes - and nothing happened. Satisfied, I continued to go about my life.
I began to have dreams over the next two weeks. I wish now I had recorded them closer to the event and in more detail. They were largely about my room and the toilet cubicle. In one, I moved all the furniture in my whole room into the cubicle. The rest escape me, though I remember the theme. I also remember the vibe 'thickening' in my room. The night before things exploded, I remember talking about the creepy feeling in my room during a long phone conversation with a friend.
Two weeks after I made that prayer, I remember waking up on a Thursday morning to the distinct sound of screaming coming from the toilet cubicle. It was loud, it was clear, and it most certainly was not my imagination. For perhaps thirty seconds to a minute I lay glued to my sheets with sweat. I felt sheer terror, and my whole room felt like a hostile, alien place.
At last, I shouted at the voice to 'be gone in the name of Jesus Christ.' Instantly, the screaming stopped. I was not game enough to move - not yet. Luckily, I just happened to have my cordless home phone, my bible, and a list of contact numbers right next to my bed. I called my Youth Leader at her house. To her credit, she took my unusual call in her stride.
Once I had gathered my nerve, I ran upstairs to tell my mother. She believed me instantly - for which I have always been grateful. I was frightened, but I went to school anyway, although I remember the day passing in an almost dreamlike state. I wasn't sure how I was going to take getting home. Or my father.
As it was, the evening passed without incident, and I found myself that night in bed, with all the lights on, staring at the toilet cubicle, clutching my bible. There was definite fear in the air; I didn't want to close my eyes in case I saw something unpleasant when I opened them again; I could feel something else present, if not in the room, then not far away. At last, at 3am, I remember praying for angels. And then, like that, they were there.
Mind, I didn't see them with my eyes. But I didn't need to. It was an odd thing; I felt their presence, two of them, in the room, tall and armoured with swords, hands on pommels. This is the thing I find hardest to explain, how I could see them, but not physically - yet so vividly I could tell you where in the room they stood. More than that, the atmosphere in the room changed. Suddenly, I felt no longer on the defensive, and my fear melted away. I rolled over and went to sleep, and slept deeply, totally at peace.
This, however, turned out to be the eye of the storm. My mum was good enough to buy me some Christian music (Awake by Youth Alive - my musical taste has advanced considerably since then!), which I played on repeat in my room, and I took to sleeping with my door open and with a side light on. I felt as though I had settled into a sort of phoney war stage with whatever the presence was; it was not in the open, and although things didn't feel quite right, I was able to sleep in my room. For a while longer, anyway.
That changed when my mother decided to ask the minister at our Anglican Church to come and pray over the house. She too felt ill at ease, and my then-six-year-old sister hadn't been sleeping well ever since we'd moved in (that's another story, and hers to tell).
I started to have dreams again. In one dream, I remember an enormous foot crushing a tiny black creature. I remember, the night before the priest and his two friends arrived, a dream where the priest bent over the bathroom sink to bless it rather than the toilet, to which he had his back. The toilet then leapt out of the cubicle and bit him on the backside between the seat and the rim!
This turned out to be prescient. When they came, they behaved more like amateur psychologists than people of the cloth. They all but dismissed me as a boy with a big imagination; one of the women took my books on the unexplained - Ghosts, UFOs, etc. - and later destroyed them (as an aside: I noticed, when I was younger, unusual things would happen with far greater frequency when I was reading those sorts of things - so she might have been on to something there). They prayed a little, but it was generic, and they appeared to be disinterested in what I had experienced.
That night was terrible. Nothing happened in terms of disturbances - at first anyway - but there was no sleeping for me, and no angels. It seemed my prayers were bouncing off the ceiling and that I was surrounded by a filthy, angry presence. I felt the terror mount until, almost in a blind panic, I got out of my bed and ran for the stairs at around 11pm. I felt, quite literally, as though I were being chased. I could feel hands reaching out to grab me - not physically, but in much the same way I saw the angels - real, but not bodily. The atmosphere was cold, close, and choking; the phoney war was certainly over. The thing, or things, were back and in charge.
I woke my mother and father. They made my sister's bed for me and put her in with them. But that night, sleep was not to happen for any of us (except dad: he has always had a thick exterior about these sorts of things - he was behaving exactly like the sceptical father in a clichéd movie about a haunting).
As I lay in my sister's bed stiff with terror, I could hear strange bangings and rattling around the house that had no obvious origin; I could hear what sounded like muffled conversations conducted in other rooms; I felt like I was being watched, and that at any moment something would burst through the door and get me. It seemed the house had taken on an entirely different character; no longer ours, it was as though we were trespassers in some sort of twilight zone.
In my parents' bedroom, things were no better. At one point, the phone (an old variety, heavy and festooned with an open-faced dial) slid across my mother's bedside table and she had to stop it with her hand. There are other things, I am sure, but I cannot remember them specifically. At any rate, that night was one of the most terrifying I can remember. I waited for the daylight like a child lost deep within some ancient wood.
Now, we were all frightened. My mother got in touch with her more 'spiritual' church connections who agreed to come over to pray. Meanwhile, I felt as though I was losing my mind. I would only go into my room briefly and never at night. The whole downstairs part of the house felt beyond eerie; I literally felt unwelcome there. I furtively collected clothes and those things I needed and slept in my sister's room, while she was moved in with my parents. Periodically there were disturbances; sometimes noises, but more often simply the overwhelming presence of something nasty.
The second group came over to pray. While they did their thing, I went for a walk with my father. This was a weekday, so he must have taken the time off work. He did not want to hear it: he talked about getting a good education and how I needed to concentrate on school. To be fair, in his position, it might have been easier to see things that way. On later occasions, he would talk about how those things are 'better left alone' - something drilled into him from his strong Catholic background - but that he was by no means a sceptic in the typical sense. Instead, he was frustrated with the madness that seemed to be gripping his household. I tried to tell him what was happening, in detail, but I was clever enough to realise that I would only risk estranging him if I pushed the point. We returned and my mother was reluctant to talk.
At any rate, things felt better. I knew, though, that 'it' wasn't completely beaten. It was only later that my mother would fill me in. I remember clearly, however, her friend saying 'there's a piece of the puzzle missing.' She promised to put us in touch with a woman who made this sort of thing her business. I continued to sleep in my sister's room, she with my parents. I missed a lot of school over the next while, largely because I had trouble sleeping during the night!
Sometime after that - between the group who prayed and the arrival of the lady they recommended - my mother was out gardening and, by chance, happened to speak to one of the neighbours. This neighbour, without prompting, went on to share the history of the house. In the 1970s, there had been a feud between the owners of our house and the one behind; a cat had gone missing belonging to the latter party; there had been much bad blood and the people were 'creepy'. She went on to outline the people that had lived in the house before us: all of them included people who had died of illness over the subsequent years. Whatever is to be read into that, one can read into it: but for a sixteen-year-old, this chilled me to the bone, and this history of the house seemed to be the puzzle piece that was missing.
The woman my mother had been put in touch with came over to pray. She spent the whole afternoon at it. I had dreamt again, sometime shortly before, that my room was bright white and very large. When I came home, I knew at once the thing was gone. The house felt entirely different. It was as though I could breathe again. The battle was over. Her name was Lynette and I will always be grateful to her, for her kindness and what God managed through her.
My courage, though, had limits. It would be eight months before I had the nerve to sleep in my room again. My parents bought new carpets and renovated the toilet cubicle to expedite this process. But there were other impacts that were more noticeable.
For a couple of years afterward, I was peculiar. I lived one foot in this world, and one in the other. School and grades and the 'world' meant very little to me after these events, and it took a while before I realised that this disengagement from the reality within which we live was unhealthy. Everything for me was church and youth group and even in Christian circles I likely developed a reputation as 'that kid who is always on about spiritual warfare'. I have had many other strange experiences, though I was fortunate to never endure living in a house that felt like it was not my own again.
It has been a strange process, writing this. It was long ago and I am today very different to that sixteen-year-old who felt himself plunged into a world he had little means to understand. It gave me some certainties - I will never doubt that the 'other' realm exists - and though my faith doesn't glow red hot in the Charismatic sense like it did then, I haven't forgotten the power of the name 'Jesus', nor those angels in my bedroom.
(Post-script: I wrote this account in the very same room all these events took place. I am happy to say it has been a peaceful locale ever since! I have also emailed my mother this account and have asked her to contribute her version of events. When she does so, I'll add it).