That’s how long my now-husband and I had to find a place to live after I got the call from Mills College that I’d been accepted into their MFA program for fiction. We had neither the funds, time off of work, nor plan for moving from Nashville, but we knew we had to move. It was a non-negotiable; Mills was my dream, northern California was our goal, and the rest would just have to fall into place.
And so during our two-day tour of the Bay Area, we found ourselves returning to the island city of Alameda, a city bordering Oakland with a view of San Francisco from the beach. Though we’d toured a handful of apartments, we signed a lease with the property manager, Marie, for the first one we saw – a tiny, one-bedroom place in a 1920s building, and the only apartment we could find with rent below $1,000 a month. Our new home was ours.
One grueling cross-country trek later, we arrived in Alameda, cats in tow and somewhat clueless as to how we were going to make this new life. But we loved our new apartment. Its old details were charming. It had an intercom from the stoop. It had a stoop! It was located on the corner of some downtown action. We could walk everywhere. And surprisingly, the apartment had one giant closet, a coveted feature in Northern California, especially in buildings this old. Strangely disproportionate and oddly placed, the closet was located in the living room, and was approximately half the size of the living room, with a built-in dresser and a tiny window facing the street below.
Our first days were exhausting. We battled the feeling of dislocation that comes with a major move. My husband worked nights at the time, so we kept shifts in the new apartment, living our lives in parallel, rarely seeing one another.
I first heard the murmuring while I was unpacking one night. My husband was asleep in the bedroom and I was pulling books from a box in the living room. No radio on, no television. The windows were closed. I was thinking about the orientation I’d be attending at Mills a couple days later. In my right ear, I felt a sort of popping sensation, as though a vacuum had pulled the sound from the room. Everything went very still. And then a sort of muttering. Very low, completely indistinguishable. I reeled, my mouth open, ready to scold my husband for teasing me. I was positive he’d snuck up behind me to scare me. But when I turned, there was no one there. The room felt heavy. I went to the bedroom and found my husband sound asleep. My cats were nowhere in sight, a difficult feat to accomplish in an apartment so small. I dismissed the whole ordeal, deciding I was clearly tired and imagining things.
The next morning, I’d forgotten anything had happened, and we were back at the task of unpacking. My husband was in the living room, picking up where I’d left off with the books. I was in the kitchen, stacking plates in cupboards.
From around the corner, he said “What?”
“I didn’t hear you. You were mumbling,” he said.
I climbed down from the kitchen counter and rounded the corner to the living room.
“I didn’t say anything.”
“Yeah you did. You were telling me something, but you were muttering.”
I shook off a chill, then told him to show me where he was standing.
“Which ear did you hear the muttering in?”
He pointed to his right ear.
I told him what had happened to me the night before, the events of which I’d forgotten about until now.
“It sounded like a woman,” he said.
We looked around for an open window, something we’d missed. Anything. But there was nothing. Still no sign of the cats.
Things were quiet for a week or two after that. My husband was busy with work. I was busy with school. So while we’d parked ourselves on the couch in the living room one afternoon for a well-earned day of rest, we were stunned to find one of our cats, finally emerged and beginning to skulk around the apartment, wander into the room. As cats are known to do, he headed straight for the closet in the living room, hoping, I’m sure, for a place to hunker down for a mid-day nap. But when he rounded the corner, something caught his eye, something neither my husband nor I could see.
Our cat stopped dead in his tracks, hunched his back, and all the fur along his spine stood on end. His eyes, wide and unblinking, were fixed on the upper corner of the closet. We followed his gaze but saw nothing. The cat stood like that for a full minute before backing slowly out of the closet – never taking his eyes from the corner of it – then bolted around the corner. We didn’t see him for the rest of the day.
As time went on, we began to settle into our lives in our new city. The cats were unusually skittish, but we attributed that mostly to the move and the new surroundings. It seemed we’d mostly forgotten about the strange happenings. Yet, that’s always when things began to happen again.
It was my habit to fall asleep on the couch reading for school in those days. Because my husband worked nights, I was more comfortable trying to wait up for him so we could go to bed together. It was on one of those particular nights that I was startled awake at 3:00 in the morning. I figured I was hearing my husband come through the door, but when I woke, there was no one there. No husband. No cats. No one. And that was what was so unsettling. Because I should have heard something. The sound of the radiator. The buses going by outside (we lived on a busy street). But I recognized this silence. It was the same silence I’d heard right before the murmuring in my right ear that first week in our apartment. And though no murmuring came this time, I had the distinct impression I was not alone. The air was dense and motionless, and I was disturbed enough to feel like I couldn’t move. I stayed rooted to that spot on the couch until my husband came home an hour and a half later.
Other occurrences followed. A fold-down ironing board slammed down inches from my head once. I had a couple more nighttime incidents, as did my husband. Waking in the middle of the night to nothing in particular, but feeling the unmistakable presence of something right beside us. And the cats continued to act strangely. They rarely hung out in the living room closet, despite the fact that the closet provided the only real place for them to create a little hiding hole for midday naps. I was uncomfortable staying in the apartment by myself, but we continued to live there for three years. The location was great, the rent was cheap, and let’s face it: Moving is a pain.
When we bought a house in Oakland, we put in our notice with Marie and packed up. On the last night before we moved, I realized I needed to return to the apartment to take out some trash. With my husband and work, I turned to my mom – in town to help out – to come with me. As we gathered the trash bags from the bedroom, we were just about to leave when we heard the sound of dishes clattering in the sink. Dishes that were already packed, in a kitchen with no one in it.
My husband and I returned to the apartment one last time to turn our keys over to Marie and do a final walkthrough the following week.
My husband turned to her before we left.
“Okay, I have a weird question for you.”
Marie said nothing, but a knowing smile spread across her face.
“Has anyone else who’s lived here ever mentioned anything … strange?”
Marie’s smile broadened. “You mean like the sound of a woman’s voice, sort of murmuring?”
“Over there, near the closet in the living room?”
So that was our answer.
Our house in Oakland was just as old as the apartment in Alameda, but our cats returned to their normal, playful selves the second we moved in. In the entire five years we lived in that house, I heard not a single murmur.
Author: Carly Anne West
Publisher: Simon Pulse, 384 Pages (March 5th, 2013)
Add to: Goodreads
Synopsis: A teen girl starts hearing the same voices that drove her sister to commit suicide in this creepy, suspenseful novel.Everyone thinks Sophie’s sister, Nell, went crazy. After all, she heard strange voices that drove her to commit suicide. But Sophie doesn't believe that Nell would take her own life, and she’s convinced that Nell’s doctor knows more than he’s letting on.
As Sophie starts to piece together Nell’s last days, every lead ends in a web of lies. And the deeper Sophie digs, the more danger she’s in—because now she’s hearing the same haunting whispers. Sophie’s starting to think she’s going crazy too. Or worse, that maybe she’s not…
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Carly, thanks for sharing this uber creepy story. I would have been a tad freaked out to say the least. I don't know how you managed to stay there for that long. Then to know you weren't the only ones who had the same things happen?! *shivers*
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