S1 E15: True Frights – The Unknown Presence

Hi, I’m Tonia Thompson, horror writer and creator NIGHTLIGHT, a horror podcast featuring creepy tales from Black writers all over the world.

It’s finally October, the greatest month of the year for horror fans, and we’ve got some strange and spooky things in store for you. All this month, we’re giving you a free preview of new content that will only available to members of the NIGHTLIGHT Legion, in addition to our regular story episodes. You’ll hear everything from creepy true stories, to one-on-one conversations with brilliant horror writers and fans. So make sure you’re subscribed to the podcast and you’re following us on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram so you don’t miss out on these special treats.

And remember, if you enjoy our show, you can join more than 20 other horror lovers as a member of the NIGHTLIGHT Legion on Patreon. Otherwise, you’ll miss out one some great scares, and we’ll die a slow, agonizing death, fading away into nothingness shouting “why didn’t you love me?” Or, I mean, we might just have to stop producing great stories and go the way of so many other podcasts. But it sucks either way, right?

If you like the show, but can’t join the NIGHTLIGHT Legion on Patreon, you can support us for free by listening on the RadioPublic app for iOS or Android. You listen, we get a few cents. There’s even something in it for you–RadioPublic cares about your privacy and doesn’t sell your information, so you won’t end up being stalked by some company, or get replaced by a robot because humans become eventually become obsolete. And that’s a win for everybody.

Today’s episode is the first of a series of chilling true stories we call True Frights. After October, True Frights will only be available to members of the NIGHTLIGHT Legion on Patreon. Each True Frights episode will include a true story, written by a Black author, about a real experience. We’re kicking this series off with one of the most frightening moments of my own life. Members of the NIGHTLIGHT Legion can join me on the NIGHTLIGHT Discord channel to ask questions and chat more about this disturbing experience.

And now, here’s the story of an unknown presence, and why I’ll never live in a place that gives me the heebie jeebies again.

It was a chilly winter night after my husband Bill and I had spent the summer downsizing from our first home to a duplex apartment across town. We were broke and on the verge of bankruptcy, and hoped the cheap rent in the hood would help us get back on our feet.

We had 3 dogs, all pit bulls–Rock, Drake, and Buffy (so named because she enjoyed carrying pointy sticks around)–and because they’re considered an “aggressive breed”, finding a place that would accept them was a challenge. There was either a limit on number of pets or on breeds just about everywhere we looked. It was slim pickins, so by the time we found a place in our price range that would accept us all, we jumped at the chance to take it. It was a decent place in a nonviolent neighborhood. The energy didn’t feel quite right, but I just assumed it was because we were having to take a step backward, and ignored the dread I had when we signed the lease.

We’d been in a 4-bedroom, 2-story house with wonderful neighbors, and moving into a 900 square foot duplex unit with no garage was a challenge, but after a week or so, we were thrilled to meet our neighbor in the connected unit. He seemed relatively normal, kept to himself and had just moved in himself. He offered to keep an eye on our place, and we offered the same. It was a relief to know we had a neighbor for at least to next 11 months or so who seemed like a good guy who wouldn’t throw a fit about our dogs. They didn’t bark much, but when they did, it was loud, so we asked him to let us know if they were ever bothering him.

About a month later, there was a U-Haul parked outside his unit. At first, we thought maybe someone was moving in with him, but he was putting things into the truck, not taking them out. Worried that we might be the cause of his move, and about our landlord kicking us out, we went out to talk to him.

“Hey, you leavin?” my husband asked.

“Yeah, man”. He paused for a moment, but before we could figure out a way to tactfully ask why, he continued. “Y’all had anybody break your windows or anything?”

“No, no break-ins,” Bill replied. “Somebody stole our lawnmower a few weeks ago, and some other small stuff has come up missing, but nothing like that. Nothing inside the house.”

“No, I mean like throwing rocks through your window,” he replied. “They didn’t take nothing.”

Bill and I looked at each other. “No,” we said, at the same time.

“I don’t know man. It’s just some weird shit. Somebody broke the same window twice,” our neighbor said after pondering our answer. “I just don’t wanna be here no more. Had a whole bunch of bad luck since I got here, and I just want a fresh start. Moving to a new place.”

We said our goodbyes, but wanted to ask so much more. Who attributes a string of bad luck to the place they’re renting? Who moves to the hood and gets a window broken and moves right away? Sure, it’d be scary, but breaking a lease is expensive and you didn’t live where we were because you had a lot of options. But some questions make you sound crazy–even to your partner, so we said nothing, and I didn’t mention the bad vibe I had at the beginning, even though the conversation made me think of it. Besides, I’d smudged the place when we moved in, partially hoping to give the place some good energy, but also because we really needed our own luck to turn around.

A couple of months passed, and I forgot all about the weird energy and the neighbor’s bad luck. I was too consumed with how broke we were, how out of place I felt, and how angry I was that we’d tried to make good financial decisions and still ended up in this situation because of shady mortgage companies and medical bills. Bill wasn’t feeling much better about things. He was working 14-hour days, 6 days a week selling cars. We barely saw each other, and when we did, it often felt like we were strangers.

I tried to stay positive. We had a plan. But spring came and it rained for almost 2 weeks straight. People don’t shop for cars in the rain, so our money was going fast and we didn’t have much coming in. My debit card got declined at Taco Bell, and anger turned to despair.

When the rain eventually let up, business picked up and we were finally out of the red. Bills were paid, and when we both got home really late one evening, we decided to skip cooking and splurge on McDonalds for dinner.

Bill had barely gotten any sleep, so I drove. He kept looking behind us, and after the fourth or fifth time I spoke up. “Why do you keep looking back? Is somebody following us or something?” I said, half-joking, half-serious.

“Nah,” he said, but didn’t bother to explain, even though I could tell he was thinking more.

I chalked it up to being hyper alert because so much was going wrong in our lives, but I still drove carefully, just in case.

We made it home without incident, but as we approached our door, it was unusually quiet. The dogs knew the sound of our car, and once we shut the doors, they started up their happy yapping and whining, impatient for us to come inside.

But that night, they were silent.

The closer we got to the door, the more nervous I began to feel. Did something happen to them? Had they somehow gotten out and were roaming around the neighborhood, waiting to be picked up by animal control when we had no money to bail them out of doggie jail?

I unlocked the door as quickly as I could, and found them all staring at us. No tails wagging, No happy ears. No paw tapping to help them contain their excitement.

Just stock still.

“Hi, babies!” I said, more for myself than them. This wasn’t right, but I didn’t know what was wrong. Speaking made it less frightening.

They gave me a little wag, but stayed put.

So we walked into the living room with our gourmet meal, ready to sit on the couch and finally eat. They all followed us quietly, not competing for our attention or for any fallen bits of food. When we sat down, they did too, still staring at the wall behind me.

We looked for a bug on the wall, or something else to explain their behavior, because we’d only seen them so still and quiet when they were stalking insects. Bill and I ate, mostly in silence, except to comment on how strange the dogs were acting.

Until I felt pressure on my left shoulder, like someone was leaning on me. Rock growled. Buffy whined. All three dogs had their eyes fixed in the corner above my shoulder. I tried to tell myself they just wanted food. I wanted to pretend it had been Bill that leaned on my shoulder, but our knees were touching and there was an end table to my left. He couldn’t have done it without me seeing.

I sat, motionless, trying to come up with a rational explanation. To feel it better to see if it was a weird muscle spasm. But I couldn’t think of a logical reason for the sensation. Finally, the pressure went away.

“What’s wrong?” I didn’t move, just turned my eyes toward Bill. He was looking at me with such fear and concern in his eyes that I knew I had to tell the truth, as strange as it would sound.

“I felt something on my shoulder. Like someone leaning on it. Hard.”

The look on his face didn’t change, and for a moment I thought he was trying to figure out if I was lying, joking, or crazy.

“I felt someone sitting on my lap,” he said.

Neither of us seemed to know what to do after that, so just we sat there, remnants of our dinner on the coffee table, afraid to say something that might sound nuts or attract the attention of whatever–or whoever–was in the room with us.

Suddenly, Drake growled, and Rock joined him. The dogs all continued their staring contest with whatever it was they saw behind me and by now, Bill had noticed they were staring too. We looked at each other, then slowly turned our heads toward the corner….to find…..nothing.

All pretense of this being a collective hallucination or our brains playing tricks on us disappeared. Whatever it was, the dogs could see it–or at least sense it. We weren’t delusional.

We got up to see what they would do. They followed, still staring not quite at us, but towards us.

A lot of people, including me, say they’d just leave. Go. Get out of there. It’s what we yell at the screen when the picture falls off the wall for no good reason, or there’s footsteps in the attic when they’re supposed to be home alone. But when you’re in that situation, you can only think about whether you’re going crazy or if something is really going on. You don’t want to look like a fool fleeing an empty house, even if no one else is looking. We still didn’t want to accept that there might be something we couldn’t see there with us. It just seemed so…impossible.

We were under so much stress that it was easier to just believe we’d finally cracked. And whatever it was didn’t seem to want to hurt us necessarily. It was just strange and scary. We weren’t terrified. It wasn’t strangling us, or slapping us. More than anything, we just wanted the weird electricity in the air to just go away.

And then, the overwhelming feeling of dread and hatred took hold of us.

“Do you feel that?” Bill asked.

I didn’t have to ask what he meant. “Yes,” I replied.

“What do we do?”

I opened the door to our spice cabinet. “We can burn sage,” I said. We didn’t have a bundle, but we had some loose sage and I figured it was worth a shot. “Can you get me a glass bowl?”

By the time I found the sage, Bill had a ramekin in hand. I sprinkled some sage inside and held a match to it, then another, making sure I created a lot of smoke. We walked through each of our small rooms, that heavy feeling at our backs the entire time.

By the time I was done, the unknown presence was only angrier.

Anger is a funny thing. You walk into the room after an argument and you can feel it hanging in the air. You don’t mistake it for sadness or for simple content with silence. It’s hot and heavy. But this–this anger was so hot and so heavy it was suffocating. The presence was sucking oxygen out of the room, growing larger and larger until there would be nothing left for us to breathe but the thing itself.

I think we still wanted to believe what we were both experiencing wasn’t real. That it couldn’t be real. But there we stood, both shaking in fear, unable to deny it any longer.

We grabbed a box of salt and barricaded ourselves and the dogs in our bedroom. Just outside the door, we left a thick line of salt, making sure there wasn’t a space on our carpet without it. We opened our window and did the same on the window sill, finally feeling like we could breathe again, our hearts pounding so hard that you could see the pulse bubbling up in our necks.

While the dogs stared at the closed door, I remembered a site on Wicca I frequented in high school. One of my brother’s girlfriends was into witchcraft, and as a teen girl with a fascination for all things horror, naturally I wanted to know more. I’d abandoned my curiosity after a couple of years, but the website was still up, albeit a bit outdated.

It didn’t matter. The protection spell was right where I remembered it. It required salt and a whole bunch of other things we didn’t have in the room with us, but we weren’t willing to open that door for anything. So we gathered what we did have–the salt, a red pen, and some paper–and got to work.

I wrote the protection spell carefully in red pen, then wrote a prayer beneath it for good measure. When you can’t see the evil you’re dealing with, you try to cover all your bases.

I drew pentacles and crosses on the back of the paper, then taped it to the door, the spell and prayer facing out. And then, we waited.

The anger began to dissipate, then the feeling of something waiting on the other side of our door gradually grew less intense.

After about an hour, the dogs curled up in their beds and went to sleep.

Another hour passed, and we opened the door. Despite the heater being on, the air outside of our room was at least 15-20 degrees cooler than the air inside, even though our bedroom window was still open. Aside from the cold, we didn’t feel anything there, but we still didn’t leave the room. We waited to see what the dogs would do with the door open.

By 1:00 AM, nothing else happened, so we quietly stepped over our line of salt. Everything looked normal. We didn’t get any strange sensations, and the air felt normal aside from the chill. The dogs looked up, but didn’t bother investigating. They stayed curled up, and went back to sleep.

We were too afraid to shower that night. We just went to bed, exhausted, and left all of our lights on, salt in place and the spell on the door. After a lengthy conversation, we decided to leave our bedroom door open, if only so we could at least see–if there was anything that could be seen–on the other side of it.

The next morning we started looking for a new place. Two months later, we finally moved, just as new tenants moved into the unit next door.

I don’t remember if we said anything to them or not. At the time, I still wasn’t sure if I’d just imagined it all. In fact, the only reason I’m sure it was real now is because my husband felt it too. I’ve had a lot of unexplainable experiences in my life, but nothing I’d never physically felt before or since.

Once we were settled into our new place, we both changed. We fought less, and had more fun together. But neither of us has forgotten that night, and we still can’t explain any of it.

I’ve never told this story in its entirety to anyone, mostly because I was afraid of sounding crazy. I still think it’s crazy. I mean, we were terrified of something that we couldn’t see–something that maybe wasn’t even there. The only proof we have is our word. No one could ask our dogs to corroborate what happened that night. We didn’t have any marks on us, and neither did they. Could 3 dogs and 2 skeptical adults have imagined it all? I don’t know, but if we had to choose between living there or living out of our car, we’d choose the car.

===

Members of the NIGHTLIGHT Legion get access to these kinds of episodes, and more, beginning this month, including $1 patrons. At the end of October, you’ll have to join for $5 or more to get access to strange, but true tales, creepypastas, urban legends, and all other bonus content, so you should definitely become a member before Halloween to get the most bang for your buck.

Every dollar counts and we want to give everyone a chance to become a member of the NIGHTLIGHT Legion, so go to patreon.com/nightlightpod today and join us.

If you don’t want to join the NIGHTLIGHT Legion, but want to support the show, consider donating to us via PayPal. Go to paypal.me/NightlightPodcast to make a contribution.

And if you want to keep fresh horror content in your ears, but aren’t able to support us financially, remember to listen via the RadioPublic app. When you listen, we get a few cents, so it’s a great way to show us some love without spending a dime.

Last, but not least, keep an eye on our social media accounts to see what other spooky fun we have in store for you this month. There’ll be tons of bonus content, giveaways, and other surprises open to all of our followers and listeners to celebrate horror all month long.

Thanks for listening. We’ll be back next week with another story.

(NIGHTLIGHT theme music)

====

Show Notes:

In this episode, we kick off the horror holiday month and share a creepy true story. What would you do if you knew you weren’t alone, and had no way of knowing who–or what–was with you and what they wanted?

For more bonus content, join the NIGHTLIGHT Legion by going to patreon.com/nightlightpod.

You can also make a one-time donation to the podcast via Paypal.