“THE REAL HORROR BEHIND PHANTOM OF THE OPERA” and More Terrifying True Stories! #WeirdDarkness

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IN THIS EPISODE: The most famous haunted house in the United States also happens to be the most famous house period… and it sits at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington D.C. Yep – the most famous haunted house in America is America’s house… the White House. (Paranormal Presidents) *** Weirdo family member, Katie Jo, tells us that as a child she saw something similar to glitter – but in a very supernatural form! (Sparkles) *** An old man opens up to something that happened to him over six decades ago that he has never told anyone before – something that he says ruined his life. (Something Happened 63 Years Ago) *** A woman in bed is startled awake in the middle of the night when she feels someone pull her arm out from under her head – but she’s the only one in her apartment. (Someone Or Something Moved My Hand) *** We’ll look at a brief history of the classic Lon Chaney film, “The Phantom of the Opera” – and how the film itself has a haunting attached to it! (The Real Horror Behind The Phantom Of The Opera) *** November 20th, 2019 might be the last day of our lives if a certain asteroid gets too close! If you’re listening to this podcast after November 20th, I guess we panicked for nothing. (The 2019 Thanksgiving Asteroid)
“UFOs and Creepy Humanoids” episode: http://weirddarkness.com/archives/4924
“The Alien Invasion of Kelly, Kentucky” episode: http://weirddarkness.com/archives/4917
“Something Happened 63 Years Ago” submitted anonymously to Thought Catalog: http://bit.ly/2DdEeDb
“The 2019 Thanksgiving Asteroid”: author unknown, no link found
“The Phantom Of The Opera Is Here” by Troy Taylor: http://bit.ly/2KG71nJ
“Paranormal Presidents” from The Unexplained Mysteries: http://bit.ly/2OwCMkd
“Sparkles” by Weirdo family member, Katie Jo, submitted to WeirdDarkness.com
“Someone Or Something Moved My Hand” by Mirandra for Your Ghost Stories: http://bit.ly/37muJPH
Background music provided by EpidemicSound and AudioBlocks with paid license. Music by Shadows Symphony (http://bit.ly/2W6N1xJ) and Midnight Syndicate (http://amzn.to/2BYCoXZ) is also sometimes used with permission.
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I always make sure to give authors credit for the material I use. If I somehow overlooked doing that for a story, or if a credit is incorrect, please let me know and I’ll rectify it the show notes as quickly as possible.
***WeirdDarkness™ – is a registered trademark of Marlar House Productions. Copyright © Marlar House Productions, 2019.
“I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.” — John 12:46 *** How to escape eternal darkness: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2IYmodFKDaM

I never tire of thinking about how humanity will eventually go the way of the dinosaur. I find a strange kind of comfort in considering the fact that despite all of its collective vanity, aspirations towards immortality, and denial of death, humans, as a species, will eventually return to the dust whence they came. It puts life’s petty hassles, indignities, and agonies into a perspective that transcends “this too shall pass” and other platitudes. Once extinct, there will be no history. There will eventually be no trace of us. If we are alone in the universe – though we should remember that no evidence of extraterrestrial life does not mean there is evidence of no extraterrestrial life – our planet will simply become an unmarked grave, incapable of even being forgotten because there won’t be anyone left to forget.
You might want to mention that to your family and friends this Thanksgiving, because we’ll be getting a little reminder of our fragility in the form of a 2,034-foot asteroid named 481394 (2006 SF6) by NASA’s Center for Near-Earth Object Studies  (CNEOS). 481394 (2006 SF6) has been dubbed “potentially hazardous” by the agency due to its orbital proximity to Earth on November 20th, when it will come perilously close – 2.7 million miles, according to the International Business Times – to our lovely, blue-green planet that, up to this point in human history, seems to have been exceptionally lucky in not being obliterated by a flying space rock.
For context, the 56-foot Chelyabinsk meteor – which exploded over Russia in 2013 – struck Earth with the force of 30 atomic bombs. If 481394 (2006 SF6) were to be steered by an exceptionally bellicose extraterrestrial force – or whatever – into Earth, the results would be devastating, though they would negate the necessity of tolerating your vaguely-racist Aunt Sharon and sneaking off to chug vodka purloined from your parents liquor cabinet the following week. In any case, it’s something to think about the next time you’re admiring the stars or wondering how many miles you’ll have to run to burn off that second helping of green bean casserole.
Fortunately, this one won’t hit us – as I’m sure you’ve already noticed. Unfortunately, NASA has a history of not noticing incoming asteroids and has already admitted it may be unable to stop an apocalypse-by-asteroid, so count your blessings this Thanksgiving.

On September 6, 1925, the silent film classic THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA starring Lon Chaney had its premiere at the Astor Theater in New York. It was the first film adaptation of Gaston Leroux’s 1910 novel of the same name. Directed by Rupert Julian, it told the story of the deformed Phantom who haunts the Paris Opera House, causing murder and mayhem in an attempt to make the woman he “loves” a star. The film remains most famous for Chaney’s ghastly, self-devised make-up, which was kept a studio secret until the film’s premiere. The story was remade several times, most notably as a stage musical turned film about a much more romantic Phantom than the monster that Chaney played.
The film came about almost by accident. In 1922, Carl Laemmle, the president of Universal Pictures, took a vacation to Paris. During the trip, he met author Gaston Leroux, who was working in the French film industry, and Leroux gave him a copy of his book. Laemmle read the book in one night and immediately bought the film rights as a vehicle for Lon Chaney. Production began in 1924, but did not go smoothly. Chaney and the rest of the cast had strained relations with director, Rupert Julian. A limited premiere was held in Los Angeles in January 1925, but due to poor reviews and audience reactions, its wide release was postponed. On advice from Chaney and others, Universal told Julian to re-shoot most of the picture and change the style, as it was feared that a Gothic melodrama would not recoup the film’s massive budget. Julian eventually walked out, and while he maintained credit for the film, the finished film was only partially his work.
Edward Sedgwick was then assigned by producer Carl Laemmle to re-shoot and redirect the bulk of the film. Raymond L. Schrock and original screenwriter Elliot Clawson wrote new scenes at the request of Sedgewick. The film was then changed into more of a romantic comedy with action elements than the dramatic thriller that was originally made. This version was previewed in San Francisco on April 26, 1925, and did not do well at all, with the audience booing it off of the screen.
The third and final version was the result of Maurice Pivar and Lois Weber, who edited the production down to nine reels. Most of the added Sedgwick material was deleted, though notably the ending, with the Phantom being hunted by a mob and then being thrown into the Seine River, remained. This version, containing material from both the original 1924 shooting and some from the Sedgwick reworking, was then set to be released. It debuted on September 6, 1925, at the Astor Theatre in New York City. The wide release did not take place until October 17, however. In time, it would come to be regarded as a horror classic and one of Chaney’s most iconic films.
After Chaney’s success with THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME in 1923, Chaney was given the freedom to create his own make-up as the Phantom. Chaney painted his eye sockets black, giving his face a skull-like impression. He also pulled the tip of his nose up and pinned it in place with wire, enlarged his nostrils with black paint, and put a set of jagged false teeth into his mouth to complete the ghastly deformed look of the Phantom. When audiences first saw his face onscreen, they were said to have screamed or fainted at the scene when Christine pulled the concealing mask away. Chaney’s appearance as the Phantom in the film has been the most accurate depiction of the title character, based on the description given in the novel, where Erik the Phantom is described as having a skull-like face with a few wisps of black hair on top of his head. As in the novel, Chaney’s Phantom has been deformed since birth, rather than having been disfigured by acid or fire, as in later adaptations of the story. Oddly, though, Chaney’s inspiration for the character’s face didn’t come from the book’s description – it came from articles and photographs of soldiers who were maimed in the fighting during World War I. Many of those men returned home, forced to wear concealing masks to hide their deformities.
And the story of the PHANTOM OF THE OPERA has a ghost story to go along with its silver screen chills.
Carl Laemmle commissioned the construction of a set of the Paris Opera House on the Universal Studios lot. Because it would have to support thousands of extras, the set became the first to be created with steel girders set in concrete. It survived at Studio 28 until 2014, still containing portions of the opera house set, and it was used for hundreds of movies and television shows.
Visitors to Stage 28, along with employees who worked there, long maintained that it was haunted. For years, a man in a black cape, who vanishing without warning was spotted by electricians, designers, carpenters, art directors, and security guards. Those who got more than just a quick glimpse of the man were convinced that it was Lon Chaney himself. Visitors to the soundstage, including those who knew nothing of its history, also reported the man in black. He was often spotted running along the catwalks overhead. Even security guards who have laughed off the idea of a resident ghost, admit to being “spooked” by lights that turn on and off by themselves and by doors that open and close on the empty stage at night.
If it was Chaney’s ghost, what became of him in 2014, when the soundstage was demolished? Did he move on to the other side, or does he still lurk on the Paris opera house set? Stage 28 was torn down, but the opera house set was preserved and was placed into storage until it could be given a new home. When it returns, will the ghost of Lon Chaney return with it?

The most famous address in America–1600 Pennsylvania Avenue–is also perhaps the country’s most famous haunted house. Presidents, first ladies, White House staff members and guests have reported feeling ghostly presences, hearing unexplained noises and even running into actual apparitions–even on the way out of the bathtub, in one particularly famous case.
There have been several stories about ghosts of former Presidents revisiting the White House. However, the most common and popular is that of Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln’s Ghost, or to others as The White House Ghost, is said to have haunted the White House since his death. It is widely believed that when he was president, Lincoln might have known of his assassination before he died.
According to Ward Hill Lamon, Lincoln’s friend and biographer, three days before his assassination Lincoln discussed with Lamon and others a dream he had, which you heard at the beginning of this episode.
*****“About ten days ago, I retired very late. I had been up waiting for important dispatches from the front. I could not have been long in bed when I fell into a slumber, for I was weary. I soon began to dream. There seemed to be a death-like stillness about me. Then I heard subdued sobs, as if a number of people were weeping. I thought I left my bed and wandered downstairs. There the silence was broken by the same pitiful sobbing, but the mourners were invisible. I went from room to room; no living person was in sight, but the same mournful sounds of distress met me as I passed along. I saw light in all the rooms; every object was familiar to me; but where were all the people who were grieving as if their hearts would break? I was puzzled and alarmed. What could be the meaning of all this? Determined to find the cause of a state of things so mysterious and so shocking, I kept on until I arrived at the East Room, which I entered. There I met with a sickening surprise. Before me was a corpse wrapped in funeral vestments. Around it were stationed soldiers who were acting as guards; and there was a throng of people, gazing mournfully upon the corpse, whose face was covered, others weeping pitifully. ‘Who is dead in the White House?’ I demanded of one of the soldiers, ‘The President,’ was his answer; ‘he was killed by an assassin.’ Then came a loud burst of grief from the crowd, which woke me from my dream. I slept no more that night; and although it was only a dream, I have been strangely annoyed by it ever since.”*****
The White House’s most famous alleged apparition is that of Abraham Lincoln. Eleanor Roosevelt never admitted to having seen Lincoln’s ghost, but did say that she felt his presence repeatedly throughout the White House. Mrs. Roosevelt also said that the family dog, Fala, would sometimes bark for no reason at what she felt was Lincoln’s ghost. President Dwight Eisenhower’s press secretary, James Hagerty, and Liz Carpenter, press secretary to First Lady Lady Bird Johnson, both said they felt Lincoln’s presence many times. The former president’s footsteps are also said to be heard in the hall outside the Lincoln Bedroom. As reputable an eyewitness as Lillian Rogers Parks admitted in her autobiography My Thirty Years Backstairs at the White House that she had heard them. Margaret Truman, daughter of President Harry S. Truman, said she heard a specter rapping at the door of the Lincoln Bedroom when she stayed there, and believed it was Lincoln.
President Truman himself was once wakened by raps at the door while spending a night in the Lincoln Bedroom. Others have actually seen an apparition of the former president. The first person reported to have actually seen Lincoln’s spirit was First Lady Grace Coolidge, who said she saw the ghost of Lincoln standing at a window in the Yellow Oval Room staring out at the Potomac. Winston Churchill, Theodore Roosevelt, and Maureen Reagan and her husband have all claimed to have seen a spectral Lincoln in the White House. A number of staff members of the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration claimed to have seen Lincoln’s spirit, and on one occasion Roosevelt’s personal valet ran screaming from the White House claiming he had seen Lincoln’s ghost. Perhaps the most famous incident was in 1942 when Queen Wilhelmina of The Netherlands heard footsteps outside her White House bedroom and answered a knock on the door, only to see Lincoln in frock coat and top hat standing in front of her (she promptly fainted).
One of the most recent sightings came in the early 1980s, when Tony Savoy, White House operations foreman, came into the White House and saw Lincoln sitting in a chair at the top of some stairs. Several unnamed eyewitnesses have claimed to have seen the shade of Abraham Lincoln actually lying down on the bed in the Lincoln Bedroom (which was used as a meeting room at the time of his administration), and while others have seen Lincoln sit on the edge of the bed and put his boots on.
The most famous eyewitness to the latter was Mary Eben, Eleanor Roosevelt’s secretary, who saw Lincoln pulling on his boots (after which she ran screaming from the room). Abraham Lincoln is not the only Lincoln ghost witnesses claim to have seen in the White House. Willie Lincoln, Abraham Lincoln’s 11-year-old son, died in the White House of typhoid on February 20, 1862. Willie Lincoln’s ghost was first seen in the White House by staff members of the Grant administration in the 1870s, but has appeared as recently as the 1960s (President Lyndon B. Johnson’s college-age daughter, Lynda Bird Johnson Robb, saw the ghost and claims to have talked to him).
British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who visited the White House more than once during World War II, told a story of emerging naked from his evening bath smoking his customary cigar, only to find a ghostly Lincoln sitting by the fireplace in his room.
When Lillian Rogers Parks, the seamstress, once investigated the sound of someone pacing an upper level of the White House, another staff member told her the room in question had been unoccupied, and “that was old Abe pacing the floor.” Psychics have speculated that Lincoln’s spirit remains in the White House to be on hand in times of crisis, as well as to complete the difficult work that his untimely death left unfinished.
Another famous president who still could be seeking a longer term in the White House is Andrew Jackson. The reported encounters with Old Hickory are not sightings but hearings. And what people reportedly hear from Jackson is a lot cursing from the 19th-century president. One person who believed Jackson’s spirit remained in the White House was Mary Todd Lincoln, who held regular séances there after her son, Willie, died. She believed strongly in the occult, and told friends she had heard Jackson stomping and swearing through the halls of the presidential residence. The Rose Room, Jackson’s bedchamber while he was president, is believed by some to be one of the most haunted rooms in the White House.
Jackson’s ghostly presence also showed up in the White House correspondence of Harry Truman, America’s 33rd president. In June 1945, just two months into his first term, Truman wrote to his wife Bess of the spooky quality of his new residence: “I sit here in this old house and work on foreign affairs, read reports, and work on speeches–all the while listening to the ghosts walk up and down the hallway and even right in here in the study. The floors pop and the drapes move back and forth–I can just imagine old Andy [Jackson] and Teddy [Roosevelt] having an argument over Franklin [Roosevelt].”
John Adams’ wife only stayed at the White House for a few months as its first occupant, along with her husband. Thomas Jefferson was the first president to spend a full term at the residence. But some people believe Abigail Adams returns for an occasional visit to supervise the laundry. Mrs. Adams used the East Room to hang out her laundry in 1800. A sighting of her was reported there during the Taft administration about 112 years later, when an apparition was seen carrying clothes in its arms.
Abigail Adams and her husband John, the second president of the United States (1797-1801), moved to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue from the former U.S. capital in Philadelphia. At the time, Washington, D.C. was still just a town, built mostly on swampy land on the banks of the Potomac River. Because the East Room of the new White House was the warmest and driest, Abigail used it to hang the wash. Her ghost, clad in a cap and lace shawl, has reportedly been seen heading towards the East Room, arms outstretched as if carrying laundry.
A lesser-known early White House personality who has been said to haunt its halls was David Burns, who sold the government most of the land on which the city of Washington–including the presidential residence–was built.
The irrepressible Dolley Madison is best known today for rescuing the Gilbert Stuart painting of George Washington from the White House before the British burned it down during the War of 1812. But in ghost lore, she’s best known for reportedly encountering two gardeners during the Wilson administration a century later. First Lady Edith Wilson asked the two to move the fabled Rose Garden, which Madison had created and nurtured. The gardeners were reportedly met by an angry Dolley. Today, the Rose Garden remains where Dolley Madison wanted it.
The most traumatic incident in White House history was its destruction by British troops in 1814. A royal soldier apparently died in the attack after he helped set fire to the White House, and there are reports he occasionally returns to finish the job. One incident was reported a few years after the Truman-era restoration, where the spirit was seen trying to set a bed on fire. Also, there was a major fire in the West Wing during the Hoover administration on Christmas Eve in 1929.
Officially, it was a clogged fireplace flue that stared the blaze. Even today, recent White House staffers reported hearing strange noises late at night in the White House. But there’s one president who probably hasn’t come back for a guest appearance. James Buchanan openly tired of being president as the Civil War grew near. “If you are as happy in entering the White House as I shall feel on returning to Wheatland, you are a happy man indeed,” Buchanan said just before leaving office in 1861.

I’m not a writer, and this will not be that long, but this is about something that used to happen to me quite often as a child. Like most kids I had the occasional nightmare. I would run to my parents room and they would allow me to sleep with them for the rest of the night. Some of my most vivid memories are from these nights. This happened between the ages of approximately 3 and 7. I would crawl into my parents bed and wait for the sparkles to appear. That was what I called them. They were all different colors and about the size of a large piece of glitter. They appeared to give off their own light. They would usually come from the corner of the room and toward me. They would move all over and there was hundreds of them. I loved them and called them my friends. I would try to touch them and they would swirl around my arms, but I could not feel anything. My parents could not see them and would be confused as to what I was doing. I bought a book from amazon some years back that I believe was called Children who See Sparkles…or something like that. There were some similar stories, however some people found them to be terrifying, and I found them to be something that brought me peace. I’m wondering if you have ever heard of this or have any idea of what it could have been. Our house was not old, bit there was a creek in back (Texas) where I found arrowheads and knew that many native Americans had once occupied that land. I don’t see them any more, but I do wish I did. I was hoping my son would, but he never has.

Someone or something moved my hand. I always look at the time when I’m awoken by sounds or dreams. This experience happened at 2:12am this morning, 4th September 2019. I was fast asleep and woke up when I felt my hand being flung off my pillow. It didn’t drop slowly, it was quick.
I usually sleep on my left side, with my right hand nestled under my left cheek, or vise versa, sleep on my right side with left hand nestled under my right cheek. My hand gives me a cushion sort of comfort.
At 2:12am my right hand which was under my left cheek was flung from its position and it dropped down by the left side of my bed. I know this must sound confusing. All I’m trying to say is, it couldn’t slip from that position, someone or something flung it from under my face.
When I woke up from this movement, I looked around and no one was there. (Naturally because I live on my own)
The strange thing was I felt a cool feeling in the room. All the windows were closed. I checked when I woke up. It’s spring here in Australia and it was 26′ degrees, according to the weather bureau today.
It happened really quickly but I remember it really well.
No one was in the house. I cautiously went to see if someone broke in. I took my phone in one hand and a pole that I use to stop the window sliding open in the other. Everything was as I left it. (All locked up)
I haven’t been able to stop thinking about what happened. I’ve been trying to figure out if I had a dream or if it was real. It felt real, and I know my hand can’t just slip from under my face.
I have been having a lot of strange experiences since being in this unit. All my life I have had encounters with this or that and I just wish there was an explanation for these experiences.
I’m definitely getting stronger. I’m not as scared as I used to be. When I was young, I used to freeze to point that I really couldn’t move. Now I face the shadows and spirits and calmly tell them to leave.
I haven’t done Rookdygins cleansing in about 3/4 weeks or so. I got a bit lazy with it admittedly. I guess the first thing for me to do is keep going with the cleansing ritual every fortnight.
I also need to google what this means or what or who it is.
I’m not a good sleeper. I wake up a few times through the night. I don’t take sleeping tablets because I want to stay alert.

It’s official: I’m an old man.
For the last couple years, I’ve comforted myself by saying I’m in my “early 70s,” but math is simple and unforgiving. Today is my 75th birthday, and God, the years do fly.
I’m not here for your well wishes; this is hardly a milestone I’m excited about. I’m glad to still be here, of course, but I find I have less and less to live for with every passing year. My bones ache, my kids live far away, and the other side of my bed has been empty for just over eight months now.
So spare me your “happy birthdays” and your congratulations, if you please. I’m here because I have a story for you, and it’s one I’ve never told before. I used to think I kept it inside because it was silly, or maybe because nobody would believe it. I’ve found, though, that the older you grow, the more exhausting it becomes to lie to yourself. If I’m being perfectly honest, I’ve never told anybody this story because it scares me, almost to death.
But death seems friendlier than it used to, so listen close.
The year was 1950; the setting a small town in Maine. I was a boy of nine, rather small for my age, with only one friend in the world to speak of—and his family, seemingly on a whim, decided to move 2,000 miles away. It was shaping up to be the worst summer of my life.
My pop wasn’t around and my mom was a chore-whore (boy, was I proud of myself when I came up with that one) so I wasn’t apt to hang around the house. With some hesitation, I decided the public library was the place to be that summer. The library’s collection of books, particularly children’s books, was meager to say the least. But within the walls of that miserly structure, I would find no undone chores, no nagging mother (God rest her soul), and perhaps most importantly, no other children with whom I would be expected to associate. I was the only kid with a low enough social status to spend his precious days of freedom sulking amid the bookshelves, and that was just fine with me.
The first half of my summer was even more dreadful than I had imagined it would be. I would sleep in until 10, do my chores, and then ride my bike to the library (and by bike, I mean rusty log of shit attached to a pair of wheels). Once there, I would split my time between unintentionally annoying the elderly patrons and deliberately doing so. One pleasant lady actually interrupted my incessant tongue-clicking to hiss a “shut the fuck up!” at me—the first time I ever heard a grownup use The F Word. Big fuckin’ deal, I know, but in those days it was unheard of.
The dreary days turned to woeful weeks. I had actually begun praying for school to start again — until I discovered the basement.
I could have sworn I’d roamed every inch of that library, but one day, in the far corner behind the foreign language collection I stumbled across a small wooden door I had never seen before. That was where it all began.
The door was windowless and made from oak that looked far older than the wall in which it rested. It had a knob of black metal that quite literally looked ancient—I wouldn’t have been surprised to learn it was crafted in the 17th century. Engraved on the knob was what appeared to be a single footprint. I had the sense that whatever lay beyond this door was forbidden to me, and therefore probably the most interesting thing I would encounter all summer. I quickly glanced around to make sure nobody was watching me, then turned the heavy knob, slipped behind the door, and shut it.
There was nothing; only darkness. I took a couple of steps and then stopped, unnerved by the totality of the shadow which surrounded me. I waved my hands in front of me in an attempt to find a wall or a shelf or anything to hold on to. What I actually found was far more subtle—a small string, dangling from above—but far more useful. I grabbed it firmly and pulled it down.
Back in the day, lots of lightbulbs were operated with strings, and this was one of them. My surroundings were instantly illuminated. I was standing on a small, dusty platform that looked as though it hadn’t seen life in quite some time. To my left was a crickety-ass spiral staircase, made of wood and appearing ready to collapse at any second. The bulb was the only source of light in the room, and it was feeble, so when I peered over the railing to see what lay below, the bottom of the staircase dissolved into the darkness.
I was beginning to feel scared. This place — wherever I was — seemed to have no business in a town library. It was as though I were in a completely different building. But no nine-year-old likes to let a mystery go unsolved. Looking back, I wish I could tell my prepubescent self to turn around, go back, do anything else besides descending that staircase. “You’ll be spared a lot of sleepless nights,” I’d say. But, of course, I didn’t know that then—and I may not have listened even if I had. So instead of turning back, I took a deep breath, gripped the railing, and glared resolutely forward as I began my descent.
The wood on the railing was dry and covered with splinters. I immediately let go, holding my hands out for balance as I carefully traversed the staircase. It was (or at least seemed) very long, and with only the dim glow from the string-bulb far above me, my heart pounded mercilessly in the darkness. Even kids can sense when something isn’t right.
By the time my feet reached the cement floor at the bottom, the light from the bulb above was very nearly a memory. But there was a new light source, and God, I’ll never forget it. Directly in front of me was a door, massive, and a deep shade of red. The light was coming from behind the door, and it shone out in thin lines from all four sides—a sinister, dimly glowing rectangle. For the second time, I took a deep breath and went through a door I shouldn’t have.
In contrast to the dank room I entered from, the room behind the door was blinding. When my eyes adjusted, what I saw nearly took my breath away.
It was a library. The most perfect library imaginable.
I gaped in wonder as I stepped, almost reverently, further into the room. It was beautiful. It was smaller than the library above, much smaller, but it seemed to be almost tailor-made for me. The shelves were packed with brightly colored titles, both armchairs in the middle of the room were exquisitely comfortable, and the smell—my God, the smell—was simply unbelievable. Sort of a mixture of citrus and pine. I simply can’t do it justice with words, so I’ll suffice it to say that I’ve never smelled anything better. Not in my 75 years.
What was this room? Why had I never heard of it before? Why was nobody else here? Those were the questions I should have been asking. But I was intoxicated. As I gazed around at all the books and basked in the smell of paradise, I could only form one thought: I will never be bored again.
In truth, boredom only hid from me for three years. It was on my 12th birthday, 63 years ago to this day, that everything changed.
Before that day, I visited my basement sanctuary as often as I could—usually several times a week. I never saw another soul down there, yet strangely remained free of suspicion. I never removed a book from that room, but instead would pick up a particular volume wherever I had stopped reading during my previous visit. I sat, always in the same deep purple armchair, and always leaving its twin barren and directly across from myself. That armchair was mine, the other was—well, I suppose I couldn’t have articulated it then much better than I can now. But it wasn’t mine, that’s for damn sure.
On my twelfth birthday, I arrived later than usual. My mom had invited a couple classmates and some cousins over to our house to celebrate, a gesture which I found more tedious than touching—really, I just wanted to spend my birthday sitting and reading and smelling paradise. Eventually, our guests went home, and I made it to the library about fifteen minutes before closing time. That didn’t matter; the workers never checked down there before they locked up. I was free to stay as late as I wished. This particular night, I was devouring the final chapters of an epic adventure; knights, swords, dragons, and the like. I didn’t smell it until I read the final words and closed the book.
The once exquisite aroma of that room had turned sour. I sat for a moment, unsettled. Objectively, I could recognize that the smell was actually the same as it had been before—that mixture of citrus and pine. I just perceived it differently, and I didn’t like it anymore. It was the nasal version of an optical illusion; you know, the one that looks like a young woman glancing backward, but all of a sudden you see that it’s really an old woman facing toward you? You can’t unsee that, and I couldn’t unsmell this. The spell was broken.
The odor also seemed, for the first time, to be coming from somewhere specific. With a fair amount of trepidation, I stalked around the room, sniffing the air like a crazed canine until I came to a shelf near the back. The shelf was perfectly normal, with the exception of one title—a large, leatherbound cover of solid faded maroon, with one striking black footprint at the top of the spine. This was the source of the smell. I opened the front cover, and saw one sentence scrawled neatly in blood-red ink atop the first page:
Rest your sorrows down, friend, and leave them where they lie.
I stared at this sentence, mesmerized, as I began to retreat to my chair. I turned a page. Blank. The smell became stronger. Another page, blank, and the smell grew stronger still. I stopped for a moment, suppressed a gag, and continued walking. Then, as I neared the armchairs, I turned one final page—and there, in the same sinister print, was the last thing I expected to see: my own name. I dropped the book. I began to sprint toward the door, but as I shifted my gaze forward, my heart leapt to my throat and I stopped in my tracks.
The empty chair wasn’t empty anymore.
An aged man in a suit sat before me, one leg crossed over the other, contemplating me with piercing gray eyes and a light smirk. This was all too much. I fell to my knees and expelled the contents of my stomach onto the carpet. I wiped my mouth, staring at my vomit, when I heard the man let out a chuckle.
I stared at him disbelievingly. “Who are you?” I asked, panic in my voice.
The man leapt to his feet, grabbed me gently by the shoulders, and helped me to my chair. He sat, once again, in his own. “I fear we got off to a bad start,” he said, glancing at the pile of sick on the carpet. “The smell . . . it does take some getting used to.”
“Who are you?” I repeated.
“Tonight, you will know hardship like you’ve never before known,” he said. “I come as a friend, offering you refuge from it, and from all other storms which lie ahead.”
I wanted nothing more than to leave at that moment, but I remained seated. I asked him what he was talking about.
“Your mother is dead, my boy. By her own hand, in her kitchen. The scene is gruesome, I must admit,” he said in sorrowful tones, but was there a playful glint in his eye? “Surely you wish to avoid this path. I can show you a safer one.”
My blood ran cold at the horrors this man spoke of, but I did not believe him. “What do you want with me?” I demanded, trying to sound braver than I felt. He laughed, an old, raspy yelp that seemed to shake him to his bones.
“Nothing but your friendship, dear boy,” he said. Then, sensing I found his answer inadequate, he expounded. “I want you to come on a journey with me. My work is noble and you will make a fine apprentice. And maybe, when I’m done”—he sighed tiredly, running his bony fingers through his thin white hair—“maybe then, my work can be yours.”
I stood up, shuffling toward the door but never breaking his gaze. “You’re crazy,” I told him. “My mom isn’t dead. She’s not.”
“See for yourself, if you must,” he said, gesturing toward the door. I threw him a contemptuous glare and bolted for the exit. As my hand closed around the knob, he said my name softly. In spite of myself, I turned around.
“Your road won’t be easy, friend. If it ever becomes too much for you, and I mean ever,” he said, pausing to sweep his hand over the room, “you know where to find me.”
I slammed the door behind me and took the decrepit stairs two at a time. I exited the library, clambered onto my bike, and high-tailed it home. The front door was wide open. I dismounted, leaving my bike in a heap on the ground, and approached the house cautiously. The old man was lying—he must have been. Still, tears began to sting my eyes. Heart pounding, I stepped inside and called for my mother. I heard no answer, so I turned into the kitchen.
To this day, I don’t know why she did it.
I’ve lived in that small town in Maine my entire life, although I’ve kept mostly clear of the public library. Once, in my late 20s, I summoned the courage to step inside. Life was good at that time, and my fear had begun to morph into idle curiosity. Where the door to my basement sanctuary once stood was only a blank wall. I asked the librarian what had become of that basement, though in my heart I knew the answer. There was no basement, she said. There had never been a basement. In fact, if she had her facts correctly, city zoning ordinances prohibited a basement in the area.
I’ve been haunted by that sickly-sweet smell, that poisonous blend of citrus and pine, ever since that long ago birthday. When I saw my mother in the kitchen that day, collapsed in a pool of her own blood, I smelled it. When a man claiming to be my father knocked on my college apartment door, begged me for money and beat me to within an inch of my life when I refused, I smelled it. When my wife miscarried our second child, I smelled it, and again when she miscarried our fourth. When our oldest son got behind the wheel of the family Buick completely shitfaced and got his girlfriend killed, I smelled it.
I began to smell it periodically as my wife became sick. She died late last year, and now, I’m alone for the first time in more than half a century. Now, I smell it every day, and it feels like an invitation.
A few months ago, I went back to the library and the small oak door with the ancient handle was there—right where it used to be. My evening walk has brought me past that library every day since, but I haven’t gone inside. Maybe tonight I will. I’m frightened to die, yes, but lately I’m even more frightened to keep living. The old man was right—my road hasn’t been easy, and I doubt it will get any easier.
Rest your sorrows down, friend, and leave them where they lie.
He promised relief. A refuge, he said. Was he right about that too? There’s only one way to find out. After all, I still know where to find him.

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