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Um... Hi there. I guess you could say I'm writing this as a cautionary tale to those who plan on studying abroad in future. I don't mean to discourage you from going in the first place, it's more like I just want you to be aware of this so that something like this doesn't happen to you too.
I guess I should explain a little bit. Last summer I was selected to participate in the study abroad program that would be centered in Rome for several months. Like anyone would be, I was elated. I had never been out of the states before, so this was going to be a real adventure for me.
In the weeks that followed, I happily packed anything and everything I could fit into my suitcase. (I will be the first to admit that I had way over-packed for this trip.) I was nervous about leaving my parents for the first time, but I was also excited for the newfound freedom I would have while in Europe. Before I knew it, my parents were dropping me off at the airport, and I was boarding a 19-hour flight to Rome.
Despite being long and tedious, the flight wasn't all that bad. When I exited the airport, I was greeted by the program supervisor and several other students who would be studying with me. They were about the same age and all looked just as excited as me. From there we went to our mandatory orientation meeting, and afterwards we went to pick up our apartment keys.
In the months that preceded the trip, we were responsible for getting to know our would-be roommates as well as finding a place to stay that we could all afford. There were three girls I would be staying with. They were all nice enough and made an effort to make me feel welcome, though I will admit it's a bit hard to get close to the group of preformed friends. But despite my slight alienation, it seemed that things were all going to work out well. All of us were on a similar budget plan, and by that I mean none of us really had much money to spend. Because of this, we were all on the same page while searching for the cheapest apartment we could find.
After several days of searching, we stumbled across an ad for an ancient apartment located above the Campo di Fiori. That was a prime location and we couldn't believe it that it was still available, no less listed for an unbelievably low price. This immediately sent alarm bells off in my head. The place was enormous, yet the rent was cheaper than the much smaller apartments in a far less desirable part of town. However, reason never really wins out in a group of excited young women. They had already made up their minds, and if I would be staying with them, this was my only option.
We each received our own set of keys as well as a map with walking directions. Because of its prime location, it really didn't take us long to get there. The Campo was amazing. During the daytime it was filled with a vibrant market, while during the evening it was lined with lively street performers. All of the apartments surrounding it looked to be ancient, so ours really didn't stand out all that much. After circling the square three or four times, we finally noticed the number nailed to the front of a massive old wooden door. This would be our home for the next three months.
I fought with my keys for a moment until there was an audible click of the heavy old lock. The thick old door swung forward with a screech. We were then met with a long winding staircase. We all looked at one another and groaned. None of us had accounted for the fact that the building had been constructed before elevators were common. So three sets of stairs and countless complaints later, all four of us, with luggage in hand, stood outside our new front door. Once again I reached for my set of keys and fought with the stubborn lock. As soon as the front door was opened, there was a stampede of young women trying to claim the best rooms. Being a three-bedroom apartment, it meant that two of us would have to share. I personally didn't really care, so I let the others battle it out. When the dust had settled, I found that I would be sharing a room with a girl called Stephanie. That was fine with me. Stephanie was nice enough and she was also very quiet – my ideal feature in a roommate.
Over the course of the rest of the day, we ran around exploring our new home. There were two bathrooms, a full kitchen, and a living room with an ancient TV. Once again I began to feel uneasy. Just how was it that we were able to get all of this for such a low price? Before I could finish the thought, I was interrupted by a fit of loud squealing. My initial reaction was to panic; however, I soon learned that all the noise was from excitement. Down at the other end of the apartment near the front door, apparently there was another part of the flat we had missed. I followed the noise until it led me to a long dark hallway. There at the end, behind the group of squealing women, was a washing and drying machine. For those of you thinking "what's the big deal?", I should explain that these things are incredibly rare in Rome. Generally, exchange students have to wash their clothes by hand in the sink before hanging them up to dry. What was a luxury item like this doing in such a cheap apartment?
Just as the screaming quelled, it picked right back up again as the girls noticed a door adjacent to the washing machine. Beyond that door was a master bathroom. It had a balcony, a claw-foot tub, and even a bidet. The girls immediately started fighting over "who's bathroom this was going to be". I didn't really see why we couldn’t share, but apparently the others were dead set on having ownership. As it turned out, it ended up being my bathroom. Stephanie had made a logical argument that because she and I had to share a bedroom, while the other two each got their own, it was only fair that she and I got to share the master bath. And I'll admit that at first I was actually kind of excited; it was after all, a really nice room. However, over the course of the next several weeks, I began to grow more and more wary of the room. I don't know how to put it into words. it's like every time I went into that room I could feel something's eyes on me. And the voyeuristic element wasn't really what had me so unnerved. It felt like whatever was watching me was angry – that it didn’t want me there and that it wanted to hurt me.
I began doing everything in my power to avoid the room. I asked Alisha if she would mind if I were to use her restroom occasionally. I made up a lame excuse about how it was far more convenient since her room was so close while my bathroom was at the other end of the flat, at the end of the very long hallway. She happily abliged, though, when I told her that she could use my bathroom anytime she liked. This worked well for a while. For about the first two months of my trip, I was able to completely avoid the eerie room. It wasn't until the final month that everything began to unravel. One night, as I prepared to brush my teeth, I found that Alisha was already occupying her bathroom. I could hear giggles coming from down the hallway; it was clear both Stephanie and our other roommate were getting ready for bed in the master bath. I decided that since there was strength in numbers, it would be alright just for tonight.
So I made my way down to the large bathroom where I joined the boisterous girls in brushing my teeth. They were in the midst of some conversation when Lindsay, our other roommate, had broken into such a furious fit of laughter that she had to lean on the wall for support. But suddenly she jolted upright as if she had been shocked. We all looked at what had been the cause of her reaction: there on the wall, about the same level as the bathtub, was a tiny door. None of us had noticed it because it was the same color as walls. The landlord had even painted over it. Naturally this made me a bit nervous. Whatever it was, the landlord clearly didn't want anyone opening it. But, as usual, throwing all caution to the wind, Lindsay reached for the handle and began tugging with all her might. Stephanie clucked her tongue in disapproval before pulling out a small pocket knife. She began delicately carving along the seam of the door. I wanted to beg her to stop, but I really didn't have the energy to argue that night. So within a few minutes, Lindsay had yanked the little door open with a loud crack.
It was... a crawlspace. It was fairly large. My guess would've been you could have fit at least three or four people in there. I was rather curious as to why the landlord would've sealed up an empty little room. While I thought about this, Stephanie and Lindsay began calling for Alisha to come see their new discovery. She was just as excited as they were when they first discovered it. However, as could be expected, this excitement waned over time and eventually, the crawlspace was just turned into storage for a few towels and laundry baskets.
In the following days after the unsealing of the crawlspace, things started to go from eerie to downright terrifying. Annoyingly, Alisha had changed her nightly routine so that I could no longer use her bathroom in the evenings. Once again I was back in the large bathroom, all the while, the feeling that I was being watched growing worse and worse. I began to get so paranoid each time I went into that room that I would literally jump at the slightest noise of pipes settling, and as soon as I was finished, I would run at full speed down the hallway and close the door behind me. For some reason I seemed to be the only one feeling this way. It's not like I could've told the other girls either. I was already enough of an outcast as it was. So I just kept to myself and hoped it would go away eventually.
Unfortunately, that wasn't the case. One night, as I was getting ready for bed, I found myself alone in the bathroom. As I stood in front of the mirror brushing my teeth, something set the hairs on the back of my neck straight up. There was a faint rustling noise. Not the kind that could've been caused from my roommates at the other end of the flat. Any noises caused by them would have had to have been quite loud to reach me all the way at the end of the long hallway. No, this noise was very faint – the sound of someone gingerly shuffling things around. I stood completely silent, terror filling me. The soft rustling noise was coming from inside the crawlspace. I turned on my heels and ran down the hallway to grab the attention of my roommates. I tried to explain to them what happened, but all that came out were incoherent murmurs.
Eventually I managed to stutter "S-Something. Something's inside the crawlspace!"
They looked at me with fear and confusion in their eyes. As a pack, we moved together down the hallway into the bathroom. I nearly fainted when I saw the tiny door hanging fully ajar. Though this discovery filled me with horror, Alisha immediately pointed to the balcony's sliding door. Stephanie had left it open to air out the bathroom after having taken a shower several hours ago. She peeked her head out the door and pointed to the slanted rooftop adjacent to ours. There was a pigeon's nest occupied by few birds. The girls surmised that a pigeon must have found its way in and was the cause of the disturbance. They all had a good laugh as we made our way back to the living room. I pretended to shake it off, but I knew it was not a pigeon that caused the rustling noise. First off, the tiny door had been shut tight all day. None of us really cared to leave it open because it smelled quite musty inside. Secondly, the door had been shut when I left the bathroom; I am certain of this, yet there it was wide open when I returned. You're not going to tell me that a pigeon knows how to and is capable of opening and closing a door all by itself.
It was at this point that I began to suspect that something was terribly wrong with this apartment. When I got back to my room, I pulled out my laptop and called my best friend via Skype. She had always been the skeptical and methodical type, however she also kept an open mind towards things that were hard to explain. I decided that out of anyone she was probably the best to talk to about my situation. As I expected, she was initially quite doubtful. Though she also agreed with me that a pigeon was quite likely not the source. She asked me if I had any photos of the crawlspace. She said that if she could see it, that would help her to understand a little more clearly, and possibly help her to come up with a more logical explanation.
Relieved at her willingness to at least hear me out, I reached for my camera and made my way back down the eerie hallway. When I arrived, I found, to my relief, that the door was still closed. I stood in front of it for a moment, gathering my nerve before finally pulling the little door open. Despite the clutter left inside by my roommates, it was empty. I snapped a quick photo before closing the door once more and running back to my room. I immediately plugged my camera into my computer and uploaded the photo. When I finally opened the image, I was petrified by what I saw. There, in the upper right-hand corner, was a face, baring its teeth at me. My whole body began violently shaking.
"Dear God. That thing is in our home!" I muttered to myself.
Fear began to overtake me. Someone had sealed whatever it was inside of that crawlspace, and we had let it out. I was so absorbed in my panic, I didn't even notice when my roommate returned. She was so blissfully unaware of the imminent danger we were in, yet even if I tried to warn her, she would not believe me. I was at a loss of what to do, and finally decided that I would deal with it in the morning. Though not by a large amount, I did feel braver in the sunlight. From there I attempted to get some sleep. Though for the first time ever since being there, I closed and bolted my door before getting into bed. Stephanie eyed me suspiciously while doing so, but I just told her jokingly that Lindsay had been sneaking into our room the previous nights and had been stealing my nutella. She laughed heartily, shaking her head before settling down for the night. I will admit that the only reason I was able to find any sleep that night was because of her presence. Something about not being alone can give one a sense of false security.
It was about two o'clock in the morning when the sound woke me. I had always been a light sleeper, so the faint noise was enough to stir me. It sounded like a door being pushed open at the other end of the flat followed by footsteps. But these weren't just normal footsteps. They were far too fast. It sounded like someone was running at full speed from the foyer to the living room and all about the apartment. But these weren't heavy footfalls like the kind you would expect from a running person. They were very light – almost unnaturally so. My initial reaction was to assume it was either Alisha or Lindsay, so I got up and stuck my ear to the wall behind me that separated Lindsay's room from mine. I could hear her faint but steady breathing. She was clearly asleep, it wasn't her. I then crossed over to the other side of my room near the door and once again stuck my ear to the wall. Alisha's snoring was quite audible, there was no way it was her. I slowly began to grow fearful as I turned in a last resort to see if Stephanie had perhaps gotten up, but I could plainly see her resting form silently rising up and down. A shiver went down my spine and I nearly screamed when I realized that the footsteps had come to a stop outside of my door. Despite all the lights being out, I could clearly see the looming dark shadow of a form through the tiny crack at the foot of my door.
I dared not move. Whatever it was, it was just standing there. Waiting. Then to my horror, my doorknob slowly began to jiggle. Gently at first, but then growing violent at the realization of it being locked. The noise of it eventually woke my roommate. She sat up, blinking in confusion. That instant the jiggling of the doorknob stopped. She asked me just what the hell I was doing and if I knew what time it was. I told her it wasn't me! I told her that whatever had opened the door to the crawlspace the previous day had come back. But she just furrowed her brow at me and said that I needed to get more sleep.
The next day I made an appointment with my program's supervisor. I told him that I just needed to go home. He tried to tell me that I was just homesick and that it would pass, but I insisted. He eventually gave up and let me call my parents. They were confused but understanding. They were able to change the date of my return flight to the following morning. I really wanted to get out of there that day, but understandably that was the soonest they could manage. Unfortunately, this meant that I would have to stay one more night in the apartment.
When I returned, I tried to tell the others about what had been going on. I knew I was going to be getting out of there and would be out of danger, but I was still immensely worried for their safety. But none of them took me seriously; they looked at me as if I was a mad woman. They didn't say anything, but I was sure they all thought I was going home because of some sort of mental breakdown.
At that point there was nothing I could say that would convince them. So that night, I locked my door and hesitantly went to bed. And, right on cue, once again around two o'clock in the morning, I was awoken by the rapid footsteps scampering around the apartment. I could hear the door to the bathroom begin to creak open, followed by the door at the end of the hallway. The footsteps grew louder and faster as they moved through the apartment. And finally, once more they came to a pause outside of my door. I could hear breathing this time, slow and heavy. I sat up in panic, and to my horror I saw that Stephanie had forgotten to lock the door behind her after getting up to use the restroom.
It was right outside my door and I did not know if I had time to jump up and try to lock it before the thing realized there was nothing blocking its way. I hesitated a moment too long and by the time I had sat up straight in my bed, the handle slowly began to turn. I froze in terror as the door cracked open, revealing my tormentor. It stood there ominously in the doorway, staring me down. Its eyes protruded slightly from its skull and gave off a very faint bluish light. It didn't appear to have a nose, only slits where the nostril should have been. It had the teeth of a man, but had no lips, giving it the impression of an eternally toothy snarl. Its grayish white skin was waxy and stretched tight over its bony face. The rest of its skeletal form was hard to make out as it was almost entirely enveloped in shadows.
After pausing for a moment in the doorway, it began to head toward me. As it moved, its body let out sickening cracks. I sat there, still petrified by fear until it had made its way to the foot of my bed. Its heavy breaths were deafeningly loud. I don't know how Stephanie slept through it. The air had begun to smell sour and stagnant.
With frightening speed, it jolted to the other end of the bed, mere feet from me. I gagged at the smell of it, like sulfur and rotting flesh. Slowly it unfurled one of its along the gnarly hands and proceeded to reach for me. Not until it was several inches away did I finally find my voice. I screamed as loud as I possibly could and it halted in its tracks. Stephanie shot up from her bed, visibly frightened. The creature hunched over on all fours and fled from the room with unsettling movements that recalled those of the spider. A moment later Stephanie switched the light on and looked at me furiously. She demanded to know what the fuss was all about. I told her exactly what had happened, but she just called me a nutcase.
The taxi came to pick me up very early the next morning. The sun had not even risen by the time it arrived. None of the girls came to see me off, but I expected this. After loading my luggage into the trunk I climbed into the back seat of the old cab. It had driven right through the square and was sitting at the base of my apartment. When I leaned to look out the window I could see where my room had been. My face contorted into a mixture of panic and concern. There, looking out of my old window, was the creature. Its unblinking eyes bore into me and its lipless mouth curled into a snarling grin. Before I could say anything, the cab driver had taken off, leaving that hell house far behind.
I tried to warn them. I really did. I did everything in my power to try to warn them of the danger that they were in, but none of them listen to me. There was no way I could've stopped what happened after I returned home. You see, several weeks after returning to the United States I received a phone call from the program director. He informed me that a day before the program ended, all three of my past roommates had been reported missing. The authorities had no idea just how long they had actually been gone for, as they were only recently discovered to be missing when the program director went to check on them after none of them made it to the end of the program wrap-up meeting. They assumed it had been at least a week or two, since all the food in the apartment was expired. There was no sign of forced entry, and no valuables were missing. The only notable detail mentioned in the report was that when they arrived on the scene, there was a strange little door hanging ajar in the bathroom. And when they approached it, they were met with a powerful odor coming from no visible source. The official report has them declared as missing, but I know that they're all dead.
I know that I'm incredibly lucky to have made it out with my life. I think the only reason I'm still alive today is because I fled thousands of miles and across an ocean. Despite their unwillingness to listen, I still feel an unimaginable amount of guilt over what happened to those girls. That's why I'm writing this now. I may not be able to go back in time and save them, but maybe I can prevent this from happening to you. Please, PLEASE heed my warning. If you ever get the opportunity to study abroad, keep this in mind: if it seems too good to be true, it probably is. And WHATEVER you do, don't stay on the third floor of the ancient yellow apartment complex above the Campo di Fiori. There's something there. Something evil.