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One Renter's Paranormal Experience in the Sourland Mountains

Part-time and freelance writer who has encountered the paranormal.

The setting for this tale is a rural rental property.

The setting for this tale is a rural rental property.

As someone who’s lived for thirty-two years in the Sourland Mountains of Somerset County, New Jersey, I’ve had more than one bizarre encounter in these desolate, mysterious hills. In this story, I will share the most terrifying incident.

In 1980, I was twenty and anxious to move out of my parents’ house. After my buddy Peter and I decided to look for a place, we consulted a local real estate agent. The woman assured us she had just the place for us and it was only a short ride away. In her car, we drove up into the Skillman section of the Sourland range, and we soon realized the apartment was much farther out than we’d hoped. Finally, we stopped at an old farm.

“That’s it,” said the real estate agent, pointing to what was obviously a converted two-story utility shed on a small incline behind the main farmhouse. The first thing I noticed was a 1959 hearse parked in front of the shed.

“Looks kind of creepy,” said Peter. “And what about that hearse?” The agent told us that it belonged to one of the renters who lived above the vacant apartment.

After a few minutes, the landlord bounded off the farmhouse’s back porch and approached us. He was a particularly big man, and the look in his eyes could only be described as scary. As he brusquely laid down the law on what was and wasn’t allowed on the premises, I couldn’t help but think that this guy would have made an excellent Luca Brasi in the movie The Godfather.

The apartment he showed us consisted of nothing more than an eat-in kitchen, a tiny living room, a bathroom, and a single bedroom. Peter and I had wanted our own rooms, but at $275 a month the less-than-ideal space was hard to pass up. Ignoring the bad vibes, we said we’d take it. Little did we know that we were in for four nerve-wracking months, the effects of which would linger long after we moved out.

the-rental-in-sourland

A Baffling Break-in

We signed the lease on Thursday afternoon and started to move in later in the day, and most of my stuff was in the apartment by Friday afternoon. Peter and I agreed we’d move the rest of his things in on Sunday since he was leaving for Pennsylvania to stay with his girlfriend for the weekend. After Peter left, I settled down to unpack. Shortly after dark, I began to get the eerie feeling that I wasn’t alone. Not helping were some very strange sounds that seemed to be coming from behind the walls and beneath the floor. I walked around listening, looking out windows, and wondering if we had mice.

A bit spooked, I decided to lock everything up and go stay at my parents’ house that night. It was a dark and lonely ride on the back roads that led down the mountain into Neshanic Station.

In the morning, my father (concerned, and rightly so) asked if he could come with me to see the place. So we jumped in the car and drove up the mountain. When we got there, I was puzzled to find that even though I could unlock the door, it wouldn’t open. My dad and I both pushed hard, and slowly it moved. “There’s something against the other side,” he said. We were able to force it open enough to allow us to squeeze into the living room.

To our surprise, the obstacle against the door was the sofa bed. More astonishing was that it had been opened— and my only houseplant sat right in the middle of the bed, looking as if it had been carefully placed there; not even a speck of dirt had been spilled. If that weren’t strange enough, the sofa bed was the only piece of furniture sitting right-side up. The kitchen table, television stand, dresser—all just where I had placed them—were now upside down!

"Sue, this place has bad karma."

“You’ve been robbed,” Dad said, motioning toward the clothes, and kitchen utensils were strewn about. Frantically I looked for my most treasured belongings. Nothing was missing except for one thing. Peter and I kept a large frog in a jar of formaldehyde, intended as a quirky conversation piece. And while the jar of formaldehyde was still there, the frog wasn’t. Dad and I searched high and low for it, but the frog was nowhere to be found.

My father and I also discovered that the windows, which were quite high off the ground, were still locked. We couldn’t figure out how in the world intruders could have blocked the door and left, leaving everything bolted from inside. But for some reason, our puzzlement didn’t keep me from changing all the locks that day.

I called Peter and told him what had happened. He was as baffled as I was, especially after talking with the tenants upstairs and the landlord. No one had seen or heard a thing. On Sunday, Peter returned and we spent the rest of the day moving the last of his stuff in, both of us trying hard not to feel spooked about what had taken place.

That night, my girlfriend, Sue, and her friend Debbie drove up with me to see the place. Both were shocked to see how remote the area was. We pulled into the driveway and were approaching the back of the building when I noticed both girls were shifting nervously in their seats.

“Sue, this place has bad karma,” said Debbie. Sue didn’t like the look of the place either. She said she thought I should move out as soon as possible, and both girls couldn’t wait to leave. All I could draw out of them was that the place wasn’t “right.” I think that I knew this secretly, too, but I wasn’t about to give up my first apartment that easily. Now I know I should have listened.

A Turn for the Worse

What followed was close to four months of the worst luck I’ve ever had. Within weeks, my car died. Then my replacement car gave up the ghost, too. Peter and I both lost our jobs. We both suffered from constant colds, allergies, and ill health in general. The strange noises continued all the while, accompanied by weird dreams and the unnerving feeling that we were being watched. Near the end of the summer, I awoke one night to find the floor fan shooting out orange and blue sparks. Other appliances went haywire as well.

After eight weeks in the apartment, Peter and I made a grisly discovery. When preparing dinner one night, we needed a pot stored under the sink. Reaching underneath, I pulled it out and was about to put it on the counter when I saw something horrific inside: the missing frog. Worse yet was what was done to it. The frog’s mouth had been forced open and a pencil had been shoved down its throat, exiting its rear. It was, in a word, skewered. I was certain I had looked under the sink the day my dad and I discovered the frog missing, and over the previous weeks, I’d rummaged around under the sink for one thing or other countless times.

Horrified, I was ready to move out, but Peter talked me into sticking it out by reminding me of how cheap it was. Interestingly, I saw less and less of him as he conveniently spent more time at his girlfriend’s house. I so disliked staying at the apartment alone that on many nights I slept at my parents’ house.

One weekend when Peter was away, Sue and I decided to watch Saturday Night Live. It was a humid, still night with no breeze, so we left the front door open as we sat on the sofa and watched TV. The door was right next to the television, giving us a clear view of both. Suddenly, the door slammed shut with such force that it shook the walls. Sue and I both jumped a mile. In a panic, she demanded that we leave immediately. There was no argument from me. “I want you out of here,” she yelled, “because I don’t want to come here anymore!” I promised to talk to Peter about moving as soon as he returned.

When Peter failed to show up on Sunday, I stayed away from the place until late Monday afternoon—only to find that Peter still wasn’t there. So I decided to make some dinner as I waited for him.

When I turned back to the stove, the pot of water was gone,

When I turned back to the stove, the pot of water was gone,

"The door slammed shut with such force that it shook the walls".

Afternoon sunlight warmed the kitchen as I scavenged to see what I could prepare. I filled a pot with water and put it on the stove to boil, then turned to grab a package of rice off the counter. When I turned back to the stove, the pot of water was gone, though the burner was still lit. The hair on the back of my neck sprang up, and I was afraid to turn around. All of a sudden the sunny room felt as cold as a tomb.

For what seemed like an eternity, I just stood there listening, only to be met with total silence. I knew that I couldn’t stand there forever—and besides, the front door was behind me, and that was the only way out. I spun around. The pot of water sat in the middle of the kitchen floor, five feet away from me. Once again, nothing was spilled, as if it had been gently placed there.

That was it. I picked up the pot, put it in the sink, turned off the stove, and headed out of the apartment as fast as I could. I told Peter the next day that I was moving. He was annoyed, but I couldn’t have cared less. By the way, Peter didn’t stay there much longer either; by the end of the month, he had packed his stuff and moved out.

Someone once asked me if I thought that a particular place can be “bad.” Considering my four months of contending with forces unknown, I told him that I would have to say, “Yes. Definitely.”

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