Cindy is an author and paranormal enthusiast who has published numerous books and articles on the subject of true unexplained phenomena.
Home Sweet Home
This story was sent to me via social media by a woman named Ellen Harris.* Familiar with my work, she thought it was unusual and wondered if I would be interested in sharing it with readers. Let's just say, she didn't have to ask twice.
Ellen and her husband Jeff thought they had lucked into a gem when they signed the lease on their new rental home in Palo Alto, California. The entire deal had been brokered online. The transaction had gone smoothly with every piece falling effortlessly into place.
Roomy and well-kept, the rambler suited their needs to a T. They couldn't have been happier with their new home, that is, until they met their neighbor.
On the day they were moving in, the pair got their first taste of things to come. It began when Ellen noticed someone glaring at her from the porch of the house next door.
The leathery-looking woman was hard to miss as she leaned against the railing, taking in the scene. Even though the temperature was soaring into the nineties, she was attired in a long-sleeved black dress and matching hat. To Ellen, it looked as if she had just returned from a funeral.
Thinking that this would be a good time to introduce herself, Ellen smiled and offered a friendly "Hello" to her new neighbor. The response was not what she had expected.
Instead of returning the greeting, the old woman had spat on the ground before unleashing a torrent of verbal abuse on Ellen. When she was finished saying her peace, the woman had stormed into her house, slamming the door behind her for emphasis.
Ellen was bemused by the strange encounter. Most of the crone's words had been unintelligible, but she was pretty sure that they had not been complimentary. Still, the whole scene had been so surreal that she couldn't wait to tell Jeff about the crazy lady next door.
The incident was quickly forgotten as the couple went about settling into their new surroundings. They faced a few unforeseen challenges, including an infestation of blow flies that had taken up residence in their bedroom. Nevertheless, they loved the house and the neighborhood alike.
Jeff was a fitness buff who routinely jogged every morning shortly after sunrise. It was on one of his many runs that he had his first encounter with the lady who lived on the adjoining property.
He had been stretching in the front yard when he heard someone exit the house next door. Moments later, singing erupted from the porch. Glancing over, he saw a woman who appeared to be well into her nineties staring back at him. On her lap, rested a large ginger cat.
He hadn't attended a church service in years, but recognized the song as a traditional hymn. He was familiar enough with the lyrics to know that they were supposed to be sung with a sense of joy, something that was noticeably absent in this rendition.
In an effort to break the ice, Jeff called out, "Good morning" with as much enthusiasm as he could muster. His words brought a halt to the tuneless warbling. He wasn't sure what happened next. All he knew was that the cat let out a loud screech as the woman threw it into the yard.
As the cat took off running up the street, the elderly woman stretched her arm out towards Jeff, revealing long scratches that he could see were oozing blood. Unable to look away, he watched in silence as she then raised the appendage to her mouth and began licking the wound.
Read More From Exemplore
Amused by Jeff's shocked expression, her eyes curled up and a grin spread across her face. Within seconds, she had burst into peals of laughter that could still be heard even after she retreated indoors.
Although admittedly shaken by the experience, Jeff proceeded with his run. He knew now that Ellen had not been exaggerating when she said that the neighbor was weird.
Given her outlandish behavior, the couple concluded that she was probably suffering from some form of dementia. If that was the case, they knew that she wasn't responsible for her actions. Even so, they decided that the best way to deal with the situation going forward was to avoid her as much as possible. They didn't know it at the time, but that would be easier said than done.
Let the Nightmares Begin
Not long afterwards, Ellen had the first of what would turn out to be dozens of nightmares that centered around the woman next door. Coincidentally or not, it took place on a night when Jeff was working the third shift and she was alone in the house.
In the dream, Ellen heard a knock at the front door. When she answered, she saw the elderly neighbor standing on the stoop holding a lopsided cake in her hands.
The woman who in the past had made no secret of her disdain for Ellen, had been nothing but pleasant on this occasion. She smiled as she proudly presented the dessert, telling Ellen to enjoy every bite. With that, she turned and headed for home.
Puzzled by the interaction, Ellen had closed the door and carried the unexpected show of goodwill into the kitchen where she placed it on the table. Even though she had no desire to eat the confection, which did not look the least bit appetizing, she found herself going to the cupboard to retrieve a plate.
When she turned back around, the cake was gone. In its place lay the body of an orange cat. She could see that the animal was still breathing in spite of the fact that its head was missing. As blood pooled on the floor, the brutalized form had emitted a shriek that instantly jolted Ellen from sleep.
She sat up and turned on the lamp, the grisly image still fresh in her mind. She had never been able to remember her dreams in the past, but she recalled every last detail of this one. It had been so realistic that, had the events not been so outlandish, Ellen would have sworn that they actually occurred.
Over breakfast, she shared the details of the nightmare with Jeff. He agreed that it was bizarre, but convinced her to let it go. It was obviously rooted in her distrust of the neighbor who they both agreed was off her rocker.
Later that morning, as she was checking the mail, Ellen was struck by a putrid odor as soon as she opened the door. Looking around, she saw nothing that would explain the nauseating stench. When she mentioned it to her husband, he said that he had noticed it earlier, but couldn't locate the source.
The smell grew worse over the coming days. The couple searched high and low for its origin, but came up empty-handed time and again. As was to be expected, their nosy neighbor observed their every move, all the while wearing her usual smirk.
It was a week or so after they first became aware of the stink that Ellen made a gruesome discovery. The front and side areas of their yard were lined with small hedge bushes. It was behind one of these shrubs that she found the badly decomposed body of a cat.
Unable to remove the carcass herself, Ellen had asked Jeff to collect the remains and put them in a garbage bag. The body, as it turned out, was so far gone that it was stuck to the ground. Jeff was no shrinking violet, but he had gagged as he removed the remnants with a shovel and deposited them into the sack.
As the macabre scene was unfolding, the neighbor could be heard laughing as if she had a front row seat at a comedy showcase. Jeff and Ellen were aware that she had several cats that roamed freely on their property. They had never mentioned it to her, even though her pets had become somewhat of a nuisance. If this unfortunate animal was one of them, she was not exactly grief-stricken.
The couple were relieved to have found the source of the smell, but the discovery only served to deepen the mystery. They had both previously searched the area behind the bushes on more than one occasion. There had been no sign of a dead cat, or any other animal for that matter. How the remains suddenly turned up in an advanced state of decay defied explanation.
Ellen's recurring dreams intensified in the weeks that followed. Sometimes they were so vivid that she didn't know if she was awake or asleep.
One night, she had just climbed into bed and turned off the lights when she saw a silhouette in the doorway. She couldn't make out any details, but she knew instantly that it wasn't Jeff. It was clear, even in the dim light, that the intruder was a woman.
Ellen tried to switch on the lamp, but found that she was pinned to the bed. Unable to speak or move, she was helpless as the figure approached, leaning over her until their faces were only inches apart. Only then did Ellen recognize that the home invader was her nemesis from next door.
The old woman's features were contorted with rage as she slapped Ellen several times across the face. She then stood up straight and mumbled something to the effect of "You'll never learn," before backing out of the room and disappearing into the darkness.
As soon as the figure was out of sight, Ellen found that her mobility had returned. She was also wide-awake, which made her wonder if she had been so all along. She had no memory of falling asleep which made the ordeal even more frightening.
Night after night, Ellen encountered the neighbor in one guise or another. Sometimes, she would appear as a friendly visitor who would turn violent without warning. On other occasions, she would transform into a demonic-looking creature that would attempt to lead Ellen through a darkened doorway, always using the ruse that Jeff was waiting for her on the other side.
Ellen would sometimes find herself on the brink of giving in when the sound of agonized screams would fill the air. Only then would she break free, running blindly among the shadows until she was once again safe in her bed. She knew, even in her dream state, that if she ever crossed the threshold and entered the room, there would be no coming back.
Jeff had thus far been spared the nightmares that plagued his wife, but he could relate in other ways. On more than one occasion, he was certain that he had seen someone lurking in their house who didn't belong there.
In the instance that would be the straw that broke the camel's back, he had been up late watching a movie in the living room when he caught movement out of the corner of his eye. At first, he assumed that it was Ellen on her way to use the bathroom or grab something from the kitchen.
A little while later, he spied the figure again, only this time it was sitting on the island that separated the living area from the dining room. Illuminated by the television screen, the identity of the watcher was revealed. It was, to his astonishment, their elderly neighbor.
Jeff was on his feet in an instant, intent on confronting the mad woman who had somehow gained entry into their home. When he did so, she lifted her arm and swiped it to the side. Although he had been standing several feet away from her at the time, the action had caused him to fall backwards onto the couch.
As he was regaining his balance, he saw her round the corner that led into the kitchen. Angry beyond words, he followed on her heels. Somehow, despite his having been right behind her, she managed to escape; seemingly into thin air.
Jeff looked everywhere, but could find no trace of the home invader. During the search, he noted that the backdoor was locked from the inside, confirming his suspicion that she was still hiding somewhere in the house.
He woke Ellen and the two of them turned the place upside down only to find that they were the only ones on the premises. Still, Jeff knew what he had seen. The woman they considered to be mentally unhinged had been stalking them under their own roof in what they now believed was not an isolated incident.
At that point, Jeff was tired of playing games. Demented or not, he no longer felt sorry for the lady next door. He knew what he had to do; he would have it out with her first thing in the morning.
Neither Jeff nor Ellen slept well that night in anticipation of the showdown that was coming. Around 8:00 o'clock the next morning, they made their way to the neighbor's house. They had decided that they would warn her, with as much civility as possible, to stay off their property or they would be forced to get the law involved.
Their hearts were racing as they mounted the steps that led to her front door. Their apprehension of someone who was old enough to be their grandmother would have been laughable had it not been for their prior interactions. She was no ordinary elder, of that they were certain.
Jeff rang the doorbell, but no one answered. After trying again with no luck, he knocked with enough force that the people down the street could have heard. Still, they received no response.
In the months that they had lived in the neighborhood, they had never seen the house's sole occupant go anywhere. She had no car or other means of transportation that they knew of. They assumed that her groceries were delivered, even though they had not actually seen anyone come or go from the premises.
Since their efforts were proving futile, the couple decided to abandon their plan for the moment. The matter was, however, far from over. They would simply wait until the next time they saw her on the porch to hash things out. To their surprise, the confrontation they dreaded would never come to pass.
A couple of days later, Ellen saw a truck parked in front of the old woman's house. She recognized the logo as that of a local thrift store. As she watched, several men began hauling boxes out of the residence and loading them onto the truck. Pieces of furniture soon followed.
His curiosity getting the better of him, Jeff joined his wife in her mission to monitor what was going on next door. When he saw a middle-aged woman exit the house and begin collecting an assortment of garden ornaments from the yard, he made his move.
Leaving Ellen behind to observe the proceedings from afar, he approached the woman. He introduced himself to which she replied, "It's so nice to finally meet you Jeff. I'm Helen Burns."*
He recognized the name right away as being that of the lessor from whom they rented their home. Although they had spoken on numerous occasions by phone, this was the first time they had met face-to-face. The two exchanged small talk for a while before Jeff finally got around to asking if something had happened to their neighbor.
Helen told him that the woman, whose name he learned was Gladys Stevens*, had passed away. Since no living relatives could be found, her belongings were being donated to help those in need.
Jeff was floored to learn that the bedraggled woman, who had looked like she didn't have two pennies to rub together, had left behind an estate worth over two hundred thousand dollars. With no family to claim the tidy sum, it would be turned over to the state.
Helen and Jeff gossiped for quite some time about the eccentric Ms. Stevens. It seemed that she had made enemies of the neighbors for as long as anyone could remember. Although they couldn't prove it, more than a few of them claimed that they had it on good authority that she was a lifelong practitioner of the dark arts. Those who had dealt with her in person felt that if this assertion was true, she had used whatever powers she possessed to the detriment of those around her.
The conversation came to an abrupt halt when Jeff began recounting the times he and Ellen had drawn the ire of their standoffish neighbor. Helen was confused, to say the least. She told Jeff that she didn't know who had been harassing them, but it hadn't been Gladys Stevens. She had been dead for going on two years, during which time her estate had been tied up in probate.
The bewildered pair went back and forth trying to determine the identity of the woman Jeff was positive had been living in the house. Helen agreed that his description sounded like Gladys, but it couldn't have been her for obvious reasons.
Suddenly realizing that she could easily settle the misunderstanding, Helen asked Jeff to wait while she retrieved a photograph of Gladys. While she was gone, he motioned for Ellen, who was still acting as a window monitor, to come outside. He met her halfway between the houses to give her a synopsis of his conversation with Helen.
When she returned, Helen was carrying two framed pictures. After briefly being introduced to Ellen, she showed the couple the images of Gladys. They looked at each other in disbelief. The face staring back at them, although younger, was unmistakably that of the woman they had seen more times that they wished to remember; beginning on the day they moved in.
They told Helen that she had watched their comings and goings from her front porch morning, noon and night. They also shared that they had seen her inside their home on at least one occasion.
Helen didn't know what to say. All she could offer was that Gladys' house had been vacant since her passing. As far as she knew, nothing in the residence had been touched since the cleanup that had taken place after the body was removed.
The couple were horrified to learn that the elderly woman's remains had gone undiscovered for several weeks. Her fate was brought to light, purely by chance, after a man walking his dog alerted authorities to an appalling stench emanating from the residence.
After Gladys' place was completely emptied out, renovations on the property got underway. Helen, who had obtained ownership, was overseeing the project. When all was said and done, it too would be added to her long list of rentals.
No further disturbances were noted after all reminders of the previous occupant were hauled away. Jeff and Ellen remained in the neighborhood for nearly a decade afterwards. In all that time, they never again experienced anything out of the ordinary.
The nightmares that had tormented Ellen became a thing of the past. Over time, Gladys Stevens, who had appeared to her as both human and in the form of a terrifying specter, became a distant memory.
Jeff and Ellen eventually moved on, never knowing why they had been targeted by their neighbor, or more specifically, the thing she had become after death. Perhaps, for her, it had all been a game played solely for her amusement.
Above all else, Ellen is thankful that she refused to allow the old woman to coax her into entering the room of misery that haunted her dreams. She is convinced, to this day, that it would have meant the end of her life and the beginning of a nightmare from which she would never awake.
*Names have been altered in order to protect the privacy of the parties involved.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.