Updated: Nov 20, 2020
I like cats. I follow an Instagram account that belongs to two cats: @Moosaphandsaf. Cats are nice. Cats are not evil…
Let’s go back to the summer of 2003. It was hot and dusty in Fresno, California. The air was dry, and yet my clothes stuck to my skin all the hours of the day. My family lived in a small two-bedroom apartment; there were ten of us. The apartment complex only had six units, and we lived in unit #4 that year. It was an ugly, faded blue (sometimes green) and run-down building that sat behind a long parking lot. The appliances inside the apartment were constantly breaking, there was always a pest or rodent problem, and it was located in an unsafe neighborhood. To say I didn’t like the apartment building is an understatement, but I really disliked walking alone outside of the wobbling, chain-link fence. That useless, old fence could never keep anything or anyone in or out. As kids, we’d play with the torn side of the fence, sliding our tiny bodies through it as though it was a fun way to run around the property; it wasn’t, I had ripped many pieces of clothing and got scabs from that fence. That summer, like all seasons of the year, the lights outside the apartment units were broken, all except for the grimy lamp posted outside of unit 2.
I had made plans with my friend, Mai, one Saturday night for a movie date at the theater. We weren’t old enough to legally purchase alcohol, so it was movie nights for us. We were going to catch the last showing of The Exorcism of Emily Rose, it aired at midnight. It was a great idea at the time; less people meant less movie talkers.
We went to the theater, got our tickets, and found the screening room. There was a couple sitting in the far back and one other person sitting in the front seats near the entryway. Perfect. We got the middle row all to ourselves. The movie was really good, and it was based on a true story, which made it all the more terrifying. The one thing that stuck with me after the credits rolled was the haunting events that took place at 3:00 a.m.
I was speechless with the images of the film still replaying in my head as Mai drove me back home to the run-down apartments. I briefly glanced at the time on the stereo; 2:50 a.m. The fence was wide open. What was the point of a fence if it was left open most days and nights? Mai drove her parent’s gray truck into the parking lot, and the headlights shone onto the walkway of the apartment building.
“Can you wait for me to get inside my apartment before leaving?” I asked Mai.
“Oh, sure,” replied Mai. Her flip phone rang, vibrating in the tray below the stereo.
“Thanks, I’m still scared from the movie.”
“I already forgot about the movie.” Mai picked up the call. “Hi, babe, I’m almost home.”
I got out of the car and leaned back into the truck to thank her. “Thanks for taking me out.”
“Yep! It was fun!” said Mai, with the phone at her ear.
She waved back at me without a word. I could hear her boyfriend’s voice on the line, sharp and muffled like a voice on an old radio in the background. I shut the passenger door of the truck and walked up the short, cement ramp walkway that led to apartment unit 1. The headlights suddenly turned away. I looked behind and saw Mai driving off. I wasn’t even at the first apartment. I thought she said she’d wait until I got inside my apartment. It took less than a minute for Mai to leave the property, and then I found myself standing in the pitch-black night. Well, there was that one light at unit 2.
A small child stood underneath the light, off to the right side a little. It was a girl in a black dress with long hair. I couldn’t see her face, and I couldn’t see much of anything in the dark. She stood still, looking like a shadow, but she was a solid figure. I felt relieved that the neighbors were still awake. I was feeling less afraid of the dark as I approached unit 1, then I looked around and saw that no one else was outside. It’s strange that a child is outside on their own at this hour. The little girl appeared only slightly higher than my knees. That’s an unusually small child. I don’t remember a girl of this size belonging to any of the neighbors. There was fear slowly creeping into my thoughts. My palms grew sweaty and tingling all the way to my fingertips. Unit 2 was coming up on my path; it was only 6 or 5 feet away. The little girl remained stiff as though she was frozen, and she was watching me. Her head was slightly tilted up toward me.
I finally reached her, standing only two feet away. It was not a little girl. It was a black cat, and it was standing on its two back legs. How did it look like a little girl before? The cat stared at me and I stared back, then the midnight creature walked away to my right, still on two legs for a few steps before going down to all fours like a normal cat. I didn’t stop to see where it went. I raced past unit 3 and went straight for unit 4. I pounded at the door and the windows.
My eldest nephew, Xiong, peeked through the curtains. “Auntie?”
“Open the door,” I said, panicking on the inside.
He quickly opened the front door and I rushed inside.
“How was the movie?” asked Xiong.
“Scary.” I locked the door and followed him into the bedroom. I went to the bed that I shared with my youngest nephew, who was 3-years old at the time. Everyone else was sleeping in the room.
Moments later, I woke up to the noise of shouting from the next room; it was my brother-in-law. Our bedroom door was open and there was a small, round clock hanging on the wall facing us. It was only 2:59 a.m. My youngest nephew suddenly sat up without making a sound, and he stared at our feet.
“What is it?” I asked him.
He said nothing. He just stared at the end of our bed.
I gently laid his head back on the pillow. “Go back to sleep.”
My brother-in-law was still shouting from the other room. I got up and walked over the short and narrow hall, which took less than a minute to reach his bedroom. I knocked on the door. “Are you okay?” My sister was out of town on a business trip.
He opened the door. “I’m fine.”
“I was attacked,” he said, followed by a few swear words.
“You were attacked?” I peeked into the room. There was no one else there.
“That damn thing better not come back!” He said angrily, looking over his shoulder.
I didn’t see anyone behind him. “I’m going back to bed.” I headed back to my room with the kids.
Loud yelling woke me up again. I looked at the clock; it’s 3:01 a.m. Have I only fallen asleep for a minute? My little nephew jolted awake and went straight to a sitting position, staring at the foot of our bed, again.
“What’s wrong?” I asked with a calm tone, trying not to scare him.
He pointed at the end of the bed, but he had a strange look like he was not fully awake. The expression on his face was odd as well, with a hint of fright, but he didn’t speak a word to me.
I hugged him. “I think you had a bad dream,” I told him, laying him back down to sleep. “Don’t be scared.”
Meanwhile, my brother-in-law was shouting angry words in the next room. I went to check up on him, and whispered, “What happened?” I didn’t want to wake the rest of the family.
“It attacked me again!” He was furious. “Come out! Don’t wait till I’m sleeping! Come out now!” He walked to the kitchen and flipped on the light.
I didn’t know what he’s referring to, but I had a good idea by this point. “Stop shouting. And stop calling it to come out. If it’s gone, let it go.”
“No, it’s not gone. It’ll come back when I’m sleeping.”
“How is it attacking you?”
“It pulled my leg, sat on me and choked me.” He yelled to the side, “Come out!” He had turned on all the lights in the apartment, except for the kids' room. “Where are you? Come out!” He grabbed the broom and marched back to the doorway of his bedroom. He started sweeping the doorway and chanting underneath his breath.
“What are you doing?”
“Sweeping my doorway so it can’t come back.”
“Oh.” Does that really work? “Can you sweep our doorway too?”
He went to the kids' bedroom and swept the doorway, saying his chant again.
I headed back to bed, feeling a little optimistic about sleep. I shut my eyes and fell into a deep slumber, or so it seemed. Clacking and tapping noises woke me up. It was coming from the kitchen. I glanced at the ticking clock; 3:03 a.m. I was scared, but I had to find out what was happening. I crept into the kitchen and saw my brother-in-law on his hands and knees digging in the crack between the refrigerator and the sink counter. Thank goodness it was just him and not something worse that my mind had imagined.
“What are you doing?” I asked, startling him.
He flipped around and saw me standing a short distance away. “It’s a dead mouse. I heard the trap snap.”
“Okay. Why are you doing this now?”
“It came back and attacked me again. I can’t sleep anymore.”
“What is it?” I had to know.
“A bad spirit. Like a dead person.”
“A dead person can attack us?”
“It’s difficult to explain. You won’t understand. It’s more than just a spirit of the dead.” He reached for the fly swatter and used the wire end to dig around in the crack. He went on and on talking about the dead that come back to torment the living. Towards the end of his explanation, I heard the words old woman, little girl, shapeshifter, and cat.
Then it dawned on me, I may not understand all of it or what was haunting our apartment, but I couldn’t help the unsettling feeling of maybe having met the thing outside the building earlier that night.
Art by Bao Xiong