When you’re brought up in a household suffocating in secrets, you learn to keep the silence. Or maybe the silence keeps you. You might not learn the difference until it’s almost too late.
My grandmother constantly warned my brothers and me never to speak about anything we witnessed in our home. She always delivered this warning in the trembling, fragile voice of a plea.
It didn’t matter who I talked to ― family friends, other kids, people I’d see once in my life and then never again ― I was constantly worried that the forbidden details of my home life might slip out between my carefully picked words, and then what? How could I explain to anyone why I had to escort my father through the house after dark, or why my grandmother flew into a series of panic-fueled prayers if she ever found a picture frame slanted on the wall? Especially because, at the time, I didn’t even know myself.
These weren’t topics for casual discussion. They weren’t topics for family discussion, either. I couldn’t explain what I was never told. I just knew that something was very wrong in our home.
My family and I lived in Rancho Cucamonga, a sun-drenched suburb in Southern California. From the outside, our house was like so many others in the neighborhood. Inside, things were much, much different.
Odd, smooth patches blotched the stucco-textured walls like faded wounds, some bearing the faint impressions of triangular shapes that had been scratched into the plaster. The second floor was completely off-limits. Annexed by the permanent shadow at the height of the staircase, no one ever ventured up there.
My parents and grandmother never discussed these oddities. And as bizarre as they were, the strangest sight of all was the unexplained behavior of my family. At sunset, Dad would creep through the halls like a trespasser. After dark, he wouldn’t leave my parents’ bedroom unless Mom or one of us kids escorted him. Grandma gave a panicked once-over to every room she entered, no matter the time of day. If so much as a knick-knack was out of place, she would completely lose it.
If my brothers or I questioned any of it, Mom would tell us everything was fine ― the same words we’d often overhear her whispering to our father and grandmother. If that were true, then what were they frightened of? I didn’t know.
Dad attributed his peculiarities to a perpetual case of nerves stemming from his poor health. Grandma offered no rationale to excuse herself. Her demands for secrecy and her bouts of terror echoed throughout my childhood years, eventually drowning out Mom’s reassurances and overriding my cautious wonder. It wasn’t necessary for me to understand my grandmother’s fear for me to become infected with it. I soon carried it with me wherever I went.
At first, the only refuge I found against this undefined dread was in the silence Grandma begged me to keep. And I figured that if silence was safety, then solitude may be my salvation. So hiding away in the house became an increasingly attractive option. I had all the companionship I needed in my brothers, so why take chances braving the outside world?
My mother clearly didn’t agree. She constantly sought out social activities to involve us in, from art classes to karate, anything to get us out and around other people. Her efforts were commendable but ran contrary to my own. My goal was to sneak through life, mute and unnoticed ― that way, no one would ever know about my strange family.
This strategy worked until college. By then, I had matured from a timid girl into a reserved young woman, woefully unprepared for the new setting I was thrust into. Participation and communication were obviously not my strong suits, but I knew I would have to make an effort if I wanted to succeed academically. The campus was teeming with confident students, and I told myself I had to be more like them ― I wanted to be more like them.
But I just couldn’t. Away from my brothers and my few childhood friends, I realized how isolated my life had been and still was. If this was a preview of where I was heading, I knew I was destined for a lonely future.
My father died suddenly in 2012, only a few years after my grandmother passed in 2009. A month later, I found my mother cleaning out the bedroom closet. She was sitting on the bed, which was mostly covered with photographs. I assumed she was reviewing the happy memories from her life with my father, but when I looked at the photographs, I didn’t understand what I was seeing.
Every photograph was strange ― some horrifying: a knife thrust into a picture of my grandmother on the wall; a group of bizarre shapes scratched into a door; bright words written on a mirror that read, “Lee die.”
I flinched when I saw my grandmother’s name.
“What is all this?” I asked.
“I can’t believe your father kept any of these,” she replied instead of offering a direct answer. “He and your grandmother were afraid to talk about it. I wasn’t, but they thought we’d bring it back if we did.”
My gaze shifted to a photo of a sprawling white shape. Drawn in some sort of powder on a brown rug, it had a windswept, spectral look. It was a triangle ― the cryptic motif I’d seen in the house so many times over the years ― with an S-styled tail extending from the base.
“You’re going to have a hard time believing what I want to tell you,” my mom continued. “Maybe I shouldn’t. You and your brothers have come along this far without knowing. But something horrible happened to us a long time ago. It’s up to you if you want to hear it.”
I took my place at the end of the bed, ready to listen.
“There was something with us for a long time,” she continued. “Some people told us it was a ghost or a demon. We only knew it as ‘the entity.’”
“We were haunted?” I asked, bewildered.
“We were terrorized.”
And so my mother’s account began. She explained that In 1987, three years before I was born, an unknown presence invaded our home. It revealed itself with two words, written on the bathroom mirror: “No escape.”
She claimed that inexplicable acts of destruction and incomprehensible phenomena soon consumed my family. The photographs showcased the daily damages levied against our house, with symbols gouged into walls and whole rooms tossed into disarray.
And there was more writing. Other photographs depicted single words or whole lines of communication scrawled over glass. Demands, insults, threats ― every message conveyed a chilling, human intelligence.
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing and seeing. It was just too fantastical ― literally like something out of a horror movie. But my mom told me the story calmly and clearly, as though she was telling me about any other part of her life. Like it was something that had ... just happened.
After finding no logical explanation for what was occurring, my mother said that our family consulted anyone professing any kind of spiritual expertise. Among the deluge of self-proclaimed magicians and local lightworkers, the leading paranormal experts of the day broke through the tide to offer occasional hope.
It seemed everyone from Dr. Evelyn Paglini to Ed and Lorraine Warren, now famous from the “Conjuring” films based on their work, had an opinion as to what the entity was. My mom said that Lorraine Warren believed it was one of the most ancient, evil and powerful demons she’d ever encountered, but, demon or not, no one knew why the entity had targeted my family.
My mom said that our family kept the entity’s presence secret. Other than the “professionals” who tried to help us, they told no one what was happening. My mom explained that at first, my grandmother insisted they stay quiet because other people would think they were crazy, but she later confessed that she feared the entity was punishment from God for the sins of her father, who had been a hitman for one of the Cosa Nostra families of Southern California.
As my mom continued, the story became stranger and even more sinister. According to her, the entity itself eventually announced its purpose, writing that my grandmother “belonged” to it. It alleged she had been promised in a past life, and it had come to collect its dues.
The entity’s attacks against my grandmother were vicious and inescapable. My mom said that it destroyed her personal possessions, planted knives in her furniture, chased her out of the upstairs bedroom she’d been sleeping in and continuously invented new ways to antagonize her.
I asked why we didn’t just move, and she said that moving wasn’t an option ― apparently, they tried to leave, but the entity followed my family members wherever they went. It reminded them of its existence by drawing symbols on hotel windows and causing other havoc if they decamped somewhere else in hopes of escaping its wrath. Wary of being put in compromised situations in public, she said our only recourse was to endure it alone in the house.
My mom said it seemed impossible that the haunting would ever end, and the way she claimed it eventually did was its own unbelievable story.
During her investigation of our home in 1989, Dr. Paglini informed my mother that she believed that for the entity to be so entrenched in our lives, a family member was giving it permission to remain. Years after Dr. Paglini’s visit, my mother discovered my grandfather, whom I had never known, wiping away conversations he was having with the entity from the bathroom mirror.
Shockingly, my mother told me that my grandfather was urging the entity to kill my grandmother so that he would gain control of their finances ― including access to the large inheritance my grandmother’s parents had left her.
Confronted with his grand betrayal, my grandmother demanded that he leave the house and our lives. My grandfather eventually moved out of the state, and we never saw him again. My mom said that although she and my grandmother were relieved to see him go, my dad was traumatized by this turn of events and horrified by the man his own father revealed himself to be.
“But that wasn’t enough,” Mom explained. “Even with your grandfather gone, no one could force the entity out. We couldn’t go on like that. You kids were getting older ― old enough to start asking questions ― and we didn’t want you to be affected by what was happening. So I finally took matters into my own hands and told the entity to leave.”
“And it listened?” I asked, somewhat incredulously.
“Yes. It wrote that it wanted to stay, but I told it again it had to leave.”
The entity reluctantly complied, but it wouldn’t go alone. My mother revealed that a paranormal researcher had been living with us to study the entity. He told her that he believed the entity had the power to change his life and begged it to go with him. When the researcher departed in 1992, the paranormal activity in our house immediately ceased. The last message the entity ever wrote was, “Goodbye, my family.”
I didn’t know what to make of any of this. How could any of it be real? It was all too much. Still, I knew that even if I couldn’t immediately believe these stories, I believed in my mom. I just needed time to digest her shocking revelation and make sense of the haunting on my terms.
I was open-minded about the paranormal, a quality I had inherited from my mom, who never shied away from any subject of the supernatural, but I wasn’t sure I actually thought any of it was real. If spirits and demons were somewhere out there, I never knew them to be in our home or our lives. Could that have been because the entity had left before I was old enough to remember it?
Yet as I continued to examine the events of the supposed haunting, the parallels between my family’s unspoken past and my childhood memories stood out as boldly as the white triangle I had seen blazed into our dark carpet.
Even though the entity had left, my dad and grandmother continued to live in fear ― terrified that it could return at any moment. I remember Dad and Grandma creeping through the halls with their eyes pried wide open by dread, always on guard. I recalled the bizarre damages that had been patched up all around the house. I relived the terror that rolled through our home whenever Grandma discovered anything out of place, and I was muted by her constant begging for silence.
It was all there, every homebound mystery of my youth, eerily mirrored between Mom’s memories and mine. It was the closest I’d ever been to understanding why my family lived the way they lived ― and why I grew up the way I did.
Once I put all of the pieces together, I believed that something extraordinary had been happening all of those years. Despite my rational mind telling me these things simply couldn’t have happened, my experience and the things my mother told and showed me eventually led me to accept them as true.
I finally had a reason ― however shocking and hard to grasp ― for why my dad and grandma had behaved so strangely for most of my life. I finally knew the source of their terror and the dark inspiration for the silence and dread that plagued them ― and me ― my entire childhood.
Some people may think that I believed my mother’s account because I was desperate to find an explanation for my upbringing ― that the haunting allowed me to recontextualize my experiences and imbue them with meaning where there was none. I can’t account for how other people feel about my or our story. Once I saw my past superimposed over this secret that had been kept from me for so many years, so many things finally made sense, and I now believe in our haunted history as well.
Some people have asked me if I felt betrayed by my parents and grandmother for not telling me the truth all those years ago, but I don’t. I understand that they were simply trying to protect my brothers and me ― to keep us safe from questioning every shadow we saw in the house or fearing that an attack might transpire at any moment.
Once my brothers and I finally knew the truth, Mom asked us how we’d feel about sharing our story with others. We all decided we didn’t have to remain silent any longer.
Soon after, Mom invited our closest family friends to our house to reveal the events that had transpired years ago. She enraptured them with tales of her interactions with the entity during the six years it was in our house. She revealed how it communicated with our family and the unreal things it did.
The haunting was still very new to me. As I heard the stories again, more memories returned and more pieces continued to fall into place for me.
Despite my belief in my mother’s story ― which had become my story ― I still wasn’t prepared for our friends to ask me what it was like to grow up in a haunted house. There was a second of hesitation, then my voice broke free.
For the first time in my life, words flowed effortlessly as I recounted my experiences growing up in a house that was once haunted and being in a family that still was. I felt an unfamiliar rush of exhilaration. When I looked at my mom as animated and eager as I ever saw her, I knew she felt it, too. This was the thrill of being free from secrets.
Our friends received our accounts with startled amazement and genuine fascination, and this encouraging reception motivated my mom to tell more and more people. She began to speak publicly and gave interviews on radio shows and podcasts about what had occurred. Her determination inspired me to follow suit. I began discussing the haunting with newspapers, local paranormal investigators and researchers online, hopeful that every new opportunity might bring more light to those dark years. It wasn’t easy, especially since I lived so much of my life silent and afraid of any attention. But the more I told the story, the more incredible I realized our story was ― and the more I wanted people to believe us. Still, I wasn’t sure anyone would.
“You can’t worry about changing anyone’s mind,” Mom told me. “That’s not what’s most important. I just want others to be aware of what happened.”
Since we’ve begun this endeavor, most of the people who’ve reached out to us directly have been supportive. Some identified as survivors of paranormal experiences who wanted us to know we weren’t alone in what we went through. Others simply wanted us to tell us that they believed.
Still, I realize that many of the people reading this will doubt us. There are already those who claim the entity was a hoax ― a fabrication my family concocted to cash in on the ever-rising mainstream interest in the paranormal.
I was born after the haunting had started, but it ended before I was old enough to know what was happening. I have no recollection of the entity or the chaos it plunged our lives into, but I lived in that house of silence and secrecy. I grew up in a family that had been warped by fear. I felt the shadow of the past fall over us again and again. I truly believe something terrible once reigned over our home.
What I don’t believe is that you can invent the fear that haunted my father and grandmother until their dying days, or feign the courage my mother mustered when she first decided to reveal the haunting to the world.
Coming forward with our experiences hasn’t earned us wealth or legions of admirers. Far from it. We’ve stepped into the firing line of skeptics and disbelievers, and their shots are endless. We’ve been insulted. We’ve been called liars and frauds. We’ve been told we’ve perfected the art of the long con.
None of it is fun. None of it has made us rich. And in the end, none of that matters. We’ll persevere, just like my family did years ago. We have faith in our story, and we’ll keep telling it. That’s the most important part of this for me: that we believe.
That belief has granted me the clarity I’ve sought after years of solemnly accepting circumstances I couldn’t comprehend. I questioned why I grew up the way I did, and now I have answers. I understand my family, their trials and the decisions they made, and I’ve realized how those choices affected me. And finally, after all of it ― the silence and the ignorance, the discovery and the belief ― I’ve found my voice. My family’s history ― scars and all ― belongs to me too. At long last, I can speak for it.
Jessica Moffitt is a writer and illustrator living in Rancho Cucamonga, California. She received her B.S. in psychology from California State University, San Bernardino, and has recently finished her first novel based on her family’s paranormal experiences.