In the spirit of Halloween, I thought I’d share a story with you all. It’s a true story that took place about ten years ago, when I still lived in Los Angeles. You read about haunted house challenges all the time, but this was kind of a real one.
I have been pet sitting for over 20 years. I have stayed in everything from tiny apartments in Koreatown to mega mansions and celebrity homes in Beverly Hills, and in the past few years I’ve pet sat in London homes built hundreds of years ago. I’m not easily spooked and no home has ever given me the creeps or scared me.
Except Bela Lugosi’s house. Yes, that Bela Lugosi, the guy that terrified movie goers as Count Dracula in 1931’s Dracula.
The home is beautiful (in the day time) and is situated in the Hollywood Hills. It was built in 1935 and was designed by architect Charles E. Toberman. Lugosi lived there with his wife Lillian and their large dogs, and enjoyed hiking up to the Hollywood sign on a regular basis. The house itself is reported to be made of “all steel” and was designed to be fire and earthquake proof. Lugosi was the first owner of the mansion and set about putting his mark on it (i.e. CREEPY). It was accented with numerous gargoyles and unusual statues and art work.
Though Bela moved on to other LA homes, including long term stays at the Ambassador Hotel and the Hollywood Athletic Club, his Hollywood Hills home retained his unique mark – at least it still did when I stayed there.
When I got the call to pet sit in the home I was very excited. I’ve always loved old Hollywood films and history and I was getting the chance to live in it for two weeks! Who wouldn’t be excited?
On my first visit I met the young couple who had just purchased the house and their dog, a Labrador whom we’ll call Lucy. The couple had only been in the home for a week or so and had to go to Europe for business. The main house was undergoing an intense renovation so I would be staying in the guest house. I was disappointed at not staying in the main house … until I walked inside. The atmosphere in the house was off somehow, oppressive.
As the owner showed me around the house (I’m not sure why, since I wouldn’t be staying in the main house) she pointed out details. I lost count of the number of gargoyles and the panic room located in the master bedroom gave me the creeps. Apparently the previous owner was a bit paranoid and thought that someone was out to murder him.
Outside, the grounds were manicured and the pool and pool house were amazing. As I gazed around I noticed what looked like dog kennels on top of the steep hill behind the house and I commented that it was an odd spot for dog kennels. The owner replied, ‘Oh those aren’t for dogs. The original owner kept panthers as pets.’
Bela Lugosi kept panthers as pets, because of course he did.
It was a dark and stormy night when I went to start the pet sitting. Ok, ok, it wasn’t storming, but it was dark. Mainly because it was night time. The place was deserted because the owners had left an hour or so before and all of the workmen renovating the house had left for the day. When I opened the door to the guest house the dog shot out and ran to the gate anxious, I thought, to go for a walk.
After a long walk through the Hills, I took a shower and relaxed with the dog, who still seemed nervous. Well, some dogs are just nervous and I thought Lucy must be one of them. She stayed at my feet, shivering as I petted her and tried to reassure her. Sometime around midnight I got hungry and decided to get a snack.
Now here’s the kicker. While the guest house had power, air conditioning, cable TV and a bathroom, there was no kitchen. Not even a mini fridge. The main house had no power due to the renovation but it had an extension cord running from the guest house to the refrigerator in the main house kitchen. The food that I’d brought with me had been placed in the fridge when I first arrived so if I wanted a snack I’d have to go in the creepy house. By myself. In the dark.
I considered taking the dog with me but decided against it because it was a work site and there may be nails or sharp things on the floor. Besides, Lucy was a chicken. So I armed myself with a flashlight and headed over to the main house.
Once again, the house felt oppressive when I walked in. I gave myself a pep talk as I walked down a long hallway, the floorboards creaking ominously. I turned a corner and nearly had a heart attack. A gargoyle leered at me from the wall but for a moment my brain had told me it was a real monster. Laughing at myself I turned and nearly had another heart attack.
Who the hell needs so many gargoyles??
I continued on and at the last minute remembered that there was a big hole in the floor, just before the kitchen door. The hole was covered with plywood, but I doubted that it would hold my weight. As I started to edge around it I thought I heard a noise behind me. I went totally still, heart pounding.
Have you ever seen the Conjuring movies? There’s a bit in one of them where a little girl that’s possessed by a demon backs up into the dark, and as she does her eyes reflect the light in a way that no human eye is meant to do. As I turned to look behind me, my flashlight reflected off of eyes just. Like. That.
As I stood frozen in terror, the eyes darted towards me and hot breath touched my legs, followed by the slimy tongue of some unholy creature licking my knee before it took it’s first bite. I screamed bloody murder. The kind of high pitched screech that shatters glass two blocks away. I have never in my life, before or since, screamed like that.
I then did the logical thing and hit the deck, curled into a ball, and awaited my bloody fate. Again I felt the breath, this time on my cheek. Again I felt the slimy tongue. I could hear myself whimpering and knew that this was the end.
Then I could hear something else whimpering. Why would a monster that was about to eat me be whimpering? So I cracked open an eyelid and peeked through the fingers I had covering my face.
The dog had somehow opened the door of the guest house and followed me to the main house. I let out the breath that I’d been holding and tried to chuckle. And then I heard the creaking of foot steps from the floor above me. Both Lucy and I stared up at the ceiling for a moment and then I jumped to my feet and picked up the 60lb dog like she weighed nothing and I ran faster than I’ve ever run in my life.
I didn’t stop until Lucy and I were back in the guest house with the door locked and bolted and a chair jammed under the doorknob. Then the dog and I did what every grown person would do under the circumstances: we hid under the covers. As we huddled there together and my breathing slowed to normal I was able to justify everything. It was a dark and unfamiliar house. The gargoyles did nothing for the atmosphere. It was an old house and old houses always creak and moan.
After a while I drifted off to sleep, Lucy safe in my arms. But I was awakened later in the night. At 3 am to be exact (I swear to you, I’m not joking about this), unsure of what had woke me. And then I heard it.
A panther screaming.
Now there are no panthers running around Los Angeles. Cougars, yes. But no panthers. I’ve heard panthers scream before, when I visited my grandmother in the mountains of Virginia as a child. Panthers sound like a woman screaming and not at all like a cougar. The sound went on, off and on, for the rest of the night. It moved too, sometimes it sounded like it was on the hill. And sometimes it sounded like it was right outside the door. Lucy and I spent the rest of the night huddled under the covers, shivering in fear.
The next morning, once the workmen had arrived, I packed my bags in my car and loaded up Lucy’s food, toys and bed. I called the owners once I’d made it back to my apartment and explained that one of my cats had gotten sick and that Lucy and I would be staying there until they returned from Europe. My cats were not amused but Lucy and I were happy to be there. Lucy, as it turned out, wasn’t a nervous dog at all. We had a great two weeks taking long walks and hanging out at my place. She didn’t get nervous again until I dropped her off at home a few weeks later. As I drove away I could see Lucy, with her face pressed against a window, looking at me as if to say, ‘Don’t leave me!!!’
I never pet sat in that house again. Any time they called me I had them bring the dog to me. I’ve never had an experience like that again, but what did I expect?
It was Bela Lugosi’s house after all.
Sidney Fraser is an American transplanted to a new life in London, where she explores fannish and geeky places, events and creations, which she relates in the continuing True and Proper Adventures of Sidney Fraser.