As soon as I remembered why the house felt familiar, I immediately wanted to forget.
December 23rd 2014. Two days before Christmas. Married into a sprawling family -- with six children under the age of four, divorced in-laws, partners, siblings and a set of twins -- it’s always made sense to retreat from our respective sides of Australia to a rented house in the country. Especially in this heat. So each year someone is chosen to organize a neutral place for to stay during the Christmas holidays.
2013’s house was light and airy. A blistering sun filtered through multiple windows, yet the space felt cool. At the center, a grand staircase, linking to various different bedrooms including a sprawling kitchen/living space. There was no colour scheme, only an overwhelming sense of white. Everything looked large and clean. We pranced around the house like buffoons when we first arrived. How did we manage to get this place? We’re gonna live like Kings. On more than one occasion we bumbled through the Fresh Prince of Bel Air rap.
2014’s house was a different. A completely different proposition. We had a swimming pool. Great. We had a tennis court. Perfect, almost everyone in our family enjoys playing Tennis. There was space outside for the kids to burn off energy, and room to rest bodies burdened with cake and several kilograms of roast beef.
And at the centre of it all, a house unlike any I’d ever visited.
The builder in our family was initially confused. “It’s like two separate houses glued together,” he said. It didn’t really make sense according to his sensibilities. 2013’s house felt open, welcome and spacious. 2013’s house was of a similar size but somehow managed to feel claustrophobic and strange. The colours were darker. Light struggled to penetrate the walls and windows, which seemed content to remain shut and obstructed with flyscreens that forever seemed torn. It was the kind of space that housed grainy VHS tapes and books with frayed spines and pages turned yellow. A house that hid its size expertly, a house that seemed to grow and shrink as you explored it.
Connecting every room: a skinny corridor that stretched towards darkness.
On either side, paintings that appeared to morph and shift the longer I stared. Doors that wouldn’t close. Doors that were difficult to open. A series of locked cupboards labeled ‘private’. A telephone that may or may not have been connected. Tiles that click clacked with shoes or trundled with scooters. A space one moved through quickly at night.
It took me three days to figure out why that corridor felt so unsettling. On Boxing Day, around 10.30pm. My two year old son was crying in a room located halfway up the hall. It was dark. It was cold. Soft sobs echoed down the corridor. I had been here before.
It felt exactly like P.T..
It felt exactly like that bizarre, banal loop made terrifying. The sobs of a child behind a door you couldn’t open. The aged familiarity steeped in domesticity. A history you couldn’t quite grasp. Who had lived here previously? How many families had slept in those beds, lived in these rooms, stomped up and down these corridors? Why were those cupboards locked?
I rushed -- not running – to the bedroom; opened the door – lodged shut at first, I had to pull hard. The door stuck then gave way. My nerves were shredded. My son sat a bolt upright shadow in the corner of the room. Completely silent now, but quietly, unmistakably awake. Every corner of the room was an enemy. In this context -- in this light -- even my own flesh and blood was a terrifying object to be feared.
I never felt comfortable in that corridor again. I never found the courage to walk the hall at night without flicking a switch. In darkness the corridor had no end. In the absence of light it felt as though it stretched towards something inhuman. Like I could walk in some hellish loop until death.
P.T.. That bloody P.T..
It’s a game that’ll never leave me. It’s the first thing I think of when my mind decides to play tricks on me. When whipped into a fearful state even a harmless corridor appears devilish. P.T. has that property, the unspeakable property all great horror experiences have: the power to reinvent familiar objects as gargoyles. It is the monster underneath the beds we sleep in.
Only one thing is more powerful than fear of the unknown and that is fear of the familiar. P.T.’s trick is its ability to make our own home feel like a prison. I first played P.T. in my own house, in darkness. I wandered upstairs to sleep and saw cockroaches darting across every vertical surface, ghosts in every mirror.
An experience like P.T. is a powerful one. It lives in the spaces we occupy. It follows us wherever we go.