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I Think About This Real-Life Scary Story From Reddit—and Its Vital Lesson—Every Day

I’ve told so many people about this real-life scary story from Reddit that it felt like time to resurface it for the spooky season. Hardly a day goes by that I don’t think about this post and its outcome. Unlike many freaky tales, it has a happy ending and an important safety lesson, so I consider it pretty wholesome, too. Knowing about what happened here could even save your life or the lives of others. Come gather ’round, kids, for an unsettling story that has become something of an Internet legend in its time.

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It began as a seemingly mundane (though disquieting) query on the subreddit r/legaladvice. This is a forum to ask basic legal questions and get legal concepts explained, by what I imagine are extremely bored and/or extremely altruistic types who enjoy a good conundrum involving the law. Reddit user u/RBradbury1920 wanted to know if any legal recourse was available to them due to several bizarre events they had experienced in their apartment. Over the course of weeks, they found mysterious scrawled messages on post-it notes in their living space, written in handwriting not their own. When they set up a webcam to try and catch the culprit, it appeared that someone else then used their computer and deleted the webcam files.

Throughout the post, the redditor’s confusion is palpable, and I know if this had been me, living alone, I would have been absolutely terrified. Not only does it sound like someone is breaking into the apartment and leaving strange notes, but on top of that, there are hints of a deeper conspiracy involving, perhaps, the landlord—who definitely had access to the redditor’s apartment. This is like the most frightening elements of The Watcher and The X-Files combined. There are few concepts as outright horrifying to me as a dedicated, obsessive, and evidently disturbed home invader. No thank you.

Here’s the original story as RBradbury1920 outlined their experience:

On the 15th of April I found a yellow post-it note in a handwriting that wasn’t mine on my desk reminding me of some errands I had to do, but told literally nobody about. While odd, I chalked it up to something I did in my sleep, thinking maybe in my half-awake state I scrawled it so it didn’t appear to be my handwriting. I threw it out and thought little of it.

On the 19th, I found another post it note on the back of my desk chair, in the same handwriting as the previous note, telling me to make sure I “saved my documents”. I was freaked out, but there were no other signs of a break-in, so I set up a web-cam in my house aimed at my desk and used a security-cam app for it to record after detecting movement.

On the 28th, I woke up to find another post-it note, this one saying, “Our landlord isn’t letting me talk to you, but it’s important we do.” I immediately checked the webcam’s folder on my computer and found nothing from the night before, but my computer’s recycling bin had been emptied, which I am certain I did not do recently, indicating someone had noticed the webcam and deleted the files. (They were just saved straight to a folder on my desktop called “Webcam”.

Today, on the 1st of May, I found another post it note, this time on the outside of my door, with nothing written on it– and there also appeared to be post-its on many other doors in my apartment complex, all blank, in varying colors.

Do I have any legal recourse here? I have no proof except for the post-its, but those are written by my pen and on my post-it notes, so conceivably I could have faked them. Would contacting the police get me into any trouble, if they can’t determine an outside source for this? I just want to make sure I’m not wasting anyone’s time.

Should I consult my landlord? Those also living in the complex?

EDIT: I pulled up a letter I received from my landlord back when I moved in, and the handwriting is identical. Could this count as evidence?

Now, if it were a friend of mine relaying this story, I would have immediately told them to get the hell out of the apartment and figure out next steps from a safe location. Right? I’m pretty sure this would be a near-universal reaction. It’s kind of incredible that RBradbury1920 just kept keeping on as long as they did without calling an authority or running screaming into the night. Luckily for this redditor, however, someone was reading r/legaladvice who had a lot more practical experience and insight into what might actually be going on here.

Instead of jumping to horror movie or other sinister conclusions, redditor r/Kakkerlak replied to the thread with some serious wisdom and advice. “You seem sincere and this doesn’t appear to be the plot of a Ray Bradbury short story,” Kakkerlak wrote back, in a nod to RBradbury1920’s username and the famed author of a fair amount of unsettling literature. “It’s possible that your landlord is leaving notes inside your apartment, but they don’t make any sense in the context you’re describing them. It’s likely that you are writing the notes yourself, but you are forgetting.”

Kakkerlak goes on to suggest that it’s possible that the original poster is experiencing some sort of mental health issue, perhaps a dissociative disorder. Then they bring up the possibility that it could also be a physical problem—a change in experience and memory induced by leaking carbon monoxide. They approach these options with both compassion and logical reasoning:

You mentioned that you have a very unusual narrow bedroom with no windows; is there a chance that you are not getting enough ventilation when you sleep, or that there is a carbon monoxide leak in the building ? A cheap CO detector (which you should have anyway) is a fast way to find out. You’ll also have really bad headaches.

You know your own medical and mental history and your other experiences. If you think these incidents might be you, writing notes to yourself, there’s no shame in getting somebody qualified to give you an opinion.

This appeared to be an approach that the original poster hadn’t considered, but it sure was a vital one. “I have had really bad headaches…” RBradbury1920 replied. “And I actually already do have a CO detector, guess I should probably take that out of it’s box and plug it in.” The verdict? In another thread update, RBradbury1920 confirmed that they had tested their space for carbon monoxide with a detector and there was indeed a leak present.

Thanks to everyone who sent suggestions and gave advice on how to proceeded– especially to those who recommended a CO detector… because when I plugged one in in the bedroom, it read at 100ppm.

TL;DR: I had CO poisoning and thought my landlord was stalking me.

Carbon monoxide is measured in ppm (parts per million), and according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, the redditor was exposed to some dangerous levels. “As CO levels increase and remain above 70 ppm, symptoms become more noticeable and can include headache, fatigue and nausea,” the CPSC writes. At levels from 150 to 200 ppm, “disorientation, unconsciousness, and death are possible.” Among the list of symptoms for carbon monoxide poisoning they list “mental confusion,” which is definitely part of what the redditor went through here. It might surprise you to learn that some people with carbon monoxide poisoning experience some seriously weird stuff, with many of their stories sounding like something straight out of a gothic novel. In fact, it’s likely that quite a few experiences of being “haunted” or encountering paranormal phenomena in history could have stemmed from carbon monoxide poisoning.

In 2017, NPR interviewed journalist and podcaster Carrie Poppy, who went through a bone-chilling bout of feeling like she was being haunted, when she was really being slowly poisoned by carbon monoxide. What’s so scary, as well as fascinating, about the effects this can have on people is that they feel extremely real. You cannot convince someone that they’re not being watched or not hearing ghostly sounds whoosh by when they are experiencing exactly this from their perspective. While RBradbury1920 seemed to have no recollection of what they were doing in their disoriented state when they wrote and left those post-it notes, Poppy was very much present. She just had no idea what was happening to her on the physical level, or why:

POPPY: Well, at first it wasn’t physical. It was just, you know, the feeling of being stared at, so to speak. But then it started to grow into a physical feeling. So I felt a pressure on my chest. I started to get auditory hallucinations.

RAZ: What were you hearing?

POPPY: I would hear this like whoosh (ph) like as if something was passing by me – maybe the sound of the ocean, you might say. And, yeah, and then just this this disquieting feeling that something was there.

Poppy told her story in a TED talk, and back over on reddit, Kakkerlak, the user who suggested carbon monoxide might be the notes-leaving culprit, updated his post to say that WBUR Boston Public Radio had made an entire podcast episode about the now-infamous thread. You can listen to the episode, “Something Wicked,” which names Kakkerlak as an engineer who was drawing from his own experience with deadly carbon monoxide and some clever sleuthing into the original poster’s past posts:

…there was a post where they were asking in an interior design subreddit about how to fit a desk and a bed into a really, really narrow apartment that they were moving into, that didn’t have any windows,” he said. “… That got me thinking. Gosh, an apartment in Boston, with no windows. Of course they’re hallucinating. Their landlord is not coming in and writing notes. But why are they hallucinating?”

Now you know—if you didn’t know before—that carbon monoxide poisoning can manifest in some very bizarre and spooky ways. People have experienced feelings of demons, ghosts, and, yes, inexplicable, mysterious post-it notes appearing. I cannot count the number of times I think about the Reddit story and tell it to others. I love how invested strangers on the Internet solved a frightening mystery and quite possibly saved someone’s life. It also introduced me to scientific explanations behind some of the paranormal phenomena that people experience. Most pressingly, it got me to buy and turn on a carbon monoxide detector. After reading this, I hope you’ll be similarly inspired—and that you’ll keep an open, science-tuned mind the next time you hear a fantastical real-life tale.

(via reddit, image: cottonbro on pexels)

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Kaila Hale-Stern
Kaila Hale-Stern (she/her) is a content director, editor, and writer who has been working in digital media for more than fifteen years. She started at TMS in 2016. She loves to write about TV—especially science fiction, fantasy, and mystery shows—and movies, with an emphasis on Marvel. Talk to her about fandom, queer representation, and Captain Kirk. Kaila has written for io9, Gizmodo, New York Magazine, The Awl, Wired, Cosmopolitan, and once published a Harlequin novel you'll never find.