This story originally appeared in Oscurità: A Dark Anthology.
The following document was discovered, frayed and dog-eared, in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet in the basement of Hackney Borough Council during a routine audit. Two sets of faded blueprints were attached to it, along with a stack of Polaroid photographs. Sadly, these photographs have degraded to the point where they are little more than black and yellow smudges.
Although the file is in the correct format and numbered in exactly the same way as an official council document, no-one in the building recognises it.
Case 179 – 06/06/2010
Architecture and the supernatural are two topics that are closely intertwined. One cannot witness a paranormal event without a location, and whilst Mother Nature has provided us with a host of suitably scary settings, it is the hand of man that has created some of our more ‘spooky’ locales. From the heavy stone of Scotland’s Glamis Castle, to the myriad rooms of the Winchester Mystery House in California, alleged haunted buildings come in all shapes and sizes.
As do their respective hauntings.
Indeed, there even exists a theory known as ‘place memory’, a term coined by the parapsychologist Edmund Gurney in 1890. This theory attempts to explain hauntings as emotional energy being recorded by the environment and replayed back under the right conditions. Gurney used his idea to explain why certain locations have a feeling of almost tangible dread associated with them, as if the walls themselves are full of secrets, secrets they are willing to share, but only under the right circumstances.
But it is not a ‘traditional’ haunting, one of blue ladies and headless carriage drivers that I wish to share with you today, but an incident I consider to be far more unusual, an incident with far reaching consequences that continue to affect one family, even to this day.
An incident that took place in the neighbourhood of Bernal Heights, San Francisco, in the late 1990s.
Paul and Gareth Jones are identical twins in every sense of the word. Not only do they look alike, their mannerisms, body language, even the very cadence of their voices are so similar, I suspect even their parents must struggle to tell them apart.
I have worked with twins before, but I must admit I found conversing with both Paul and Gareth at the same time a little unnerving. I first spoke with them in a small yet surprisingly expensive restaurant in the downtown area of San Francisco, where the three of us shared breakfast. After this initial meeting, I decided to meet with them separately, if only for the sake of my own sanity. I interviewed them in the same location, one after the other, over the following two days. Due to the similarity of their testimonies and in the interests of brevity, I will treat their accounts as one from this point onwards.
This is their story.
“We moved here from Washington in ’95, ’96 maybe. Dad was a programmer of some sort. He started out in construction but he was smart enough to see what was coming. He went to night school and retrained, then got in on the ground floor with one of the bigger dot-com companies, just as they were taking off.
“I think we’d have been about five years old then. I remember the move. In fact, it’s probably my earliest clear memory; packing up the old house, and then leaving in the morning. It was still dark, and we were in the family car, this big old brown hatchback we used to own.
“Mom hated that car. She used to call it ‘the shit-mobile’ when she thought we weren’t listening.
“I remember my brother and I on the backseat, all squished up amongst boxes and garbage bags full of clothes. I can still smell the plastic and cardboard now.
“The drive took all day and into the night. I don’t recall arriving at our new house. Mom said that Dad carried her over the threshold then came back for us, putting one of us on each shoulder.
“I do remember waking up in the morning in this strange bedroom. We hadn’t had time to put up the curtains yet, and the sunlight was streaming in through the window. There were these little specks of dust floating through the sunbeams. I don’t know why, but that image has always stuck in my head.
“The room was big. Big but bare, apart from a bed each for me and my brother and stacks of boxes yet to be unpacked. I remember thinking how quiet it was. Our old house was in the city, and you could always hear traffic going by. But here, here I could hear birds tweeting in the trees outside.”
Both brothers recounted the move to San Francisco in similar terms, and then proceeded to describe the house at length.
Two reception rooms and a kitchen downstairs, a basement below, and two bedrooms upstairs.
A simple layout, at least for the most part.
The twins continue:
“Okay, this is going to sound a little weird, but there was this ‘other’ room that my brother and I would sometimes play in.
“It was on another floor, above our bedroom. You had to climb this tiny little winding staircase to get to it. Inside the room was this big circular window, with a strange pattern on it. Kinda like spokes on a wheel. It split the glass into these little sections, and half the sections were coloured red. When the sunlight came through the window, which it always seemed to do when we were in there, it would cast these little pink patterns across the floor and walls. It was beautiful.
“We used to call it the Rose Room.
“It’s strange. I can picture it now but it’s not clear. It’s like when you wake up from a dream and the images start to fade. You try and hold on to them, but they’re always just out of reach. And the harder you try to grab them, the more they slip through your fingers. I think there were toys in there. Yeah, I’m sure there was. There must’ve been, as we’d spend hours up in that room, my brother and I.
“But you know what the really weird thing was? That room wasn’t always there. I mean, I remember it being there, but sometimes we could get to it, and sometimes we couldn’t. Like we couldn’t find the staircase, I guess. Even though the house wasn’t that big, it was like we’d lost the knowledge to get there. But then we’d remember it again a few days, even weeks later.
“Does that make sense?”
False memories are a psychological phenomenon where a person recalls something that did not happen, or happened differently to actual reality. Whilst it is strange that both the brothers should recall this ‘Rose Room’ in exactly the same way, they are identical twins, so it is not a stretch to conclude that the physiological make-up of their brains may have led them both to have false memories of the same experience. It also likely that the one boy may have supported the other’s incorrect memory, each adding to the other’s confabulation, building up a kind of narrative to support the idea as it blossomed between them.
I must add at this point that I did not believe there to be any deception taking place. Both of the Jones brothers seem acutely convinced that this ‘Rose Room’ existed.
I also spoke with the boy’s mother, Ms Jean Jones (their father was unable or unwilling to speak to me). She recalls her sons mentioning the Rose Room on occasion over the years, but back then she dismissed it, believing it to be no more than a product of their ‘active imaginations’, as she puts it. She did recall the pair seeming to spend entire afternoons shut away in their bedroom, and making very little noise, but at the time she was grateful for the peace.
She never encountered the room herself, nor did her husband.
So far, so mundane.
This delusion, if it were such a thing, seemed harmless. However, in the spring of 1998, some three years later, something far more unsettling occurred.
Owing to the boy’s deep relationship with one another, not uncommon in twins, the pair initially struggled to make friends at school. Indeed, their second grade teacher, one Ms Fairholme, recalls the boys as being viewed as ‘outsiders’, but that they seemed happy in each other’s company.
However, they did make friends with one other pupil: a young boy by the name of Vincent Tan.
Vincent Tan, Vinny to his parents, was the son of Vietnamese immigrants. A shy yet precocious boy, he too struggled to make friends at school and was also viewed as an outsider. He did seem to connect with the Jones twins though, and the three became inseparable. Ms Fairholme tells me that the trio became known amongst the staff as ‘the Three Musketeers’.
According to Ms Fairholme, Vincent had quite a unique quirk. He owned a small toy, a little stuffed bear with a red hat that he would always keep in his top pocket, like a rather charming pocket square.
Vincent was rarely seen without this bear.
Social convention being what it is, it was only a matter of time before the three boys began playing together outside of school. According to Ms Jones, the young Vincent would often spend hours with her boys playing in the park across the street from their home on sunny weekends and evenings, and would often stay for dinner.
It rarely rains in San Francisco, but on occasion the heavens deem fit to open and unleash the proverbial ‘cats and dogs’.
Saturday the 18th of April 1998 was one such occasion.
The following is Ms Jones’s account.
“It was a horrible day, throwing down hammer handles from sun-up. Vinny came around on his bike wanting to go exploring with the boys. I told them they could when the rain stopped. I didn’t want them catching their deaths out there.”
She pauses to wipe away a tear before continuing.
“All three of them went upstairs to play in the boy’s room.
“I hadn’t heard a peep out of them all afternoon, so when I called them down for dinner the thundering of little feet down the stairs was pretty loud.
“The twins appeared, but there was no sign of Vinny. I asked my boys where their friend was. ‘Up in the Rose Room’, they replied. I figured maybe he’d gone to the bathroom or something.
“But when he didn’t come down after ten minutes, I began to get a little worried. All the boys would say was ‘he’s playing in the Rose Room, he’s playing in the Rose Room’.
“I went upstairs looking for Vinny, dragging the boys with me. There was no sign of him, and the twins were in tears by that point. I kept asking them where this ‘Rose Room’ was. They’d mentioned it before but I just assumed it was some place they’d dreamt up.
“I ended up driving around the streets looking for Vinny. I gave up after a few hours and called his parents, sobbing.
“They called the police.”
Police records reveal that both twins and their parents were taken into custody. Agents from the FBI stepped in, and Mr and Mrs Jones were questioned at length, as were the boys.
Whilst they were being interviewed, a forensics team performed a thorough search of the Jones home.
No sign of Vincent Tan was ever found. To this day, he remains missing, his fate unknown.
The FBI report contains no mention of any room with a circular window.
Suspicion lingered around the Jones family and they were shunned by the neighbourhood. This, combined with the bursting of the dot-com bubble, led the family to sell the house and move back to Washington.
Mr Jones returned to the construction industry.
A few days ago I paid a visit to the San Francisco Heritage Archive and requested a copy of the blueprints for the Jones’ former house. I was given two copies: one dated 1850, when the house was first built, and a second dated 1910, showing the house as it stands now, having been extensively renovated after the earthquake of 1905. The first set of blueprints details an extra floor on the house. This floor had a room with a large rose window facing out on to the street, a room accessed by a small, winding staircase.
Some physicists speculate on the possibility of the multiverse; a hypothetical group of multiple universes. According to the theory of quantum mechanics, which describes the world in terms of probabilities rather than definite outcomes, all possible results of an event occur, each one in their own ‘daughter universe’.
For example, say you come to a fork in the road. The present universe would give rise to two daughter universes, one in which you go left and in the other you go right. In each universe there will be a version of you witnessing one event or the other, thinking – incorrectly – that your reality is the only reality.
Bearing all this in mind, is it possible that certain ‘weak points’ exist, places where the walls between dimensions are tissue thin? Did the Jones twins inadvertently stumble across one of these ‘weak points’, and were they somehow able to cross over into an alternate reality? And did their friend, the young Vincent, inadvertently get caught there?
Whatever occurred, the Jones twins claim that they never again saw the small staircase that led up to the mysterious Rose Room.
In the interests of full disclosure, I did not speak to the Tan family about their son’s disappearance. I thought it inappropriate to appear at their door and drag up the bones of the past.
There is a curious epilogue to all this. I visited the Jones’ former house yesterday, if only to familiarise myself with the scene of this bizarre disappearance. The couple that reside there now were most accommodating and allowed me to take a look around the building. I could find no sign of the small staircase or the Rose Room.
But the new owners did share one interesting fact with me. About a week ago they found something in the centre of their guest room, the room that once belonged to the Jones twins, and a room they only enter from time to time.
It was a small stuffed bear wearing a red hat.
The couple have no kids of their own, nor have any children stayed over since they moved in.
If alternate dimensions exist, and those dimensions are accessible from this one, I pray that young Vincent Tan is alive and well in at least one of them.
There is a signature at the bottom of this document. Unfortunately, it is faded to the point of illegibility. The identity of the author is a mystery.
For the record, Hackney Borough Council does not investigate alleged ‘paranormal’ events, especially ones that apparently occurred thousands of miles away and on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean.