My obsession with all things ghostly and paranormal is well known (and frequently the source of eye rolls) among my nearest and dearest. So it was little surprise that I was so enamored with the story of the cursed Crying Boy painting, which Mamamia covered late last year.
To summarise the tale, in the 1980s, there was a spate of house fires in England. Among the ashes, fire fighters would find the Crying Boy painting, unharmed by the flames. These mysterious fires happened often enough that firefighters refused to have the paintings in their own homes, and a media frenzy followed.
The painting – or rather paintings – of crying boys, mostly created by artist Giovanni Bragolin, were popular in the day and many homes had some version of one. It came to be believed that the Crying Boy was inherently cursed, and anyone who owned one was in danger of perishing in the flames the haunted paintings could conjure.
Naturally, I immediately checked to see if it was possible to buy the painting these days. I easily found one on eBay, among listings for haunted dolls and other paranormal objects. I posted the link on social media along with the eerie tale of the Boy, and forgot about it.
Fast forward two weeks. I had been working alone in the (haunted) Mamamia office over the Christmas break, and, having just flipped off the computer and made my way towards the door, I saw it. A giant package with a note attached, sitting on the other side of a meeting room's glass door.
I noticed the metre-high parcel because the note had my name on it, ominously scrawled in spidery, serial killer handwriting. It read: "Because there's only one way to find out." I knew then what it was: The Crying Boy.
My wonderful and clearly bonkers friend Louise had gone and bloody bought it from eBay for me - and hand delivered it to my office. "Frankly," she said later, "I didn't want it in my house".
I tore the package open with the fanatical joy of a kid at Christmas.
The painting itself was gorgeous. A beautiful artwork with depth and shading making it look all too real. This isn't that scary, I thought. But the discomfort started nagging at me then and there, even in the bright sun of a summer afternoon. The painting was creepy, but of course an old image of a crying child was creepy, right?
I carried the thing home, propped it against my old art deco mirror, and there it stood. I stopped using scented candles, just in case, but otherwise it seemed harmless.
For two weeks, nothing happened. It was just an old painting, one of several I own, standing around, waiting to be hung. "It's not doing anything!" I bemoaned to my co-worker, Keryn. "Isn't that... good?" she asked, "Seeing as what it does is burn your house down?"
Listen: Psychic Medium Deb Malone speaks to Mia Freedman about the afterlife, how to spot a spirit, and her work with the Police. Post continues below.
It took another week before anything odd occurred. It started small. I walked past the painting to turn my living room lights out and I felt... something. Like I wasn't exactly alone. I turned the light back on. I glared at the Boy. The light was hitting him in such a way that he looked so oddly three dimensional. Real. I turned the light off, and sprinted to bed.
The feeling only got worse over the following week. Now, I am an anxious person. And I do believe in things we cannot explain. However I have never felt ill at ease in my apartment, ever. It's an old 1920s nurses quarters for what used to be a maternity hospital across the road. It should be haunted as heck, but it's always been a sanctuary to me.
Until the Boy moved in. Every night, I would avoid looking at him as I turned off the lights. The feeling of a presence in the room grew and grew, as if it was literally growing in size. It felt ominous, oppressive. Sometimes his expression looked different. Sadder, more searching, or worse... angrier.
I hated having my back turned to him. I felt I was being watched. I felt like he was taking over the apartment.
My kitchen is attached to the living room and one night, as I was scrubbing out a pot, I heard my name ring out across the room. Right there, bouncing off the walls and floorboards, loud as anything. I just... stood there, terrified.
I glanced at the Boy. He looked the same - mournful, tears running down his cheeks. But maybe just a touch more... sinister. No no no, I told myself, you're freaking yourself out. The window is open, and the noise probably came from the street. It just sounded like your name. Stop it.
Regardless, I started hating being in the living room altogether. I couldn't even look down the dark hallway towards him. Then one night I did, and instantly regretted it.
Standing in the door of my bedroom, down I stared, into the dark, telling myself there was nothing there. And I can't explain what happened next. I saw the Boy - the painting was hung above the couch. It was in vivid colour, and everything else around it pitch black.
But the painting wasn't hung on the wall. It was still propped against the mirror on the floor.
I saw it for only a split second before the wall space above the couch was empty again. I desperately convinced myself I had imagined it. I had the Boy on the brain. But it was weird, and the thing had to go, I decided, jumping into the safety of my bed.
I pulled up my covers and was plotting how I would rid myself of this curse when my blind flew up - completely snapped and rolled all the way up so violently that the cord wound round the rail three times over. I lay there looking at the street lights illuminating the window, frozen. Holy s*it.
"How's the painting?" Louise asked me that week. "It's creeping me out," I admitted. "Leave it on the street," she offered immediately. I wondered if I should.
Then I looked it up - apparently, throwing the Boy out only makes the curse worse. Those who have tossed it are plagued with bad fortune. Many opt instead to hide it in a cupboard, turned around so the Boy can't see them, or in the garage, next to a fire extinguisher.
I've decided to stash him in our building's storage space, which happens to share a wall with my bedroom. For now, he's still at the house. If he figures out what I'm doing, I wonder if I will have a home to go back to.