Thursday, December 20, 2012

Uncle Pete’s House of Leaves

On a rural road in the town I grew up in, a road tucked between a major shopping center and a highway, a road that somehow managed to evade the imperialism of the dollar, sits a house.

I did not know of this house until this year, even though I probably drove past it a handful of times in my past. One of the people we met because of our series, a young man named Andrew Rogers, would eventually be the reason we were there. He was a few years younger than us and we had become frequent correspondences (and even friends) over social media, due to his interest in the Monolith. He initially did not realize we were even from New Jersey until our park videos became too familiar and tipped him off. Now, a year or two later, he is good friends with us, notably the younger brothers of the group, Daniel and Alex, and is a welcome addition to our petty crimes and trespassing. But I am getting ahead of myself. Let us go back to one of our first misadventures.

He was a student at our old high school and was taking the production classes that our Vinny had taken during our time there. He and Vin had talked and he had asked if we had wanted to help. He had to make some sort of short film and told us that he wanted to make it paranormal / horror / whatever you typically classify our material as. We were more than excited and willing to help, so we did just that. Daniel and Vin picked me up and I could tell they were looking forward to seeing the location. I had never heard of the place, but they smiled like schmucks when I asked them if it was worth it. I was sold.
We drove onto the property of this old farmhouse surrounded by shaggy cornfields and dying land; beyond that, forests. A handful of large trees shaded the property and it was a beautiful day in late summer / early autumn. For once in our travels, we seemed to have the “okay” to actually be there – dozens of little paper markers were posted on the trees and even on the front of the building, claiming that this was county property and free to hike, photograph, and enjoy… although the exact wording escapes me presently. Now, maybe going into the house was off limits, but we will ignore that detail for now.
The house itself was your typical American farmhouse. In its vacancy, it was boarded up and painted entirely yellow. It had a small addition on the back, which was also almost sealed up, but that seemed to be the de facto point of entry, considering one boarded window was blown out. We had an entire half-acre or so of space behind the house to plot what we were doing. Andrew Rogers and his friend, a partner in the assignment, originally had some sort of idea for a Doctor Who inspired story involving memory altering creatures and marking yourself when you see it in order to keep track of your encounters. But, as we kept spit-balling and swapping ideas, we decided to make it a “two groups of travelers come upon each other in an odd location,” and we inadvertently became a part of the project ourselves.
We had three or four different cameras running almost simultaneously and shot about half of what Andrew Rogers and his team needed. But, per our luck, all progress was halted once a police vehicle drove up onto the grass and around the house to our location. Andrew Rogers and his friend were inside the house and it was just Vinny and I in the field, standing with our cameras. The car drove up, and inside were two officers, who never left the vehicle. They rolled down the windows and gave us the typical “what are you doing here” – you know, no big deal. We told them we were working on a video project and this is where things rapidly went down hill. They asked what we did, where we went to school, etc., and Vin made the mistake of saying that he was studying psychology. Because the officer in the passenger seat apparently was not a fan.
We tried explaining that we were not causing any fuss and just shooting videos. Vin and this police officer were literally arguing the semantics of the word “photography” and the officer denied the existence of the notice signs, of which he drove past a dozen. The other officer was just looking out his window and bearing his teeth, stifling laughter. They were just screwing with us, but screwing over Andrew Rogers’ project (oh, yes, did I mention that was a thing? Whenever we are addressing Andrew Rogers, we call Andrew Rogers by his full name). The guys inside the house must have heard the commotion and ducked away from the window, because they never revealed themselves. This was probably for the better.
After the police officer called Vinny “Freud” about ten-or-so times, they told us to get out of there. We offered to walk them to the signs, but they did not want to get out of the car, so we had to leave. They pulled away and we gave the other guys the rundown, and left, disappointed. But, the story does not end there.
On our initial visit, before the incident involving the police, Andrew Rogers and Friend gave us a walk through of the house. We had rudimentary flash lights and cell phone illumination as our guide and we recorded most of it, although the quality was poor. There was absolutely no light on the interior of the house. It was an awesome little relic of local history, again, your typical farmhouse, and you could tell it was a bit aged, due to how low the ceilings seemed. For some reason, I believe it had to do with their original plot for their short film, they had an authentic-looking katana sword with them, complete with decorated sheath. When they heard Vinny and I talking to the cops, they hid the sword in an upstairs room, just to safeguard against “weapons” being tacked on to any potential fine or arrest.
So, with the project being only halfway complete, through text messages and other digital communication we mapped out how we would continue filming, while the others had actually contacted some representative from Mercer County. The email correspondence basically established that they have no obligation over us when we are on the grounds (basically, if we break our ankles, we cannot sue them) and that the property was, in fact, free to use as it was temporarily incorporated into the park system since no commercial buyers had yet manifested. We were in the clear. We wrote the rest of the tentative script and scheduled another meeting.
The second and last trip there was a bit chillier and felt a lot more like an autumn excursion. We completed the introductory shots of walking up on foot and were preparing in the backyard to finish what we needed in the house. Andrew Rogers and I decided that we were going to go sweep the house for other visitors, grab the katana-prop and return to the yard. But, as I entered the messy back storage room (through the only open entrance) I basically stopped in my tracks. The interior of the house, only a wall away from us, seemed a lot more illuminated. It was in an orange hue, so I initially assumed it was the sunlight bleeding in through the boards on the opposite wall. That was not the case at all.
As we crept into the center (and largest) room, our hearts sank: square in the center of the ceiling, a lone light bulb shone bright. The house seemed completely devoid of electricity last time and now there was a current streaming through house. Andrew Rogers and I were dead silent and then broke into a hysterical and excited audible brainstorming and grasp for explanations. The rest of the house was empty, but imagine the paranoia we felt after such a discovery. Someone had been here, between our visits, over the last week, and they managed to turn on the lights.

We finished what we needed and headed to a local Dunkin Donuts after to record one last scene and celebrate the completion of the project. Andrew Rogers later told me that the group fell apart back at school (oh, humanity, your pettiness never ceases to amaze me…) and no solid video was ever produced. We now have all of the combined footage and I promised to, at some point, attempt to salvage it. Seems unlikely, but I can at least get some screenshots together from our adventure. Maybe even string together a short video of some of the highlights of the exploration.

Andrew Rogers has taken a few friends back to the property since and, with remorse, has told me that someone has further boarded up the house and removed all of the “free to play” signs around the property. I suppose the neighbors were tired of visitors and complained publicly, somewhere. Oh, well. Due to the uncanny nature of the short experience, the house instantly reminded us of the group favorite, House of Leaves – and the geographical area involved may or may not involve the proper noun in our namesake. Thus, the story of the project, the area, the fields, the incident with the police, and the house itself, has taken on the name, “Uncle Pete’s House of Leaves,” and that’s that. 

More photographs from the trips:

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