This is the scariest story I know.

Bethany was my childhood best friend’s college roommate. I was visiting my BFF at her college during her freshman year and stayed with them in their room. One night, we started talking about things that, as children, seemed normal, but in retrospect, were different than we originally interpreted. For example, BFF talked about how she had only just realized that, when people’s power went out, not everyone then immediately got water from the creek to flush their toilets. That kind of thing. And Bethany says, “Yeah, when I was little, my family moved out of our house in the middle of the night and never went back. And only when I was older did I realize people didn’t do that kind of thing!”

She did NOT suggest that this was a ghost story at all, just a weird thing that had happened to her. And I can’t convey this clearly enough: I’m about to tell the story more effectively than she did. (I’ve told it a LOT since then.) She didn’t have good timing, and her tone was casual. She didn’t build it up as a frightening thing, just a weird thing that had happened in her childhood. She shrugged a lot when she told the story.

So Bethany starts to explain that, as a child, her family moved around a lot because of her dad’s job. They lived in lots of poorly kept rentals. Her parents also had a very unhappy marriage. Shortly before they finally divorced, her family moved into the nicest, largest place they ever lived in, but it was in the country and very remote. I think she said it was in the Florida panhandle, but I’m not 100%.

“It was a weird house,” Bethany told us. “We didn’t like it.” Weird how? “Sometimes we would see faces in the walls. And sometimes the walls would bleed.”

Apparently lots of other more traditional haunted-house-type-things happened there too: objects moving, strange sounds, doors and windows opening and closing. She told us that whenever her younger sister was in the living room, she would start screaming and saying, “Mommy, stop burning me! Mommy, why are you burning me!” even if her mom was nowhere near by. But what was especially strange about this was that her sister never actually called their mom “Mommy”—only “Mama.” The only time she ever said “Mommy” was in the living room when she screamed about getting burned.

According to Bethany, they didn’t like the house from the time they arrived there, but the longer they stayed, the less they liked it. They only had one car, so her mom and the two girls could only leave the house to get groceries and go to church when their dad wasn’t on the road for work. And the more her parents fought, the more frequently he was gone. The more he was gone, the worse things got with the house. Bethany told us that, little by little, her family just started moving out of different rooms in the house. Whatever was happening in them was too intense that they would just close the door to that room and stop using it.

Her parents had one last huge blowup. Her dad, furious, leaves with the car. They expect him to come back the next day, sobered up, but he doesn’t. And days pass. By this time, Bethany and her mom and sister were really only living in the kitchen and one upstairs bedroom. In the closed off rooms, they kept hearing things though: voices, doors and windows slamming, objects breaking.

Finally one night Bethany and her mom and sister are all together in the upstairs bedroom in one bed and they can hear noises all through the house: voices arguing together, screams, things smashing. It keeps getting louder and louder until finally they hear a new noise. It’s something pounding on the front door downstairs. The pounding continues until finally they hear the door being broken down, glass breaking, wood splintering.

They hear footsteps pounding up the stairs.

Then the bedroom door swings open and there’s a man there from the church that they’ve only visited a few times. He says, “Get whatever you need to get and let’s go.” They gather up the things in that room and the kitchen in suitcases and trashbags, throw them in this man’s truck—all without discussing it with him—and get the hell out of there.

Back at his house, the man explains that he woke up in the middle of the night and knew that he needed to find them and bring them to his house. Woke up his wife to tell her this, and she didn’t question it: she also felt like this was something that needed to happen, even though they’d only met Bethany’s family a few times. (I should also say that they belonged to a denomination that was not into supernatural stuff the way some others are; this was not a miracle-believing, Satan-rebuking kind of church.)

When the man got to Bethany’s house, he could hear everything happening inside: at first he thought it was her parents fighting, but then he could tell that somehow it was happening throughout the whole house all at once. He KNEW he needed to get inside, that her family was in danger. He was so convinced of this that, when he found that the door was bolted, he broke it down to get inside.

Bethany’s mom hadn’t bolted the door. The door didn’t even have a bolt.

And they never went back. At least, Bethany and her sister and mom never did. Her dad might have eventually gotten furniture and stuff out, but they never went there again. In telling it, at this point Bethany shrugged again and was like, “Yep, it was weird! But I didn’t really think about it much at the time. As a kid, you just think everything that happens to you is pretty normal!” BFF and I were shocked. We tried to ask Bethany more details about things—What did the faces in the walls look like? etc.—but she didn’t want to seem to talk about it much more and we were too rattled to press for more.

Bethany’s now a stay-at-home-parent with a couple of kids, married to a database admin, and lives in the suburbs of a mid-sized Midwestern city.

I only know her current whereabouts because of BFF, who’s still in touch with her. A few years ago, I asked about Bethany and BFF caught me up. Then I said, “Remember that story Bethany told us about the house they left?” And she was like, “Yes I do, and I don’t want to talk about it.” And we never have.