The Dormers Are Not Alone: University Dormitory Horror Stories
Urban legends and scary stories are all too common within the halls of the Philippines’ oldest universities. Exam weeks aside, these centuries-old structures are home to more horrors than terror professors.
The University of Santo Tomas and Ateneo de Manila University, in particular, have stood witness to centuries of historic events—from joyous revolutions to bloody wars. This is why it’s no surprise that students at these campuses have seen or felt something–experiences that are still unexplained to this day.
What if you experience a phenomenon so unusual that you never find an explanation for it? What if the place you considered a safe space ended up being the root of all nightmares? Along the stretches of España Boulevard and Katipunan Avenue, a couple of students have shared their own haunting experiences within the dormitories of UST and Ateneo.
The Spirits of Bellarmine and Aerie
While most of the students of Ateneo de Manila University returned to their homes after lockdown began, a few dormers chose to remain. They take their online classes in the university dorms, cram tests here and there, and get to take a stroll around the now-empty streets of the campus that used to be busy with cars and students. But, when nighttime rolls in, these students realize that they might not be as alone as they thought–and maybe staying was not the best idea.
Justin* remembers a couple of instances that have sent chills down his spine just this year. A couple of weeks ago, he went out for a night jog around Bellarmine field, in front of the Church of Gesu. While making his rounds, he noticed a strange sight under the waiting shed in the area–a white, unmoving figure. At first, he ignored it, not thinking much of it, until he noticed that every time he’d pass by it, the figure was still there–doing nothing but standing in place, unmoving. And it never appeared in the daytime.
When he returned to the dorms, he asked a friend who had been jogging that same night if they noticed the mysterious figure standing too. It turns out that they did and everything they saw matched what Justin saw as well.
On late nights when the dormers order takeout from fast-food chains outside, it would be Justin who would bike to the university gate to pick it up. He would pass by this same shed on the way and as always, the white figure would be there, standing eerily still. And despite the pull, he can never bring himself to look up–and look at it in the eye. All the hairs in his body would stick up and he’d start to get nervous as if his body was telling him to not even try it. Eventually, he reached his limit and takes a much longer route now that circles to the other side of the campus to avoid whatever’s waiting at the waiting shed.
Ateneo waiting shed
Mysterious sightings are not new to students who wander near Bellarmine Hall. Not many know that this building used to house students back in the late 1950s until the 60s. As one of the older buildings on the campus, it’s no surprise that urban legends now surround it.
There is one old tale about a girl who couldn’t escape the building’s stairwell no matter how many steps she climbed up or down. According to some storytellers’ accounts posted on the ADMU Freedom Wall, she would find a disfigured religious portrait on every floor, unable to escape it until the next morning. In other versions of the story, the girl did not escape at all and was trapped in the loop forever.
Some students also believe that a specific spot in the building was haunted by an ominously friendly ghost. If you pass by and look at the right side of the third floor, you may sometimes find a girl or a white figure waving at you. You must wave back if this happens, said one student to Vantage Magazine. Because if you don’t, the spirit might appear right in front of you.
Justin says that he and the other students would rather not figure out what the mysterious white figure is. If they leave it alone, maybe what— or whoever it is will leave them be too. And he and his friends clearly have the best plan of action whenever they encounter something unexplainable: by saying “nope,” and getting the hell out of dodge. They’ve clearly watched enough horror movies to know that hunting for answers will only have a bad ending.
After all, they have other things to focus on aside from poltergeists and wandering spirits. A failed class would be more frightening for them anyway.
The Tall, Black Entity of Unit 3017
Dorm life wasn’t new to Paula*. It all started in 2018—her second year living in a university residence along Sampaloc, Manila. Paula, a student of the University of Santo Tomas, lived with dormmates on the said residence’s 15th floor, but it was when she was approaching her first year of college that Paula eventually decided to live alone—a choice that would lead her to Unit 3017.
It was a smaller unit. And it may not have been much, but for a young student finally living on her own, the room at the end of the 30th floor’s hallway felt cozy enough to be made a home. The porcelain ceilings, a mysterious dent on the bathroom door, and the compact space weren’t grand, but it was enough for the young student.
There was no reason for Paula to suspect anything short of the usual. When she asked about the unit’s history, the landlord claimed to be unaware of the origin of some marks and dents left on the unit’s fixtures. However, the longer Paula stayed in Unit 3017, the heavier it felt.
A Terrifying House-Warming
A few days after she finally moved in, she noticed something peculiar, almost as if a routine. Every day, from 9 A.M. to 10 P.M., someone would knock on the unit’s door. Whenever she opened it, there was no one waiting on the other side. At this point, Paula was already having thoughts of her unit being haunted, but she didn’t want to feed into the paranoia of something that felt uncertain.
One weekend, Paula left for Laguna. Her brother, who was working in Manila at the time, decided to spend the night at Unit 3017—it was only then that her brother confirmed her suspicions.
The next morning, he woke up in a cold sweat and quickly realized that the fan had turned off. There was no sign of electricity, and considering the reasonable thing to do, he checked the electrical circuit breakers. What he saw next sent shivers down his spine—all the breakers were shut down.
“Imposibleng mabuksan ‘yung breakers [sa loob ng unit] kasi siya lang mag-isa, naka-lock yung mga pinto, at hindi basta-basta nabubuksan ‘yun. Malapit ‘yung breakers sa entrance.”
A few days later, Paula went back to Manila and met up with a close friend. It was raining hard that night, so they waited for it to settle before going home.
When she arrived at her unit later in the evening, that was when things started to take a terrifying turn.
It Makes Its Presence Known
The whole time Paula was showering, she felt as if someone was watching her. Every time she turned her head back, she was afraid she’d be greeted by the sight of something only nightmares could conjure. She avoided any circumstance that meant closing her eyes for more than three seconds—because, for obvious reasons, we’ve all watched horror movies and we know that never ends well.
Once she finished showering, she proceeded to dry the rest of her body, her long black hair dripping behind her back. Everything else felt colder and heavier, and she knew it wasn’t because of the rain. Paula hung her towel by the bathroom’s drying rack, and that’s when she heard it.
A deep voice, as if breathing heavily down the nape of her neck, exhaled a deep and chilling sigh. Almost as if a whisper, however loud enough to make itself known. Before she could react, her dark, wet, and heavy hair from her back was flicked to the front of her face. She ran straight to her bed, texted her brother what happened, and blasted loud music to distract herself from fear.
It was calm again for a while. However, at around 3 A.M., Paula woke to the spine-chilling sounds of metal, walls, and doors banging near her unit’s door.
After that night, the regular knocking in the morning and the banging on the walls from 3 to 4 A.M. became the usual occurrence. The entity would sometimes toy with Paula, opening and closing her door at random times of the day. Later on, the entity would shake her bed, waking her up. Eventually, the whole 30th floor would hear the noise too.
It came to a point where Paula needed a friend to accompany her to Unit 3017 so that she could shower in peace. One afternoon, while her friend waited outside the bathroom door, all of a sudden, the bottles on her shower rack began to shake uncontrollably. After that incident, she resorted to bathing by the kitchen sink for weeks.
“I was so afraid to use my own bathroom, like something was constantly waiting to pounce. It felt inhumane.”
As if the poor student hadn’t experienced enough, Paula’s phone began to malfunction, sometimes randomly calling friends at the dead of night–FaceTime-ing with her contacts, only Paula wasn’t on the other end of the call.
“Nagising ako nang 4 a.m., nagfa-FaceTime ‘yung friend ko. Sabi ko ang weird, kaya ‘di ko sinagot kasi alanganing oras. Nagising ako uli kasi nagfa-FaceTime nanaman. 6 a.m., nagtext na ako, ‘Bakit ka nagco-call?’, chineck niya call history niya… hindi niya alam na tinatawagan niya ako that time kasi ka-call niya girlfriend niya. Nage-error lang repeatedly on his end.”
There were also times that Paula’s account would send random messages to her friends at uncertain times, usually between 3 a.m. to 5 a.m.
Paula: The thumbs-up sticker. I didn’t send that. That’s weird, my account also sent another message like that to my friend, at around 3:30 a.m or something.
To comfort Paula, her friend would sometimes sleep at Unit 3017. He shares that in some instances, the lights would repeatedly flicker on and off despite having no maintenance issues in the building. Hearing about her troubles, Paula was given a holy statue (santo) by her family for ‘safety.’ She placed it securely on top of her drawer. When Paula and her friends decided to stay at her unit during the free period, the statue plummeted to the ground, having its head broken off.
Take It With a Grain of Salt
Later in the year, Paula could no longer ignore the spirit and decided she’d had enough. She sought help from her grandma who gave her a Saint Benedict Medallion that was blessed for protection, and a special kind of salt that she then poured around her condo. A few minutes later, when she turned away, the pure white salt turned black.
Then at around 3 A.M., Paula woke with a cold shiver. With her eyes half-open, through her peripheral vision, a tall, dark figure stood at the foot of her bed, still as a rock–quiet, breathing, watching her sleep. Tired as she was because of the finals week stress, she dozed off anyway, as if her subconscious was protecting her from the fright.
After that encounter, Paula curiously no longer had any unusual experiences in Unit 3017. In 2019, she was finally able to move to a different floor and unit in the same tower, and everything was back to normal.
Or so I thought.
At the end of the interview, Paula told me of a frightening truth –it was only then I found out that the entity had a habit of following her friends and anyone else she tells the story to. I won’t go into details, but writing this article, I had to learn that revelation the hard way.
“Pag pinaguusapan siya, nagpaparamdam.”
*Not their real name.