A New Haunted House Told Me In A Threatening Phone Call Not To Write This
I have been instructed not to write this article via a threatening phone call that came yesterday afternoon. However, this story does not begin this week, but much earlier. I was approached by a PR firm, as I often am, about their client earlier this week. This particular client is known as The Tension Experience. It was described as "the most exciting, terrifying nerve-wracking and shocking thriller you'll ever be a part of." The email compared The Tension Experience to haunts, escape rooms and immersive theater—three things I have written about extensively. The performance is to take place in Boyle Heights, where it will have a six-month run at a venue that will apparently take over an entire city block, despite being indoors. The show will also last two hours, and each person will have a unique experience. One might say this is shaping up to be Los Angeles' Sleep No More, though it clearly aims to imbue more horror than a modern retelling of MacBeth. This particular show is called "Ascension." Tickets are on sale now.
The Tension Experience's narrative seems to revolve around a mysterious entity called The OOA Institute that appears to be some kind of cult. This cult is very interested in bringing people to the light, which is a very cult-y thing to say. This is their flyer, which they apparently had members disseminate.
OOA's flyer (Photo via The Tension Experience)
I told the PR contact that I would, in fact, be interested in writing about the Tension Experience. I did not hear back that day. The following day, however, I received a phone call from a blocked number. A man, whose voice was intentionally low—a Christian Bale Batman kind of voice—told me that while I did not know him, he knew me. He also knew that I had been approached about writing an article about the OOA and I should not proceed.
"Walk away," he said. Oh, no, not 'walk away.' Everyone who is in too deep is always told to 'walk away.' That's how you know you're in too deep.
"If you reveal us, we will reveal you," he warned.
He hung up. Well, naturally, I was delighted. The only thing to do when someone tells you to walk away is push further, and then never agree to meet anyone in a parking garage or the subway. So, I logged into the Tension Experience's online forum to ask other participants if they would be interested in doing an interview with me. I am not the kind of journalist who backs away from a scoop, I told them, in the interest of playing along. Oh, and yes, they have a forum where various people taking part in the experience post their interactions with other members.
See, the Tension Experience really began several months ago when a creepy website popped up announcing its existence. Clicking around on various objects on the website would reveal a place where one could input their name and email address. Those who got involved found the lines between reality and fantasy blurring. Dana Scully would tell you the Tension Experience is creative, long-form, alternative reality game that is put on by talented folks and played by people like me, who have yet to adopt a more ordinary hobby. Fox Mulder might try to convince that it's more than that.
A consultation (Photo via Facebook)
Shortly after the public was invited to give Tension their email addresses, an image emerged on social media that, when studied carefully, revealed a telephone number. Calling the number directed you to a voicemail, where a woman's voice pleasantly informed you that the number belonged to the office of the OOA Institute. Those who got through were asked to schedule consultations with the OOA, which took place in a warehouse and involved a lot of questions. I never got a live person when calling the phone number, but messages from the OOA began appearing in my inbox. Eventually I was invited to fill out a questionnaire. This is, I presume, how they have my phone number. Others, I have learned, filled out their questionnaires in one-on-one meetings with a man at a public library. Not much but a single, vague phone call and a tweet happened for me, so I remained un-indoctrinated.
But for others, the rabbit hole only went deeper. If you're very interested, you may follow the timeline of the last several months here. It involves a private investigator, weird videos, mysterious OOA leaders called Gatekeepers, an anti-OOA group called the Brotherhood of Seraph, and a family desperate to save their daughter from the OOA's clutches. Many pieces of the story are revealed via Periscope, or through in-person interactions with members. These interactions don't take place just in L.A., but in other cities as well. Participants have had to find letters and other objects, and if no one is near the object, they have taken to Craigslist to find others who will fetch the objects for them.
The OOA sounds a little like Scientology (the OOA apparently tried to recruit celebrities in the past), a little bit like the 'movement' in The Path, and a little bit like a very involved LARP.
Megan Reilly lives in Minnesota. Reilly describes herself as more of an immersive theater person and less of a haunt person, but found herself entangled with the mysterious group online. She encountered them in real life on a trip to Los Angeles.
On a Saturday in L.A., she woke up to a message that asked her if she had a car. She said yes. At 4 p.m., someone called her and directed her to log into Periscope. There, she found a video titled "For Megan" which showed someone hiding two black envelopes in a bush in Echo Park. While Periscoping for other Tension members, Reilly located the envelopes. Inside, she found answers to question she said she and other members had been asking via the forums. She also noted that someone on a motorcycle drove by loudly, later revealing themselves to be involved with Tension.
"They [said they] would see me soon, and that I looked nice today. It took me a long time to figure out that that one thing actually bothered me a lot. I don't get scared very easily, but something really got under my skin about this. That, and the fact that they obviously saw me and I didn't see them," she said.
Later, Reilly met up with a man named Warren at a bar. She had previously been warned not to attend the meeting and not to drink anything put in front of her.
"This was an uncomfortable situation for other reasons for me and I was on edge, so when he did put tequila in front of me and told me to drink, I refused once and then just said, 'dammit, I need tequila and drank it,'" she said.
She declined to convince the bartender to join OOA, which later resulted in a mysterious contact expressing his disappointment in her. Reilly has been describing her encounters in more detail at her own blog here.
In an interview with Blumhouse, Andrew Kasch talked about his experiences. He received a creepy congratulations call only moments after announcing that he and his wife were expecting on Facebook. He agreed to a consultation, and later received a call from a woman who warned him not to let anyone take him "into the red room."
At a consultation, he saw a crying woman flee a red room while he was being interrogated. He later saw her outside, where she asked him for a ride. He asked her what she saw in the red room, and she told him they showed her a photo of him. It only gets weirder from there. And weirder still. You can read another account, in which writer Christine Barger had a hood put on her head and later was made to answer questions in front of a mirror here.
A scene from The Tension Experience (Photo via Facebook.
Hours after the phone call warning me not to write this article, a frantic woman called, also from a blocked number. I couldn't hear her very well. I'd been at Akbar and was now on the busy intersection of Sunset and Fountain, which was full of honking cars. What I could make out was her telling me that this was bigger than I know, and demanding to know if I had filled out their questionnaire. Yes, I told her. Her quivering voice informed me it was too late for me before hanging up.
At what point will I receive a manila envelope of black and white photos of me entering the L.A. Metro, presumably taken without my knowledge by an OOA member with a telephoto lens? What's going to happen when I publish this article? Should I clear some space on my wall for newspaper clippings, photos and red string connecting them? I do think now would be a really good time to kidnap me, considering I will probably just assume it's this game and go willingly, so please don't do that.
I will update this post when something new happens. And if I disappear forever, you know what happened.
The Tension Experience: Ascension begins in September in Boyle Heights. Get tickets here.