Solving the mystery of the weird boarded-up space in our house

Solving the mystery of the weird boarded-up space in our house
Caleb Walsh illustration

A few weeks after moving into our new house, I noticed a strange, unaccounted-for bump-out in our bathroom. It was a big, square space between the bathroom and the bedroom I use as a writing studio.

Since buying the house, I've been humbled to realize the magnitude of all that I don't know about how houses work. I've become extremely comfortable asking my boyfriend, Ian, Very Stupid Questions about our house, including, "What is a storm window?," "Why can't we just rip up all the carpet this afternoon?" and "What are rain gutters for, exactly? Like I know they collect rain and put it somewhere else, but why do you need to do that?" So when I asked Ian what was in the bump-out space, I fully expected him to know, because somehow Ian knows the answer to all my Very Stupid Questions. I was expecting the kind of response I always get, where Ian looks at me with more patience and kindness than I've ever had for anything, and says something like, "The water heater is in there," or "The pipes for the drainage system run through that space."

But he said, "I don't know," and started knocking on the bump-out with his fist. "It sounds hollow."

We went outside to look for clues. I didn't really know what we were looking for but I stood next to Ian and looked at the part of the house where the mystery space was located and said, "Hmm," in various intonations.

"Well, there are no vents or pipes coming out of that space," Ian said. "Weird."

I was pretty content in not knowing what was in the mystery spot and moving on with my life, but Ian brought it up frequently after that.

"I wonder what's in there," he'd say. "It's so weird to just have unaccounted-for space. Let's cut through the drywall."

"Absolutely not," I said. There was probably some good reason one of the previous owners closed the space off. You don't just cordon off a section of your house for nothing. There was probably a dead body or an evil spirit lurking within those walls. Why would we want to deal with that?

"It could be treasure," Ian said.

"It's never treasure," I said, but I'll admit I got to thinking about the possibility of finding treasure hidden in our house.

After a few weeks, I finally agreed to let Ian cut into the mystery space. He carved a sandwich-sized square into the drywall and used the flashlight on his cell phone to peer into the space. Anticlimactic final scenes from episodes of Scooby-Doo flashed through my mind, and I prepared myself for the let down of unmasking our mystery bump-out only to find some kind of dusty crawl space or load-bearing beam long ago deemed too ugly and rightfully hidden away. Unless it was like Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island (1998), in which Scooby-Doo and gang uncover two voodoo-loving werecats using real zombies and real ghosts as bait to lure unsuspecting tourists to their island to murder them (sorry, spoilers).

"It's... nothing," Ian said. "It's just an empty space." I took the phone flashlight from him and looked into the space. It was a small walk-in closet with wood floors and crown molding, the kind of random windowless space that could be rented out for $500-$600 if our house was in Seattle or San Francisco.

"What the hell?" I said. "Why would someone board up a perfectly good closet?"

Ian didn't know. ♦

Chelsea Martin is the Spokane-based author of five books, including Caca Dolce: Essays from a Lowbrow Life. Her website is

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