I didn’t always look like hell. Once, I stood three stories tall crowned with a cupola and a wind vane perpetually pointing north. Wrought iron curly cues, like the letter L written in ornate script, pinned my black shutters tightly to the gray clapboard. My paint gleamed, my wainscoting appeared dent and scratch-free, my twenty-foot ceilings embossed with glorious white federal molding. Rather than the current inhabitants of creepy crawly creatures, pesky feral animals, and ghoulish spirits, happy families lived here…for nearly two hundred years. I protected them from the elements with my sturdy roof and walls, and from the frigid temperatures with my toasty-warm fires.
I watched with a sense of immense satisfaction as fathers tickled their children to near hysteria before finally tucking them into bed at night, then reading a favorite bedtime story, and mothers prepared sumptuous family dinners, sometimes with the aid of a kitchen staff. Holidays were magnificent with grand Christmas trees and mountains of festively wrapped presents; the sweet smells of holiday treats permeating the air as they baked in my professional-grade oven. Music and song filled my hallways. Dancing feet pranced on my marble floors and people made love in my bedrooms, sweet, thrilling love. I tried not to watch, but sometimes I just couldn’t help myself.
I felt like a worthy house, solid, set on a good foundation, hugged by magnificent magnolia trees and protected by sturdy oaks. Until the Sinclairs moved in…then everything went to shit. Perhaps if I’d been more patient, or just ignored them I might have survived.
The moment they stepped across the threshold of my magnificent mahogany door with the stained glass window spelling out WELCOME, a chill spread through me. No matter how high I turned up the thermostat I still couldn’t banish the dreadful iciness that penetrated my rafters. I shuddered, and the sound unnerved me…a sound I’d never made before.
The year was 1979. Dr. Sinclair, an eminent physician from New York, had just taken over old Doc Jensen’s practice who’d recently succumbed to liver cancer attributed to years of excessive alcohol consumption. Honestly, the stories I’d overheard from the previous owners made me think the new doc was sorely needed.
Upon her arrival, Mrs. Sinclair’s tall thin frame—her posture indicative of the stick up her ass—paraded around the first floor like a solider marching to war, her sharp spikey heels digging into my polished hardwood. I winced, and the wallpaper in my foyer wrinkled. My vents hissed, all the air seemed to get sucked out of me and I threw a few windows open so I could breathe. Nobody noticed.
Two children ran up the stairs, yelling and jumping around, as children are prone to do. But they didn’t seem joyful, their screams more like shrieks, unsettling, evil. I didn’t think there was such a thing as an innately evil child, but the second I saw them I knew this would turn out bad. Really bad. A few tears formed, the tiny droplets leaking from my faucets onto the ceramic basins with a bit of a plopping noise.
I tried to shove my anxiety and apprehension into my attic, giving myself a pep talk. You’re overreacting. You’ve been spoiled with wonderful loving families and these people are, well, just a little different. A little off… but everything will be okay after they settle in. It always takes me a while to get used to new residents. Perhaps I’m still too old-fashioned. People are more sophisticated these days. They smoke pot and believe in free love. I need to relax, chill out. Give them a chance.
Well, that attitude only lasted a goddamned week. I valiantly tried to ignore the giant gashes in my woodwork made by flying objects that should never become airborne. I really did. Mrs. Sinclair had a violent temper and both her children and her husband sported enough cuts and bruises to have her taken into custody. I couldn’t comprehend why they put up with her abuse. I mean… her husband is a doctor for Christ’s sake! He should know better! But Dr. Sinclair rarely made it home, spending long nights at his practice or the hospital and turned a blind eye to the dysfunctions of his family.
I witnessed the evilness of the children as they tortured small animals and also each other. A gleeful sneer would overtake their faces as they smeared their hands in the greasy red blood of their victims—painting their faces like war paint—and popped eyeballs with their feet. At times I couldn’t decide who was more malicious, the kids or the mother. Often I felt the urge to scream and I did so. My wailing sounded like the wind mostly, and frequently resulted in comments like “This old house sucks!” or “I hate this creepy house!” I should have been angry at the insults, but instead I was…well…hurt.
The basement became my own personal hell. Dr. and Mrs. Sinclair never went down there, but the children made it into kind of a Dr. Frankenstein’s laboratory. The smells alone nearly suffocated me. The rotting bodies of furry creatures littered the cement floor when they should have been out running through the dewy green grass in my yard. I have a magnificent yard hugging me, one where lovely flowers grow and people could sit and sip a cocktail on a hot summer evening.
About a month after the move-in date I decided I couldn’t put up with one more second of this depravity. This repugnant family had to go.
That night the kids were watching a program on TV about a house that had apparently been overtaken by ghosts—who then murdered the entire family—a haunted house. Hmm…that sounded like something I might be able to pull off. Of course, I had no intention of murdering anyone, but if I stepped up my activities a bit perhaps I could scare them away. So far, my subtle overtures expressing my unhappiness: overturning chairs, giving a little push as they ran down the stairs, and hiding or breaking some of their treasured objects went unnoticed, which only served to annoy me further. It took a great mustering of energy to accomplish these small feats, something I was new at and admittedly not all that good at either. I was proficient at opening and slamming shut doors and windows, but it took over an hour to muster enough force to lift an object off the ground or open a single drawer. I groaned and creaked with the effort, but then I realized this only added to my haunting. I smiled and the lights suddenly flashed brightly. Another fitting after-effect! Perfect.
I had to come up with something spectacular. Something that would scare the ever-living shit out of them, and they’d flee without even packing a bag. I’d be left in peace, a new family would move in and all would be well again.
The whisper came in the night, just as the grandfather clock in my living room struck midnight. Initially I thought it might be Mrs. Sinclair, but she didn’t know me, she never spoke to me. This voice sounded familiar. A woman I knew. I pitched my ears, (which just happen to be everywhere), in the direction of the voice. “I’m here to help,” she said. I peered into the darkness. The image of a slender body came into view. She sat on the olive-green couch, legs crossed at the ankles, arms spread across the top of the sofa. Her white dress revealed a serious amount of cleavage and the skirt, enhanced with copious layers of crinoline, appeared tattered and torn. The distorted features of her face: nose pushed to one side, an eye swollen shut, a deep gash marring her forehead, crusted blood adorning the crown of her head—gave a garish façade in the faintness of the pale moonlight. Elizabeth.
“This repugnant family had to go.”
The night her chauffeured limousine plunged off the cliff at the end of Gull Road is one I’ll never forget. It was her debutante coming-out party, but she never made it to the ball. Tragedy never hit home so hard before, and the night turned into a horror fest of wailing and thrashing, a deep sadness I’d never experienced. I wept that night for the first time.
“Elizabeth,” I whispered in the darkness. “Is it really you?”
“Yes.” Her arms slipped off the sofa and her hands landed in her lap. Two fingers were missing. I groaned.
“Are you okay?” I tried to recall her former beauty: blonde ringlets that reflected the brilliant morning sunshine, clear blue eyes that took your breath away. My beautiful Elizabeth.
“I’ve been better, you?” Elizabeth stood and began to pace, her ethereal feet silent on the parquet floor.
“Well, I guess if you’re here then you know I’m not doing well at all.”
“I should say so,” she assured me again.
“How did you know?”
She stopped and peered out the window overlooking my garden of purple peonies. In the darkness they seemed more black than purple. “I used to love this garden,” she said wistfully. My heart filled with sadness at the memory of her sudden death and a puff of ash escaped from the hearth in the great room. The embers ignited.
“I do stop by now and again.” The fingers on her good hand traced the square wooden frame of the windowpane. She pressed her bloated lips against the glass, her kiss cold.
“I never saw you,” I confessed.
“I didn’t want you to. I was jealous most of the time. Watching another girl sleep in my room, dancing where I used to dance. Remembering everything that was taken from me haunts me.”
I groaned again, this time too loudly. My faucets leaked copiously.
“But I love you,” she said, still facing my window. “Every day I spent with you was wonderful. I want you to know I appreciated you. I admired your majestic beauty, the comforts you gave me. I miss you.”
Heat rose around me and I heard the thermostat click on. I loved Elizabeth too. I wished she’d lived a long life. A life here. With me.
Elizabeth floated toward the couch, perching herself on the edge of the middle cushion, her hands folded primly on her lap again, the stolen fingers less obvious. “I’ve been watching, but it seems like you can’t do this alone,” she said.
I smiled and the shutters guarding the living room windows broke free, flapping enthusiastically like an audience at a rock concert. A real ghost! Reinforcements! Just what I needed! Relief comforted me like the nights when the fireplaces were all lit and the golden glow of the burning coals blanketed me in warmth.
“I can use some help,” I muttered. “I’ve been making my best effort but mostly these wretched people just ignore me or insult me. They’re certainly not noticing my unhappiness.”
She sighed, a loud whooshing sound. “If you’re going for a haunting, you’re doing a terrible job. An occasional push down the stairs, hiding or breaking things? Blinking lights, creaky noises? You call that a plan?”
Elizabeth was right, my attempt a pathetic endeavor. “Obviously, I don’t really know what I’m doing.”
“The first problem is you’re being too nice. These are dreadful people. You’re going to have to step it up if you want to intimidate them enough to leave.”
Nice? I didn’t think I was being nice at all! Maybe she was right. I needed her help. I was desperate. “Okay,” I said.
“We need to get to work then. I’ve got some ideas.”