A Short Unwelcome Tour
When I was a 12 year old boy, I lived with my grandparents. I possessed an insatiable curiousity that often brought me wonder, but also misery and fright at times, and yet it was a part of me, no matter which way it went.
Living with them, I relaxed, taught myself juggling, and watched my very eccentric relatives do their own odd things. I loved my slow moving grandfather Arty far more than he ever seemingly loved me. I hung on his every word regardless. He had a very quiet methodical way about him.
Arty was a unique type of guy, sitting next to him was soporific.He could sit there quietly, puff on his pipe, and relax anyone who ever lived. He spoke rarely, and always kept it short. I only ever remember him doing one joke to me as a boy. Sitting at the breakfast table, I once asked him was he tough?
He responded: “Johnny, I’m so damned tough I can eat nails for breakfast, I just choose not to, they taste bad”. Of course I laughed heartily. This was for what passed for humor at the breakfast table for me.
As it turned out, in the house next door to ours on the corner of Rhode Island and Prospect street, the sole resident and owner of it suddenly died one week. It was a large 3 story house, and quite old. The newly dead owner was a personal friend of Arty for at least 30 years. I’d often witness them taking slow morning walks and smoking pipes together. I watched them from the porch sometimes, and they didn’t actually talk, just shuffled and puffed flavored tobacco shuffling down the street, seemingly satisfied in silence.
I don’t recall his name, but had seen him before on many occasions, he lived alone in that giant place, and had no living family, and from what Arty told me, he had lived in that house for over 70 years, since he was a kid probably; It was a family house I suppose, and existed almost as long as my own family’s place, since the 1800s certainly. They’d drift together down Prospect street together, like two slowly moving smokestacks, puffing away quietly.
They were a curious duo, and Arty never mentioned how they met,, but I wonder, maybe they’d met so long that they didn’t need to talk anymore, just nod to each other and walk, and everything that could be said between them was talked about long ago. Either that or they were possibly telepathic, I have no idea to this day.
So he died that week, and as it turns out for some reason Arty had a key to his house, and they must have had some verbal agreement, since the guy had no living family. Arty was welcome to come in, and explore, and take anything he wanted, before either the lawyers, or the state took his property. This guy was literally the last one of his line, as I am many years later writing this. It’s a lonely place, I understand now, but it’s life as usual for me. At least he had Arty though.
So that weekend, even though my grandfather didn’t seem too broken up about his friend’s death, he invited myself and Tucker, my Aunt Linda’s new husband, to join him and explore this large old house, and take whatever we’d like. What an irresistible offer, for both a young 13 year old boy, who was fascinated with old mysteries, and Tucker, a good guy in his 30’s, whom I always liked.
He looked exactly like the actor William Katt, but with thick glasses. Same curly blonde hair, same features, and similar kind disposition. He was always nice to me, but I have very few memories of him sadly. What follows is one such odd memory..
It was Friday night, and both Aunt Linda and her husband, plus Red and Sonny were visiting us upstairs, when Arty invited all of us to join him, but only Tucker and I were truly curious enough to join this small adventure.
The rest bid us goodluck, and went back to their coffee, and conversations and cigarettes. We three curious guys left down the front inner stairway, and headed outside and walked next door to the big corner house.
This place was painted dark blue, and at nighttime the outside looked black. No lights were left on, it was quite dark and eerily quiet, of course, since the sole occupant had just died a few days before. What a lonely life he must have lived, that was my sole thought at the time, little realizing that my life would be far sorrier than his ever was, someday in my future.
Arty unlocked the large dark wood and glass door, it had two stained glass slim panels on either side, quite stylish actually. He swung the door inward, and our senses were immediately assaulted. A strong cloying smell and taste in the air washed over us before we could enter the house.
It hit us like a noxious wave, probably Tucker and myself far more than Arty. After all, my grandfather was a lifelong pipe smoker. I’m sure the effect was very much lessened for him; But Tucker and I were both non-smokers, and it was a powerful smell, like the air itself was actually tainted with the strongest cigar smell, and the rest was like a fungus, a strong sickening effect. Since I had my mouth open in shock, sadly I tasted it as well. If darkness and despair had a taste, that was surely it. I watched Tucker start gagging in front of me, and Arty grimaced, but that was it.
The effect lessened finally, and we all entered regardless, as noxious as it was. We left the front door wide open as we walked in, none of us wished to be closed in there. There was an entryway, with an honest to goodness wooden cigar indian standing there (probably used as a coat rack), but it was almost black, the wood had been somehow stained long ago. Immediately I got a strange chill, and had a full body shudder, not from the cold, but just randomly. Tucker also reactly strangely as well, with a quick pull back from the doorway, purely instinct. He shook his head, looked at me inquiringly, as if to ask “did that happen to both of us?”. Arty just shrugged at us both, and we all went further in
We moved into the main living room, and Arty found the light switch. Luckily for us, the power bill was still paid, so lights still worked. The overhead light was dead, but a small yellow lamp provided a dirty looking illumination over the room. Up to this time, I had never seen such clutter, and this seemed almost inhuman.
Back then, in 1982, the TV show “hoarders” didn’t exist of course, but if it had, they could have done an entire season on this house alone. First of all, besides the combined stench of cigars, various pipe tobaccos, ,and a dark mustiness, there was a deep smoky haze on the very air itself. Like an indoor fog. I had never seen this before.
I almost felt like I could get lung cancer just standing there, this haze was that strong, and I volunteered to open a window or two while we were there. Get a cross draft going maybe. I headed to the back of the house to look for another door to the outside. The backdoor was through a very disgusting kitchen, but Tucker discovered something strange, all the windows in the living front room were nailed solidly shut, and couldn’t be opened. If ever I wished to question a dead man, I sincerely wished I could ask him why?
Being dead, no answer would be forthcoming, so we received none, we just dealt with the stench. After both doors were open, and a light breeze established, we explored in earnest. The living room was a hodgepodge of endless shelves, with papers galore scattered everywhere.
There were shelves upon shelves around us, lined with small cubby holes, and even ratholes, all stuffed with papers and junkmail. We also noticed something strange and notable, every wall we saw was possibly painted dark brown(or possibly very dingy dark blue, sometimes they were both indistinguishable). Not a very aesthetically appealing color choice, but there it was.
I picked up a grey letter opener, and threw it down immediately; It was kind of slimy, and greasy to my brief touch. There were two very dirty dark couches, and a single reclining chair, which none of us were willing to try out, plus a small coffee table,also full of papers and more junk mail, I checked.
Every single small shelf was stuffed with worthless papers, junk mail, local advertisements, and overdue bills of course. We moved on to the next room past the large staircase that started in front of the main open door.
There was an amazingly dirty and dark kitchen there, and the sink was filled with moldy dishes, very nasty; It was in need of a damned good cleaning and disinfecting, and possibly a burning. Walls were still black here in this kitchen, like the other rooms.The only light that worked was the oven light above the burners, and it was also yellow and dingy. It cast more of a pall over the entire horrible picture in the sink, and it might have been far better as something unseen anyway. Some horrible sights aren’t meant to be viewed after all.
We decided to head upstairs. Another interesting thing about this trip is we were all from completely different generations. Arty was quite old, Tucker was middle aged, and I was too damned young, yet none of us were comfortable wandering by ourselves in that strange lonely house. We could all somehow sense something was completely off, darkness and decay prevailed in every corner inside that strange house. I suppose fear runs deep in us all, and it doesn’t know such a thing as age.
From the impression I received to that point, I could have been paid 500 bucks, I’d never spend a single night in that house alone, and I suspect both my Uncle Tucker and my grandpa Arty would have both agreed on this. There was an atmosphere there, a horrible miasma that I couldn’t define, and we all felt it, but we were there, so we had to go on after all.
We ventured upstairs, and Tucker tried the old wooden bannister, which was probably there since the house was built over 100 years ago.
It shook like a helpless palsy victim, unsteady, and completely unreliable. If one longs for a broken neck, certainly they are welcome to rely on it. Tucker let go pretty quick, and we all slowly ascended the creaky stairs, Arty first, my uncle followed, then myself.
There was no lighting on these stairs, so we proceeded slowly, and oh so carefully, considering the sad state of the bannister. We crept up the stairs, dark as it was, We heard the wind whistling through the front and back doors,and little else. We reached the top, and strange as it was, none of us continued without the others right there. Turns out we were all equally hesitant. It made zero difference whether we were 12, 35, or 65 years old, creepy is always creepy.
We all got to the top, and Arty found the first room, a large bathroom. He flicked the switch, and a single overhead light came on, strangely still yellow like the others. What it illuminated, we didn’t really want to see.
There was a large old fashioned bathtub, claw-footed, and dirty beyond description, dark grey and dingy on the outside, and almost black with unknown stains on the inside. Almost no white porcelain was visible at all. Apparently Arty’s old friend didn’t care much about cleanliness, neither with himself, nor his abode.
On the sink was a dirty bloody toothbrush, a stack of dingy washcloths, and a whole lot of pill bottles scattered about. I cannot imagine how many medical issues he had, but the evidence was quite clear. He lived a very lonely life, and probably a very painful one; He suffered before his end, no doubt. This bathroom was the dirtiest and most disgusting I’ve ever seen to this point, and nothing worth keeping, we all moved on.
As we walked into the master bedroom, a door slammed downstairs, and all three of us visibly jumped, and immediately laughed afterwards. Of course it was the back door, left open for airflow, undoubtedly. Although the funny part was the airflow continued.. We moved into the next room anyway.
Arty hit the light, and wished he hadn’t. There were black bookshelves on two sides, and a large bed in the middle:unmade of course, and the sheets and blankets were stained brownish/red with dried blood.
It was almost like a scene from a horror movie, minus the actual gore stained body. It smelled bad as well, and the dim lighting didn’t help, or maybe it did, since none of us wanted to see much of this.
Tucker ran past me, gagging, to the bathroom, and stood over the disgusting toilet dry heaving for a few minutes. I suppose Arty and I were of sterner stuff, were we of the same blood after all; and we stood there, noticing all the horrible details.
Both my grandfather and I stood there in silence for at least a few minutes, drinking it all in, while Tucker retched in the bathroom. The dirty white sheet and the tan blanket both had extensive blood stains on them. I finally asked Arty whether his friend had actually died here, at home, and all I got was a grunt, as was his way. It could have been either a positive, or negative answer, I never found out. My whole life, Arty never spoke very much to me at all. Not to my memory, my grandmother did all the talking usually.
In fact, looking back, I can’t remember a single long conversation Arty ever had with me beyond possibly two sentences. We had a strange relationship, my grandfather and myself. It never changed, neither for the better or worse.
Arty grunted, pointed, and once in a while laughed, and made a short joke or two to me rarely, but that was the extent of his responses generally. A man of few words would be a complete understatement in his case. Often, he merely nodded, but mostly smoked his flavored pipes in utter silence. I never quite understood him, but I respected him, and often just stayed out of his way.
Both Arty and I stood, looking at the blood, and the room, for at least five minutes, drinking it in, hearing Tucker being sick in the background. I never got an actual answer to my question, other than Arty’s grunt, so I carefully walked around. All the bookshelves were full, mainly books on theology, religions, and philosophy. I wondered if they were ever actually read, or just there for show, and to fill space, and yet if they were only randomly there, why were they so specific?
I remember trying to pluck one from the shelf, it felt clammy to the touch, and I immediately replaced it, somewhat disgusted at the time. I would be taking no books either it seemed. The only light was also overhead, and thankfully dim, darkness can be a good thing at times.
Neither one of us wished to look further around the bloody room,I noticed dark stains on the brown rug, I didn’t ask, Arty noticed them too, and we exchanged glances, nothing more. There were drawers to open, but we were not so inclined.
One of them could have been full of cash, or diamonds, yet neither of us really wanted to look further in that room. Wouldn’t have surprised me to open a dresser drawer and find a beating heart inside. When Tucker’s sick sounds stopped, we left the master bedroom and turned to the other one. The guest room I suppose. Although I couldn’t imagine any willing guests in that house, at any time.
We walked into a thankfully clean but bare room. There was a single dark wooden dresser, and a bed with no blankets, looking forlorn and empty in the middle of the dim space. One small lamp sat on the dresser, also giving off that same sickly yellow light. Like the illumination was somehow sick. If cancer had a color, that light defined it.
I wondered then why each and every room was dimly lit, or yellowish, with mainly only overhead lights responding to the switches. I was to find out quite soon. While we were looking around upstairs we heard a slow creaking above us, could be the house shifting, or something else, we were not really sure.
Tucker gave me a slightly worried look, and in that moment, I knew absolutely that he would have preferred to be anywhere else other than there, in that old place.
Arty gently grabbed his arm, nodded, and we continued. In the upstairs hallway there were no hanging pictures or paintings anywhere, just the dark almost slimy walls themselves. So far none of us had taken a single object for ourselves, they just didn’t seem to feel right somehow. The objects we might have actually liked felt wrong. Clamminess would be a total understatement. Even the walls were this way on every side.
There was an abhorrent type of slimy “skin” over everything in the entire house. I wasn’t the only one that felt it, twice I saw Arty pick up objects, only to put them immediately down again, and Tucker once picked up a book in the living room, only to toss it down then and there with a grunt of disgust. Combined with the dim yellow lighting over all, I wouldn’t have wanted to stay there for any lengthy period.
We left the guest room, with the slow creaking above us, and went down a short hall, and above us was a short rope, attached to an attic trap door, and the rope was slowly swinging on its own, although no breeze was actually moving it.
There was a fresh smell coming from the open doors way downstairs, but no actual breeze up here, yet the attic cord swung regardless. Like a subtle invite.
Arty looked at me, and Tucker vocalized what we were thinking. “Probably nothing up there but cobwebs and old junk, anyone really want to go up there and check?”
All three of us looked at each other, and we all shook our heads no almost in unison. We wouldn’t be exploring the attic that night, or ever. We slowly headed back to the first floor, still hearing a subtle creaking above us. We didn’t hurry downstairs, but we didn’t dally either.
When we got there, I went to the kitchen to turn off the light, and noticed the kitchen outside door was still open, so it wasnt what had slammed earlier. I looked around carefully using the oven lighting, and noticed the wall next to the stove was oddly off, it seemed to have a visual “retreating” effect, like a dark optical illusion.
I called my companions into the kitchen to look a bit closer, and I was a bit nervous to explore this alone. We all crowded in, and they finally noticed it. We circled around the far side of the stove (the walls were so black they might have been painted that way). Turned out next to the stove the wall angled back, and the wall behind it was the same color, so in the dingy lighting, they appeared to be the same wall, but they weren’t.
Only on close inspection we noticed it, and as we looked around the angled wall, there was a closed door, also black of course, kind of blending in. It wasn’t a large door, 6ft high at most, and very narrow, but it was there, and closed, that was the slam noise we heard upstairs.
The knob was grey, and I was highly curious, I turned it, and swung the strange door back. We had to see what was in there, one way or another. I was the first one that hit the clammy light switch, there was light, but not much. We all stepped into the odd room, it was cramped of course, not a single window there, and the walls were the same almost black color, and the lighting wasn’t even dim, it was almost nonexistent. There were far more shadows than light. What little illumination there was came from overhead, and all three of us looked up, to see why it was like this.
Here was a very strange sight, the overhead light was globed, but completely black, except for an outer ring of yellow, like a halo around a large black hole, the halo was the only light in the room, along with a few and a few brighter random cracks peeking out, like yellow streaks of disease spreading from a black wound.
The globe around the bulb might have been painted, but it actually wasn’t. We looked around the room, in the deep shadows there was a single leather chair, and a large table, covered in ashtrays, all of them a bit different; All overflowing with ashes, cigar stubs, and cigarette butts. Not one remained clean.
One back wall appeared to be an open closet, no doors, consisting only of dark jackets, and they were strangely mobile, slowly moving back and forth, as if a soft wind was motivating them, but the air was quite still. One wall was blank, nothing but this same black color, but the other two walls were full and dense. They both were packed with small shelves and square cubby holes like the living room was, and most of them had various pipes and cigars, and literally hundreds and maybe thousands of matchbooks.
Tucker didn’t smoke, and at 12 neither did I, but Arty seemed almost fascinated, being that he loved his pipes, and cigars from time to time. He perused the shelves, in the dim lighting, but every last pipe he picked up, he ended up putting right back down, and I knew why. It was the clammy slimy feel everything in the house seemed to have. It covered every surface in every room.
After a few minutes of this I looked up again at the small halo of yellow sickly light, and I believe I was the first one of us to fully come to a strange revelation.
The globe wasn’t painted black, and neither were the walls throughout the house, maybe they were a dark color by design, but the blackness came from something else.
My realization was this: The darkness came from over 50 years of concentrated smoke, maybe more, from cigarettes, cigars, and pipes, over many decades. We were walking inside a living breathing cancer, the size of a large house. Also explained the clammy slimy feel of every single object in this dark place.
Arty’s friend died of it, and made this house part of his sickness his entire life most likely. We may have been losing a few years of health just being inside there for that short time.
The globe overhead once long ago gave off a healthy bright light, but got obliterated over the years by a scummy black stain, as had all of the walls of the entire house. One could almost feel the cancer in the walls themselves, making itself known, insidiously, like a malevolent black entity, built up over the decades, meaning harm to any who entered and breathed it in, as we were doing at the moment.
Meanwhile, the jackets were still slowly swinging back and forth for all of us to see, but Arty was dismissive, “just the breeze”, he said, although there was not a hint of one, and there was not a single window there in that room.
Tucker and I were the most nervous, and we kept glancing at each other, and neither of us picked up a single object in what I call the “smoking room” of that house. Of course, over the decades, the cancer spread over all of the first floor, and eventually all of the second; However it was concentrated in that creepy dark room, like it was the diseased black heart of this cursed house. At this point, I suspect that both Tucker and I wanted to leave immediately, but Arty had invited us, so we were obligated to stay, until he was done. In for a penny, in for a pound, a perfect example.
He picked up a single sealed box of flavored cigars from a wall shelf, and put it under his arm. I suppose if they were not sealed, he wouldn’t have taken them.
Arty tried to pick up a number of weird looking wooden pipes, then put them immediately back. Nothing in that entire house should have been taken, as far as I was concerned. Not out of morality, but for my personal health.This house seemed damned somehow, and any object that existed in there was probably damned as well.
Finally Arty nodded to us, and I remember saying to them both “Had enough?” He nodded again, and we walked out of the hidden room, with Arty following, and closing the door himself. We made sure the kitchen yard door was closed and locked, turned off the kitchen oven light, then we headed to the front door.
As we were passing the staircase on our left, a door slammed hard upstairs; Since all the doors up there were left open,it could have been any one of them. We gave each other a three way look, and kept walking although slightly faster now. All the years I knew my grandfather, he had a slow but steady gait, never fast, and never too slow, he meandered, but he got there in his own good damned time.
He never rushed, except this one time, I saw him speed his step up quite a bit for the very first time in my young life.. After the slam, none of us even suggested going up to investigate the noise. We just walked quickly to the front open door, not talking, not saying a single word.
When we got out the door, Arty felt his pockets for the keys, and realized he’d put his keyring down to inspect the pipes in the back dark room. He looked at Tucker, then at myself. “Johnny, would you go back to the last room and pick up my keys?”
Tucker looked almost panicky, and glanced at me. Surely if I refused, Arty would ask him instead. Being the youngest, and with a naive boy’s forlorn wish to please his only grandpa, I nodded, agreeing to venture back inside to find them. This might have been the kindest deed I ever did, and certainly one of the most foolhardy.
My grandfather was quite old, with a weak heart, and all Tucker did was shake his head no, and was obviously grateful that I was going instead of him..So it was up to me, as it usually is in my strange life.
I remember only 3 places where arty picked up objects, and so I reentered this strange creepy place willingly again. First I was in the living area, and looked around carefully, no keys that I could see in the dim lighting. The second place was upstairs, but I really didn’t want to venture there, call it cowardice if you will, but I was sincerely hoping it wasn’t up there, especially after the slammed upstairs door. That would be my last resort.
I walked straight through the disgusting kitchen to the back hidden room, and opened the door. The jackets were still doing their slow motions, as if inviting me to investigate, I didn’t accept their invitation. I was brave, but not that brave. Let them swing in no breeze, I didn’t care, as long as I didn’t approach, it was just fine.
I saw Arty’s keys on a small table next to the unlit table lamp. I grabbed them, and looked again at the far wall, at the jackets that should have been immobile, yet weren’t. I could have reached out to still their movements, yet I didn’t, and no power on Earth could have forced me to touch them, let them swing for eternity.
I noticed something odd in the shadows behind them though, a darker large shape directly behind the jackets. Not my damned problem, and I can swear the motion of the jackets quickened a bit. I left the creepy dark room backwards, I refused to turn my back on them, and I never mentioned this to anyone, just telling it now.
There was something in that open closet, and it wanted me to know it was there, especially since I was alone and young. I wonder if I would have gone inside that closet, if I’d have ever made it out? I seriously doubt it. Luckily, my foolishness never reached that level in my life. So here I am, telling you now what happened in that house that night.
I had a sense of self-preservation, some things were best left alone, and I knew this, and closed the door behind me. I returned the keyring to Arty, with no regrets, maybe another more adventurous soul might have investigated, I was not that soul, not at that moment, and I gave him his keys, quite gladly. If I was to be damned or consigned to an immortal cursed existence, it wasn’t to be there, in that sad doomed house, I quite refused that offer.
As I handed Arty the keys, I noticed the facial relief of Tucker, and Arty as well. Yet it wasn’t my first, nor my last brush with the supernatural, in fact, there were many more. They were one of my life’s curses, to witness the strange and unexplainable, this was merely the first of many, but an important one.
Arty put the key in the front door, with no further questions from either him, nor my Uncle Tucker, on what I may have seen. We locked the door on that, forever, and none of us ever discussed this. Although it did unlock my lifelong obsession with the supernatural, and the weird. None of us ever discussed this strange event later, we all moved on, although Arty did have his cigars, that was the one and only object that was removed from that house. The entire house was demolished a few years later, but that’s quite another story.
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