For Sale: Haunted House
She fawned over its sprawling backyard that was home to a charming greenhouse, overtaken by some rather insatiable kudzu. She could hardly believe the gorgeous antique clawfoot tub in what she could only envision to be her ensuite. The spacious basement now housed some of the previous owner's belongings, but she was still giddy at the room's potential once it was properly cleared out. She had a lot of work ahead of her, but she knew that coming in. She was going to fix this place up. It had more than enough room for all of her friends and family to stay and spend time together. She couldn't wait for sounds of life to replace those of her echoing footsteps.
She was beaming as she signed the paperwork, flashing the realtor a deep set of dimples. She'd confirmed her suspicions that the property was a foreclosure, but when she'd asked if the place was truly a site for the supernatural, the realtor momentarily balked. She tried to laugh the question off, but something in the realtor's eyes didn't sit right with her. Her smile dimmed a little by the final signature.
She stared up at the house, eyes brimming with determination. She took a moment to adjust her hat, pulling its brim backward. The phone in her pocket continued to buzz, flooding with messages of excitement and promises to help with the renovations. She gathered some supplies and headed for the front door. She was eager for the assistance, but knowing her friends it might turn into less of a renovation and more of a party. The clunking of the deadbolt was overtaken by her laughter as she crossed the threshold, but it died soon after.
Somewhere on the second floor, a door slammed shut. Supplies fell to the floor with a deafening clatter as she jumped in shock. She stood, rooted to the spot for several tense moments. Her muscles coiling in anticipation, as her instincts battled for dominance. She couldn't hear anything else over the crazed baseline of her heart, but she wasn't willing to take any chances either.
She dashed to the door and back to her car, searching through her selection of tools for something useful. After hefting its weight in her palm a few times she settled on a crowbar. Approaching the house with more discretion than she had before, her pale eyes scanned the upper windows as she cautiously trekked forward. She caught a glimpse of movement from one of the curtains on the upper floor. Gathering all the bravado she could, she stormed back into the house, taking two-- no three steps at a time.
She arrived at the top of the stairs slightly winded, but pressed on, ignoring the apprehension gnawing at her guts. She strode confidently to the room she'd suspected the loud slamming had come from. The floorboards just before the door betrayed their new owner as they groaned ominously beneath her. She took a deep breath before the soles of her Vans sent the door crashing open. She stormed the room, poised to strike at any moment, but it was empty save for a large ornate piano.
She stopped short at the sight of it. Her weapon lowered awkwardly in her confusion. She didn't recall seeing the antique in her previous walkthrough, but pianos don't just appear out of nowhere. Especially not ones of this size, so...she must have seen it. She had surveyed every room and made a meticulous list of all the furniture that was left behind. She knew for a fact that she hadn't made any note of it. She dropped her guard, her weapon falling to her side as she fished in her pocket for her small spiral notepad.
Heavy metallic thunking sounded against the hardwood floor as the crowbar slipped from her fingers. There. At the top of the list. By her own hand and circled several times for emphasis were the words: Grand Piano.
She huffed with exertion. The dark patches of sweat that had soaked through her band tee made it uncomfortable to move around. Sucking in a breath, she bared her teeth and pushed with all her might. Her opponent, an ancient chest made of well-worn leather, conceded three inches. She smiled to herself, happy to mark down the victory. Her hands fell to her knees to steady her breathing. She could feel them quaking beneath the paint splattered overalls she wore.
Her phone buzzed. She ignored it. Her house wasn't ready for the next stages yet. The fun parts of the renovations were reserved for her friends and family. Eyeing the scattered relics she affirmed to herself that could handle the heavy lifting. She only wanted good memories with them here. Too many rowdy nights crowded in the kitchen surrounded by a graveyard of red solo cups and liquor bottles to count. Boisterous cheering of spectators filling the halls during a hot streak in beer pong or a shocking flip cup upset. This was going to be somewhere they could all have fun.
Hopefully, she would discover some gems amongst the junk various past lives had piled up within those walls. It was a simple task, really. A small smile crept across her face at the thought of a pool table and a fully stocked bar in the basement. The sound of her friends laughing in her ear was enough to give her a second wind.
She pinched the bridge of her nose in frustration, the breath escaping from between her teeth like a viper's hiss. Bitter tears welled up, but she wiped them with the backs of her hands before they could fall. Piles of discarded wallpaper with one of the most hideous patterns she'd ever seen surrounded her. Tracing the sore cracking skin of her palm that was sure to become calloused, she recalled that the day before she'd made sure to remove every scrap of it. She'd made sure the day before that. And the day before that too. And the day before all those days. Her heartbeat beat heavily in her chest but its sound was oddly muted.
Her eyes returned to the numerous stacks of paper. Her chest felt like it was burning. Her brows drew together, the weight of her frustration cutting deep lines between their arches. Somehow… somehow today. Just like yesterday, and the day before that, and the day before that, the wallpaper had returned. Choking back the sob that wanted to rend itself from her throat she gathered her tools and set off in search of a different project. One, she hoped, would be more fruitful than this. As she turned to leave, she heard a crunch beneath her shoe.
Looking down past her armful of gear, she saw white cracks of lightning on display against the darkened glass of her phone. It lit up less these days, though she couldn't be sure if it was because of the spotty signal or a waning enthusiasm and patience from everyone else. Something welled up in her, finally threatening to breach the surface. But she shoved it down, kicking it and the phone to the side. The useless rectangle was sent skittering to some unseen corner. She'd find it later and get it fixed. She'd need it once the house was finally ready for visitors. Until then, she had too much work to do. Plus, she was sure she'd still be able to use her phone despite its condition, if she really needed to.
As the haze of the day faded, she seemingly blinked and found herself in the bathroom sitting on the cool lid of the toilet. The cigarette in her hand sending winding grey ribbons to dance in the mold scented air. She sighed. Her eyelids felt so heavy. She reached over to the faucet. Absentmindedly marveling at herself for not wincing as the knobs shrieked at every turn. The pipes rattled the walls, filling the claw foot with the usual amount of flecks of paint as steam erupted from the spigot, filling the dank bathroom. Scalding water flowed like a geyser, crashing violently against the sides of the basin.
The sloshing water pelted her exposed skin with boiling droplets. She was unsurprised yet not unscathed. But she couldn't find the energy to sigh again. Instead, she stripped. Slowly revealing inches of abused skin. Physical reminders of the plumbing's mercurial temperament. One by one, her clothes were sacrificed to the growing mound currently encroaching on her ability to fully open the door to the cramped facilities. She ignored the numerous glowing eyes that stared at her from its dark crevices and the scratching from the darkness beneath the tub as she stepped toward it.
The steam that rose from it was thick and blurred the lines between everything. Her vision swam. The steam was overtaking her lungs, metastasizing and spreading voraciously to her throat. She wilted. A death grip on the edge of the tub, her only saving grace from the waiting waters below. A twisted humanoid face greeted hers as she stared into the bottomless washbasin as the steam rushed to claim her mouth and nose.
A single tear pricked the corner of her eye while she held the gaze of the grotesque figure with a disheartened stare, the billowing vapor smothering her all the while. Slowly, like always, the visage receded, and the water cooled taking the choking fog with it. She didn't bother waiting for it to cool completely before she dipped herself below its surface. The water's heat bit her skin; bright red blotches appeared on her submerged limbs. The water's sting was able to overcome the gulf of her dissociation, but was far removed from its usual intensity.
She took her time in the bath. She had no choice. Not with the knots in her muscles and the leaden weight of her exhaustion conspiring against her. She sagged against the slope of the tub, ignoring the slight sizzle as the dark metal made contact with her skin. The wailing started right on schedule. Its ghostly notes filled the house, accompanied by the usual symphony of bursting light bulbs. She idly wondered how many times had she replaced them as she was plunged into darkness.
She wallowed in that void, so tired she could no longer tell if her eyes were open or closed. Her lip trembled. Bone-tired. Weary of everything. Of the constrictor-like vines in the greenhouse. Of the cruel antebellum children in the basement. Of the fact that the food would spoil if she didn't keep an eye on it. This lament came with a dull pang deep in her stomach. Reluctantly, she withdrew from the tub.
Practiced hands found the heavy utility flashlight where it hung beside her loofa with ease. A thick beam of light cut through the dark, the last wisps of steam reflecting its brightness. Wrapping herself in a towel, she padded to her encampment in her living room. Glass shards from the shattered bulbs cut into the calloused soles of her feet. She paid them little mind. Her attention was more focused on not obstructing Jeremiah's path to the closet beneath the staircase.
She avoided the half corpse easily as he made his rounds, propelling himself by dragging the remaining upper half of his body across the floor by his hands. His ratty mechanic jumpsuit seemed to disintegrate further with every lap, as did the entrails that dragged behind him. The procession left a trail of chipped bloody nails, bits of fabric, and gore in its wake. As always. Her measured strides naturally carried her over the thick line of salt surrounding her makeshift accommodations. She dressed. Grabbing a clean set of clothes off the laundry line that ran across her sanctuary.
Her stomach twisted in on itself with hunger. Haunted blue eyes blankly stared at the stacks of nondescript tin cans by the cooler. Eventually, she picked two cans at random. She scarfed down the corn beef hash, unwilling to let it settle on her taste buds for too long before cleansing her pallet with the fruit medley. She took her time with her dessert, boldly daring to enjoy the chunks of peaches and pineapple.
Her mind drifted as heavy footfalls paced in the room above her, the clank of heavy chains tracing their path. She took another bite of her preserved sustenance. The dark, bloated cherry burst against her molars. Its juice washed over her tongue, sour and pungent. Earthy notes of mold followed. She retched.
She brushed her teeth. Frothy white bubbles dripped into a crusted tupperware sat between her legs. She rinsed. Sipping on a freshly opened bottle of water before placing the plastic container back in its rightful place. She half-heartedly reviewed what was left of her food stores. Low. She wondered if she should bother to attempt a supply run. She settled for an attempt at sleep instead.
An unfamiliar thumping startled her awake. She sat up, ramrod straight. A droplet of sweat beaded at her temple. It was coming from the backyard. Part of her begged to ignore it, but the thumping outside picked, syncopating with the baseline of her heart. Caution filled steps brought her to the backdoor. Multicolored light streamed in through the gouges left by the clawed beast that claimed the laundry room. The weakened wood pulsed softly in time with the baseline. Shakily, she grasped the knob and turned.
The dance floor was crowded. Through the flashing lights, she could see numerous couples and groups writhing and gyrating to the music coming from the stage. Her face twisted in confusion. She looked to the door behind her, but was instead was greeted by her reflection illuminated by the buzzing neon signs against the back of the bar. Her night clothes transformed to a tank and board shorts. Her feet were covered by her trusty Vans, and a tie completed the ensemble. She winced, reaching to the intricate knot that bit into her neck.
Her hand fell to her side as she heard familiar voices calling to her over the music. She hesitated a moment before wading through the throng of bodies. Her head bobbed to the music as she followed the voices to the front of the stage. The smiling faces of all her friends greeted her. She stared in shock before the aching in her cheeks drew her attention to the fact that she was smiling as well.
Wider than she had since..she couldn't remember when.. No. Since she'd last seen them all. Watery tears flowed freely down her cheeks, wiped away by countless warm, loving hands. The music picked up, and she lost herself in it. In them. With them. Head banging. Fist pumping. She danced. She cried. She sang. She screamed.
She found herself on stage. Aching reddened eyes looking into the crowd. Her friends in the front row whooping and hollering. Her family was there too. The longer she looked, the more people she recognized. The uncle she hadn't seen since his stroke three years ago. Her 6th-grade teacher who had that nasty fall over spring break. One party-goer was even holding a water-filled bowl with a solitary goldfish making figure eights.
Everyone was there. Relief washed over her at the revelation. As the DJ played the next song, the crowd cheered, hands raising in celebration. She laughed. They were cheering for her. They were always cheering for her. She dove off the stage into their waiting arms.
The rope went taught.
The house collapsed soon after, leaving nothing behind but a pile of rubble. Though that too eventually cleared out. Leaving an empty lot where it once stood.
It remains vacant to this day, now overrun by wild grass and a beautiful patch of sunflowers. But on nights when the moon is full, and the air tastes sweet, you can still hear the thumping of a baseline...or a heartbeat.
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