It’s funny how things can change from one day to the next. Not so long ago I had little cause for worry. I was a happy and scary haunted house like so many others. Of course it wasn’t always easy to frighten out of their wits all those who came to annoy me, but I had so many tricks hidden in my clever attic that even the bravest of the lot didn’t stand a chance.
‘Don’t you ever get tired of scaring people?’ inquired one day Alberto, the black raven that frequently came to rest on the branches of the dead, almost skeletal tree outside my window.
‘No,’ I replied with pride, ‘and, for your information, a good scare requires skill; it’s not something anyone can do.’
In fact I was perfectly equipped to do my job: I had living skeletons in my closets, ghosts in the basement, that made your hair stand on end with their screams, slimy hands that crawled from inside the bathtub, when some unsuspecting victim was taking a bath, and, what’s more important, I had plenty of imagination and received a great pleasure, whenever I found a new way to frighten a not so clever tenant.
Mrs. Flora Giacometti, the real estate agent, was getting desperate. She barely managed to find a new tenant for me and, before he could settle in for good, he was taken away in a straightjacket. It may seem like such a bad thing to do and today I think very differently and I wouldn’t find that sort of thing amusing, but not so long ago I had loads of fun scaring and frightening in hundreds of different inventive and imaginative ways any one unlucky enough to cross my threshold. I still remember one of the families who came to settle in me, back when I was freshly haunted: the Bartolinis.
Mr. Giacomo Bartolini, the head of the family, was a well off businessman. He was the renowned manufacturer providing the whole of Italy with the famous Bartolini pegs for hanging clothes. But, no matter how much money he made, his wife, Signora Lucia Bartolini, never grew tired or bored spending it.
They had only one child, Luigi, a boy who bore a great resemblance to a well fed porker and loved more than anything else to chew gum and pick his nose.
Perhaps you are wondering why they had decided to leave that great big mansion they had in the city and move to a rundown old country house like me. The reason was that Signora Lucia complained at the time all the more often about her tired nerves, for which supposedly city life was to blame, and Mr. Bartolini was getting equally tired of listening to her nagging.
So, without further ado, he had asked Mrs. Giacometti to find them a comfortable country house for an urgently needed change of atmosphere. And guess which house she picked. That’s right! Me!
From the moment I set my eyes on them, I knew I was going to make them regret coming and disturbing my peace.
A few minutes after those invaders had parked their ghastly big car in front of my garden gate without asking permission, the front car door opened and that unsophisticated oaf, Mr. Bartolini, made his appearance with a partly smoked, smelly cigarette in his mouth.
Believe it or not, first thing that awful man did, after he had crossed the front gate, was to put out that disgusting cigarette on the lawn. My garden, mind you, like that of any haunted house with a trace of self respect, was carefully neglected, full of dead trees, poisoned mushrooms and yellow leaves, but the last thing it needed was a smelly cigarette butt dispelling its eerie mystery and otherworldly atmosphere.
Nothing can make that delicate sense of subtle horror you find in a haunted place disappear quicker than a dozen cigarette butts lying on the grass. THAT DID IT! Even if Mr. Bartolini was totally unaware of the fact, with that impulsive move of his, war had been officially declared. I had no intention of accepting any kind of compromise in the serious matter of the respect all uninvited guests were obliged to show towards my scary little garden.
At the same time from the car emerged Signora Bartolini and that obnoxious youngster with his finger stuck up his nose as always.
‘Oh daglin dat house is, how to zay, very run down.’
Signora Bartolini had been born and raised in Italy and, naturally, if she wanted to, she would be perfectly able to speak without that ridiculous accent, but, since she had also spent one month in Germany, she thought it was very clever to speak like that, as if she had lived there for years. That was no accident. Signora Lucia was an arrogant little woman and she loved to show off to her friends and to brag even about the silliest of things.
Of her childhood friends she was the only one lucky enough to marry a wealthy man like Mr. Bartolini and she never missed a chance to remind them of that fact.
‘Don’t worry, pumpkin!’ replied Mr. Bartolini. ‘With our money this sad little place will soon be transformed beyond all recognition. Tomorrow morning I’ll contact the company that will take care of the repairs and the renovation.’
‘That’s what you think,’ I said to myself. ‘Over my cold dead body you will or, to be exact, over my fallen ruins.’
‘Bliah, that’s a regular hovel!’ screamed that obnoxious brat. ‘Is that where we’ll live?’
‘Yes and you’d better get used to it,’ exclaimed Mr. Bartolini.
‘I don’t want to! This place is a dump! All my friends will make fan of me. It hasn’t even got a pool. Let’s go back to our old house.’
‘Don’t worry, my little bug!’ assured Signora Bartolini. ‘In only a few dayz time diz old dump, as you call it, will be the perfect place for a well fed hmm I mean a well bred young boy like yourself to stay. Dad promised it. Isn’t dat zo, honeycakes?’
You see Signora Lucia hadn’t spent enough time in Germany to have a truly convincing accent.
‘If I were the betting sort, I’d bet you intend to make them regret crossing paths with you,’ crowed Alberto in a scheming manner.
‘I’ll start tonight,’ I laughed. ‘I’ll teach them a lesson they’ll never forget.’
‘Try not to overdo it!’ said the raven. ‘I feel a little sorry for the little dufus.’
But he was soon to change his mind. Suddenly the smelly little brat noticed Alberto and started screaming.
‘Hey, wait a minute! An ugly blackbird is sitting in that tree. Bother! I left my sling back home. There may be more than one. Once I get it, I swear I won’t leave them a moment of peace.’
And with those ill chosen words that nasty little brat grabbed a handful of stones and started throwing them at Alberto, who, needless to say, not in the best of moods, flew away to find refuge on my roof letting behind him dozens of black feathers.
‘I take it back,’ said the bird grouchily, ‘make their lives miserable!’
‘Trust me I will!’ I replied and at the same moment started the delicate operation with the code name “Shivers”.
‘Young man,’ said the man sternly, ‘stop this nonsense and let’s find out how this shack looks inside! This Giacometti woman has given me the key and told me that we can check it out at our leisure.’
‘That’s marrrvelous, darrrling! I’ve heard that these old manors have very interesting features.’
’Ha ha ha, we’ll find out soon enough, my dear, giggled Mr. Bartolini and with that remark inserted the key in the keyhole, turned it and prepared to push the door open. But as a matter of fact he didn’t get the chance to do it, as someone else was quicker than him. Clearly startled, the man saw a tall figure in a battler’s uniform and a bow tie appearing at the threshold.
‘Signor and Signora Bartolini, I presume,’ he said in the dignified, polite manner that servants always adopt when talking to their masters. ‘All the staff has been expecting you since this morning with great anticipation, Sir.’
‘Staff,’ repeated Mr Bartolini at a loss.
‘Honeycakes,’ exclaimed Signora Bartolini absolutely ecstatic, ‘you wanted to surprise me!’
‘But, tell me, how many people serve in this house?’ asked Mr. Bartolini unable to hide his confusion.
‘Oh, quite a few, I assure you, Sir,’ laughed the butler. ‘At least as many as they are required in order to cover every need of an aristocratic family like yours.’ ‘And a few more,’ he added in a low voice.
‘And to think I could swear you were a stingy, old miser, Darrrling,’ cried out obviously thrilled Signora Lucia. ‘We should invite my friends over for dinner one of these days. They’ll just die.’
Now, if I wasn’t a house and I had hands, I’d rub them together with satisfaction. Those arrogant, snotty rich people had fallen right into my trap and I wasn’t about to let them off easily.
The secret, when you want to scare more than one person, is isolation. You have to discover their individual weaknesses and take them on one by one separately. I had decided to start with the weakest link of the family, Signora Lucia. That crude Bartolini man and his idiot son would be next.
I don’t need to tell you that there weren’t actually any servants in the house. The butler they had met was in fact Bony, the leader of the living skeletons in my basement. I had told him in detail what to do and transformed him temporarily into a human with skin and flesh to complete my brilliant joke. I had also recruited many more monsters of those who had sought refuge in me, when I had turned into a haunted house, and had transformed them into servants.
My power to create such illusions was one of the most useful weapons in my arsenal as a haunted mansion. Draculeta, for example, was a vampire from a Transylvanian castle. She moved into me after the local mob had tried to lynch her and she accepted willingly to play the part of the housekeeper, while Slimetooth, the boogeyman who nested in the cupboard under the stairs, had no objection to assuming the role of the fat cook and prepare the surprise dinner I had planned for my distinguished guests.
Happily enough there was no shortage of ghosts and other monsters to complete the large staff of servants needed to dazzle those rich hicks.
Clotilde, the maid, was in fact Rot the Abomination, a monster, one of the least appealing you could come across, who frequented my attic and ate greedily the fat spiders found there.
At the head servant’s request, Rot led Signora Bartolini to her room because, as she herself had said, she needed to freshen up before dinner, something not particularly strange after the car drive she had shared with her crude husband and her obnoxious son.
The choice of the room was no accident, since there you could find my special mirror the miraculous attributes of which I will describe later. The maid offered to help Signora Lucia to undress yet, since she was rich but had no knowledge whatsoever of the aristocratic ways, she politely replied that Rot could find something more useful to do, like take a long walk off a short pier.
That was exactly what Rot wanted. My plan was going wonderfully well.
‘If her ladyship needs anything, I’ll be just outside,’ said Clotilde with fake politeness. ‘You know the bells in these old houses never work properly.’
And with that she disappeared.
‘Alone at last!’ sighed Signora Bartolini.
She got undressed and sat in front of the mirror to undo her braid and comb her long hair of which, I must observe, she was particularly proud. That was also the time to bring up to date the long list of assets and qualities that made her so much better than her less well-off friends.
That is not a joke. Signora Bartolini really had such a list that she kept up to date with much care, when she discovered something new in her life she could boast about:
Rich, charming husband.
Big, comfortable house in the city.
Well bred, intelligent son.
A poodle named Lulu.
A rich wardrobe with haute couture garments.
More than a hundred pairs of shoes.
And finally (here is the addition)
Big, impressive country house with many servants.
Note to self: Must not forget to tell it to Penny, who couldn’t even hire a proper housemaid. That’ll kill her!
‘Oh,’ she thought to herself, ‘pity mother isn’t alive to see me now. That bitter old hag who said that looks alone wouldn’t get me anywhere. Well look at me now, mom! Just by being gorgeous I’ve got me a rich man, I’m happy and there’s not a thing in the world you can do to change that. How do you like it?’
Extremely satisfied with herself, Signora Bartolini continued to comb her hair and to admire her graceful, harmonious features: her tiny french nose, her deep black eyes, her long brown hair, the white swanlike neck and her ample cleavage.
At that precise moment my wonderful mirror sprang into action. Luckily for me, when a house gets haunted, so do the pieces of furniture inside it, thus acquiring some miraculous attributes that make them wonderful toys and tools for a mind made for frights and scares like mine.
Suddenly, in front of that stupid woman’s eyes, an amazing transformation took place. The reflection in the mirror started getting distorted and becoming really monstrous. Her mouth took the form of an evil smile revealing, instead of her white pearls, a row of razor sharp black teeth like that of a shark. Her eyes started glowing like hot embers, her ears became pointy like a goblin’s and her skin took the greenish color of death.
Do you want to know what happened next? It was absolutely wonderful! Signora Bartolini at first became pale as a sheet of paper, then bit her lips and finally she screeched so loud that surely the sound of her voice would have reached the nearest village, if my walls hadn’t been in the way.
Panicked out of her wits and nauseated from the horrible sight, with the horror of it all freezing the blood in her veins, she rushed into the corridor where the maid was waiting with her back turned.
‘Clotilde, oh my God,’ she screamed, ‘there’s a revolting monster in my room! We have to do something. Call someone!’
And with that she shook Rot so hard that her rotten head fell off her short fat neck on the floor and after rolling for a while stopped and looked at her with an evil grin.
I admit I hadn’t planned this. It was one of those fortunate accidents that make a fright even more successful than one could possibly hope for.
‘Right away, Madam,’ replied the bodiless head with a great smile and Rot, thinking that the whole thing was so funny, started laughing hysterically. I don’t have to tell you that this was the final blow for that stuck up little woman.
‘Giacomo,’ she screamed completely out of her mind, ‘GIACOMO!’
While that fun incident lasted – I mean turning Signora Bartolini into a nervous wreck – Bony my skeleton had taken it upon himself to keep her annoying husband occupied and to show him my rooms that I had transformed so that they might look cozy and pleasant. Signor Bartolini had nestled down already in my soft, comfortable armchair, smoking his smelly American cigarette and enjoying the deceptive, homely atmosphere of my haunted living room.
I wish you were there to see the dour look he gave his wife when she burst in, reminding a regular crazy shrew, all the while mumbling about monsters, mirrors and talking heads.
‘Giacomo,’ she screamed, ‘we have to leave at once. Don’t talk to anyone! This house is evil, it is demonic!’
‘Leave?’ he asked. ’You have to be joking, darling. I’m quite comfortable where I am. Thank you very much. I think this house is ideal, exactly what we have been looking for. Are you nuts?’
At this point Signor Bartolini realizing that his tone wasn’t the right one for this situation he did what most grown-ups do when they are in trouble: he put on the fake mask of kindness and said tenderly:
‘Darling, your nerves must be really tired. The country air will do wonders for you, you’ll see.’
Needless to say, he had been cursing and swearing all the while, but not out loud of course. ‘Typical,’ he thought to himself, ‘that silly hen has chosen the right moment to go mad. Just when my business starts to pick up and I need a presentable wife to stand by my side in the social events of the high society and the business parties where all my associates expect me to be in my best form. How can I find another wife now? A wife is like a good racing horse. You have to train her to do what she’s supposed to do, the way you want her to do it.’
‘No, Giacomo,’ cried Signora Bartolini, ’I’m not mad. I’m telling you the truth. Something horrible is happening here, something unnatural!’
Now, as she was saying that, Rot, having put her head back into place, entered the living room.
‘Is Madam feeling all right?’ she asked with fake concern “She looked a bit distraught a little while ago.’
That was a stroke of genius. Signora Bartolini looked at her once, screamed one last time and collapsed into her husband’s arms.
‘I don’t think there is anything to worry about,’ said Bony without much interest, ‘the sudden change of environment and the level of oxygen must have had this effect on Madam’s nerves. In a little while she’ll be right as rain.’
‘Yes, I certainly think so too,’ agreed Signor Giacomo.
He had not completed his phrase when that revolting little pig, Luigi, barged in.
‘What was that, dad? Why is mom screaming?’ he inquired with his finger in position to nest in its usual place, in his huge left nostril.
‘Nothing for you to worry about, boy! Your mother is just tired, that’s all. Her nerves need a rest.’
’So she’s finally ready to be put in the loony bin,’ yawned Luigi.
‘Silence, you idiot,’ barked his father, ‘you should talk with more respect of your mother.’
’I get it. She’s a complete fruitcake,’ said the rude boy with a particularly indifferent gesture.
‘What?’ yelled his father. ‘You little punk, mind your manners or else…’
‘Yeah, right. Like I give a dam,’ replied Luigi with a stupid laugh, ‘I’m going to hunt that blackbird. When it’s time for dinner, call me!’
‘Good riddance,’ said Signor Bartolini.
And with that warm and heartfelt farewell from his father the revolting boy disappeared.
‘Now it’s my chance,’ I thought to myself.
Of course as a haunted house I had plenty of monsters to assist me in my frights. There was a little devil though, particularly malicious, who answered to the name of Redpaw and loved participating in the brilliant practical jokes and pranks that I was famous for.
The little devils that usually inhabit the depths of the earth and are known to humans by the name of goblins or trolls come to the surface for no other reason than to torment the unsuspecting mortals in ways that staying in their dark realm simply would not permit. A common house would not be an appropriate residence while a haunted house like me would be the ideal refuge for them and would allow them to hatch their diabolical plans in peace and to attack the human race to their heart’s content.
Such a creature was immensely useful to me. Ghosts, boogeymen and vampires would not dare to come out of my haunted rooms and walk around in broad daylight or at least it wasn’t usual for them to do so. Redpaw on the other hand had no such reservations. That little devil was ideal to scare a pampered mama’s boy like Luigi.
What made it especially hard to scare Luigi wasn’t some kind of supernatural courage on his part but just another weapon he possessed, much more difficult to defeat. By that I mean his great, his unbelievable stupidity.
Now it may seem that something like that wouldn’t be enough to daunt a house like myself, full of monsters and possessed furniture but in fact such an overwhelming stupidity is a strong shield against even the darker, most evil forces in the world. It goes hand in hand with an absolute lack of even the most basic imagination.
Of course there are many such idiots in the world that manage to pass for great minds and geniuses and you can come across them everywhere, in schools, universities and – you’ve guessed it – without a doubt in many of the world’s parliaments.Such people can push aside much more competent and intelligent individuals with a very simple method. Since they have no ideas of their own it’s simple for them to fill their minds with the ideas of others and then repeat them again and again, as if they were their own thoughts. You won’t catch people like that fighting against injustice or opposing any action of their superiors no matter how irrational that action might be.
Do not marvel that I, a humble haunted house, know all that! I owe my education mainly to Alberto, one of the wisest ravens you can come across. You see, he has travelled all over Italy and has seen the whole world from above. There are stupid nose pickers everywhere around us, capable of getting on the nerves of even the most calm and rational thinker. It is really almost impossible for them to be moved, get scared or feel their own worthlessness, no matter what is happening around them. All the same I was determined to fight, even if the odds were against me.
Luigi with his finger up his nose resembled an impregnable fortress and I, a humble haunted house, like a pirate ship lost in the storm, with my meager forces, my frightened pirates and my weak cannons, was determined to attack it and to be victorious. Terror against stupidity! What would prevail?