Comfy furniture, artwork on the walls. Cutsy knick-knacks. Flowers and candles. Bible verses written in calligraphy... The perfect place for a writers' retreat, and you and your friend drop your bags, ooh-ing and aah-ing--
--up the steep, narrow stairs to the bedrooms, and for some reason, your skin prickles and you chide yourself because what is so scary about steep narrow stairs? and at the top of the stairs, two bedrooms, one with a twin bed and a door that opens into an--okay, you have to admit it--a creepy attic space. You close the door fast and leave the room and find your friend.
I want to stay in this room, you say, pointing at the bigger room with the bigger bed. You are halfway embarrassed to say this, but whatever.
Your friend says, Oh, well, okay, I'll sleep downstairs on the couch.
And you say, um, no, let's both sleep in this room. Because you can't imagine sleeping upstairs alone and you're a little mortified about saying this too, but you don't care.
You have been in the house for fifteen minutes, but it's time to leave. You explore the charming town, snapping a picture of the barn across the street, the one with the human skulls in the windows. You drop inside an antique store. You buy a funny postcard.
You walk with your friend across a long bridge. The day is lovely and sunny and warm.
That night you settle into the bigger bed, a little embarrassed, next to your friend. It's so cold in the room and then it's so unbearably hot, but eventually, you fall asleep. You sleep like the dead.
In the morning you wake up early. You walk down the steep narrow stairs. You don't realize you are walking sideways. Just a silly thing. You want to make sure your back's not turned, that's all. Silly.
Your friend sleeps like the dead until nearly noon. When she wakes up, she's bleary-eyed. It was so hot last night, she says. I couldn't sleep. I had to keep messing with the heat and every time I did, the temperature was higher.
Huh. You don't remember that.
You leave the house together, exploring the town again. Driving this time, across the long bridge. You leave the car in a parking lot and go out with people you know from the town. It's late when one of the people offers to drive you and your friend to the house. Good idea, you say.
We'll go back for the car in the morning.
Your friend wants to stay up and write but you're so tired, you can hardly think. Still, you sit for a while in the living room. You don't want to walk up the steep narrow stairs alone. But this is silly. You go up the stairs sideways. You go to sleep--
And then it's 3:00 in the morning and your friend is shaking you awake. I'm so sorry, she says. Her voice is panicky, and you instantly sit up.
Something is happening in the house, she says. And just like that you hear it. Rattling and clanging and banging. It's coming from the basement, she says. Do you hear it?
Well, of course you hear it. It's freaking loud. Water running through pipes?
But we aren't using the water, your friend says.
Steam banging in the radiators?
But the house doesn't have radiators.
You walk down the stairs sideways, so scared now that you don't notice that your friend is also walking does the stairs sideways. The noise is coming from the basement. The door to the basement is locked.
Well, whatever, you're not going down there anyway.
Let's get out of here, your friend says, and you realize that she has her sneakers on and her coat on over her pajamas and her purse draped over her arm.
Hell, yeah, you think, as the noise clanks louder up from the basement vents and you are trying to think logically but it's 3 o'clock in the morning and maybe something is going to happen, bad, like the furnace will explode. This happened in your town last year, so it's not an insane possibility, and now, you've got your shoes on and your coat on and your purse in your hand, and the noise is growing louder and who the hell knows, maybe someone has broken into the basement, a homeless person, knocking and banging around.
Forget this! You're going to a hotel. You'll come back for your things in the morning.
Your friend is digging for her keys, and then it hits you:
the car is on the other side of town,
in a parking lot. On the other side of the long bridge. It begins to storm.
You and your friend huddle together on the couch, the TV on, every damn light in the house on, listening, hyper-alert-ly to the banging and metal scratching, and now improbably, the walls have started to make noise too, something that sounds like knocking, and your friend says, Rodents? and you nod, but you know that rodents don't have fists.
You grab your friend's arm and you lean against each other on the couch. You have never been this scared in your entire life. No. This is a lie. You have been this scared. You were scared your entire childhood. Of the dark. Of going to sleep. Of waking up. Of people dying. Of people creeping into your bedroom in the middle of the night. And you remember the terror of your childhood self as you hold your friend's hand, telling yourself that all of this is in the past and you are an adult and you have escaped and you are safe now and this, this, THIS, whatever this is, has a logical explanation even if you can't think of what it might be at the moment.
The house is quiet. You wake next to your friend on the couch and you are both crazed and wrung out, packing your things quickly, and walking sideways up and down the steep narrow stairs for one final time.
You cross the bridge together, nearly sprinting for the car. You return to the house. You have to go to the bathroom, but f that. You'll go pee at a McDonalds. You gather your stuff and flee the charming lovely house. You get into the car and shudder out relieved sighs.
You start to drive away and you both gasp at the same moment.
What is THAT? your friend says.
And there, directly behind the house where you stayed, is another house. It's gray and weathered and collapsing in on itself. It's a stereotypical horror show, so stereotypically horrifying, that you both laugh hysterically and your friend presses her foot on the gas and says, let's get the hell out of here.
That night, when you are safely at home, you try to explain all of this to your husband, but you know none of it makes sense. Why would you be afraid of steep narrow stairs? Lights coming on. Heat. Noise. Rodents in the walls. It's all so silly.
But look at THIS, you say to your husband.
You pull up Google Earth as you tell him about the unbelievable freak show of a house that was looming up directly behind the one where you stayed. This is something you have got to see, you say.
You find the charming house on Google Earth easily. You zoom in. You zoom around. You zoom above. You zoom to the sides. This can't be right, you tell your husband.
There is no house behind yours.
|(no lie. THIS is the lot behind the house where you stayed.)