I lay in bed replaying to myself the conversation I had with Sage. He had just sat back down on the bench next to me and had asked me if I knew about what had happened in my house …
“No, what?” I ask, intrigued. He rests his arm on the bench behind me. Too close for my comfort. I scoot farther away from him when his attention is diverted to his pocket as he reaches into it. He pulls out a packet of gum and he takes out a piece. He unwraps the aluminum wrapper and then pops the gum into his mouth. He pulls out another one and again offers it to me, which I decline.
“The family who lived there before you said that strange things happened there.”
“What kind of strange things?”
“Well, they said they would hear footsteps, breathing, and see shadow figures out of the corner of their eyes — usually accompanied by an awful odor that smelt of death,” he replies theatrically, wrinkling his nose for emphasis. “They said at night that they would hear a noise like something was scratching at their bedroom door, and that they’d hear footsteps leading up to their bed.”
“You’re kidding, right? You’re not just saying that to freak me out, are you?”
“I swear that’s what I heard.”
“How could —?”
“Are you gonna let me finish the story or not?” he says, impatiently cutting me off.
“As I was saying, one morning when they woke up they found; Get the F out of here, written on every window and every mirror. After that they split, leaving all their stuff behind. There hasn’t been one person who set foot in that house since then. Well, except for the Realtor and the cleaning crew. Then you guys moved in. I can’t believe the house even sold. I heard the Realtor that sold the house say he couldn’t believe they were able to find a buyer. He swore that he would never go back to it and that he doesn’t even care about representing the listing when it comes back on the market, which they didn’t expect would take long.”
“Dead serious. The Realtor is a local and said he didn’t feel at ease at the place, that strange things happened there. Hell, even the cleaning crew thought so — they kept quitting on them. They even hired people from out of town. No crew would spend more than a few days working there and they’d only work during the day.”
“You don’t believe me?”
“I believe that’s what you heard, but the story — not so much.”
“And why is that?”
“I just think that there has to be a rational explanation.”
“Okay, I think they probably had mice,” I say, trying not to jump to conclusions. I hope they’re gone by now. I hate mice.
“Go on.” Now it’s his turn to critique.
“Okay, I think the mice might have scratched their bedroom door.”
“Okay, then Miss Know-it-all. Explain the smell.”
“Fine, maybe a mouse had died.”
“The footsteps are easily explained by them scurrying along under the floorboards.”
“Wouldn’t they find evidence of mice?” I’m stumped. He has a point.
“Hold on, give me a second here. I’m still thinking.”
“Take your time.”
What do I know about mice? I think, I remember hearing something about mice on Animal Planet, but what was it? What was it?
“Not if they stay in the walls.”
“Mice burrow in walls. If they rarely come out they might not find any evidence.” I smile triumphantly at him. “Anymore questions?” He narrows his eyes in agitation, his eyes change into a darker green and his brows furrow like he’s trying to come up with something good to say. He then gives a slight smile that doesn’t match the rest of his facial expression. I guess he came up with something.
“I just remembered something that I’d heard.”
“Continue.” Does he really believe all of that talk? It’s just a web of lies. I guess it’s like they say, “hot guys are stupid”. I should have expected as much. What’s he going to say next? Is he going to try to sell me a whole “aliens are going to take over the world conspiracy”? I should have known he was too good to be true.
“The Realtors said that they’d hear things move around, and see things out of place. But when they took a second look, everything would be in order.”
“Is that —?”
“Wait, let me finish. At first they dismissed it, until all of a sudden they were seeing things being moved around in front of them. And no, it wasn’t mice. Objects were being suspended in the air and occasionally tossed at them by an unseen force. They even got it on tape.” Oh, crap! That means what happened earlier really happened. Wait … what am I saying? I was just hallucinating, who’s to say there isn’t a gas leak in the house or something.
“Have you seen the tape?”
“Well, no —”
“Hah! Just like I thought.” I win. I hope. He shakes his head and he does something unexpected. Well, at least I didn’t expect it.
“If I were you —” He leans in closer to me. His face inches away from mine. I can feel the heat of his breath on my face. His breath smells like peppermint. My heart skips a beat. His eyes are hypnotizing — I resist the urge to pull in closer to him. His lips are just inches away from mine.… “— I’d be smart and ask my parents to hire someone to do some kinda cleansing ritual or something, just in case.” Sage’s emphasis on the word smart lifts the spell — once again I’m pulled back down to reality.
“Thanks, but unlike most people, I’m not one to buy into things so easily. I’ll have to see it to believe it.”
Does everyone in this town believe the house is haunted? If so, possibly what I thought I saw earlier … No. Hell no. That never happened and that’s the end of it. They’re just crazy. Possibly there’s something … in the drinking water, yeah, the water could be contaminated. What else would cause such mass hysteria? Good thing we don’t drink from the tap. I wonder why Sage was the first person to try to warn me? I mean the lady at the ice cream shop obviously had some knowledge of the tale. Maybe people are scared to talk. They probably think that something bad will happen to them if they do.
Then again, Sage didn’t seem to be concerned for his own safety. He was more concerned for mine. Why does he have to be so gullible and simple minded? Hopefully, it’s just ignorance. Sigh. Well, it’s not really his fault. It’s this towns fault. They’re all gullible. That brings me right back to the town. Are people betting on how long it’ll take us to leave? Did they just sit back and watch while some poor out-of-state suckers came along and bought the house without any knowledge of its history? I thought that this was the Bible Belt, the land of “Southern hospitality”, where everybody looks out for each other. I guess that’s not the case for strangers. Well, except for Sage, but he’s not your average blue-eyed Southern boy.
On the other hand, he could have been joking and made it all up… but then again, he did look dead serious. The ice cream shop lady’s look of concern replays in my mind. Yeah, I don’t think he made up the story. Besides, Sage couldn’t have possibly just said that for the hell of it. A guy like that is attractive enough to get any girl, so why would he make up some story to get my attention? Sage did ask before we left the park if we were coming back tomorrow, and he did look hopeful when I told him we might. Does that mean he likes me or is he just doing what he thinks is right? Sage … hmm, I think I’m beginning to hate this town a little less. My thoughts are interrupted by Mama’s call.
“Mar, come downstairs and wash-up, dinners ready!”
As I walk down the hall to the dining room, I notice the lights are flickering on and off. In the corner of my eye I think I see a shadow creep by me and at the same time I’m hit with an icy breeze. What the hell was that? I don’t wait to find out. I run at full speed to the dining room. I think Sage’s story is starting to get to me. I find that everyone is seated. They all turn to look at me.
“What’s wrong?” Mama asks.
“Nothing,” I lie, unconvincingly. They give me a look that says; “Fine, if that’s what you’re going to go with”.
I sit down in my place and we dine. I glance around the room in an attempt to calm my nerves. It some what does the job. The dining room is large — it’s even bigger than the breakfast room. The walls are covered in flower-printed wallpaper — the flowers are red with green leaves and vines; the background is yellow. The table where we are all seated is the bigger twin of the breakfast table. Only an artist could have created such a masterpiece. Above the table is a large crystal chandelier almost as intricately made as the table. Behind the head of the table, against the wall, is a large wooden china closet. Peering once more around the room, I come to the conclusion that all the furnishing, even the crown molding, all match and must have been carved by the same hand. Come to think of it, the whole house appears to have been made by the same maker. Damn, Papa did get this place for a steal.
Wisps of steam twist and curve as they ascend from my tantalizing plate of homemade eggplant lasagna. I tear off a fork full and I carefully blow on it before I take a bite. Mmm. The eggplant is soft as pasta — cheese fills my mouth with its gooeyness. Mama makes the best food.
The only conversation is being held between Mama and Papa; something about the light fixtures needing to be rewired because they keep flickering on and off on their own. A logical explanation, verifying that what I thought I just experienced was all in my head.
“So, did you guys have fun?” Mama asks, pulling my attention away from the food in my mouth.
“I know I had fun. Did you have fun, Sunshine?”
“Yep. Maw gave me a big cookie!”
“Good. Did you guys make any new friends?”
“I played with a nice little boy named, Oscaw. He’s my new fwiend.”
“Did you see the little boy, Mar?” Papa asks.
“As well as I am seeing you.”
“You pwayed with a wittle boy? Wewen’t thewe any wittle giwls?” Papa asks, half teasing, half concerned. He’s always concerned when he hears the word boy mentioned in a sentence — even a little one; he doesn’t want her to start liking little boys yet. To his dismay I liked boys by the time I could read. The farther away from boys we are the longer he can keep us at home — at least in his mind that’s how it works. He’s delusional. At some point he’s going to have to give up on that notion. That’s the difference between Mama and Papa. Mama encourages us on the point of dating and getting married, and Papa strongly discourages any idea of the kind.
“Thewe wewen’t any giwls, so Maw played with me until Oscaw — until Oscaw played with me.”
“Oh,” Papa replies thoughtfully. “Did you meet anybody?”
“Maw talked to Oscaws oldew bwothew.” I look at Marisol in amazement. Why did she have to say that? My eyes wander towards Mama and I notice that she is smiling at me with excitement. We both turn our attention towards Papa, waiting for his reaction. This should be good.
“Hmm, that’s nice,” he says, not paying attention. He is totally focused on the plate in front of him. Normally, I would be a little mad since he wasn’t listening. But seeing that he would have freaked out, I don’t mind.
“Wait, what?” he says almost spitting out a mouth full of food.
Spoke too soon. “It’s nothing. He just started to speak to me so since you raised me to be polite I had to answer him. I’d have been rude if I had ignored him, right? I was just practicing my ‘Southern hospitality’.” He grumbles something incoherent. Good, that should get him off my back. Nosy old man.
Tell me more later, Mama mouths as Papa begins shoveling food into his mouth in agitation. I nod my head in response and go back to eating. The room is silent for the rest of the evening as Papa gets over my new friend or as he sees him my potential; “boyfriend” i.e. “The Enemy Combatant”.
After dinner, Mama and I clear the plates. Usually Marisol does this with me, but Mama really wants to know about Sage. She follows me into the kitchen with the plates stacked in our hands. We set them down in the sink.
“So,” Mama says, her voice dripping with eagerness.
“So, what does he look like? How old is he? Is he blonde or is he a brunette? Was he —?”
“Mama, cálmese, okay” I say, trying to recall the first question. “His name is Sage Sterling and he’s sixteen, but he looks like he could be in college. He’s six foot something. He has hazel-green eyes and brown curly hair. And most importantly, he’s very muscular.” I left out the part about the bruised eye and the fact that he was the guy that almost hit us with his truck. I figure that’s on a need-to-know-bases. “That’s all I know about him.”
“Did he ask if you were going to go back?” She’s basically jumping out of her skin right now.
“I said I might.” I don’t hold back a grin.
“Well, I guess you’re going to the park tomorrow.”
“Okay, well thank you for doing the dishes. I’m going to go watch some TV with your Papa,” Mama says, patting my shoulder as she crosses from behind me to the door.
“Nice,” I say sarcastically. She got what she wanted and is now going to leave me to do the dishes alone. I give her a kiss before she leaves. “Muchas, gracias.”
“De nada,” she says, before turning to leave out of the kitchen. I should have given her some more information and then maybe she would have stuck around and helped. Should have, could have, would have, but didn’t. Oh well, at least I have a dishwasher, and the iPod.
Thump. Thump. Thump. Grrrrrrrr. What was that? I sit up on my bed, the hairs on the back of my neck are standing up. Jesus, why is it that I wake up from one nightmare only to enter into another? The room is dark, only light enough for me to make out the shape of the furniture and vaguely the floorboards. Why did Marisol have to be unafraid of the dark? I mean couldn’t she have asked for one little nightlight. Again I hear a thump accompanied by a growl. There it is again. What could that possibly be? What’s making the board’s creek so eerily?
That sounds just like what Sage told me the couple who lived here used to hear. Next there’ll be something scratching at the door. No, there has to be a logical explanation for what I am hearing. Maybe it’s Trevor. Yeah, it has to be him.
I hear the sounds of nails clicking on the hardwood floors. Yeah, that’s Trevor. Stupid dog nearly gave me a heart attack. Man, was I being stupid. My overactive imagination is getting the best of me. I want to strangle Sage. Then I hear Trevor outside my window barking and growling. Papa must have forgotten to let him in. Poor dog.
Grrrrrrrr. Wait a minute, if Trevor’s outside … then what the hell is making that growling noise? Mice? Mice can’t growl, they squeak. Damn, it’s getting closer. I stare at the door. Scraaaatch. The noise sounds like someone is digging their fingernail into the door and is slowly scraping down.
Mama, Papa, someone please wake up! Come on, wake up people. Please wakeup.
The door opens slowly. The temperature in the room drops. I can literally see my breath. I’ve seen enough scary movies to know that this is not good. I get a big whiff of an acrid stench coming from the same direction of the noise. I start retching. The smell is revolting — it stinks of a rotting corpse. I try to breathe through my mouth, but I’m having a hard time of doing that because the odor is so thick, I can almost taste it.
Thump. “Who’s there?” I can’t see anybody. The sound is becoming louder and louder as it closes in on us. I try to shield Marisol with my body from the unseen phantom, but my muscles are frozen in place. My arms and legs are no longer in cooperation with my mind. My eyes narrow in at the spot at the foot of my bed where the noise stopped. I can hear it exhale. Breathe, I remind myself. My breathing is shallow as I wait — which feels like an eternity — to see what will happen next. I count the seconds away in my head. Thirty seconds. A minute. Two minutes pass and nothing has happened. Finally, I gather enough courage to speak.
“What do you want?”
No answer. I hear a child’s laugh. I feel my mattress indent like it’s sitting by my feet, in between me and Marisol. I am frozen in fear. Run, says that little voice in the back of my head. Run. Scream. Do something.
I try to budge, but I’m frozen. I’m paralyzed. The bed feels like it’s spinning but I am stuck in place.
Oh my God. I watch as my sheets are pulled from under my mattress. I see a small figure creeping under my sheets, inching its way on top of me. Please. Please get off of me. Someone help me!!!