It was a beautiful fall day when they drove through an old neighborhood looking to buy their first home. The kids were with their grandparents. The wife, Ana, was in the passenger seat of the minivan as their realtor, Dawn, was driving. They were deep into the suburban labyrinth when Ana asks Dawn to pull over across the street from a dilapidated old Victorian mansion.
"Wow, would you look at this place, Jack. Imagine fixing it up," Ana said to her husband.
"It must have been very grand in its heyday, but now it looks like a massive money pit,” Jack replied.
"It is not for sale," said Dawn abruptly. "It, er, I heard it has been stuck in some kind of family inheritance dispute for years. Since I was a kid it has been rumored to be haunted. An urban legend says that a few kids who were brave enough to break into it on Halloween were never seen again. I think they ran away from home since the police never found any sign of them in the house. Anyway, this home is for sale, would you like to take a look?" she pointed to the house they were parked in front of directly across the street from the old mansion.
"Sure,” Ana replied while jumping out of the minivan before Jack could contest.
It looks like a nice enough house, but it will take me ten minutes just to get to the freeway, and the fire station is halfway across town, Jack thought to himself.
The Fire Station where Jack works is on the expensive side of town and buying in this older area would allow them to buy a much bigger home for their growing family. At least that's how Ana convinced him to take on a commute. The two bedroom condo they rented was just around the corner from his work, but to buy a house in that area he would have to take a second job and Ana would have to work. So, he reluctantly stepped out of the vehicle and began walking to the house. Ana was still standing beside the car fixated on the old place.
"Are you coming?" Jack asks, as Ana is still standing there when Dawn opens the front door and begins reading information about the listing off of her smart phone.
"This is a great starter home for you. It is a three bedroom two bath, built in nineteen eighty nine. It has a…."
"Ana, you wanted to see this house, remember!" Jack calls out, snapping her out of her trance. Ana felt an unexplainable excitement even as the minivan came closer to the old Victorian mansion. When it came into view she knew that "it" was the source of her excitement. She couldn't take her eyes off of it. When she stood on the sidewalk and looked at it across the street she became mesmerized. The longer she stared at it the more "alive" it became. It was like a wave washed over it from black and white into color. The massive dilapidated front yard became immaculate; the grass went from dead to bright green, the shriveled shrubs transformed into a contrasting luscious dark green and on one side of the yard they actually took animal shapes. A topiary, Ana thought to herself. Then the home itself became repaired and freshly painted; an almost pink beige with white trim and railing surrounding the wrap around porches on both the first and second story, forest green accents with light purple storm windows.
Hearing her name, Ana is ushered back to reality. She follows Jack in but can't shake the vision out of her head as they walk through the house observing the living room, bedrooms, and bathrooms which are all basic and unremarkable. They walk out to the backyard and finally Jack begins to become interested. The place has a huge fenced in backyard with a front grassy area and a second area in the back which has a large garden on one side and a green house on the other. Behind the green house is a large shed.
Jack lets out a low whistle. “Cool, this place is already set up for gardening,” Jack comments.
"The owner is willing to leave all the tools and equipment as part of the purchase price," Dawn says, reading off her phone. “Let me show you the kitchen,” Dawn says to Ana. The kitchen has been updated with all state of the art appliances. What really catches Ana's eye is the window over the sink. The window looks directly out to the mansion across the street, she stands there for a while staring. She has a perfect view of the large front parlor window and the mansions kitchen window. Although a great distance she can swear she sees a figure in the kitchen window as the house again comes alive.
“Aah!” Ana jumps as Jack puts his arms around her. She half turns to face him.
“Sorry, did I scare you?”
“No, you just startled me is all,” Ana replies, returning her gaze to the window. Once again the house has returned to its original state, and the figure has vanished.
“Oh, so what do you think? It's a great price for the area. Did you see that garden? That alone makes it worth the commute.”
"Let's make them an offer," Ana replies, her eyes still fixated on the window across the street.
"A frugal offer," Jack replies, chuckling.
Surprisingly, their lowball offer is accepted and they move in immediately. Jack gets right to work fixing up the backyard for the kids and prepping the garden for next spring. Ana spends a lot of time in the kitchen now using her new appliances. She finds herself spending more and more time staring at the mansion across the street while doing dishes. She tells Jack that some day she would like them to buy the old place and fix it up. Jack explains to her that it would be a huge undertaking and the expense would be beyond his pay grade. He tells her he can’t understand her fixation with the place and that it looks like it should be condemned. Ana stares at the mansion every chance she gets. It now "comes to life" only a few moments after looking at it.
A few days after getting settled their only neighbor, Rose, stops by with some homemade bread as a housewarming gift. Ana offers Rose a cup of coffee and they move to the kitchen. They make small talk until Ana asks Rose about the Mansion across the street. Rose explains to her that this whole subdivision was built on what was the old mansions property. That both of their houses were part of the front "garden" and that they began a house on the other side of her home but never finished past the foundation before abandoning the project. While she was listening Ana drifted over to the sink and began staring at the mansion out the window. "It seems to come alive," Ana said more to herself than to Rose.
"You shouldn’t stare at it too long," Rose says in an almost scolding manner.
"What did you say?" asked Ana, snapping out of her transfixion.
"Look at the time, I'm sorry but I must be going. I'm already running late for my appointment," Rose says as she sets down her cup and makes her way to the front door. "I'll see myself out, thank you for the coffee. It was nice meeting you.” She was out the door before Ana could even follow her.
That was strange, Ana thought to herself before going back to the kitchen sink to stare out the window as she sips her coffee. This time rather than to stare at the mansion it was to see if Rose actually left for an appointment. Rose’s car still had not pulled out of her driveway when she finished her coffee so she begins doing the dishes.
She lied to me. She didn't leave for an appointment. Well, maybe by appointment she meant one of her TV shows was on. She did tell me she was retired and she looks a little eccentric. One thing's for sure, she knows more about the mansion than she told me, Ana thinks to herself as the mansion begins its transformation before her eyes. She again believes she sees someone in the kitchen window. This time they wave.
Ana catches herself waving back and freaks herself out. I'm going to find out what Rose knows, now, Ana thinks as she calls the kids and they all walk next door. She knocks on the door repeatedly, but there is no answer. She was sure she didn't leave.
"So that's how it is. So much for having a friendly neighbor," she tells her kids as they walked back home.
For the next week she kept the blinds shut in the kitchen. A couple of days later she begins to avoid looking at the mansion.
Meanwhile, Jack shows up with a new dog he has saved from a fire. The house was a complete loss and the owners could not keep him. He was a huge Bull Mastiff mixed with a German Shepherd. The kids loved him and he loved the kids. They named him Bull. Ana was watching John, their five year old boy play ball with Bull in the back yard when the timer went off for the cookies she was baking for the upcoming Halloween party at the station. As she entered the kitchen the smoke billowing from the oven told her she cooked them too long. After taking out the cookies she opened the kitchen window to let out the smoke. After throwing out the cookies, she went straight to work washing the cookie sheets. That's when she glanced out the window. The mansion again came "alive" but this time she noticed something different. In the topiary garden there was now a bush shaped like a little boy and another like a dog with a round green ball/bush between them which looked just like the scene in her backyard before the timer went off. She could not believe her eyes. She rubbed her eyes and looked again, but the mansion returned to its decaying state. Ana walked back to the backyard and John was now rough house playing with Bull. Ana went to check on her two year old daughter Hanna, who was taking an afternoon nap, before returning to the kitchen. Looking at the mansion again Ana gasped and ran to the backyard screaming John's name. This time when the house transformed the topiary showed a dog standing over a headless boys' body with the boys head lying next to the ball. When she reached the backyard John was lying across Bull and Bull was half turned licking John's face. Ana called for John to come to her and he ran to her arms asking what was wrong as tears were streaming down his mothers face.
Bull who was close behind John came over to investigate. In seeing Bull Ana grabbed him by the ears and looked directly into his face and warned, " You better not ever hurt a hair on these kids heads or it's straight to the pound for you."
Ana once again returned to the kitchen, and just in case anything were to happen she asked John to play in the front yard with Bull so she could keep an eye on them. Ana kept watch through the kitchen window as she made a new batch of cookies to take to the Fire Station tomorrow as it was Halloween and although Jack was off many of his "brothers" would be on duty. Ana was watching John and Bull play as the house transformed. This time the parlor window was open and a lights illuminating the interior showed figures moving, no dancing, as if at a formal party. Ana stood transfixed at the sight when two of the couples stopped dancing and stood in a line along the window facing her. Ana looked away as if caught peeping into a party that she wasn't invited too. When she looked again the party had moved to the front yard with people standing about. Ana became very disturbed when a man in a top hat turned to her and raised a glass and then waved for her to come join them. Then the party seemed to stop and all the guests turned to face her. She looked at John and Bull who were no longer playing. Bull was facing the mansion and letting out a deep growl which became a vicious bark. "Get inside now!" she yelled out the window.
John just stood there as if trying to figure out what Bull was barking at. Ana raced out the front door and saw that the people across the street were moving towards them. She grabbed John and turned him around and yelled, "Run!" She then grabbed Bull by the collar and dragged him to the door. Bull stopped at the door and turned again to bark at the apparitions when Ana noticed something truly horrifying; three of the figures in the mansions yard were not dressed in period clothing like the others, but in modern classic Halloween costumes. With almost super human strength she pulled the bull mastiff in the front door causing him to yelp. She locked the front door and then raced to the kitchen, locking the door and shutting the blinds. She continued to act in this manner until all of the windows and doors were locked, and all of the blinds were shut in the entire house. All the while John was following her asking what was wrong and what was Bull barking at.
"It must have been a cat or a squirrel … or a cat. I just didn't want him to run off and get hit by a car," she told him.
"He wasn't barking at the people across the street was he?" John asked.
Shocked, Ana answered, "It must have been a cat, nobody lives across the street. Don't say anything to your father, understand."
"Yes, Mommy," he replied; before going to the living room to watch TV.
It was a long night as Jack's shift did not end until six in the morning. Ana was up all night going over the events of the day, but she was too afraid to look out any window to see if what she saw had actually taken place. When Jack got home in the morning she told him she had a rough night with Hanna and that she would take a nap after he slept, and when she wakes up she would run the cookies over to the Fire Station. Ana woke up about four thirty and delivered the cookies. Jack stayed home to give out candy as it would be about dark when she got home. Not one "trick or treater" even came down their street. When Ana had not arrived home by five thirty Jack looked out the kitchen window and noticed Ana's car was in the driveway behind his still running. It was already dark and raining out so Jack put on his raincoat and grabbed an umbrella for Ana as it wasn't raining when she left. When he got to the car the drivers side door was opened but Ana was not inside; her purse was still on he passenger seat. Jack noticed the interior was soaked when he reached over to grab her purse. Jack looked around wondering where she was. He was staring at the mansion as he tried to think of where she might have gone when he noticed a change in the way the mansion looked across the street. It was very subtle as it was pitch dark. Then a glow started emanating from the house and the parlor window lit up from within. He could see people moving inside as though there was a party going on. One lone silhouetted figure of a woman stood facing out the window towards him. She was frantically waving at him. Jack shook his head and wiped the rain from his face; the mansion returned to darkness. The authorities never found Ana.