The Haunted House
The day draws to a close and night casts its blanket of gloom over the world. In the haunted country of dreams and in certain lonely places stands a silent shell that once housed the living. Perhaps in the days of old it was a cheerful place filled with merriment and laughter. But now the music and laughter are but echoes and the splendor and beauty of its Victorian visage looms cold and gray; a hollow shell of its former self whose lifeless tenants inhabit its halls for reasons unknown or obscure. Children and those with any sense about them best avoid these places after dark; though it is probably unwise to venture within even during the day. Dwellings such as these produce an instant shudder upon sight; a cold sense of dread as inexplicable and primal as any fear passed down to us by our more simple minded, primitive ancestors. It is not a far stretch of the imagination to believe that ancient man, huddled around campfires for warmth and safety, told stories of lonesome places one should avoid after dark. But by the same token it is not a far stretch to believe that within all of us there lurks the desire to investigate the unknown; a morbid need to discover what lies within these haunted and forbidden dwellings.
And night is when they truly come to life. Perhaps it is real or maybe just a trick of light in the gaining darkness, but if you stare for an extended time at the frightful façade of one these gloomy structures its architectural features will take on physical attributes not unlike a devilish face of sorts. Hideously arched windows seem to stare down like sullen eyes, jagged cast iron cresting echoes the appearance of horns and the entry porch with its ornately sculptured double doors and symmetrical wooden posts yawns like a hungry mouth ready to consume all who pass through its threshold. Stare not for any length of time into the sullen eyes of these forgotten mansions for it is widely believed that the permanent imprint of the dweller who once stared outward remains; their hideous face pressed into the plate glass waiting eternally to be released from an earthbound prison.
Nothing grows in the shadow of these forlorn mansions save for weeds or ivy. Birds never dwell or make their nests within the surrounding trees. And the trees and overall vegetation that does flourish often grows impossibly twisted and grotesquely ornate. Branches often jut out like spindly, skeletal hands with impossibly long fingers. They claw at the air, propelled by supernatural gusts of wind, or perhaps by an intrinsic locomotion of their own. On windy, moonlit nights one might imagine the shadows they cast are alive; taking on threatening, anthropomorphic qualities that scurry and sway about in the half light of the moon.
Call me foolish for believing in such nonsense, but the thoughts that I carry since childhood of a place such as this never cease to haunt me. I must discover once and for all whether the vague memories that trouble my dreams are in fact true, or just a figment of childhood fancy.
I grew up not far from one of these decayed dwellings. It was a constant source of fear and fascination in our neighborhood. One would often be dared to spend the night inside, though none of us were brave enough to even stand and gaze for an extended time for fear of seeing one of the lonely faces that stared out of those sullen windows. It was widely believed that once inside you would become one of them, a “dweller of shadows”, locked forever within corroded walls and forced eternally to roam its decayed and forgotten hallways. As an adult, my mind refuses to believe such things, or should I say attempts to refuse to believe such things. So why does the child that’s locked within me refuse to let go of what he saw, for, if in fact, what he saw was true? I tell you this: Those faces with their unblinking eyes, wet with tears that never dry, fixed beneath sorrow-shaped brows are the essence of my nightmares. I can still hear their eternal lament mixed within the howling breezes that whisk through the trees. Those I’ve related my story to just give me a polite chuckle or at best a nervous laugh, but I assure you, I know what I saw was true.
It was on an unusually temperate November evening that I decided to go back to the old neighborhood and trespass the place of which I speak. It was still there, abandoned, sitting cold and grey at the end of a lonesome cul-de-sac just as I remember it. The wrought-iron fence, even more choked with overgrown ivy than I remembered, was looming ahead of me. I resolved to scale the fence and enter the place of nightmares when the final ray of sunlight disappeared behind the blanket of gloomy clouds. I had no fear of alarming any residents with my trespass, at least not any living, but I didn’t want any neighbor or passerby of any kind to witness my intrusion onto the grounds. Ever since the area had gone into disrepair about ages ago, it has been prone to vandals and thieves and the last thing that I wanted was to spend the night in jail.
It was a dead house to be sure. Its bleak visage was merely a hint of the sadness that lay inside; and its imposing grayness was greater than I remembered, almost giving the impression of a huge black hole of light contrasting sharply with the moonlit sky behind it. I stared for a moment at its hulking mass, hesitating to put my hand on the ivy covered fence that separated me from the house of horrors. To say the place was in disrepair when I was a child and first beheld it would be an understatement, but now, gazing at it through adult eyes, the creaking wood and plaster mass in front of me revealed such an advanced state of decay that it was truly a miracle that it was still standing. Portions had caved in or bowed out in places, most noticeably the brick chimney which, for the most part, lay in a pile at the base of where it once stood. For just a moment, fascination and awe of this once grand Victorian dwelling surpassed my fear of the place. I truly knew nothing of its history and was utterly enthralled by its appearance and consumed by the thought of what it could have looked like in its heyday. What parties they must have had there! But by the same token, what tragedy, I thought, could have caused its decline and eventual disgrace. The thought chilled me to the bone as a sudden, unnatural breeze passed through me. Undaunted, I proceeded to scale the fence relatively easily; the mesh of densely overgrown vines acting as thick rope on which to climb on. The first thing that struck me as I landed within the gates was the grounds were utterly without sound save for the wind that began to whistle through the trees at the moment I landed. No cricket or night creature of any sort could be heard, only the peculiar wind that whistled through the trees almost like a sigh or wheezing from dying or dead lungs.
Within the grounds everything felt as if it were in slow motion. The trees swayed unnaturally before me, partially obscuring the house and the preternatural, oddly bright, night sky. I attributed the strangely bright evening to the full moon being at its apex. This was quite fortunate for I was reluctant to use my electric torch outside for fear of drawing attention; although it was apparent that I was quite alone and, for that matter, highly unlikely to be discovered intruding on these grounds. As I drew closer to the house, two things became instantly apparent: The exterior of the house was blackened as though by fire and the plate glass windows were shattered or entirely missing. This was not in keeping with my memory of the place. It was apparent the building had suffered a fire since I last beheld it almost 30 years prior. Furthermore, deductive reasoning led me to believe that the fire must have happened in nearly as many years for there was lush ivy growing over portions of the burned structure. It seemed clear to me that someone tried to destroy the devilish place but alas, it survived! Can you kill something that is already dead? The fools thought they could burn it to the ground but the fearsome thing defied death and still stands, mockingly laughing at the failed assassination. My God, how the blackening by fire had transformed the place of nightmares into something ever more hideous than I had remembered. Twisted planks jutted out grotesquely from the side of the house, portions of the ceiling were missing revealing perverse exposed beams, and the already eggshell appearance of cracked paint everywhere was all the more nauseating to behold after the touch of fire. But why did it not burn to the ground? The most grotesque thing of all was the windows. I can only deduce that they must have shattered from the heat of the raging fire. The eyes of the house were gone! The windows were now mere skull-like sockets that opened to pools of murky gloom. No more would the lonely souls I remember stare outward… at least that’s what I thought for the moment.
I sat there gazing upward at the eerie house for what seemed like an unnatural amount of time. The trees swayed grotesquely as the wind whistled and moaned; but the voices that I remember in those winds were strangely absent. Moreover, the sullen faces that once stared outward from those troubled windows were also missing; their absence punctuating the utter blackness of the empty windows. The place was as singularly frightful as I remembered but it was also, at least for the moment, never more devoid of any truly supernatural activity. Were the visions that I remember from 30 years prior just creations of a childish, overactive imagination? I was strangely disappointed by the thought. I had purposefully come to this place to lay those nightmarish visions to rest but now found myself longing for those horrors unimaginable. So, why do they refuse to show themselves? The only explanation, I deduced, was the dreadful fire of long ago did, in fact, chase the spirits away. A sudden, overwhelming sense of dread began to grip my soul. But it wasn’t the fear of what horrible apparition I might see floating in the preternatural moonlight that disturbed me; it was the absence of such shadows that left me cold. I know what I saw 30 years ago was true and I must now confirm it or be driven mad by the thought. This is sheer madness.
I stared tirelessly into the hollow eyes of the house hoping to see those horrid faces but none were there. The desire to see something was becoming an obsession. In fact, I stared so intently at the house that I felt for a moment that I might be able to will those faces to appear. But I only succeeded in making myself ill; the blood vessels in my temples felt as if they would burst.
The horrible house was mocking me. Its unwillingness to reveal its true face stirred a rage within me that was not that of a sane person. I felt I would collapse from the pressure in my head. Then, my eyes beheld a vision unlike anything I had ever seen. The house appeared to stretch and distort as if one were looking at it through a funhouse mirror. I felt almost as if the boldness of its scorn was manifesting itself physically. Behind its hulking silhouette, the clouds moved by at an abnormal, blinding speed then halted to a painful, barely perceptible crawl. I began to imagine the house was engulfed in flames and it was no longer evening but late afternoon, with the final rays of sunlight disappearing beyond the horizon. A buzzing, like a hive of bees, whirred inside my ears. As the sound became intelligible, it was apparent that it was the sound of sirens and various people talking or shouting at one another. Seemingly from nowhere men in fire brigade uniforms began spraying gallons of water onto the burning edifice as several children were pulled from the fire. I can hear the voices of the people that move about me but I can’t interact with them. They mutter something about children playing with fire and that the tragedy could have been avoided had the place been torn down years ago. But what I was about to see would freeze my very soul. Utter horror filled my eyes to find one of the children being pulled from the fire was me. God deliver me! What had I done to deserve this ghastly vision? No sooner than this thought flashed through my mind, I found myself suddenly staring outward from one of those sullen windows of the horrid house. You see, I perished that day at the age of ten. My life was merely a dream that flashed before me at the moment of death. In my mind I had aged 30 years, had a wife and a career, but it was just a dream in the flicker of a 10 year old boy’s dying eye. But who’s to say I didn’t live those years even though they were imagined? If a dream is felt as real as life, does it not make the experience just as valid? That dear friends, is open for debate, but I leave you with this: I became one of them that day and now I stare out of the tragic widows of that hideous place, a dweller of shadows, lamenting over a life lost… forever.