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Estimated reading time — 15 minutes
The spacious room was nearly silent, save for the cuckoo clock ticking away above the repainted fireplace. Both of them, among other little touch ups, were meant to make the once foreboding house seem a little more inviting, but all the cheerful clock did with its incessant ticking was accentuate the quietness of the large victorian home. A middle aged woman named Christina slowly paced through the room’s center as she waited for help, turning her attention to the clock every few minutes, but mostly focusing on the look of the room. She remembered being confident in the place’s ability to attract tenants, at least from the exterior, with its elegant bay windows, castle like tower and intricate woodwork, but she felt the dreary decrepit interior could use some livening up. Brown floral wallpaper taken down and replaced with white, fireplace bricks painted back to their original deep red, splintering wooden cabinets restored.
It worked at first. Potential tenants regularly came to look over the four units she’d divided the place into, and for about seven months all were occupied. Two and a half years ago in late October was when the complaints started. First, Mr. Wright called to say he regularly experienced cold drafts, even with all the windows closed and the heat on. Christina inspected the whole apartment for any openings the wind could’ve been coming through, but there were none. Wright moved out a few weeks later when he was able to see his breath while sitting next to a space heater, and all was normal again until the beginning of December when Ms. Mancini gave her a ring and demanded something be done about the upstairs tenant, saying all their stomping around at night was keeping her up and they wouldn’t answer their door when she tried talking to them herself. Christina had no idea how to respond to this since Mancini lived right under Wright’s, then vacant, apartment.
Even after the police failed to find anything strange, one of Christina’s biggest fears was confirmed when all three remaining occupants said they felt uneasy after hearing someone might’ve broken in. She tried to calm their nerves by installing security cameras, but that only caused more confusion when they recorded empty halls while the tenants said they could now hear someone running through them at night. One couple moved out soon after and this, which put Christina on high alert as she knew she’d probably lose all them all if the strange occurrences weren’t explained somehow. It seemed hopeless since neither the police or recordings of every possible entrance could reveal anything, until Ms. Mancini said whatever was causing the commotion might not be of this world. Christina had never been a big believer in the supernatural, but at that point, anything was on the table, and looking into that possibility was what lead her to where she was now.
The happy little tune of the doorbell alerted Christina that the help had arrived. After quickly checking in a mirror to smooth the wrinkles in her grey blazer and make sure her blonde bob wasn’t in too much disarray after dozing off on the couch, she opened the door. The cloud of perfume and cigarette smoke hit her like tear gas and it took some blinking the water out of her eyes before she could focus on the pudgy, old woman standing in front of her.
“Are you Christina Scott?” The woman asked excitedly.
All she could do was nod, afraid to start coughing if she opened her mouth.
“Edith Grimsly at your service. Great to finally meet you.”
She shook Christina’s hand before placing the handle of a heavy black velvet bag in it and walked into the apartment, scanning the room with her heavily made up eyes.
“You can just put that bag wherever. It has stuff we’ll need for the ceremony. Lovely place you have here.”
Christina managed to relax her scowl and give a nice sounding thanks before resting the bag next to the glass coffee table and continuing to look over the stranger she’d picked out of the yellow pages. Edith’s curled chestnut brown hair was bunched up on top of her head, revealing some grey in the roots at the sides. Her teal bell bottom jumpsuit crinkled in the middle as she sank down onto the plastic covered couch while dropping some cigarette ashes into a tray she flipped open on the table.
“Well, we better not waste any time. On the phone you said a lot of strange things have been happening in this house.” Edith said while Christina took a seat in the arm chair across from her.
“Yes, I thought there was some regular explanation for it when it started. First it would get cold for no reason, then footsteps where no one should be walking, then things ending up in places you know you didn’t put them. It all just seems to point to…”
“A haunting?” Edith ended the sentence before snuffing out her cigarette.
“It sounded crazy to me when I first thought about it, but after looking into this house’s history, I don’t think it can be anything else.”
“What exactly did you find out?”
“The family that originally lived here from 1884 to 1897 was very into the spiritualist movement. They held seances in the house and the youngest son disappeared in 1896. The rest of them said he just eloped with some woman, but that was never confirmed. I couldn’t track down any of the owners after them, so I don’t know how often, or even if unexplained stuff like this has happened before, but I know it’s connected to what’s happening now because before one of my old tenants moved out she told me she had…a nightmare…”
Edith had been listening silently the whole time and gestured for Christina to go on.
“She had trouble talking about it…She was laying in her bed, but instead of it being in her apartment, it was in the basement. She could see five people sitting around a table in the middle of the room, holding hands and talking about something too quietly for her to hear, while another person stood at the foot of the bed. They grabbed her ankle and it scared her so much she woke up, but even when she was awake and the dream faded away…it took a few extra seconds for the feeling of the hand’s grip to fade with it. I know it was the original family she saw, because there were six of them and the basement is where they held their rituals.”
“There a chance I could speak to her about it?” Edith asked.
Christina shrugged and answered, “She moved after that. I don’t know how to reach her.”
“Well, this sounds like a much bigger job than I usually get. Most of the time customers just want a heart to heart with a dead relative, but it must be really tough trying to rent out a haunted house.” Edith laughed a little after saying this and lit up a fresh cigarette. “Were you not told about all the ghouls before buying, or did hear it and just didn’t believe?”
“The first, but I probably wouldn’t have believed it if I was. I’ve never been involved with anything supernatural before.” Christina answered, leaning her head to the slide and putting a hand on her temple.
“How many renters do you have left? Ghost stories usually get around fast, so it’s probably not easy convincing people to stay.”
“Actually, this is the only apartment not occupied at the moment. I haven’t told anyone the house’s history, so all they have to tell others are their own stories. People can just dismiss those, but real records of occult practice won’t go overlooked. The people here now still won’t stay long though. Sooner or later, whatever’s in this house scares everyone out. That’s why I need your help.”
Edith took another puff of her cigarette. “Well, these spirits do sound hostile.” she said before reaching into the bag she’d brought,pulling out what looked liked a little black board and an oversized guitar pick with a hole in it. “Let’s try to be friendly”. She unfolded the board as she said this, revealing the alphabet, a few numbers and the words “Yes” and “No” in its top corners.
“So what’s this do?” Christina asked.
“This is called a ouija board, and it’s what we’re going to use to contact who, or what, is haunting this house. We just put our hands on this part here, ask questions, and a spirit that wants to speak will spell out their answers.”
They both put their fingertips on the smaller piece and Edith asked the first question.
“Is there anyone here who wants to speak to us?”
A few seconds past before they could both feel a dull vibration coming from the piece and it slowly slid toward “Yes”.
A smile deepened the creases at the corners of Edith’s mouth and she continued.
“Thank you for answering. Can you tell us your name?”
The piece began to drift again, but this time stopped on the “No”.
Christina scowled at the board, but kept silent, hoping Edith could coax some new information out of whatever they were speaking with.
“That’s alright. Are you the only one in this house?”
The answer was spelled out “S-O-M-E-T-I-M-E-S”.
“So there are others who come and go?”
“Where do they go when they’re not here?”
The piece drifted back and forth for what felt like a minute before resting on a blank corner.
“Are you still there?” Edith asked after a few more seconds, raising an eyebrow.
“Could I ask it a question next?” Christina whispered.
The piece drifted toward the middle of the board again.
“Now’s your chance.” Edith answered.
Christina took a few seconds to contemplate her question before asking, “Why are you still here?”
“C-A-N-T-G-O” was the answer.
“Why?” She said next.
Christina’s hands drew back from the piece and clutched each other. Edith kept hers on it, but had her eyes closed as it swirled around over the letters.
“I’m seeing something.” Edith’s head began to sway back and forth as she said this.
“I think it’s a woman…It is…”
She leaned forward and furrowed her brow as if squinting to see something far away, but with her eyes still closed.
“She’s getting clearer…she has dark hair, and is wearing a shawl with…red blotches…”
“Blood?” Christina asked, starting to shake.
“Flowers…and she’s leaning over something.”
Christina held a clenched fist to her mouth and kept still while Edith stared through her, into an abyss no one else could see.
“She’s…looking into a crystal ball.”
Edith was snapped out of her vision by a loud clack to her right. Once she looked in that direction, Christina pointed to the small wooden piece on the floor and yelled, “The planchette just flew off the board!”
Edith looked back at her red faced, wide-eyed customer and after a moment said, “I guess we agitated one of them. Let’s wait a while before we continue. You look shaken.”
“I-I’m just new to all this.”
“It can get frightening for customers. Sorry about that. Is there anything to make tea in the kitchen? I could whip some up to calm your nerves.” Edith said, going back to a cheerful expression.
“Oh, I brought a few things up here just in case. I’ll take care of it. You just wait here.” Christina said before getting up and heading through a plastic sliding door to the kitchen. Edith got up and was walking over to get the planchette when a chilling wind blew across her face. She winced and tried to back away from the current, but it moved with her, then wrapped around her neck. After slipping off her skin, the wind became concentrated at the window, fogging up the class and causing the curtains to ripple.
“What are you trying to say?” She asked it.
The curtains continued to expand and fall like a breathing chest while the cold air whirled around underneath. Once they blew far up enough to separate, she could see the words “GET OUT” written on the glass before they fell slackly over it again.
“I hope you like oolong.”
Edith turned swiftly to see Christina putting a tray with two cups and a kettle on the table.
“Something really doesn’t want me here. I’ll come back tomorrow.” Edith said while stepping toward her bag.
Christina immediately looked and said, “Don’t tell me you’re losing your nerve now…Or are you just trying to drag this out so you can charge more?” with an accusatory tone.
“Excuse me? I take this kind of activity very seriously. It’s not like fixing a broken pipe, there’s a conscious being floating around this house that doesn’t like being bothered. A job like this takes time.” Edith answered, giving an angry glare.
“It’s had this house to itself for years, but it’s mine now. I’ve got to make a living. It’s already dead What’s it need with a house? It can go straight to hell for all I care. Now, if you won’t help me show it who’s in charge, I’ll find someone who will. For someone who’s job it is to talk to ghosts, I didn’t think you’d be so afraid.”
Edith put her hand to her chest in shock, then balled it into a fist.
“You can’t find anyone better at this than me.” She answered sternly.
“Alright. If you’re so good, let’s go down to the basement now and just confront it.”
Edith’s glowering expression turned to one of worry after hearing that challenge.
“Hey, if you’re scared, have some tea. It’ll relax you.” Christina added, holding out a cup.
“Oh, forget the tea. Let’s just get down there.” Edith said.
Christina looked down at the tea cup with a disappointed expression before placing it back on the tray. Edith would’ve thought it was very odd if she wasn’t too busy fighting back fear to notice.
“Follow me, the basement is this way.”
Christina took a ring of keys out of her skirt pocket and walked toward a door next to the kitchen. Edith hesitantly followed her out into a dimly lit carpeted hallway with a narrow spiral staircase at one end and no wall at the other, just an opening to a larger room with a concrete floor and wall. The open doorway on its left side showed a row of coin operated washers and dryers, while Christina walked toward the large wooden door on the right. Once it was open and she reached in to pull a dangling string, dusty bulbs flickered on and showed the large cluttered cages along the walls.
“This is the storage room for tenants, but there’s another down some stairs just through there. I don’t allow anyone else down there and it’s where the original owners would have their rituals.” Christina said, pointing across the room to the rusted metal door with a large padlock.
“How deep is this basement?” Edith asked, her tone now making it clear she was having second thoughts.
“Since they were trying to contact the dead they probably wanted to get close enough to be heard.” Christina answered while their heels clicked on the concrete as they walked.
The sound of the lock coming off and the rusty door swinging open echoed through the storage room and down the ancient looking stone staircase in front of them, which was dark enough to only show a few steps before Christina turned on the electric lantern sitting on the shelf dug from the dry earth wall. She held it out above her head and harsh white light pierced down the black void, the dusty grey tunnel looking like the inside of a mummified throat.
“There’s a hook down there we can hang the lantern on. Watch your step.” Christina’s words echoed down the tunnel before she started walking after them.
Edith walked cautiously, pressing her hands to the walls since there was no railing to hold and it would’ve been a long tumble down. She stopped for a moment to look back at the door above, but only saw black beyond the reach of the lantern’s light. Either the bulbs above had turned off, or she was too far down to see them. After what felt like a few minutes, she could see Christina walk forward on level ground. The furnace’s heat kept what should’ve been a chilling depth at a bearable temperature, and Edith felt a little comforted when Christina hung the lantern on the wire hook connected to the pipe covered ceiling, illuminating most of the room.
“Can you sense anything?” Christina asked.
Edith looked around at the jagged rock walls and decrepit wooden furniture before noticing the dark stalls in the wall behind the furnace. Then she felt the cold breeze roll past the back of her neck.
“There’s something down here.”
The wind blew her hair out in front of her when she turned back to the stairway.
“I think it wants us to go back upstairs.”
“If it doesn’t want us down here, this must be where it’s hiding. Why don’t you check those little rooms back here?” Christina said, sounding a little anxious and stepping toward her.
Edith hesitantly turned and started walking deeper into the room, toward the stalls. Her flared pant legs were being blown back and she could feel the cold brushing past her ankles as she kept going, like something was trying hard to deter her from going any further but just didn’t have enough strength in the physical world. Her eyes adjusted to the darkness and she could see into one of the stalls. It was empty, except for the large hole in the floor, which appeared to be filled with sand. The cold air blew against her hard, chilling her face enough to make her close her eyes, like it was trying with all its might to force her back. She racked her brain, trying to think of what this could possibly mean.
“Well, do you see anything?!” Christina asked impatiently.
“Christina…do you remember when you told me you’d never gotten involved with this paranormal stuff before? That even the Ouija was all new to you?”
There was short pause before Christina answered, “Yes, why?”
“So how do you know what a planchette is?”
There was another pause.
“A what?” Christina answered.
“That little piece with the hole in it we were using on the board…after it supposedly flew off on its own, you called it a planchette. That just seems like an odd thing for someone like you to know.”
“I guess it is.”
Edith heard Christina’s final response right behind her and whirled around just as Christina tried to swing an old wooden chair leg into her head, causing it to hit her in the shoulder instead. Edith screamed as force of the blow caused a stinging pain in her collarbone before shoving Christina back with both hands, causing her to stumble and fall. Edith tried running back to the stairs, but Christina grabbed her by the ankle, causing her to topple over as well. While Edith tried kicking her hand off, Christina managed to get back on her feet and started dragged Edith toward the dark stall with the sand filled hole. After slamming her heel into the side of Christina’s knee, the pain caused her to lose grip. Edith got back up and tried making a run for it again, but Christina was faster and locked her arms around her. When she could feel herself being dragged back again, Edith screamed, “What the hell are you doing?!” while struggling.
Christina’s sentence was cut off when a low rumble could be heard from the stall. Thin rays of red light shot up from the hole in the floor as the sand receded from whatever was rising out of it. Edith felt the cold air zip past her cheek like it’d been scared away and room temperature immediately rose. It was like they’d been hit by an underground heatwave. It was hot enough to make their sight of the sand filled hole wiggle as two gangly red arms shot out of it and grabbed the stone floor with thin clawed fingers while the monstrosity continued dragging itself out of wherever that hole lead to. What came out next were what looked like two large black hooks, followed by the crimson bald head they were attached to. A deep growl erupted from under the sand as what must’ve been its face was being lifted up. The growl was followed by Christina’s pained scream after Edith swung a fist down into her side, clutching a switchblade she’d hidden in the pocket of her jumpsuit.
Christina fell flat on her back and held the knife’s handle while a blood stain expanded into the fabric of her blouse. As fast as she could, Edith turned away from the abomination hauling itself into their world, snatched the keys out of Christina’s pocket and started barreling toward the stairs one again, grabbing the lantern as she did so, but the wire it hung from was too strong. The lantern swung back, causing wild flashes in the room, and Edith had to continue up the stairs in darkness, tripping so she had to clamber up on all fours to keep from falling. Christina’s wailing and all other sound was soon drown out by a malevolent growl, which began to grow louder behind her.
Christina let go of the handle and tried to keep still on the floor while the swinging lantern became still again. Every breath sent a new wave of agonizing pain through her torso, making her grit her teeth, fighting back sobs in an attempt to clear her mind. She knew losing her composure would just waste time, and there wasn’t much of it left, judging by how fast she could feel the blood stain spread. She also knew pulling out the knife would make her bleed even faster and bending forward would make it cut more, so she rolled on to her side and pushed with one arm, trying to raise herself up without bending her torso.
The sound of footsteps echoing down the stairs made her lose focus and fall down again. After a loud groan from the pain, she focused her attention on the steps. They sounded heavy, and grew louder quicker, like whoever it was, was skipping many steps with each stride. Her eyes widened in fear as the black hoof clacked loudly on the bottom step.
The creature’s upper body came through on a long serpentine torso before its other leg entered the room. It then stood over her, the red piece of flesh it held in its bony hand dripping extra blood on Christina’s skirt. She could feel its eyes on her, even with the white marble mask concealing its face. Her own eyes read over the strange symbols etched into it, mentally comparing it to the ancient languages she’d researched after first seeing them. Those thoughts immediately left her mind as she felt the knife yanked out of her and looked down to see the red stain quickly growing. Her screams echoed through the room before the creature pressed its palm to the wound, and the pain suddenly stopped.
Christina was able to breath again, unrestricted, and put her own hand to the hole in her blouse once the red hand was lifted. The fabric was mangled, but the skin underneath wasn’t broken. Her attention then snapped to the creature crawling back toward the hole it’d come out of
“Wait!” Christina yelled, sitting up. “Tell me who you are! Are you Cyrus Wyatt, the youngest son of the Wyatt family who lived here first?!”
Her questions were left unanswered as the creature slithered back into the loose sand, its scaly tale being the last thing she saw before it was completely gone again. She got up and slowly walked over to look down at the spot, still wanting answers, but the heat radiating from it made her think it’d be best not to start poking around down there.
Christina walked cautiously back up to the storage room, being careful not to let anyone see her in the bloody clothes. After closing off the stairs and storage room again, she saw the room to the apartment she’d been in with Edith was open just a crack. She quietly went in and put her hand to her mouth when she saw Edith’s body lying in the broken glass of the coffee table, the open wound where her heart had been looked like it’d stopped bleeding, but the teacup she’d refused laid next to her, its toxic contents bleaching a spot on the rug.
“If you’d just taken that drink we all could’ve avoided this fiasco.” she said while scowling down at her, arms crossed.
When Christina finally pulled into the driveway of her own home, her arms were still sore from all the cleaning up, but it was good to know she wouldn’t be getting any more complaints from tenants now that the spirit who’d been causing all the trouble was satisfied, at least until the next offering was do. She had dinner as usual and decided to clean Edith’s knife with the dishes. It made for an interesting memento, but something with her own blood just seemed a little too morbid. Once in her bedroom, she open the chest at the foot of the bed and dropped the knife in where it landed next to the shawl with the red flowers. Around them was strewn other interesting keepsakes; more patterned shawls, turbans with big costume jewels, feathery earrings, striped stockings, rosaries, wooden bracelets, big hoop earrings, etc. She didn’t understand why spiritual women always had to dress so flamboyantly, but it made for a pretty box of memories. She locked the chest again, got into bed and switched off the lamp, trying to get some sleep, but couldn’t help looking at the phone book on her nightstand. She turned the lamp back on and opened up to the yellow pages, where her eyes closely scanned each page before landing on an ad for the “Shockingly Accurate Lady Sphinx”. A thin lipped smiled crossed her face as she picked up the phone and thought to herself, “Never said the offering couldn’t come in advance.”
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