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I’ll never forget it. It was a morning that sticks in my memory unlike any other. Twenty years later, I’m still in therapy over it. It was nearing the end of summer. I had just turned fifteen. My family was moving to a very old country estate in Maine from the New York suburbs. My father worked for a defense contractor and apparently a subsidiary up there needed his expertise on a permanent basis.
I remember the afternoon we first pulled up to the house. It was large. Much larger than I thought it would be when my parents originally showed my younger sister and I pictures of our new home back in New York. It was also very old. Apparently it hadn’t been lived in for some time. The last person to reside there had died of natural causes at a church function years ago. That’s the story we had been given anyway.
After we all had climbed out of the car my mother gave me the key to the front door so that she and my father could unpacked the trunk. I slowly approached the house as my sister playfully hopped in the gravel of the driveway alongside me which lead up to the front door. We got a good look at the overgrown lawn. Much of the grass was covered in ghostly white sheets of spider webs, while caterpillar tents seemed to be constructed in every tree.
The two of us climbed the steps of the front stoop together. I remember noticing how the white paint on the house was cracked and flaking off. “This will be needing a new paint job,” I said to my sister. She was only seven at the time, so she wasn’t really paying attention to the condition of the house like I was. It’s not like she’d be asked to do any of the work. We approached the front door, I inserted the key, and was about to turn the knob when I was struck by the creepy notion that I was being watched by someone — or something — from the glass sun window atop the door. I looked up. There was nobody there. All I could see was a spider guarding an egg sac in another sheet web up in the corner of the door frame. It seemed to cringe as I looked up at her, and she darted away under an exposed shingle.
Still, I couldn’t help but feel like I was being watched.
When I finally opened the door I was pleasantly surprised. First of all, there was nobody waiting for me on the other side of it – that was a welcome relief. Dust was everywhere. It was very evident that nobody had been in the house for a long time. Had there been, there would have been footprints in the dust on the hardwood floors, just like the ones my sister and I were leaving as we walked around examining the first floor. Secondly, in spite of the dust, a lingering musty smell, and no working electricity, the inside of the house seemed to be in better shape than how its outward appearance would have otherwise indicated. The summer afternoon sun hung low in the sky and light streamed in through the windows at the rear. It was bright, warm; almost cheery.
My sister and I were exploring more of the first floor as our parents came in with coolers, deflated air mattresses, and all the other accoutrements we’d need for our first night in the new home.
“Did you check out upstairs yet?” my dad asked.
“Not yet,” I answered.
“Well, come on. Let’s go pick out your rooms.”
I smiled at that notion.
The four of us started up the stairs. I can vividly recall how creaky they were, creakier than the front stoop. The smell of must in the air was much stronger up there. I noticed a centipede scurry across the floor and disappear under a closed door which l’d later learn was a linen closet. I can’t say I was happy to see that, and I was ready to say something to my father — something along the lines of how we’d need to be getting a can of Raid — when I was struck by the notion that I was being watched again.
“I feel like I’m being watched.”
My dad just laughed. My mother, however, did not.
“I do, too,” she added.
“Everyone feels like they’re being watched when they’re in a big new empty house,” my father said.
“It’s not new,” my mother chimed back at him. He wasn’t amused.
We spent the rest of the afternoon deciding who would get what room. The musty smell up there was getting to me. Though the rooms were still warm and bright up there, the second floor almost seemed as if it were another dimension. It simply felt as if it was from another time. Ancient faded wallpaper of varying kinds adorned the walls of the different rooms. There were brown water stains in some corners of the papered walls. And all the while, I just kept feeling like I — no, we — were being watched the entire time.
With flashlight in hand my father pulled the drawstring down to access the stairway to the attic space above the upstairs hall. He climbed up and let out a disgusted yell.
“Are you okay?” my mother asked.
“Yeah,” he called back down to us. “We’re just going to need to pick up some Raid in town.”
Well, at least that dilemma was settled, I remember thinking. But I could still feel the hair at the back of my neck standing up straight and electric tingles going up my spine. I was looking into the darkened bathroom directly ahead of me. Something in the back of my mind was telling me that we were being watched, and that whatever was watching us was in that bathroom. Logically I knew that couldn’t be the case because, again, there was no indication of a footprint trail in the dust before we started walking around up there. So I felt pretty safe to take action. Defiantly I walked straight into the bathroom and swung the door open a little more to let more light in. The upper corners of the bathroom were still shrouded in darkness, but I could safely assess that there was nobody else in there. The tub was shower curtainless, so I didn’t even need to check behind it to confirm that the room was empty. I walked out of the bathroom satisfied, but a chill hit me – there was something in there. “Probably just another bug,” I tried to convince myself.
After we had settled on who would get what rooms up there, we inflated the mattresses and set up the living room area for our first night’s sleep in our new house before heading into town for some shopping, pizza and ice cream.
“Hun, be sure to bring the flashlight, it’s going to be dark by the time we get back,” my mother called out to my dad just before we left. He grabbed the flashlight, locked the front door, and the four of us headed into town. I wasn’t looking forward to returning to the house that night.
It was close to nine o’clock in the evening by the time we got back from dinner, dessert and light shopping at the grocery and general stores. Other than the moon, stars, and the occasional lightning bug it was pitch black. There were no street lights anywhere near this neck of the woods. I remember thinking what a good thing it was that my mom had reminded my dad to bring the flashlight. The last thing I wanted was to wander too far to the left or right into the overgrown grass and weeds of this place.
We approached the front door and — again — the feeling of being watched dropped down on me like a hammer.
“Daddy, look it!” my sister said. She pointed up and my father shone the light to where she was pointing. There in the corner of the doorway frame was the spider we had seen earlier. She was just lying there in her web guarding her eggs. She flinched, but didn’t scurry off this time.
“Oh my god, what is that?” my mother gasped.
“That’s just a grass spider,” my father answered. “I’ll take care of her.” He pulled out one of the half-dozen cans of Raid he purchased at the general store and sprayed.
The grass spider shriveled like an ember in flames and dropped to the floor. It wasn’t loud, but the sound of it hitting the wood bothered me. My father then sprayed the egg sacs, obliterating them. “That’s that,” he said. My mother opened the front door and the three of them immediately walked inside. I stood outside a moment longer, though. I was in no hurry to enter the house.
I stared into the blackness that was the overgrown yard. The blackness was hard to fathom. The moon shone down and illuminated the sheet webs in the grass, making them appear more ghostly than they had in the daylight, but the brush beneath the webs was a blackness that one might only read about in an H.P. Lovecraft story. The webs appeared to float menacingly above the grass. A slight breeze gave off the illusion that they were moving. In that instance I felt like I was watching large vaporous clouds harboring demonic intelligence beyond any human understanding migrate through the deepest regions of space. I knew to my right the corpse of that dead grass spider was lying there, a shriveled husk where life had once been. She made that door frame her home, thinking nothing could harm her there. It was meant to be a nice safe haven for her — that was until we showed up. I remember wishing my father hadn’t killed her like that. She was just protecting her unborn babies. I felt like something awful was going to happen. I don’t know why, but I did. It was as if the spider’s death was a forbidden sacrifice which would lead to the arousing of an ancient infernal evil that resided in the house.
Someone lit a Coleman lantern inside, allowing enough light to spill out into the front yard and reveal some of the twisted underbrush the webs lay over. I preferred seeing it when it was in darkness. The twisted dimensions of the underbrush was more than I could bear. I turned around, walked inside, and shut the door.
My mother, father and sister were eagerly getting the sheeting for our beds ready for the night. I sighed. That feeling — it was still there.
It had been a long day, so I drifted off into a welcome sleep uneventfully. At around one in the morning, however, my mother cried out and woke us all up. “Oh my god!” She leapt off of the mattress she was sharing with my father.
“What? What is it!?” my father yelled puzzled.
“I felt something crawling- or touching my leg. Get up!” she yelled as she started peeling her bed apart to check and make sure there was nothing in the sheets with them. They found nothing.
I rolled over and looked at my sister who was sharing the other air mattress with me. She was still asleep. Lucky her. I wasn’t able to fall back asleep to easily after that. It took almost an hour, but eventually I did.
I had a beautiful dream that night, or at least it started that way. I was naked, walking through a lush kempt green field as a pink sun was setting behind rolling hilltops covered in trees. A gentle breeze was caressing the skin of my body, when all of a sudden the air was full of little lights. I then found myself surrounded by these lights as they danced around me. They zoomed all around in a dazzling display. If I hadn’t known better I’d have thought they were encasing me in a net of the light they were emitting as I walked through the field. A few came in close, giving me a decent look at them. The only way I could describe them would be to say that they looked fairy-like. What I could make out of their faces appeared angelic and happy. Their eyes beamed with a joy that made me feel welcome. As I continued walking through the field more and more of them came closer to me. They fluttered all around my head like some magical neon crown of thorns. I could feel a few of them happily dancing on my eyelashes, lips, and shoulders. One or two of them even tried to whisper into my ears, but I couldn’t make out what they were saying; I only knew that they were whispering.
As I continued to walk through the field some of them kept whispering in my ears, desperately trying to communicate something to me, when, in my dream, I felt tiny hairs on the back of my neck stand up in a very familiar fashion. Suddenly, the grass I was walking in didn’t seem as kempt. It was thicker. And it was darker. I could now make out noises coming from these creatures. No words, just noises. They sounded like munchkins laughing as they hid from Dorothy in Oz. The sun had now set. Without it I only had the glowing of the creatures to light my way. I could see them for what they were a little better now. They didn’t have wings, but they seemed to fly nonetheless.
I heard a squealing off to my side. I looked, and a sad little rabbit was hopelessly caught in a web. It struggled to free itself, but the more it struggled the more it only entangled itself. I a felt a deep need to save it. I moved to try and rescue the rabbit when one of the creatures flew directly in front of me in such a way that I was able to look it directly in the eyes. It’s face didn’t look all that welcoming anymore. And its eyes, they were not like anything I can describe other than that they were black. They certainly weren’t human, but they were the eyes of a predator. It flew to me and kissed me on the nose; I think. The rest followed suit in a far more frenzied manner. They all zoomed in to kiss me. I was covered in little flying lights, gently flying through my hair, kissing my neck, kissing my face, kissing me eyelids. The ones whispering at my ears were now kissing my ears. The ones dancing on my shoulders, we now kissing my shoulders. Covered in the little lights I looked over to where the rabbit had been struggling. All I saw was its desiccated body as something large and dark moved off of it. I could see two reflective glints shining off of what had to be fangs in that black mass as it slunk back into the grass.
After that, the little lights began flying away into the night sky, two to three at a time, in the same manner luminescence might get swallowed by a black hole. Finally, I was able to hear one of the last ones to remain attempt another whisper. I was able to make out what it said this time: “You don’t belong here.” I was now alone in the darkness of a wilderness I did not know. In my dream I broke down and cried.
I awoke that morning to a bright well lit room. My mother was calling me into the kitchen for breakfast, “hurry up and eat, the movers will be here soon!” I could smell eggs and bacon being cooked. That was as good a reason to get up as any.
I shuffled into the kitchen exhausted.
“Good morning,” my father said. I think I grunted “morning” back to him.
Needless to say, I did not have a very good night’s sleep. My sister was already in the kitchen talking to my mother as she ate her eggs. I was only half paying attention to what she was saying. I was too busy preparing a bowl of cereal and snatching a few pieces of bacon. As I began to eat I started to listen to my sister- what she was saying- I dropped the plastic spoon I was using to eat my cereal with. Being plastic it virtually made no sound, so no one really noticed me, but I sat there mouth agape in awestruck horror. What she was saying, it couldn’t be true; could it?
She was telling my mother how little fairies had come to her in her dream and combed her hair and sang her songs as they ran up and down her face.
“What were they singing, honey?” my mother asked.
“I don’t know,” she said.
My stomach sank. “Oh my god,” was all I could think as the realization of what had happened just a few hours prior washed over me like acid. My chest began to heave and convulse. However, it was after I looked into the open garbage can that my mind shattered into a thousand little pieces. Upon seeing what was in there the horror of what had happened was fully realized. I screamed at the top of my lungs and began smacking my head and furiously running my fingers through my hair like a madwoman running through the desert dunes as someone might do upon learning some awful dark secret lying hidden at the end of time.
My hysterics kept me from being able to speak as my poor wretched mother and father kept asking me what was wrong. All I could do was point at the garbage can and to the broken sherds of egg shell in it.
They didn’t understand.
Credit: Alexander Quaresma