Estimated reading time — 8 minutes
It was the year of my 25th birthday that my dad told me he was sick. It was hard to hide, really. Obvious. But I suppose it would be hard for such a mountain of a man, someone who’d never needed help from anyone, to admit that, he was, in fact dying. Cancer is a nasty thing; it kills you from the inside out. Of course, I had seen both my grandparents perish from the disease, but with my dad, it was different. Having just started my first year in nursing school, I was eager to take care of him.
He was a very grumpy and personal man, and he didn’t like outsiders. The idea of dying in a hospital or with some strange person in his home just didn’t sit right with him. So, besides the home healthcare nurse that came to check on him twice a week, I became the sole caretaker of my father. I put school on hold and cut my hours down at the restaurant where I was waitressing. My dad became my sole priority.
He perished quite quickly. His cancer was already at stage 4 when he finally came clean about it. He was very clear on what he wanted after he was no longer with me. A cremation. Quick and easy. Plus, he knew that I was a young, struggling student and really couldn’t afford much else.
“Who would come to my funeral anyway?” he joked.
I gave him what he wanted.
A year or so later, I was officially a certified RN. Perhaps out of guilt, I hadn’t sold the house that belonged to my father, or maybe I just couldn’t bring myself to let it go. Either way, I wish I had shown it more love than I did.
A few months down the line, I met a nice man – let’s call him Johnny – who I shrugged off a few times, considering I hadn’t dated since I was about 21. But he was persistent enough, and the best man I’d ever met besides my father, and I fell for him on our very first date. Before long we were married and soon thereafter pregnant with our first child, a little boy to be named after my father: Stephen Stark. The middle name Stark because Iron Man was my dad’s favorite comic.
Shortly after we were married, my husband realized that neither of our small apartments would be fitting to raise a child in, and he inquired, “Didn’t you say your dad left you a house?” My stomach dropped. Indeed I had mentioned it, but I hadn’t been to that house since my dad’s passing. I’d kept up with property taxes because, as I said, I just couldn’t seem to let it go – but living there? It felt like a horrible idea. Still, he was insistent we go check it out, and I obliged. We needed a house, after all.
My hands shook as I turned the key in the lock, took a deep breath, and slowly pushed the door open. Aside from the dust and lack of furniture, photos and everything that made the house a home, it was exactly as I remembered. I entered cautiously, Johnny behind me, kissing my cheek and telling me it was okay. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a shimmer of blue and silver: a balloon I had gotten my dad for his last Father’s Day, deflated and taped to the door of the room he took his last breath in. I hadn’t taken it down.
“My God! It’s beautiful! Look at these floors!” my husband beamed. “This is real wood, Rae!” I smiled. “And look at this marble!” He continued through the house excitedly and I stood in place, reveling in the splendor of the home I’d spent my entire life in. It was bittersweet, as if the house knew I was back. I chuckled at the sight of the marks on the wall beside the living room area, where my father had documented my height every time I grew an inch. Everything seemed exactly the same. The only thing missing was my dad.
I turned my head quickly in the direction of what used to be my father’s room.
There was no way. The door was closed, but… the lights were flickering. No, not just the lights. The light switch itself was being flipped. Moving. But there was no way.
I approached the door slowly. I reached for the handle and paused. “Whew. Calm down, Rae,” I whispered aloud. Then it happened again. Flick, flick! More aggressively this time. Without even thinking I pushed the door open. “Daddy?” Nothing. No lights… no flickering.
Nothing. Only dust and a few of my great-grandmother’s antiques that I neglected to get rid of. I don’t know what I was expecting. I heard Johnny’s voice approaching from behind. “Rae, this house is amazing. I can’t believe you kept it a secret. It needs a little work but I can do all of it by myself. We won’t spend a penny, I promise,” he said, wrapping his arms around my belly. “I mean… that’s… if you want.” He looked into my hesitant eyes, then over my head. “This… this was your dad’s room?” I nodded. He gave me a smile, that absolutely Prince Charming smile that spread to his bright blue eyes. That smile that won me over the first time we went out. “I think it’d make a perfect nursery. What do you say?”
* * * * * *
The months flew by quickly and soon, we welcomed home my sweet bundle of joy, a healthy baby boy I quickly came to call Stark. I was smitten! He was the spitting image of my father. Tan skin. Dark, silky hair. All except his eyes, which were bright blue like my husband’s.
Johnny had kept his promise and done an amazing job fixing up the small parts of the house that needed it. Parenthood was simply blissful for us. Our baby was happy, and for a long while it felt like home – that is, until that one night.
Stark and I were preparing for bed. He fell asleep in my arms as usual, and I went to put him into his crib. That’s when it happened. The lights in his room began flickering violently, and wouldn’t stop. It was enough to trigger an epileptic seizure. I cut the overhead lights, and approached the lamp on the nightstand. That flickered also. “What the hell?” My sweet boy stayed sound asleep, so I brushed it off, laid him in his crib and settled on telling my husband the room needed to be rewired the next day. But it didn’t help.
Over the next six months, we rewired the room completely. Three times, in fact. Nothing seemed to work. The stangest thing was that the lights only flickered at night. Every night. That’s when I started feeling a decidedly sinister presence. Stark and I were often alone at night, seeing as how Johnny didn’t get off work until well after 8 pm. Everywhere, all over the house, the lights started flickering. Even if I hadn’t turned them on, or so much as touched the switches. It became uncontrollable.
I started letting my baby boy sleep with me, with the door to our bedroom shut. I didn’t sleep until I heard the soft closing of the door, indicating that my husband was home, and felt his warm kiss on my cheek. Only then – in a house I thought I knew so well – did I feel safe.
Johnny tried to keep me together as best as he could, but he could see that I was falling apart. I wasn’t sleeping, nor eating. The house where I’d been so happy as a child was now a living nightmare for me at night.
“We can leave, baby,” my husband said. “We can move back into the city, or close to my parents. They’d help with Stark. They love you both.” His beautiful blue eyes always lit up with hope and I just couldn’t bare it. He’d done everything to fix this house up for our little family. My dad had done everything to maintain it just for us while he was alive. I couldn’t just abandon it. So this time, just like the last, I told him it was just the stress of being a new mom and I’d be just fine. Besides, Stark didn’t seem bothered by it at all, and that was all that truly mattered to me.
* * * * * *
Days went by, eventually weeks, months, years. And soon, my little bundle was turning 6. No flickering lights, nothing. I had come to accept that the incidents early on had been nothing more than the product of motherhood stress, and left it at that. But then came Stark’s birthday. He had grown into a brilliant young man. But, I suppose, that’s how all parents see their children. Not only was he polite, speaking with the intelligence of someone years his senior, but he had imagination for days! So when I heard him thinking aloud to himself in his room one day, I thought nothing of it. Then he did something that stopped me dead in my tracks. He sang a long-forgotten tune, one I hadn’t even remembered existed. Yet he recited it so perfectly. I turned around and stood outside his bedroom door. Back turned to me, playing with his toys, he sang, “Don’t be afraid, or frightened, I said, of the monster’s that lurk under your bed. Don’t be scared of the ones you’ve read. I will protect you, even when I’m dead.”
I gasped and tears filled my eyes. “Stark,” I said, more sharply than intended. He turned to me and smiled. His beautiful eyes lit up. “Yes, mommy?” I felt bad and cleared my throat.
“Where… where did you hear that? What you were just… singing?” He smiled and giggled. “From Papa, mama. He sings it to me every night. He says he has since I was little.”
My blood ran cold. There was no way my child could’ve been lying. My father…that was his promise to me since I was old enough to even remember. How could I question a 6-year-old about his knowledge of someone he’d never met? I wouldn’t mention it to Johnny; things had been going so well. He had his own flooring business now, and we’d been living a wonderful life. No need to mess it up with superstitious garbage.
* * * * * *
Stark’s birthday went great! Of course, it was the same theme it had been in previous years: The Avengers. But each year a different Avenger was chosen. This year just happened to be the one we’d waited for: Iron Man. It was all going so well until we got ready to sing the birthday song. Stark got… sad. It’s like he just became depressed and unresponsive. We continued anyway, and midway through, his eyes darted toward the very front of our living room. With no hesitation at all, his face grew wide with a smile as he screamed, “Papa! Papa, you came!” He leaped out of his chair and Johnny gave me a confused glanced.
We were both so confused, in fact, that neither of us noticed that Stark was running straight out of the door.
“Stark! Baby, stop!”
I dashed out after him, Johnny and the rest of the party guests close behind, kids in tow. “Baby, stop!” I snatched my child back by his shirt and pulled him close, embracing him tightly. “Stark! What the hell were you thinking?! You don’t do that! You know better!”
His little eyes welled with tears.
“I’m sorry, mama. I just wanted to be with Papa. The lights in my room… sometimes they flicker at night, and I can’t sleep. Papa told me the only way they’d stop was if I went with him. I love Papa, mama.”
We didn’t move. We didn’t leave our home. I don’t know why, but I refused.
I told it to leave, leave and never come back… and I wish it had been that easy.
Whatever it is, it’s insistent, and it’s still around, months later. It never left. But it never brought us any harm. It’d slam doors, make things fall… but no harm had ever come to Stark, Johnny, or myself. And I realize now that it just might be my father, after all.
And to this day, the lights still flicker in Papa’s room.
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