Estimated reading time — 28 minutes
The backstory: This story was told to me by my friend’s older sister when I was in fourth grade. I assumed she was lying and tattled on her. But to my surprise, her mom actually corroborated the story and even added details to it. Since then I’ve never forgotten it. At some points in my life I thought back to the story and reasoned that the family were just assholes trying to scar a kid for life. But I do remember the older sister telling me “we have a tape.” I never saw the tape, but her mom corroborated that fact too.
So here is the story. The dates are pretty close to when it actually happened, but I’ve changed some of the names and I didn’t include my friend or his sister. The neighborhood where it took place, Boynton Waters, is a real place in Boynton Beach, FL. I’ve fleshed it out into more of a story, but the major plot points are unchanged.
June 28th, 1994 – that was the date we moved into the house in that cute little neighborhood of Boynton Waters. It was a new neighborhood. South Florida was chock-full of these little enclaves of houses – Rainbow Valley, Cypress Creek, names the developers probably sloshed around in their heads for a few days to try and sort out what types of images they would evoke for its market.
I can describe the neighborhood as rather undeveloped, with a quiet that blanketed the entire compound at night followed by musky, cicada-infested days.
We were one of the first families that had moved in so I hadn’t been able to get to know the neighbors well at all. The first weeks were a wash-and-repeat cycle of unpacking, going to Publix, looking in furniture stores, getting in touch with my company and setting up the utilities. By the third week all that was done and over with, so now it was just a matter of settling in and making it feel like a home.
It was around July 29th, about one month later, that I noticed something odd with the window screen in our master bedroom. An outline of white appeared on the fiberglass and I as approached closer, I could see that there were a series of small tears running vertically and diagonally, in fact – there were dozens of them.
“Huh,” I remarked to my wife Amanda. “That didn’t used to be there did it?”
She followed my voice out of the bathroom. “Hm?” Then she noticed it. “Oh how did that happen? I never saw that before.”
“It’s not a big deal,” I insisted, half-voicing my real thoughts. I mean, it’s a new house after all. It should be flawless. “We can get it fixed.”
Being that the rips were so significant, I figured they would need a professional touch, so I called up a few window screen repair services the next morning. The big yellow phone book didn’t list prices so I had to call quite a few before finding the best quote.
The guy came a day later and didn’t seem at all fazed by the sudden appearance of wear. “Happens to everyone, but if you need to do this again in the future – here’s how.” He demonstrated for me. It wasn’t a difficult process, just involved getting a new sheet of fiberglass and some super glue. If it happened again, this would be no problem, but I doubted quite highly it would happen again.
Four nights later, on August 2nd, it must have been around 10 PM, but I was retiring to bed a bit early. That’s when I noticed it.
Dozens of ripped, white tears in the window screen. Needless to say I was more than a little freaked out. “Honey!” I called. Amanda bounded up the stairs.
I inched closer to the screen and felt a wave of déjà vu pass over me. These tears were almost exactly the same as the ones from four nights ago. It was puzzling, but… there they were. “Odd…”
Amanda folded her robe over her as she entered. “Oh my god!” She rushed over to the screen. “What the…?” She peered up at me with a raised eyebrow. “Did-did you do this?”
“Of course not!” I protested. “I don’t know how they got there.”
Amanda stifled a laugh. “Sorry, it’s just – It doesn’t make sense does it?”
“No it doesn’t…” I said seriously with a sigh. I couldn’t believe it. This was a new house! These rips couldn’t have made themselves so it was obvious to me that a neighbor or someone, maybe an animal perhaps, made these. “It’s got to be a pest, a rodent or maybe birds. I guess it could’ve also been one of the neighbors’ kids I mean… This just doesn’t make any sense. And look-“ I pointed to the size and length of the tears. “They look exactly the same as last time.”
“Well we’ll just have to keep the window closed then,” Amanda concluded.
“Oh-what? Come on,” I told her. “We’re not gonna suffer in the heat because of a few tears in the screen.”
They could be fixed easily. Around 10 AM the next day I went to Home Depot and got some supplies for fixing. At least one thing came out this. I’d get to work with my hands and do some real fixing up on the new place, which I was looking forward to.
By the afternoon, the fiberglass was fixed. I stood back and admired my handiwork proudly. Looked good as new, and I really, highly doubted I would need to do this again. “Well, that’s that.”
The day wore on and Amanda and I were out for most of it. We had made some new friends and went out to dinner together. We came back around 11:30. Amanda went upstairs first. Minutes later she called down to me, “I thought you said you fixed it!”
I glanced up casually. “I did!” A pause. I did…
“Well it’s still there!”
I shook my head. No way. I shook my head all the way up the stairs. No way, there’s just no way. I just fixed it. I just fixed it! Walking in to that room, my heart jumped back five feet. What appeared before me was a torn screen, once again – the same large gashes… in the same places, creating that same white outline. I couldn’t say anything at first. I was a little spooked, but mostly perplexed. This wasn’t a situation that could be easily explained I felt.
I observed the tears again, this time searching for clues and traces of what or who caused them.
Amanda noticed the concern on my face and told me gently, “It’s probably an animal, like you said.” She prodded further, “And it’s not a big deal after all. We’ll just fix it again tomorrow and keep the window closed unless we’re in the room.”
But I wasn’t convinced that was the answer. I know it was crazy and probably going a bit too far for some silly old rips in a window screen. God knows those things can tear pretty easily. Still, I had some video equipment. Maybe I could set it up and see what was causing these rips.
I yawned. Of course not tonight. Like Amanda said, it wasn’t urgent.
As we slept, a small noise, like scratching against the wall stirred me awake. I only opened my eyes and listened for a moment. It was like someone was carving something into the wall. A rising sense of panic flashed through me and I quickly turned on the light.
Amanda blinked and rustled. “Why’d you turn on the light?”
“Don’t you hear that?” My ears peered open again for the scratching.
Amanda listened also. “Sounds like carving.”
The state of alarm in me was all too real. So I got out of bed and listened for where the carving was coming from. “It sounds so close by.” As if it was in our own room.
I approached the window cautiously, assuming there to be some menacing figure, a teenager, or someone carving into the side of our house. My voice was buried at the top of my throat, ready to unleash a string of loud warnings.
In one swift movement, I opened the window and peered outside – on both sides. But there was no one. It was empty. It was dark but tranquil.
The carving continued.
“What is that?!” Amanda cried, her voice also rising in panic.
I shook my head and waited for a moment. A few seconds later, the carving stopped.
My heart beat loudly in my chest and I had to take in a good thirty seconds of silence before I could feel at ease again. “I’m going to give the realtor a call tomorrow, see what’s going on – if there were some rodent problem she conveniently forgot to mention.”
In my grumpiness and agitation of being woken up, it was hard finding sleep again.
I furrowed an eyebrow. “What was that honey?” I muttered drowsily. Oh forget it, I thought. She always talks in her sleep, deeper tone than usual though.
In order to trap to snake you’ve got to set some bait. The bait would be the fixed screen. That was top priority, so first thing in the morning – I cut out patches of fiberglass and set to work molding the new patches into place with superglue. After that, I set up the tripod. My video camera hadn’t gotten a lot of use in the past year so the tape inside would suffice. I would have to come check on it after 2 hours so I made sure to set an alarm on my wrist watch. This time there would be no mistake. I couldn’t even leave one minute going without recording.
In the first two hours, I tried to take care of errands outside. To my positive dismay when I returned, the fiberglass was actually holding up. And throughout the day, as I checked repeatedly in two hour increments, nothing happened. I had to constantly record over the previous footage, as there was simply nothing happening that was worthwhile.
Well, I thought, this was probably a good thing. The rodent or perpetrator, whoever, had moved on.
But something was egging me to keep going. Around 8 PM, the camera still going, and me and Amanda downstairs scarfing down the last bits of Breyers ice cream in front of the TV, the walls appeared to rattle, if only for a second.
“That was weird,” Amanda remarked.
I waited for a moment to see if more rattling would occur, but it had passed and nothing more happened. I felt a bit alarmed though and told her, “I’ll be right back.”
More cautiously than usual, I walked up the carpeted stairs, quietly. I suppose I was masking my own footsteps. Did I suspect someone was in the house? No… But, just to be on the safe side.
The door to the master bedroom was wide open. “Huh.” I thought I had closed it.
As I proceeded closer I could see the window appearing into view, and the screen, once more – was ripped – in the same places. I rushed over in a panic, edging my hands along the outskirts of the rip. “HEY!” I shouted at no one in particular, but I assumed there must be someone. “HEY!”
From behind me I heard a loud gasp.
I looked back at Amanda in disbelief. “Can you believe this?!”
“Did you get it on tape?” She asked.
I nodded. “At least we got it on tape this time. OK.” I stopped the recording and handed the VHS tape to Amanda. “Get the VCR ready.”
I stared back at the window screen intently, no thoughts going through my head except “Why?” “How?” I focused on the outline, and my eyes… in that moment, some inescapable feeling of dread filled me. The outline began to come together for me, take on a shape. It was the outline of a human, no, a woman. It appeared to be, with a sharp nose, her face leaning down and her eyes closed, and below to the side, what looked like fingers plugged into the screen.
I shook my head. Maybe it was reruns of Twin Peaks setting my mind on fire, but… the face, the figure now were unmistakably visible. I could no longer see any outline. All I could see was this embittered woman, face pressed against the window screen among the ripped fiberglass.
I ended up backing away slowly out of the bedroom. Whenever I looked back at the screen, I could see now, not a rip or a tear, but a woman – and needless to say – it freaked me out.
I walked down the stairs to Amanda, trying to put on a calm face and get the rationality back into my mind.
She had already prepared the video. “Ready when you are.”
I nodded slowly, pressed play – the scene of the crime where we left off – and pressed rewind. We watched as the video unfolded itself backwards. Nothing was happening yet; the rips were there but we hadn’t reached the point where they first started to appear. “There!” Amanda cried.
I paused and looked closely. In the fragmented image, I could see the rips in the screen reversing. I tried to make out what was behind the screen. “Can you see anything?”
“No…” She said. “It’s all darkness behind there.”
I rewinded back further. Amanda shrieked. What we saw in those few moments of rewinded footage was the screen ripping… by itself, naturally.
“OK play it back,” She urged.
I pressed play. Now we were at a point where the fiberglass was undisturbed. I let out a small gasp as I realized now what I was seeing – there was no person… no animal, no bird, no rodent – just the fiberglass ripping apart, alone, and by itself. One rip. I shook my head rapidly. Two. And then another. Amanda stood up and backed away, “What the hell?!” It was all happening on its own.
“I can’t… understand it,” I whispered to myself. “Is it…”
“A ghost,” Amanda concluded. Her voice was absolutely serious.
I looked at her as if she was crazy, which she was. “A ghost,” I repeated dryly.
She pointed to the screen hysterically. “Look at what you just saw!! Window screens don’t just tear themselves.”
I suppose mentioning that the outline appeared to look like a woman would only fuel her frenzy. “Look, I admit it’s weird.It’s…”
“How else can you explain it?” She was still pointing at the screen accusingly. “Window screens rip themselves?”
I shook my head in disbelief and forced out a bit of logic, “It’s got to be something outside causing it.”
Amanda looked completely spooked. “Calm down.” I looked back at the screen. “Let’s just think about this.” I sighed. It may be freaky, but it certainly wasn’t dangerous. I figured a venture outside to catch a glimpse of what might be causing this was necessary. “Where are the flashlights?”
As she went to look for them, I stared back at the screen and rewinded the footage again to when the rips first started appearing. I pressed play and watched. The first started from the left, slight vertical incisions, all in a row, indicating what had earlier looked like fingers. Then long gashes gradually surfaced, one, and then another until finally what looked like the outline of a sharp nose finished the abstraction.
My fears lumped together and Amanda’s suggestion came back to me. A ghost. The ghost of a woman?
“Brought the flashlights,” Amanda handed one to me. She paused. “What’s the matter?”
I guess the fear showed in my eyes when I looked up at her. “Nothing.”
We slipped out the back door and made our way around the hedges to the master bedroom side of the house. Using the light from the flashlights, we peered up and down and into the hedges, along the metal piping and at the bottom edge of the house. We looked all over but there was nothing.
My vision darted back to the window, to the hedge and then back again quickly. Something was off. I moved just so that the shadows in the master bedroom would allow me to see the rips in the window screen more clearly.
The vertical gashes splitting the screen diagonally down the middle were still there, but I could feel my body freezing up with the absence of the rips that contoured a nose… a face, contoured those closed eyes – the tears in the middle, all of them, and I had definitely noticed them before – were missing.
“Amanda,” I mouthed. “Amanda!” I repeated in a hushed voice.
“Hm?” She asked.
“Go inside the master bedroom, and tell me what you see from in there,” I told her.
“…Okay,” She replied. “But we’ve already—“
I whispered again, harshly, “Just please do it.”
I couldn’t move my eyes. I was stunned. Now I had some reason to believe that these rips weren’t caused by something natural. Or maybe it was just me… But there had definitely been a face among the rips before. Definitely there were small gashes outlining a face. I was repeating this logic in my head. But I had to be sure.
I watched Amanda come into view. She nodded at me from the bedroom. “OK, I see you.”
“How many of those tears can you count?” I called to her.
She looked at me like I was crazy, as obviously there were quite a few, but began silently counting. “There’s the two big ones on the side here, and these two smaller ones, and then four little gashes right below… just down here. In the middle there are just a bunch of little tears. I can’t exactly count them. Looks like… 1…3-“
She was counting at nothing from where I stood. I interrupted her, “From this side you’re counting at nothing.” I motioned to the small area that should have been torn to shreds. “Nothing at all.”
She looked at me wildly and without another word left the bedroom, I assume to see if my claim was true.
I stared at the window screen, calming down a bit. It was perplexing and it was confusing yes, but it wasn’t dangerous I reasoned. But why did danger even resonate with me? Because danger and ghosts usually walk the same path was the answer I was looking for but didn’t want to admit.
Amanda appeared by me a few moments later, “Well…” She breathed astonished. “I’ll be. You’re right.” She placed her hand on the spot where the cluster of rips should’ve been. “There aren’t any.”
I heard a rustling coming from the hedge beneath Amanda’s feet and flashed my light. “Sssss” a seething, menacing sound filled the silence of the night, and I watched helplessly as the threatened snake underneath the hedge lash out and stab one sharp tooth into Amanda’s foot.
She screamed and I reached out, dropping the flashlight and pulling her away from the hedge. The snake that had been hiding underneath slithered into view and as quickly as it had appeared, disappeared into the lawn-cut grass.
My stomach sank. It was dark but I saw it – the scales ringed in patterns of red, black and yellow. A coral. We didn’t have much time.
“Oh god,” She breathed heavily. “Oh god, oh god, it bit me. It bit me!”
I clenched her shoulders and immediately hustled us away from the window and toward the driveway. “You’re going to be fine!” I assured her. For some reason, and I don’t know why, I glared angrily back at the screen. “You’ll be fine,” I repeated.
“Ow…” She winced. “Honey it’s really starting to hurt.”
With Amanda limping by my side, I walked her over to the passenger side of the car and she leaned against it. “Wait. Just. Hang on.” I rushed into the house without a thought, grabbing at everywhere in the dim light, trying to get to my keys. My mind was a jumbled mess at this point, a mess of disbelief and fear.
My eyes shot up and I glanced around wildly. A voice, a dark and deep tone of a voice, had been so close to my ear. At that moment the lights flickered off.
“Who’s there?!” I shouted, but only silence responded.
“Hon!” Amanda’s voice, crippled from the pain, shouted to me from outside. “Hurry up!”
My breathing had grown staggered and heavy. Someone was in the house. Oh why had we dropped the damn flashlights? Zig-zagging pupils, my heart was racing now. Phone, phone, phone. Call 911. Call the police. Whatever my hand would find first. I had to rationalize. I had to get my mind to a secure spot where it could think. I was in the living room. The kitchen was to the right.
I felt along the wall for the phone. Near the entrance, adjacent to the table, just have to reach for it.
A gradual stench began to fill the house, waft into my nostrils and sit. “Ugh…” Phone, phone, phone. My hand wandered along the empty walls until I reached the entrance to the kitchen. I flung my hand desperately to the left, feeling the familiar smoothness of the receiver and picked it up.
The lack of a dial tone left me weak-hearted. I pressed the numbers desperately. 9-1-1. 9-1-1! 9-1-1! “Damn it! Work for me!”
I slammed the phone down, the putrid smell still in the room with me, but my only thought was of Amanda. Keys. I strode towards the kitchen counter and felt around, searching for a glimmer of metal. But there was nothing. “I put my keys…” I tried to retrace my steps. We came home. Came out of the car. I put my keys by the… Oh god, it was hard to think with all the elements of the moment – the smell, the dead receiver, the darkness, the voice, the bite… Think. Think! I put my keys by the…
Suddenly I realized. The table. By the sofa. The table by the sofa. In the dark I felt along the walls using my whole torso as a compass. I could feel the edge of the counter press against my back and I followed the it around the corner where it ended against the wall.
I paused for a second, taking in the smell finally. It was ghastly, a horrible smell like plastic bags of rotting garbage left out in a drizzle and then melted back down by humidity, coiled up and decaying. I’d never before smelled anything like it.
I walked into the living room, my nerves tense now that I’d formally met the horrible stench.
It was at that moment our car alarm went off, a loud, high-pitched, wavy sound that mutated from tone to tone quickly.
I yelled into the darkness agitatedly. “What the hell is going on!”
Not wasting another moment to feel the wall or look where I was going, I stumbled into the darkness towards the polyester-clad sofa, slid forward and grabbed at the surface of the table until I felt something sharp and metal in my hands.
After that moment there was no thinking left to be had. I rushed out, slammed the door shut, turned the alarm off and caught up to Amanda who was crouched down by the foot of the driveway. “Honey, Manda, come on! We gotta get you to the hospital.”
“I don’t feel so good…” She muttered dazily. The pupils in her eyes appeared dilated and sweat was pouring from her face.
“Come on…” I urged. “Into the car.” I shuffled her in and fastened her seatbelt for her.
As I was backing out of the driveway, I felt the house staring back at us, something hostile emanating from it. In that fragment of time, it peered at us like a stranger. “It was a perpetrator,” I mouthed in a desperate grasp of logic. It was our house, yet it seemed cold and uncaring of everything that had happened. It seemed cold and uncaring of me, perhaps even pleased with the turn out. “A perpetrator,” I mouthed again, but my mind was unconvinced.
August 6th was the day Amanda was released from the hospital. It was 2 days later. According to the doctors, a lot of venom had made its way in, but because we reached the hospital in such a short amount of time and because they had anti-venom on the ready, she was able to recover quite quickly.
In all that time, minus a couple of food breaks and calls to her parents, her sister and my clients, I barely ever left her side.
The fear of returning to our house had bottled up in me and was forgotten, until release day. Then the realization started to hit that we were returning home – and with home came all the elements of that night, the rotting stench, the sudden power outage, the voice, the car alarm suddenly going off. That familiar sense of unknowing filled me.
I had asked police to check our home, search the premises, but they returned with nothing. “Keep your doors and windows locked; we’re just a phone call away,” They said. Reassuring words, but I had hoped that it wouldn’t come to that. On the drive home I even contemplated buying a handgun.
Amanda would still need some time to fully, properly heal, but for the most part she was home-ready and could do all the recovering she needed to do at home.
“Honey,” She said as we approached the entrance to our community. “I don’t want to sleep in our bedroom. I hope you know that.”
“Manda,” I looked at her seriously. “We can’t let fear run our lives. Besides,” I reasoned. “I’ve already made calls to Animal Control. They’re coming by in an hour or so.”
Amanda shook her head. “That’s not what I mean. It’s not the snake. It’s the window screen.”
The word sent shock waves up my arms. “Well then I’ll fix it.”
“Just take the whole thing off.”
I looked back at her. We were approaching the driveway now. The place was very different from how we left it. In the daylight it looked warm, friendly and inviting.
“I think I’ll make some calls,” She said decisively. “Hey, have you ever tried using a medium? One of those people who can communicate with the dead?”
I didn’t want to get into this argument with her, so I made my last point very final and clear, “We don’t need any damn medium.”
Amanda insisted she needed just the one crutch, but the hospital had of course given her two. She strode towards the front door, a little limp in her walk but as I watched her I could see – the doctors did a fine job. She really had recovered. Maybe now, in light of those hospital bills, we could just put this whole mess behind us and move forward with our lives.
I would have no fear. As I opened the door to that familiar hallway, nothing putrid, rank or foul met us. It was the cleanest, freshest smell, the smell we’d grown so used to and that felt so warm to us.
Enveloped in this new assurance, I head towards the master bedroom, prepared to see a torn screen, maybe even feel a sense of security in seeing it again. But staring me back in the face when I entered was a perfectly flawless screen. No rips, no tears, not even a blemish.
Amanda cautiously followed in after me, and a loud gasp followed that. She pointed, her eyes and mouth quivering at an enormous speed.
I finished her thought for her, “Yeah, it’s fixed.”
I gently escorted her out. I knew she didn’t want to be in there, and I hadn’t any explanation nor a tape to serve as proof of anything. “Just forget it,” I told her. “Screen’s fixed so that means it’s over.”
She turned to me abruptly, “And you’re not gonna question how the screen got fixed so conveniently while we were gone?!”
“Who cares.” I brushed the point off. I was sick of this crap and I just wanted to move forward.
“Seriously!” She called after me, still pointing to the master bedroom. “You’re not even gonna examine this?! Honey! This is—this is not normal. Screens don’t just fix themselves. Are you gonna tell me the police did this? That they conveniently fixed our screen from the kindness of their hearts?”
I flung a hand into the air, my way of saying “forget it, move on.”
She called after me repeatedly but I didn’t want to acknowledge it. The past is in the past. What’s done is done. Yes I was curious and sure, I didn’t know how the screen got fixed. But was I going to dwell on this more? No! And I hoped she wouldn’t either.
But… She did. We did.
One day later, on August 7th she discovered it.
I use one of the spare rooms as a home office, but I rarely open the blinds. I keep them about half-way open. Our short-lived attempt at moving on with our lives was just that – short-lived.
She came into my office one day and while examining a bill with me noted the half lit visibility of the room, “You know it’s a little dim. Let me open up the blinds.”
With no objection from me, she opened the blinds all the way and noticed it – something that looked like tears in the screen behind the blinds. “Was the screen here always ripped?”
“Oh no,” I stated. “Is it ripped?”
She pulled the blinds up so we could get a good look at it.
My heart stopped in my chest. It was daylight yes, but I could see it. Amanda could see it too. The same tears, the same rips, the same variation and placement of the previous rips.
“But I never open the window,” I told her. “I never… You don’t think I…”
“Did this?” She pointed. “No…”
We were a little spooked, especially after everything that had happened. But since it was daytime, we didn’t feel the high intense amount of fear we did the previous times with the master bedroom. Each time we had discovered those rips it had been at night.
“Still,” She continued. “Do you think you could fix it? I mean I know you don’t use it often enough, you keeping the window shut all the time. But…” She approached the screen, then hesitated. “I wonder.”
“What?” I guessed she wanted to bait whatever had caused the previous rips. “That if I fix these tears, they’ll rip up again on their own?”
“I’m just thinking…” She murmured.
“Amanda,” I said seriously. “I don’t want to play ghost hunter. The rips are there. Let’s just leave it at that.”
“But don’t you want to see—“
“No I don’t,” I interrupted sharply. I never told her about what happened the night she got bit. I never told her about the putrid smell, the lights flickering off, the car alarm, the voice. I never told her any of these things and I didn’t want to. She would take it and run, conjure up an even deeper ghost story than the one she probably already had brewing in her mind.
I just wanted to move on.
At around 9 pm, I was still in my office, catching up on work. Two days is significant, the fact that it leaves a lot of backed up assignments on the table is an understatement. I’d be working well into the night I assumed.
Startled, I turned in the direction of the voice. It had been harsh. It had been close. It was so close to my ear that it felt as if someone had whispered right into the eardrum. Alarmed, I stood up. It was an enclosed space with barely a closet. I knew, logically, right then in that moment, no one was in there with me. So, was I just… going crazy? Why did I keep hearing this voice? And why this sound? This language that I didn’t recognize?
My nostrils flared. The remnants of a stench. I recognized the smell. The same, rotten, horrible smell from three days ago.
“Amanda!” I called.
She followed my voice towards the office. “Ugh,” She voiced her disgust immediately, holding an elbow up to her nose. “What’s that awful smell?!”
I shook my head helplessly. “I don’t know.”
She recoiled back further. “Oh my god, it’s awful. Is it the garbage?”
I searched around the office for any clue of where the smell was coming from. “Get some of that air freshener stuff.”
Was there a dead animal outside? And that’s what’s causing the smell? But Animal Control had cleaned up our yard good. They removed two snakes. They checked thoroughly for any remains of anything else, so… it just didn’t make any sense that it could be a dead animal. I mean, this was a new property for pete’s sake.
I could hear Amanda spraying the air freshener everywhere, but it just wasn’t doing any good.
I started to thoroughly check the house from room to room, thinking, trying to identify the culprit. The window screen gets ripped, then this happens.
A piercing, drawn out scream interrupted my thoughts.
I rushed to Amanda as she rushed towards me, panicked and upset. “What is it!? What’s wrong?”
“Go check the bathroom!”
I could feel the odor pulsating as I approached the open bathroom door, and lord was I shocked. Mold. Mold everywhere. Black mold forming around the outer edges of the tile along the bathroom wall, inside the shower, at every corner of the room. It was like our bathroom hadn’t been touched in decades.
“How the hell did this happen….” I stated in disbelief. It wasn’t like this at all two hours ago. I had just used it. And in that time, years of mold just appeared?
At the far end of the hallway Amanda stood, awkwardly hiding her healing foot behind her good foot. “Let’s go. Let’s get out of this house. Just for tonight.”
“No!” I stated.
“But honey,” She stated again, tears in her eyes. “You know something’s wrong with this house.”
I did know that. I couldn’t explain the window screen. I couldn’t explain this mold and I couldn’t explain a number of other things that had happened. But I also couldn’t let whatever this thing was win.
“We’ll sleep through tonight,” I told her gently. “We’ll get the bathroom taken care of, and then you can call… That.” I didn’t want to say it, but I knew we needed one. “That medium or whatever.”
I kept my eye locked on the bathroom door as I closed it. Black, deadly mold. And it was everywhere.
The next morning, August 8th, I felt a tight sensation in my chest as I woke up. My lungs. It felt as if they had caved in on me. My breath came out in sharp raspy tones, like after water goes down the wrong pipe. “Amanda,” I called in between great big gasps of air.
She rustled and turned towards me. “Hm?” Her eyes opened wider and she sat straight. “You’re sweating! You’re all pale oh my god.”
I couldn’t react much as far as say her name again. My glands felt puffed up and heavy. I needed oxygen. “Hos…” I breathed in a gap of air. “Pital.” I said it again, pushing the words out against collapsing pieces of air. “Hospital.”
The fear of what was happening to me spread, as Amanda limped towards the phone. “I’m calling 911 okay?! I’m calling them!”
I focused on the little air that was seeping in me. Breathe, I thought to myself. I would have to conserve air. My lungs were failing. I could feel it. Every gasp of air was like sharp needles, clusters of needles, attacking my lungs. It was horrifying, what was happening to me, I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.
I could hear her curse loudly in the background, but my lungs were preventing me from catching any of the stimuli of the outside world. All I could think was to take each breath at a time. Any moment I could black out and it would be over.
She came back into the room, and spoke to me, but I couldn’t catch what she said. It was all gibberish now. Everything in the room was blending and blurring together, including her.
I think she snapped at me, and screamed a warning at me to stay with her. But I was fading. The world around me was darkening. My brain was being depleted of oxygen and so to was my consciousness.
I just kept on puffing out sharp breaths of air in an effort to stay linked with the world.
Amanda left my side again in a huge hurry. A voice, distant, shouted back to me. I kept my concentration on the ceiling. I just had to stay linked with it, not let it fade out of view. Stay alert. Stay breathing. Don’t slip away, I thought. These were all the thoughts I had room for.
It was a struggle, fighting against my drooping eyelids, fighting for those breaths of air, each inhale stabbing at my insides. Any moment now I would go.
More snapping, fingers, not Amanda’s. A multitude of strange, distorted faces crowded around me. I could hear the echoes of their voices bouncing from one figure to the next. I felt the ceiling move closer to me then slip away as other scenes of other tints of color flipped past and behind me.
Something fastened it’s self on my face and I felt my brain flicker with some sort of gust of energy, then fade. My eyelids were heavy. The world was becoming dark. Figures. Hands all around me. Can’t hang on.
I awoke roughly two hours later in a hospital bed.
My chest felt like ice, but at least I was breathing. I had needed some suctioning to drain out the excess air. “Pneumothorax,” the doctor explained, and I had been attacked by a small hamburger-sized bite of it.
“Small?” I scoffed. “Didn’t feel that way.”
“Try not to talk so much,” The doctor warned. Boy was he was right. Talking hurt. In fact, everything hurt. He explained that things will hurt for the next few days as I recover, but he was hopeful I would be out quickly. “After all,” He told me, “It wasn’t a major collapse. More like a light graze.” I wasn’t sure if he was telling me that because it was true or just a nice, calming “doctor” thing to say.
Amanda was by my bedside. I could feel her squeeze my hand. “You made it back to me.”
“Yeah…” I replied drowsily. “I did.”
I didn’t think too much about why it happened. Mostly I just focused on the recovery part. Amanda was with me most of the time. The day before my release she was out and when she came back, she had a strange little smile on her face.
I had watched enough episodes of The People’s Court and I don’t even like Mad About You but I watched it, so when she entered my room, my heart soared the way it did when I proposed and she’d said “yes.”
She sat down by my bedside and put a hand over mine.
She stated sweetly, “I think we’re ready to go home.”
“Good,” I nodded with relief. “I’ve had enough TV for one lifetime.”
She laughed. It was odd. It had been awhile since I’d heard her laugh. Since either one of us had laughed. Finally she just rested her eyes on me, a pretty smile playing on her lips.
I was curious. “You seem happy. We’re finally getting out of this hamster cage?”
She shook her head still smiling. It was a huge comfort to me. I had pretty much recovered. Breathing had normalized and I knew we’d be going home tomorrow. But something about her smile in that moment. Fresh Prince in the background. The hospital room glowing just a little bit warmer than usual. Something in that smile, in that moment I guess, was very comforting.
I was released the next day. It was noon, August 12th, just about four days later. Release papers signed. Amanda’s foot more or less healed so she drove us home.
Everything was a bit brighter, a bit gentler, and even the fear of going back to the house seemed to pale in comparison with the beauty of the world. When you’re in a hospital for a few days, everything looks greener once you get out. Even that crappy 7-11, the one on Military Trail that no one goes into looked brighter.
As we approached our community, I felt my throat lock up.
“I have to tell you something, “ Amanda told me. The way she said it, I could sense that some kind of big revelation was hiding underneath those words. “I called a medium the day after I came back from the hospital, the day before you went in.”
I stared and didn’t say anything.
“Well she came,” Amanda continued. “And she explained a lot of things.” She took a breath as we approached the house. “Now, I know how it’s all going to sound. But have an open mind about it.”
At this point, considering that the very air that I breathe had nearly been taken from me, I was willing to go on a little faith.
The medium had come two days ago. The tears and rips in the screens had mysteriously vanished and there was no mold in the bathroom, neither was there any stench in the air, but according to Amanda’s story, the medium had felt the lingering remains of a presence, but she needed to do some further research to find out if this presence was harmless, malevolent and if so, would it return.
“She called back last evening – that’s before I saw you,” Amanda recalled. “And it turns out, the developers hid a very compromising fact about the land our community is built on.”
According to the medium’s research, our community had been built over a site that had previously served as a Seminole burial ground.
“That means hundreds of Seminole Indians are collecting dust beneath our feet?” The thought gave me shudders.
“Listen!” Amanda continued. “It was really important land, to a lot of people of Seminole descent. They refused to let anyone desecrate the land so there were daily protests. This was years back when the land was still undeveloped. The point is, one Seminole woman led an annual ritual there, and as she was leading people to the spot, she fell into an unmarked pit. This is the only documented death that took place on the grounds our house is built on in the past fifty years. She suspects that… maybe the haunting was temporary, a chance to lash out against oppression. Against us, descendants of white men.”
I was taking all this with faith, and a grain of salt. “So wait, you’re saying that the snake bite on your foot… and my collapsed lung… all this stuff, has been about revenge?”
Amanda shrugged, nodding a little. “Eh, it makes sense to me. I mean it happened to me. Can’t be coincidence that it happened to you too.”
“I just want to know that it’s over,” I looked at our house wearily. “Otherwise we’re definitely going to have to move.”
“It’s over,” Amanda stated firmly, her voice held some assurance. “We’re not going to be bothered by anyone, ghost, spectre; we’re not going to be bothered again.”
I gave her a look. “How can you be sure?”
“Because the medium sensed it – that all the lingering evil intentions are gone.”
All we could do was hope. At this point, a normal life couldn’t come soon enough. The practicality, the realistic possibility that we would have to move was sitting in my mind like an unopened notice. The option was on the table now. Just the fact that it was even on the table…
I thought deeply about the theory. A woman. An angry, bitter woman. Bitter that the land had been developed against her will. Bitter that white feet trampled over sacred Seminole grounds. So she lashed out, as a snake against a foot, or as the trigger to a lung collapse, as mold against a shiny bathroom sink, or the foul odor of a rotting corpse filling the hallway.
That theory nestled and buried itself deep in my mind.
The next few weeks went by without incident. It was tough to climb back up after everything that had happened, but somehow Amanda and I made it out of that hole. We were finally at a point where we could put all the terrible events that had plagued our first two months here – our lives had regained a semblance of normality again.
Weeks turned into months. We didn’t look back. We kept moving forward.
It must have been February when I was browsing a Walden Books and came across a few books on Seminole Indians. I didn’t buy any, but that long dormant curiosity was surfacing. That theory had never left my mind. Was buried yes, buried deep in cross chambers of my memory that I didn’t want to reopen. Yet I think in all that time since the incidents, I never answered some of the burning questions that lay deep in my memory.
After that visit to Walden Books, I returned home, keen on contacting someone. Who, I didn’t know, but the web might. Yes, we finally got our PC hooked up to the web. Moving forward!
About fifteen minutes later, I found who I was looking for and rang them up.
They came by the house three days later, while Amanda was at work.
“Are you John?” They asked.
“Yeah that’s me, come on in. Make yourselves at home.”
My invited guests were two men of Seminole descent, one in his early fifties and the other, much younger, probably in his twenties.
The older one started talking first, “I’m Steve. This is Jason. Good of you to call us when you did.” His eyes crinkled as his belly shook with laughter. “I want to hear the whole story. I mean the whole story!”
“Yeah it’s quite a story. Can I get you anything?”
The younger one, Jason, spoke up, “Coffee?”
“Got it, one for you too Steve?”
Steve was a big guy with a bear-like stance when he walked, “Better make mine decaf.”
Steve and Jason were both with the Seminole Tribe of Florida organization. They agreed to meet after I had indulged a little bit about what had went down in those late summer months. Now I was filling in the details. They were intrigued.
“And anyways,” I continued from the ending of my story. “It seems like it’s over now… But, I feel guilty. If we’re here… sitting on a Seminole burial ground, and she died in such circumstances, just because she wanted to keep traditions going. I mean…” I swallowed. I hadn’t mentioned it much to anyone. It was a thought that sat in my mind, alone, for only me to grapple with. “The tears and cuts and rips in the screen, they resembled a woman – eyes closed, fingers digging into the screen.”
Steve looked at me strangely. “Window screen ghosts,” He whispered.
I stared up at him, startled. A smile crept up at the corners of his mouth and he broke into wide laughter, “Now listen John. If I were you, I would just put it behind me. And you have. But you got to really mean it. To put this stuff behind you, you got to let it go. Now if I recall, the lady in question, whose name is Urma, she’s done her part here on Earth and now she’s continuing on her journey. Her possessions, buried with her. That’s our custom.”
Jason spoke up then, “But I’m not sure if she even intended to hurt you. That’s not our way… I think she was communicating something with you. A warning, perhaps, a chance maybe? I mean after all, isn’t it the moments where we think we might lose each other that bring us closer together?”
Jason had a point. If anything had come out of all this, it’s that Amanda and I care for each other more deeply than ever, and the preciousness of our lives feels more real and valuable to us than it has ever felt before. A faint smile found its way to my lips, a warm, burning feeling that speckled and flickered along the lines of my mouth and faded as quickly as it had come. Suddenly, and perhaps for the very first time ever since the incidents, I really felt at peace.
“Just one question,” I remembered now. The thing that was nagging at my mind. “I kept hearing the word ‘Vagoyaveech.’ Does that mean anything to you?”
Jason and Steve looked at each other and then Steve spoke. “Well, yes it does.” He laughed. “Even with your mangled pronunciation.”
I leaned forward. “What’s it mean?”
“Vhoyvkets. It means… ‘Let’s go.’”