Estimated reading time — 18 minutes
I thought it was a great house and at a price we could afford, despite being laid off after ten years of steady employment and a new baby in my wife’s arms. The area was rural, the nearest neighbors not even a sight from our kitchen window, and the previous owner had left a lot of furniture that we didn’t have. From our small one bedroom apartment in the city to this place, it was like finding a piece of Heaven. The real estate agent had been nice as she showed us several different places, all out of our price range. Then suddenly the previous owner had passed and his children didn’t want the property, so it became available. I was eager to get the house. It was modest enough for our growing family, what else could we want?
The agent had what I thought at the time a funny story to tell us. Before she could even tell us the asking price, she said that she was required by law to inform us that a paranormal research team had visited the house under the notion that the place was haunted. She assured us that the investigation happened twenty years ago and there was no evidence of a haunting, just some old family rumors that scared the residents at the time. We all had a laugh at that, especially my wife Molly. We were both skeptics of the paranormal, we didn’t believe in ghosts and vampires any more than we believed the moon landing was real. The agent didn’t have the exact details, but it was a clean house. I put a bid on it immediately, never bothering to inspect the house for damages or insect infestations; a decision I came to regret.
Our first week was uneventful; Molly and I took the upstairs master bedroom and little baby Ethan got the room next to ours. There was a third bedroom, which sparked Molly’s interest in having another child. I didn’t have a problem with that, the attempts were the best part for me; and she never knew I used a condom so that I could be with her without risking getting her pregnant. She was so beautiful with long brown hair and chocolate brown eyes. Her slight Asian heritage showed in the small slant of her eyes, my purely European ancestry didn’t mind at all. Her body was something I couldn’t be more proud of, with her skin soft as satin and her ample breasts there was no sign that she’d ever been pregnant.
The second Tuesday after we moved in the problems began. They were subtle things, all which could be attributed to faults in the house; though I could see why someone obsessed with the paranormal would immediately assume ghosts were at work. Molly was the first hit as she went to take a shower before leaving for work. As she stood naked under the spray of water the hot water stopped and she jumped out of the shower screaming; I comforted her with a large towel and then set myself to checking the water heater. I thought it odd that all the sinks still had hot water, but I was determined to check it out. I didn’t have any experience, though as a husband I felt qualified. It was like I was given a book on how to be a man when I married, just to do all the things a husband was expected to do.
I hadn’t been in the basement much since moving in, the movers brought all the boxes down and Molly was the one to search through them. In my inspection I noticed the strange architecture that formed the foundation to my new home. It was old, blended with cunning skill to the newer sections of the basement. I was never good with history and couldn’t place it immediately, but some of the carvings reminded me of what Molly and I had seen in an old Roman church on our honeymoon to Ireland. That had been a special place, the tour guide had explained that the Romans had no known success past Hadrian’s Wall in England and the church was evidence that the empire had spread further than previously known. They even might have made it across the Atlantic, the guide had joked. A lot of educated historians and archaeologists were in the news infrequently, talking about Europeans in New England long before Columbus arrived; though I barely paid any attention to it.
The water heater was in the corner of the basement in what appeared to be the newer section, though the entire place was dark and filled with cobwebs of spiders long gone. The cylindrical device was in a recently built cabinet to hide it from view, as if the notion of finishing the basement had come to mind before being abandoned. There wasn’t anything in the cabinet with the heater other than more webs that had been abandoned by their makers. I wondered how long it’d been since anyone actually checked the machine, I had to brush several webs aside just to get a good look at it.
I’ve already said that I’m not taken to believing in the unknown and mysterious, but I felt dread being in that place. I could feel eyes watching me though I never saw the source. I swallowed my pride and looked at the heater, expecting to know nothing. But I did, a valve dial was turned almost entirely to the right. A worn label was beside it but I risked the danger and turned it to the left, opening the valve. There were no explosions and the heater didn’t react differently; but when I checked the shower the hot water was working again. I told Molly with feigned mastery, knowing that the valve was likely closed enough that it allowed some hot water through but wasn’t reliable. I fixed it, twisting one of the knobs until it was fully open.
I stayed home, unemployed as I was. Molly appreciated it, I was able to watch our child and work on what I’ve always dreamt of, composing music. Ethan slept most of the time, waking only when hungry or after he’d soiled himself. It was good for me; the baby monitor I kept a few feet away was almost always silent. And because he couldn’t tell me what he dreamed of, I didn’t know what was going on in his head. Thinking of it made me laugh, I didn’t know what a baby could dream of other than milk and maybe Molly’s breasts; I dreamt about them all of the time.
Other things happened, all that I was able to explain away. From the missing cordless phone to missing silverware; this could easily be my fault. Odd cold spots appeared, but always seemed to be the result of a broken vent or something else changing the air around it. Then there were the lights. When I say that, I mean the lights would turn on and off seemingly randomly, even if someone was in the room. I’d checked numerous times to see if there might’ve been bad wiring but I’m no electrician. We eventually bit the bullet and, after I admitted my ineptitude, called someone that really knew what they were doing.
The electrician was a kid barely out of school who acted as though he’d had a lifetime’s worth of knowledge. I led him to the basement and the circuit box, showing him the tangle of wires. He mumbled something about a long job and set to work examining the wires. I found a chair that was free of infestations and watched him work; when I was young a contractor stole things from our house when nobody was around. Since then, I always watch. I accept that people are flawed, but that doesn’t mean I have to trust them. So as the kid started his work I relaxed and pulled a worn book out of my pocket to read. I figured my presence there would be enough to deter any thoughts of theft. But not watching I didn’t see what was happening to him. I know that he was examining several wires that passed over the old part of the basement when I heard the noise. It sounded like a scraping sound, followed by a murmur of surprise and a whoosh of air. I stood to investigate and the kid ran into me.
“Burn it down, man; just get out…” He was saying as he collided with me; his skin was pale and eyes wide. I jokingly asked if he saw a ghost; his silent reaction to that question was more frightening than his appearance. I left the discarded book on the basement floor where I had dropped it and ran after the kid. The electrician nearly broke the kitchen screen door as he ran outside to his truck. When I reached the door the kid was backing down the driveway. From what I could see, he was sweating profusely with the same shocked demeanor. In moments he was gone, his tires screeched as he slammed the pedal down in his escape. I’ve never seen that happen to a person, I didn’t know what to make of it. Curiously, I returned to the basement to see if I could find what might’ve frightened the kid.
I first noticed that the book I had left, and I thought fallen on the floor, was resting peacefully on a small table beside the chair with a scrap of paper acting as a bookmark. I couldn’t remember doing it; and considering that I dog ear the pages when I take a break, the bookmark was highly unlike me. I put the small book back in my pocket and circled to the other side of the basement where the electrician had last been. It appeared as though he was at a portion of the basement where the old and new portions were blended together with artistic grace. There was white dust everywhere and I noticed that some of the wires were inside the wall, engulfed by plaster. I tugged one of the wires and made the same scraping sound I heard earlier. It wasn’t hard to figure that the electrician was pulling out some of these wires when something happened to him. I looked at the several wires that were free and noticed one that had been pulled out more, done by the electrician. I moved to inspect the area that the wire had been ripped from when I heard a sound that immediately took my focus; a baby crying.
I rushed up the stairs to find Ethan lying in his crib, wrapped in his small blanket, crying. His eyes were pinched shut and he was slightly curled in a fetus. I went to him, thinking of nothing but my son. He cried as I picked him up and as I held him close he grabbed my sweatshirt with his small hands. I circled the room, trying to calm him, but nothing worked. I decided to feed him and walked to the hall. Ethan stopped crying the very instant that I’d stepped out of the room. I looked at him strangely and stepped back into the room.
Ethan began crying again, wailing as if haunted by something I couldn’t see. I took him out of the room and once again the tears stopped. I admit to my confusion as I brought him to the kitchen where Molly kept several bottles for him. I rested him comfortably in a playpen he could grow into using as I prepared some food for him. Once I knew it wasn’t too hot or cold I went to my son. He drank some, but he wasn’t as hungry as his crying would’ve otherwise suggested. He burped a little and fell asleep in my arms. I carried him to the master bedroom and put him in a bassinet in the corner. When Molly came home, he was still sleeping.
“I’m home,” she called as always. I went to the stairs to usher her up to the bedroom. I told her about Ethan’s crying as she picked him up and carried him to his crib. He was sleeping and didn’t wake when she brought him across the threshold. She found me, smiling as she always did, and led me to the kitchen were she prepared a small dinner for us. That night we were both woken by Ethan’s screaming, which reminded me again of his awful tears earlier in the day. Molly brought him into our room and he slept in the bassinet without disturbing us once. He slept in the bassinet for two more nights, stopping us from attempting another child, before the sexual tension between us grew too strong. Molly waited for Ethan to sleep and brought him to his crib.
A two o’clock in the morning he started to cry; Molly once again told me that she’d handle the baby. Lying in bed I could hear her pacing the hallway whispering to Ethan. I couldn’t hear what she said, but it was calm and relaxing even to me. When she brought Ethan into our room, her inaudible words had put me to sleep. Three more nights we attempted to sneak Ethan into his crib, and every night he dragged Molly out of bed with his crying. By the third night I could easily see the lack of sleep taking its toll on her; her eyes were always red and the skin under them was darkening. She even dressed in more muted colors, as if the rainbow of fabrics held no appeal to her. It was bad and I resounded to solve the situation myself.
The following day I ran to Ethan’s rescue and, after comforting him, laid him to rest in the bassinet. Then I went into Ethan’s room to see if I could find anything. I checked the crib, initially thinking there was something wrong with it that upset my son, but it was fine. Then I checked the toys and even inspected the carpet, but nothing that would frighten a child. I was standing in the middle of the room, looking at the mirror on Ethan’s closet door, when I saw it. Someone else was in the room.
I spun quickly but the room was empty. I ran into the hall and quickly down the stairs, but found no evidence of another person in the place. I went back upstairs and inspected every nook and cranny in every room, but there was nobody. I went back to Ethan’s room and looked around. After no initial signs I looked back at the mirror. At first there was nothing, and then I saw him. Almost my height, he was old with a bald head and wearing a black suit with a black tie. He didn’t look at me, but I could tell from the reflection that his eyes were glowing, a soft red light like an old bulb. He turned to me, expressing no emotion, and then started to walk out of my vision. I turned to look and once again found the room empty. I walked to the crib, where the man had stopped, and looked. To my surprise, it wasn’t empty. Lying there, half buried under Ethan’s soft sheet, was that same small book I’d read in the basement.
I couldn’t figure out anything special about the book, it was just a story about a group of kids stuck on an island and how a misguided civilization grew. The place I stopped wasn’t even special; it was still early in the book. Then I noticed the scrap of paper that’d been used as a bookmark. It was a torn piece of newspaper that had yellowed with age, advertising several small businesses in the area. One was circled in a dark substance that I recognized immediately.
In my former job I saw a lot of injuries; accidents resulting in bleeding and even hospital visits. I remembered the color of blood so very well, I even imagined that it was a color necessary in a crayon box; but I also knew the color blood made when it dried on paper. It was a brownish color with just a hint of red, the longer it was there the less red there would be. It was too clumsy to be a marker, even the small grooves in the lines suggested that a finger was used to make it. It was for a psychic nearby, but I imagined that the paper was very old and the place closed. But with the way my son had been behaving, I had no choice but to try.
I dialed the number and waited as it rung. As I sat I contemplated disconnecting, but a woman answered before I could commit to such action. She sounded old, with a weak wavering voice similar to the one my mother had.
“This is Researchers of Unknown Knowledge, may I help you?” She asked. I looked at the paper and frowned, it wasn’t even the right business.
“I’m sorry,” I apologized, “I have the wrong number.”
“Were you looking for Madam Oracle?” She asked. I wasn’t expecting the question, but that was the name on the paper.
“Yes, I was.” I told her, almost afraid of what she’d say next.
“I am Madam Oracle, or I was when I was younger,” she laughed and coughed for a moment, “My grandson works with me and we started this a few years ago.”
“Oh, well I hope you could help me, I-” I started to speak when she cut me off.
“You found this phone number and you suspect that your home may be haunted.”
“How did you know?”
“Just a lucky guess.” Something told me that she had more to say. “I also guess that you’re skeptical about the paranormal. Well, I can assure you that we act in a very thorough, scientifically unbiased way. How’s tomorrow afternoon?”
“But I didn’t say what was going on.”
“No need dear; it is better if we don’t know. And I know your address; caller ID.” She laughed and hung up. At the time that was the strangest experience in my life, second to the mysterious man I kept seeing in my son’s room. But I was determined to solve this, anything for my little boy. Hell, I was already keeping him from having a sibling just so that he’d get the attention he deserved. I was the third of six boys, there was never enough attention to go around; we competed for the spotlight. I never wanted to put Ethan through that, and I didn’t want him to suffer any torment. If the crazy bat I’d just spoken with could help, then so be it. I’d bend over backwards for him, and truthfully I hoped that he’d never remember any of this.
I didn’t tell Molly about what I’d done, it’d be better for us both if I alone had to live with the memories of this event. My only suggestion was to keep Ethan in the bassinet all night; Molly agreed with me on the count that she had less than eight hours of sleep over the past three nights, she was too tired to have to handle another one of Ethan’s mysterious nightmares. When Molly went to work the next day I put Ethan in the bassinet and waited for the woman to come. The doorbell chimed one minute after one o’clock; apprehensively I opened the door.
Her name was Bethany Warwick; she was near eighty years old and used a cane to support her hunched body. Her hair was as white as snow and thick black sunglasses hid her eyes from me. She was dressed in simple clothes, the same sort that my aging mother would wear, and bunny slippers. With her were two men. One was Theodore Warwick, Bethany’s grandson, and the other was Francis Conway. Theo, as he introduced himself, was younger than me in his late twenties, with cropped black hair and thin eyebrows over deep set eyes. His eyes were small, darting back and forth like a nervous mouse watching for the stalking cat. He was wearing a polo shirt and khaki pants, carrying a large suitcase. Francis was shorter than Theo but about the same age, with a brighter appearance that hinted at his bright attitude. He wore a shirt that read ‘Who you gonna call?’ on the front and on the back was the Ghostbusters symbol. He was wearing jeans cut off at the knees and carried a suitcase like Theo’s.
They set their things on the kitchen table, one of the pieces that had come to the house thanks to the previous owner, and showed me their gadgets. They had something called an EMF detector, which could detect changes in electricity in the air, and a sensitive microphone recorder so they could ask questions and hopefully catch answers in the white noise. There were several cameras, all equipped with thermal scopes and motion detectors, as well as simple tools like screwdrivers and hammers. Bethany was proud of the simple flashlights, the tool she was most familiar with. I was given a camera to use and instructed on how to use it properly. Take three pictures, in sequence, from the same spot. Bethany took the lead and guided us to the baby’s room without a hint of direction from me and stopped with her back to the mirror on the door. She had us line up opposite her so that we could see ourselves in the mirror and the room behind us.
“Gentlemen, have your devices ready; I will call him. Don’t be afraid if the cameras stop working.” She must have been talking to us, and we did as asked. As she began chanting something in a low voice, the three of us watched the mirror. I’d already seen the mysterious man; it was only a matter of time before they did too. We didn’t need to wait long; the old bald man appeared behind us, rather than walked into view the last time I’d seen him. Theo, who’d been holding the EMF detector, nearly shouted in surprise as the small gadget began getting high readings that weren’t normal for a house; readings that were lethal to humans. Francis was asking questions, holding the microphone a foot away from his mouth. I would have taken a photograph but the camera turned off in my hand and wouldn’t turn back on.
If the man’s presence wasn’t frightening enough, when he walked through me I almost fainted. Now he should’ve been visible, standing before me. But in the mirror we could see that he didn’t appear whole, we could still see through him. He was saying something, which I hoped Francis was able to record, and then lunged at Bethany. The ghost grabbed Bethany by the neck and started to squeeze, choking her words. Theo jumped to the rescue though it was hard to know what to do. Bethany looked like she was being strangled by an invisible hand, like Darth Vader in Star Wars; only when Theo attempted to save her was she able to speak again.
“Be gone, you’re not welcome here.” Her voice was raspy but the ghost responded and released her, disappearing. As she started to fall, Theo caught his grandmother. Her eyes were closed as Theo lifted her off the ground and carried her to the living room. As we waited for the ambulance to arrive, Francis played back the recording so that we could listen. At first it was just Bethany’s rumbling, with questions from Francis breaking in. Then there was a distinctively deeper voice that was clearer than any ghost recording the two men had ever heard.
“I (inaudible) called Peter Foster; I was the priest (inaudible). This land (inaudible) the church; this room was where I lived. I pretended to be a Christian, (inaudible); beneath my feet is the entrance to the real church (inaudible), one you will never see.” That was the point the ghost attacked Bethany and Theo shouted, forcing Francis to stop recording. I looked at the two investigators but they could make little of it. It was Bethany, who we thought unconscious, that broke the silence.
“Secret door…basement.” Was all she could say, but that clicked in my head. Theo wanted to stay with his grandmother until the paramedics arrived, so Francis and I went into the basement to where the electrician had seen something that frightened him. I showed him the wires that were being pulled out and Francis inspected the holes. He showed me that this section of wall was covering a small space. I didn’t know what to do, but Francs did; he took a hammer and smashed holes in the wall until the sheetrock was weak enough to break. It took him almost five minutes to clear it away.
What we’d thought was an alcove was actually the top of a set of stone stairs descending into the earth. Francis gave me a flashlight and we walked slowly into the darkness. I didn’t know what to expect, but it was more horrifying than I could imagine. Skeletons were suspended from the walls where once people were left to die, only their bones remained after untold years. Cobwebs and the small bones of critters filled the passage as we continued down to an octagonal room. There was a pit in the center with decaying matter that Francis identified as firewood and a floor to ceiling carving of a beast I didn’t recognize. It was over twelve feet tall and nearly the same wide, but it didn’t represent anything that existed outside the imagination. The thing had a cobra-like head that connected to a human body that’s legs had fused to become a tail twice the length of the creature’s head and body. It had six arms, thin like those of an insect, and a pair of wings that resembled those of a bat. There was an inscription, but neither Francis or I had any hope of understanding it. I found that the camera dangling from my neck still worked, so I took pictures of it like I was instructed to do. There was a crashing sound to my left and I spun towards an opening to a dark cavern. Without thinking I took three pictures and waited, taking three more before lowering the camera. I looked at Francis who was as frightened as I. When he suggested that we leave, I wasn’t going to argue.
When we got back to the living room the paramedics were just pulling into the driveway. For her credit, Bethany seemed to be improving. She looked at me through those dark glasses and smiled. “I once came to this house and decided that it wasn’t haunted,” she coughed a little, “now I know that’s because it isn’t haunted, it’s infested. So many souls are stuck here; this is no place to raise a child.” The paramedics took her away and Theo joined her in the ambulance, Francis followed in their van. Alone, I realized that they had forgotten the camera I had been carrying. With a deep breath I turned the camera on and began scrolling through the pictures; the first were just those of the wall carving, though it did almost appear to move but that could’ve been a trick of my mind.
Then there were the six photos of that cavern. Seeing these pictures changed my whole outlook on life, I’ll never doubt the existence of the paranormal again.
The first picture seemed like a photo of a cave, with an odd looking stalactite to the right. The second photo was of the same cave, but now a blur ran across the image and the stalactite was gone. In the third picture, the stalactite had moved to the left side of the picture. Nervous but needing to know, I looked at the last three. These were taken a few moments after the previous three. The first picture showed the cave, no stalactites and the walls appeared differently. In the second image, something was just beyond the camera’s focus; all I knew was that it was big. The last photo nearly made me scream, and I’d have dropped the camera if it wasn’t hanging from around my neck. Whatever had been in the second picture was closer; I could clearly see the cobra-like head and dark eyes. The cavern was changing shape on account of the thing’s large wingspan and its arms and legs. Knowing how large the opening was, I can only imagine the magnitude of the thing approaching. If Francis hadn’t suggested that we depart, we would’ve been attacked by the alien creature.
Molly came home and had to park on the street on account of the numerous fire trucks and police cars that filled the driveway and front lawn. She found me carrying an awed Ethan as our home burned to the ground. The fires ate through everything, and they reacted strangely when consuming the basement; almost as though it was a large place deep in the ground. Our nearest neighbor, who happened to be the real estate agent, joined us to watch the house burn.
“Such a shame; that house needed good memories.” She was shaking her head. Molly carried Ethan now and hardly listened, but I was curious.
“What does that mean?”
“Oh, I must’ve forgotten to tell you about the previous owner. It was a mistake, considering the circumstances around his death. The man who used to own the place was Mark Craftsman. He remodeled much of the place; did you know it used to be a church until he changed things? I should’ve told you that much, some people are superstitious when it comes to living in an old church. Up until a few years ago, everything seemed to be alright for Mr. Craftsman; then he started sleeping outside of the house. There was a camper in the driveway for the longest time; it was unused except for the bedroom and the small bathroom. Mr. Craftsman died while outside of the home, just around the corner of the house where the door to the basement was. It must’ve been a heart attack, I heard nothing different.” She spoke with a coldness I didn’t expect. But when she turned to me, I saw pity in those eyes. “I’m sorry I kept it from you.”
“It’s alright,” I wanted to assure her that. “What about that haunting investigation?”
“That’s a weird story, without the paranormal part,” she chuckled briefly. “This psychic from town… I think her name was Madam Oracle, came. She was reportedly in the basement when something happened to her and her eyes were burned out of her skull. She wears these dark sunglasses now to hide the scar tissue,” she shivered. Molly looked at her but said nothing.
“I think we’re going to sell this place, we can’t raise a child here.”
Credit: Michael Bertolini
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