This Week’s Prompt: 99. Salem story—the cottage of an aged witch—wherein after her death are found sundry terrible things.
The Prior Research:Salem
I’d been house hunting for the last four days, when Alex finally agreed to take me to the house on 35th and Main. He grumbled and sighed the entire drive, before we pulled up to the slightly overrun yard. It was a nice, two story house—clean windows, nice door, fresh wallpaper.
“It’s just a bit pricey, you know, and there are better places.” He said, sighing as we walked through the house. “I mean, and you know, it’s got a history.”
“And that’s why we’ve got to check it out!” I said. The house was the exact same, top to bottom—okay, not quiet the same. The kitchen down stairs was the exact shape of the guest room right above it, the bedroom and living room perfectly mirrored each other.
“I mean, it’s not like this is the same house they hanged her in.” I said, flicking a light switch on.
“No…Okay, no it’s not.” Alex admitted. “Got rebuilt a few times after fires and the like. Last time was back in the 70s I think. Some freak earthquake or something broke the foundation and they had to fix it. And then there was a wave of renovations.”
I walked through the halls. I wonder how much of this place had actually stayed the same after three centuries—were the rooms always like this? Did they shift and change? The attic upstairs was entirely empty except some boxes—what had they once held? Was the living room the same one where they tried her, searched her entire body for where the creatures of the night drank blood?
“I think it’s the one.” I said, smiling as we left.
“Of course you do.” Alex sighed. “Of course the witch house halfway out of town is the perfect one—no, can’t be any of the ones down town or near a train station, nope, crazy house.”
“So it really is the same, top to bottom?” Cheryl asked. She was at the desk across from me, peering over the screen.
“Doesn’t that get…confusing?” She said, clattering away at the keyboard.
“Not as bad as you’d think—I mean, I’ve gotten mixed up once or twice when putting stuff away.” I said with a shrug. “You know, I’ll come home, get ready for shower and whoops! Walked into the walk in closet, bathrooms on the other floor.”
“Wow. I mean, that’s not too bad.”
“No, like—unless it’s late at night, it’s pretty easy to navigate around. When I’m like half asleep, it gets worse.” If I’m drunk it is an actual nightmare. I once spent an hour racing up and down the stairs, trying to figure out which one had the living room and which one had the bedroom, before just sleeping on the couch.
“Seen any…” Cheryl, pausing mid type. “You know. Last people that had the house left after a month.”
“No, nothing.” I said, clattering along. “I mean, I might ask someone to look at the walls.”
“What, blood leaking from them already?” Cheryl said with a nervous laugh. I didn’t mention that the walls had made a clicking sound at night—not loud enough to wake me up, but enough to keep me awake. Everything was so quiet out there.
It wasn’t much of a conversation, really. I had a few like that, people surprised I was living in the old haunted house. Which—okay, yeah, a few people it turns out had gone missing in the place. But like, of the past owners—I checked, out of curiousity—none of them ‘mysteriously’ vanished, and even the ones that had a bad time were like, fifty to sixty years apart. The stories get wilder around the 1700s—everyone’s grandma has a story about my old house it seems.
It was kinda thrilling to live somewhere famous. I even gave tours to a few friends—some of them joked about breaking into it when they were teens. Looked different, back then. Run down, but same double floors.
“Yeah, its always been like that.” Jermey said, pointing at the ceiling as we walked down the stairs. “I mean, you know, when I was here it was like. Graffiti’d up and shag carpeted.”
“Yeah, it was gross as hell. But the same, top to bottom. Weird that they didn’t like—like the bathrooms weren’t.” He said looking it over. “I mean, they kinda are—we figured that since they were on top of each other, we’d drop stuff down one pipe and it’d go down the other but nope. Just pissed off the handy man.”
“Thought it was abandoned?” I asked, frowning.
“I mean, no one lived here. But I remember once we got wasted and tore up one of the walls—freaked out, thinking we’d get caught.” He said, gesturing. “But it was all put together in like. A day. Someone had to do it. Never heard of ghosts patching up brickwork.”
I did get used to the noise after a while. The little creaks and dings and shifting of moving papers stopped bothering me. I dreamed about getting lost in repeating hallways more than once. I know I came home drunk and went to bed in my room, and woke up in the living room at least once.
I kinda got used to just staring ahead and counting whenever I saw someone on the sidewalk, a shape I couldn’t quite make out until the last moment. Once or twice, I caught someone following me—or well. I thought they were following me. They just lived nearby and I hadn’t seen them yet. No one was following me.
At least—well there was one time. I woke up in the middle of the night in the bedroom down stairs. I walked around, trying to get my bearings again, and looked out the window—and I thought I saw Cheryl. She was just walking…to the bus station, which was weird because I swear she lived on the other side of town. No reason for her to be around her.
“Oh, just went home and binged some shows.” She said when I asked what she’d been up to last night. “How about you?”
“Not much. Read a book.” I muttered. I mean, it wasn’t a lie. I’d been reading some documents. The crew that came over couldn’t find anything causing the clicking sound, probably something the construction crew before left in there. So I went digging for the construction crew for the current house—and couldn’t find one.
I couldn’t find the last one either. Not like, a shell company or anything, but like—there’s a newspaper article from 1970 about a fire destroying the house. It’s listed for sale in 1972. That’s the house I’m in. But no one built the house. The listing is in a newspaper, it doesn’t mention the company. And I don’t even know how to start finding that in a public record.
“I think it was built by OMN?” Alex said. I hadn’t given him a ring in a while. “Can’t really…huh. Can’t find a specific record, but they did a lot of construction back then. Hey, don’t worry about it too much. It’s probably just settling or something—get an exterminator if your worried its rats in the walls I guess?”
Or move out of the creepy house, like I said to was the unspoken bit there. But whatever. I couldn’t leave—unless I found another buyer, I didn’t have the cash for that. So exterminator it was.
“And he found nothing.” I muttered. I could feel the bags under my eyes, even if they weren’t there yet.
“Well, that’s good right?” Jeremey said, printing another few copies of…something. I don’t know. I wasn’t paying attention.
“I just…It’s been getting louder I think. More frequent for sure. He heard it, said there’s no animal he’d heard make that sound—left out some traps.” I waved it away. Just when I got used to the little noises, this one comes in insistent.
“I mean—maybe a plumber or something? Might be something rattling in the pipes.” Jermey said, tapping the papers. “Loose coin or something.”
“I don’t…maybe?” I said throwing my hands up. “I’ve got to figure out what it is—I swear, I’d never have bought the place if I’d known it was this much of a pain. Supposedly haunted historical house is one thing, this is…This is just maddening.”
I just didn’t sleep that night. It was the first night I stayed awake all night—cup of coffee and ears listening for any sounds. I’d just, I’d catch this thing.
The ticking started earlier than I remember it starting before. One of the old paintings ticked up a few inches. As I watched, the face on the old woman’s painting peeled off. A small plate there, of some fibrous material, rotated.
I got up slowly…and the floor swam beneath me. I fell back down. The room rotated. The walls fell away, a labyrinth of crystal and glass shimmering in the moonlight. My bed fell through the liquid floor. I screamed and waited for a crash.
I looked up at the old house—shimmering like moonlight on the water. New stars shone down through the transparent roof. When I got up this time, I was on solid ground. I saw hundreds of miles beneath the house—hundreds of fractal rooms. Perfectly shaped, all with glowing like stars. Except one—down at the very bottom, there was something…something dull. Some small blob, a hundred feet away. The ticking was coming from down in the depths, and I was sure it was from that strange shape.
There was a shout form the window. Looking up, I saw such…wonderful places. I saw hills of sunlight, I saw sable sands with red rivers. I saw moons, I saw worlds outside. I saw them tearing and bending and wonder turned to horror. The ticking turned to skipping—the house…whatever it was, something was wrong. I looked down again, at the shape sitting their listless.
It was like a bug trapped in amber. A small shape but I saw the whole house struggling to break free of it. It shook and seemed to crack. The floor gave in beneath me, and I went tumbling down. Before I could get up, it cracked and fell again.
Bruised and exhausted, I fell. I fell through house after house. I fell down centuries, down to the very bottom. I looked up, struggling a bit to catch my breath. The light was dim down here—I could barely see my fingers.
I looked up and saw her. Hanging there—not really her. Not her body, that was long gone. Her shadow? Something that was there but wasn’t. It wasn’t really there. It was there though. It was…the house was broken. It yearned up.
But she was there. Her body was there, jammed in the gears and light. She was glowing like a dim moon, soft and cold. The windows down here were all black seas and forgotten woods. The house shook and quaked. It glowed and ticked.
I next remember waking up in the hospital. The doctor said there’d been an accident—freak fire while I was asleep. Most of the house was burned down—not all of it, but most. The fire department was just glad to have contained it—there were lots of old homes down there. It could have spread uphill, caught some of the others.
It was really lucky it just burned mine. I guess.
Just like that earthquake back in the 70s, I guess. Or the flash flood that tore out the foundations in 1922. It’s a very lucky house, in a way.
I’m still unhappy with this story. I liked the idea of the house as some sort of mechanism, which was stuck trying to complete its task by the crime committed in the past. But I couldn’t find a strong A-plot to go in with, and interweave with, the haunted house. I think there might be some burn out on houses for now–and looking a head, we’ll be away from them for at least a few weeks! Thank you for your patience.
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