“What is that place all about?” asked Billy Gilbert of his companion. “What’s the story behind that house?”
“That’s where some people died a long time ago” replied Justin Smart.
“That” was a split-level house which was identical in most ways to the ticky-tacky suburban houses that stretched out into the distance in all directions with the regularity and identicality of tombstones in some great cemetery. Extending from either side of the house were similar dwellings with neatly trimmed lawns and properly manicured hedges and shrubs, pressure-washed driveways and houses painted in soft grays and blues and off-whites. Many porches had American flags poking out from the walls like medieval infantry waiting to receive a cavalry charge. Here and there was a pink lawn flamingo or a garden gnome.
“I call B.S. on that” Billy declared. “That house hasn’t even been there for ‘a long time.’ What really happened? Somebody die there or something?
“No man. Somebody died there before that house was built. Or ‘Somebodys’ would be more accurate. At least that’s what my Old Man told me. There used to be a farm house there, and one day someone who lived there when crazy and shot everyone else that was in the house, and then shot himself.”
Billy thought about that for a minute while he stared at the house. The paint on this house was the same as on all of the others, except that on this house it was faded and wrinkled, peeling and tearing away from the wood like old skin from a bad sunburn. There were ragged holes in the outside walls that looked as if somebody had used it as a target for shotguns at close range.
Grass grew from cracks in the foundation and in the driveway. A tumbleweed had blown up onto the porch and was wedged in the corner, near the knob-hole of the door that had long been nailed shut. Everything about this home suggested disuse, or worse, dys-use; it did not seem to be merely neglected, but positively tormented..
An obscenity spray painted in bright blue just above where the tumbleweed rested actually provided an unexpected hint of color, or cheer, into a setting which seemed to suck color and/or cheer our of anything that came near it.
“So, what are you saying? That this is some sort of story like ‘Poltergeist?’” Billy asked, and then vocalized “Do do Do do Do do Do do” like the theme from “Twilight Zone.”
Justin just shrugged his shoulders. “I wouldn’t know man. I didn’t see that movie. And I ain’t suggesting nothing. Pop just told me that somebody killed a lot of people in that old house and then killed himself. They bulldozed that old house when they build this development and put this house right on top of the foundations of the old one. People who lived here knew about the place and wouldn’t buy it, and people who moved here learned about it and they wouldn’t buy it either. Now it really looks like shit and nobody will buy it for any price.”
“Yeah” Billy started. ‘It do look like shit. Looks like somebody wants to sell it though.” Billy pointed to the ‘For Sale’ sign that still stood in what had once been a front lawn. “Maybe that dude has high hopes of cutting a deal.” Billy pointed to the sign which was now faded and hung from one chain, the other having rusted through and broken, probably during a wind storm, such as was common in that town on the Plains.
On the sign was a picture of the realtor who was offering the house. His decades-old hair and clothing styles showed how many years had gone by since that house was built and offered for sale. “I’ll bet that guy is retired by now” Billy said with a laugh.
The sun had long since dropped behind the row of poplar trees that defined the property line at the back of the house. Shadows were creeping across the front yard and had climbed past the bare feet and crawled up to the knees of the two boys.
“Come on, let’s go” Justin said. “This place gives me the creeps.”
“What” Billy exclaimed. “Are you a-scared of ghosts? Billy was new in town and always acted with a sort of bravado, as if he felt like he needed it to be accepted. Justin had been born in this town and felt no such need.
“Scared?” Justin asked. “You bet your ass I’m scared. Nobody screws around with that place. Come on; I’m walking.”
Justin began to walk down the sidewalk and soon Billy caught up with him. “Baaawwk, bawk bawk baaawwk” Billy said, imitating the sound of a chicken. “Come on, man. You don’t believe in ghosts, do you? Come on. Let’s go back there and see if we can get inside. Grow a pair, dude!”
Justin flared at Billy’s insult. “Look man. Why don’t you leave shit alone that you don’t know nothing about? You want to screw around with that place? Well, do it on your own time.”Justin turned and continued to walk down the sidewalk, into open sunlight and with the house to his back.
Billy ran past Justin and turned to face him. “Look, man. I’m sorry. I didn’t know that place freaked you out so much. Let’s just drop it, OK? My bad. Sheesh!”
Justin was truly upset, but knew that it really wasn’t Billy’s fault. Any new kid in town could make the same mistake. “Yeah, man. Let’s drop it. You’ll learn all about that place soon enough, but I don’t feel like talking about it now.”
Billy looked quizzically at Justin. It was now his turn to shrug his shoulders. The two boys resumed their walk down the sidewalk. Billy was probably thinking about the mystery that was presented by this decaying bit of construction rotting in the middle of Suburban America. Justin was thinking about the branch of his mother’s family that was wiped out in the place where that mouldering, brooding house sat.