This room, in this house, is like a soap bubble. Fragile and iridescent, it floats along the breeze in autumn or summer, winter or spring, and pays no mind to the temperature of the wind. Inside, the air is constant, reliable, though—at times—it is heavy and the weight of it crowds my lungs like bodies at a bus station, eager to depart. From my perch inside this warm, open chamber I can hear the calls of life, though I seldom find the energy to participate in their activities. Footfalls echo down the halls, little boys giggle from the living room and the sound swells in my ears like an approaching locomotive, cats scurry across the floor, and outside nature is wildly singing the praises of freedom.
Yet, I persist in solitude. A tiny whisper among a crowd of voices shouting life’s daily demands. Here, in my soap bubble, I cower in terror, as the world threatens to pluck me from safety with the shiny, sharp tip of a sewing needle.
It was seven years—and yet eons ago—that we clambered into this place. Boxes full of our meager possessions, one child teetering on tiny feet, the other perched upon my hip. My husband dragged armfuls of hope through the front door, a door that would eventually serve as a barrier between myself and reality, but we aren’t there quite yet.
These were still years churning with dreams and promise. Days of sun and whispers that danced on a warm, delicate breeze whispering optimistic daydreams into every nook and cranny—every piece of cracked drywall and yellowed paint. The house had been vacant, alone, as houses should never be. They are built to embrace life—feel it move about inside their walls and upon their floorboards, like a woman’s womb, to keep the ghosts of the past at bay. But this house had been lonely, listless, for far too long. It greeted us with enthusiasm and burnt out light bulbs only days after we’d installed a new one. The house on Evergreen Lane was just as alive as we were.
“Honey,” I said, after flicking the switch in our bedroom one evening, “we have another burned out bulb.” I continued to flick the switch up and down, fruitlessly.
My husband, Justin, left our eldest son to watch cartoons among the boxes on the living room floor and marched down the hallway. “I just replaced that one last night. That’s the fourth bulb I’ve had to change in two days. There must be some kind of short in the wiring.”
“Maybe we should call the landlord?” I asked. My concern was wrapped in sudden fires caused by faulty wiring while we all slept. The whole place enveloped in smoke and fire, and none of us waking in time to get out alive.
Justin’s eyes softened as he observed the fear flash across my face. His eyes studied mine, and he smiled. “Don’t worry. I’m sure it’s nothing. I’ll get a new bulb.” He kissed my cheek and shuffled off to the kitchen.
I flicked the switch, uselessly, a few times for good measure, knowing that the bulb would not burst to life before Justin returned with a fresh one. Each and every dead fixture, now buried like a rotting carcass in the trash bin, had been guaranteed a long, quiet life illuminating our family’s activities. But they had died quickly, unexpectedly, in their sockets. Replaced, and tossed with the remnants of our previous life. The ghosts we didn’t wish to carry into our new home on Evergreen Lane.
Those former ghosts had ridden us like jockeys. Always whipping our haunches, reminding us of their presence, their choking grasp over our lives. Long before Evergreen, I had been ill—suffered under the weight of dark, oppressive clouds that suffocated my will to carry on. Just after our oldest son was born the visions began. Where most new mothers see vivid scenes of little league victories, fishing trips, and wedding dances—I witnessed my sedan careening from the side of a bridge, plummeting into icy water, my son and I trapped—strapped into our respective seats—unable to unhook the latches before we were overcome by the frigid, murky water. In my mind we were blue bodies dancing in an icy lake, entombed by a Ford we still owed on, and the city would pull us out, bloated and bitten by hungry fish.
In another, I was blinded by florescent grocery store lights. The walls and the floor swirled, like a whirlpool, around me. My head was a helium balloon, escaping to some other place, some other plane of existence. I lost my footing as my eyelids fought exhaustion, and I tumbled onto the tile floor while holding Braxton, and he’d make contact first. White tile turned red as the contents of his skull scattered upon the floor, seeping onto it, and I tried to sweep it up in my hands, tried to put it back. And I screamed a terrible, helpless scream while everyone around me watched—chattered about my inability to mother correctly.
They had pills for that, post-partum depression, but I couldn’t understand how any real mother could be depressed after giving birth to what everyone else considered a miracle. Then, there were job losses and money problems. Illnesses, because my little miracle seeped the wellness from my body and used it for himself. Of course, any mother would give it all away for her children. Reduce herself to a worn-out pile of flesh for their happiness.
“Honey, do you smell that?” I asked from the living room couch as Justin and I watched a movie, our Saturday night ritual.
“I don’t know. There’s a weird smell,” I sniffed the air hard. “It just smells weird.”
“Smells weird, how?” Justin asked me.
“Like, burning and rotten pumpkins and dirt.”
He chuckled, “I can’t smell anything.”
“You never can,” I grumbled.
This was the beginning of a new ritual, because that odor mocked me. It followed me and manifested whenever it felt I could be caught off-guard. In retaliation, I burned incense. The kind that is supposed to clean the air and relax haggard nerves—mostly sage and lavender. I sent powerful streams of cold mist containing fragrant essential oils into the air. They wafted on the air-conditioned breeze, and floated in the heated oxygen, and they all should have masked the smell, but it persisted. Just as death persists no matter how much living you do, it is always there in the shadows.
I was never quite calm after Braxton was born, but the birth of our second son, Rohan, had done something to steady the visions that terrorized my mind. If I believed in angels of mercy, he’d surely have been one. I’d suspect, that with his birth, he’d dragged the demons that possessed me out with him. For the first time in two years, I didn’t live in a constant state of fear, but could instead look upon my children with the love and wonder designed for new mothers. And instead of horrific, gruesome death, I could glory at the possibilities of their future, because prior to that moment, I hadn’t believed there was one. Of course, fear, as it goes, clings to a soul once it finds comfort there.
The Evergreen house had always seemed a peculiar place to me. We had slapped fresh paint upon its stained, dirty walls before we’d placed our belongings in their respective places, and yet, the grime resurfaced time and again without reason.
“Boys,” I shouted as my now toddlers ran through the halls, “let me see your hands. Do they need washed?”
“Hands aren’t dirty, Momma.” Braxton would tell me and hold out his hands for the twentieth time that day. Rohan squealed impatiently from the hall as I checked his palms.
“Justin, do the air filters need changed?” I’d huff as I wiped down the walls, again, with a Lysol soaked rag.
“Just changed them last week.” He’d answer busy with some other task I’d assigned him.
“Why do the walls always look filthy?”
“It’s an old house.”
Our four cats acted strangely once being introduced to the environment as well. They were loafers, seldom active, spending most of their days asleep in my lap or on the kitchen table. That was until we moved to Evergreen Lane. Suddenly, they prowled endlessly. They stared, fixated, at those light fixtures where bulbs constantly needed to be replaced. They hovered in corners watching invisible forces move with their heads cocked to one side for long periods of time. The cats congregated in the hallways, peered into Braxton’s room, as if there were some dark force drawing them to the entrance but forbidding them access—or they were smart enough not to enter. They sat on guard, at the end of my bed, mewing at nothing but the empty air of the hallway.
The longer we resided at Evergreen Lane, the more ill I became. Whatever little miracle Rohan had performed on the morning of his birth had been stripped away. The mornings brought with them excruciating pain. It wrapped itself around my joints, made walking nearly impossible as I stretched a foot to the floor from beneath my comforter, and shot bolts throughout my body. The doctors poked me, withdrew my blood, ran tests upon tests, but could find no answer for my affliction. Waves of exhaustion washed over me, making me bed bound, and I slept for what felt like years—consumed by dirty walls and strange energy and cats that chased invisible shadows.
As the boys grew and went off to school I was faced with the truth of Evergreen. Alone in the innocuous looking house, I learned the true depths of its secrets. As I sat in my bedroom, in front of the large antique mirror placed on the wall, I saw the black figure of a man hovering just beyond my shoulder. I froze, unable to unstick myself from my mattress, eyes gaping and studied the thing. It did not move. It did not come for me. It only stood, a black emptiness where closet doors should have been. Finally, I found in myself the courage to wheel around, but he was gone.
“How was you’re day?” Justin asked breezily as emptied his pockets into a drawer.
“I saw something today.”
“Yeah?” he said, “What did you see? Anything good?”
“I saw a ghost. I think it was a ghost. It had to have been.”
He looked at me suspiciously. “A ghost? What do you mean?”
“It was a shadow of a man, in the bedroom. It scared the wits out of me at first.”
“Show me,” Justin said.
He demanded I explain the details—where I had been sitting, where the thing had appeared, what time of day it was, what size it was, what it looked like, exactly. Justin moved around the room waving his arms attempting to recreate the shadow, attempting to show me that I had imagined the whole thing.
“This is all fine, except—”
“Except what?” he asked.
“Except I saw it in the living room too.”
I looked down the hallway, a cat was standing in front of the bathroom door, staring. “He’s standing in the doorway of the bathroom right now.”
Justin rushed to the hallway and gawked down the darkened corridor. “I don’t see anything. Just the cat.”
“Honey, there’s nothing.”
I sighed, exasperated, “You aren’t looking hard enough.”
“How have you been sleeping?”
“Not great,” I answered meekly.
The doctors and the diagnoses and the pills followed. There was always a reasonable explanation for what happened at Evergreen, and usually it was hallucinations. Ceiling fans spun on their own without coercion from a passing gust of wind. Televisions throughout the house turned on at random. It had become a constant game of hearing courtroom reality shows and soap operas streaming from my sons’ rooms just as I’d gotten comfortable, then padding down the hall to extinguish them. The house only played with me. Only awakened for me. The shadows, the smells, the electricity was alive—pulsating—in my unique presence. When the others arrived, the house went into hiding. Evergreen quieted as if it were frightened of them, an orphaned child hiding in a gutter, terrified to reveal itself.
Soon, the fear Evergreen felt seeped into me. In my dismal, weakened state I was overcome by unreasonable horror. I peered from behind gold curtains worried an intruder might come for me, for the house. Every unknown noise lit the match of dread that burned like a bonfire deep inside my belly. I hid from mailmen and political representatives. I no longer accepted phone calls. Every stranger was a threat to my very being—and so I blew the bubble that formed the barrier between myself and reality. It protected me from all the things I was afraid of, but it couldn’t protect me from myself.
“I don’t feel good about this,” I told Justin the evening before I was scheduled for a major but routine surgery. It was my fourth surgery in two years. It seemed that as my mind collapsed, so did my body. The two were synchronized in their relative destruction. The delusions had become more frequent, mood swings had left me in either in a state of constant inertia or motionless under a pile of blankets in the dark, my body no longer processed food correctly and my clothes hung like drapery from my thin frame.
“You’ll feel better after this one,” he reassured me, pecking my forehead as he always did. Leaving the tingle of his lips to linger on my flesh.
“A body can only take so much.”
“You’re the strongest person I know. You’ll be fine.”
I went to sleep the next day on a silver metal table, in a cold operating room, with a plastic mask encompassing my nose and mouth. The time between waking up in that cold hospital and arriving home was a blur of pain medication and muttered words and pinpricks. I was never warm again.
“Why is it so cold in here,” I muttered into the thermostat that hung in the darkened hallway. Justin stood outside the bathroom listening to Rohan chatter about his day at school.
I pressed the button to raise the temperature of the house, the heater kicked on, and Justin turned on his heel. He walked to the thermostat and readjusted the temperature. He never did like it too warm, so I resigned myself to sweatshirts and carrying a blanket wherever I went. I did this even though it was summer. It was impossible for my body to gather enough energy to warm itself.
I soon found it impossible to leave the bedroom, as if some unseen barrier kept me from passing the threshold. I was a prisoner. The world beyond the door, even inside the house on Evergreen Lane was too much for my brain to process. The limitless terror, the potential for catastrophe too great to risk leaving safety.
Braxton and Rohan seemed to forget my existence entirely, as if they couldn’t relate to me. They no longer knew the vague outline of the woman who once called herself their mother. Like breadcrumbs, drawings and school assignments found their way into my safety net, and for a brief moment I glimpsed their growth—could see a snapshot of their lives, of the people they were becoming. They all withdrew from me. An unrelatable fragment of my former self, bound by caution to foam and padding, sheets and blankets. I was a voice screaming for acknowledgement in a sea of deaf ears.
Justin stood adjusting a silver tie in the antique mirror in our bedroom. I perched on the bed, looked over his shoulder. He never wore ties. “What is this thing you’re going to?”
He didn’t answer.
“I’m sorry I can’t go with you. You just, you know how hard these things are for me. I can’t leave. What is it that you have to dress up for?”
He cleared his throat and brushed the hair from his forehead. On his way out, he pulled the car keys from his pocket, but something, a paper, drifted from it as well. I rushed to pick it up and choked on the thick, heavy air of the bedroom. An obituary, my obituary. I hadn’t made it through the surgery—a fatal asthma attack while under anesthesia.
So now, I am the house on Evergreen Lane and it is me. Encased inside the walls of my glittering orb are the lives that I once protected inside my body. I can no longer protect them except to watch from my corner of eternity as they grow and change, but the scent of sage and lavender that floats upon the air, and the unseen thing that causes the cats to scurry in the night is me. Ever watchful for the real shadows that haunted me before my brief engagement with life expired.
#humpdayhorror Copyright 2018 Kira McKinney
Welcome to my blog. Sit back and enjoy a short story, a poem, or some flash fiction--whatever I have recently cooked up. I will post a new piece as often as possible. Check back once a week to see what's new.