A work in progress
|He had looked for a new place online, and made all the arrangements for deposits, utilities, and a change of address on the website. As soon as the keys had arrived in the mail, he'd loaded a rental truck and driven down to the Gulf Coast of Texas to move in. He arrived near noon on a Tuesday, and by late that night he had unloaded the truck into the ranch style house that was nicer than the photos had led him to believe. Early the next morning, he returned the truck to the closest rental agent, unhitched his car, and took a leisurely drive around the town to get the lay of the land. |
He scoped out all the grocery stores and pharmacies, and made a mental note as to which restaurants would probably be better to avoid as he made himself familiar with his new surroundings. He found a nice little cafe tucked away from the main flow of traffic for a late lunch, and was heartened to see it was popular enough to maintain a steady stream of customers. He'd picked up the local newspaper and read it through as he finished an extra cup of coffee and decided to head home. It had been a productive day, and he was looking forward to a good night's sleep. He had made kind of a loop through town, coming down his new home street to find it relatively well-travelled. There was some satisfaction in that. Not too busy, not too quiet, it was just right for how he liked to live.
He pulled into the driveway and eased his car into the carport attached to the front of the house. But just before he shut the ignition off, he had an odd moment. He had learned long ago to listen to his instincts, and this time was no exception. He quietly looked at the house, but everything appeared to be just as he'd left it. The houses on either side showed no signs of disarray or markers that they were inhabited by people who might become a problem for him. He sat a minute longer before deciding it was just the new surroundings that had prompted his unease and shut the car down. After locking the car and setting the alarm, he checked the door for the matchstick he'd placed in the jamb to warn him of the door having been opened in his absence. It was still in place. Even with that, he listened for a moment after he unlocked the door and opened it, reaching into the house with his senses. He was alone.
He put the bed together and spent most of the night unpacking his kitchen and his clothes before turning in for a good night's sleep. There was no rush, and he'd decided to leave his computer packed until the next week, anyway. His publisher knew about the move and had agreed not to bother him for at least three weeks, so he had plenty of time to settle in before having to worry about re-writes and book signings. He knew the move would do him good.
The next several days were busy with making the house into a home. The cans for curbside trash pickup were dropped off, and he was heartened to see a third one marked with a recycling emblem had been dropped off as well. The attached flyer gave the specifics of what plastic, paper, and cardboard were a part of the program, and what was not accepted for recycling. He explored his new environment daily, including a few trips down to Galveston to walk along the seawall. On Monday of the following week he retraced his first day's travels and bought groceries to complete his move-in. As he pulled in under the carport, he was once again struck by that sense of unease.
He sat there for several minutes after turning the car off, trying to sort out the feeling. It wasn't a threat. He had an innate sense of when danger was close at hand. The best way he could describe it to himself was that something was out of place. He ran it over in his mind, and it occurred to him that he only got the feeling when he came down the road from the north. He took his groceries in and put them up while he considered it, and then went back out to work on the puzzle.
He backed out of the drive and into the street, determined to get to the bottom of it. He retraced his path to the grocery store and then turned around to make his way back. As he drove down his street, he made note of each house as he cruised by. Every house on the long street was similar in size and appearance to the ranch style place he'd leased, the only distinction being the color of the brick or the fact that a few were made of stone. But, three houses away from him was the exception. He came to a stop in front of it and knew he'd found the source of his distress.
There, sitting maybe 15 feet further from the road than the other houses on the street was a wood frame two-story Victorian style house that gave him a start. While it appeared to be empty, it also seemed to be well maintained. The main feature of the front was a porch that spanned the width of the place, its roof supported by slender turned posts. The white paint was uninterrupted by other colors, and the glass in the windows was very, very old. He checked his mirror to make sure he wasn't holding up any traffic. No one was coming for now, but he decided to move on anyway to avoid anyone misconstruing his interest in the old house. As he pulled into the carport, he looked north and saw that he couldn't actually see the house from where he parked, or anywhere else from his place, for that matter. The two houses in between were perfectly placed to block the view. He went inside and put it out of his mind, satisfied that his mind's eye had registered the oddity of the place compared to the neighborhood and given him a mental nudge.
That night, after setting up his work space, he ate a good dinner and went to bed tired, the sure formula for a full night's sleep. The darkness welcomed him into a quiet slumber a little after 11:00. At 3:00 a.m. he was suddenly awake, staring at the ceiling fan. He instinctively reached for the pistol on the nightstand, noiselessly sliding out of bed. He made his way silently through the house, following an imperative that had come upon him years ago and never loosened its grip. It only took him 10 minutes to ascertain that nothing had changed, the doors and windows were locked, and all was well with the house. Coming back to the kitchen, he laid the pistol on the counter and made a pot of coffee. Through long experience, he knew he was up for the night. He booted up the computer and decided to finish up the final edit on a travel article he'd agreed to do for a friend back East. He poured himself his first cup of coffee and had sat down to the familiar scroll of favorite photos that he used as a screen saver. The photos were taken from various trips and vacations over the years, but he noticed that other photos were cropping up intermittently. He recognized them as photos that had been taken of Galveston Island between 1897 and 1912 that he had picked up in research he had done to write a piece a few years before. All the photos had been taken prior to the Great Storm of 1900 and during the period while the level of the island was being raised during the building of the sea wall. None of the photos in the collection were of the wreckage of the storm left immediately after the hurricane had devastated the island. He found that a bit curious, but had experienced a mixing of images before the last time he'd moved the desktop, so he wasn't concerned. He found the travel piece and double-clicked on it. It seemed that the world skipped a beat as an image he didn't remember being in the collection flashed on the screen just before the document opened.
He sat for a moment looking at the screen, his brain in neutral, his coffee cup halfway to his lips. He clicked to close the document, and waited for the slide show to start again. This time, the old images of Galveston didn't seem to have made their way into the rotation, and he decided to get back to work and take care of it later. As he opened the travel article again, the out-of-place photo once again flashed across the screen just before the document opened. But this time, it wasn't as unfamiliar as he'd thought. He closed the document and searched his entire photo gallery for the odd house, to no avail. The image simply wasn't there, but he knew where to find that house.
He went into the bedroom and got dressed. Bringing along his flash light and his cell phone, he went out and walked the three doors down to see the house that had caused his distress earlier. It was definitely the house now invading his screen saver scroll, from the slender porch posts to the second floor shutters carved with half-moons. Not wanting to be mistaken for a burglar, he went back home and poured himself another cup of coffee. This would certainly need some looking into, but he was satisfied for now. Being confident that it would all wait until morning, he once again opened the document and worked on polishing it.
Just before sunrise, he finished the piece and sent it off to his colleague. He sat back and watched the random gallery start scrolling again. This time, the image of the house returned in the scroll, and he began to notice that there were more than one photo of the old place present. It appeared the house turned up from several archives taken over the decades from the early 1900's to quite recently, the only difference being the angle from which the house had been photographed. He stopped the scroll on what appeared to be a photo taken sometime in the 1970's, judging from the car in the drive. He looked carefully at the image, and was struck by how strange the house seemed for some reason. The house was not an ugly place, and it was obviously built with some care. But there was something not quite normal about the place as well. He decided to take a look once the sun was up and the early traffic had settled down.
As he poured the last cup of coffee from the pot, he figured the time was about right to do a little exploring. He took his camera and walked down the street to the house. He stood on the curb and took 25 photos, zooming in on a few of them. He went back and downloaded the new photos to his computer, and began perusing them with a fresh pot of coffee. He ran through them rapidly at first, noting that the sense of oddity was still there. He decided to slow down as he went through them again, studying each photo for two or three minutes before moving on. It was about half-way through that he realized he had slowed his breathing while going over each photo. He backed up from the screen, and then started scrolling back through the photos of the porch. It became obvious that not one of the eight posts matched any other in the set. This was definitely a mystery. No craftsman of the day would have built a porch with mismatched posts. It just wasn't done. He knew he would have to get to the bottom of it for his own peace of mind. He continued to scroll through the photos again. Coming to the last photo, the hair on the back of his neck stood as he noticed an anomaly. There, in a second floor window facing the street, was a pair of young women looking up into the sky.
He scrolled back and forth through the photos several times, and the two ladies only appeared on the very last shot he had taken. So, the house was indeed occupied. He zoomed in on the image and found that with very little effort, he could see the wallpaper at the back of the room quite easily. Almost as if the two tenants weren't even there. He sat back and rubbed his eyes. When he looked back at the final image on the screen, the women did not appear to be looking at the sky anymore. He pushed back away from the computer and almost toppled into the floor when it became apparent they were looking at the camera. He ran his hand down the back of his neck reflexively as he shut down the computer. This was definitely going to call for a third pot of coffee.
This unfinished story is about an actual house. I have been in the house, and the oddness doesn't stop with the outside. Inside, visitors are often eerily aware that something is slightly amiss. The first time I entered the house, it took me several minutes to realize at least part of the reason for such unease. In most houses, doors and windows are trimmed in matching styles of lumber and decorative affectations that lend a sense of symmetry and balance to the structure. That is not the case here. Standing in each room, the door or portal exiting to the next room in any direction is different from its fellows. The effect can be disturbing once noticed. When I learned the provenance of the house, it all began to make sense to me. It is said that any house CAN be haunted, but in my opinion this house SHOULD be haunted.
When one looks at the structural components, it is obvious that this home is built from some of the finest elements available at the time it was constructed. The staircase is well designed, although it looks slightly out of place, as does the collection of mismatched window and door frames throughout the building. When the story of the house is laid bare however, it all seems to make sense. The house could quite easily be described as a revenant.
You see, the history of the house goes back to 1900, and the Great Storm that devastated Galveston, Texas. The tales of lives lost and the destruction of so many families and houses abound in near endless numbers. Please feel free to comment on how I might complete this tale.