by Mark E. Deloy
What shy spirits roamed round my childhood
home, sharing space that separates us as definite as time.
I moved into the house on the fourth of
July. It was full dark when I rolled up the gravel driveway, but fireworks reflected off the lake and lightning bugs
danced in the trees, giving the place a strange shadowy illumination. Shadows danced inside the screen porch from the
headlights and I thought that I saw someone moving behind the thin screens. I dismissed it as light-play and got my
bag out of the car, smelling fresh mown grass. The lake had that smell that you never forget while your sitting
in a stuffy classroom in January and summer seems like it’s years away.
I hadn’t spoken to my father for greater
than a year when he died, but that hadn’t stopped him from leaving me this place and everything in it, I believe now,
out of a generational obligation. Yankees don’t leave things to strangers or friends. So here I was, thirty-five
and living in my families summer home, feeling like a beach bum.
I had a job teaching English Lit at
UCLA, but was suspended for misconduct, or rather they called it misconduct. I was accused of sleeping with a
student, something that I never did. The girl had gone to daddy, an alumni, and told him that she was pregnant and that
the baby was mine. The board said that I could have my tenure back after a paternity test. I told them where they
could stick their tenure.
So, now I had my 401K, quite a lot of booze
and a summer to kill in a house that my father had left me a year ago. I hadn’t been up here after the funeral,
like I’d planned. I had too much work to do. Dad had hired a caretaker to come up here once a week and check
on the place, so really there had been no hurry. Now as memories of summers on the lake with my parents came flooding
back, I wished that I had come here sooner.
The screen door opened with a familiar screech
and the porch smelled like pine needles and floor wax. The pinecones that Ma collected were still on the windowsills,
so were the sand dollars and the horseshoe crab that they had brought back from Florida one year. The key would be under
the crab. I had never liked touching it. It looked like some strange creature from another planet. Its shell
was smooth on my fingertips but there were spikes on it’s sides and it’s tail. Dad said that no robber would
pick up old Henry to look for a key, so that made it the perfect hiding place. I lifted the crab. The hollow shell
weighed almost nothing, but I thought about what my scream would sound like if the thing had shifted and twisted in my grip,
perhaps slashing me with it’s barbed tail. I retrieved the key and set the long dead creature back on the windowsill.
I opened the front door and turned on the
lights. Nothing had changed. The furniture was still the same, and in the same place. The kitchen was nestled
into one corner and it still had the same tile on the counters and the same linoleum floor as it did when I was a child.
The layers of hardwood polish that my mother had put on the floors were so thick that they had become cloudy. Wind pulsed
through the window screens filling the place with soft night air. I set my bag down and went back out to put the key
back. This time I didn’t lift the crab, but slid the key under him. My finger touched one of its bony legs,
and a shiver tore through me.
The first night, I roamed the house, rediscovering
my past, and perhaps my future. I wondered if the community college in town would have me.
The place wasn’t very big, but there
were bench seat windows and old stuffed chairs with tall reading lights behind them, all perfect places to forget yourself
in a good book. I really wanted to rediscover all of my childhood hideaways. I had brought two Richard Laymon,
three F. Paul Wilson and a James Herbert. I was set for seclusion.
I awoke around three that first night to
the feeling of a thousand spiders crawling on my legs. I jumped up and brushed my legs off making an “Ehhh”
sound and jumping around like an idiot. I figured that they were sand fleas and made a mental note to call Eddie, the
caretaker, and have him set a fog bomb while I went to town tomorrow. I crawled back into bed after shaking out the
sheets. Just before I turned out the light I noticed a shadow, vaguely human against the bedroom door. It slid
sideways into the living room. I felt the breeze through my own window and figured that it was just the curtains in
the living room throwing shadows as they moved. I turned out the light and went back to sleep almost immediately, surprised
not to feel any more fleas.
The next day I went into town. Eddie
had showed up around nine, only twenty minutes after I’d called him, with a tall slender can in each hand. He
looked older than when I met him in town a week ago to get the keys. He saw how I was looking at him.
“It’s this place.” He
said around his toothpick. It takes the life outta’ ya’. Didn’t ya’ notice ya’ dad
at his funeral. Looked older than he shoulda.”
I had noticed that dad looked older than
his sixty years as he lay in his coffin, but doesn’t everyone. I nodded, thinking that Eddie had meant this town,
this area. Dad had only lived a month longer than Mom. He retreated up here after she died.
“It’ll take awhile,”
Eddie said shaking the cans.
“That’s fine. I noticed
a B Daltons in town I’ll be there if you need me. I have my cell.”
The day passed quickly. I bought three
new books and was excited about getting behind on my reading instead of not having anything good to read. Eddie had
finished by the time I got back. It must’ve been the light, inside the house, but I swear his hair has whiter
than it had been when I left. Later that night my mind was still on Eddie’s hair and I checked my own in the mirror.
I noticed that it had a few gray hairs in it.
“Working too hard lately,”
I said to myself moving away from the bathroom mirror.
I stopped. There was someone in the living room. Whoever
it had been had been watching me from the bedroom doorway. I caught a flash of movement as I was turning around.
Dad had always kept a baseball bat I the bedroom closet. I prayed that it was still there. It was.
Hefting the Louisville slugger I slid into
the living room and flicked on the lights. The window was blowing cool night air into the room, sending the curtains
fluttering madly. But there was no one. I searched the house from top to bottom, looking under beds and in closets.
Still nothing. So I locked the doors, made myself a drink, and went to bed with Laymon’s Island.
Damn fleas again. I woke. Opened
my eyes. Three fluttery shapes were hovering over me. Three transparent blue women, all beautiful with long flowing
blue tinted hair and aqua colored dresses. They were sliding their hands with blue painted nails over my legs.
My body was instantly covered in gooseflesh.
They had not been fleas at all, but ghosts.
I screamed. They weren’t startled, they only smiled and disappeared as if they’d never been there at all.
My heart was hammering and my sweat soaked t-shirt and boxers stuck to me. God I was glad that I hadn’t pissed
myself. Just a dream, I thought. I went into the bathroom. Splashed cold water on my face. I looked
in the mirror. My hair was almost completely white. That was not all; I had deep lines on my face. I looked
ten years older. God, I had to be still dreaming. My heart went back to hammering.
I didn’t sleep anymore that night.
The next day I busied myself with straightening the house. Getting it the way I wanted it. My hair hadn’t gone
back to its regular color. I had heard of such things happening to people who were hit with mortal terror. “I
wasn’t that scared,” I said to myself. “Not of a dream.” I made a note to buy some hair
dye later that day.
I busied myself that day with light cleaning
and in the afternoon I went into town for the hair dye. All day I had been looking in the mirror, and all day I swore that
I had aged overnight.
The dye worked well. I went to bed
exhausted. It must’ve been the chores that I did. My joints ached and my back felt like it was a mass of
broken glass. I was asleep in five minutes. I dreamed of the three women, that they were caressing me while I
slept, but I didn’t wake until morning.
The first thing that I noticed was my feet.
The skin on them looked thinner, like plastic wrap over veins and bone. My hands had liver spots and were thinned out,
bony, and they hurt as if I had arthritis. “Oh God,” I got up hunched over and went to the bathroom.
In the mirror was my father. The hair
dye was still there, but I looked as if I had aged thirty years. I had deep crow’s feet and laugh lines.
My eyes were sunk in and my teeth felt loose and looked yellow and brittle. I splashed water over my face and looked
again. Still old. This was not happening. I started to cry.
There was a knock on the door. I wiped
my eyes. I was afraid that whoever it was wouldn’t know me. They would think I was my father’s ghost.
I shuffled to the door. It was Eddie. He didn’t look surprised at my appearance when I opened the door.
“Your dad said to drop this off after
you’d been here for three nights, but you’ve had enough I think.” He handed me an envelope and turned.
“What the hell is going on Eddie?”
“If you’re smart, you’ll
burn this place. Burn it to the ground.” He got in his car and left in a hurry.
I opened the letter and read it three times.
I’m so sorry, but the ladies
needed food. Summer food just wasn’t enough for them, and Eddie coming once a week just won’t satisfy them
anymore. I loved them son. They came to me after your mother died and I fed them. I probably won’t
last much longer, but your young. If Eddie did what I told him to, the ladies should be just about solid by now and
your work is done. Again I’m sorry but they had been so close to being real after years of summer food they were
getting more and more solid. I almost made them real, but I’m so tired. I failed them, so you’ll have
to finish it. Make them real again son.
The two five gallon gas cans were heavy
on my bony old man arms as I lugged them into the house. The ladies danced around me and I could feel the energy draining
out of me as they caressed me and pleaded me not to do it. But they were not real yet and I kept on.
I splashed gas over the bed, the couch,
and the drapes. I was laughing I think. The couch cushions soaked up a lot of it. The gas beaded on the
heavily waxed floors and the fumes made me light headed.
I splashed a trail of gas out of the house
and down the front steps. Then I took one last look. The ladies appeared in the windows, darting back and forth
in panicked frenzy. They didn’t want to leave, or couldn’t.
I lit a match and touched it to front steps.
I watched the house burn from the beach. It burned hotter than the summer sun on my thin wrinkled skin. I had
loved this place, and all this time it had been slowly killing us every summer. There was no sign of the ladies in the
It took a long time for the fire trucks
to get there. It was beyond help by then. I threw dad’s letter into the fire and put my bag in my car.
As I drove away I wondered what everyone
would think about my new older look and how I would explain it.
“We like older men,” came three
voices in unison from the back seat. I swerved to the left and found the guardrail. Sparks flew and I was pushed back onto
the road and over to the other side. A large Elm stopped me dead. I smelled gasoline and burning electrical wires. I was scared
that I would burn up, but I was more scared of the things in the back seat. I looked in the rear view mirror. They were smiling
at me. I tried to get my legs free and crashed my broken body into the door, panicked and feeling weaker by the minute. Finally
I decided that the only way out was to scream for help.
My screams only went on for twenty minutes
or so after I crashed the car and was pinned inside of it, but that was all the time that they needed to finish their feast.
Copyright Mark E. Deloy 2005
Mark E. Deloy has recently
published a new horror novel called The Ghosts of Silence. More info can be found at www.theghostsofsilence.com