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  • Writer's pictureNicole Jorge

House Hunting

The realtor elaborated on the abundance of natural light filling the two-story Victorian, explaining that the beautiful glass pane windows were original to the structure. The carved wooden banister had been polished to a brilliant shine for the showing, as had the marble countertops put in by the most recent owners, who’d been able to start some work on the place before having to sell the house very suddenly. “Family emergency back home,” the realtor said, sympathetically. “You never know when these things will happen.”


That was true enough. The long-gone inhabitant who had been violently bludgeoned by his wife in the walk-in pantry hadn’t been expecting it, either, but the realtor never mentioned him. Not that she could be blamed. But she’d kept similarly mum during the tour of the cozy suburban ranch home -the site of a grisly murder-suicide. Nor had she seen it fit to talk of such things while expounding on the ample backyard space of the Federal-style in which a biker gang had buried their victims. Square footage, school districts, those were the kinds of things the average prospective homeowner wanted to know about. Those should be the kinds of things the average prospective homeowner wanted to know about.


All Celia had ever wanted was to be the average prospective homeowner - and eventually a full-fledged homeowner. A property-tax paying, interior design-planning, real deal homeowner. She kicked off her booties as she slumped through the doorway after Alan. The bright green linen scarf that had seemed such a fun pop of color that morning now trailed limply around her neck.


“How is this possible?” she asked, and she sounded a little dazed. “If people were getting murdered left and right in their houses, you’d think we’d be hearing about it more in the news, wouldn’t you?”


She was starting to sound a little hysterical, too. Alan moved into the cramped kitchenette to put the kettle on the stove top. Celia closed the door just a little too loudly. Almost immediately came the angry thumping from next door, muffled shrill shouts. Ordinarily, this would go on for a while. But Celia wasn’t in an ordinary mood.

“Shut up!” Celia cried out at the top of her lungs, surprising Alan so badly that he nearly dropped the kettle into the sink. The shouting stopped as suddenly as it had started. That wouldn’t be the end of it, of course. Tomorrow there would be an angry note taped to their door, a stern phone call from the complex management office, or maybe even a schnauzer-sized lump of dog shit sitting squarely on the windshield of Alan’s clunker..


“If one of them comes over here, Alan, I swear to god, this building will have its own ghost by tomorrow morning.”

Alan cringed a little as he set the burner to medium-high. “They’re not really ghosts,” he said, for what felt like the hundredth time. “Just...impressions, kind of. I mean it’s more like a .gif that keeps looping, you know?”


Celia tossed her scarf onto the little dining table they’d scavenged from a street corner back in their AU days. Alan had revarnished it, but you could still see the spot where he’d had to sand out the PODS SUCK (with a cartoonish parody of a penis) that someone had gouged into a corner. A nicer dining table had been high on their list of priorities post-home purchase. But at this rate, the odds of a “post-home purchase” were starting to look slim.


“Ok, sweetheart. So, tell me. Did you know that watching .gifs of people being disemboweled on the regular was going to be something we’d need to worry about?” Celia asked, snidely. Alan didn’t answer, even though she was almost right at his back. Her short, uneven breaths tickled the back of his neck, and he could smell her perfume. It clung close to her skin, a heady aroma of magnolias and sugar, and beneath it the acrid tang of sweat. It was kind of hard to avoid close quarters in the little one-bedroom unit they’d shared for the past three years. Celia had been enthusiastic about it at first. “Think of how much money we’ll save towards a nice house!” she’d said. And then, when the reality of their situation had sunk in, “Soon we’ll be in a nice house!”


Three years of crappy neighbors and a miserable commute to and from the perimeter. For his part, he’d just sucked it up. His life had been filled with extreme highs and lows for as long as he could remember, and he’d stopped letting it faze him. An ex had once told him that he had the “emotional range of a microwaved baked potato.” If it was microwaved, then it wasn’t really baked, was it, Dianne? He honestly hadn’t gotten the joke until his brother had explained it to him a couple weeks later. He was bland, flavorless. Dry and unappealing.


Celia wasn’t bland. She’d been on AU’s Spirit Committee when Alan first saw her at a game, her face painted yellow and green as she shouted herself hoarse at the opposing team. Blonde, sporty, and frankly, astonishingly vulgar - not the type of girl he’d ever gone for before. But he’d fallen hard for her, nonetheless. And to his continuing surprise, she’d fallen for him too. She’d never begrudged him for their differences in personality, filling his long silences with happy chatter or humming. When she’d learned he liked to work with his hands, she’d been content to think of all manner of pet projects. Their low coffee table had been a decoupage project from salvaged fire logs, the photo collage that hung awkwardly above their bed a wonder of twisted metal and debris from their life together - tickets to a Rocky Horror Show viewing, the silk rose Alan had fashioned out of a ribbon, the number plate they’d stolen off the front door to Celia’s senior campus apartment - all kinds of happy memories. And all that time, planning to make even more happy memories together.

Only now, Alan was ruining everything.


“You really liked that log cabin kinda place,” he found himself saying. “The one with that awesome veggie garden in the back - ”


“The one where that meth head got shot over a drug deal? Give me a break,” Celia answered, and flounced away into the bedroom. The dramatic departure still brought on a little flare of annoyance, but Alan was still dwelling on her previous words. Something we’d need to worry about? Not “you,” “we.” Not “my psychotic shitshow of a partner who suffered a blow to the head in Shop class and began seeing dead people,” “we.” Because as far as Celia was concerned, Alan’s problems were her problems too. Even if it meant he saw death where she could only see a future for them. Of course, when it came down to it, death was in their future. It was in everyone’s. But that didn’t mean Alan wanted to start his mornings watching some poor sucker fall bleeding over his cereal because he’d forgotten to put the toilet seat down again, and his wife had had it, she seriously had, with his total lack of consideration for anyone but his own damned self.


Alan imagined Celia getting sick enough of him to off him at last. How would she do it, he wondered? The kettle began to whistle, and he set about brewing a generous pot of chamomile. She could shove him through the coffee table, beat him with one of the fire logs. Poison his milk with paint thinner. Garrotte him with tinsel from the storage bin of Christmas junk stacked dangerously high in the linen closet that never really closed right. Maybe the building would have its own ghost, after all. He wondered how long it would be before the next poor renter burdened with the same troubles moved in to find Alan repeating his death throes ad nauseum.


There was no way around it. Alan made up his mind, for Celia’s sake. As he shuffled back to the bedroom, her tea in hand, he hoped she’d take his resignation for exhaustion after another day of househunting. It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done, he reminded himself, and he forced a smile as he stepped through the bedroom door. It was time to suck it up.



He almost did it, too. He was so close. He couldn’t hide his disgusted shiver when the increasingly exasperated realtor opened the door to the bedroom where an elderly woman’s angry daughter-in-law had smothered her for shouting over the morning soaps, but Celia wouldn’t have gotten over the HARDCORE ADULT XXX store visible from the living room window, anyway. And it would’ve been beyond their budget to treat the mold that had been thriving since the miserable accountant drowned himself in his bathtub, sending water cascading out onto the bathroom floor for days. By the time they reached the third showing late that afternoon, the realtor was starting to lose it. Her face was frozen in a rictus grin, left eyebrow twitching as she fumbled with the lock box.


“Now, I’m not going to lie, this one might need a little work. Wood homes don’t always get the TLC they deserve. But the school district is one of the best in the state, and the neighborhood is so quiet! Sometimes deer come up on the back if you don’t scare them off - good place to have your morning coffee,” she rambled, as she stepped aside to let them through. “Do you like Korean? Great Korean places downtown! Korean BBQ, Korean tacos, Korean bakeries - they’ve got this peanut butter taffy kind of brick that’ll glue your teeth together. Took out one of my son’s fillings, last year. But he loves the stuff.”


The wooden floorboards creaked beneath their feet as they entered the house. The afternoon light shining through the broad windows bathed the living room in golden light. There was a brick fireplace, and the dining area beyond it boasted a window seat that looked out into the back yard. Alan tentatively peered outside, half-expecting to find some kind of redneck cannibal orgy of years past replaying itself for his entertainment. But there was nothing - just the back deck, and beyond it a stretch of yard choked with undergrowth and the odd glinting beer bottle. He heard Celia pace the kitchen to his left, scrutinizing the formica countertops with distaste. Those would have to go. Dark wood, maybe, or marble - it might look nice with the cream-colored cabinets, assuming they decided to stick with those. Alan hadn’t brought his tape measure, or he would’ve started thinking of how to make room for an island. Celia had always wanted an island.


“Bedrooms are upstairs,” the realtor said, when neither of them had voiced an immediate objection. “Three of them, a master bath, and a guest bath. Want to take a look?”


She sounded afraid to appear optimistic. Alan and Celia let her lead them up the carpeted steps - a slipping hazard if Alan ever saw one, but if anyone had taken a tumble down them and broken a neck at the bottom, he couldn’t see it - to continue the tour. The carpet could be easily ripped up, in any case. The bedrooms were a little smaller than they would’ve liked, but Celia made a happy sound at the sight of the old clawfoot tub in the master bath.


Alan hadn’t missed the discreet little looks she kept aiming his way. She was waiting for a sign. The slightest twitch or cringe, and she would’ve known there was no use getting her hopes up any further. Even the realtor was watching Alan, though she probably didn’t know why. He kept his hands in his pockets and tried to look as relaxed as possible. Not hopeful - he couldn’t get his hopes up just yet - but open, and comfortable.


“Is there an attic?” Celia asked.


“There sure is!” the realtor answered. Relaxed, Alan reminded himself. He tried not to think of John Wayne Gacy, or Black Christmas. Horror stories real and imagined spun through his mind. Was he sweating? He thought he might be sweating. The realtor yanked the cord sending a rickety wooden ladder unfolding towards them. Celia started to reach for it, but at the thought of Redneck Cannibal Grandpa lurking above, Alan stopped her.


“Let me do that,” he insisted, at her frown. “Get the light, would you, babe?”


She eyed him suspiciously for a moment before shrugging. Alan climbed the ladder carefully as the hall light came to life, penetrating the dusty dark above. Definitely a death trap. How easy would it be to be blinded by dust bunnies and topple backwards? Alan braced for the glimpse of some unfortunate soul flailing to their death. Only, it never came. He reached the top rung and found himself squinting into a poorly-lit crawlspace that must’ve spanned the length of a couple bedrooms, at most. It was empty, and not as musty as he’d expected.


“Is this it?” he called down.


“Well, it’s not a full attic,” the realtor answered, apprehensively. “I don’t think the previous owners actually used it - we had it cleared before listing the house, of course! Is it not enough space for your, ah, needs?”


“I want to see, too,” Celia insisted. “Get down, already! You’re hogging it.”


Alan and the realtor waited in awkward silence for Celia to take a look. Alan gripped the ladder so tightly under the guise of steadying it for her that his knuckles went white. She was grumbling quietly as she made her way back down, nearly kicking Alan in the face.


“It’s fine - what would we be using it for besides storing holiday stuff, maybe?”


“Right,” he agreed, lamely. “Of course, babe.”


The bathrooms were quiet, as was the yard, though Celia made a disgusted face at the beer bottles scattered here and there. There was an odd scorched spot near the side of the house where, by the look of it, a drunk BBQ had gone wrong. Not wrong enough to burn the house down, at least, or take the forest along with it. No casualties. The tree line was sparse enough to their left that they could see into the neighbor’s yard, where he was mowing the grass. He paused to give them a wave. Alan thought he saw a familiar glint of something pale and silvery through one of the windows next door, just the briefest glimpse through the foliage choking the fence dividing the properties. But it remained mercifully indistinct. And Alan wasn’t about to start writing places off because the neighbor’s might be haunted - not with their pickings as slim as they’d been. Not when it felt like they were finally so, so close.


“How are you feeling, honey?” Celia asked, pointedly. They were heading back inside the house now, the woods becoming shadowy and indistinct as night came on. Alan didn’t have to fake his smile when he turned to her.


“Pretty good! You?”


“It’s smaller than what we’d talked about, but it’s got charm...maybe you could build yourself a little workshop out back, huh?”


“There’s always the garage,” the realtor called back to them, and Alan’s heart sank. Celia must’ve sensed his shift in mood, because her face fell.


“Oh? A garage?”


“Two car, but a lot of people just park out in the driveway...getting in and out can be tricky because of the incline,” the realtor explained. “Here, I’ll show you. The door’s just down the hall. Silly me, I didn’t even think about it earlier - you must’ve thought it was just a closet!”


Alan and Celia exchanged uneasy looks. They followed the realtor quietly. A sense of dread had come over Alan. He should’ve known it was too good to be true. The realtor chattered happily away as she opened a narrow door just beyond the kitchen. Wooden steps led down into the dark. The realtor flipped a light switch before tottering down in her heels, but Alan had seen it even in the dark. Pale silver movement, like a will o’ the wisp, dancing back and forth. The steps creaked.


“Ventilation isn’t great, but you could always open the doors while working - the breeze is so nice even in the summer, and you can really smell the pine in the back!” the realtor called up to them. Celia’s eyes were on Alan. There was a quiet, desperate pleading in them. He knew his smile had gone stiff. He forced himself to move, following the realtor down into the garage. He ground his teeth with each step. What would it be, he asked himself? A woodworking accident? Crushed beneath a car? Suicide by exhaust fumes? He could hear it, too, a faint echo, like - well - like ghostly clicking.


And there it was. It wound around the realtor’s ankles as she spoke, enumerating the various projects Alan might carry out in his “man cave,” unaware that it would be Celia’s domain if anything. Alan might have corrected her, just for the fun of it, if he’d been capable of speech. Instead he watched, mystified, as the ghost seemed to take notice of him. Then it was prancing over, tongue lolling, eyes bulging out of its blocky head. Its short tail wagged energetically. The faraway clicking of its nails sped up as it sized up the newcomer cheerfully.


“Alan?” Celia asked, and he jumped a little at the sound of her voice. She was standing beside him, and she looked a little sad. It took Alan a second to understand why. He’d made the face - the “I’m seeing dead things” face. He hadn’t even realized it. She sighed. “Thank you,” she started to say, in that tone that carried an implied “But no thanks.”


“Is something wrong?” the realtor started to say, in that tone that meant she’d had about enough of their shit, thanks very much, but they could find themselves a place to live on craigslist for all she cared.


“We’ll take it,” said Alan, cutting them both off before a bloody brawl ensued. His heart was still racing a million miles a minute. The little ghost pottered about and came to a stop at some long-gone landmark to lift a tiny leg.


“Um - what?” Celia stammered. The realtor didn’t say anything. Alan thought he might’ve broken her. Her mouth was opening and closing soundlessly, like a fish gasping for air on a cutting board. “Baby,” Celia gritted out. “I don’t think this is a good fit after all - ”


“I disagree. It’s perfect. How soon can we get the ball rolling?” Alan asked. Celia glared. “Excuse me,” she snapped, without looking at the realtor. “Can my husband and I have a moment alone?”


Celia managed to wait until after the realtor had gone before exploding.

“Just WHAT do you think you are DOING, Alan Carmichael?”


“It’s perfect,” Alan answered. “Seriously, it is. We’re not going to do any better than this, so we’d better take it before someone else does!”


Celia’s eye twitched. “Oh, yeah? And what specter of b-horror past are we going to be living with, huh, Alan?”


“No, seriously,” he insisted. “It’s going to be amazing. You, me, the kids, and our ghost pug.


Celia opened her mouth again. She closed it. She took a step back and looked at Alan as if he’d finally lost it. “I’m sorry, dear,” she said, at last. “What?”


The pug was eyeing Celia’s shoes like it was imagining what they’d feel like between its teeth. By the time Alan had finished his explanation, Celia was crouched low to the floor grasping about at thin air.


“Have you even seen animals before?”


“Never! This is the first!”


“And it can - it can see us? Like, it knows we’re here?”


Alan watched the pug pace around Celia’s hand. Its flat nose wiggled like it was trying to sniff her skin. “Definitely.”


Celia shook her head, shaken. “That’s never happened before, though, has it?”

Alan couldn’t explain it. Only the more he thought about it, maybe he kind of could? He thought back to those death throes he’d seen replay themselves again and again, violent final moments frozen in time. .Gifs, he’d called them. Memories. Impressions. Getting murdered would definitely leave a strong impression, or so he’d assumed. But what about the ones who went to sleep and just never woke up? How many people died at home anymore, anyway? But a dog might. A wriggling, flat-faced dog that went to bed warm and safe in its home and couldn’t tell it hadn’t properly woken up the next day.


“And why a pug?” Celia went on, making a face. Alan frowned.


“Why not? You like pugs.”


“I do not,” she retorted, indignantly. “I like Basenjis. Pugs are evolutionary atrocities.”


“But it doesn’t even matter,” Alan answered. “Because we’re both allergic!”


Celia considered this for a moment. The pug wiggled its luminescent nose at her, wrinkled it, then circled her hand curiously. “We always did want a pet,” she said, at last.


“Um...is everything all right?” the realtor called down to them. She stood awkwardly on the landing. She was squirming a bit, visibly torn between processing all that she’d probably overheard and trying to salvage the sale. Alan and Celia looked to each other. Celia was beaming, the most vibrant Alan had seen her in a long, long time. She slid her hands into his, and he gave them a squeeze as she turned to give the bewildered realtor a grin.


“We’ll take it!”





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