The neighborhood was old, wrapped in cracked streets and covered in tightly packed crooked houses. Houses that moaned when the wind blew and creaked when their boards expanded in the heat.
These were houses that had been lived in, loved by and imprinted on by the people that had once occupied them. Old families that had been born, and some that had died in these homes.
This was a neighborhood heavy with history. Not the history of great import, told of in history books and handed down from generation to generation. But the history of faded memory, of simple lives and basic, purest loves. History of families and neighbors, the kind that took care of one another. Simple stories of barbecues and Christmas lights. Stick ball games and sewing circles. Men drinking around the hood of a car on a weekend night.
And like all neighborhoods with the weight of everyday history, this one was haunted. Every house occupied by any number of ghosts. Some had one or two, many had quite a few more. One even had fifteen, all from different time periods which led to some very odd-looking parties after dark. These weren’t the ghosts of fiction and fantasy that spook the living. These were the real ghosts, the ones that had little interest in the material world and spent their time living ghost lives in ghost houses, blissfully unconcerned with the living.
And like their living counterparts, the ghosts would throw block parties and visit one another for coffee. They’d gossip and garden and grocery shop.
But this isn’t a story of ghosts. It’s a story of houses. One house in particular, which we’ll get to. A house that lived and breathed, just like these houses. When a house is built, it’s built of wood and stone. Of copper, iron and steel. But more importantly, it’s built of possibilities. Possibilities of being occupied, and thus loved and lived in. And when a house is full of possibilities, it’s alive. And these houses were very much alive, living simple lives with the fulfillment that comes from purpose. The purpose of providing shelter and community. And while not every single person who ever lived in a house haunts it after they’ve passed over, they do leave imprints; Scents of meals long since cooked, echoes of laughs in hallways and afterimages of dances in dining rooms. Remnants of the life that went on under the eaves and behind the doors. These things are a part of what gives life to a house.
Those things take time to accumulate, building slowly like a great reef. It’s why, if you’ve ever stepped foot in a brand-new home, you feel like you’re standing in a storage container. A hollow vessel.
Nothing has been left behind, yet.
Like the house this story is actually about.
The lot had been empty for as long as anyone had known, and even further back than that. Nobody had known why, it just always had been. Talk of issues with the bank and missing deeds was occasionally heard, but for the most part the neighborhood never paid it much thought. Just an empty lot nearly dead-center of town, between packed houses on a street full of life in both realms. A dirt lot with nothing but patches of weeds that would occasionally serve as ballpark for the local kids.
Until one day the trucks showed up and began all the work that entails building a new house. Leveling and pouring and laying pipe and framing walls until a house stood in the spot, shiny and new and waiting to be occupied. The stirrings of a new house waiting to become a home. The neighborhood welcomed the new house, people excited with the prospect of new neighbors. Ghostly visits were paid to it as well, spirits eager to watch history shape itself. And of course the other houses watched on in great delight at the promise of first possibilities, something none of them had seen for ages.
The house had it’s own excitement to attend to, after all it was about to begin it’s story, waiting the fulfillment of every house’s dream:
To be haunted.
And so the house waited.
And still it waited.
It waited through months of occasional visits by potential owners, none of whom ever returned; Singles and newlyweds, families with three kids and one on the way. Single parents with grubby kids that left boogers on the doors with their grubby hands. Snooty people who felt the house wasn’t up to their standards and gracious people who couldn’t believe how charming the place seemed. And most promising, one elderly couple teasing the house with the promise of a haunting sooner rather than later.
Some said it was the bank again, though nobody really knew why. The house stood empty for years, silent and longing, collecting only dust and sunlight while hoping for echoes and vibrations. Life and afterlife went on around the house, block parties and spectral revelries echoing through the years, building the history of the neighborhood as the house could only watch and wait. Falling into disrepair until it looked less out of place on that old street. The other houses looking on with pity at the empty shell until it became a thing mostly ignored, except by the neighborhood kids who swore it was haunted, who would not go near it.
The sound of keys unlocking the front door broke the silence of abandoned years as the new owner of the house entered it for the first time. The house knew immediately that it had finally become occupied by the sound. Keys in a door, if you listen very carefully, make a very different sound when wielded by a stranger than they do when used by the owner of said key and door. The house stirred as she entered, an explosion of hope and potential for the first time in decades. As she went room by room, taking a quick inventory of the place, opening curtains and letting in the day, the house shuddered and creaked in wonder. Windows opened and lights lit for the first time in ages, the house began to beam with pride at the neighborhood. It’s long slumber shattered by the promise of possibility. The pulse of her footsteps on the floor bounced against the walls, igniting the heartbeat of the house, bringing it to life once again.
She would move her things in, sleep beneath its roof and dance upon its floors. She would read in it’s corners and sit at it’s windows. She would use it’s space to make warm, everyday memories. She would occupy it, and she was perfect.
Nobody really knew where she had come from or how or why the house had suddenly been sold.
People stated the bank as culprit again, and that she had just taken a chance on something on a whim, purchased sight unseen. The house didn’t care, it was occupied and whole for the first time. The houses on either side and across the street saw the change that came over the once abandoned place and watched with elation as it again became hopeful with purpose.
Days and weeks and months passed, and the woman began to make it her own; painting and fixing and decorating, doing much of the work herself. She was a very busy person and rarely home, which made the house that much more grateful when she was, or when she had the occasional get-together with friends whom the house saw very little of.
The house absorbed her every chance it could; the smells from her cooking, the sounds of her laughter, the image of her shape passing through a doorway. Hand prints on walls and scuff marks on floors. It began to build it’s history and for the first time, felt purpose. Felt occupied. It waited patiently for the numbers beneath it’s roof to multiply, for it’s memories to expand rapidly.
And it waited.
For reasons her own, after only a few years the woman decided it was time to move on. Anyone who asked , she could never say exactly why it was time. Just that it was. She’d extol the myriad virtues of the house; it was nice enough, spacious but cozy. Cool in summer, warm in winter. She’d explain her fondness for it’s lines and it’s geometry, how it never made odd noises at night and that she always slept deeply. That she felt safe behind it’s sturdy doors. She would tell them the house was, overall, amazing. And yet she did not feel at home. She admitted that perhaps if she had spent more time there it might be different but she had so much to do and that’s just life, isn’t it?
The house could only watch as she packed up her things and moved out. In what seemed like the blink of an eye, she was gone. The house was no longer occupied, though the echoes of her footsteps could be heard if the moment was just right. Or her laugh. Or a scent of something she had cooked in it’s kitchen. A glimpse of her face would blink in the mirror if the light was just so.
And there the house stood for years on end again, as it had before. Unoccupied and empty, missing the one thing vital to making a house a home. Over time, the dust settled as the silence thickened between the walls and the echoes faded.
Eventually the house took small consolation in the fact that it had gotten it’s wish.
It was finally haunted.