Anne Jackson stared at the shabby little hut in which she was going to spend the rest of her school days. As with all 19-year-old girls, she had dreamed of living life on her own from the day she graduated high school. Having already decided on a career in Newscasting, she had researched vigorously from her freshman year, searching for the perfect college. When she decided on the Schrader University, situated in Peachking, Indiana, she had taken the other three years to gently adjust her mother on the idea of her moving cross-country to chase her dream. But now she was having second thoughts, looking at the cheap, aged house. The front yard was overgrown, with kudzu climbing the entire east side. The hedges looked more like overgrown mini-bosses from a bad-budget video game, gnarled up and uneven with little twigs branching out from all sides. Anne grimaced at the peeling paint that unevenly covered the vinyl siding. She looked, disgusted, at the countless roof shingles that littered the front walk. She thought back to what her father had said when she was young, his advice now echoing in her head: What you pay is what you get, Annie. The real world doesn't give stuff away for free. Now she understood what he meant. Shaking her head, she picked up her suitcase and hopped over shingles on her way to the front door.
I am not going to let this minor setback ruin my new home ownership! I have some money saved away, and with any luck the font yard is the worst looking of the bunch. Yeah! As long as the inside looks good, I can hire some guys to fix the roof, and I can cut the hedges. Don't I have a gardening book somewhere?
Her optimistic thoughts only increased as she stepped into her new kitchen. Thankfully, the outside damage didn't continue inside the house, as far as she could see. She smiled and threw her suitcase on the table before running through the rest of the house. She peeked into the various rooms. Her boxes had come on a plane before her, so they were already stacked neatly in each room based on the hastily scrawled instructions on the sides. She frowned as she noticed a couple of boxes were turned over in her bedroom, their contents spread everywhere for rats and who-knows-what to run around on. Muttering to herself, she walked over and picked up her hair dryer, checking it for any sort of damage.
People these days, can't they be more careful?!
She went over to her the window to look out on the tiny, fenced in backyard. It was more dirt than grass, and had one scrawny tree standing the western corner. She frowned and pressed her forehead to the glass, trying to see the rest of the yard. Her efforts were soon stopped as she heard a thumping and bumping coming from above her.
That's the attic…I hope there's not any pests up there. I really don't like rats…
It took a few minutes to find the stairs to the attic, which were hidden away behind a partition in the hall. She slowly ascended the steep staircase, keeping her eyes on her feet before she stepped on anything that resembled something that was (or once was) alive. The attic itself was absolutely freezing, and empty except for a brass bedframe against the side wall. Coughing from the dust, Anne walked to the center of the room, rubbing her arms.
It's the middle of August, but it feels like January up here! Good grief, I've heard of old houses being badly insulated, but this is ridiculous! How much money am I going to have to cop out on from the electric bill alone?
The cold was becoming quite uncomfortable so Anne turned to head down the creaky old staircase once more. As she reached the wobbly banister, she heard a loud kerthunk from below. She immediately froze and listened for more sounds. She stared down at her feet and wondered if walking around had made a loose light bulb fall from the ceiling. But then a thud and creak happened while she stood completely still, making her jump out of her skin.
Oh, Lord! Did I leave the door unlocked? There weren't any windows broken for animals to get in…This isn't the time to be a coward, Anne. Go down there now! Now! Now!
Finally she willed her legs into motion and went down the stairs and into the hallway, making as much noise as she could. When she reached the banister to go to the first floor, she leaned over the edge and yelled into the foyer as loud as she could, hoping to scare the what(who)ever it was into leaving before she got down there. Continuing her battle cry, she practically flung herself down the stairs and into the kitchen, where she immediately sighed. Those sounds had been the dishwasher kicking on. She blushed, embarrassed at her own actions and secretly happy that no one had been around to see her acting the fool. However, the dishwasher was brand new, she had bought it herself and made sure the guy installed it before she moved. Why was it just now coming on without anyone turning the knob? Did the man have it pre-set or something? She walked over and studied the panel before pressing a few buttons, trying to get it to turn off. After a moment, she was rewarded with an immediate silence. Waiting a few minutes for the water to drain, she cautiously opened the dishwasher to find everything intact.
Well, enough antics; she had to start unpacking! With renewed determination, Anne turned and strode back upstairs, too engrossed in her planning to notice the frigid draft behind her.
She sat objects down only to have them move across the room later.
She turned on the lights, only to have them flickering. She even replaced the bulbs and checked the fuse box.
The windows began to fog with little messages being written upon them. "Who are you?" "Hey, Girl." "What's your name?"
She was in the shower when something pushed the shower curtain in. When she got out, "Hi there" was written on the mirror.
There were spots of freezing air all over the house, too cold to be drafts.
And to top it off, her phone wasn't getting any signal whatsoever to call the police, and she had to keep charging it.
After 4 hours of being accosted by SOMEONE in her house, Anne had holed herself in the bedroom, packing boxes against the door and window, pushing every button on her phone to try and get a signal. She finally got one bar, and decided to quickly text her mother, seeing as her 3 phone calls to 9-1-1 were not being picked up.
Mom, somebody in my house!
Don't know what to do. No signal in house.
Too afraid to leave, it's dark here now.
What can I do? I'm scared!
However, the message rebounded, a popup explaining UNABLE TO SEND MESSAGE AT THIS TIME. Anne shrieked and began to pound the send button repeatedly. Suddenly, the "incoming message" flashed, although her bars were back to zero. She frowned, confused, and clicked the message. The number was just a line of question marks. She opened the message to find three words. "Don't be frightened." She shook her head.
"There's no way that I could even get a message! I have no signal! I have to stay calm. This must be a dream! That's it, yeah. I got exhausted from unpacking, and closed my eyes for a second. I must be sleeping right now! Wake up, Anne! Wake up!"
She pinched her arm repeatedly, to no avail. She closed her eyes and began trying to reclaim some part of herself that wasn't in "sheer panic" mode.
"C'mon, Anne! Pull yourself together! You are a rock! Who was valedictorian, voted "Smartest" in her class? Who singlehandedly held her family together after her father died and her mother was a wreck? You did! You did! You are pretty, down-to-earth, and very clever!"
BEEP went her phone again, the same question marks, the same message icon. This time, the message held two words. "Very Clever."
Anne felt her eye twitching as she stared at her phone. Somebody heard her. She wasn't safe! She was out in the open! Someone could find her and shoot her!
No, stay calm. Stay in control. If they can hear me, I must prove that I'm not afraid. Agama citizens are not crybaby sissies who get trampled upon! I must be brave!
She ventured to speak to the air around her, trying her hardest to mask the shaky voice that threatened to give away her fear.
"I'm not afraid of you, even if you're a stalker or a rapist…or a murderer…I'm not scared! I took…three years of karate! I'll kill you in four seconds flat if you think about…doing anything!"
BEEP! "Oh, really?" She threw down her phone and screamed. She felt a cold breeze on her neck, almost in response to her terror-filled yelps. That was it, time to hide.
"Show yourself, you coward! I want to see your sniveling face!" she yelled as she tried to duck into the closet. Immediately chills accosted her thin form as she ran through some sort of bluish mist.
That couldn't be the air freshener, could it?
With her thoughts racing a mile a minute, and her adrenaline-charged muscles screaming at her to run, she spun around inside the closet to face the door, and screamed. She screamed like she had never screamed before in her life.
First of all, it was blue. No other colors, just deepening variations of blue across the entire form. No nose, no ears, but a shortly cropped head of navy-blue (hair?) that seemed to wave around of its own accord. The holes in the blue mass (were they eyes?) were white and empty, worse than any blind person, absolutely empty. No pupils, iris, anything! Two thin tendrils of something floated toward her mouth, and as she put up her hands to stop-them-kill-them-crush-them-protect-her, the smoky appendages ceased to move, sitting instead in midair at her fingertips. She could feel the cold radiating off of them. Then, surprisingly, the holes vanished and reappeared instantly.
So they were eyes, then. But that meant that that…that THING was blinking at her! It wasn't her imagination! She moaned and shrank back, her shoulders scrunched. Somewhere in the back of her mind, she thought of a cornered cat she saw in her childhood, but she was beyond caring about how she looked at the moment.
"I do wish you'd stop yelling. I'm not going to hurtcha."
Dear Jesus, it SPOKE! Anne felt her mind slip beyond all understanding as the world faded from sickly blue to gentle, safe black.
Anne woke and slowly tried to sit up. Her head was pounding and she blinked once, twice, three times, trying to remember why she was in the closet. She spotted her phone, lying on the carpet in the middle of the bedroom.
My phone…what? I was…scared, and THAT THING! That creepy-as-hell monster! What has he done to me? What happened?
Quickly she assessed herself.
Clothes untouched, no bruising, no entrails or other body parts hanging out, I'm not insane…
She sat quietly and tried to calm down, despite the newfound creature lurking SOMEWHERE in her house. It had spoken, though, hadn't it? What had it said? Anne wracked her brains, trying to remember.
"I'm not gonna hurtcha…"
It had spoken. It had spoken, invaded her house and personal space, wrote things all over her mirror and windows, and even scared the living daylights out of her, but it had never touched her. Not once. She giggled, a little hysterically, as she thought of monsters that had a sense of decency. She thought about the way it looked, shivering slightly as she remembered the grotesque creature. It had been trying to smother her face with its tentacle-like thingies. Or maybe it was trying to stop her screams…Anne pulled her knees up to her chin and sat in the sliver of light coming from the door that was slightly ajar. She thought for a while, head on her kneecaps as she quietly considered the possibility that she just may be insane. She made up her mind and scooted back to the back of the closet, so that she could sit with her back against the smooth wood. The empty hangers above her swayed with the wind from the A.C. unit, and her shoes were littered around her where she had unpacked and just threw them inside without a second care. After some contemplation, she picked up a flat sandal and slapped it against her hand, ignoring the sting. She spoke out loud to her room.
"Come on back out. I know you're out there and I want to talk to you."
The room was quiet for a moment, but then the whispery voice came from somewhere beyond the closet door.
"Are you going to scream again? You hurt my ears last time. I wasn't even doing anything."
Anne winced. She had hoped it was all a big hallucination.
"Yeah, I'm gonna do that when a freaky creature goes out of its way to scare my pants off! But if you won't make any sudden movements, I'll try not to scream. I'm coming out now."
Slowly the door to the closet creaked open a little wider. Anne took her foot and helped it along, brightening the inside of the closet. She stood with her sandal in hand and frowned at the monster. Now that she wasn't all that terrified (more so just creeped out), she could see the form the mist took was that of a youngish man. Yes, that darker blue was his hair, and if she didn't really stare hard then the lack of a nose wasn't that off-putting. Those weird tendril-type thingies must have construed as arms and legs, and where they crossed each other made it slightly darker, so it wasn't so hard to tell. Anne found she didn't really notice the fact that it was see-through at all; rather she focused more on the eyeholes. She should have been able to see right through them, since there wasn't any mist there, but they were completely opaque, disappearing as the being blinked at her, staring back. Slowly it floated until its "legs" (if you could call it that) touched the ground. It was only taller than her by about 2 inches.
"No sudden movements; I understand. Now then: Hello. I'm afraid we got off on the wrong foot. A-are you planning on throwing that shoe, miss?"
"If you try to attack me I will."
Anne watched as the creature slumped its shoulders and cocked its head at her. It almost seemed…frustrated.
"I'm not going to attack you. And besides, the shoe'd just go through me. No damage at all, except it might break your looking glass."
Anne must have looked confused, because he reached a tentacle to the dresser mirror. She made a little sound of acknowledgment. She had never really heard it called that before. After a brief moment, she turned her mind back to the matter at hand.
"Erm-well, how was I supposed to know if you're malevolent or not?! I'm still having to stand here and wonder if I've got bats in my belfry!"
It laughed in a whispery way, like a soft breeze fluttering through the room. Anne felt herself blushing. She hated being laughed at, but since this was a creepy monster she wasn't planning on making more of a scene then she had to. After it had quieted down, it looked her over, floating up and around her as if inspecting her for some sort of default. She stood still until it had finished, willing her cheeks to return to a normal color. Finally, it stopped circling her and returned to its previous position.
"You're the first girl I've had living here."
Anne blinked in surprise.
"Yes, well, young lady I mean. The last tenant was an old woman, but when I tried to talk to her she threw a Bible at me and called a priest for an exorcism. I stayed rather quiet after that. And her cats hissed. It was kinda lonely. Before her, there was a family with a small boy. I liked him; I used to play with him and his model train set. I'd also play racecars with him. He was 12 when the family left. He told me he'd miss me. I miss him too. Before that the-"
Anne couldn't help but interrupt. The amount of information was too overwhelming, and she needed something to ground her mind.
"How long have you been here?"
"Since the house was built. I was commissioned here to be the House Ghast."
Ground her mind, indeed. Now she was even more confused!
"What the hell is a House Ghast?"
The being smiled. It was a sort of strange, open-mouthed grin that made her think of a little kid's finger-paint drawing.
"I am here to do mischief! I get to float around and mess with stuff and keep things interesting here in the house. It's a fun job, but kinda boring if the people don't want to talk to you."
"Do you talk to all the people?"
"Nah, mostly just kids. Adults don't really believe in ghosts, so they don't pay much attention. And after the case of Old Widow Withers and Father Jefferson, I'm not hitting the elderly…or the overly religious."
"Why me then? Aren't you afraid to talk to a girl?"
Anne couldn't help but tease the ghost. He was still a boy, after all. She always enjoyed teasing the boys in her class. She immediately cringed inside as she wondered if he would take offense. However, if he did, he never showed it as he continued to speak.
"No, but I wanted to see if you'd talk to me. I watched you move in. Your belongings are interesting, and like I said, you ARE the first girl. Is that thing on the floor some sort of communication device?"
"It's my phone and…wait a second. You went through my stuff?!"
Anne balked as she imagined him seeing her underwear, or her tampons, or heaven forbid her secret stash of-
"Oh. Ohhhh. Technology sure has changed."
"The last phone I saw was…you hung it on the wall and you talked to the Operator."
"Sounds like you need to take a trip outside the house. And what all did you see of my stu-"
"I can't! I wish I could. It's so fun to watch the automobiles in the street. I can go out on the veranda, it's technically part of the house, but I can't go any farther than that. I'm cursed to stay here. It's in my contract that I made when I died."
"Oh, er...sorry? Wait, are you ignoring me?"
Yep. Definitely a boy.
The ghost stared for a moment, and then started to speak again.
"Anyway, I do like to see new technology when tenants bring stuff in. I like to watch television. In my day, I would never have imagined-"
"When WAS your day, exactly?"
At this he looked startled. It floated to sit on the bed, and raised its arms in a ghostly shrug. Anne went to sit beside it, trying to ignore the chill that radiated from it.
The poor thing. It can't leave the house at all. What a bad case of cabin fever…
He floated an inch or two above the comforter, staring at the floor. Anne sat patiently, and after a few moments he began to speak carefully, as if he had to think hard about the right words.
"I'm not sure. This house was built in 1945, when the town bought this land. I was commissioned to be the House Ghast, but I'm pretty sure I was dead long before 1945, because I didn't recognize any buildings or anything. I'm not sure I even lived in this area or not. I just know that my memories are locked away, and I have to find a way to remember them. I know for a fact that I've been here about seventy years, give or take."
Seventy years – such a long time, forced to watch people come and go and the world go on and leave you behind…
She was pulled out of her thoughts as the dresser slowly came into view. She gasped and turned to face him, watching as he began to fade.
"Wait! Don't go!"
"Sorry, I'm getting tired. This form is hard to keep after a while. It takes a lot of my energy to make me look like this. By the way, what's your name?"
"Anne. It's Anne."
"Heh, I'll call you Annie."
"I'd rather you not, mister."
"It's Brenden. Brenden…with…e…sor-have-to…"
Anne blinked and he was gone. Well, probably not gone, just off. What did he call it? Resting. Of course. She touched the spot on the bed where he had sat. It was still quite cool, and Anne sighed.
They said something about "at home problems" in Orientation, but this is crazy… Wait. That bastard was in the same room as me when I was showering!