By Anne Gresham
Make no mistake, this house is haunted.
Haunted, yes, but with caveats. There is no sinister wrought iron gate curling beneath a thick curtain of thorny vines, no grand staircase, no servants’ quarters, no lurid plantation history. And while there are plenty of crows and vultures circling overhead, they’re really only here for the plentiful I-30 road kill.
That is to say, no bright-eyed family of four escaping a minor personal tragedy would ever think to purchase this home in a misguided attempt to heal their wounds. Furthermore, the nearest town is thirty miles to the south, and its waning population is not a young one. There are a handful of deeply troubled teenagers there, and they do conduct regular and reliably cliché rural rites of passage involving abandoned property, but not here. This house’s appearance portends tetanus and ticks, not thrills.
However, it is cheap—a 40-acre lot going for $36K, listed on Zillow 282 days ago. The house itself doesn’t warrant a mention in the listing (sold firmly as-is), excepting a sheepish note referencing a few decaying structures on the property.
But couldn’t the house have been beautiful once? The ghosts like to think so, but their case isn’t as strong as they would like. They are just as susceptible as the living to the fallacy of an idyllic, fictitious past. But perhaps there really had been achingly perfect days when the sun had sparkled on the creek, when a drinking problem had seemed less severe or an investment decision less ruinous, when the night was cold but the fire was warm. There was laughter in this house, it needs to be said, and good food, music, and love.
Of course, ghosts are not born from happy memories. There was violence here, yes. But no one else had cared then, and certainly no one cares now.
The ghosts peer mournfully out of the empty windows and the collapsed roof. They watch the interstate flash by like a sleek black porpoise leaping in and out of the dense scrub forest. Its bursts of color, metal, and motion upset the ghosts, like house cats bothered by the neighbor’s new dog.
They do their best to haunt, despite their less than optimal circumstances. And sometimes they catch a snatch of a living soul as it speeds past at 80 mph. Perhaps a bored child staring listlessly into the zoetrope of flickering pine trunks might catch a glimpse of a rotting porch or a flash of jagged gray wood. If the ghosts act quickly, the child might see something more: a thin young woman with bloody knees, a lilac dress, and hungry silver eyes, perhaps, or the vicious pink foam leaking from the jaws of a dog with wet, matted fur and a stiff-legged gait. Maybe a glimpse of a bundle of twigs twisted into an unsettling pyramidal cage, or the shadow of a tall man with an axe in his hand.
The child will remove her earbuds and squint, but whatever vision twinkled in the woods will be long gone before she can process it properly. It was nothing, the child will think. Later, at night, she may have a fleeting impression of a toy horse falling off a high shelf, a rough pine door swinging open to reveal a cavernous dark, a gasp of terror and ecstasy cut short, or a charred and bloodstained handkerchief embroidered with delicate tickseed blossoms, but she will easily shake off the vague, unsettling visions.
Ghosts need more time and attention to make a lasting impression. A proper haunting requires resources and social capital. These ghosts have never had either.
But they are patient. Some day someone will stray too close, stay too long, and then they’ll finally have their say.
When the sun sets at night and the flash of headlights drowns out all of the shadows and mysteries of the woods, the ghosts huddle together in the house’s cratered-out center. They rustle and murmur against each other, whispering in voices that sound like spider webs brushing against skin: but we’re still here. We are still here, and we do matter.
Anne Gresham is a writer and librarian living in Northwest Arkansas with her husband, daughter, and assorted tiny carnivores. For more, find her at annegresham.com or on Twitter at @agresham.