Sunday, December 25, 2005

Steve's House - A Christmas Confession

The other afternoon Pooteewheet and I were watching The Amityville Horror (the new one, not the old one) and, afterwards, I realized I felt guilty. Not because a family with little kids was subjected to supernatural horrors, but because I know the history of Steve’s house, where my friend Christy is also living, and yet I have never confessed that knowledge to Steve and Christy. You see, Pooteewheet and I were much better friends with Char and Ross, the previous owners of the house, than I’ve been willing to admit, partially because it was to our house Char would run if she was alone in the middle of the night and Frank and Missy weren’t next door. It was from Char that we learned some of the details of the house, and from other neighbors, who have been in the neighborhood longer, about the rest of its horrible history (Dakota County is home to at least one other ghost/haunted house. You can find the details about Pete in “Haunted Minnesota”).

While the house isn’t very old, it’s actually two houses, the older part at the front and the newer part Ross built on the back. It was the older part of the house that was home to a hippy-like cult in the early 1980’s. My neighbor says they were “leftovers” of a Mansonesque cult from the 1970’s that fell apart when their leader went to jail for several robbery-murders after hearing satanic voices that urged him to move to Minnesota. Those who monitored the case say that before he was incarcerated, he cut out his tongue and sent it along with his followers so that they could continue to receive his guidance in absentia. No one knows why they chose that particular house, though on their first visit the nine of them stood in a circle in the yard around a small box, nodding now and then until they seemed to reach a consensus. One neighbor notes that you could hear whispering, even though none of them were talking.

Everyone thought they were crackpots, but they bought the house, even though it cost them more than they could really afford. At night, you could hear murmuring and chanting, though usually not enough to warrant a visit by the police. My neighbor swears they also had several dozen cats, though she never saw the same one twice and Animal Control failed to turn up the existence of even a single animal. But one night, the chanting was loud enough to warrant a call to the police. It echoed throughout the neighborhood, punctuated intermittently by shrieks and…squealing. The noise escalated even as the police arrived and broke down the door, at which point it abruptly ceased. Inside they found nothing. No furniture, no food. It was as if the house had never been lived in.

Everyone assumes they packed up and left, just skipped out on the mortgage. But none of the nine ever showed up anywhere again – it was like they just vanished, never leaving the house. One neighbor has a different story. His brother was in the police department and was part of the group of officers that were called to the disturbance that night. He told her that the house wasn’t completely empty, that the police found a small, metal box against the wall closest to the back yard, a box containing ten freshly-severed tongues.

The backyard of Steve’s house also has a history. When the first family to own the house moved in, there was a large, vaguely flat-topped stone in the back yard about where the shed currently resides. When the full moon was out, the stone would ooze moisture with a red tint, some sort of ferrous oxide from within. The owners brought in a tractor to lever the stone out of the ground. But the chain around the stone snapped, sending a severed link across the head of the driver, leaving a bloody groove, and stopping work for the day so he could be taken to the hospital. Shovels and pry bars wedged under the stone would snap, and the lower half of each implement would eventually be found next to the stone several mornings later, as though pushed out. When the family finally brought in a larger group of contractors and another tractor to remove the stone, the stone screamed as it was pulled from the ground, a sound like two immense stones being dragged across each other until they screeched like the world’s largest chalkboard. And the stone gave the impression that it was pulling back, pulling so hard that it fractured and fell back into place in several large pieces. Visible inside one of the pieces was a large red stone, just a chunk of taconite embedded within, and presumably the source of the red moisture, but looking like a heart in some ruptured chest. The pieces of the stone were pulled out of where they rested and crushed, used as landscape leveling for the house, about where the new addition is now.

Nothing would grow on the location where the stone had been, and a shed was eventually built to cover up the barren spot in the back yard. Sometimes, if you’re in the shed, you feel as though there’s an immense gulf beneath your feet, a yawning hole that threatens to swallow you right through the floor. And at those times, a strange vibration pulses beneath one’s feet, a rhythmic thumping, echoing below. The apple trees near the shed have never seemed right. The apples have always been deformed and bitter. If you stare at enough of them, you start to realize they look just a little like many faces twisted in pain.

Steve’s and Christy’s yard has long been known as an unsafe yard. Our neighbor told us that our back yard is the only yard in the neighborhood without large trees because it was our yard in which kids of the last generation played. What she later told us was more sinister. Our yard was open so that kids would be attracted there rather than to Steve’s yard, and so that if kids did wander toward Steve’s yard, they could be seen, and stopped, before they got there. Steve’s yard always seemed to attract children, and many would be found sitting near the house, poking at the ground obsessively with a stick. Now and then a child would disappear, although it was usually a teenager, so it was always assumed they’d run away, and it was just coincidence that the last place they’d been seen was Steve’s yard.

The area closest to the house, the area under where the sunken living room is now, where the kids were always found digging, wouldn’t grow grass, but would form spotty areas around vaguely rectangular areas of dirt, like fresh graves. No amount of landscaping or planting would fix it and every time a teenager “ran away” one more area would appear. But if they were dug up, there wasn’t anything there. It was the inability to make anything grow there that eventually led to the sunken family room, built just to cover up the blight. At first, it wasn’t even a sunken room, it was at ground level. But after the room was constructed, the floor kept cracking, heaving in some areas, dropping in others. Finally, the cement was dug out, and significantly below where they had dug before, they discovered the remains of a mass grave. It had been the bones deteriorating and shifting that had been causing the cement to crack. An initial investigation proved the bones were too old to be those of anyone who had disappeared in the last twenty years, and the bones were likely those of settlers or Native Americans (many Native Americans are buried in this area, at Acacia Cemetery and sacred Pilot Knob Hill, across the river from Fort Snelling).

When as many of the remains could be removed as was possible, and relocated (no one knows where, though one neighbor thinks they were buried out at the Diamond T Ranch along with the remains of the Met), it was decided it was easier just to sink the new floor rather than haul in so much fill. But the room, perhaps because it was sunken, always seemed unnaturally cold, and eventually required a second furnace to keep that area of the house warm.

Ross and Char, the last owners before my friends, spent quite some time in the house, and Ross once told us that many strange things happened to them. They would wake at night with the walls seeming to move and shadows like faces, which seemed to be watching them, scurrying away as soon as they were noticed. They would hear the twins talking in the dark, though never to each other. Sometimes, Ross would swear, voices would be talking back to the children, but muffled, as though from somewhere deep within the walls. Ross said he once put his ear to the wall when he heard the voices talking back, and it sounded as though they were emanating from beyond the foundations, like there was a space between the sheetrock and the foundation several dozen feet deep. But abruptly the voices sounded much closer, rushing toward him, and a violent crash right next to his ear, like a sledgehammer, caused him to jerk his head back. When he looked at the wall, the paint was cracked, and he could hear his children giggling from elsewhere in the house.

Right before Ross and Char left for Wisconsin, Char showed up at our front door one night, disheveled and terrified, dirt in her hair, wisps of fog behind her in the street. When we got her inside and into a chair by the fireplace -- and settled down, she’d been shaking so hard she couldn’t talk -- she explained to us that she was home alone without Ross and the kids. She’d been sitting in the upper family room, watching the big screen television, when she’d heard whispering in the back yard. At first, she thought it was leaves in the wind, but when she turned around she noticed there was fog in the sunken living room. She looked at the double doors, sure they’d been left open, but they were closed, and the fog was flowing up out of the sunken room and into the back yard, not from the yard into the house. Char told us she’d walked to the back doors and looked out, and the yard seemed “different”: the tree branches were reaching down to brush the ground, stroking it or caressing it, and the ground was responding as though alive, writhing and heaving, occasionally something bursting from beneath the grass and dead leaves to heave into view for just a moment, then disappear, like some monstrous sea creature glimpsed for just a moment as it undulated closer and closer. Mesmerized, Char continued to stare, noticing a pattern, but afraid to run or call for help. Fog was flowing around her feet and piling up in the back yard.

Char told us that it was then that the wooden blinds on the upper windows fell with a shattering crash, and she tore her eyes away from the back yard long enough to look up and see something perched above the uppermost windows, mostly a shadow, but more like a shadow in the shadows, with just a tinge of red to it, and trailing some of the fog. When she stared harder, everything in her peripheral vision moved, as though it had been waiting for her to look away, and the yard bucked and roared, the ground flowing toward her in a tidal wave of dirt, leaves and grass. In it she could see the fog, folding into the earth, worms, bones, and something slimy and shadowy, like the worms, but much worse.

Char, her eyes wide, told us how she’d thrown her hands against the doors, to brace them against the onslaught, the wave of dirt piling against the glass until it reached over her head and filled the pane, bulging the doors inward. In the upper windows where the wooden blinds fell, thirty feet over her head, she could see earth in the windows as well, worms squirming against the glass, as if the whole house were underground. She finally let go of the doors and ran, the sound of breaking glass and churning earth close behind her, as she flew out the front door and down the street to the first house with a light on.

Ross and the kids weren’t supposed to be home that weekend, so Char slept in our guest room, and the next morning I went over to inspect the damage. But in the light of day, everything was fine – no broken glass, no dirt inside. Just the fallen blinds and the doors to the back yard slightly open, an earthy smell blowing in from out back. Yet, when I went to close and lock them, they wouldn’t lock, and an examination of the lock plate showed that it was packed full of dirt.

It was shortly after that Ross, Char and the kids moved out, left for Wisconsin, and Steve (and Christy) moved in. There was another potential buyer before Steve who backed out, supposedly because of financial considerations, though I saw him leaving the house wide-eyed one morning and that was the last we saw of him, so I can only fathom a guess at what he saw while he was there alone.

I’m relieved to have that off my chest. I’ve been living with it since Christy and Steve moved in, and realized just how horrible it was for me to have played a doorbell prank on her and her son the other day. After all, the doorbell has been known to ring without anyone playing games. I’m just so comfortable with them as neighbors that I’ve forgotten some of the horror that we’ve lived next to these last few years. I’d hate for that evil to use my levity as an opportunity for malevolence and mischief. I think it’s only appropriate I tell them all about this on Christmas, a time when perhaps the prayers I send in their direction every day have a bit more power than on other days of the year, and when the happiness of the season might serve to drive back a little of whatever presence inhabits their backyard and lurks beneath their living room. God bless and protect, my friends.


klund said...

Damn. That's fantastic. Merry Christmas to everyone!

Anonymous said...

can your blog get any longer?

Scooter said...

The text is only about 80 characters wide, so it's not like the actual text is actually that long, if you're referring to this specific post - 2450 words or so. It's a very short story by short story standards, just 5 pages...if it were just a story.

PTW said...

I saw Cancer Bunny digging frantically at the foundation blocks at the base of the addition this morning.

PrincessMax said...

This is fascinating. If our blogs are only as good as our latest posts, yours must be freaking fantastic. I'll come back to visit often to see if you live up the hype. :-)

Anonymous said...

What is this? And your wife wants us to buy the house next door - not a chance! Some of that evil could leak over.