I awoke to a strange sound clamoring around me. It’s funny how every new place you live in has at least one unique sound. The first few times you hear them, they tend to be unnerving. Almost haunting. But there’s something about how our body reacts to them early on and later assimilates them into the ambient atmosphere.
The noise rose again, this time with almost a loud scratching sound amidst the thudding. My mind, seeking reason, said to my tired body, “Squirrels?” My eyes were way too tired to peek open to see nothing. A sixteen-hour shift at the hospital after a long weekend moving house made my body almost comatose. My bedroom had cardboard boxes and rubber totes filled with most of my clothes and belongings.
The sound rose again, even louder, closer. It seemed to come from the foot of the bed. Moreover, it seemed to be coming from near the fireplace in the corner.
One of the reasons I purchased this house was the beautiful fireplace that sat across the master bedroom. It was a black steel inset with several ornate tiles with painted flowers flanking the grate cheeks from both sides, with more paintings of flowers below the hood. In front of the fireplace, several feet of black and floral tiles were placed in a checkerboard pattern, creating a hearth designed to catch a shooting ember and burn it out before it could start a fire. Then there was the gorgeous reclaimed stone surround which came from an old church, giving it a mantle as I had never seen. It gave the place a special feeling, otherworldly or of a different era. When I saw that fireplace, it was as if I belonged here. I knew I was home.
The noise came again, and again it grew closer than before. The floors creaked as if a shifting of bodyweight shuffled nearer to me. I could make out a pattern of footsteps that were both offbeat and unbalanced. Suddenly, a low groan began to fill the air; its sound was deep and guttural. Scared, my eyes ripped opened to find nothing surrounding me. My heart was beating fast, almost out of my chest. I sat up in bed, listening intently for the sound to come again. Ready to synchronize it to something unthreatening to ease my racing mind. I was positive I heard it. But then, the voice awoke me from my sleep. Could it have been a dream? What else could have made that sound? Knowing I couldn’t now sleep, I turned on the bedside lamp.
With the dim glow of the LED lamp, I lazily pulled back the duvet. Swinging my legs out of bed, I slowly walked to the adjoining bathroom. Once freshened up, I headed back into the bedroom, thinking maybe if I read for a while, I could recapture some rest? But then, feeling something beneath my feet, I put on the main light to investigate. My heart sank as I noticed a trail of light footprints on the floor, along with some strands of thin black hair flanking both sides of the bed.
“Could it be squirrels?” I thought. I hoped.
Next to the boxes and totes on the landing sat a vacuum cleaner waiting dutifully. With any luck, the vacumes loud sound would scare off any animal in the room or up the chimney. With nothing better to do and to try and erase the fear from my mind, I plugged it into the socket and used the wand to clean up both the ash and hair.
I realized then that I would need my dad to help me catch it. I would hate for this to continue, allowing the pest to further disturb my much-needed sleep during its nocturnal escapades from the chimney where it entered. I placed the vacuum cleaner back amongst the pile of boxes before inspecting the fireplace. It was so beautiful that I just stared in amazement. I grabbed a cleaning cloth and some paper towels from the bathroom and cleaned the tiles on the outside. They were filthy. Once cleaned, they beamed with radiant color. There was something about the intricate hand-painted design that drew me in. It felt so familiar. Staring at that fireplace made me feel both lucky and scared at the same time.
Looking at the bedroom clock, I realized that I’d been asleep for close to eight hours already and would need to be back at work in less than four hours. Any renovation and clean-up at home I would have to complete between shifts and on my days off. It was exhausting. I had to work my forty hours over several days to get three days off in a row to do what I wish. And right now, what I wished was to make this house a home.
On my bedside table was a postcard made out to Samantha Evans, my first piece of mail delivered at this address. It was from my dad, congratulating me on purchasing my first home and that soon he would be coming to visit. I couldn’t wait for the weekend for him to arrive. He would be a big help in getting me settled in, and now, in getting rid of this squirrel.
The next evening, I came home from work and, after eating a reheated meal and watching television for a few minutes, fell fast asleep in bed. As the darkness grew, the scratching sounds started again. This time I lay perfectly still, frozen, with an eyelid open just a slit. Across the room, my attention became drawn to the fireplace. I watched in horror as a mass of black hair slowly fell from the chimney above, followed by a pale, shuddering head. Scratching and popping sounds filled the room as it made its way out of the chimney. The beings joints seemed to move in an unnatural way as it twisted to its feet, standing there, on the hearth of the fireplace.
The figure appeared to be a woman, but it was at the same time utterly unhuman. It stood tall, crooked and thin, with its dark hair strewn over its face and down its body. It began to cross the room slowly, in a series of sudden, juddering motions. Watching the thing as it motioned was horrifying, trying to gain balance through its crooked steps. I felt like screaming, but no sound would escape my lips. It moved closer towards the bed, with the same creaking sound I had heard the night before. The things bones appeared to pop and crack as if they were arthritic and bedridden.
“HOME…” it groaned, reaching its arms towards me. “Welcome Home.”
The thing stood over me with its eye sockets black as coal. Its mouth drew agape and slack-jawed. Its fingers, long and bony, pointed at me as it twisted its head to one side. Finally, the thing let out a long, shrill laugh that made me shiver to the point of convulsion.
Unable to take the overwhelming fear any longer, I sat up suddenly in bed and screamed at the thing, closing my eyes tightly. Then, upon opening my eyes, I noticed that it had disappeared almost as fast as I could yell at it to leave. In its departure, the thing left behind soot footprints and strands of hair. Hastily, I turned on the lights and grabbed my cellphone to photograph the remains.
I was so thankful that my father would be here by tomorrow evening, as I needed his help more than ever. My mind was racing as I continued to scan the bedroom, scared that the thing could reappear at any moment. I needed answers. Not sure of what else to do, I sat and wrote an email to my realtor on my cell phone and asked if there was anything about this house I needed to know. Was there anything unusual undisclosed? Were there any reports that it was haunted, maybe?
Sitting awake in the middle of the bed, I waited patiently. My cell phone buzzed an hour later, as I could hear the song of the first birds awake to the dawn. It was the realtor, Jim Kraft. He left a short email that read:
“Samantha, I hope your move is going well. I made some enquiries and have got some weird news for you. The fireplace in your room was taken from an abandoned seminary. Apparently, there were reports that dark witchcraft was practiced in the building and that the stone mantle could have been used as an altar. Do you believe this stuff? Would you also believe that the property has been sold ten times in the past five years? All of them fell into foreclosure. The owners just abandoned the house. It was as if they vanished. It doesn’t say anything about being haunted in the listing. However, it does say that it is a “Stigmatized Property.” That means that the property has a history of unusual activity that could be considered paranormal. You know how it is, old houses and strange noises. Do you want my advice? Don’t let your mind get the best of you. You’ll be fine. The property was a steal, probably because of these stories. Look, you got a great deal and a beautiful home. Let me know if you need anything else. Best, Jim Kraft.”
Just then, there was a noise from downstairs. It was knocking on the front door. It must be Dad, and he’d arrived early! I couldn’t help but let out a sigh as the relief eased over my body.
As I turned to get out of bed, the lights overhead flickered and strobed before finally turning off. Then my bed began shaking as I fell backwards onto its surface. I felt a sudden, violent tug of my hair, and my body dragged one hundred eighty degrees on the bed. Where my head was, my feet now lay. Again, a violent tug pulled at my hair, and I felt my body hoist away from the bed before slamming to the hardwood floor below. I was unable to move as the pain in my shoulders and neck radiated.
Before I had a chance to comprehend the situation, I could see the headboard of my bed moving further away from me as I tried to grasp for control. I was clawing at the floorboards for grip. Trying desperately to find anything to stop the thing that had a hold on me. But it was all happening so quickly.
Then, I felt the cold tiles of the hearth as I crossed over the threshold of the fireplace.
“DAD!” I screamed out loud with panic as I felt the awkward pull of my legs towards the chimney above. The icy grip of the vice-like talons tugged my ankles into the darkness. All I could see was the mass of straggly black hair descending from the chimney and the twisted pale hands on my legs as they drew me into the abyss above. The growing darkness and tightness around my body suppressed my flailing arms as I began to ascend slowly into the ladened soot pipe.
I could hear my dad crashing through the front door, his heavy footsteps bounding up the old wooden stairs. But all I could do was stare down at the empty grate below as my body slowly rose. Muted by the pressure crushing my chest until the dark veil took over me, edging me towards eternal unconsciousness.