Disturbances in the Night
After the first few weeks of renovations passed, Alex was unsure whether she was relieved or disappointed at the lack of paranormal activity. Everything was coming along smoothly, and the house felt alive again, though not in a spooky, afterlife sort of way. The colours were brighter, and the dust was a mere memory.
“Hey, Miss Cortez?”
“I told you to call me Alex,” she said with her head still in the cupboard where she was painting. “What is it, John?”
John was the lead construction manager. A man in his late forties, he had a personality that made him seem older in thought, yet younger in energy. He was cautious, kind, and had become everyone on the site’s favourite uncle. “Have you seen the box of nails I left here last night?”
She sat back, removing herself from the cupboard. “Where did you put it?”
“I was sure I put it with everything else, as usual.”
“I’ve been painting all day, so I haven’t seen them. Did you check with the other guys?”
“They all claim not to have touched them.”
“Maybe Vanessa knows. She’s got lists of lists. If anyone knows where something should be, it’ll be her.”
“Alright. Maybe I left them on the kitchen counter,” he muttered as he disappeared into the hall.
Alex smiled to herself with an amused shake of her head. She was just about to crawl back into the cupboard when Vanessa’s mom poked her head in the room. “Helen?”
Helen, Vanessa’s mom, had the same bright blue eyes as her daughter. It was like looking at an older twin. “Oh, good. Alex, do you have the time to help me and Vanessa move some things out of the front room so the guys can begin their work on the floors in there?”
“Sure thing. I’ll be there in, like, five minutes. I’m almost done this layer and then it needs time to dry anyway.” Sticking her head back in the cupboard, she finished the layer of paint she’d been working on before setting her paintbrush aside and heading to what they had dubbed the front room. Though there were two of them, the room to the left of the entrance had been set a bit further back, while the room to the right had a larger window that rounded outward. This second room was the front room.
“Lex, can you help me with this chair? It’s heavier than it looks,” Vanessa said waving her over.
“Sure thing. Did you help John find the nails he was looking for?”
“Yeah. Strange though. They were in the fridge.”
The chair was much heavier than Alex had been expecting. Though not large, it certainly was solid. “Phew, this thing’s a beast,” she said when they had put it down in the adjacent room. “Why were the nails in the fridge? That’s so random.”
“I have no idea. I was sure he’d put them with everything else like usual.”
Alex laughed. “Maybe it was the ghost. It’s about time she started stirring up trouble.”
Vanessa frowned. “Don’t do that, Lex. I was just staring to feel comfortable being here.” She glanced around nervously.
“Relax, Nessa. It was probably put there by accident and forgotten. It’s no big deal.”
“That’s what I told her,” Helen said carrying a lamp into the room.
Unconvinced, Vanessa changed the subject by directing which of the remaining objects in the front room needed moving. It was basically everything, and all of it was heavy.
“Do you need me to move anything else,” Alex panted once they had brought the couch over, “or can I get back to painting?” She wished there would have been more men on sight for this job, but all of them were busy elsewhere. As it was, she was going to have to make a chiropractor appointment for when all this was over.
Alex gave her friend a nudge before returning to the room she’d been working in. When she got there, she noticed that her paintbrush was resting on the windowsill, not where she had left it. Glancing both ways down the hall in confusion, she wondered why someone had moved it. The paint was still in its place. “Weird,” she said walking over to pick up the brush. The brush had dripped onto the windowsill. “It’s a good thing I have to paint this eventually anyway,” she muttered. Then to the brush she asked, “who put you here?”
A few other minor misplacements cropped up throughout the rest of the day. Alex was sure there was nothing to worry about, but it piqued her curiosity. Was there really a ghost?
“Have a good night everyone,” Alex called as the workers left for their homes. “See you tomorrow.”
“Take care, Alex,” John said. “And see that you stay out of the front room. It’s dangerous right now.”
“Don’t worry. I’ll be fine.” She waved until the last taillights could no longer be seen through the trees that lined the long driveway.
As she went back into the house, she stopped to check the front room. Though it was a mess right now, she could imagine what it would look like once completed. Second to the kitchen, this room would be the heart of the home. She could already picture herself seated in a comfy chair by the large window to stare out at the yard and watch birds at play in the birdbath she intended to place in a prime viewing location.
Her gaze was drawn to the pile of toolbelts and chests on the floor. “Now, don’t any of you lot go wandering off, you hear? If we have an understanding, then I bid thee goodnight.”
Being tired after a long day of work, Alex fell asleep almost instantly. When her eyes flew open, she knew something had awoken her. For a moment, she strained her ears to listen for what had alerted her. There was nothing. Glancing at the clock to see that it was 3:00am, she closed her eyes in hopes that she would fall asleep quickly again.
Just when she was beginning to drift, the sounds of footsteps could be heard echoing in the hallway. Alex’s heart jumped into her throat and she held her breath, listening intently. The footsteps continued, like someone was pacing in the hall just outside her door.
Taking a deep breath, she slipped out from the covers. She had a hammer on her bedside table, and she carried this with her now. Waiting with her hand on the doorknob, she listened for the footsteps to move to the stairs. Opening the door slowly, she peered cautiously out into the hall. She could see no one. Thinking there might be burglars while hoping she’d been imagining things, she moved as quietly as she could along the hall to look down at the stairwell that curved around the central round room. Listening, she heard only silence.
Relieved that a dream must have lingered into her waking moments, she was about to return to her room when there came the sounds of scratching. It was quiet at first, but it grew in volume until it was almost desperate. That noise freaked her out and she screamed, running in terror back to her room, locking the door, and burying herself under the covers. She didn’t know how long she listened for the sounds to return, but the next thing she knew, she was waking up with the hammer still in her hands.
“What a weird night,” she grumbled still feeling exhausted.
The sound of car doors closing told her that the workers were returning. With no small amount of haste, she rushed to get dressed and head downstairs to greet them.
“Morning, Miss Cortez,” John said when she appeared.
“Alex,” she corrected. “Everything is where it’s meant to be?” she asked. “No missing tools this morning?”
“Not yet,” John said.
“That’s what I like to hear. That means they kept to the agreement we made last night.”
“Lex!” Vanessa said in her morning-person brightness. Then she paused, a frown crossing her face. “What happened? You look awful.”
“Offensive!” Alex said in mock hurt.
“Your eyes,” Vanessa continued examining Alex’s face. “Did you not sleep last night?”
“I woke up in the middle of the night. I think an animal was scratching on the roof or something. Kept me awake for an hour or so. Is this for me?” she asked changing the subject. She took the bag from Vanessa’s hand and looked inside. “Bagels. What kind of cream cheese?”
“You’re the best. Come on. Let’s eat and get to work.”
The day turned out to be an uneventful one. Alex was still unnerved from the night’s events, but she convinced herself that a squirrel or racoon had thought to find food on her roof. Before she knew it, everyone was leaving for the day.
“Just so you know, this front room is abnormally cold,” John told her as he put his tools away. “Especially by the window over there. I’ll have someone come look at the ducts again, just to make sure there’s nothing clogged up anywhere.”
“Oh, and Sam says there’s an awful smell coming from the basement. Not entirely surprising since this house is so old. However, we’ll probably want someone to do a sweep through the place before we do any work down there just in case. Likely, there’ll be dead mice or other rodents down there. Dave knows a guy. He said he’ll call him tomorrow and see when he’s got time to stop by."
"Good to know," Alex said feeling tired.
John gave her a look and then chuckled quietly. “Renovating an old place like this always comes with unexpected surprises.”
“Are they usually expensive ones?”
He gave her a gentle pat on the shoulder. “It’ll be fine. Get yourself a good night’s rest, okay? I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“See you tomorrow, John. Thanks again.”
Once he was gone, she sighed. Though she was tired, she didn’t want to go to bed. A part of her worried that there might be a repeat of the night before. “If you keep on like this, you’ll never sleep again,” she reprimanded herself. “Besides. Who was it who was disappointed that nothing strange had happened? What a hypocrite.”
Determined not to let her worries consume her, she got ready for bed as usual. However, she made sure all the doors were locked before crawling under the covers. The hammer she held, worried that it might walk away if she didn’t keep it close. In this way, she fell into a fitful sleep.
Her night was filled with disturbing dreams.
She walked the halls of the house wearing a nightgown that could only have been from the same era as the house’s origins. Her feet were bare, and each room she passed was colder than the last. There was a smell, too, like that of rotten food and animal decay.
Soon, she found herself standing in front of the door leading to the basement. Here the smell was strongest. She was afraid, and she got the distinct sensation that something was behind the door.
Not knowing why, she reached for the doorknob and turned it slowly. The door swung open soundlessly revealing a lightless staircase beyond. Heart pounding in her chest, she watched as a shadowy figure pulled itself from the darkness. The faceless entity stared at her for a moment. In that moment, all sounds but for the beating in her chest had ceased. Then, the figure opened a mouth that continued to expand much further than any human mouth should and screamed.
Echoing the scream, she turned and ran. The creature gave chase, grabbing at her ankles so that she tripped. Kicking and crying for help, she got back to her feet to keep running. The shadow was faster, however, and slammed her into the wall. She clawed at the wallpaper thinking only of trying to escape. Her screams continued as the monstrosity that pinned her in place laughed at her frightful desperation.
The sounds of the scratching and screaming drew Alex sharply from the horrendous nightmare. Her body was slicked with sweat, and her knuckles had turned white from gripping the hammer in her hands. The screams continued to ring in her ears so that they couldn’t be a lingering aftershock from the dream she’d been having.
Terrified but determined to put her fears at rest, she forced herself from the bed. The moment she opened the door to the hall, the sounds stopped. Taking a deep breath, she stepped out into the hall. Each step she took with caution.
“It’s only in your imagination,” she mumbled under her breath. “There’s nothing to be afraid of.”
With each step, her dread grew. And with each step, she saw and felt nothing other than her own fear. Her search took her down the stairs to the round room and its walls lined with statues. These stared at her as emptily as they did the day she arrived. Shuddering, she ignored them and made her way to the front room. Before she got there, however, she was stopped short.
Covering her mouth to keep herself from screaming, she stared in horror at the blood on the wall. It looked like someone or something had been scratching at the wood until their fingers bled. The smell of decayed animals and rotting food made its way to her nostrils and she ran. She wanted to throw up, but she forced the bile back in her throat.
In her room, she stood facing the door, body trembling. With the hammer as her shield, she waited for the creature from her nightmares to come for her. When morning came, she was sitting on the floor under the window, her cheeks stained with tears from the fright of the night.
Determining that nothing was coming for her, she went to her on suite bathroom to wash her face. Getting dressed, she braced herself to face the rest of the house. With hammer in hand, she went downstairs to the scene of the crime, only to find that there was nothing. The blood, the scratches, everything was gone.
“Okay,” she said to herself, her voice quavering. “Okay. I’m going to find out who you are.”