As I gripped the rusted iron fencing around McAllister’s Place, I recalled the delicious excitement of when police officers has pulled my 4 year old self from the sanctuary of the creaking wood floors around the massive fireplace. Even though they had been huge men with terribly scary gear, I could see fear in their eyes as they scouted the area around me for what may lurk in the dusty shadows.
For months the fading and peeling boards from McAllister’s place had been visible from my backyard and had called to me with a promise of a grand adventure. The swing set and sandbox had never sang to me like that, so I had taken the call and for hours wandered the labyrinth of the decaying house. The broken boards on the front porch had grinned at me like the silly Jack O’Lanterns that my father carved. I had never felt so safe than when cradled within the giant pillars that supported the fireplace mantle.
After my very public rescue, the small town made sure I was educated on the Haunting of McAllister’s place. McAllister’s granddaughter owned the place after he had passed away, but even death couldn’t keep his terrible soul from terrorizing anyone who dared trespass. Likely she had never had it demolished because it was a supporting beam of the small town; making sure that the citizens were able to fully balance an ideal cozy town with fear and superstition. It’s what keeps small populations entertained and bonds them together.
The House still stood behind the numerous signs deeming it uninhabitable and dangerous, but she still whispered a siren song and I was still reckless enough in my 40s to answer. I no longer ran to the front porch for adventure, but walked slowly so that I could observe any poltergeist movement from Old McAllister behind the dirty and cracked windows.
The front door barely clung to the hinges, but screeched just enough to convince you that it was holding on with it’s last ounce of strength. Small puffs of dust scattered with each of my footsteps towards shadows that seemed to move out of my line of sight. My breathing grew quicker and my palms reacted with a fresh coating of sweat as I drew slowly to the heart of the house. Small noises were amplified in the empty halls and rooms; I could almost see McAllister coming for me, but he disappeared every time I tried to focus my eyes.
A human shape materialized to my left moving just as slowly as I. I held my scream in check as I recognized my own face in the 7 foot tall wall mirror. A curtain of decades of dust gave my reflection a haggard expression. I creeped closer and peered into my eyes, taking note of the fear crowding my countenance. Anxiety, trepidation and insecurity vied for first place on the winning line wrinkles on my forehead.
I dared a small smile at myself as I remembered the fearless 4 year old who had previously found security in this same spot. Innocent and without a care in the world, that child had visited every room and inspected every closet. The person I had once been was brave and beautiful.
Not being able to get the galloping heart under control, I turned to leave the house and congratulate myself for at least taking the risk to visit McAllister’s Haunted House one last time. I stepped out into the blinding sunlight and almost knocked McAllister’s granddaughter right off the stoop. She recovered herself and gave me a knowing smile.
“You found the terrible ghost didn’t you?”
Cocking one eyebrow, I shook my head to deny such a thing and pronounce myself a survivor of a vindictive spirit.
Her lips couldn’t contain her teasing grin and she continued.
“Not all houses are haunted by their owners or their pasts. The haunting we see is of our own making. Our belief that the past continues in a frightful path to continue to destroy us. Our fears shape themselves into objects we can’t quite make out and sounds we aren’t able to discern. Our minds whisper that we aren’t brave enough to fight the invisible and the ‘haunting’ is your own spirit weakened and frightened.”
She left me there on the front porch as she entered to see if her own “haunting” was still lurking in the cavernous living room. The connection of her words helped me see that grinning toothy front porch again. As a child, I had no knowledge of being afraid to fail, to be hurt or things beyond my control. McAllister’s house had welcomed me back then. As I aged, I had bought into the societal mass fear that we are insignificant and can be destroyed; that what is good and brave in us is not enough to conquer our demons.
I stepped outside the formidable iron fencing back into the real “haunted” world and knew from that moment on that the shadows and bumps in the night were back under my control. McAllister’s House smirked back with our shared truth.
Categories: Writing Fiction