There’s nothing like a haunted house. Have you ever seen a real ghost?
It wasn’t so scary after you’d lived there for awhile. It was a mammoth Victorian, dingy white, with exes of tape on the windows, three stories plus a basement and an attic no one ever visited. It sat in a line of newer, smaller houses that repeated a pattern of dereliction with cement gardens, security doors, and plastic potted plants. The street was bald save the four old-growth walnut trees flanking the Victorian, remnants of forgotten ancestors; one and a half in front and two behind.
Jo and her little brother Max didn’t live there, they just visited, usually for the weekend but sometimes longer. Their mother Joyce had a thing with Philip, a longstanding resident whose seniority and hard work at the program earned him conjugal visits. They stayed with Philip in the first bedroom on the second floor, at the top of the curving staircase. Joyce and Philip shared the narrow bed and the kids rolled out sleeping bags on the closet floor.
When they visited, Joyce was usually assigned to work in the hollow industrial kitchen where she’d help unload sacks and giant cans of food from the donation truck. Joyce was a whiz at inventing new ways to mix the ingredients—succotash and Velveeta on toasted wonder bread or baked potatoes piled with bacon bits and peas from a can. The kids were free to amuse themselves as long as they didn’t bother the residents or distract them from their work.
During breaks, chatty residents like Troy played cards in the front parlor or watched the mammoth television built into an ornate wooden cabinet. Troy always wore a tight yellow t shirt with the words “Pigs Is Beautiful” printed under a cartoon of a pig in a policeman’s uniform. Troy kept a purple pick stuck in his afro for easy access. He would sometimes challenge Jo and Max to a game of Go Fish; he taught them dance moves and showed them how to shake hands.
One day that was so hot that the sidewalk outside burned their bare feet, the kids lay on a ratty sofa on the front porch, watching a cloud of flies hover and swoop like waltzing kamikazes. Max was playing with a transistor radio one of the counselors gave him, confiscated from one of the residents; it had no batteries but Max was pretending, beating the air with imaginary drumsticks and moaning a tune, whenTroy strutted up the stairs. He nodded at Max and held out his pale palm to Jo for the complicated handshake before he plopped down on the sofa but there was nothing relaxed about Troy with his big smile, his hard muscles and that sly look in his eyes.
“What’s up?” Max wanted to know.
“You want to see something crazy?”
The rest of this story is in limbo, waiting to get published. Let me know if you’re the one I’m waiting for.
A couple links that informed/inspired: