The idea of living in a haunted house appeals to me. I like the idea that my home, the boring bricks and warped windows that each day don’t seem to add up to anything special, might harbor a secret past, a secret life, some slumbering memory that is beyond me. Unfortunately, no house I’ve ever lived in has been haunted by anything more than mold and cat hair. The closest to a paranormal experience I can recall was once when my brother’s room started to smell like sulfur, though I think that was less attributable to a Satanic presence and more to an Easter Egg that had been hidden in his closet and never found.
One weekend when I was in high school, a group of us decided to go out to this haunted house we’d heard kids at school talk about. A slanted and peeling farmhouse on the far side of a field on the edge of town, beyond the quarry. My skin prickled at the possibilities. Dark halls. Broken windows with billowing, moonlit curtains. Soft voices murmuring around corners.
It was just then spring and the air was damp and clean. We parked in the gravel lot of a closed warehouse and climbed over a rusty barbwire fence, careful not to cut ourselves. There were five of us in the group. Two boys and three girls. We formed an elaborate quincunx of crushes and rivalries that none of us fully understood, especially not as we crossed a black field under a starless night, as black blobs lowed lazily around us. I could smell deodorant and detergent.
And then, the clouds parted for a moment and through a line of bare Maple trees we could see the house. Slumped and broken but also grand in the way the ruined things can be.
Of course, we were scared. Teeth rattled teeth. Fists clutched wrists. We circled the house twice, building up the courage to make our way inside. When we finally mounted the porch and pushed the front door open, I felt like we would all explode.
Broken beer bottle shards gleamed in flashlight beams and crunched under tennis shoe soles. In the salon, to the left of the foyer, stood a piano, the only remaining furnishing. I wanted to play it, but others said, “Are you crazy? Don’t play ghost music in a haunted house on a haunted piano. Do not play that ghost music!” On the walls were written the names of bands I didn’t like and the names of people I didn’t know. Professions of love and lust 4ever and 4ever, but long since extinguished. I am certain of that.
Standing still and silent, we waited for something extraordinary to happen to us. We listened and breathed and waited. No walls bled. No spirits moaned. No lights capered about the corners.
“Shit,” we said, “This is bullshit. Just another empty house.”
As we were about to head up the stairs to see if the bedrooms were more terrifying, something somewhere fell over with a sudden thud and four frightened Kentucky teenagers fled into the dark night, noticing for the first time that the air in the field smelled like cow manure.
With Gabe gone, Videogum has become a haunted house and you are nervous teens traipsing in, hoping to find something worth having come all the way out here for at this time of night and I am a young ghost hoping that the weak rattling of my thin chains has been sufficient make your cheeks flush and your eyes grow wide, if only for a moment. I hope you had a good time.
(Thanks to Gabe, Scott and Amrit for asking me to do this. Thanks to A Serious Monster for editorial assistance.)