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The Burning Side

Summary

When Bree Wilson and her husband, Jason, purchase their first home in a small Michigan town, they are enchanted by its 19th century charm and character. Soon after moving in, however, Bree begins to have strange and terrifying encounters with an unknown entity. As supernatural activity in the home begins to spiral out of control, Bree discovers that she is pregnant, and her unborn child becomes the target of paranormal attacks. With the help of an old diary and a quirky medium named Cora, Bree and Jason race to uncover the truth behind the haunting, and in the process, they unearth a long-buried family secret that threatens their very existence.

Chapter 1

Prologue

~~September 12, 2010

…I never could have imagined that one man could destroy so many lives, even long after his death. He may have died on the burning side, but it didn’t stop his reign of terror. Now I hope he goes to the burning side to which he belongs…Hell. How I wish I had known what would happen when we bought that house…

 

Chapter 1


Sunlight filtered through the giant oaks and maples lining the overgrown driveway, dappling the path before the truck as Bree and Jason Wilson rambled toward the house that would soon be theirs. The moment the house came into view, Bree was instantly enchanted by the air of nobility it exuded. She felt like a peasant approaching a castle. When she and Jason climbed out of the truck, they hurried excitedly to the real estate agent. She would have sprinted if she hadn’t been wearing her heeled boots that disguised her short stature. As she brushed wind-blown wisps of long auburn hair from her almond-shaped, coffee-brown eyes, she looked up at the house again. This house wasn’t the typical modern abode fallen victim to foreclosure, like so many of the others they considered purchasing, but rather a 19th-century masterpiece built with bricks, mortar, and muscle. It loomed over them, a massive structure of reddish-brown weathered bricks with intricate wooden accents around the windows and eaves. Bree’s eye was drawn to a small widow’s watch perched atop the black shingled roof, and her instant admiration for the house was intensified. The front porch was no less impressive. It was expansive with six huge columns supporting the roof above it. The porch became Bree’s favorite feature of the house, and she was already imagining rocking chairs and patio furniture with which to adorn it. The backyard was quite expansive as well, though poorly maintained.


Upon entering the house, Bree was pleased to see that the interior of the home was better cared for than the yard. Though it was quite tidy and seemed structurally sound, the interior did reveal the historic nature of the home. The ceilings were unnecessarily high, and the plaster was cracking. The arches connecting the living room, kitchen, and hallways were tall and wide with bulky yet beautiful solid oak trim. The windows bore the same woodwork. The wooden baseboards on the wall along the hardwood floors were almost a foot high. The bathroom and kitchen fixtures looked antique, but still maintained a lustrous shine. There was even a massive brick chimney and evidence that a woodstove once stood in the living room. A staircase opened from the living room to the upstairs. The house had five bedrooms, two of which were upstairs, and an office. The door to the master bedroom was right at the top of the long staircase leading to the second floor, with a guest bedroom and a large bathroom off to the left. A small office was at the end of the hall across from the master bedroom. In the basement, they found an old coal shoot and an enormous fuel oil tank, evidence that this house had seen every kind of heating fuel used in the past hundred years.  Instead of being deterred by the age of the home, Bree and Jason found it charming.
 

The house was being sold by a pudgy, grumpy accountant, Mr. Stewart, who had inherited it when his grandfather died. According to the accountant, his grandfather hadn’t lived in the home, and it hadn’t been inhabited for several decades. Luckily for the Wilsons, however, his grandfather had kept the home well maintained while he was alive, as he planned to someday make it his retirement getaway. Mr. Stewart didn’t share the same enthusiasm for the house as his grandfather, and was eager to be rid of the burden of property taxes and maintenance. He was practically giving it away, and Jason and Bree couldn’t ignore such a steal. 

 Though the house had already seen over one hundred fifty years of history, Bree and Jason were determined to make it a loving home for generations to come.  They purchased the house and renovations began shortly thereafter. Bree and Jason spent most of their weekends there, supervising contractors and slowly moving in their belongings.  Bree was in love with the place, pressing Jason constantly to make the move permanently. She loved her husband dearly, with his broad smile, big brown eyes, and handsome features, but despite his masculinity and easy-going nature she found he had an overwhelming apprehension to change. Finally, however, on a sunny spring Saturday during one of their weekend trips, he acquiesced. His company had a division in White Dove near their new home, and he was given approval to transfer. Bree was ecstatic when he gave her the exciting news.  She kissed him happily and hurried off to further prepare the house for the move. She wasn’t aware of how one small occurrence that same sunny Saturday would mark the beginning of the strangest time in her life.
 

Early in the afternoon, Bree went into the basement to store away some empty boxes.  She was overwhelmed with excitement, and stopped to admire the dingy basement. It was slightly chilly and dank, but it was hers. She’d lived in rentals or apartments for the past 9 years, her entire adult life, so it gave her great joy to entertain the notion of actually owning her home. She let her eyes wander to a beautiful old piano that had been abandoned within the house.
 

“How could someone just leave a piano?” Bree wondered aloud to herself while fondly running her fingers along the dusty keys.  She pressed down on a key, and the piano emitted a flat, off-key note. She gave a small chuckle when the key didn’t pop back up but remained stuck down. As she pulled the key back up to its original position, a strong, smoky odor suddenly tickled her nostrils. It instantly became strong enough to make her breath catch in her throat.  What was on fire? Her head full of disastrous scenarios, she whirled around, intending to quickly investigate. She was stopped dead in her tracks.

Before her, nose to nose with her, was the most hideous face she had ever seen, accompanied by the noxious scent of putrid, burning pork. Horror froze her as she gazed upon the floating, ashen, misshapen head gruesomely erupting with pus and fire. The orange-yellow flames danced around the lumpy, whitish face as pus and melting fat dripped sloppily to the floor. The skin on the face was waxy, pale, and had the mangled appearance of gnarly, interwoven tree roots, complete with gaps and lumps. The mouth was opened in an angry, soundless scream, exposing yellowed, cracked, jagged teeth. Stringy, wet-looking dark hair hung limply around its face, contrasting with the bright, wildly dancing flames. One eye was a gaping black hole with bubbling, off-white fluids oozing from it, sizzling as they ran down the side of the horrific face. The other eye, however, was still intact, though the bright red veins around the icy blue iris looked as though they were about to burst. This disgusting eye bulged and glared at her with a look of rage and hatred that pierced her to her very core. Lumps of sloppy, melted fat and flesh plopped to the floor, sizzling as they splattered at her feet.

When Bree thought she felt a heavy mass drop onto her shoe, she was startled out of her stupor. She jumped back instinctually, her eyes diverting from the grisly gourd before her to her foot. Her shoe was clean. She looked back up and found the image of the head was gone.  Bree stood frozen in shock again, unable even to blink.  The suddenness of the appearance and then almost instantaneous disappearance of the abomination left her in a daze for several seconds.  It wasn’t until she gasped for air that she realized she was holding her breath. She also instantly noticed the absence of the smoky odor.  On shaky legs, Bree walked to the steps and stumbled to the top of the stairs. She stepped out of the basement and closed the door quietly, but firmly, and then slumped down to the floor with her back against the door. She tucked her thin legs up to her small chest and wrapped her arms around herself protectively. A few strands of her long, auburn hair hung in her eyes but she couldn’t seem to find the strength to lift her hand to swipe them away.
 

I didn’t really see that. I couldn’t have. It was just my mind playing tricks. Horrible, demented tricks. Her heart pounded in her chest as she tried to make sense of what she just saw. She supposed the smell of smoke could’ve come from the piano.  Maybe it had been in a fire and still held the odor within the wood’s pores. Maybe the poor air quality in the basement had affected her senses and caused her to hallucinate. Maybe she was overtired. She told herself resolutely that there had to be a logical explanation, even if she didn’t know what it was. As she tried to force the experience to the back of her mind, Jason came around the corner and spotted her sitting on the floor.

 “Taking a break already? I thought you’d be an unstoppable force today.”  He paused briefly, studying her face. His large, dark eyes showed concern.  “Is everything ok? You look like you saw a rat or something.”

 Bree wished it had only been a rat. “I’m fine. I think there may be some bad fumes or chemicals down there, though.  I feel like I need some fresh air.  Why don’t you come sit with me on the porch for a few minutes?”
 

They sat in two new patio chairs on the porch looking out over their driveway and front yard.  Things were still looking quite overgrown, and the vines climbing the side of the house didn’t look ready to relinquish their hold on the home.  Bree wondered if it were possible that the vines were not alone in this unwillingness to let go, and immediately scoffed at herself for being so ridiculous.
 

Jason misinterpreted her sigh of disgust. “Upset about something, hun?  We’ll get things together in no time. Don’t stress.” He reached over and patted her hand reassuringly, a gentle breeze tousling his brown hair.
 

“I’m sure things will be fine,” she replied. After a moment of silence, she asked, “Did you notice the piano in the basement? Why do you suppose someone would leave their piano behind?  I mean, it’s not the same as leaving a stove or a fridge, really.  It seems strange to me.”

“I can see why it was left behind.  It’s ugly—“
 

“It is not ugly!” Bree interrupted.

 “Matter of opinion, I guess, but it looks like someone may have agreed with me.  Besides, it probably weighs a ton, and can you imagine carrying it up all those stairs to get it out of the basement?  It was probably just easier to leave the damn thing!”  Jason’s face took on a sudden look of horror. “Oh God, you don’t want me to move it, do you?”
 

Bree calmed his worries. “No, no!  I was just thinking about it while I was down there, and I guess the mystery of it just piqued my curiosity.  That’s all.”
 

Jason was thoughtful for a moment. “I would guess that the owner probably died, and no one else wanted that ugly thing.”
 

Bree didn’t like that explanation.
 

Jason stood up. “Back to work.”

***

 After six weeks of living in their new home, Jason and Bree were happier than they had dared to hope they would be.  Jason had begun work at the new location, and he was confident that making the move to White Dove had been the right choice. Bree still hadn’t looked for a new job, but Jason urged her to try the housewife role for a while. She was apprehensive at first, concerned that she would grow bored quickly. With no job and no children to occupy her time, Bree spent much of her day cleaning things that didn’t need to be cleaned, reading books she had already read, and making up projects for herself. Before long, however, she had so many projects underway that she barely found time to eat lunch each day. One of her latest endeavors involved the creation of a large mural on their bedroom wall, depicting a beautiful forest scene with wildlife and a lively stream. Boredom was no longer an issue.
 

On a quiet, early summer afternoon, Bree was engrossed in her painting when the phone rang.
 

“Hello?”
 

“Hey babe.  How is everything today?” Jason sounded in good spirits.
 

“Great.  I was just working on the forest mural. How are things at work?” She knew when he called from work that it was usually to tell her he was working overtime, so she began subconsciously scheduling back dinner and re-planning the rest of her afternoon.
 

“Ok, but I’ll be coming home soon.  I decided to take the rest of the day off.  Things are kind of slow here, and it’s a beautiful day out.  I thought maybe we could do something fun this afternoon.”

 Bree smiled. “That would be a nice change from overtime!  How soon before you’ll be home?”

 “About an hour. I have a couple things to finish up here before I take off. I’ll see you then, honey! Love you.”
 

When Bree hung up the phone, she hurried to take a shower. She’d been so absorbed in her painting that she hadn’t noticed the morning slip by. She set aside her paints, not bothering to put anything away as she knew she’d be at it again tomorrow morning.  She went to the closet, picked out one of her favorite summer outfits, and went down the hall to the bathroom.
 

The hot water felt wonderful against her skin, but she wondered if she would ever get used to the unpleasant smell the water possessed.  She hated bathing in the scent of boiled eggs. Her mind wandered through other such trivial thoughts as she closed her eyes and began massaging soap over her face. As she rubbed her soapy fingers over her eyelids to remove whatever makeup may have survived last night’s scrubbing, she caught a familiar, unpleasant scent that was not boiled eggs. Panic gripped her as she remembered that day in the basement, remembered that smell, and remembered that face.  She hesitantly sniffed again, and the smoky, burned-pork odor was so strong it seemed like she had just opened the stove with a charred roast inside. In her panic, she opened her eyes without thinking and was instantly blinded with the stinging soap she had just applied to her face. She hissed through her teeth and swore as she turned her face into the stream of water and began to frantically rinse her eyes. Terrifying images raced through her mind. She could imagine the burning head floating inches from her face in the shower, or a charred, mangled body standing right behind her or right outside the shower curtain, staring at her, reaching for her in her helplessly vulnerable state.
 

It seemed an eternity before her eyes were cleared of the stinging soap, but when they were, her eyes shot open and she threw aside the shower curtain. She saw nothing.  She smelled nothing. She stood there, breathing as though she had just run a marathon.
 

“What the hell is wrong with me?” Bree wondered aloud.
 

The rest of her shower was hurried, and her heart didn’t stop racing until she was dried and dressed. She headed downstairs without dallying.
 

She hadn’t realized just how anxious she was until she felt the relief wash over her when Jason walked through the front door and entered the kitchen.  She rushed to him and greeted him with a hug, offering to make him something for lunch. She tried to hide her lingering anxiety.
 

“I’d love a sandwich. I’ve got to change out of these clothes, but I’ll be back down in a minute.” Jason kissed her cheek and walked out of the kitchen.
 

Bree had just finished making their sandwiches when Jason strolled back into the kitchen in comfortable jeans and a t-shirt.

 “So who’s the person in your painting?” He asked casually as he rummaged through the fridge for a drink. 

 Bree looked at him, confused. “What person?”

 “The guy in the woods. Wait! Let me guess…it’s Fred Bear!” Jason chuckled at his own joke, but stopped abruptly when he noticed Bree glaring at him.
 

“There is no man in my painting.” Bree conjured up the image of the mural in her mind, and she could find nothing that could be mistaken for a human figure.
 

“Maybe it was just supposed to be a shadow from a tree or something, but it does look like—“ Jason cut off the rest of his sentence as Bree turned and hurried upstairs.  She walked into the bedroom and immediately noticed the addition to her mural. In the dark forest, lurking among the trees, was an eerie, black, human-shaped figure.  She leaned closer to it and saw it was actually painted on the mural in black paint, and it looked like a shadowy apparition of a man. And the paint was still wet in a few spots.

 As Jason came into the room, she turned on him, pointing at the shadow man. “Do you think this is funny? I’ve worked hard on this, dammit!” She was almost in tears.
 

“Whoa, honey! I didn’t do anything! Besides, you know I can’t paint!” He looked completely bewildered. When Bree stopped and thought about it, she knew he couldn’t possibly have done it. The paint was mostly dried, which meant it would’ve had to have been painted before he even came home.
 

Confused, she stood silently. She then apologized. “Sorry. It’s just really weird. I don’t remember painting that.”  Jason just shrugged his shoulders and went back downstairs, mumbling something to himself.  Bree stared at the shadow man a moment longer, feeling like it was somehow watching her, taunting her.  Ignoring the urge to gouge it out of the wall with her fingernails, she followed Jason downstairs with her fists clenched.
 

“Let’s take our sandwiches and go for a ride. I need to get out of this house for a while,” Bree said truthfully as she grabbed the sandwiches off the counter and walked out the front door without waiting for a reply.

Chapter 2

~~Chapter 2


 Bree and Jason headed into town to get a feel for their new territory as they hadn’t had a chance to see the sights since moving into the new house.  The ride was quiet, relatively speaking, as the exhaust system and stereo in Jason’s newer model Chevrolet pickup didn’t facilitate conversation.  Bree was glad for this silence, however, since she still needed a few minutes to compose herself after the painting incident. She hoped the ride would help clear her mind.
 

They began passing dollar stores and gas stations, indicating their imminent arrival upon the White Dove city limits.  The truck slowed as Jason heeded the reduced speed limit signs, and Bree looked out the window at the small shops ahead with tourists poking around on the sidewalks.  She loved how lively Michigan could be in the summertime, even in those tiny towns where cornstalks greatly outnumbered people.  The only downside was that the abundance of tourists made you even more aware of the fact that you were not on vacation.  Bree thought of all those Fourth of July holidays she spent as a waitress, working so everyone else could have fun.  She didn’t miss that.
 

“Want to get some coffee?” Jason broke the silence. “The guys at work said this restaurant up here—“ he pointed out the windshield to a small red building—“is the best place to eat around here.”
 

Bree thought the place looked more like a small, red barn than a restaurant, but she nodded in assent.  “Maybe they’ll have brochures to help us figure out where we want to go today. We still get to visit the tourist traps, right? We aren’t exactly ‘locals’ yet.”
 

There was no parking available on the curb, so they had to park in a grocery store parking lot down the street and walk to the restaurant.
 

“Blazin’ Fast Burgers?  That’s…interesting.  I hope their food is better than their name,” Bree said with a chuckle.  The sunshine and fresh air were doing wonders for her spirits.  She walked hand-in-hand with Jason, weaving through the tourists browsing the sidewalk sales.  They finally reached the restaurant and stepped inside.  They found a plethora of brochures advertising local attractions at the front counter.  Bree grabbed a few pamphlets that looked interesting and followed Jason into the dining room. They had no trouble finding an empty table as they were the only customers in the restaurant.
 

“So where are we going today?” Jason asked, eyeing the handful of brochures Bree had set on the table.
 

“I don’t know yet.  We’ve got one for a zoo, a county park, a local historical museum, and a gift shop of oddities.  I wonder what kind of ‘oddities’ they could possibly sell…human eyeballs?” Bree opened the gift shop brochure as an energetic older woman approached their table. She greeted them with a smile, blue eyes sparkling, and handed them menus and silverware.
 

“Thanks, ma’am, but we’re just going to have coffee and two of those chocolate chip cookies I saw at the counter,” Jason ordered for both of them.  Bree handed the menu back to the waitress and returned to her brochure. She was intrigued by the gift shop, as the photos of it showed everything from strange tea sets to jewelry, and the brochure said they sold unique books as well.
 

“Jason, this shop looks amazing! I think this is where I want to go today.  We could use some unique decorations for the house, and I bet this shop has lots of antiques that would fit well with our ancient home.  Here, take a look.” Bree handed him the pamphlet as the waitress returned with the coffee and cookies. The waitress noticed the brochures.

 “Are you two on vacation?” The waitress asked as she set their coffee and cookies in front of them.

 “No, we actually just moved here,” Bree said.  “We thought we should see some of the sights and get familiarized with the area.”
 

“Well that’s nice.  What brought you here?” The waitress was curious.
 

“My company has a branch here, and I was offered a raise to transfer to this division from our old one in Grand River.  It seemed like a great opportunity.” Jason divulged. Bree thought he tended to over-share sometimes. She was certain the waitress didn’t care if he was offered a raise to transfer.

 “So where are you living? Did you folks buy a house around here?” The waitress was full of questions.  Bree had forgotten what small-town life could be like—it had been years since she had lived in one.
 

“We bought an old house on Williams Street. No one’s lived there in a while, but we had a lot of work done to it and it’s making a great home for us now.  Plus we got a really good deal on it.” Jason continued to disclose more information than Bree thought necessary.

 “You mean that big brick house at the end of the road, near the river?” The waitress looked and sounded shocked.

 “Yeah, that’s the one,” Bree responded. “You look a little surprised.” She gave the waitress a confused look, but still tried to look pleasant.

 “Oh, no! I just hadn’t known it was for sale. It has sat empty for as long as I can remember.” The waitress still had a strange look on her face, and she hurriedly left the table after telling them to let her know if they needed anything.  To Bree, it appeared that something bothered the waitress about their house.  Or maybe she was bothered by the fact that they were living in it. Bree wasn’t sure, but she didn’t want to pry and create an uncomfortable situation.  Some things were best left alone.

 They sipped their coffee in silence for a few moments before Jason whispered, “She seemed almost offended that we bought that house.”

 Bree nodded. “Weird, right?” They both sipped their coffee some more and were silent again, just looking at each other.

 “So you want to go to the gift shop?” Jason changed the subject and began browsing the brochure.

 “Yeah.  It looks like it has some really neat stuff in it. Maybe I could get something pretty to put over the piano, to dress it up a bit.”

 “But the piano’s in the basement,” Jason replied, “so what’s the point?”

 “About that…” Bree began, but hesitated.

 Jason immediately knew what she was going to say, and cut her off before she could even ask. “No.  Hell no.  I am not moving it up those stairs!”

 “But it doesn’t belong in the basement! If I cleaned it up and had it tuned, it could make a great addition to our living room décor.  I could even hire someone to move it so you don’t have to.” Bree realized she was pleading.

 “Why do you all of a sudden want it upstairs?”

 “I always wanted it upstairs, but I’ve been trying to figure out how to convince you to let me bring it up. After that first conversation we had about it I knew it would take a lot of convincing!  But I figured if we hired someone to do it, then maybe you’d let me have it in the living room.” Bree was hopeful and watched Jason’s expressions closely.

 “I don’t know. Let me think on it a little bit, ok?”

 Bree could feel that Jason was starting to cave.  “Ok, honey. I just want to add that I’ve already looked up a company who can send guys to move the piano for pretty cheap.” She took a drink of her coffee and ate some of her cookie.

 “I knew that damn piano would end up upstairs,” Jason grumbled as the waitress returned to the table to refill the coffee cups. She said very little before placing the bill on top of the napkin holder and leaving. Jason and Bree finished their cookies and their coffee.  When they went to the counter to pay their bill, the waitress was waiting at the cash register. Jason handed her the money, and on their way out the door, the waitress spoke.

 “Enjoy your time here,” the waitress said with an ominous tone.

 Bree and Jason looked at each other and mumbled a quiet “thanks.”  Once the door had closed behind them and they had put several steps between themselves and the restaurant, Bree said, “Did that sound ominous, or am I just paranoid?”

 “I’m not sure…it was almost like she was insinuating that she didn’t think we’d be here long.”  Jason was quiet for a few seconds, then added, “Or maybe we are just paranoid.”

 They both laughed it off, even though Bree was sure they were equally bothered by the waitress’s change in demeanor and parting words to them. They walked to the truck, ready to continue the day’s adventure. Jason entered the gift shop address from the brochure into the GPS, and they headed off to the Gypsy’s Treasure Chest.

 The shop was just a few miles away, but it was set apart from all the other tourist traps by being quite out-of-the-way. The GPS led them down winding dirt roads (which were still quite muddy this early in the summer) and instructed them to make a turn at every corner. When they finally reached the Gypsy’s Treasure Chest, however, they found the trip to be well worth the drive.

 The shop was huge, and apparently the drive didn’t deter other tourists from visiting it. The parking lot was packed with cars.  Bree wondered how some of those cars made it all the way out there, especially the little hybrids and low-rider sports cars. Jason found a spot just big enough for the truck and parked. As they approached the building, Bree discovered that the shop also had a restaurant attached to it, the Gypsy’s Kitchen, which explained the size of the building. She wondered how she had missed that in the brochure.

 The store was much less crowded than she had expected. She thought it would be elbow-to-elbow, but the store was surprisingly spacious. She assumed the restaurant must have been the main destination for the owners of the cars in the lot.  She walked through the wide aisles, with her eyes wandering over all the little trinkets and occasional gaudy piece of pottery. There was no rhyme or reason to the organization of items in the store. Jewelry, pottery, dishes, wall hangings, and even furniture were all mixed together. This place was definitely a browsing shop, and not the place to go if you were looking for something specific. She wandered from aisle to aisle, with Jason in tow, hoping her eyes would fall upon some perfect little treasure.

 Bree instantly fell in love when she spotted a unique, foot-tall green and brown vase. It appeared to be made of some kind of rock, and had beautiful green, brown, and white lines throughout it, resembling agate. She picked it up and was surprised at the great weight of it. She handed it to Jason to carry, and smiled at him as he rolled his eyes.

 “Come on now, that’s a cool vase.” Bree defended.  Jason just smiled at her and continued to follow her through the store.
 Bree found a strange green and black tea set a few minutes later. The cream holder looked like a tiny flower vase, and the two “tea cups” looked more like Erlenmeyer flasks than cups. She was intrigued. They had no basket or any way to carry all of the pieces, so Bree just grabbed the teapot with the price sticker on it. They would come back for the rest when they made it to the checkout. She made sure to take note of their location so she wouldn’t forget where the rest of her set was.

 They continued to browse for what seemed like hours, but in reality was probably only thirty minutes. Bree decided she had seen enough, and Jason didn’t seem to find anything of any interest to him, so they headed toward the checkout. At the front of the store, Jason and Bree set their items on the counter, and Bree went back for the rest of her tea set. When she returned, she saw that another item had been added to their treasures. It looked like a greenish-blue blown-glass bulb that tapered to a twisting point at the top, much like the twisting point you get when you stick your finger in melted marshmallow and pull it out. The weird bulb was attached to a heavy black wooden base, and an electrical cord was wound around it.

 “What the hell is that?” Bree asked bluntly.

 “It’s one of those lamps that you can see the electricity inside the bulb. A lightning lamp. You know, the kind that when you touch the glass all the electricity goes toward your finger. I saw it on display when you were getting your tea set.” Jason looked excited about his find, and Bree had to admit that it did look pretty neat.

 “It’s green, too, so it’ll match my tea set and vase.” Bree pointed out.  They paid for their items and watched the bizarre lady behind the counter wrapping them in tissue paper and placing them in a box. Bree noticed she wore old black cowboy boots over gray sweatpants. Her shirt was a bright floral pattern with reds, yellows, and greens. Bree couldn’t help but think that this woman looked as though she had jumped straight out of a Dr. Seuss book. They took their box and made it out the door before a loud snort escaped Bree.

 “Did you see that lady’s outfit?” She whispered to Jason and giggled. “No wonder her store is so unorganized. She can’t even organize her own wardrobe!”

 Jason laughed. “I’m no fashion expert, and even I thought that was terrible. Maybe tomorrow is her laundry day and that was all she had left,” Jason joked.

 “I’d wear the dirty clothes before I wore that!”

 They put the box between them in the truck, and Jason punched their home address into the GPS to make sure he could find his way home. The whole ride home was spent musing over why the lady behind the counter was dressed so crazily at the Gypsy’s Treasure Chest. Bree couldn’t have guessed that the next time their paths crossed, she wouldn’t be laughing quite so heartily.

Chapter 3

Chapter 3


 Jason carried their box of treasures into the house and put it on the table. Bree was immediately pulling out tissue paper as soon as the box was down. She had her vase unwrapped in no time, turning it over in her hands, admiring it. Soon the vase was set aside and she went back to the box.  She pulled the lightning lamp out and handed it to Jason. She was already trying to think of the perfect place to display her vase and tea set as she began unwrapping tea cups. 

 Once the tea set was unwrapped, she decided to place it on a ledge in the kitchen. She was fixing the spacing between the teapot and decanter when she heard Jason chuckle in the living room. She walked out of the kitchen and saw that he had his lamp plugged in on one of the end tables and was watching all the tiny lightning bolts dancing around inside the glass bulb. He was obviously delighted with his purchase. As Bree observed him and the lamp, she realized she was just as delighted as he was.

 “Now let’s just hope it doesn’t burn the house down,” Bree said jokingly.
 

Jason started slightly, as he hadn’t noticed her enter the room. “Just don’t leave it plugged in when you aren’t around, like any novelty lamp. I’m not sure how old this is or where it was made, so we’ll have to be careful with it.  But it is awesome, isn’t it?” He was smiling at her.
 

“Yes, dear, it’s awesome.” Bree laughed and returned to the kitchen to finish arranging her tea set and get dinner into the oven.
 

After dinner and dishes, Bree headed upstairs to face the man in the mural. Jason told her not to worry about it tonight, but he didn’t understand how much it bothered Bree.  She couldn’t stand the idea of that shadow man watching her sleep. She left Jason downstairs to watch TV and admire his new lamp while she fixed her mural.

 Reclaim my mural, she amended.
 

She stood in the bedroom, scowling at the man. She had brought the digital camera with her to document the strange anomaly before she erased it from the wall. She snapped three photos, then got to work. With an air of determination about her, Bree opened her paints and deposited a small amount of black, brown, white, and green on her paint palette. She painted over him completely with brown paint, just for the peace of mind that he was covered entirely in a layer of paint, before she repainted the tree trunks, leaves, and forest debris that had been there prior to his appearance. Once she was finished, she stepped back and nodded to herself in approval. No evidence remained to indicate that the shadow man had ever existed. She was relieved.

 Bree returned downstairs to the living room and sat next to Jason. Now that the mural was restored, and the day was coming to a close, Bree was ready to move on to pestering Jason about the piano again.
 

“So honey, can we bring the piano upstairs?”

 Jason gave a long, defeated sigh. “If you really want to. But I’m not touching it; you and your movers are responsible for it.”

 Bree was delighted, even though she had already known he would give his consent. She hugged and thanked him, telling him how happy he had just made her. As Jason continued to watch TV, Bree began planning a new living room layout, rearranging furniture in her mind to create space for the piano.

 In the morning, Bree called the movers. They wouldn’t be able to come out until the next day, but she thought she would begin cleaning and preparing the piano right away. She was so excited to have something new to work on that the worries of yesterday and the memory of the burning head didn’t even enter her thoughts.

 She grabbed an old cloth and furniture polish and headed into the basement. The piano was even dustier than she had remembered, but each swipe of the cloth seemed to be bringing it back to life and removing years of neglect. As she cleaned, she began to consider what the piano might look like in the daylight. It was beginning to look marvelous with the polish, but this observation was made in the dim lighting of the basement. For all she knew, the sunlight that filtered through the living room shades might bring out every scratch and gouge in the wood and reveal the piano as an ancient eyesore. Bree desperately hoped this wouldn’t be the case. She polished with even more conviction, as though it would ensure the piano’s success at beauty.

 After almost an hour of nonstop polishing, Bree’s tired arms were ready for a break. She went upstairs and walked into the kitchen for a drink and a snack. As she was scrubbing the tinted furniture polish from her hands, she thought she heard an unfamiliar sound. She shut the water off and stood quietly for a moment, but the sound did not occur again. She dried her hands and poured herself a glass of juice. Granola bar and juice in hand, Bree plopped onto the couch in the living room for a well-deserved breather.

 It wasn’t until she had finished the granola bar and was reaching for her juice that the sound came a second time.  She heard it much more clearly in the absolute silence of the living room. It had come from the basement and sounded like someone had struck two notes on the piano. She froze, unsure of what to do. Her curiosity was screaming at her to go into the basement and check it out, while the rest of her was perfectly content to remain upstairs until Jason returned home from work. As she sat, contemplating her course of action, her curiosity got the best of her. She rose from the couch and walked to the door leading to the basement. She quietly pressed her ear to the door and listened, but was met with silence. The door creaked slightly as she pushed it open, and she slowly tip-toed down the stairs, making as little noise as possible. At the bottom of the stairs, she stood quietly and waited for the sound to happen again.

 Bree didn’t have to wait long to hear another sound. A strange metallic plucking suddenly came from the piano. Then, a note struck, and Bree started. The fall was down over the keys, so she couldn’t see if they had moved. Her adrenaline was pumping at that point, and she was beginning to have second thoughts about wanting that piano upstairs. She continued to stand silently and listen, but all she heard for the next several minutes was her blood pumping in her ears.

 Just as she was about to move toward the piano, she heard a scratching noise coming from inside it.

 What the hell is that? Just as Bree was giving in to bafflement, she heard the sound that answered all of her questions. A tiny squeak came from inside the piano, and Bree was instantly relieved that something very much of this world was the cause of the strange sounds—a mouse. The relief lasted mere seconds, however, as she realized what kind of damage that mouse must have done—and still be doing—to the piano. She hurried to it and threw open the upper panel. The mouse was visible for a brief second before it ran and hid from her sight. The inside of the piano was a total disaster; nests and droppings were everywhere, and the little varmints had chewed through everything. The stench of rodent waste assaulted her nostrils. Mice had waged a war against this piano, and the poor piano had lost…ages ago, it appeared.
 

Though she never intended to play the piano, as she had never had lessons, she was disappointed that she no longer had the option. She would have to invest a huge chunk of money into it if she ever wanted this piano to work well again. Determined that mice were not going to get the best of her, Bree got a garbage bag and gloves from the kitchen and cleaned out as much of the mess inside as she could. What she wasn’t able to pick up was then sucked out with the vacuum, the hose being shoved into every space in which it would fit. For her last assault on the mice, she took a trip to town and returned home with traps, glue paper, poison, and peppermint oil (a quick internet search had led her to the peppermint oil solution). She surrounded and filled the piano with these items, planning to keep the mouse traps, poison, and oil inside the piano for a few weeks in case any mice happened to make it upstairs with the piano. She saturated several cotton balls with the oil and placed them inside the piano. If nothing else, the scent of the oil would help cover the smell of mouse urine. For good measure, she doused the inside of the piano with an odor-eliminating spray.

 Getting the piano ready to bring upstairs may have seemed more trouble than it was worth, but Bree had set her mind to it and was determined it would adorn her living room.

 When Jason arrived home from work, Bree told him about the mouse ordeal. She quickly wished she hadn’t.

 “If you bring that thing upstairs, you’ll bring all those little bastards up here! Can’t you just leave it be?” Jason was disgusted.

 “I put every trap and repellent in and around the piano.” She explained the traps, poison, and peppermint oil, trying to convince him that they would have no mouse problems upstairs. “And if we do have problems, we can get a cat!” Bree had wanted a cat for many years, but Jason had never been keen on the idea. He took the position that pets which were trained to poop inside the house were disgusting.

 “I suppose that if I tell you that I absolutely do not want it up here, it will end up in the living room anyway, won’t it?”

 Bree gave him a smug smile. “It just might.”

 Jason shook his head and went upstairs to shower.

 That night, Bree dreamed of mice overrunning the house and devouring her piano. When she awoke, the digital clock on the nightstand showed 3:13 AM. She rolled onto her back and stared at the dark ceiling, thinking about her dream. Suddenly, a faint orange glow caught her attention. She sat up in bed and found the source of the glow was her mural. More specifically, it was the shadow man in her mural producing the glow. He was back, and he was enveloped in flames. The flames danced up the wall, illuminating the room with its flickering orange light.

 Bree wanted to reach over and wake Jason, or jump out of bed and scream, but she found herself unable to move or speak. All she could do was watch the creepy little man burn. Oddly, nothing else seemed to be ablaze, and the fire wasn’t spreading. It clung only to the shadow man, yet it did not consume him. Instead, it was as if the flames were a part of him rather than feeding from him.

 All of a sudden, he started to move. The little man became animated, moving his arms and head about within his two-dimensional painted world. Bree felt instantly sick as she witnessed this trick, and grew more horrified as his little arm came out and away from the wall, no longer limited to two dimensions. His body and head followed the arm and came out of the wall as he gained mass and a three-dimensional shape, and then he fell to the floor in a blazing black heap.

 Bree’s throat became almost too tight to allow breath through, and her heart hammered violently against her ribcage. She wanted to close her eyes or hide under the covers like a scared child, but she couldn’t tear her gaze away from the motionless, glowing black mass across the room. Then it began to stir. He slowly stood on his cylindrical black legs and turned his black spherical head, apparently observing his surroundings. Bree couldn’t be sure, as the shadow man had a featureless face, but she got the impression that he stopped and stared directly at her. The burning shadow was still for a moment, seeming to stare at her. He advanced one step in her direction.

 Oh God, he’s coming for me! Scream! SCREAM DAMN YOU! Bree’s brain pleaded with her vocal cords, but she was still in a helpless paralysis.
 

The tiny terror continued to move toward the bed until Bree could no longer see him over the foot of the bed. Moments later, she felt a tug on the bedding and soon saw a flame rising up and a little black head peek over the foot of the bed. Her breathing accelerated, bringing her dangerously close to hyperventilation as he pulled himself up and charged across the bed at her. He ran up her leg and stopped, standing in her lap, looking up at the terrified woman. The flames were so close and hot that Bree felt as though her skin was about to blister.

 A deep, angry voice suddenly erupted from the mouthless face.

 “She didn’t die! That whore should’ve DIED!”

 Everything went black, and Bree screamed. She was still screaming when she felt hands upon her, jarring her back and forth.

 “Bree! Open your eyes. Wake up!” Jason’s voice was concerned, but not frantic.

 Bree opened her eyes and saw a shirtless Jason looming over her. His face was close to hers, worry contorting his features. His hands were the ones she felt shaking her. She looked around at the bedroom, dimly lit by the rising sun, and saw no angry, shadowy fiend. Her mural was as she left it yesterday, free of creepy characters.

 “Honey, are you ok? Did you have a bad dream?” Jason asked as he comfortingly stroked her messy auburn hair. She choked back her urge to cry and told Jason about the awful dream.

 Neither of them went back to sleep. Jason had to leave for work in an hour, so Bree made him eggs and bacon for breakfast since he had some extra time. After he left, Bree spent the morning pondering her nightmare. She wondered where “that whore should’ve died” came from. It didn’t make any sense to her. She would have to call her mother later that day to tell her about the dream. She always shared her crazy dreams with her mother, and her mother always had some insight and suggestions as to how they might be interpreted.

 Later in the day, Bree checked the traps in and around the piano. The piano appeared to have been completely abandoned by its previous tenants, for which Bree was glad. She removed the traps, poison, and peppermint oil cotton balls from the piano and brought some of it upstairs in preparation for the big move. The rest she left in the basement for the little rodents to enjoy.

 The movers arrived half an hour late, but they got the job done quickly once they got there. They rearranged the living room as Bree directed, and brought up the old piano. Once in place, the piano looked as if it had always belonged there. Bree was pleased with the way it looked in the living room, and began putting the traps and cotton balls inside the piano the instant the movers were out the door.

 Bree sat and admired the new addition to the living room when she was done placing traps, but was interrupted by the phone.

 “Hello?”

 “Hey babe,” Jason’s voice answered cheerfully from the other line. “How is everything today?”

 “Wonderful! The movers came and moved the piano, and it looks great in the living room! What’s going on with you today?” 

“Ok, but I’ll be coming home soon.  I decided to take the rest of the day off.  Things are kind of slow here, and it’s a beautiful day out.  I thought maybe we could do something fun this afternoon.”

 Bree hesitated, puzzled by his response. “You just took time off the other day. Besides, it’s raining outside.”

 “About an hour. I have a couple things to finish up here before I take off. I’ll see you then, honey! Love you.”

 “Jason, you’re not making any sense. What—“ Bree was cut off by a click as the call was ended. She was completely confused and figured Jason must be up to something. She recognized the conversation as the same one they had the other day. Why would he repeat it like that? It was absurd.

 Bree was bothered by the strange call for the next hour, so she polished the piano again to distract herself. Then, when Jason didn’t come home early, she busied herself with redecorating the living room. She moved the lightning lamp and green vase to the top of the piano, making sure the lamp plug still reached an outlet.

 Finally, Jason came home at his regular time, not a minute earlier. Bree met him at the door.

 “Why did you call me to say you were coming home early? And why were you acting so weird?”

 Jason looked at her as though she had “dumbass” written across her forehead. “I didn’t call you today. Are you feeling alright?”

 “Yes you did! I’m beginning to think you are purposely messing with me now! What the hell is going on, Jason?” Bree’s confusion was breeding anger.

 “I’m not messing with you! I called you two days ago, and I haven’t called here from work since!” Jason’s anger and confusion were also beginning to show.

 “I know it was you because it said it was your office on the caller ID. You said the same things you said to me two days ago, and it didn’t make any sense!” Bree paraphrased the conversation for him as she went after the phone.

 “That’s ridiculous, Bree!” Jason exclaimed, exasperated.

 “I know!” Bree shouted, as she couldn’t think of anything else to say. She scrolled through the caller ID on the phone and found the call she had received that day. “Look. It’s right here. And see, it’s even after the movers’ number because they called about an hour before you did today.”

 Jason took the phone and looked at it. “Then why is it dated as June fourth? That was two days ago.” Jason scrolled through the caller ID for a moment. “Wait. It’s in here twice. Once after the movers’ number and once before my parents called two nights ago.” He scowled at the phone. “They both have the same time and date. I don’t know what to say, Bree. I didn’t make this call.”

 Bree knew exactly what to say, even if neither of them wanted to believe it. “The call was made the same time today as it was two days ago. Jason, something very weird is going on in this house.”

 They stood in silence, both contemplating the implications of that statement.

Chapter 4

Chapter 4


 “So what do we do now?” Bree asked Jason after a long silence.

 “I don’t know. I don’t think there is anything we really can do. Strange things happen, but I don’t think there’s any reason to panic. Nothing else has happened,” Jason said, his nonchalant attitude returning.

 “What do you mean nothing else has happened? What about that creepy man painted in my mural? You and I both know, even if we didn’t want to admit it before now, that no one could possibly create that shadow man by accident without noticing. I didn’t paint him. He wasn’t there when I got in the shower that day, but he was when you got home. Something happened in our bedroom within that hour.

 “I also saw something in the basement right before we moved in. It was right after you told me you were ready to move into the house. I saw a burning head floating right in my face. It only lasted a split second, but I know I saw it. And I smelled it.” Bree remembered the pungent odor that had filled her nostrils both that day and the day the shadow man had shown up. “So don’t tell me nothing else has happened.”

 Jason absorbed her words quietly until she finished her tirade. Bree expected him to be shocked at her revelations, but all he said was, “Maybe this will be the end of it. I don’t think we need to worry unless our furniture starts stacking itself and knives start flying at us. Everything is fine, Bree. Don’t call the priest just yet.”

 She knew his humor was well-intended, but she felt mocked. She wished she hadn’t told him about the basement incident. The fact that he had met this information with indifference made her feel like she was being silly about everything. Her face reddened.

 “You do believe me, though, don’t you? About the painting and the burning head?” Bree had to make sure his indifference wasn’t due to disbelief.

 “Of course I believe you! I just don’t want to jump to any radical conclusions right now. I say we call it strange and move on. What else is there for us to do?”

 Bree thought for a moment, but reluctantly arrived at the same conclusion. “You’re right. I guess there really isn’t anything we can do right now.”

 Jason and Bree didn’t discuss the strange occurrences any further, and as Bree prepared dinner later that night, her mind began troubling over Jason’s “do nothing” attitude. She wasn’t the type of person who could easily let things go. She had finally admitted that she believed something out of the ordinary was taking place in their home, and she was ready to do something about it. But what? How do you retaliate against something you don’t understand and can’t definitively prove even exists? She didn’t know how to explain the recent happenings, who or what was responsible, or what to do about it. This upset her. She felt like she was fighting someone or something for control of her own life, and she didn’t know how to win.

 Bree called her mother, Karen, after dinner. She made the call from upstairs, hoping for some privacy, as she wanted to share some of her feelings about the house without Jason overhearing. She was certain he’d had enough talk of the paranormal for today. Her mother was a little more open-minded about such things.

 “Hello, Bree,” Karen answered the phone. “How have you been?”

 “Well…things have been interesting around here lately. The good news is that the piano got moved upstairs and I haven’t seen any more mice. The bad news is that something else is becoming a problem.” She told her mother about the burning head, the painted shadow man, and the phone call.

 “Why didn’t you tell me about any of this before now?” Karen wanted to know.

 “I didn’t want to overreact or make a big deal out of it, especially if it was nothing but my own imagination. But after Jason saw the caller ID anomaly after that weird phone call, I’m sure it isn’t my imagination. I’m really worried about it. I’m even having nightmares about what’s going on.” Bree recounted her nightmare to her mother.

 “That’s a bit disturbing, isn’t it?” Karen said.

 “Where do you suppose the ‘that whore should’ve died’ part came from? What do you think it means?” Bree inquired.

 Karen thought for a moment before responding. “I think maybe you feel like someone is angry with you, judging by the fire and harsh words in the dream. Maybe Jason, or maybe whatever is causing the strange activity in the house.” Karen suggested.

 “I’m pretty sure the dream had everything to do with the activity in the house, not Jason. Although, I do wonder if he is getting annoyed with me – if he thinks I’m overreacting about this. I get the feeling he is only humoring me when he says that he believes me. He doesn’t seem worried at all, and even suggested that the phone call might be the end of it.”

 “You never know. It might be.” Karen wasn’t convincing.

 “It won’t be. I just know it. These things don’t just stop after a couple instances, do they? I don’t know anything about this kind of thing.”

 “This may sound silly, but have you ever watched any of the paranormal investigation shows on television?” Karen asked. “There is one I watch every week with a few guys who travel all over America and use scientific equipment to capture evidence of paranormal activity.”

 “Sounds stupid. It’s probably all fake.”
 

“It’s possible they might spruce things up for TV, but they do have a real company. And some of the evidence they find is actually quite compelling.” Karen was persistent.

 Bree was skeptical. “So they just run around looking for ghosts for a living? No one would hire them if they never found anything, which sounds to me like an incentive to manufacture evidence.”

 “I don’t know. There are actually a lot of episodes where they don’t find anything paranormal. Instead they find alternative explanations for all the claims. And they’re actually plumbers, so they don’t do ghost hunting entirely for a living.”

 “Plumbers? Who chase ghosts? Are they Italian, and on a quest to save a princess by any chance?” Bree laughed. “So I suppose you are suggesting I watch this show.”

 “Yes. I’m not saying it will give you all the answers to your questions, but it may give you some perspective on your current situation. If nothing else, you may find it entertaining.”

 Bree talked a few more minutes to her mother before ending the conversation. Once she was off the phone, she thought about the show her mother had discussed with her. She knew Jason would probably laugh at her for watching it, but she wanted to see what it was all about. She might be able to learn a little about paranormal theories, anyway. She turned on the television in the bedroom and searched the guide for the ghost show. Three episodes were scheduled to come on the next night, so Bree set the DVR to record all of them.

 As she teetered on the edge of sleep that night, Bree’s jumbled thoughts conjured up images of fires, ghosts, and shadowy black gremlins. She didn’t want to think of these things before falling asleep, but she couldn’t seem to control it. Falling deeper into sleep, she began to actually smell the smoke and feel the heat of the fires in her mind. She could hear the ghosts and gremlins laughing and taunting her. She began screaming at them to stop, ordered them to go away, but they only laughed harder. The heat from the fire began to sear her skin, and the smoke burned her nostrils and filled her lungs. She opened her eyes and looked around. She found herself lying in bed with a fire raging about her. The sheets and pillows were engulfed in flames, and as she looked down at her suddenly painful hands, she discovered she was too. The skin on her fingers was blackened, but when she bent her fingers, the black skin over the knuckles tore and cracked, exposing pink flesh beneath that immediately began to sizzle and blacken as well. She brought her burning hands to her face reflexively when the searing pain was suddenly felt upon the skin of her cheeks. She heard a crisp crackling sound, like dry, fall leaves, when her fingers made contact with her cheek. A heavy mass slid down the side of her face when she pulled her hand away. She felt something plop into her lap, and her gaze fell upon a black and pink chunk of flesh that used to be her cheek resting on her burning thigh. She frantically looked to her left, afraid she’d see Jason’s burned body next to her. To her bewilderment (and relief), she found Jason sleeping soundly, his side of the bed completely untouched by flames. Before finally slipping into a painless darkness, Bree prayed that Jason would remain unscathed.

 Bree awoke the next morning feeling groggy and exhausted. She had a strange feeling in her chest, as though something was bothering her subconsciously. The memory of last night’s dreams eluded her when she tried to recall them, so she assumed the bad feeling she had was due to last night’s discovery that she lived in a haunted house. She ignored the feeling as well as she could and went downstairs to make Jason’s breakfast.

 At the table, Jason chuckled at her. “So how was your night on the burning side?” He smiled at her, obviously amused by his strange question.

 “What?” Bree asked shortly, in no mood for riddles. She didn’t understand why his words suddenly made her heart beat faster with fear.

 “You were talking in your sleep last night. You kept going on and on about not wanting to sleep on the burning side of the bed. It was creepy and hilarious at the same time.”

 The dream came back to Bree instantly in disturbing detail. “I had a really disgusting dream about burning alive in our bed. It was anything but hilarious.” Bree scowled at Jason across the table. She knew he hadn’t meant to offend her, but she felt angry anyway.

 “Oh. Sorry! I didn’t know,” Jason said defensively. “I would’ve wakened you if I knew you were having a bad dream.” Jason was confused at Bree’s anger.

 “I’m not mad at you. I’m just mad. I don’t exactly know why. I think maybe it’s because I’m annoyed that I keep having these absurd nightmares.”

 “You only had two. I’m sure they’ll stop soon. I tend to have nightmares when I’m overly tired, so maybe you just need to get to bed earlier. Don’t let a couple of bad dreams bother you.”

 Bree was beginning to wonder if anything ever bothered Jason. She thought he would probably feel differently about things if everything that had happened recently had happened to him instead of her. He would be a little crazy and moody too. However, even though his perpetual calm sometimes irritated her, she also appreciated how his coolness kept her from becoming too agitated.

 “I’m just bothered by all that has happened within the past few days. It wouldn’t be so bad if the nightmares and weird activity had been more spread out. It’s wearing on my nerves.” Bree resumed eating her breakfast, done with the conversation. Jason understood that the conversation was over and returned to his breakfast as well.

 Soon Jason had gone to work and Bree was once again alone in the house. She went about her usual business with a slight wariness. Everything had been so quiet in the house that day that she almost ignored it when she distinctively heard a cough in the kitchen. She was on the couch in the living room when she heard it, but when she peeked apprehensively into the kitchen, no one was there. Bree was relieved that nothing else extraordinary had happened by the time Jason arrived home.

 When it was time for the paranormal investigators’ show to come on, Bree had to do some convincing to get Jason to relinquish control of the remote.

“My mom said it was a good show, and it might give us some ideas for how to deal with our own situation,” Bree persuaded.

 “That’s kind of like saying ‘Three’s Company’ will help resolve roommate issues, don’t you think?” Jason loved to poke holes in her reasoning.

 Bree explained the show to him as best she could from Karen’s description. “I just want to watch it tonight. If it’s terrible, we don’t ever have to watch it again.”

 “Who decides if it’s terrible?” Jason continued to be difficult.

 “I do! Now give me the damn remote.” Bree reached over and snatched the remote out of his hand with a sly grin.

 They sat through all three episodes. Jason couldn’t decide whether he believed it was real, but he enjoyed the show anyway. Bree was quite convinced it was real, especially after the investigators were able to find alternative explanations for every claim in one case, with no evidence to suggest paranormal activity. She figured that the investigators would come up with extraordinary evidence every time if the show was faked.

 Not only did Bree enjoy the show, but it also gave her ideas. In the show, the investigators used digital voice recorders to perform “EVP sessions,” which stood for electronic voice phenomenon. The investigators would sometimes capture strange voices and sounds on the recorder that they weren’t able to hear at the time the recording was made. Bree wanted to try this technique, as it seemed to be the cheapest and easiest way to attempt communication with whatever might be in the house. She’d have to try it when Jason wasn’t home, though, because she knew he would think she was being ridiculous and try to talk her out of it. Even she felt kind of silly imagining herself walking around asking questions to an empty house. Yes, she would definitely keep this activity to herself.

 In the morning, Bree was glad to wake from a dreamless sleep. She waited until Jason had left for work before she hopped in her car and ran to the nearest electronics store to purchase a digital voice recorder. It was a few hours after she returned home before she worked up enough nerve to pick up the recorder and begin her amateur EVP session.

 She decided to begin in the basement. As she sat at the bottom of the stairs and asked questions like, “Is anyone here?” and, “What is your name?” to an empty room, she couldn’t help but feel foolish. The basement seemed quiet, so she moved on to her bedroom upstairs where the shadow man had made his appearance. She asked the same questions she had asked in the basement, and then began asking about the mural.

 “Did you paint that man in the mural? Was it supposed to be a painting of you? Why did you paint it in black, like a shadow?” She paused after the last question and listened. She thought she had heard a “thump” downstairs.

 Even though she was uncertain whether the noise was paranormal, her heart began to race. If it wasn’t paranormal, it could be Jason. She didn’t want him to catch her partaking in such foolishness. She shoved the recorder into her back pocket and hurried downstairs. In the living room, she stood silently. No one was around, and everything was quiet. A few moments passed before she noticed the tiny bolts of electricity were dancing around inside the bulb of the lightning lamp on top of the piano. Upon investigation, she discovered it had been plugged in and switched on. As she reached up to switch it off, she heard a cupboard door bang shut in the kitchen. She froze with her hand midair and looked toward the kitchen. She heard the cupboard door shut again, only quieter this time.

 Disregarding the lamp, Bree peeked into the kitchen. She was just in time to see the cupboard door swing shut on the end cupboard under the counter. It quickly opened again, about two inches, and then closed. It appeared that something on the inside was trying to get out, but was too weak to open the door all the way. Her heart thundered in her chest as she took a tentative step forward. Intense curiosity drove her on despite her fear. When she finally stood in front of the cupboard, it was still opening and closing feebly. She crouched down and pulled the door partially open.

 Bree jumped back when something large and black flopped out of the cupboard, causing the cupboard door to fling open and bang into the wall next to it. She stood in the middle of the kitchen with her eyes fixed on the large black mass hanging out of the cupboard. It was moving, almost writhing. Her eyes widened when she was able to distinguish a head, arms, and a torso. It was a charred, disfigured human body. It began to slowly drag itself out of the cupboard.

 Bree took a step backward. Her eyes remained glued to the creature. She couldn’t believe what she was seeing, and she felt bile rise in her throat when the charred body lifted its head and looked at her with its one remaining, milky eye. It reached an arm forward and slithered its posterior half farther out of the cupboard.

 This isn’t just a charred body, Bree thought. It’s a corpse.

 The animated corpse continued to drag itself along the floor. Bree backed up several more steps when it began crawling directly toward her. The scene reminded her of a video she once saw of a sloth dragging itself out of the water onto the shore. The creature kept its dead gaze on her face as it slid toward her. Suddenly, it began to shudder and convulse. It flopped on the floor like a great disgusting fish, and Bree saw black pieces falling from it in much the same way burned bacon crumbles when it’s dropped. The charred body’s back began to bow, and a black, viscous fluid erupted from its mouth. The convulsions ceased at the same time the vomiting stopped. The corpse looked back up at Bree and resumed its advance, dragging itself right through the black goo it had expelled onto the floor.

 Bree’s stomach heaved. It was about to turn itself inside out when the undead corpse croaked at her.
 “I’m…” It began to speak in a wheezy, choked voice, and then coughed. It never hesitated in its advance.
 “…like…this…” More coughing.

 Bree backed out of the kitchen and around the corner into the living room. She had moved out of sight of the corpse creature, but she could still hear it choking out its words between wheezes and coughs.

 “…because of…”
 Then silence. Bree couldn’t hear the wheezing or dragging sound anymore. She waited what seemed an eternity before taking a step toward the kitchen. She didn’t know why she wasn’t running and screaming, even though that’s what she felt like doing.

 Thump!

 Bree gasped when the mangled hand hit the floor, visible now as the creature pulled itself around the cupboards in the kitchen. It began to move around the corner and into the living room. It’s one eye found Bree immediately and locked on her.

 “…her!” It was more of a hiss this time when it spoke, as though the word “her” disgusted it.

 A loud cracking sound emanated from the creature as its outstretched arm abruptly snapped upward at the elbow, bending the joint the wrong way. There were three more loud cracks to accompany the second elbow and both knees snapping backward. The creature rose up like a four-legged spider, and Bree turned to run. Her bravery had run its course.

 Before she even moved her feet, the creature scurried past her in a blur of mangled limbs and vanished into the side of the piano. She had felt the breeze it created when it passed. Bree ran back through the kitchen and out the door. She didn’t stop until she reached her car, at which point she became ill. She wiped her mouth with a violently shaking hand and got into the car, locking the doors immediately. At that point she realized her keys were still in the house. She refused to go back inside alone, so she just sat in the car and sobbed.

 After about an hour, she remembered the digital voice recorder in her pocket.

Chapter 5

Chapter 5


 Bree slipped the recorder from her pocket and checked to see if it was still recording. It wasn’t. The power was off. She turned it back on and saw the battery was still full. Hopeful that she had recorded the words from the charred corpse creature, she skipped the recorder back several minutes. When she pressed play, she heard her own voice asking EVP questions. She skipped ahead to thirty seconds from the end and pressed play again. To her great frustration, she heard her last few EVP questions, a long silence, and a crackling right before the recording stopped. She must have bumped the power button when she shoved the recorder into her pocket.

 Tears streamed down her face once more. She didn’t want to hear that thing’s voice again, but she wanted others to be able to hear what she had. She wanted the proof to show Jason that there was a need for worry. The black gooey substance and burned bacon bits on the floor in the kitchen wouldn’t be quite as compelling to Jason without the recording of the creature’s voice to accompany it.

 Bree tried to recall what the creature had said. She thought it had been something about how the corpse was like that because of “her.” To whom was it referring? And what did it mean when it said, “…like this?” She considered the possibilities. It could have meant it was dead because of some woman, or maybe a woman was the reason it was stuck haunting her house. As she pondered the creature’s words, she remembered that the angry shadow man in her dream also spoke of a woman. Could they both be referring to the same person? She knew she could be making connections that didn’t actually exist, but she was trying her best to make sense of the madness that had quickly become a part of her everyday life. After all, what else was she going to do while sitting alone in a parked car?

 Her attention returned to the recorder. She rewound it with shaky hands and began reviewing her EVP session. The basement session yielded nothing other than Bree talking to herself. When she listened to the upstairs session, however, she heard a whisper that was unfamiliar to her. She listened to it over and over again, trying to decipher what was being said. She couldn’t tell if it was a male or female voice, but finally she understood the words. The disembodied voice was saying, “The attic.” Bree was puzzled by those words. What attic? There was a widow’s watch, but no actual attic of which she knew. She thought about the EVPs that were captured on the paranormal investigators’ show and remembered that not all of the disembodied voices they recorded said things that made sense to the investigators. She listened to the rest of the recording but didn’t hear anything else.

 As time passed, Bree’s fear abated slightly and she decided it was probably safe to get out of the car. She didn’t know what time it was exactly, but she estimated that Jason wouldn’t be home for at least another two or three hours. Her best option for passing the time was tending to the yard and flower bed. Weeds were choking out most of the flowers that had popped up around the porch, and several sticks and branches still littered the yard from the last windy day they’d had. She set to work collecting branches first, keeping a wary eye on the house each time she passed near it.

 When the yard was clear of debris, she moved on to weeding the flower bed near the porch. Though she didn’t want it to, her mind worked the entire time her hands did. She couldn’t understand why the entity in her home seemed to be singling her out. She was the one who spent the most time in the house, true enough, but even when Jason was home the activity centered on her. Jason hadn’t had one thing happen to him. He was the one who discovered the man in the mural, but it meant nothing to him when he saw it. She felt it was an attack on her and he just happened to be the one to find it first. Why was it even doing these things? What could it possibly be trying to tell her, and why? She considered that it might not be trying to communicate with her, but instead was trying to frighten her. Judging by the form of its manifestations, it seemed to her that the entity had malicious intentions. But why did it hate her so much?

 When Bree thought Jason should be arriving home soon, she began to ponder what his reaction might be to her story. He might not believe her. After all, it was a completely outrageous tale. The mess on the floor was proof that something had happened, though. The black goo would be like the caller ID – tangible proof that something had happened. Bree suddenly had an upsetting thought: the creature had disappeared, so wasn’t it possible that the black goo had disappeared as well? She had been counting on that evidence to verify her story. If it wasn’t there, and she had no recording, what proof did she have to confirm that anything had happened at all? All she would have was a short EVP, which she didn’t want to tell Jason about anyway because it meant she would have to reveal that she had tried an EVP session. She was unsure of what to tell Jason, if anything at all.

 Within the next few minutes, Jason pulled into the driveway. Bree felt anxiety forming a knot in her chest as she stood up to greet him. She had decided to wait until she saw the kitchen before she said anything to him about today’s events.

 “Doing some weeding, I see. And you picked up all the branches, too? You’ve been busy today!” Jason smiled at her and wiped dirt from her cheek with one large, calloused thumb.

 “Yeah, I guess so.  How was your day?” Bree walked up the steps toward the door, leading Jason into the house as he began telling her about work. She was anxious to see the condition of the kitchen, so she barely heard a word he said as she came through the door. Her gaze fell upon the kitchen floor. To her dismay, it was clean. No goo, no bacon bits. The house looked just as it had before the creature appeared. The opened cupboard door was the only evidence remaining. It was at that moment that she realized she could tell Jason nothing without sounding insane. She wanted to tell him, to share this traumatic event with someone, but she wanted to wait until she was sure he would take her seriously. Even her mother wouldn’t hear about this unless other paranormal events of similar magnitude occurred and were validated. She couldn’t have the ones she loved thinking she needed mental help.

 When Jason entered the living room, he noticed the lightning lamp was on. He patronizingly scolded Bree for leaving the lamp on, as if she was a small child who didn’t know any better. Biting her tongue, she shut it off and unplugged it without comment. Jason went upstairs to shower shortly thereafter, so Bree took the opportunity to hide the digital voice recorder in the closet in their bedroom. While she was upstairs, she heard a noise downstairs. It sounded like the noises she had heard when the mouse was in the piano in the basement.

 “Damn it! Not again,” Bree exclaimed. Dashing downstairs, she went to the piano and flung open the upper panel. She saw no signs of mice, but a tiny white square of paper caught her eye. Nothing should have been inside the piano after her thorough cleaning, but she supposed it was possible that it was jostled out of some hiding place when the piano was moved. She grabbed it and gently removed it from the piano, closing the upper panel. The paper was blank on the side she first viewed and looked like it had come from a brittle old newspaper. She turned the slightly yellowed square of paper over, and her fingers suddenly lost grasp of it when she saw what was printed on it. It fluttered to the floor while she stood speechless. In neat newsprint, the paper had borne the words “the attic.” It meant nothing on its own, but it became significant when paired with the EVP from earlier that day.

 Bree picked up the piece of paper from the floor and brought it upstairs. She had just finished stashing it with the recording device when Jason came out of the bathroom.

 “Silly question, Jason, but we don’t have an attic, do we?” Bree tried to sound as nonchalant as possible.

 Instead of answering, Jason asked, “Why?”

 It doesn’t matter why! Just answer the question, Bree responded mentally. “I just thought I might like to store some things in it.”

 “What about the basement?”

 Oh my God, answer the damn question already! “The basement is damp. Things could get moldy. So we don’t have an attic?” Bree pushed for a simple answer, hoping for no more questions.
 

“Yeah, we have one. I haven’t been in it though, so I don’t know what kind of shape it’s in. I’m surprised you didn’t know we had one.” And just as Bree thought she wouldn’t have to make up another lie, Jason added, “What did you want to put up there? I doubt it’s very big.”

 Fighting the urge to give an exasperated roll of the eyes, Bree simply replied, “Christmas decorations and stuff. Where is the attic?”

 “At the top of the house.” Jason grinned, and she wanted to backhand him. She gave him an irritated look, so he added, “It’s that little door to your right when you’re going up the stairs to the widow’s watch. Where’s your sense of humor today, honey?” Jason asked rhetorically.

 She feigned a smile and went back downstairs to get dinner ready in a kitchen with which she had become disgusted. Anything involving bacon was definitely off the menu for tonight, and she was especially careful to not burn the meat.

 Unfortunately for Bree, Jason was in the mood for a zombie movie that evening. Scenes that ordinarily wouldn’t faze her suddenly became quite terrifying to Bree because they reminded her of the events from earlier that day. She had to look away from the screen every time a zombie was crawling toward the protagonists in the film. She insisted upon watching a light-hearted animated movie before bed in an attempt to erase the zombie images from her mind. Despite the happy movie, Bree dreamed of zombies that night.

 Jason didn’t have to work the next day, as it was a Saturday. Bree was anxious to check out the attic, but she had mixed feelings about whether she wanted Jason to accompany her on the expedition. She didn’t want him to inhibit her search for whatever she was supposed to find up there. On the other hand, she didn’t want to be alone in case she encountered another entity like the cupboard dweller. She decided to bring him along, but told him it was to check out how much of a mess the attic was and if it was big enough to be used for storage. For once in his life, Jason tagged along, no questions asked.

 They ascended the stairs to the widow’s watch, Jason leading the way. He stopped toward the top of the stairs and worked a latch on a door to his right that Bree had never before noticed. After a bit of jostling and pushing, the small door opened. It was only about one-third the size of a regular door, making it necessary for Jason and Bree to crawl through the opening to get into the attic. Once inside, however, they were able to stand as long as they bowed their heads.

 The attic was quite bare. Bree had expected a treasure trove of antiques or old newspapers, but all she could find was a small wooden crate and an old pair of what looked like ugly wedding shoes.

 “It looks like you’ve got plenty of space to store stuff in here,” Jason commented, looking around at the nearly empty room.

 “Yeah, it does. I wonder what’s in that box over there,” Bree said as she went to the crate.

 “Can I go back downstairs now? I’m getting a crick in my neck.” Jason was rubbing the back of his neck, eyeing the small door.

 Hesitant to remain in the attic alone, Bree picked up the wooden box and brought it to Jason. “Let’s bring this out. I want to look at it.”

 Jason crawled backward out the door and took the box from Bree. She followed suit and latched the door shut behind her. Jason carried the box to the living room and set it on the coffee table next to the couch.  Bree sat down and immediately began rummaging through the box. Inside, she found a small, porcelain ballerina figurine and several yellowed wedding items, including a veil and off-white beaded earrings. There was a newspaper folded up and shoved in the side of the box which displayed the date of August 14, 1854. Bree recalled that the house was built that same year. She set the fragile newspaper aside to be examined later. An old cookbook was the next item to come out of the box. When Bree opened it, she found handwritten recipes for many dishes of which she had never even heard. A few ancient grammar and etiquette books were at the bottom of the box. When she lifted them out, she noticed one more book hiding beneath them. It had a blank cover, but someone had sewn a piece of lace into the leather cover along the spine.

 Intrigued by the customized blank book, Bree set aside the other books and picked it up. She opened the front cover and saw:

The Journal of Elizabeth Lillian Barry

March 28, 1895
 
 Bree was excited to be holding a real piece of history, and perhaps a peak into what had gone on in this house over one hundred years ago. She turned the page and immediately noticed that Elizabeth Barry had impeccable handwriting but her spelling was terrible.

If you have discovered this journal, avert your eyes imeedietly! It is private!

The first entry was on the next page.

 


March 28, 1895

 O, what a joyous time! I have just marryed the man I know I shall love for the rest of my life! I have decided to begin a new journal as I have enterd a new era in my life. I can hardly beleve I am now Mrs. Gregory D. Barry! Thogh I do find it unforchunate we must live under the same roof as his unsufferable mother. I am in luck that she is so ill at the time. I do hope she will pass soon so as we may go on with a private life with-out her ridicule and undesired advise. I am quite ready to have Gregory to myself and be the lady of the house. She is thretend by Gregory’s affection for me as he is her favrite child and she wants for him to remain all hers. I am suprised the poor man was ever allowd to marry at all! I do feel a tad gilty for looking so forward to the passing of the woman, but she is so awful! I hardly think anyone could blame me. Gregory and I shall be so happy together, espetially once I am with child. I hope God does not delay in granting us that blessing!
 
 The first journal entry ended there. Bree was amused by Elizabeth’s outright disdain for her mother-in-law, but she thought that looking forward to her death was something Elizabeth shouldn’t have put into writing. She must have been quite certain that no one would ever read her diary.

 “Find anything interesting?” Jason asked, turning his attention from the television.

 “Actually, yes! This –“ Bree held up the diary – “is a diary from a woman who might have lived in this house. It’s from 1895!” Bree was thoughtful for a while. “I wonder what it was like in White Dove in 1895.”

 “You should’ve bought that history book in the Gypsy’s Treasure Chest,” Jason responded as if Bree knew what he meant.

 “What history book?”

 “You didn’t see it? It was a book about the history of St. Josephine County.”

 “No, I didn’t see it. There was so much junk in that place that it was hard to notice everything. I wonder if it’s still there,” Bree hinted. She looked at Jason and smiled sweetly at him.

 “We could go see if it is. I know that’s what you’re asking for,” Jason said and smiled back at her.

 Since they had nothing planned for that sunny Saturday, they decided to go for a ride to the Gypsy’s Treasure Chest that afternoon. When they arrived, the parking lot was just as packed as it had been the last time they were there. Bree groaned when Jason mentioned that he was hungry, as she knew that most of the owners of these cars would be in the restaurant, not the gift shop. He seemed undeterred when she reminded him of this, so she convinced him to let her get her book in the gift shop first in case they had a long wait for dinner. She would at least have something to read.

 Even though Bree knew what to expect, she was still awestruck when she walked into the Gypsy’s Treasure Chest. The abundance of colorful items, candles, and incense could overwhelm even the dullest senses. They wandered through the shop with their eyes peeled since Jason couldn’t remember where he had seen the history book. While searching, Bree stumbled upon a book about the paranormal that promised to reveal secrets of the spirit world to the reader. She decided to buy that book as well as the history book, hoping it would help her to understand what was going on in her house.

 Finally, Jason found the book they originally sought. Bree was pleased to find it was exactly what she was hoping for as she skimmed the pages. It discussed when and how all the towns were established, and even mentioned family names of those early settlers. They brought their items to the checkout.

 The woman behind the counter was dressed just as crazily today as she had been the last time. That eliminates the “laundry day” possibility, Bree thought, recounting the conversation she and Jason had had regarding the checkout lady’s attire. Today she was wearing a bright pink bandana and a school-bus-yellow muumuu that did nothing to flatter her heavy-set figure. Bree saw that she still sported the cowboy boots.

 Instead of tending to the transaction, the woman just stared wide-eyed at Bree, making Bree uncomfortable.

 “We want to buy these,” Bree said, pushing the books on the counter closer to the woman.

 “You have an angry spirit attached to you,” the woman responded ominously before looking down at the books. As Bree recoiled from the woman’s revelation, the woman laughed obnoxiously. “But I suppose that’s what this is for!” She gestured toward the book on paranormal activity.

 “What makes you think there’s a spirit attached to me?” Bree blurted incredulously.

 “I can feel it surrounding you. You do not have the same aura as you did when you came the first time. Would you like to pay with credit or cash?” The woman acted as though she had only told them it might rain later that day.

 After Jason told her they would pay with cash, Bree asked, “You remember us?”

 “Of course. I remember everyone who comes into my shop.” She made the transaction with Jason and bid them farewell. “See you next time.”

 Bree left the shop feeling rattled.

 “Wow, that lady is just as crazy as she looks!” Jason exclaimed with a laugh as they walked next door to the restaurant.

 Bree forced a smile and a laugh. She wished she could chalk it up to insanity, but after what she had been through, she wasn’t about to rule anything out.

 They were seated right away in the restaurant, but Bree guessed their dinner wouldn’t come for a while judging by the number of people in the dining room with empty placemats. She was indecisive over which book to crack open first until Jason grabbed the paranormal book to browse through. Bree started skimming the history book after they placed their orders with the waiter. She skipped to the section focusing on White Dove. Within the first page, the family name “Barry” emerged. The Barry family founded White Dove in 1832. Bree recalled that the newspaper in the box was dated only about twenty years after that. She deduced that the Elizabeth Barry from the diary might have married one of the descendants of this founding family. After all, how many unrelated families with the same last name could have possibly been living in White Dove in the late 1800’s?

 Jason was much more interested in his barbecued ribs when they came than he was in the Barry family information Bree shared with him. They ate their dinner, and Bree finally understood why the Gypsy’s Kitchen was always so packed. The food was incredible! By the end of her meal, Bree felt more at ease. With full bellies, they paid their bill and went home.

 Bree was anxious to read more of Elizabeth’s diary when she got home. She read entry after entry, fascinated by even the most mundane accounts simply because they were handwritten by someone who likely lived in her house over one hundred years ago. In each entry, Elizabeth had more unflattering things to say about her mother-in-law and rejoiced at her deteriorating condition. Finally, Bree reached the entry written on the day that the mother-in-law died.

May 18, 1895

 God has finally taken home that horrible woman! I am releved that her suffering is now over, but I am even more releved that my suffering is over. I was growing quite weery of her paranoya. Lenore had the audasity to accuse me of poisoning her! In the minutes before she passed, she pointed at me and said I would never be rid of her, even upon her death. I do not understand why she hated me so, other than my steeling Gregory’s affections. How silly of her to think she will continue to make my life miserable even after she is gone. I shall hardly think of her! O how wonderful life will be now. I so hope Gregory’s mourning will not persist for long. I find great difficulty in hiding my joy from Gregory. He would never forgive me if he knew how I truly felt about his mother. So I am most releved to be so close to no longer having to fain affection for that horrible creeture. I do not beleve I have ever felt more gaily than I do today, exept my wedding day of corse! My life with Gregory can finally begin!
 
 Bree was drawn to one particular sentence in the entry: In the minutes before she passed, she pointed at me and said I would never be rid of her, even upon her death. All along, Bree had assumed that the spirit in the house was a male. The manifestations had looked male to her, but it was possible that Lenore may have had masculine features. It wasn’t unheard of. She now began to wonder if the entity could be a woman – if it could be Lenore.

Chapter 6

Chapter 6


 As Bree read on, Elizabeth’s journal entries began to take on a tone of sorrow. The entries written in the months after Lenore’s death were filled with concerns regarding Elizabeth’s inability to conceive.

August 29, 1895

 I fear I may be as barren as a witherd old woman. Gregory and I have been attempting to conseve for five months, yet I am still without child. I am becoming aware of Gregory’s frustrasions with this matter as well. It is becoming harder each month to tell him that we were unsuccessful. That burden falls upon me again this evening, but I am afraid of how he will take the news. He has been quite bitter lately since the weather has not been kind to us this season and has left us with a poor harvest. His anger fills me with fear when it is directed at me. I have tried to keep out of his way and keep as quiet as I can to avoid provocasion, but I am certain to come under his scrutany tonight when I share my disappointing news. I so hope he doesn’t yell again. I know he loves me, but I know he has a great deal of responsibility resting upon his shoulders, which makes him quite ill temperd. His family is greatly respected in our town and it is not acseptible for neither him nor me to fail at anything, for if I fail, it will reflect poorly upon him. What am I to do? How long can this continue before Gregory will become so disgusted with my failure to conseve that he will refuse to even touch me any longer? I so hope his disposition improves soon. If only I could bear him a son I know he would be sure to love me forever. Please, Lord God, bring us a child!

 The entry left Bree with a feeling of unease. Unable to find any desire to continue reading the diary, she set it aside and curled up next to Jason on the couch for the remainder of the evening. She felt grateful that she had such an even-tempered husband who loved her for better or for worse.
 

Later that night, Bree woke to the sound of piano music. She was lying in her bed in the darkened bedroom, and she looked at the clock right at the moment it blinked from 3:12 to 3:13 AM. The time registered as significant in her mind, but she couldn’t think of a reason why. She sat up and listened to the beautiful notes floating into the room. Looking over, she saw that Jason was fast asleep beside her, unaffected by the music. She remembered how damaged that piano had been when she cleaned it out, and she wondered how the beautiful music she was hearing could possibly be coming from the same instrument. She nudged Jason, trying to wake him so he could experience this phantom music as well, but he only rolled over and mumbled something nonsensical about wooden skirts, obviously still asleep. Every attempt she made to rouse him from his slumber failed miserably.

 Giving up on Jason, Bree climbed out of bed to investigate the sounds. She had a feeling in the pit of her stomach that she wasn’t going to like whatever she found downstairs, but she knew she had to look into every strange occurrence if she was ever going to figure out who was haunting her house. The stairs creaked as she tiptoed down them, trying to be as quiet as one could be in a 150-year-old house. The music grew louder as she approached the living room through the hallway. It was definitely coming from her piano. She stopped at the end of the hallway, hesitating to go on. As the song played on, she tried to place the familiar tune. It was something she had heard before, but she didn’t know where she had heard it. It was a slow, melancholy melody.

 From the hallway, she could see that the living room was illuminated in a strange green light. Finally letting her curiosity get the best of her, she peeked around the corner. She could see the side of the piano and noticed that the lightning lamp was on once again on top of the piano. A bright flicker of green light could be seen every few seconds beyond the corner of the piano, but Bree couldn’t tell what it was. She had no view of the front of the piano from where she was standing.

 The music stopped abruptly. The silence was eerie as she stood alone in the hallway, staring at the side of the piano in the strangely lit room. A bright green light suddenly flashed around the corner of the piano as a face appeared, glaring at her as if she had interrupted something important. She could only see half of the face as it peered around the piano at her, and it was glowing with a hazy green fire dancing around it. It was somewhat decayed looking, but Bree could see it had masculine, male-like features. From what Bree could see, the face may have resembled the floating head she had seen in the basement, only this time it appeared to be attached to a body. The peering face moved back behind the piano again, and the music resumed. Had it not actually seen her, or had it just dismissed her presence?

 Growing bolder, she stepped further into the living room. She could now see the profile of the apparition at the piano. It was sitting on the piano bench, entirely covered in dim green flames, and its whole body glowed a bright, almost neon green. It looked radioactive. Tattered sleeves dangled loosely from its arms as its hands moved nimbly across the keys, and its clothes were ragged. Bree thought they looked like men’s clothes, but it was difficult to tell as the clothes were even more decayed than the body which they adorned. The apparition had turned its face from her when she had entered the room, so she could only see the long, dark, stringy hair on the back of its head. She watched its long bony fingers dance over the keys as it continued to play its gloomy tune. Bree knew what she had to do.

 “Who are you?” She asked in a quiet, shaky voice.

 It kept playing, ignoring her completely. Knowing she should feel relieved that it hadn’t responded, she was instead insulted by its lack of interest in her.

 Speaking more loudly and with more determination, she asked, “Why are you in my house?”

 The apparition stopped playing and sat still briefly.

 “My house,” it corrected her in the hoarse voice of a very aged human being. It still kept its head turned away from her.

 She stood motionless, speechless. She had so many questions, but she was suddenly unable to find the resolve she’d had only moments ago.

 The apparition and the bright green glow suddenly vanished, accompanied by a hiss that reminded Bree of the sound of cold water hitting a hot pan. An echoing voice quickly followed.

 “Your blood…keeps me here.” And then silence.

 Bree stood alone in the living room, which still faintly glowed green due to the lightning lamp. The presence was gone. It was only then that Bree allowed her fear to overwhelm her. Why was this thing concerned with her blood? Shivers ran down her spine and she rushed back upstairs, climbing two steps at a time.

 Back in the relative safety of her own room, she felt a little more at ease. She climbed into bed, aware of a sudden weakness in her limbs. She still couldn’t believe what had just happened, but being close to Jason made her feel more secure and helped her to think more clearly. She was now quite convinced that whoever was haunting her house had lived here when he or she was alive, which added credence to the notion that the ghost might be Lenore. She was still uncertain of whether this apparition was female, though, because it had such masculine features. Regardless of who it was, the spirit had intelligence. Not only had it spoken directly to her, which it had done before when it had taken the form of the burned corpse, but this time it had responded directly to a question Bree had posed. She may not have understood the meaning of the answer, but it had provided her with one.

 Unable to even think of going back to sleep, Bree attempted to wake Jason again. She had decided to keep him in the dark about the recent activity after the cupboard creature made its appearance – and disappearance – but she couldn’t keep this latest incident to herself. All she wanted to do was talk to someone about it. She didn’t care if he believed her or not – at least that was what she told herself. Sharing always helped to lift some of the burden of stress and anxiety from her shoulders, and she desperately needed some relief at this point. She jostled and shook Jason to no avail. She said his name, spoke loudly, and even turned on the television. When none of these techniques succeeded in waking him, she grabbed his arm and jerked him into a sitting position. He finally opened his eyes with a start.

 “Ouch, damn it! What the hell?” Jason scowled angrily at Bree, waiting for an explanation.

 “Sorry, honey, but I’ve been trying to wake you up for a long time. Nothing else was working,” Bree explained apologetically.

 “Well? What do you want?” Jason demanded shortly.

 Bree was offended by his tone, but went on to narrate the events of the night anyway. As she told her story, she could see his impatience growing. When she began telling him what the echoing voice had said when the ghost disappeared, he interrupted the story.

 “So you woke me up in the middle of the night to tell me about another one of your nightmares? I have to work in the morning. I can’t just sleep in and sit around all day,” Jason said in a nasty tone, and Bree understood that he was insinuating that she was lazy.

 Bree was taken aback. He had never spoken to her like this, and she could feel hot tears already welling up in her eyes.

 “It wasn’t a nightmare, Jason! It really happened. And you don’t have to work tomorrow – it’s Sunday! Why are you being so mean to me? You’re the one who told me not to look for a job for a while. And I don’t just sit around all day, either! Who makes your meals? Who washes your clothes? Who cleans the house?”

 “You could clean it more often than you do.”

 “I can’t believe you!” Bree shouted through a constricted throat and then began to sob.

 “I can’t believe you, either! You come up with these ridiculous stories to tell me, and I don’t know what to think!”

 “What is wrong with you?” Bree demanded again.

 “What’s wrong with me? What’s wrong with you?!” Jason retorted.

 Bree had had enough. She fought the urge to strike him and instead got out of bed and left the room, slamming the door behind her. She locked herself in the bathroom and sobbed harder than she ever had. She imagined that this was how Elizabeth felt when she wrote that last journal entry. What the hell had happened to her husband? What the hell had she married? She had always thought he was the perfect man, with his tall, muscular physique, big brown eyes, and wonderful sense of humor. He was someone she knew she could always count on to lift her spirits and make her smile. Was Jason’s behavior something he had suppressed for the three years they had been together? She knew she would have great difficulty living with him if that attitude began to present itself more regularly. She didn’t know that her calm, collected, unflappable husband was capable of being a belligerent asshole. She wished she hadn’t ever discovered it, either.

 She found herself in a predicament. Did she spend the night on the couch, in the same room where the apparition had appeared earlier that night? Or did she crawl back into bed with Jason, even though the thought of being near him filled her with rage? Maybe she should just sleep in the bathtub all night. None of her options were ideal. She cried now not only because of the things Jason had said, but also because she had nowhere to sleep. She was even more furious with him now for putting her in this dilemma. She curled up on the thin, white bathroom rug in front of the sink with her arms wrapped around her knees and cried herself to sleep.

***

 “Bree?”

 The sun shone brightly in Bree’s eyes when she opened them. Her entire body ached as she lifted her head and looked around, disoriented for a moment. The familiar yellow and white walls of the bathroom seemed to amplify the brightness of the sunlight and clear her head, allowing her memories of the night to return to her. She furrowed her brow when she found Jason standing in the bathroom doorway looking at her curiously.

 “What are you doing in here?” Jason asked in genuine bewilderment.

 “Sleeping,” Bree answered curtly, looking away. She couldn’t stand to look at him because all she could envision was the angry, scowling expression he had worn last night.

 “Why are you sleeping on the floor in the bathroom? Are you sick?” He stretched his neck to peer into the toilet, apparently checking for evidence of vomit.

 “No. Just leave me alone.” Bree leaned her back against the hard cupboard door below the sink and tucked her knees under her chin, wrapping her arms around her small, slender body defensively.

 “I’m confused, Bree. What happened?”

 “Are you serious?” Bree asked incredulously. Jason met her question with a puzzled look. “You don’t remember what you said to me last night?”

 “I love you and good night? I don’t think I stayed awake long enough to say much else.”

 “I woke you up in the middle of the night because…I was scared, and you were a total…you were really mean to me,” Bree explained, choosing her words and tone carefully.

 “I was mean to you? What did I say?” Jason sounded surprised.

 “You said I was making up stories for attention, insinuated that I sit around all day and do nothing, and asked what was wrong with me,” Bree mumbled the last part, trying to avoid letting her voice crack because she was on the verge of tears. She kept her eyes down so Jason wouldn’t notice the redness developing in them.

 “No, I would never say that! Are you sure it wasn’t just another dream?” Jason suggested carefully.

 Bree nodded, still looking away from him.

 “I can’t believe anything like that would ever come out of my mouth! I must’ve been asleep still, because there is no way I would ever say those things to you. I love you!” Jason was in obvious disbelief and shock. He quickly crossed the room to Bree and crouched down over her. His arms encircled her as he said, “I’m so sorry, honey. I would never want to hurt you like that. I don’t remember even talking to you last night. I had to have been sleep talking. I’m so sorry!” He hugged her tightly, and the tears finally fell despite Bree’s best efforts to keep them hanging in her eyelids.

 After a few minutes, Jason released her and wiped her tears from her cheeks with his thick thumbs. “Do you feel any better?” He asked gently, lifting her chin so she would look him in the eye.

 “I guess. I just don’t know what happened last night. It wasn’t you.” When those words left Bree’s mouth, she realized how true they were. It wasn’t him. He had been a completely different person…the same person Elizabeth described in her journal. Afraid to pursue that thought any further, Bree asked, “Can we go downstairs and get some breakfast? I don’t want to talk about it anymore.” Bree wiped her nose on the back of her hand and stood.

 “Let me make you an omelet. Cheese and bacon?” Jason turned, leading Bree out of the bathroom.

 Bree cringed. “No bacon, please.”

 As they entered the living room, Bree saw the lightning lamp on top of the piano was not turned on.

 “Have you been downstairs already today?” Bree asked Jason.

 “No. Why?”

 “Just wondered,” Bree replied vaguely as she moved to the piano to inspect the lamp. She knew for a fact that she hadn’t shut off that light last night. It was still glowing, illuminating the living room when she had turned tail and fled upstairs. She found now that the switch was in the “off” position and the unit was unplugged, leading her to wonder if it had even been plugged in at all last night when it was giving off light.

 Curious, she lifted the fall and pressed a few keys. Some of them made no sound and some created flat, out-of-tune notes. How had the glowing man been making such beautiful music with this thing?

 Bree enjoyed her breakfast and wondered whether to tell Jason about the green pianist. She had desperately needed to share it with someone last night, but when she had, she was met with hurtful words and scorn from the man she loved. She assumed it wouldn’t be like that today, but it still might not go over well. However, she felt that if she told him about the recent activity she wouldn’t have to feel so alone in her battle to understand what was going on in her home.

 “Jason, I need to talk to you about something, but I’m not sure how you will feel about it,” Bree began apprehensively when they sat down in the living room after breakfast.

 “Ok…” Jason appeared to be slightly worried.

 “I’ve had some more experiences in this house that I don’t know how to explain.” Bree paused, watching for any change in the expression on Jason’s face. He still looked worried, and a little confused. She continued to tell him about the apparition last night and the words it spoke. He only nodded his head and dropped his gaze to his hands occasionally. She ended her story with falling asleep in the bathroom.

 “You said you locked yourself in the bathroom? The door wasn’t locked when I went in there this morning,” Jason sounded doubtful of the validity of Bree’s story. “It wasn’t even closed.”

 Bree frowned and thought back to this morning. Jason had been standing in the doorway when she had opened her eyes. How was that possible? Who had unlocked and opened that door?

 “I know I closed and locked that door! I slammed it shut behind me because I was pissed.”

 “Maybe it didn’t latch when you slammed it. Are you absolutely sure you were completely awake through all of this? I mean, I don’t remember speaking to you last night, and the lamp wasn’t on when we came downstairs this morning. I think maybe you had a nightmare and did some sleepwalking,” Jason tried to explain away her outlandish tale.

 “No, Jason. This was no dream! I was just as awake and alert when it happened as I am right now!” Bree exclaimed, becoming infuriated.

 “I’m not saying I don’t believe it seemed real to you, honey, but these things happen sometimes. It was the middle of the night, you’ve been having nightmares lately-”

 “Oh really?!” Bree interrupted. “Then explain away this one! That wasn’t the only thing that’s happened lately.” She enthusiastically rushed through her account of the EVP session, the cupboard creature incident, and finding the paper in the piano, barely stopping to breathe between sentences. When she was finished, she had to catch her breath and realized the volume of her voice had been several levels above what was necessary.

 “But when you went back into the house, there wasn’t any sign that it had even happened at all?” Jason had a skeptical tone that matched the expression on his face.

 Bree gave an outraged grunt. “You don’t believe me at all, do you? You really do think those things you said last night!”

 “No, of course I wouldn’t think any of those things,” Jason reassured her, but Bree was aware of a brief hesitation before his answer.

 “You hesitated.”

 “Because I’m not sure how to respond to all this. I believe that you think you saw these things, but I’m not convinced that they actually happened,” Jason said regretfully, looking down at his hands.

 “But what about the other stuff? The phone call that showed up on the caller ID and the man painted in my mural? And I can show you the ‘attic’ EVP, too, and the paper that said ‘the attic’ on it that I found in the piano!” Bree was running upstairs to get the recorder and paper before Jason had a chance to respond. He got up and followed her.

 She was rummaging in the closet when he came into the bedroom. “The caller ID could have just been a technical glitch, and there is no reason to believe that someone else painted the man in the mural. I think you painted it without realizing it at the time. I’m really worried about you, Bree. I dismissed it before, but I can’t ignore this anymore.”

 Bree appeared in the closet doorway with a recorder in her hand and a tiny piece of paper. Her auburn hair was disheveled and she had a wild look in her eye. She thrust the square of paper in his direction, so he took it from her. He saw it was just a small, crinkled piece of paper with “the attic” typed on it. He wasn’t impressed.

 “Bree, an old piece of paper in an old piano is not paranormal.” He tried to hand the scrap back to her, but she was busy fumbling with the recorder.

 “Explain this to me, then. Remember, I was the only one in the house at the time,” Bree said with determination in her voice as she pressed play on the device and held it up to Jason’s ear. He cringed away from it slightly when her voice blasted out of it, asking an EVP question. The silence that followed was broken by a faint whisper that Bree remembered as being much more pronounced. Jason seemed unimpressed again.

 “I don’t hear anything that couldn’t be simple background noise or your own breath. Honey, I’m worried something may be going on…with you.” He stroked her hair delicately, trying to be comforting. When she tried to persuade him to listen more closely to the recording, he just took it and shut it off, setting it aside. “Sit down with me, Bree. I have to discuss something with you, and you need to try to put yourself in my shoes. You need to listen to this, and you need to think about it. Ok?”

 Bree’s anger was slowly turning to dread. Her chest felt heavy with anxiety knowing that Jason had things to tell her that were likely going to hurt her. She reluctantly sat next to him on the bed, tears already forming in the corners of her eyes. He didn’t believe any of this was real.

 “Please don’t be hurt by what I say. This is not meant to hurt you,” Jason began. He looked at Bree meaningfully. “You know I love you more than life itself, right?” He paused, so Bree nodded, avoiding eye contact with him. “Then you should understand why I am worried. It isn’t normal for people to see and experience the things you are suddenly experiencing. You’re seeing some pretty outrageous things, and hearing them too. But nothing has happened to me, and no real evidence exists to indicate that these things have actually happened. I’m worried you may be having some kind of hallucinations, Bree.”

 Upset by Jason’s assessment, Bree stood up with the intent of leaving the room. Jason grabbed her hand to stop her and continued to voice his concerns when she sat back down.

 “Don’t get upset, honey. This is a legitimate concern! I’m not saying you are crazy or anything, or that any of this is your fault. I just want you to consider seeing a neurologist to make sure there isn’t something going on in your brain that shouldn’t be. I’m not trying to insult you or tell you you’re crazy. I’m just concerned about your health because I couldn’t live without you. So please consider what I’ve said. See a doctor…for me,” Jason pleaded.

 The tears were again blurring Bree’s vision and streaming down her cheeks. She was hurt by Jason’s disbelief, but now she was beginning to doubt herself. Was Jason right? No, of course not! I know what I saw, Bree thought to herself. She crawled under the covers of the bed and told Jason she wanted to be alone for a while. He sympathetically obliged and left the room.

 Bree spent several hours lying in bed, wondering if she really was crazy. The crazy ones never know they’re crazy. They don’t see their own insanity. Jason had said he didn’t think she was crazy, but that he thought she had a brain tumor or something. But as far as Bree was concerned, crazy is crazy whether it’s caused by a tumor or childhood trauma. Either way, he thought all of these strange occurrences were only in her head, so he must think she is crazy even if he doesn’t want to call it that.

 When she finally decided to get out of bed, the first thing Bree did was reach for the phone.

 “Hi, Mom.”

 “Hey there, sweetie. Is something wrong? You sound depressed,” Karen asked perceptively.

 “Yes, something is wrong.” She recounted to her mother the happenings of the day, including the accounts of paranormal activity that had fueled them. Karen listened intently without interruption.

 When Bree was finished, she asked, “What do you think? Do you think it’s all in my head? Should I see a doctor?”

 “You know, honey, it might not be a bad idea. There may be paranormal activity in your home, but the possibility exists that it may be something more serious. I’m concerned about your health as well, and it might not hurt to get some medical testing done. We certainly don’t want to ignore any possible warning signs that something may be wrong. And you know what? God willing, you’ll find out your brain is perfectly healthy and you’ll be able to rule out hallucinations. It may bring you closer to understanding what is going on in your life right now, sweetie.”

 Bree started to cry once more. “But I don’t know any neurologists! I don’t know who to call! And what do I say? ‘Hi, I’m seeing crazy things. Can I make an appointment?’”

 “I’ll tell you what,” Karen said in a reassuring voice. “Make an appointment with your regular doctor first to discuss these symptoms with him, and I’ll come down so I can go to the appointment with you. I’ll be there to support you. How does that sound?”

 Bree felt a little better knowing she wouldn’t have to deal with this on her own. She knew Jason would be helpful as well, but there’s no comfort like Mom. “That sounds great, Mom. I’ll call Dr. O’Brien’s office tomorrow, and I’ll let you know when I can get in.”

 After hanging up the phone and wiping away the remainder of her tears, Bree went downstairs to tell Jason of her decision. He embraced her and expressed his relief that she was taking the steps needed to make sure she was healthy.

 “I can go with you, if you want. It’s a four-hour drive for your mom to come down here,” Jason offered.

 “That’s ok. I think I need my mom for this.”

 When Bree called her doctor’s office the next day, they were able to schedule her for an appointment on Tuesday afternoon, which was the next day. She called Karen right away to let her know.

 “I’ll just take a couple of sick days,” Karen said. “I’ll come down tomorrow morning and stay tomorrow night, if that’s ok.”

 Bree spent the rest of her Monday agonizing over her upcoming appointment. She knew Dr. O’Brien wouldn’t be able to tell her much, but she knew it was the first step in actually finding out whether something was wrong with her brain. She felt almost as though she’d rather not know.

 If something was wrong with her brain, it wasn’t affecting her that day. Nothing unusual happened on Monday, and she didn’t have any nightmares that night.

 Tuesday afternoon came sooner than Bree had wanted. Her anxiety had grown exponentially since Monday, and she was thankful for the presence of her mother next to her in the waiting room at Dr. O’Brien’s office. A short, plump nurse with thin, blond, curly hair finally called her name and led her and Karen to the examination room. Bree sat on the crinkly paper covering the examination table and let the nurse take her vitals. She then began the usual game of Twenty Questions: what’s the reason for your visit, are you currently on any medications, etc.

 For one question Bree didn’t have an answer.

 “When was your last period?” The nurse asked, looking at her with beady, impatient eyes.

 “Um…I’m not sure. It’s kind of an irregular schedule, so I don’t bother trying to keep track. I don’t think it’s been that long ago, though.” Bree tried to recall the last time she had to buy tampons, but came up blank.

 “Is there any possibility you could be pregnant?” The nurse asked.

 “I don’t think so, but I don’t know.”

 “I’ll need you to provide a urine sample so we can be sure. Come with me.” Karen waited in the room while Bree accepted a sterile cup from the nurse and headed to the bathroom. She was almost certain she wasn’t pregnant. She couldn’t be. She left the urine sample in the appropriate tray and went back to her room.

 “This is stupid. I should’ve just said I was sure I wasn’t pregnant. They’ll probably tack an extra $50 onto my bill for this,” Bree complained.

 “They just have to make sure. Don’t fret about it, Bree,” Karen said.

 A few minutes later the nurse returned with Bree’s chart in her hands. “Congratulations,” she said unenthusiastically. “The test was positive. The doctor will be in shortly.”

 Bree watched with her jaw agape as the homely gnome of a nurse turned her back and briskly exited the room.