Day 2: Nighttime

Dear Lauren,

I DID IT. I SURVIVED. I survived a night in this house. And even if “spend a night in a haunted house” wasn’t on my bucket list before, it is now – and it’s scratched off. Because I did it.

Ok, so I didn’t actually see ghosts. (Can you imagine Aunt Prissy as a ghost? She’d come hobbling up to you and clasp her hands and in her screechy little voice beg, “oh, please, oh, please could you maybe possibly keep the noise down slightly?” and then go scurrying off, embarrassed at the thought of having to ask a favor. Not your typical ghost). But I trudged – practically tunneled my way up the rickety stairs, because of the piles of things on each step – not just books and papers, but old clothes and bedsheets, cleaning supplies, Christmas garland and ribbon – you can imagine. But I had to go upstairs (or so I thought) since I couldn’t exactly sleep in either the kitchen or the living room, which are the only two rooms on the first floor.

Well, upstairs is just as bad. There are three tiny rooms, a bathroom, and a linen closet; that is all. I could hardly open the door to the bedroom, because it was crammed with more stuff; the second room was piled high with plastic storage boxes, labeled in large messy Sharpie handwriting with things like “Mom’s dining room linens,” “Ed’s stuff,” “winter sweaters,” “winter blankets,” “things to fix,” “PHOTOS,” even an entire box filled with old stuffed animals. I started sneezing as soon as I opened the door, so I closed it again and went to the third room. The third room, though even smaller than the others, was nearly empty. There was a desk, a chair, and a typewriter. Yeah, legit, a typewriter. An unusually neat pile of blank paper sat on the floor on one side, and an unusually neat pile of typed paper sat on the floor on the other side. I picked up the top sheet, but I couldn’t tell what it was; it sounded like a letter telling some people about a trip to Florida. As far as I know, she’s never been to Florida, but I guess I can’t say for sure. I guess I don’t know Aunt Prissy all that well; I don’t really know anything more than what Mom has told us, or those few visits when we were younger.

Anyway, so I thought I was going to sleep in her room, so I pulled my suitcase up the stairs, but as soon as I put on my PJs and finally pushed my way past the books blocking the door, I realized the bed was covered in papers. Of course. And by this time, I wasn’t about to start cleaning. So I went downstairs and made myself a cup of tea. She has a cute little green kettle on the stove, and I thought, hey, why not? So I put the kettle on and pulled a mug out of the cupboard and was feeling almost cozy, when I found her tea stash. Well … it’s not real tea. I mean, I’ve had herbal tea before, but this stuff was different. It was something called tisane; the box was all in French. I couldn’t find any other kind, so I tried it out. When I poured water over it, it turned a sickly kind of green-yellow and smelled like rotten vegetables. I dumped it and poured myself a glass of water.

By this time, I was tired, so I thought I would curl up in the chair in the living room. Like I said, it’s one of those big plush chairs that you fall into and can’t always get out of again. So I turned off the light and tumbled into the chair and closed my eyes.

It was a little windy outside, and I could hear the leaves rustling outside the front door. The old house creaked, from the kitchen all the way upstairs; at one point, I thought I heard a car drive by. It was all just your typical white noise, the sorts of sounds that help you sleep. And then, I heard other things. Scratches. The sort that makes your skin crawl. Scratches against the door and against the outside walls. Ticking on the roof: tick-tick-tick … and then it paused … and again, click-click-click. Swishing, scraping, moaning – I opened my eyes, and in the darkness, all I could see were two red eyes glowing at me from outside the window.

I jumped from the chair (as well as I could – you would have laughed – it was a bit inelegant) and flicked on the light. The eyes were gone; the swishing stopped; the ticking stopped; all was still. I still had goosebumps up and down my arms, though, and I looked around for a bat or pole. In all this stuff, Auntie doesn’t seem to have kept anything for self-defense. Well, there were knives in the kitchen drawers, but I didn’t feel satisfied until I found a garden hoe by the back door in the kitchen.

You know how people decide to go “investigate” in slasher movies? Well, you can bet I did no such thing. I pulled all the blinds on all the windows, double checked the locks on the doors, and brought the hoe with me into the living room. I had a moment of questionable sanity where I took a glance at the pantry’s empty glass bottles, but most of them were canning jars, and I don’t think they would be able to balance on any doorknob. Hey, a night alone in a creaky old house could turn anyone into a conspiracy theorist. Just saying.

I left a light on in the kitchen pantry, grabbed the hoe, and returned to the chair. I felt slightly foolish, sitting there immersed in this chair, holding on to the hoe for dear life, listening for any sound. My ears felt like they would explode. No sound. Not one. The wind had died down, the ticking and scratching were gone … I was almost asleep, when I was startled awake by another noise, entirely different and entirely unexpected.


Day 1: Arrival

Dear Lauren,

I guess that’s how people start letters. Weird, right? I know you are going to think this is weird; well, guess what, I do too. But I have no internet access in this stupid, creepy old house, and I can’t reach you on your phone (there is no reception out here. NONE). If I don’t talk to you one way or another, I’m going to go as crazy as Aunt Prissy seems to have gone. I mean, we always knew she was senile – you’ve heard Mom’s stories of what she was like when they were growing up – but this place is like a shrine to that place in that book about burning books (ask Mike; I can’t remember and I don’t care). There is not a single room in this cardboard box of a house that isn’t stacked to the roof with books. And papers. And MORE PAPERS. AND MORE BOOKS. It’s like she loved trees so much that she cut them all down and shredded them all up and threw the pieces all around the room. CREEPY.

I’m sorry she’s dead and all that. I mean, I’m sorry Mom’s sorry she’s dead and all that. But it doesn’t make up for the fact that I’m the one who got volunteered to clean out this dump – not good timing! I was SO CLOSE to making project manager. SO CLOSE, and I know they’re just going to give it to Carole now. Kevin was seriously irritated when I told him I was taking personal time. He gave me that look and twitched his mustache and “hmmm”ed as if I had said I was quitting or joining the Marines – or the Salvation Army, for that matter. Personal time? What the heck? If I was going to take personal time, do you think I’d be spending it in the middle of NOWHERE, Midwest, USA? I wouldn’t take personal time to spend with you in CA (seriously though, you know it’s true. Ok, maybe sometime. It’s just so much easier when you come back to D.C. Besides, then Mom can see you too. Speaking of which, when is the next time you’re coming? She has been asking. And I don’t have anything to tell her.).

Ugh. So in all this mess of books and papers, guess what else our dear Auntie has a lot of? That’s right. Stationery. I thought this stuff had died out with gel pens and My Little Pony. And if you’re going to do the whole sending letters thing, then just get notecards, right? The smaller the card, the better, because then you can write big and don’t have to say anything other than “hi how are you hope you’re good ok bye.” But noooooo she has all this stationery with some of the ugliest designs I have ever seen. Sheets of it, boxes of it. All flowery and pink – a lot of it personalized. I do not know how much money she spent on personalized stationery, but it has to be a lot. Like, enough money for me to actually take personal time. Maybe I can sell it. Obviously not the personalized stuff (who wants to write letters with PRISCILLA AGNES O’REILLY in big gold script across the top?) but maybe some of the rest of it. I’ll have to clean it out with everything else, so there’s no harm in trying.

Anyway. So I got here this afternoon, and I took a look around, and even though it has to be the smallest house I have ever seen, it is going to take years to clean it out. Like, probably a whole week at least. I get that Auntie has lived here for the past forty years, but why is that an excuse for keeping enough stuff to get you signed up for an episode of that hoarders show? Sigh. So I’m going to get some cardboard boxes and trash bags and start tackling the rooms one by one, and maybe I can do a room a day. I don’t know. That seems optimistic, especially when I look around the room I’m sitting in. Not sure what the room is, exactly; I mean, it’s obviously designed as a living room, but there is no place to sit down except one painfully rigid desk chair at a large wooden desk, and one plush oversized armchair – the sort you sink into and can’t get back out of and end up falling asleep in and having weird dreams about fire engines and peanut butter. I mean, WEIRD. But both of them, as well as the desk, are, of course, covered with piles of papers. There are more papers stacked around the chair and around the desk, and against the wall, and under the window; there’s no other furniture except one of those old sets of shelves for special dining room china. It looks empty, but I can’t open it because, guess what! I can’t even reach it because the floor in front of it is covered in books. It’s like a Red Sea full of books and Moses forgot to open it. And you have to remember, this is all in a room with the floorspace of a stovetop.

So yeah. That’s all there is in this room. I don’t think I even have the strength to look at the others until tomorrow. I’m going to sleep now.

Anyway. I don’t know what else to say. So, goodbye. Or something.